My Story

The Second Decade
Remaking What Is Under the Table...
Seeing the World As a System

The best qualification of a prophet
is to have a good memory

Lord Halifax
1633 - 1695

link: Supplementary Notes




Back to California Inventing a machine - a process. Boy Scouts - for a short while

My Grandfather, as I have said elsewhere [link: tom richards - wwII], could fix anything. When we returned to the States, my Mother and I spent some months with him at a golf driving range he was running on the edge of the old Mills Estate in San Mateo, California.

There were thousands and thousands of golf balls to be picked up every day, cleaned, painted with appropriate stripes (according to their age and use) and put back for resale to an endless line of customers. Grandfather and I decided that we should see how much of this entire process we could automate. What resulted was a number of weird contraptions (ultimately brought together into one system) that actually worked.

In the end we had a device that, on one end, dirty golf balls could be dropped into a hopper, cleaned sorted, repainted with appropriate color stripe and batched into small buckets (125 balls per) for reuse. This entire operation required only a few interventions on the part of the inventor-operators. It took up the entire shed and threatened to grow into the living room except for a Grandmother (who having been around thing kind of thing for a generation) defended that space like it was the Holy Grail.

It was a marvelous machine!

We accomplished this feat of modern mechanical art with mostly parts found around the shop and junk yard. This was an important lesson. Master Sergeants in WWII were famous for their procurement talents which the unenlightened called stealing. Whatever, the message was that there was always something that could be made to work. We also got the job done fast even given the occasional diversions when youthful ignorance proved too much for my Grandfather.

An example was the valves. When the golf balls were painted they had to be placed in a device that would turn them at the appropriate speed (arrived at by experiment) as a brush with the correct amount of paint (also arrived at by experiment) was lowered to the correct spot (arrived at by...). All this, the ball rolling into place, the motor turning, the valves gripping and the painted result dropping onto a drying tray (made of nails sticking up so the paint was not smeared) was accomplished by the triumphant designers activating only one foot peddle. I thought the paint tray (which automatically turned over, when the correct number of balls had dried, was a notably eloquent hack.

To do this, the balls were held by two spring loaded valves whose curve on the bottom magically matched the circumference of the balls. I was impressed with the valves and their machining and wondered how someone had made such a thing just to hold golf balls. This led to us tearing down and rebuilding an old engine so that I could learn what a value was really for. Years later, I found myself on a construction job with a messed up engine on a remote site and was able to remember-rethink my way though the procedure well enough to get the equipment running again. Grandfather, it seemed, had more than golf balls on his mind.

This was an enlightening experience for me to work with a master of the mechanical art even though the purpose of the whole thing was more to keep us occupied then any commercial value. I did know this at the time. My Grandfather had me convinced that if we did not complete the project the world would be flooded with a avalanche of unwashed and unpainted golf balls. Perhaps, he believed this also. What I had been taught, without even knowing I was being taught, was the entire process of rapid-prototyping.

School, was never this good. Too bad.

We drove the rest of the family crazy. Also, too bad.

It was during this period that I started forming my first interests in architecture. I wrote a report for school that raised the issue of the utility/art dichotomy - an issue that I was not to resolve [link: whay is architecture] until a few years later. I remember cutting out of a magazine a colored picture of a simple little post and beam modern house much like an Eichler home [link: usonian houses and eichler]. The post WWII Arts and Architecture movement had begun. It stimulated me from the very beginning.





Washington D.C. A loft of my own. I decide to become an Architect The end of a certain innocence of another kind.

My Father was transferred to the Pentagon which I found to be a wonderful place to play. We bought a house in Falls Church, Virginia that had a completely open attic. My Father laid down a wood floor and left the rest to me. This is where my practice of architecture began.

Book cases, drawing board and various other tools soon were assembled into a very nice environment - one of the best I was to have for years to come. The space was huge and projects of all kinds could be kept “out” while still maintaining a neat space. To this day I like to keep all my projects visual and accessible to the impulse of work. My workspaces still reflect this.

