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What Makes A Good Architect And Architecture?

Posted August 27th, 2020 by HKP Architects

Earlier this year HKP Architects’ Partners, Brian Poppe and Julie Blazek, facilitated a Skagit Topics session centered around the His­tor­i­cal Mu­seum of Sk­agit County’s Henry Klein Homes Exhibit. Using Henry and his work as a foundation, the panelists discussed what makes a good architect and architecture. 

HKP Henry Klein Skagit Topics

The Skagit Topics panelists were:


  • Marian Ritter, Client

Marian and her husband, Harry, live in Bellingham, WA.  Marian is the music librarian at Western Washington University and worked with Henry on the Music Library Addition in 1973.  She was inspired to hire Henry to design a house for them, which was completed in 1976-77.


  • Al Terry, AIA, former architect at HKP Architects  

Al worked at HKP from 1991 to 1997, and worked closely with Henry on a number of award-winning projects, both public and private.  Al has his own firm in Seattle, Al Terry Architecture, that focuses on residential and public projects.


  • David Strauss, PhD., AIA, LEED AP, Principal at SHKS Architects

David has a Ph.D. in architectural history/theory and is a practicing architect and affiliate assistant professor in the Department of Architecture at the University of Washington.  He is past president of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.   In his firm, he focuses on public places and resource conservation.


  • Gary Nelson, Contractor

Gary is the current president of Nelson Lumber Construction.  His father and uncle were the second-generation owners, and they built several of Henry’s homes.  Gary used to visit the sites with his dad when he was growing up, remembers the relationship between Henry and his dad and uncle well, and has many memories from those experiences.

Skagit Topics Panelist on Henry Klein

From left to right: Brian Poppe, Harry Ritter, Marian Ritter, Al Terry, David Strauss, Gary Nelson, Julie Blazek

The guid­ing themes of Henry Klein’s work include nat­ural light, in­door/​out­door con­nec­tions, nat­ural ma­te­ri­als, gra­cious over­hangs and beau­ti­ful screen­ing. But is this what makes for good architecture? The ideas discussed among the panel revealed what truly set Henry Klein’s homes apart from homes and what was so special about them. Care and sensitivity to details, framing of views, setting the fireplace as the focal point of the home, his appreciation for craftspeople and the trades…these are all pieces of the kit of parts that made Henry Klein’s designs memorable and what made him wonderful to work with.


Below are some highlights of the talk: 


What makes Henry houses special or memorable?


“The way Henry paid attention to the grade and elevation, especially at the entry of the buildings, and that the houses had a similarity, but yet each was very unique.”

– Gary Nelson, Nelson Lumber Construction, Inc.


“Great care and sensitivity to the site, framed views, and the use of natural light.”

-David Strauss, SHKS Architects


“The fireplace as the central design feature, and focal point of the house.”

-Brian Poppe, HKP Architects


What about Henry’s work and practice should architects and designers take away?


“Henry’s appreciation for the craftspeople and trades, who he knew were more adept at resolving an issue particular to their skill set than he or other designers may be. He encouraged us to collaborate with the people building the projects, as a means to learn and grow as designers.”

-Julie Blazek, HKP Architects


“There was a mutual respect for the builder and the architect; both were needed to produce a great product. My dad and Henry would get the foundation staked out and then walk the plan and tweak it ever so slightly as needed to set up the window locations and such.”

– Gary Nelson, Nelson Lumber Construction, Inc.


“With Henry there was an honesty and lack of pretension that came through not only in how he worked with clients and employees but also how he treated materials. A brick, or a beam, were treated honestly and asked to do only what they were made to do.”

-Brian Poppe, HKP Architects


Audience at Skagit Topics Henry Klein

Next Steps

The Henry Klein Homes ex­hibit has closed at the Sk­agit County His­tor­i­cal Mu­seum but there is more to come. HKP Architects is working with Peter Miller Books of Seattle to hang the exhibit in their gallery space at a future date to be determined (after COVID-19 clearances). Stay tuned for more opportunities to see this amazing assembly of designs, photos, and information on the work and process of Henry Klein, FAIA.