One of Lexington’s most fascinating qualities is its duality. While remaining steeped in rich history, the city continues to progress by embracing art, culture, diversity, and change. Craig Rushing, owner of Rc3 design/build company is much the same. He has the unique ability to balance the roles of visionary and craftsman, entrepreneur and engineer, and independent-thinker and collaborator—all which culminate in being an architect-builder.
Though derived from the Greek “Arkhi” (chief) and Tekton” (builder), an architect’s real job is to envision a structure where nothing currently exists and then design it. For Rushing, a licensed architect in both Kentucky and Florida and a LEED AP (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design- Accredited Professional) the process goes something like this:
“3D images constantly flutter through my mind. It starts with a few images, but it’s almost like gravity; other images swirl around and start to stick to that image. You begin to build it in your mind— the visual, the feel of it. And, I still draw by hand. I get a piece of buff trace paper, a Ticonderoga #2 pencil, and an electric sharpener, and I am off and running. For me, it flows through graphite and paper. That’s the most direct way to get it out of my head and into something tangible.”
These 3D images most vividly come to life in the daring, contemporary houses and commercial spaces that Rushing loves to create. By combining his skill and imagination with unique materials, innovative building techniques, and eco-friendly practices, he achieves inhabitable works of art.
A prime example is the JungHaus, which draws inspiration from old, weathered tobacco barns, yet is topped with a concealed, 40-panel solar array and geothermal system.
“This one home is a tale of two houses. It’s two stories from the back and one story from the front. It’s a flat roof with a parapet wall. When you drive on it, it is real low with black brick and you really get a sense of the solidness of it. The front has heavy masonry, and the back feels like it’s all glass.”
As both the architect and builder, Rushing ensures the original vision never gets lost in translation and yet has room to grow and improve. He coordinates the entire construction process, acquires materials, and manages teams of contractors. Having one person fulfill this two-fold role offers many advantages to his clients, including a truly custom build.
“I believe what sets Rc3 apart is our ability to see every project as unique, our ability to make it a genuine collaboration with the client, and the fact that I am there every step of the way, from the napkin sketch through a toast in the finished space. There are so many benefits. One is the speed of communication. You don’t have the owner to architect, back to owner, owner to builder etc. etc. We can make decisions on a dime. It’s much more of an organic, spontaneous process.”
With adherence to the classic architecture styles—such as colonial and cottage, federal and farmhouse—that fit so seamlessly into the Lexington landscape, Rushing also pays homage to bygone structures by incorporating salvaged materials. In past projects, he has utilized timbers salvaged from an owner’s homestead farm in Indiana, original pavers from Lexington city streets, doors from a forgotten girls school, and beams from a 1790’s barn. He is also a traditionalist in regard to his deep respect for the time-honored building techniques of the past. Of a current project he says:
“I am often just amazed at the quality of the construction when you go into these old places. I mean, this foundation hadn’t settled an inch. It has the original windows. You just think ‘Wow, this has withstood the ravages of time.’ You are just in awe of the quality and craftsmanship.”
Rushing was environmentally conscious long before it was cool and has always placed an emphasis on the impact each project has on the world around it as well as the health of its inhabitants.
“I have always embraced ‘green’ building techniques, which not only focuses on energy and sustainability, but home health and IAQ (Indoor Air Quality). I’m glad building green is becoming less expensive and more accessible. Indoor air quality is also a big deal. Our houses today are these cocoons, so keeping the indoor air quality healthy is a big challenge. I grew up in a time where fresh air would leak in all over. Not great for your heating bill, but great for your health!”
After graduating from the Clemson University School of Architecture in South Carolina, Rushing lived on both coasts, residing first in San Francisco, California, and later in Key West, Florida. He spent a semester studying abroad in Venice, Italy, and was in Berlin, Germany the weekend the wall came down. For the early part of his career, he worked in Fort Myers, Florida. Each of these places influenced his aesthetic.
“Places are recognized from their built environment and when you are exposed to Byzantine influences and a Venetian palace or the buildings in San Francisco or those in Santa Fe, it makes you realize the variety of ways that people address the same issue of housing. There’s such a flavor to each area of the world, but they’re all responding to the same needs and functions. It gives you an appreciation of the variety of imagination out there.”
Though passionate about the process, Rushing acknowledges there are always some challenges along the way.
“The bigger projects do take a pound of flesh out of you. To execute what you visualize, you are completely dependent on a host of other people. Managing people can be challenging. You have hundreds of people that work on these things, and you have to weave them all together. When people look at how what they do impacts the big picture, it makes my work better.”
When it come to renovations, the primary goal is maintaining the integrity of the original design and the history of the property. One of Rushing’s latest projects involves renovating a historic home in Bardstown, which was built in 1820.
“The aim is finding a way to minimize your impact while making the necessary updates.”
He also imagines how the initial owners and builders might respond.
“Anytime I’m involved in something this old, you think of the people walking through it when it was new. Like, with the 1790’s barn beams in the Shield House, I used them in a whole different way—as columns. I wasn’t rebuilding the barn; I was re-envisioning. But I thought, ‘If the dudes that built this barn 200 years ago walked through it right now, they’d appreciate it. They’d recognize the timbers in a whole different way.’”
As someone born and raised in Lexington, Rushing has bluegrass in his blood, so it is no wonder he returned to Kentucky to attend UK’s School Architecture and chose the city as home for his family and his company. In 2000, he founded Rc3, an independent design/build firm with an emphasis on residential and small commercial. Rushing feels his travels made him appreciate Kentucky even more.
“Traveling actually made me realize how unique Lexington and Central Kentucky is. I call central Kentucky the fourteenth colony. The first westward expansion squeezed through the Cumberland Gap and landed here. Lexington was the ‘Athens of the West.’ And, I have heard, from indigenous times on, that Central Kentucky is known as one of the four or five centers of energy in the world. I think there is a focus of energy, of spirit, here. The land is spectacular, and I feel very fortunate to work (and play) in such a place.”
For Rushing, the greatest reward is watching the vision become reality.
“Taking it from a vision to a physical object that functions. Seeing it go from a vision to it becoming a sort of sculpture that people live in. To see it come from 3-D images to where it’s in the built environment. It’s a big thing to accomplish.”
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