The Explorer | Monica Adair
A weathered old man on a mountaintop; a grand-scaled ship sailing dark seas when the world was still flat; straight-up John Smith from Pocahontas (hashtag disneykidd)– what do you think of when you hear the word explorer? The word itself carries connotations of a time long passed– an archived title reserved for history books and newfound land– but with the advancement of time and its ages, it seems fair that the term carries forward, too.
Enter: Monica Adair. She’s an architect by trade, but her heart is set on more. “We can make a path,” she says, “but things come up and it rarely becomes that path. My team and I, we like to think of ourselves as explorers– explorers in the sense of people who, even though they don’t know where they’re going, they still have a path. It’s this idea of taking some chartered courses and then looking for unchartered territory as well; a mixing of strict guidelines and open discovery. It’s a life journey, and that’s the kind of life I want to live.”
As co-founder of Acre Architects, Monica alongside her husband + business partner, Stephen Kopp, make up 2 of just 11 architects under the age of 40 operating out of New Brunswick. Their uptown abode in the port city of Saint John is designed more as an artist studio than an office space– its lofty, industrial accents mingle with warm woods, wall-to-wall bookshelves, and–– oh –– a self-built treehouse (sans the tree) “mini office”. The ‘house is Monica’s personal headquarters– a wee nook lit with art, sentimental tokens, and her own collection of antique typewriters.
In the Acre office, egos are checked at the door. Monica’s small team of six thrives on the philosophy of ‘believing you can live a better life’. It’s a simple yet effective idea that carries their group narrative while they work on both raising the bar of their home-base city and taking on projects worldwide. The two bosses tend to float between Saint John and their New York City office, where they’re currently working on a boutique hotel in Brooklyn. It’s not about being a big fish in a small pond for them– it’s a balance between making a difference in their east coast Canadian city and keeping acclimatized to whatever else comes their way.
A lot of the work Monica and her team do is about connecting– not in the social networking schmooze-ster way. “We want to make every single thing we do count– I just don’t want to leave this world without making some kind of difference. Each project we take on means something to us– that’s essential,” she says.
One of their recent projects involves no building of buildings at all– Monica and Stephen teamed up with a group of prominent artists, intellects, and cultural disrupters in NY to shoot a video documentary based around acts of giving & creating meaning. It’s the type of project that parallels with their openminded and heavy-heart attitude in work and life. (Stay tuned on more about this project– I am dying talk more details and share the neat folks involved.)
“Architecture is a means to do some of the things that are important to me,” Monica says, “More importantly it’s the how and the chance of discovering what’s out there– something that’s bigger than what I know today.”
Read on as I talk with Monica about her own essence of life, maintaining, and being a “moon family”. If this whole architecture gig doesn’t pan out, she’s got a backup career in the spirit-guide department.
What’s been the base of your coming to form?
I’ve never taken the conventional order of things as a given. Having a strong family helps– my mother was a human rights activist, an immigrant, and the oldest of 18 children. My father was an entrepreneur. Stephen [husband] and I always come back to this analogy of rolling with the storm– life as this whirlpool where the more you struggle to fight it, the deeper down you go. Trying to just go around things– moving with life and its challenges, and seeing where it takes you… life has been a lot of that for me.
What’s that like– working professionally with your husband / love?
Even-Stephen. He’s basically riding over top of the storm while I run through it. I learn a lot from him. He likes to be underestimated, whereas I am the opposite. We met in architecture school followed by biding for the same job. They ended up giving the job to both of us, so we got an apartment together in Brooklyn, and I realized I could work with him early on. I’m not sure what his answer to that question would be. [laughs]
Yes, I can just imagine a family portrait commission of you, Stephen, and baby Hugo riding through this figurative ‘storm’. Stephen flying cool-calm overtop, you riding straight through it, and baby Hugo…. Hugo could the moon, maybe.
Ah, the moon. Hugo would love to be the moon– “where did moon go?” he says. We are very much a moon family.
Okay. So, the sun–it’s fine. We change our lives based on it; we move our daily calendars to it. We go to bed based on it, and it’s easy because it’s daily. But, the moon– which changes entire tides and has incredible force– we kind of just bypass it and think, “oh, it’s the moon”. It has so much pull, and the earth is so much water, how can it not affect us? My father always said his best business decisions were made on a full moon, and so my family has always been and still is very tied and responsive to it. It makes me feel very small on the planet, but in a very good way– how it makes me feel relative to the world’s rawest, biggest fundamentals.
I would like to also be a moon person now, thanku. Can you tell me who is someone you admire? Curious who Monica Adair looks up to.
I’m more moved by actions than people themselves– moments that make you want to weep. People who can be big in the face of fear or vulnerable in times when life sets challenges– we’re defined more by actions than anything. I guess I just admire those Vikings– those people are brave enough to put themselves out there to take pleasure and experience things, and realize the world’s power. There’s so much to take in and I want to experience it all– I want to ache in this world because I love it so much. People who can really put themselves out there to approximate that are what drive me.
And how do you maintain this very full life– family, your own firm, big work projects, travel, Hugo– all while keeping it so rich?
I’m inspired a lot. I try to surround myself with artists and creative people to keep things lush, and I feel very lucky to have those people around me. Though, I’ve always liked the quote “Inspiration is for amateurs”. My inspiration is about creating a process to facilitate that. Architecture is one of those means of doing so.
What about the little things on the daily? Eg: routines and art and books and things?
These days, I spend my running time listening to audiobooks - this week’s run has me diving into the illustrious and gripping lives of Polar Explorers (makes my running seem laughably easy in comparison). I also like scotch. And bourbon. I get really into things in the moment, and so I’m constantly throwing myself into things… that’s how I thrive to my fullest.
Does a baby city like Saint John satisfy the ACRE’s creative quench?
I’ve always been strong in believing that you don’t have to live in a big city to make big things. Stephen and I talked about how we probably only have about 40 great projects left in our life, as good architecture takes time. We’re invested in making a difference here in our own piece of the world without tying ourselves to Saint John exclusively. I’m don’t tend to be tied to “a place” itself– the people, yes– but I prefer to remain unbound. It’s a way to make room for the mysterious and wonderful. Why limit that?
Word to that! Thank u, M.
Thank u, L.