The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship
is a one-year grant for independent, purposeful, humanitarian research outside of the United States, awarded to ≈ 50 graduating seniors from select U.S. colleges and universities each year.
Clark O’Bryan developed an early appreciation for natural places roaming the forests of his grandmother’s home in rural Waitsfield, Vermont. Graduate
of Middlebury College ('23) with a dual degree in architecture and biology, he finds himself increasingly drawn to the material origins and processes of building; whether through stone, wood, fiber or earth, the modes by which the making process cultivates our connection to local place. Certified as a dry stone waller through The Stone Trust (DSWA I) and current Masters candidate at the Yale School of Architecture (M.Arch I), he is determined to regenerate the millennia-old knowledge, materials and methods of traditional building crafts as essential touchpoints in the future development of rural New England. Indeed it is from this geographic and theoretical point that his project takes course.
The northeastern United States is a borderland of multiple intersecting geologic, climactic and ecological regions. As a result, a diverse body of natural materials, biotic and abiotic, constitute the vibrant traditional, historical and contemporary resource economy and building culture.
In the coming century, the region is projected to change at an accelerated rate. Shifts in mean temperature, humidity, severity and frequency of rainfall events, duration of freeze-free periods per year, will displace current distributions of plant species, pressured by increased pestilence, and open room for emigrating, primarily southern-originating, species. The region will thus become a home for climate migrants of many sorts. As new human populations flock seeking refuge, aging infrastructure will demand replacement, and a mass housing shortage will inevitably necessitate a mass building movement.
Out of what, then, and from where, will this movement materialize?
By traveling to regions of the world analoguous to the northeastern United States, and working alongside traditional building craftspeople deeply embedded in the material origins and processes of their work, I hope to recover the materials and methods relevant to the changing ecological conditions of my locality. It is my hope that, by listening to these traditional sources, practicing and refining a crafted touch on the land, I will be able to offer an approach to the question rooted in place, in my time, and most important, by hand. This is how I understand the essential directive of my future work as a craftsman.
Thomas J. Watson Fellowship