Palo Alto - 1999
Hilton Head - 1999
CAMELOT - 1999

I spent hours in the space just sitting and thinking - the only thing that drew me out was baseball. One day my sanctum was invaded.

It seems that my 13 year old cousin had gotten in to “boy trouble” and was banned to the wilds of Virginia for a year. Suddenly, a cot appeared on the other side of my room with my cousin in occupancy. Later a wall was built and she was given half of my loft.

Anyway, it seems that my cousin didn’t have any trouble with boys at all and that first night I lost a certain innocence that you can only lose once. It was a wonderful school year. Years later my Mother asked me if they had made a “mistake” with the arrangements and I told her it depended on your perspective! This experience actually made very girl-shy and it was many, many years before sex became a serious issue with me. I guess I had learned enough to satisfy my curiosity and to understand that this was something special and serious.

After she left, baseball and architecture dominated my life for a long time to come.

The story actually has a sad ending. It seems that my cousin never did get over her “problem” and she was shortly banned from the family to the life of an unwed-single-mother-on-her-own. This led to an ever increasing downward spiral too familiar in our society. I never saw her after this happened and to the family she ceased to exist. Given what I was to later learn of my mothers’s and Aunt’s exploits as teenagers, I never could figure out why this (over) reaction to my cousin’s proclivities. Her younger sister (my other cousin) grew up to be an absolute prig - out of fear, I suppose. I never could stand her.

I always felt that the family shame was in how this was handled not in the misguided and uninformed experiments of a young girl. I still feel this way and mendacity has never been one of my favorite human practices. This is not unrelated to the issue of the table.






Basketball, Susan and drawing. The National Gallery.

The doctors decided that perhaps I could return to a somewhat normal life and I was allowed a few carefully supervised hours a week of sports. Baseball was my real passion. At this time, I also discovered basketball which has a completely different kind of flow to it. I liked the continuous movement of the sport and discovered that I had great endurance. It was not until the 70s and I discovered long distance running and that this was where my real physical capability existed. I did get into both a baseball and basketball leagues with doctors and mother nervously hovering by. It took an out and out rebellion on my part, six years later, before they gave up telling me I had to rest - or die.

At this time I met Susan who became my first steady girlfriend. We spent hours in her basement family room playing “house.” It was a strictly platonic relationship with a latent sense of sensuality - very pleasant. This was my first experience that a boy and a girl could actually like one another and be friends. The games we played were, of course, a simulation of life as a married couple and were elaborate. They were informative and based on what we observed of our parents who were close friends. We were interested in seeing if we could do it somewhat better and with less conflict than the role models we were offered. We talked a great deal about this. One day, this part of my life changed. Looking back, I suppose that the parents started to get concerned and subtly manipulated the situation. They may have been right, it is hard to tell from here. It could be that they were challenged by this brief exercise in domesticity.

My relationships with my cousin and Susan taught me two things. The sex with my cousin was without guile or politics. It was natural, fun, puppy-like. Nor, at my age, was it overcharged with male hormines. My time with Susan was an experience of sensual companionship. No false expectations, no conflicts - no demands. The two combined made up a rare experience - and set an expectation. It was almost imposible to have two experiences like this back to back in the 1950s. Nor now, I expect, in the over-charged sexual environment of todays media. I was never able, after this, to see a girl or women as an object - as something to conquer or control - or, to be jealous of.

This totally intimidated me when it came to the “normal” social rituals that were to follow.

There was school and for awhile, Susan, and there was baseball with basketball as a good second choice. I did not do well in school having by this time been in seven different ones and, with the exception of three teachers, I found the process totally boring. Also, I could not relate at all to “civilians.” What they were concerned about in life was incomprehensible to me. The truth is, it is still incomprehensible.

My real life was in my attic loft with my drawing instruments and my father’s collage mechanical drafting books. When I finally got into a formal classes in 1954, I discovered that I had self taught myself through several semesters of mechanical and architectural drafting. This did not make me happy because I felt betrayed by the educational system which I expected to be able to teach me more than I could learn on my own. A nail - one of many - in the coffin of my formal learning process.

