maine home
My interview with architect Rick Burt began as two complete strangers sharing a passion for architecture and design, and ended with my intense respect for a new friend.
Our conversation went from college days and the early ideals we espoused to our current responsibilities as service providers and end users.  As the hour sped by, I became truly awed by Rick’s overwhelming dedication to the symbiotic relationship between the human spirit and the environment.
Q: What is your educational background?
A: I graduated from high school in central New Hampshire and attended Middlebury College, graduating with a liberal arts degree in 1975.  I then went to the University of Minnesota for graduate school.
Q: How is it that you came to practice in Maine?
A: My family would go camping up on Muscongus Bay. Coincidentally, so did my wife Barbara’s family, although we didn’t know each other until high school.  Maine has always been a part of my life.  After graduate school, I worked for a firm in Cambridge, then we moved to Michigan where I worked with Gunnar Birkerts.  In 1986, I accepted a job with a firm in Brunswick, Maine.  Ten years ago, I began working in a small practice with a partner.  Two years ago my partner retired and now I practice solo.
Q: Do you have a preference designing commercial or residential?
A: No, I am open to all.  I have been involved in public buildings for 21 years, including the renovation of the Maine State House, and educational and municipal projects. I have been able to balance that with some residential projects.
Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
A: I’d say a large portion of my inspiration, currently, comes for European journals and magazines from around the world.  I actually subscribe to more art magazines than architectural journals.   Europeans are clearly ahead of us when it comes to green design.  We Americans are only now beginning to understand the important connection between our lifestyle and its impact on the environment.  Europeans really understand how it is to connect architecture with the land.
(Referencing Louis Kahn, Rick mentions Kahn’s “volume zero of history”- the idea that  the architecture we build should fulfill our deepest needs as humans such as shelter, beauty, warmth.)
Q: Who has most influenced your career?
A: Wow, it’s hard to say.  If pressed, I would have to say that it hasn’t been any one individual, but rather the influence of many throughout my career.  Certainly, the architecture and philosophy of Lou Kahn, Alex Markoff, a Middlebury professor of sculpture with whom I studied, my wife, Barbara, and artist Richard Serra.  I’ve taken a little bit from all of these, along with many others.
Q: How do you nurture your creative juices?
A: Every day is different.  We all need positive creative outlets.  Again, I refer back to the sculpture classes that I took while in college.  I still sculpt.  In fact, I am working on some pieces now that are wood, stone, and fire related.  I also enjoy cooking for friends, entertaining, and really enjoying the life and nature of our home.  In fact, one of the most enjoyable things for me is to simply sit at my dining room table and absorb the environment that surrounds it.  We are in a wooded area and it is so peaceful.  Being in that setting really energizes me.  It keeps me connected.
Q: Your home is featured on the cover of MH+D.  What was the most challenging aspect or issue that came about in designing/building your own home?
A: Fighting the idea of doing too much.  Taming down the ideas that had accumulated over the years to simple spaces that would stand the test of time.
Q: Any advice for people trying to decide if they need an architect?
A: Good design comes about when clients bring strong ideas and an open mind to the design process.  The architect’s role is to build on those ideas, perhaps challenging some assumptions, and bring his or her own skills and talents into the process, arriving at a truly collaborative solution.
Q: How does one select an architect?
A: Selection should be about one-to-one human relations.  You should feel comfortable in saying yes, and just as importantly, no to your architect.  Talk to references.  Ask the architect about the actual design process: don’t just look at fancy finished models and glossy photographs. Find out specifically how your participation is a part of that process.  I find that most people don’t truly understand two-dimensional drawings, which is how the whole design process is usually presented.  To me, it is critical that three-dimensional models-even very rough models very early in the process- be used throughout the design development, so everyone can physically place themselves in the building as it evolves.
Q: Do you favor a specific style of design?
A: No, my practice is about the search along the way.  Process and discovery.  Clarity of form, with well-done details that reinforce the elements of the architecture.  Details that are simple enough to be done with first class workmanship.  Architecture that is interesting because of what it isn’t.
As a student of architecture and design we are taught to give back, to pass on the knowledge that we possess.  One of the many ways to achieve that is by teaching.  We teach or educate our clients, our peers, and those who follow in a similar career path, or those who are simply passionate.  Rick has fabricated another building adjacent to his home.  It is here that he intends to deepen his commitment to give back, offering workshops that explore the opportunity to expand our minds around the process of designing architecture and to study the world around the profession. 
As our interview ended, Rick provided me with this mantra by Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything left to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”
Tracy A. Davis is an interior designer and owner of Urban Dwellings in Portland