Site Visit: A Podcast About Architecture Everywhere…

In addition to their recent appointments as assistant professors of architecture at the Knowlton School, Ashley Bigham and Erik Herrmann are co-directors of Outpost Office, a design practice which focuses on issues of formal genericism, digital aesthetics and material experimentation. They also co-host the podcast, Site Visit, which invites an architect to choose, tour and critique a site—along with Ashley and Erik.


In each episode you engage in a conversation with a guest following a visit to an architectural site. How did you decide to format your podcasts on this premise?

Ashley: When we knew we wanted to make a podcast, we started thinking about why we loved the podcasts we listen to—almost all of which are not related to architecture. We were actually inspired by the comedy podcast Doughboys. On that show, the hosts invite a comedian to visit and review a chain restaurant. We really like the way the show asks guests to describe in detail a trip to everyday, generic restaurants like Ponderosa, Panera or Red Lobster. They always try to meet the subject on its own terms, and don’t take themselves too seriously. We wanted to do the same with architecture.

Erik: We also wanted to have conversations that were fresh and didn’t feel rehearsed. Some podcasts feel like a dissertation defense, but Site Visit should feel like a pop quiz. Everyone's a little in the dark and you have respond to the situation as it evolves. Of course, that means we’re learning too. It’s a risky format that we’re still evolving. 


What typically factors into a guest’s choice of a site to visit?

Erik: Guests have taken different approaches to choosing a site. For example, Ellie Abrons had just finished working on the fabrication of T+E+A+M’s Living Picture, and she and her team had been spending a lot of time at Menard’s out of necessity. Some guests enjoying sharing a site that they have personally visited many times, and others have used the podcast as an opportunity to visit a site for the first time.

Ashley: The only rule is that the guest can’t take us to the building they designed. Site Visit becomes a kind of Rorschach test for how you see the world through the lens of architecture. It's kind of surprising how much you can learn a lot about someone based on their suggestions.

Erik: When a guest offers options, we tend to suggest sites that are more accessible or public. Menard’s was perfect because there are so many locations across the Midwest it really resonates with listeners.


Visited sites in your podcasts have included Downtown Denver, a production of the musical One Hit Wonder at Michigan League, and the Chicago Pedway, a complex network of underground tunnels, bridges and concourses. How do you define a “site” for the purpose of the podcasts?

Ashley: That’s a really great question. We’re clearly interested in an expanded definition of “site.” We really leave the choice of the site open to our guests. Since we believe you can find architectural ideas in almost any format in the world, we have enjoyed a wide range of “sites” on the show.

Erik: John McMorrough’s episode in particular invites this question. Is the “site” the theater or is it the performance or event? If you listen to the episode, John notes the relationship between architecture and theater as both acts of logistical performance. Personally, I’m hoping that guests continue to challenge the premise and help us answer this question a little differently in each episode.


Can you reveal what Site Visit may have in store for the future?

Site Visit has had a really rewarding first year and we’re looking forward to future visits. We are excited to do our first visit in Columbus and then we will hit the road for a few episodes. The rest is a surprise! Stay tuned!


Site Visit recently posted an interview with Paul Andersen, Director of Independent Architecture and Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Architecture, about their visit to the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. Designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill, the US Air Force Academy campus abandons the traditional architectural styles typical of the country’s other military academy buildings and instead, embraces a Modernist approach. Click here to link to the Site Visit web page for this episode and others—and follow them @sitevisitpod on Instagram.

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