Archives For los angeles architects

Sherman Residence, Encino, Los Angeles, CA

Three weeks ago The Value of Architecture had the pleasure to host a Twilight Event at Richard Neutra’s VDL Research House II, a designated National Historic Landmark. It was there where we had the pleasure to meet Sarah Lorenzen, AIA, a professor of architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, and partner at the innovative Los Angeles firm, Peter Tolkin Architects. Sarah has been spearheading the renovation of Neutra’s VDL House for the past ten years, and during the event she shared with us some of the work she’s been doing at her firm. Immediately we became enormous admirers.

This is an exciting time for Peter Tolkin Architects. In the coming months the firm will be breaking ground on a pilot project for the State of California in collaboration with Southern California Edison to test the feasibility of a “Zero Net Energy Building”—a building that is off the grid. The project, currently entitled 245 ZNE, and located near Los Angeles’ Gold Line, will be a small medical office. The firm will test the building’s pioneering features, and report data back to the state. 245 ZNE, which features a fabric façade shading structure, a VRF air conditioning system, and photovoltaic panels and batteries on site to store energy, exemplifies the approach of Peter Tolkin Architects—a firm that is simultaneously scientifically innovative and artistic, engineering and design-focused, yet still process-oriented and creative.

Sarah Lorenzen and Peter Tolkin took time to speak with us about Los Angeles architecture, Richard Neutra, modernism, and the role of narrative in their creative process.

TVOA: Sarah, how has the experience been restoring Neutra’s VDL House?

Sarah Lorenzen: It’s been a highly collaborative process. Marmol Radziner helped us with this pro bono since they have a lot of experience in restoring Neutra. We also worked with Cal Poly Pomona architecture students, and some of it my husband and I did ourselves. The city also came out to help us. The LA Conservancy and Linda Dishman were instrumental in helping us to get funds. We had all kinds of people helping: Neutra’s children, a lot of different preservation groups, many architects, many donors, many manufacturers.

The goal was to follow the interior’s standards of restoration and make sure that everything that was original in the house that could be salvaged was just cleaned up and put in, and anything that had to be replaced was replaced with exactly the same materials. The only thing that we altered were the roofs because they had leaking problems. We replaced them using contemporary high-end roofing technology, and they still look exactly the same on the exterior.

The VDL House is also a lab for our architecture students at Cal Poly Pomona to learn historic preservation and the legacy of modernism, the history of Richard Neutra, and to speak to the public about what architecture is and what it isn’t.

TVOA: Were either of you influenced by Neutra when you began your professional careers?

Sarah: Not really. I wasn’t. My interest in Neutra was circumstantial. Since then I would say that it has had a big influence on me, but I wouldn’t say that I started out with a big interest in it. I came out of, and I’m sure Peter did too, a period of education more focused in postmodernism. It was a different kind of education, really not observing the legacy of modernism, but looking at how to overturn it.

Peter Tolkin: I grew up with a father who I would say is a modernist architect. So I was exposed to Neutra at a very early age, but I also think Sarah’s right that there was a critique of modernism going on when we started our education, and I think it still continues today. At the same time, there was a resurgence recently in the marketplace of mid-century modern in major design publications. I think we’re a part of that, but also with a slightly different relationship. What I find more interesting is contemporary architecture—it certainly absorbs the lessons of modernism but also takes it from a slightly different position.

TVOA: How has midcentury modern filtered into your designs?

Sarah: There are a few things. One of the tenets of midcentury modern is the idea that we should have a more relaxed life, connect the inside and the outside, and maximize the use of outside spaces. Also, the notion of dematerialized architecture—when the focus is on not containing spaces but making the most out of the site, connecting the site to the larger environment. I think those things are particularly relevant in California, because of the climate but also the lifestyle. And I think that remains. A lot of the work we’re doing here connects to the landscape and takes advantage of the site itself.

Peter: There are distinct differences though, between our contemporary approaches and midcentury modern. Neutra’s approach, what he sought to embody, was scientific and economic rationalism. In a way the social mission that’s a part of that rationalism is still really important and active, but today there’s been some questioning of that rationalism. Our work is not purely rational. We do seek to create a sense of openness of freedom with our work, but because the constraints are different in our time period, the designs are different.

Sarah: The formal language the architecture has taken has also changed, and so has the thought process.

Peter: Also, because of technological advancements, digital design, for example, we can build in ways that weren’t possible before. And a lot of these ways aren’t purely rational. They could be expressive. They could incorporate sustainability.

There’s a whole new system of rules now too with current zoning codes and laws. So, the things that were done during the heyday of midcentury modern couldn’t be done today unless you were working in a historical preservation like Sarah’s doing with the VDL House. For example, windows today have to be dual paned, which changes the relationship to the light coming in the house, the relationship between inside and outside. Also, the amount of drawings that architects had to do during Neutra’s period to build a house is a small fraction to the amount that are required today.

