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Architecture Meets Water Colors with Artist Tom Kubala

Tom Kubala
'Ridges Reflected' an original water color by Tom Kubala.

If you had all the money in the world and no other limitations, what would you do?

It's a question many of us have pondered when our workload starts to pile-up and the challenges ahead of us seem insurmountable. But for architect Tom Kubala, challenges and limitations are just part of what make his job fun. 

"That's an opportunity that a lot of architects wish they had. But I find that an unlimited budget and a blank slate actually is like designing in a vacuum," says Kubala "The best buildings that we've done have kind of unfolded from a very complex set of conditions that include cultural and historical, natural and other features of the built-in natural environment."

If you live in Wisconsin, you've likely seen Kubala's work. He's the principal and co-founder of Kubala Washatko Architects based in Cedarburg, and he’s designed many local buildings, including the Milwaukee Public Market, the Urban Ecology Center, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center as well as many others.

But just as important to Kubala is his work as an artist, specifically his work in watercolors. He’s had paintings displayed at galleries and public spaces around Wisconsin. And this year, he’s one of the featured artists in Milwaukee Public Television’s annual auction. 

While painting with water colors and designing buildings might seem like very different pursuits, Kubala says they're actually much more similar than you might imagine. 

"The practice of painting and doing architecture is almost the same. What we've found is that, in the case of painting, you're faced with this white paper. And you have the ability, depending on how you organize different blobs of color, to bring a whole life and light to that piece of paper," he says. "In [an] architectural sense, we use the same skills to create mass and space, or form and non-form, in a certain kind of geometry to create life from... from nothing. It's like magical." 

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.