Bruce Bolander designed the Chicago offices of the Whitehouse film editing company we featured in June. I was really impressed with his work and eager to share more of it with you. Here Bolander talks about the impact of place on design and his roots as a furniture maker.
While studying architecture you also learned to build furniture. How do those skills impact the buildings you design today? I still design some furniture and every once in a while even build something. I think that designing and building furniture gave me a better sense of both material and assemblage, details of how different pieces (small in the case of furniture and larger with architecture) unite.
For the Whitehouse Chicago office I designed the edit desks, the reception desk and also a table that we ended up using both in the lunchroom/café as well as in the conference rooms and other meeting areas.
It is a simple plywood table that is built with just a couple of sheets of plywood and simple tools. It is made of a top and two base pieces that all just key together. To illustrate the table to the client I built a rough prototype myself in a few hours.
Lots of the furniture pieces I built were basically assemblage pieces; I spent lots of time searching for interesting objects and materials. Like many architects I continue to look for interesting materials and methods of detailing all of the time. I am working on a house in Mammoth, CA right now where we are using timber that the forest service has marked for removal from the local mountains (as fire control/forest management) for the exterior siding.
We are cutting and assembling it in an irregular pattern to create depth and texture on the building façade. I feel like this idea and detailing were influenced by building furniture.
You are based in Malibu. An architect’s surrounds often impact their designs. How did the area around your home, which you designed, have an impact on the building? My own house was built 15 years ago and was primarily budget driven.
My wife and I both like those colors of course, but we were definitely influenced by the green of the surrounding mountains and the blue of the sky. The form of the house, a curved shed roof, was a reaction to the slopes of the mountains around us and the slope of our own site.
On your website you mention the well known diagram by Charles Eames (below) showing the overlap of the interests of a design firm, a client, and society, the overlap signifying a successful project. How has that influenced the way you work?
That idea influences every project. I can’t really work outside of my own interests, and if I listen to my client and consider their needs (which hopefully I do) then their interests are represented. The influence of society is felt on every project by the constraints of zoning and building codes. Trying to work outside of those restraints is sometimes possible (by getting variances for example) but is often costly both in the time and energy that can be taken from a project.
I’m essentially a modernist and so are my clients for the most part, but the most common phrase I hear from a client is that they don’t want a cold house. Much of the color and texture that is brought into many of my projects warms a simple and open space.
Above and below: The Blair House. Bolander specified site-cast, board-formed concrete foundation and walls, aluminum windows and 2×2 wood slats on the interior walls and ceiling. The cabinets are clad in laminate with solid surface countertops. The concrete was the first material choice and was basically chosen from necessity, both for fire resistance and strength. The laminate colors and wood were really a reaction to the concrete.
Another value that is often present with all three interested parties is that of gathering, whether as family or friends, or in the case of a business with clients and employees. The now very common open plan of kitchen, dining and living illustrates this overlap to me.
Above and below: Collier House. Here Bolander used board-formed concrete walls, concrete floors, structural steel, laminate and solid surface countertops. ”This is a beach house and the client wanted ‘happy’, beachy colors. I worked with them to develop the color palette.”
Environmental sensibility also is embraced by the three interested parties that Eames mentions. Most of my clients want to create buildings with low impact. In Malibu visual resources are very important. We are working on a project right now where the client has asked that the visual impact of the house be very low, and the governing agencies have mandated similar restrictions. We are working together (albeit with some friction from time to time) to accomplish a house that meets my clients’ needs as well as those of the greater society of neighbors and users of the Santa Monica mountains.
Do you bring your work home? How do you strike a life/work balance? Did you design a home office or does work just “happen” in your home? As odd as it may sound I really don’t. I have a separate studio that is about 100 feet away from my house (below). Every once in a while my kids pop in after school and sometimes some of them will spend the afternoon in the studio working on their homework, but once I cross the driveway and head back into the house I am home for the evening.
I am fortunate to work on some pretty beautiful sites and more and more am trying to not get in the way of the natural beauty.
Also mentioned are families and gathering. I think that creating spaces that people love does enable them to spend more time with the people that are important to them. It’s cliché of course but we are more and more cut off from each other as our methods of communication get oddly more efficient.
There are other things I like, vintage bikes and being in beautiful natural settings for example. I’m sure they influence my work somehow but I don’t know exactly how.
Lastly, an engaged client is by far the most inspirational element of a project. That doesn’t always happen but when it does it really changes the project for the better.