Born in the Philippines to a Spanish–Filipino father and a Colombian mother, Carlos Arnaiz was educated first at a Jesuit school run by exiled Chinese priests, then at Williams College and the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). In 2003, he joined Field Operations, the landscape architecture firm then led by James Corner and Stan Allen, FAIA, where he assisted with the competition phase of the High Line. But there wasn’t room for him to fully develop as an architect—“I was the electrician in the plumber’s office,” he says—so he left to help Allen, by then the dean of the Princeton School of Architecture, with his practice in Brooklyn. When the recession hit, Arnaiz found himself out of work and on his own. “It was freaky,” he says. “I’d just had my second child, and I was out of a job.” Nearly five years later, as he explains below, CAZA, the firm Arnaiz founded in Brooklyn, has a satellite office in the Philippines, a parallel urbanism research venture, and a host of interesting projects on the boards.
Read Philosophy, Do Architecture
At Williams, there were no architecture classes. I was a literature and philosophy double major. I started a class with one of my professors called “Space, Place, and Fiction”—we read novels where geographic identities influenced plot and development. My junior year abroad at Oxford, I enrolled in the School of Geography, where I studied how place affects politics. Back at Williams for my senior year, I started reading architectural theory. That’s how it all got started.
At the GSD, I was able to dabble in urbanism and landscape at the same school. At the time, it seemed a bit classical and orthodox, especially compared to the really avant-garde places like SCI-Arc. But it was like a cruise liner: You may not always like where it’s going, and you may not always agree with the captain, but there are so many rooms and so many parties, it doesn’t really matter.
The Culture of CAZA
I obsess about two things: How are we going to design the world, and what kind of team are we going to do it with? Architecture doesn’t treat its young very well, and I wanted to do things differently—preserve the startup energy and leverage my own diversity. It’s not a shop where I have all the answers, where I toss an associate a napkin sketch. I ask Socratic questions, and rely on the range of multidisciplinary skills we have. That’s what keeps us agile in a competitive marketplace. We don’t want egos in the room. We don’t own the ideas here. When I look at our projects, I can’t remember what part came from whom.
Teaching and Firm Improvement
I teach every semester at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. In the fall, I teach a course on housing, and we test a lot of the concepts blooming in the office. It’s a great open platform for testing ideas—students don’t have the same constraints as professionals, and it’s refreshing to hear their unencumbered responses. I also teach theory-based classes—the history of ornamentalism, for instance. I isolate myself in academic mode.
A year ago, I started this research venture, Studio for Urban Analysis (SURBA), with Peter Rowe, a former professor of mine at Harvard, and dean at the GSD from 1992 to 2004, who’s an expert on urbanism in China. We’ve been hired by China Calxon Group, one of that nation’s largest developers, to set up a research institute dedicated to the development of the country’s towns.