Sarah: The other thing about technology that’s a little bit different, particularly with Neutra, was the material palette he used. He purposely used inexpensive, off the shelf products. These are products that are readily available but that could be assembled in an interesting way. The goal wasn’t to make unique products. And in some ways, that’s continued in architecture. But the advent of technology has made people interested in what’s possible, like with new fabrication techniques. Our bicycle shed was an inexpensive, off the shelf product, but it’s also using fabrication technology that allows you to bend the material in a certain way to create a new geometry that wouldn’t have been possible before. It’s not using the product as a raw product, but manipulating it to become a new and different shape, a new extraordinary expression of a material that used to be ordinary.

Bike Transit Center

Peter: We can use tools to do something special, something that’s customized, but not handmade. There are just so many possibilities that architects can explore.

Sarah: Also, one of the goals of modernism was to create a universal language, a common culture and style that modern humans share, a globalized architecture that would apply to all people. It was supposed to be exportable.

To some extent that is still true—we live in a globalized world. But there’s also an interest in saying that architecture is a cultural industry, one that is influenced and inflected, either from resources or artistic traditions, from all different parts of the world. The work in this office is primarily interested in being of the time, being contemporary, but we are also interested in how borrowing from other cultures, not appropriating them, can inflect the design in some way.

Peter: We work towards trying to have some kind of synthesis. There’s no such thing as a universal global architecture. That was what they tried to do with clothes. I think that the best work we’ve done, and are trying to do, somehow does take various influences and internalizes them which comes out in the work in some expression or the way it’s actually made or feels. For instance, an early project where I was influenced by another culture was Saladang Song.

Saladang Song, Pasadena, CA

I wasn’t making a Thai pagoda or lifting a motif and putting it on a building. I really tried to look at how a culture could inflect a building but also how it could transform the way we make it. In that case it was a tilt up building, something commonly used in Southern California back to the 1920’s, but also we used technology, such as using lasers to cut steel, to incorporate patterns into the facade. With those two elements coming together, everything becomes transformed. I think that transformation is critical. In Southern California there is a prevalence of an attempted presentation of some other culture. And it’s just appropriated, but not transformed. We try to be open to all the experiences that happen when you work in a city.

TVOA: On your website you have a section for the stories of your projects. What’s the role of narrative in architecture?

Peter: I don’t exactly know what the role is, but I know that it’s been a way of generating the work on some level. It allows for an entry point to the experience of a building. At the same time, I think that buildings are experienced differently, often subconsciously, as opposed to a narrative in a movie or book or telling a story to a friend. When people experience architecture, they try to untangle it. They start to look at the structure, and there’s a moment when the pieces come together.

The best work transcends the boredom of reading a sentence. It’s something you experience and feel.

Sarah: It’s also our interest in the culture of architecture, the fact that we’re looking at so many sources, so many inputs into the design process. To manage all those inputs, to string these elements together, you need to construct a narrative.

Some architects rely on a coherent style, something that’s recognizable project by project: they’re always white or a certain shape. For us, we’re always taking as many influences as possible, but then for us to be able to manage all those inputs, we need to construct a narrative.

The stories on our website are capturing the design process for the public, but even internally in the design process, a lot of it is about constructing a narrative that will allow us to move forward.

Foyer at the Sherman Residence

Peter: That’s an important difference, Sarah mentioned, that a lot of architects have their signature that they do from one project to the next. This office, by contrast, is more interested in the project becoming what it wants to become, rather than being predetermined by an aesthetic outcome. It causes problems from a marketing standpoint because the client doesn’t really know what they’re going to get. So, a lot of the clients we get tend to be rather adventurous. They have to be wiling to go on a journey. For instance, the Sherman Residence is a ranch style house coupled with modernity, and a new project, the Branch House, might have the same elements to it, but I’d say it’s much more contemporary.

Exterior South View of The Branch House

But if you look at many of the arts, I think there is a logic and coherence from project to project—you just have to understand that it’s a process-oriented way to get to that logic. If you look at different artists, musicians and filmmakers, the story or song might be different, but the way they tell it could be the same.

By: David Plick

Winners of the Los Angeles AIA design award and National AIA award, along with many prestigious distinctions and fellowships, Griffin Enright was established in 2000 by Margaret Griffin, FAIA and John Enright, FAIA. Griffin Enight is devoted to applying inventive design strategies to increase the quality of urban life. Their approach is a Los Angeles design philosophy that the city needs—the belief that the movement of the inhabitants and the many contexts of the space must all work symbiotically. With their creativity and devotion to functionality, architecture is created which is breathtaking yet effortless. In experiencing a Griffin Enright structure you may stop to notice its beauty, but it’s also very likely that you wouldn’t because you’ve been swept up by the journey of the space.

In continuing their tradition, Griffin Enright has designed specifically for this site in Encino a stunning contemporary home with a fluid movement that responds to its physical environment. Sculpturally alive with panoramic views of Los Angeles and the Santa Monica mountains, their elegant design is a home to observe and a home to live in. The plans are fully approved, and this house is ready to go. All it needs is you.

