If you’ve been in the Ford Center, then you’ve seen the work of Sarah Schuler, 39, and her team at VPS Architecture in Downtown Evansville. A native of St. Phillips on the West Side of Evansville, Schuler graduated from Ball State University and is a member of the American Institute of Architects and the Public Art Commission of Evansville. She and her husband, Chris Lautner, the chief estimator at Traylor Bros., have two children, Alayna and Drew.
City View: Why did you become an architect?
Sarah Schuler: Sometimes I think I didn’t have a choice. When I was very young, spaces always intrigued me. My imagination was very vivid. It was just something that was always there.
CV: Who and what inspires you?
SS: I think I am most inspired by traveling to other cultures and then sitting in their spaces. I used to live in Berlin, Germany, and Frank Gehry did a building there (DZ Bank). You feel like you are in the belly of a fish. My favorite architect is Peter Zumthor, a Swiss architect. I think he’s brilliant at looking at each project that comes to him and throwing away every design idea that you’ve seen before. He did a very famous thermal bath in Vals, Switzerland. It’s a very contemporary building in a charming historic Swiss town. They did it to give the younger people a reason to stay in the town. It has all of these rooms that are made out of the stone from that area. It sits into the mountainside. It’s really well designed, down to every detail.
CV: You spend a lot of time talking with clients about what they want in a building. What were you told about the Ford Center project, which was a collaboration between VPS, Hafer Associates, and designer Populous of Kansas City, Mo.?
SS: There was a lot of study of public outreach to determine how many seats they wanted to have. And they wanted it to be sustainable. They wanted LEED Silver certification, and we were able to achieve that. The arena advisory board did not say it had to look like something else. That was by design. I think that is just a beautiful building for Evansville — it’s a statement about being forward-thinking by the use of the materials, the form of it. We worked on the concepts. We took a lot of inspiration from what Evansville is. It has a lot to do with the river, with our natural resources like Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve, but in a very fun and playful way. It’s like a reinterpretation of some of these design inspirations. You will see a lot of curving elements, and you will see it even from the exterior, the way one side of the building wraps over it like a wave. Then as you get into the inside, it comes out in the floor pattern on the main concourse level, in the way it’s built into the seats.
CV: You also designed Cedar Hall and North High and Junior High School.
SS: Cedar Hall is unique in that it is truly a community school located in a neighborhood on North Fulton. It needed to respond to the context of the neighborhood, which we did through scale and form with the townhouse feel, and yet it had to be playful and exciting for the community. That is where we introduced the color, both inside and out. It is a very bright, light-filled school. North High and Junior High School is a large facility and is designed for growth. Due to its size, the wings were designed to make the interior experience a little less overwhelming for students by having corridors scaled down. This allows departments or grades to be organized into smaller sections, and it allows all classrooms to have exterior views and natural light. The roof angles (they tilt downward, toward the center of the building) allow an immense amount of natural light into interior corridors and classrooms.
CV: What’s the culture like at VPS Architecture?
SS: We do have a culture that really encourages everyone to get creative and to take ownership in the designs they are working on. Buildings are complex experiences, but to build a building is no easy feat. You have to fit each space individually and make it the best that it can be. There has to be a balancing of what the client can realistically afford and what they desire.
CV: What are some architectural trends in Evansville and the Tri-State area?
SS: It seems to me that one of the biggest trends is creating better-designed public buildings and outdoor spaces. The codes keep taking steps to make buildings more environmentally friendly. This adds to the overall quality of life and gets people from the outside to take notice of Evansville as a city on the move.