Interview with Architect Mary Clare DeReull

FALSE: Are there things in Atlanta in terms of development or architecture that you think somebody got right?

DeReull: I hate to sound like a snob, but I don’t see that many structures that impress me or really fulfill the potential of what could be done. I really like to see modern architecture, but it seems like people in the old days had scale right. They had context much better and were aware of their surrounding much better. I actually admire all these old houses that have great front porches, screen porches, sleeping porches, and all of these things that were like, “Yes, we are in the South. We need breeze!” I never want to see a style that seems like it’s applied on, rather than something organic that grows from what’s around it.

FALSE: Take a moment to describe the “Urban Forest” project you submitted to the Unbuilt Atlanta show.

DeReull: There’s a whole ecosystem there, and it’s right smack in the middle of the city. When you walk into the forest, the sounds are different. You can hear all of these squirrels and falcons and critters moving around. The point was to occupy that space as one of those critters that’s using it, not as the dominator that’s trashing them. That’s my approach as a human.

FALSE: A designer may say that they respond to existing landscapes or they admire Japanese gardens for that reason, but it really seems that you do the legwork to make those ideas happen. Drawing out root systems for instance...

DeReull: Well, if I’m trying to save those trees, it doesn’t help me if I just ask the bulldozer guy not to bulldoze those trees. I hired a surveyor, and he gave me the sizes and thicknesses of the trees. From there I researched just how a trunk of a certain size is going to have a root base of a certain size in order to graph it all out. By the act of drawing those root systems, you’re locating the tree as part of your building plan. Normally, you have a floor plan, and you don’t see what’s right outside the window.

So, yes, it involves facts. It’s not just wishy-washy hopes to save trees or just holding up a sign. Everybody does what’s easier for them, so if it’s easier for the bulldozer guy to go right over my roots and if he doesn’t think it’s a big deal, he’s going to do it. I have to make it very inconvenient for people to do what’s easier. Marking those roots and including it in all the plans makes other people aware.