David Ludwig, 67, works in his large, clutter-less, organized ICB Sausalito studio, and lives… well, wherever he finds convenient. Born in Torrance, Calif., Ludwig first came to the Bay Area to attend University of California Berkeley at the height of the Free Speech Movement in 1964.
He now works as an architect and lives, most of the time, in Larkspur, in his fully mobile and completely sleek and modernized solar-powered Airstream trailer. As if that isn’t enough to keep him busy, David occupies the rest of his time as an passionate artist: designing and painting full grand silk theater back drops, photographing various structures at events all over the U.S. and even perfecting his belly dancing.
Fortunately for him, all of this blends nicely together in his life to allow him to be the unique artist that he is.
We caught up with him in his Sausalito studio, and got his take on his life as a Renaissance man living on the road.
Mill Valley Patch: Why did you buy the Airstream and pursue a mobile life?
David Ludwig: I had a longtime fascination with Airstreams. My parents moved out of a house that my dad built for our family and into a mobile home, which was actually permanently installed in the ground in a mobile home park. They had friends that would come into the park sometimes with their Airstream, and everyone was a buzz about this Airstream. I went through it and thought, ‘well, this is interesting, but…' basically the aesthetics of the interior were too humble for me as an architect.
Later, in the 1990’s, I had heard of others buying an Airstream and completely gutting it out to replace the inside with an architecturally sound interior. In 2005, I was at a dance camp in the Sierras, and I was coming through Los Banos, and I happened to pass by the largest Airstream dealer in California. So I went up to the dealership, approached one of the new Airstreams, opened the door, and saw that they had completely changed the interior. It was the first RV company to ever hire an architect to design the interior – the architect’s name is Christopher Deam, and him and his wife, founder of Dwell Magazine, live in Mill Valley.
That changed my whole feeling about it. Also, it was a house mortgage, and California gives you solar tax credit when you put solar on it. All of a sudden, things started falling into place. After seeing An Inconvenient Truth, I said to myself, ‘I have to move into this trailer, I have to make a public statement about reducing my carbon footprint.’ Also, related to my architectural business, all of my clients who felt that they needed a 5,000 square-foot home and felt that they couldn’t live in a smaller space, I showed them otherwise by living in a 212 square-foot Airstream. The message is, from me and from the city planners in southern Marin, to encourage people to build smaller.
MVP: Do you have a home base?
DL: Yeah, in a trailer park in Larkspur. The park is near Cost Plus, and Trader Joe’s. It is the only park in Marin that has fences between the mobile homes, and that allows the tenants to set up gardens. Many tenants have gardens, barbeque and do things like that. We have a tenant’s community, and get together for meals about once a month.
MVP: Does your Airstream stay in Larkspur, or do you drive it around?
DL: I take it out every other weekend. It has gone 36,000 miles since I bought it in 2007. Most often I just go close around the Bay Area on local trips. I am a dancer, and so on Friday nights I take it to Berkeley, and dance with a group of dancers there. So I park it out front and after dancing I spend the night there at the curb. It’s called 'boon-docking,' which means parking without hookups. Since the Airstream is self-contained, you can live in it for 3-4 days without having to connect to anything. From Berkeley, I usually go to another dance event up in Sebastopol before going back to the park. I have taken it to Burning Man five times.
MVP: How does your nomadic lifestyle intertwine with your work?
DL: My whole architecture office set up is completely paperless. Most architects my age are still hand drawing, and haven’t really made the transition to the computer. Considering my living/office circumstances, I had to. Now I can design on the road, and even at my clients’ building sites, giving me the ability to set design-intensive meetings with my clients while physically working with them at the actual site. Architecture is what ‘pays my bills.' I have been in practice for 41 years and completed 195 projects. That is the mastered part of my art.
MV: How does your traveling lifestyle relate to your art, and especially the variety of types of works that you produce?
DL: I have an incredibly creative mind that never shuts off. When I am traveling, I am seeing art constantly in terms of potential photographs. For instance, I took this [pointing] photo in Venice that got a ribbon at the State Fair. I was just walking by the canal in Venice and I saw this muddy bottom of the canal with a gondola sitting on it. It looks like a photo-shopped image, but it’s actually a dead-on image with no changes that I just happened to see. There is something about my perception that allows composition that not only comes into the architecture, but also the photography. I grew up as an artist. I also do watercolors and pastels.
MVP: Tell us about your silk work, how it came about and how and why you paint on silk?
DL: In the 1990s, I was only hand drawing architecture. I was getting really tired of high-detail, small-scale drawing. I really felt that I needed to change the scale. The theater backdrop came along because I have four daughters, and my youngest being a ballet dancer at the time, the ballet teacher said that they really needed a backdrop for an upcoming ballet show. She said she would give me the studio for the weekend, and that I could try out anything I wanted to get this backdrop right for the Nutcracker. I painted it, it was successful, and then the ballet asked me to do more of them.
I couldn’t do it in my studio, but said that I would do it if they rented a studio for me. So they went to the University of California, found me a large warehouse the university was not using, and rented it for me for a year. It gave me the time and space to perfect the large format imaging – no one else was doing it on silk at the time. I had to come up with a whole technique, and learn about the silk. I draw a small drawing on paper, and upscale, foot-by-foot, by scanning it into the printer, and print it out full size, and then tape the strips onto the floor, stretch the silk over it – which acts like trace paper – and I put the basic lines onto the massive silk canvas, then I pick it up, put it rolled into a frame – a modification of a quilting frame – and paint it using the dye. With the dye and the saturated colors, people really like how the backdrops work with video. I rent these out. They are mostly Middle-Eastern themed, and can be used for plays as well as weddings and church events. I can ship it anywhere – it only weighs 3.5 pounds.
MVP: How does architecture blend into your art, and vice versa, and how did you know that focusing on buildings and landscapes was something you wanted to devote your life to?
DL: It was a fortunate meeting when I was in high school. My mother said that I had to go to college, take college prep classes, and I said, ‘No, art classes.’ By senior year, I put my foot down and insisted on taking an art class. My art teacher said, ‘Let’s try it out, do a few assignments for me first.” Seeing my work, and knowing that my dad was a builder, he asked, ‘Have you ever thought about architecture?’ He pointed me to a class on architectural drafting. The class was designing a house, and building a model this year. I went over to try that class, and that was it. I was 17 years old. For me, architecture was a way for me to be an artist and a technician.
MVP: Tell us something about you that might surprise people - something your friends may know, but not your clients might not.
DL: I am a belly dancer. When I started, there were 2,000 women taking belly dance classes in the Bay Area, and I was one of only 6 men. Now, there are 36 men. In my classes there are only women. Growing up as only child, I feel such a bond with these dancers now, it’s like they are my sisters. It also teaches men about how to be friends with women, and respecting women’s boundaries.
MVP: What is your favorite thing about Mill Valley?
DL: I love the environment in Mill Valley – the combination of the Redwoods, the scale of development and the relationship of the development with the topography. It’s hilly, it has amazing views. I used to live in Mill Valley, and, because of the position of my house, I saw every sun rise from the top of Mt. Tam. Also, the community, and its acceptance of artists.
MVP: If there was one thing that you could change about Mill Valley, what would it be?
DL: As an architect, I think there is a fear of change by the population and the governing body. I would like more acceptance of change in Mill Valley and more courage to invite change.
Learn more about David, his architecture, his silk work, and his photography by checking it all out on his comprehensive website.