Those hours alone were magic. My space was a refuge. I poured over books, my Britannica, Mechanix Illustrated and other technical magazines and the aerodynamics materials my father brought back from the Pentagon. I dreamed of a life as an inventor and designer and of world very different than the one I lived in. I still dream of that elusive world even as I work to create it.

There was one circumstance in my relationship with my father that further drove this joy of isolation. My work became a way to avoid family interaction and conflict. I will not deal with it here but will address it when it came to a head in 1953 and lead to a divorce between my parents.

I enjoyed playing in the Pentagon which had many hallways full of airplane and ship models as well as actual cut away full size jet engines. And, of course there was the entire Mall in DC with the museums - an educational candy store for a curious mind. I spent hours there. My favorite place of all was the National Art Gallery. To this day, it is the first environment I go to when I return to Washington DC [link]. It is still “home” for me and the influence of this work on my work cannot be over stated [link].

The National Art Gallery
I took this picture February 2005





A Boy Scout Merit Badge in Architecture Jolting Joe. A teacher.






San Angelio, Texas and Little league Baseball. Thinking about the year 2000. Going to the Moon - a linear exercise. Soccer and cowboy boots. An F-86 packs it in. The Bat Boy.






Divorce. The trek to California - Palo Alto Military School. Meeting Eichler. The Hanna House.


Design of my first office based on the Nichol’s Office (no relation to Major Nichols) in Palo Alto 






Graduation. C.S. Forester’s Cat. My first built house. Drafting class.


I had long been a fan of C.S. Forester’s Hornblower series. My mother found out that he lived in Berkeley and arranged a meeting.

Design of Don Nichol’s Residence in Palo Alto (Built without supervision in 1958) 





Building an Engine. The Fountainhead. Learning to be a Cowboy. Building paths. Introduction to Bucky.

This summer I worked on a ranch in the Trinity Alps North West of Mount Shasta in California. I became an “apprentice” cowboy. Early in my experience I received a lesson on how youngsters are initiated into the club. I was working with the Senior Wrangler getting the horses ready for the day. He turned to me and told me to go down to the meadow and round up two horses who were known for their stubbornness. I started walking toward my horse when he asked me if I wanted to use his. An unprecedented question! I eagerly said yes but should have noted the sly grin on his face.

Now, the senior Wrangler was a “real” cowboy in the traditional meaning and his horse (I forget the name) was a REAL horse. Very intimidating. Large, muscular, full of energy and breathing fire. This I knew from simple observation. What I was about to learn was there is a difference between concept and experience.

For the sake of this retelling, lets call the horse Lightning-bolt - this is a fair description. I tightened his girth and swung into the saddle - or started to. The second I swing my leg over old Lightning shot off toward the gate. Out we went with me holding on to the horn clinging desperately trying to get my right foot over and into the stirrup. I want to be clear that Lightning was not giving me a hard time - he was just doing what he was trained to do and being what he was.

I don’t know if you have ever ridden a quarter horse in his prime. It is the difference (compared to “horse” as commonly understood) between a typical car-car and a barely street-legal full-out sports car driven by a professional. The sensation of acceleration and agility is about equal between the two systems. Nothing prepares you for this. In this case, Lightning was doing the driving. And a professional he was.

The corral, where I started this intrepid journey, was in a stand of pine a couple hundred feet above the meadow and about an eigth of a mile away. There was a bumpy, narrow dirt road - barely adequate for the trucks that brought in hay - that lead to the meadow. Lightning-bolt charged down this road like it was a level freeway. About half way down, the trees cleared a bit and I could see the two horses in question. They always hung out together no doubt sharing ideas on how to make life miserable for junior wranglers.

Until this moment in my short life - which I was now convinced was about to end - I did not know that horses could understand English - or read minds. At any rate, Lightning seemed fully briefed on the mission. As I glanced at the two culprits, he suddenly left the road and proceeded down a 45 degree slope right at them with no diminishment in the rate-over-ground. I am proud to say that I did not mess my pants (barely) but the resulting language was not becoming to a promising young architect-to-be cum cowboy.

