Regarding Doug Garofalo

August 9, 2011

The Korean New York Presbyterian Church of Queens.  (Photo by Archidose.)

Yesterday morning, I glanced at the weekly email newsletter from The Architect’s Newspaper and saw Doug Garofalo’s name.  Without really reading the headline, I clicked on the link and was stunned to find myself staring at his obituary.

Doug died young.  He was  about to turn 53.  It was a brain tumor that killed him.  He was diagnosed with it five years ago.  I had no idea.

I know a lot of architects.  During the years when I was editing Dwell it felt like I knew all of them.  But Doug was unusual, an original thinker, someone whose ideas inspired me, and who influenced the early development of  the magazine.

What I remembered is that we first met in 1998, when I was writing for New York Magazine about the blob-esque Korean church that he designed along with  collaborators Greg Lynn and Michael McInturf.  But my memory turns out to be wrong.   While I conducted a  interview with the architects over breakfast at the Paramount Hotel, Doug wasn’t there.  He was in Chicago. So we spoke on the phone.  He talked about the work he’d been doing, transforming dowdy suburban houses, “ranch burgers” he called them, into architectural statements.

He explained how lessons learned in his house transformations helped him realize that his outwardly conservative Korean clients might appreciate a wildly non-traditional building.

From New York Magazine, August 31, 1998:

“The church knew what kind of space it needed but had no mandate for how the building should look.  ‘They had ideas but not necessarily a vision,’ recalls Garofalo, who notes that many of the clients for his aggressive remodels of suburban homes are immigrants who don’t have an emotional stake in the American vernacular and are amenable to designs that undermine tradition.  ‘What was great about the client meetings,” Garofalo says about the Korean churchmen. ‘is the openness to ideas that we were throwing at them.’”

The idea that there were people living in suburbia, in the Midwest no less, that were willing to undermine tradition, stuck with me.  A year later, when I was chosen to edit Dwell, Doug’s observations  influenced the magazine’s drive to seek out unorthodox architecture in the vast swath of America that was routinely ignored by the established shelter magazines.

I  finally met Doug on a trip to Chicago in the early 2000s, and he generously spent an afternoon showing me around, not just his own projects, but his favorite neighborhoods and Mies’s IIT campus.

Doug  popped up in the magazine with some regularity.  The slow progress on a wild looking addition he’d designed for a house in Chicago’s Roscoe Village was documented in the magazine’s “Diary” section.  And we published the bathroom, a colorful crazy-quilt of mismatched tiles,  lovingly created by his wife Chris, a ceramicist, as a present for Doug’s 40th birthday.

While Dwell featured (and still features) an endless parade of architects, Doug was always more like part of the magazine’s extended family.  And, although I haven’t been in touch with him for years, that’s how his death makes me feel: like I’ve lost a member of the family.  My condolences to his real family, his colleagues, and his friends.