Balance, Design, Products, Technology
June 23, 2011
These architects came to Lifework via a salad. It was the fresh tuna in the Niçoise at Earl’s Gourmet Grub, a Los Angeles cafe, that first lured me in and then it was the incredible interior. The architects had not only mixed marble and plywood, they’d eschewed the standard white box interior for an undulating ceiling of plywood blades and a wall covered in what looked like a street grid carved magically into ply. It’s an impressive space. I tracked down the men responsible – David Freeland and Brennan Buck of FreelandBuck – and found out that their work setup was just as interesting as their designs.
Above: David Freeland in his Los Angeles home office, right is Brennan Buck’s New York home office.
David, you are based in Los Angeles and your business partner, Brennan Buck lives in New York. How does this bi-coastal set up work? Surprisingly it works very similar to a typical office. Brennan and I collaborate closely most projects and decisions in the office. With so many communication technologies available we’ve been able to maintain a very fluid collaboration. Video conferencing, the ability to share screens and watch each other sketch and draw has been especially useful. Locations on the east and west coast also put us in touch with many more people, merging different perspectives, environments, and atmospheres in our work.
There is a beautiful rich sense of patterning apparent in your architectural designs. I would go as far as to say that a hallmark of your work is this rich detailing that relies on digital technology. I wonder if this obvious comfort with technology enables you to work more fluidly between the two cities? An office grounded in paper sketches and balsa wood models perhaps wouldn’t flourish as well? Yes, I think this is very much the case. As the design process has migrated from analog to digital it has changed the way collaborations take place. It is no longer possible to collectively author a project just by sketching and drawing on the same piece of paper. For us that paper is the digital model that we alternately pass back and forth to develop options, editing and critiquing together.
June 10, 2011
Architect James Meyer is the founder of Los Angeles based design/build firm LeanArch and the fourth in our POV interviews.
Above, left to right: Kuhlhaus 01 (photo: William Short) and Kuhlhaus 02 (photo:Claudio Santini), both in Manhattan Beach, CA.
1. You’ve talked about being inspired by the Eames House in your designs. What do you think makes a house feel like a home? I often promote the idea that the home is the last remaining piece of personal expression left in most people’s lives. Nowadays, we are completely surrounded with products, goods and technology which are designed by others and tailor made to meet the needs of our consumer-driven culture. The cars we drive, the mobile phones we use.
Above: The kitchen at KDC-02 (photo: Claudio Santini)
The companies who make these products are constantly trying to demonstrate how they are able to be customized to meet the personal tastes of their potential customers. The fact is, that these items, along with most everything else, are extremely limited when it comes to personalization.
Above: Wild Oak Drive Residence
June 3, 2011
Here is the third in our POV interview series. This time we check in with Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner of Marmol Radziner who discuss their prefab designs, the impact Los Angeles has had on their residential work and how nature and mid-century modern masters inspire them.
Above: Ron Radziner and Leo Marmol
Can you tell us how you both got involved in designing pre-fab homes? We had incorporated prefabricated modular buildings into a few of our projects in the late 1990s, including four one-story modules for the Los Angeles Airport childcare center completed in 1999 and a two-story classroom module as part of The Accelerated School in South Los Angeles, which began construction in the early 2000s. So in 2003, when Dwell magazine asked our firm to participate in a prefab design competition, it seemed like a natural opportunity to continue what we had started.
Above: The Accelerated School in South Los Angeles. Photo – Benny Chan.
Above: The four-module childcare center for the Los Angeles Airport. Photo – Tom Bonner.
The competition sparked our interest in the greater possibilities of designing high-end modern homes within the constraints of a factory. We were exploring ways to minimize the inefficiencies involved with site-built construction, including weather delays, sub-contractor delays, runaway costs and excessive material waste, and prefab seemed as if it might provide some solutions.
Above: The prefab house they designed for a remote site in Moab, Utah. Photos – Joe Fletcher Photography.
May 24, 2011
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.
Above and below: The Ehrlich House
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.
Above: A home designed by Alvaro Size in Majorca
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.
Above: Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall
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.
Above: An installation by Sarah Tze
May 17, 2011
The recent launch of our online store offered up the unique opportunity to shoot Herman Miller designs in iconic homes. Working closely with Hello Design and photographer Juergen Nogai (who was the late Julius Shulman‘s longtime partner) Herman Miller’s Steve Frykholm set out to showcase our pieces in some pretty amazing settings. This is the first of five interviews with the architects who designed the houses we shot in. All reside in California and each has an interesting and unique story to tell.
We start with Jim Jennings who founded his practice in 1975. When interviewed by Architectural Digest for their top 100 designers list Jennings said of his work, “it always begins with the site and with the clues and conditions found there. Each physical circumstance suggests a particular expression of scale, space and material. For me, a great building is one that is both rational and poetic—and projects a quiet strength.” For more from Jim and shots from the shoot check out our POV site.
Your recent work spans so many climates – with the retreat you designed for yourself in Palm Springs and a house on the beach in Oahu. Yet even with the very different terrains I see a common language in your forms. There’s a strong horizontal quality to your work and a use of sliding walls, screens or open rectangular spaces that engage with the outdoors. What drives those design decisions? The two houses (Lanikai and Palm Springs) illustrate a similar approach to architectural form. They are both rectilinear in composition with strong hovering roof planes. Both have walls that open large areas of interior space to the outside Both respond to the need for shade and the free movement of air. Although the formal aspects of each building link them, each is conceptually grounded in its very specific place with opposing site conditions. The Lanikai house is designed to block heavy ocean breezes, which is why it stretches the entire width of the site. Glass doors will stop a strong wind but can be pocketed to modulate airflow. Teak lattices can be positioned to provide protection from the sun without interrupting moving air or visibility. The house is permeable.
The Palm Springs house is the opposite. It is a walled enclosure that is inwardly focused, protective, self-contained. The surrounding wall is designed to create an environment that relates only to itself and the nearby mountain that dominates the view. When the glass doors are opened, the house becomes the entire space inside the wall.
It’s always interesting to see how an architect, who designs homes for a living, has set up their own home. You are based in San Francisco. How did that city impact the way you designed your own space? My residential loft is adjacent to the studio in a mixed industrial/residential area. Very urban. Very convenient, in the way that cities are. While occupying the same building, the residence has an outside entrance on a different street from the entrance to the studio, enhancing the separation between them. As a response to the urban condition, large areas of translucent glass let in a great deal of light without compromising privacy. At a smaller scale than is typical of my work, the space is simple and logically organized similar to client projects.
What inspires you in your work? Looking—really looking—at buildings. As with the differences between the Lanikai and Palm Springs projects that take a little time to discern, I find that buildings often reveal principles or motives or things in operation not obvious at first glance. For a San Francisco example, the overall form of Wright’s V. C. Morris shop on Maiden Lane (above) is greatly influenced by the subtle way the mortar was used in the brickwork. Emphasizing the horizontal coursing by employing Roman brick, raking the horizontal joints, and flush-grouting the vertical joints unifies the entire mass of the building.
I’m also inspired by artists that respect physics and materials. Long before his Torqued Ellipses, Serra inserted a sheet of steel into the corner of a gallery. To me, that simple act of defining space in a way that respects the physical world is remarkable—both obvious and sly. I deal with gravity and leverage every day in my work, and to see those forces at the center of a work of art inspires me.
Portrait and Palm Springs home by Joe Fletcher