The two, who apparently were expecting a day of rest, demonstrated how fast a horse can run a calculation when motivated. They instantly shot off in a direction 90 degrees to our vector heading at full run toward the densest part of the woods. The other 50 or so horses in the meadow didn’t bother to move. They seemed to knew who was on the list - and not. What the two apparently did not know - I certainly did not - was that a quarter horse can execute a full 90 degree turn at full gallop. For the apprentice rider this presented a small problem. I then learned that the concept “inertia,” which I had studied in school, and the realty of being the experiment were miles apart. I left the saddle heading in the direction, that a moment before, the two horses were.

Lightning-bolt took no notice - apparently, the way this worked was he had his job and I had mine. His job - in his definition of it - was to round up the two horses. Mine was to hold on if I could. Somehow I did. We hit the woods at high velocity with me half on and half off mostly hanging down a few inches away from four big pounding hoofs. It is amazing how alert your senses are and how clear sounds are during near-death experiences. My whole reality was made up of those hoofs.

The strategy of the chased was to use the dense cover to slow down the pursuer. They enhanced this with rapid directional changes and diverting away from one another. Meanwhile, I had regained the saddle but was being whacked all over with trees and branches. My official junior-wrangler uniform was in the process of being shredded from my body. It seemed that Lightning had this model the output rule of which was: “when in pursuit, run over any tree less than 6 inches rather than bothering to go around it.” At this point, I totally gave in to the moment, put my head down on Lightning’s neck and grabbed two handfuls of mane and shut my eyes.

In no time at all, Lightning had the two heading up the road toward the corral. The computations must have been enormous but he executed them without a flaw. I tried to look like I was in command as two panicked horses, Lightning and one transformed neophyte exploded into the enclave. The Senior Wrangler did not even look up from his task.

The two, resigned to their fate, headed for the hay pile and Lighting for his spot by the fence. He maintained full speed until about three inches away at which point he just stopped. I did not.

However, by this point in the story, I was beginning to get the picture. I let the momentum swing me out of the saddle holding on and letting go of the horn in just the right sequence and timing, thus, gracefully depositing myself at Lightning’s front feet. He did not applaud this incredible feat of equestrian showmanship but he did not step on me either. I nonsulantly draped the reins over the rail (you never tie up a real horse). The Senior Wrangler still did not look up.

I began to ponder certain metaphysical questions regarding the meaning of life including why Lightning-bolt was not even breathing hard - but I was - when a soft voice asked “have a nice ride?”

After this day, the Senior Wrangler and I had a certain unspoken understanding. I was not, yet, in the club but I had been shown the doorway.

Design of Coffee Creek Ranch swimming pool, Utility Building and walks (built without supervision)

Design of Carports for Apartment project (unbuilt - showed this drawing to Frank Lloyd Wright)





The Promise

To work... at last! Alternative to Urban sprawl - my first serious architectural concept. A decision not to go to collage. The Weekend Tour.

Design of Residential Tower Condominiums for San Francisco (project - Showed this drawing to Frank Lloyd Wright)

Presented experienced-based, student-driven education process to San Francisco High School Education Seminar

Lloyd Conrich, an architect who was my mentor during my entry into the profession, called me up one day and asked if I had ever been a Boy Scout. I had not. I told Lloyd about my misadventures in the Cub Scouts - something that I was smart enough to avoid in later years. He asked me if I had ever seen the materials related to the merit badge program. I told him that a number of years ago I had worked my was through the architectural merit badge materials and had found them excellent. This made Lloyd happy. It seems that he was active in the Boy Scouts and that there was a program that aired on Public Television that featured Boy Scouts who had finished various merit badge projects. There was no one in the San Francisco bay area, apparently, who had completed the program on architecture so he asked me if I would like to “be a Boy Scout for a day” and present something on television? Did I have a project? As it turned out I did!

This design became my first work completed on a preliminary level. It was build-able then and, if done today, it would not be a disgrace to the landscape.

