21 Questions With Architect Mario Gooden

Photo Illustration: Lined; Photo: Karsten Staiger

New YorkThe “21 questions” of are back with an eye on New York creatives. Mario Gooden is the new president of the Architecture Leaguea professor at columbiaand founding member of the Black Reconstruction Collective, a non-profit organization that supports black space practices. His architectural firm, Studio Mario Gooden, currently working on the Jeh Vincent Johnson ALANA Cultural Center at Vassar College; the Woodson African American Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida; and the Churchill House at Brown University.

Last name: Mario Goode
Age: 56
Piece: chelsea
Occupation: Architect

What’s hanging above your couch?
Nothing. I have a pair of sofas floating in the middle of the living room. There is a window behind one with a view of the Hudson River; behind the other is my library.

What was the first job you had in New York?
I was a summer intern for Charlie Gwathmey at Gwathmey Siegel in 1987. At the time, Charlie was working on houses for three for DreamWorks partners SKG. He recently completed the Steven Spielberg barnbut I have to do some drawings for an iteration of a house for David Geffen and plans for a house for Jeffrey Katzenberg.

What color are you always drawn to?
I wear a lot of black, like most architects do. But I’m drawn to light blues whenever I mix a color. I went to a Catholic school growing up and our uniforms were navy and light blue, so it may have something to do with that.

What work of art or artefact are you most surprised to own?
I managed to keep a poster of Zaha Hadid entering the peak competition, a private club concept in Hong Kong, which made her famous. It’s a good reminder of when I worked for her and there were only six of us in her office. It’s still in the original frame I put it in 30 years ago and has moved everywhere with me, including Gainesville, Florida and South Carolina.

Which New Yorker would you like to date?
I would love to walk around town with a younger version of Paul Auster. I devoured his books when I moved to New York in the 80s. The New York Trilogy are my favorites, and I was drawn to them because they are somewhat existential and are about language and space. He seemed to me to be the New Yorker par excellence.

What’s the last thing you did with your hands?
I’m still keeping the artwork in my apartment, moving things around trying to find space on the wall for a new piece. Recently, I made a stand so I could cantilever a photograph of James Welling in front of a curtain that hides a storage cupboard in my hallway.

Is there something you have multiple versions of?
I have kept several generations of Macintosh computers. Ever since I started my business 25 years ago, it’s always been a Mac desktop. I don’t have the original 128K, but I have one Macintosh II in its original box, a Mac SE, and a Mac Plus. They no longer work, but I keep them as design objects.

Which museum in New York do you always go to?
The Whitney, because of the proximity. I’m not the biggest fan of the new building, but the exhibits are really good.

What do you always have next to your computer?
I hate to keep talking about books, but that would be a pile of books. Right now it’s Nitasha Tamar Sharma Hawaii is my refugeby Rinaldo Walcott The Long Emancipation: Towards Black Freedomand that of Isabel Wilkerson Caste and The warmth of other suns.

Where is the best view in town?
I think I have the best view. I’m on the 21st floor and can see the Liberty Tower and Statue of Liberty to the south and the Hudson River to the west. In late summer and fall, the sunsets are stunning.

What building or object do you want to redraw each time you see it?
At ground level, Hudson Yards does not recognize the city or respect its urban patterns, and the first two towers that were built have too many architectural cliches. I want to redesign everything so that it is no longer a neoliberal enclave of wealth and privilege.

What is one thing you would change in your field?
I want architecture to change so that it is not seen and operated as a privileged profession. There are exceptions, but it usually takes family money to be successful in architecture. It takes a lot of work to dislodge patriarchy and privilege, and decenter whiteness. I’ve wanted to be an architect since I was a kid, exploring architecture books in my little county library in South Carolina, never doubting that I could inhabit the spaces I saw on those pages. But that is not the case for so many black boys and girls; they are not encouraged to think or believe that they belong in these spaces.

If you could live anywhere in New York, where would it be?
I moved to Chelsea at the end of my higher education in 1991, before the galleries and on the eve of the arrival of gays. It’s not the same anymore, but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I love being able to go out on a Saturday and see art, which I often do with my good friend Joel Sanders.

What would you hoard if it stopped being produced?
Black Uniqlo t-shirts. They are my go-to.

What do you do to get out of a creative rut?
I like to enter the zone where I draw or sketch and where things flow. I usually turn on Philip Glass or Flying Lotus.

Where was your first apartment in New York and how much was the rent?
The International House, on Riverside Drive. I’m not sure you can really call it an apartment though; it was a bit like a dormitory.

Where in the city do you go to be alone?
Hudson River Park. It got crowded during COVID, but there is a small gravel sitting garden off Perry Street that overlooks the running path where it’s quiet and nice to be alone. I like to sit there with a book on a Sunday afternoon.

Worst career advice you’ve ever received?
A partner at an architecture firm I worked at early in my stay in New York said something like, “I don’t know if you’re cut out for this.

What have you given someone that you wish you could get back?
When I started teaching at the University of Florida in the mid-1980s, I lent students books from my personal library and there were a few that I never got back. They were exhausted – like the first The sketch on the work of Enric Miralles — but I managed to replace them over the years.

What is your favorite restaurant in NYC and do you order regularly?
I go to Empire Diner almost every Sunday for a late brunch, just before they stop serving at 4pm I order an avocado and mushroom omelette, fries and a Bloody Mary.

What descriptive phrase do you want on your obituary?
“A little black boy from Orangeburg, South Carolina.”

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