HMWRK Conversations: Samuel David Bruce


David Bruce is a 2020 graduate of Yale School of Architecture (M.Arch 1) and the Yale School of the Environment (Master of Environmental Management). He has previously worked as a fine artist, a builder, and an architectural designer. He is currently the Rose Fellow at the Telluride Foundation, where he is working to develop and design high-performance affordable housing with low environmental impacts. 

HMWRK spoke to David on August 15th, 2020.

HMWRK: Your drawing was the first submission in response to the open call. What motivated you to respond?

Dave Bruce: I mean, first of all, I just really like making drawings. When you guys sent out that proposal, I appreciated the chance to reflect on this place that I was spending quarantine. The drawing is of my grandparents’ house that they built in the late 1970s on a tiny island in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. It’s the place I’ve known best and have returned to throughout my life. It’s a remarkable place because the house is within a marshland that changes drastically throughout the day. You can only access the island during low tide, so each day’s activities need to be coordinated with the tide. My grandfather was an inorganic chemist, he helped to develop synthetic rubber during World War II, but he was also an oil painter. He did a lot of paintings of the marsh, and he has been an inspiration for my own creativity. Being in this space as I finished architecture school—this place where I’d learned about how representation works—was a cool opportunity to draw the space architecturally.

That’s part of the backdrop, and the other thing was the beginning on the pandemic—a scary time when no one really knew what was happening. I was here with three friends, and we were all living together and trying to figure out what this quarantine meant. So the drawing it is of the table we all used as it got shuffled, reset, and rearranged throughout each day. Most horizontal surfaces in a home serve pretty narrow purposes, but then there’s this big common table full of so much life and character. That’s what I wanted to capture.

HW: I appreciate what you’re saying about the drawing capturing a series of events throughout a day. The objects on the table don’t respect each other’s edges, which I think is a really exciting proposition. Can you talk about some of the objects on the table and why they’re included the way they are?

DB: There are some books on the north end of the table. One is a book of poems by Wallace Stevens. During quarantine, we would start every meal with a poem selected randomly from that book. There’s also Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald, which I was reading at the time. We were also playing Settlers of Catan obsessively, after almost every meal. And there are four place mats on the table, which stand in for the four people that were there. There’s a laptop and an iPhone and also some bread. Like everyone else, I really took to baking during quarantine.

And then there’s the telescope, which points towards a photograph of a view out the window. The island in the lens is Fox Island, where a family of foxes were recently bullied off the island by a pack of coyotes. Each evening we’d try to watch for the coyotes, and we’d be lucky to see them come out and howl. The bottom of the drawing is framed by a section across the marsh, with the house on the left and Fox Island on the right. 

Over breakfast we’d talk about our schedules, figuring how we’d give each other privacy for meetings and the like. Our activity during that time exploded across the whole house, but the table was the hub: it recorded our daily negotiation of the shared space.

HW: Reading into the drawing a little bit, I see this idea of framing emerging on a few different levels. The cut walls frame a floor that frame a rug that frame a table, and those architectural frames are cut by the view of the landscape through the telescope. But the one frame we don’t see inside is the computer screen, which lots of other submissions highlighted. Does this mean anything to you, or am I off base?

DB: That’s a cool reading. Each object is relative to the surface it’s on, which sits inside the house, which sits inside this marsh landscape. I think this relates to the experience of the place, where it would be incorrect to think of this ‘office’ without considering the marsh that surrounds it, the sound of the coyotes, and the smell of the low tide moving through the open sliding glass door. But how can you condense sensational experience into a drawing?

I think the choice to not focus on the screen speaks to where I was in my studies at the time. I had finished the studio curriculum at the School of Architecture and was focusing on writing and research at the School of the Environment. I took the opportunity of quarantine to refocus the intensity and obsession of architecture school into these other pu rsuits, and I think the drawing is about that process. I think it's maybe telling in this drawing that the frame of the telescope is much more interesting to me. I show the contents there, but the computer screen is left blank.

HW: That’s one of the things that makes this drawing an important contribution to the exhibition.

DB: Glad to hear that. Thanks for putting out the call.