Craig Maldonado

What drew you to architecture?
My mother is a painter and my father is an architect. It was a confluence of both of those influences. I started off in landscape architecture and received my BS from Cornell. Eventually, I got my Master’s in architecture, but it was really my parents that gave my initial interest.

Do you think you might ever enter academia and teach?
I actually did. I taught for 1.5 years after graduate school, but since then, my work schedule hasn’t permitted to teach. I really like to give back though; I truly enjoy it.

In addition to architecture, do you also provide art direction?
I worked with well-known artist, David Lachapelle, for six-and-a-half years. He lost his studio space in the Lower East Side and was moving to Los Angeles. Since I studied architecture, he asked me to design his new studio although all my work for him was art direction. The thing is that art direction and architecture have completely different approaches. This one was was a sculptural process, only with a little less planning and a little more point-and-shoot. For the Lachapelle project, we worked backwards by finding materials, figuring out the sensation we wanted to create, and then implementing the architectural idea at the end. Ultimately, I consider my time designing with Lachapelle like my third education. It’s been really enjoyable for me.

Did you really get to work with Elton John?
It was crazy. That was my first music video that I ever worked on and I was the production designer! I just did a video shoot with Russell Simmons last week and I also worked with Brian Adams, but that Elton John video was very fun. We built a church, landscapes, and a nightclub in one week. We got a bunch of talented people together and built it. I have to say, I really love the crew that I work with because they are used to long hours. The crew is crucial.

But I also noticed that you worked with Desperate Housewives. I’m guessing you don’t fit the typical demographic of a Desperate Housewives viewer.
[Laughs] You’re right, but with art direction work, it’s being a gun for hire. Those are high paying and high-profile jobs. They may not be my typical work but they’re always fun, nonetheless.

I’d love to hear a little more about your volunteer work in Haiti.
A well-known artist named Swoon – she has a show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art – was working with me on some grant writing to build a sustainable house model in Haiti. She came through with grant money via the Rockefeller Foundation and wanted to use a special technique. We were very instrumental with the design and project management. The real reason why so many people got hurt was the poor quality of construction. We wanted to introduce a technique, filling rice bags with earth and cement,  that’s more forgiving and easy to learn. When I went to Haiti, we were hoping to start a new direction of construction for them, and since then, we’ve built three houses with that technique.

Do you take a different approach when you work in a suburban setting versus a more metropolitan location like the Prince Street apartment?
I gravitate towards clients that have interesting ideas. It’s not about whether it is urban, suburban, or rural. It’s about the people and their ideas.  I really like people with interesting outlooks on life, how they live and work. That’s why I gravitate with artists like Lachapelle and Matteo, a linen designer who had an interesting ideas about how to sell sheets. Now I’m working with a guy in Mexico who has out of the box thoughts on what a luxury vacation house should be like . I don’t typically do those jobs but he has some very different thoughts on  what sleeping, eating, bathing,  should be like so I’m helping him visually unearth these concepts. It’s less about if the project is urban or rural, but more about the person who is going to occupy the space. But I do love working in the city as much as I love working in the country.

Did you also work on a gallery pop up store?
Yes, in Florida for David Drebin. It was a really fast, low-budget, and we built it all in less than a week. I love that. I love working with disposable materials, whether it is an expensive or inexpensive project. The pop-up store in Florida was an old real estate office. We tore down walls and left some half demolished and used inexpensive lighting. Pop up stores tend to be the most creative because craftsmanship isn’t as important as coming up with a clever way to have maximum impact. It really comes down to how the idea is executed. It’s about making it work in a tight time frame.

Who are your influences?
My father, Tim Maldonado, is hugely influential to me. He’s so good at what he does and has been at it for fifty years. He truly has all the answers that I need. I try not to look at other architects per se, but I try to look at traditional, vernacular architecture that is from a specific community based on local needs. For example, when I was in Hawaii, I looked at the garages and barns that had a utilitarian purpose. In Soho, the vernacular is cast-iron buildings while in Brooklyn, the vernacular is brownstone buildings. That changes is wherever you go.

What are the most beautiful buildings in the world?
In terms of feeling, there’s a spa that was designed by ­­­­­­Peter Zumthor in Vals, Switzerland. There’s the Monument Mills in Housatonicthat is a decaying and collapsing building. It’s really beautiful. I love these old buildings built during the industrial period that have utilitarian and design value to them-  like the art deco department of water and power buildings in Los Angeles. Nowadays, industrial power plants are considered the ugliest things in the world, but earlier they were celebrated. Those are the type of buildings that I truly respond to.

Do you have a favorite movie?
Blade Runner and Mad Max. I like post-apocalyptic and fantasy movies. These two films are beautifully designed, opulent, and have emotional landscapes and characters.

What countries are on your travel bucket list?
I’ve been fortunate that my job allows me to travel around the world. One place I have not been to is Africa. I’m also Argentinian and would love to go to the southern tip of Argentina, Tierra del Fuego.

What about a favorite beer?
I love Dale’s Pale Ale.

If calories don’t matter, what would you love to eat?
A big steak.

And lastly, what is beauty in your own words?
Beauty is authenticity. When something is genuine, I find it very beautiful because it expresses itself for what it is.

For more of Craig’s work, check out his website.