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Great Writers Series: Mary Hunter Austin

The enchanting beauty and rich cultural history of the Southwest, where some of our properties are located, serves as a constant source of inspiration. As part of our new “Great Writers” series, we take immense joy in celebrating individuals whose contributions have cast a lasting glow on the Southwest, mirroring its radiant sunsets. Today, our spotlight is on Mary Hunter Austin, a writer whose connection to the land weaves through her work, reflecting the soul of the Southwest.

Monument Valley West. Photo: 45SURF Hero's Odyssey Mythology Photography
Monument Valley West. Photo: 45SURF Hero’s Odyssey Mythology Photography

Mary Hunter Austin, born in 1868, spent her life deeply immersed in the exploration and interpretation of the American Southwest’s landscapes. Her passion resonates strongly with us at Optima®, as we see our residents similarly captivated by the extraordinary vistas and cultural richness inherent to Optima Sonoran Village® and Optima Kierland Apartments® properties.

Sonoran Desert Landscape
Sonoran Desert Landscape. Photo: Bureau of Land Management Arizona

Austin’s acclaimed work, “The Land of Little Rain,” transcends conventional narratives, encapsulating the raw and compelling beauty of the Mojave Desert. In this collection of essays, Austin captured the intricacies of desert life — the flora, the fauna, and the Native American cultures — with a poet’s eye and a naturalist’s precision.

Optima Sonoran Village
Optima Sonoran Village
The Land of Little Rain
The Land of Little Rain

In addition to her descriptions of nature, Austin’s work reflected her strong sense of social justice, particularly related to Native American culture, women’s rights, and environmental conservation. In her writing, we see the Southwest not just as a backdrop, but as an active participant in the lives of the people who inhabit it. It is this vibrant, interconnected community that Austin so cherished, and that we are privileged to be a part of.

Delving deeper into Mary’s writings, we find a profound understanding and respect for the forces that shape the Southwest. Her observations were not passive; they formed the groundwork for a vibrant dialogue between humanity and the environment. Austin didn’t merely write about the Southwest — she engaged with it, championed it, and ultimately became one of its most influential advocates.

The Land of Journey's Ending
The Land of Journey’s Ending

At Optima®, we are inspired by Austin’s deep connection to the Southwest. Her detailed and vibrant narratives serve as a testament to the beauty of the region, reminding us of the power of truly getting to know a land and the importance of fostering a harmonious relationship with it. Through this shared love of these lands we find ourselves forever inspired, and captivated, deeply aware that we are not just creating buildings, but crafting experiences that resonate with the vibrant spirit of the American Southwest — a spirit so eloquently portrayed in Austin’s works.

Women In Architecture: Eva Hagberg

Many of the pioneering women in the field of architecture, including Ray Eames, Norma Merrick Sklarek, and Mary Jane Long, earned their reputations on projects they designed, just like their male counterparts. But what if someone was able to have a significant impact on critical thinking within the field without actually designing anything? This is how we came to know Eva Hagberg, a person whose journey into and through architecture has been as interesting as it is purposely unconventional.

Writer, architectural historian, adjunct professor, once secret publicist, activist, and self proclaimed, “worst architectural student the school of architecture has ever seen.” Eva Hagberg is a woman in architecture who prides herself on her ideas and process rather than the execution of building a model for people to see.

Eva’s Backstory

From the age of 11, Hagberg was passionate about design and architecture; and while she earned a BA in the field from Princeton University, she never intended to practice. Rather, she began her professional life writing about architecture, choosing to engage in the field from a vastly different angle — interrogating the relationships between narrative and form.

From her early career as a writer in New York City, Hagberg became a secret publicist for architects and designers who were seeking help in articulating the stories behind their projects. As she functioned as a kind of ghost writer, she took advantage of the freedom to be unknown and unseen — “practically ungoogleable” as Hagberg describes herself. Because she opted to express herself by helping others find their voices, she was able to do the work that interested her the most without being pigeonholed, or specialized — architectural historian, adjunct professor, 77 year-old architect reminiscing about a project done in the 80s — or author of When Eero Met His Match.

Published Books

When Eero Met His Match
When Eero Met His Match by Eva Hagberg

What is today a trite proverb — that behind every great man, is a great woman — Eva Hagberg’s When Eero Met His Match is as biographical as it is a poignant love story between critic and publicist Aline Louchheim and architect Eero Saarinen. Aline aided Eero in shaping his identity and prominence as a designer and architect. Throughout the book, Hagberg expresses just how important it is to embrace language and narrative as an integral part of the practice of architecture.

She has also published two architectural books through Monacelli Press, Dark Nostalgia and Nature Framed. Dark Nostalgia seeks to combine psychology, style, architecture, and art to express the reasoning behind our desire to live within lushly nostalgic interiors incorporating wood, velvet, fur, brick, and iron. 

Dark Nostalgia
Dark Nostalgia by Eva Hagberg

Nature Framed, on the other hand, explores an Optima favorite, the concept of biophilic design. Hagberg views 25 residential projects (framed with nature in mind) from around the United States that take the concept of “green living” to the next architectural level by asking, how close to nature can we be while remaining indoors?

Nature Framed
Nature Framed by Eva Hagberg

As Hagberg herself explains, being the “worst architectural student the school of architecture has ever seen,” had its own set of merits. And because of her willingness to rethink, reframe and recontextualize stories about the built environment, Hagberg has carved her own path through sheer perseverance and a deep attunement to the soul of architecture and those who practice it.

Beyond her BA in architecture from Princeton University, Hagsberg went on to earn an MS in architecture from UC Berkeley. As well as a PhD in Visual and Narrative Culture from UC Berkeley. Today, as a member of the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation faculty, her academic work focuses on the theoretical and historical approaches to publicity as a mode of architectural production, and lays out how the modern media system works.

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