This is the second in our POV interviews. Last week we talked to Jim Jennings and this week we chat to John Friedman. JFAK is an LA-based architectural practice run by Friedman and his wife Alice Kimm. The two architects met in grad school and moved to Los Angeles for work.They created JFAK in 1996 with the shared idea that good architecture has the power to dramatically affect people’s lives. Today three kids and a thriving practice keep them very busy so we were thrilled that Friedman took time to sit down with us and talk about their work.
You talk about architecture as a puzzle. Do you find there is a language that threads through all your work that helps you solve that design puzzle? Every project comes with a specific set of opportunities and constraints – in the form of the site (physical and cultural), the program, the budget, and issues that the client may bring to the table, etc. As a functional art, one of the pleasures of the architectural design process is to mold space and material into dynamic environments that solve the puzzle of these various requirements. But of course there is nothing objective about this – the result always reflects the designer’s particular interests, obsessions, and worldview. For me (and this is probably true of my partner, Alice Kimm, as well) this always involves the creation of sculptural forms, interiors that are filled with natural light (often from unexpected sources), the blurring of interior and exterior spaces, and circulation routes that take you through a collection of interlocking interior spaces. What often makes these spaces interesting and dynamic is that they are linked along an implied diagonal, and this further creates surprising views through and across space. The Ehrlich house (above), a house we did before the King house (pictured below), is a good example of this.
It’s always interesting to see how an architect, who designs homes for a living, has set up their own home. As a Los Angeles-based architect did you find the city influenced the way you designed your own space? Alice and I came to LA after grad school because of the city’s general openness to outsiders, its reputation for embracing architectural innovation, and of course, its benign climate, which makes this experimentation that much easier, as well as allowing the kind of indoor-outdoor living alluded to above – the “blurring” of the inside/outside boundary. Our home environment is not that exciting right now, but we are designing a hillside house for ourselves and our 3 children that has some of the qualities that I mention above. In the end, however, we are just as much influenced by the best work in Europe and Japan as we are by anything specific to Los Angeles. The operative concept here is globalism, of course. With the rapid proliferation of images and information flying across all of our screens, the days are gone when you would say that your local environment is necessarily the most important influence on your thinking. I’m not knocking LA at all – I am just saying that it is one of many exciting environments that provide inspiration.
What inspires you in your work? In the end, I’m always trying to create a memorable, if not powerful emotional experience. That explains the use of bold, sculptural forms, and the attempt to capture the sublime, particularly through interior spaces. Of course, I am inspired by the work of many architects, including Alvaro Siza, (whom I worked for), whose combination of deadpan functionality and lyrical (and sometimes humorous) poetry is always fascinating; Frank Gehry, for his exuberance and experimentation with materials, and Rem Koolhaas for the clever strategies that lead to anti-intuitive but perfectly rational fait accomplis.
But while looking at architects’ work gets me excited, it is looking at artists’ work that gets me thinking. Chris Burden‘s work, especially the series of large spherical globes known as the Medusa’s Head, are favorite works, as are the light, humorous assemblages of Sarah Tze, or the deadly serious installations by Robert Gober. Finally, contemporary music, whether it is John Adams or Radiohead, is central for me, because it distracts me just enough to let my subconscious take over and guide my hand or Olfa blade while I design.