I was born October 5, 1976 in Cambridge, England to parents John and Claire Hughes from Memphis, Tennessee. My family moved to Carpenteria, California 16 months later, and stayed until I was five years old, when we moved to Whitefish, Montana, where my parents still live. Whitefish was an amazing place to grow up--nestled in the Rocky Mountains near Glacier Park, Flathead Lake, and Big Mountain ski resort, there was an abundance of exciting activities to enjoy in the natural beauty of northwest Montana. Skiing, snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, hunting, and a variety of team sports kept me busy growing up. Beyond physical activities, I have always enjoyed artistic pursuits, nurtured by my grandparents and aunt--all accomplished watercolor artists. In addition to watercolor lessons and classes, I also loved pencil and pen drawing, and had the opportunity to take a few jewelry classes as well. I also have always had a love for music--a few years of piano lessons in elementary school got cut short by a traumatic recital, but fortunately I took up the guitar in high school. I played in a few bands, and quickly realized that I wanted to play bass.
After graduating valedictorian of Flathead High School in 1995, I came to the University of Virginia, initially considering a career in engineering, and quickly switching to the more creative world of architecture. I thoroughly enjoyed my undergraduate experience in the architecture school at UVa--the hours were absurdly long, but the professors and projects were inspiring. I took a number of music courses on the side (sadly you can't minor in music at UVa), and played bass in a number of bands. I graduated with high honors in the spring of 2000 with a BS in Architecture Design.
An amazing opportunity fell into my lap my final semester, when professor Evelyn Tickle organized a design-build studio with teams of two students building projects in professors' homes. I had the honor of building a "ladder to a perch" in the attic of professors Robin Dripps and Lucia Phinney, in Batesville, Virginia. This led into a series of twelve construction projects in their home, where I worked solo full-time for five years. We collaborated on the design of these projects, and I made 3D computer models of the designs to help envision the projects and influence the design decisions. Once we settled on a design, I did all of the construction by myself--metal fabrication, demolition, electrical, plumbing, installation, finishing, ordering parts--virtually everything except for some aluminum welding, and the concrete work on one project. During my design-build 402 studio when time was running short near the end of the semester, I worked alongside some welders at Quality Welding Fabrication in Charlottesville, in order to speed up the metalwork for the project and learn the trade. This led to a unique opportunity to use their shop over the next five years, and to pick many brains countless times on fabrication techniques. Through the years I learned steel and stainless steel welding, how to use the shear, brake, both rollers (for sheet and structural stock), plasma cutter, torch, and became fairly proficient at drilling countless holes and finish grinding many a weld. I really enjoy the hands-on aspect of construction and particularly metal fabrication, and how the processes and tools can really influence design. I especially enjoy the challenges of fabrication and how the hardships and pitfalls of trying to construct a design can actually lead to refining, simplifying, and generally improving the design.
During these years of design-build in the home of Robin Dripps and Lucia Phinney, I also played bass and guitar in twelve bands over the course of ten years, and composed scores of songs in a variety of genres (see the Music page on this web site). Additionally, I delved into recording my bands and working with cutting-edge music software, using the program Ableton Live to perform live looping concerts in my duo, Mixed Bag. It was also during this time that I married my wife, Susan Dempsey (now Susan Hughes), a fellow classmate of mine in the undergraduate architecture program. While I worked design-build, she went back to UVa to get dual Master Degrees in Landscape and Architecture. She is now working for Siteworks Landscape Architects in Charlottesville while I am finishing up graduate school--working on a Master in Architecture at UVa, while continuing to play music in four bands, and doing a bit of construction on the Dripps-Phinney residence when time allows.
Listening to a variety of music has hastened my development as a musician by broadening my horizons, while also helping me understand why certain songs and structures sound great and others are not exciting. In the same way, observing and noting the details and materials of the built environment has seriously impacted my architectural and design ideas and sense of what is appropriate. I find that often the most intriguing creations are deceptively simple, where each part of the composition is essential, where nothing could be added or removed without degrading the design. This economy of materials and means is all around us in nature, in our bodies themselves, not just in man-made objects and music. The beauty and complexity of the human body and all of its systems is an inspiration to architecture and industry--achieving so many necessary tasks and goals within one object, interrelating so many different systems and processes efficiently and harmoniously. The distillation and clarification of ideas and forms is of great importance to design. To me, the whole creative process is about the editing and refinement of an idea, paring it down to the essential elements.