By: David Plick

001front“Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.”

—Frank Lloyd Wright

Los Angeles is the kind of place that people love to hate. There are the obvious attacks which have become boring—the pretension and exclusivity of the film industry, the traffic, and the superficiality of the people; while on the other side, for the people that love it, the obvious go-to defense is the amazing weather. But for those that live, work, and create in LA, there’s something untouchable, indescribable in the atmosphere. Is it the fact that this is a new and international city that lacks Rome and Athens’ ruins (or even the pre-war buildings of New York)? Or does contemporary Los Angeles architecture come from the west-coast mentality of progressive thinking? Is it the cultural diversity or the film industry that people love to complain about? These are all factors, but there’s still that other thing that people can’t put in words—the feeling, that artistic symbiosis that is created when you put all these crazy and talented people together in one place.

That’s the feeling that Sean Briski, the CalArts trained painter and architect, is describing when he talks about Los Angeles. He took some time to speak to TVOA about his artistic approach and philosophy in the creation of his project at 2358 Silver Ridge Avenue, which hit the market this week.

The Value of Architecture: With exposed steel on the exterior, Silver Ridge feels industrial and futuristic on the outside, yet is also very comfortable and inviting all around. Do you have any architectural influences in terms of futurism / deconstructionism?

Sean Briski: I work part time for Eric Owen Moss, and he is a major influence in my work. Eric has been “disruptive” long before the term became popular.

I don’t often think about the future or the past. I try to recognize the contemporary. For this reason I like Los Angeles a lot. The city is a strong influence because there are so many different points of view that it starts to be unknowable. This makes LA amazing.

The Value of Architecture: What do you mean that Los Angeles is unknowable?

Sean Briski: LA is so geographically large it’s not possible to visit all the neighborhoods. It’s also culturally diverse. It’s hard to get the opportunity to get to know most of the cultures in any kind of significant way. So it is literally & culturally very hard to get a complete picture. The unknown is always present.

The size & space allows it to remain unknown. The lack of history gives more freedom. This is very true for architects.

I don’t know of many similarities between LA & New York.

The Value of Architecture: Something striking both visually and environmentally is your use of found materials to construct the house. How did you select the materials to use, and how much did the materials influence your design decisions?

Sean Briski: The shredded tire is a riff on early greenhouses which were made out of tires. Tires are a waste disposal problem. So, by showing that they can be beautiful in the right context, trash is made beautiful. The window next to the stairs is a display window, and the tires are the display object.

The Value of Architecture: In terms of the design process, did you have drawings for a house like this before you saw the site? Or, did the slope in which the house stands force this design upon you?

Sean Briski: I’m not sure how the site could not be a big influence? The house has four floors because that is what was needed in order to connect the backyard to the street. I would have preferred a smaller house but then there would not be the connection to the backyard. And of course, the view is terrific.

The Value of Architecture: Is Silver Lake still a progressive neighborhood architecturally in LA?

Sean Briski: Silver Lake has gotten very expensive. As things get more expensive there tends to be less experimentation, but Silver Lake is still a great place to live.

The Value of Architecture: You’re a trained painter. How does painting inform your architecture, and vice-versa?

Sean Briski: I was an artist who made paintings. I like art that is very grounded in conceptual ideas. I like art or architecture that that make the common seem unfamiliar.

The Value of Architecture: What is architectural modernism to you? And how does contemporary Los Angeles architecture factor into it?

Sean Briski: Architectural modernism is a historical style that spanned from 1920 to 1960. I’m more interested in contemporary architecture.

There should be many futures & access to be able to choose your future. Currently, choice is a real luxury. In the future I hope this is not the case. Architecture should allow people to do things that are currently not a choice. This is why I put basketball hoops in the living room. It’s about more choices. There are 3 hoops because it’s more choice.

By: David Plick

ebd42c8f0a9d6d9204e29e6e0449f0711434566078After having designed homes for celebrities such as the notorious Chris Brown, and completed other impressive projects such as the ambitious and wildly successful Hollywood Colony, architect Jay Vanos knows a thing or two about collaboration. In fact, it’s his firm’s ethos. JVA is “collaboration based . . . and believes that architectural design is a community activity, and that [their] best projects and ideas are the result of vigorous conversations among highly motivated individuals.”

And this collaboration pays off. JVA’s most recent work in Agoura Hills, CA, bordering Santa Monica Mountains National Park, is a post and beam design estate, a reinvention of previous work by the legendary Los Angeles architects, Buff + Hensman. This dream home, recently put on the market, is full of natural light with high ceilings and plenty of open spaces, inside and outside the house. Check out more exciting pictures here.

From the Sweetwater Mesa Residence, which brings unparalleled elegance to a desert setting, to the Browning Residence he did in Hawaii which looks like a treehouse from heaven, Jay Vanos has shown that his ability to create living dreams has no boundaries. He is a cutting-edge Los Angeles architect. Plain and simple.

By: David Plick