The problem solving process I employed became a basis of the Taylor Method.

I had recently purchased my first Frank Lloyd Wright books. They were a wonderful introduction to his work: In the Nature of Materials, The Story of the Tower, The Natural house, and, An Autobiography. In these works Wright talked about the St. Marks Project and the Price Tower just recently completed. These expressed his idea that tall buildings should be use to OPEN the land not crowded together in congested cities. I was sold. It was clear, however, that even Mr. Wright had not been able to get a project of large scale built that fully accomplished his ideal and I was determined to see how that might be done. It was not long after, when I was walking in Golden Gate Park, that the full impact of the idea hit me. It was a cool, semi-foggy Sunday morning full of mystery and magic. I thought: “why not a city IN a park - not a park within a city?” I rushed home and drew all day. It was the next Monday that Lloyd called. I was amazed by the immediate opportunity to have the work on television and was convinced that I would have the project under construction in no time at all. Of such delusions youth is composed - and, this is is a good thing because how else would there be the energy to work night and day, after work and weekends, getting the models and drawings finished inside of a couple of weeks? I expected the project to have an impact and it did - in ways that I never could have predicted.

This project ultimately completely changed my relationship at work, introduced me to Talli Maul, led to an event that resulted in me deciding not to go to architectural school - it even effected my future stay at TALIESIN. I had been tolerated at work up until this time. However, the day after the show, there was a definite chill in the air that I was never to overcome. Of course, I could not figure out why. I thought that the architects I worked with would be pleased with my small success just as I would have been excited to see one of them show one of their works. Of such delusions youth is composed.

I had, by this time arranged to interview with Mr. Wright to apprentice at Taliesin and so Lloyd arranged for Aaron Green, his California representative, to be my mentor on the TV show. Aaron had to drop out at the last minute so I was introduced to Tallie Maule who was, at the time, the chief designer for Warneke and Warneke a very successful local firm that I had a great deal of respect for. Tallie agreed to do it, reluctantly, as a favor to Lloyd until he saw the drawings. His mouth literally hung open. I had prepared a large scale cross section of the Tower the 6 foot high drawing was impressive. Tallie loved the work and shifted into high gear. We had three days to get ready. He told me to finish the drawings and models and he would take care of the rest. I was to meet him at the studio a half hour before the show. I got there early, set up the models and drawings and... NO Tallie in sight! The director was going crazy when 3 minutes before air time - things were shot LIVE in these days - Tallie exploded into the room under a pile of books. Tallie was a big, expressive kind of guy - with more energy then ten needed - and I was entirely under his spell. We had no time to get organized. Tallie took charge and said I was to just answer his questions. The camera rolled and he opened the first book which showed a picture of a Roman Camp - “what is this?” he demanded. I told him. Book after book, picture after picture, for 20 minutes. Tallie took us through the ENTIRE history of the city. Each diagram he asked me what it was, what central idea was employed and what were the strengths and weaknesses of the solution. Most of this stuff I had never seen before so I had to analyze and respond on the spot. I had a ball. With 10 minutes to go in our half-hour show, we finished with modern subdivisions - which I TORE apart and Tallie asked me “so... what is your answer to all this.” I had five minutes to explain it all - and I did. The energy was electric and the show was a great success. The phone started ringing as soon as we were done.

It was one of those phone calls that lead to the event which lead me to never go back to school [link: the promise - part 2].





Learning to do Working Drawings. Back in the saddle.


Design of circular hillside residence (project)

Design of Triangle House (presented to Joe Eichler - unbuilt)

Co-design of Red Bluff Public Swimming Pool Facilities (built 1958)

GOTO The third Decade
ReturnTo The first Decade
Return To Index
The First Decade
The Third Decade
The Fourth Decade
The Fifth Decade
The sixth Decade
The seventh Decade
My Teachers
Matt Taylor
Hilton Head
June 5, 1999

SolutionBox voice of this document:


posted June 5, 1999

revised: May 22, 2005
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 note: this document is about 50% finished

Copyright© Matt Taylor 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005



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