Design, Architecture & The City: a rendez-vous with San Francisco local designers and architects.

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Olle Lundberg

Olle Lundberg


When you walk into his office, before meeting him, you meet one of his big passion: a huge collection of whiskey's bottles he personally buys from collectors all over the US. Olle Lundberg, architect and founder of Lundberg Design, in DogPatch, is not the typical designer you expect to meet. He is a down-to-earth man, easy-going, well-educated, passionate about his job, a thinker. You can spend hours talking to him about anything: from literature, to art, to food and drinks, San Francisco and of course design. Knowledge he built by traveling and studying different subjects. He has a major in English Literature from Washington Lee University in Lexington, Virgina, and in sculpture where he probably learned the art and craft of creating anything from scratch using different kind of raw materials. A skill which brought him to study architecture. The first project he made was a renovation of an old church in Lexington that he bought for $10,000 and he rented out to his friends. This business helped him to pay school tuitions. Today he is a well-known designer and architect in the city and his studio has designed remarkable projects like The Slanted Door, Hard Water, Twitter Headquarters, a pied-à-terre in Pacific Heights for Lawrence J. Elliot, chief executive of Oracle and the SFTMA bus shelter.  The studio, or “the shop” as he likes to call it has not only a fabrication area where they build everything but also it includes an apartment for Olle and his wife Mary Breuer. We caught up with him to share some thoughts about the evolution or involution of design and architecture industries in the Bay Area. 

D: How did the local design and architecture industries have changed in the last 10 years?

OL: The design industry has expanded. There are more big firms now than in the past and those firms have even become bigger because of the Tech industry. Technology has produced an interesting amount of work in San Francisco. Firms nowadays are doing more good modern projects than they used to do in the past and I have been here since 1980. Our studio has done different kind of projects. We designed the interiors of Twitter in partnership with IA (Interior Architects). It was a big assignment and we focused on what we call “the sexy things” like the entry lobby, the cafeteria and dining space, the custom furniture and fixtures.

D: How is the Tech industry affecting the idea of design and architecture, the development of new products and new building?

OL: Tech companies are interested in design but they operate in a such a high speed, they need to move into quickly so you have tight deadlines. For me this fast pace is not very appealing. I have nothing against it, it is just that our shop is not as good as maybe bigger firms are. Moreover, I think that those buildings are not going to last for a long time. After ten years they will need to be remodeled. What I have seen so far is that there is a new group of young and wealthy clients, the 1%, who are very design-oriented. They are very private, so before starting any kind of project we have to sign a disclosure. It is a new era in which a lot of great design is going to be hidden because of this privacy. It is unfortunate for us because we cannot publish it and this is one way to get more clients. When you go to school you believe that design is more about sharing values in societies. Then you start to work and you understand that the reality is very different. Which sometimes can be good. 

Entry lobby -Twitter Headquarter.

Entry lobby -Twitter Headquarter.

D: What do you like to do?

OL: I like to do what I haven’t done before because I like the challenge and I like to bring new solutions. I am a craftsman so I am more oriented on personalization, on providing unique solutions for a single client. That’s why we don’t do multi-family residential because we love to explore all the possibilities that a house can offer. Our portfolio is diverse. We have done wineries, restaurants, a bunch of residential, just to name a few. What we are doing now is more related to homes that are not proper homes. We are designing a house which is a museum, another one which is a horse farm and we hope to get a project to turn a house into a fitness facility. Those are personal and corky assignments that are bringing on the table a different kind of design vocabulary in terms of materials, organizations, thinking. 

D: What are your thoughts on San Francisco and the Bay Area’s future?

OL: I think that there is an interest in San Francisco that is not going away soon.  The current generation is looking for their own style. San Francisco has always been conservative in terms of architecture's buildings and interior design. Even though there still are people who are fighting to keep their neighborhoods as they are, those who believe that modern architecture doesn’t belong to Pacific Heights, for instance, we, as designers, are seeing a change. For this young generation modern design is emblematic of their culture, their history, their roots, the place where they live in. Technology is a modern business and they see the link between where they work and where they live. 

Lawrence J. Ellison residence.

Lawrence J. Ellison residence.

D: Do you think that the city is getting some kind of benefit from this quest for modernism?

OL: There is a sort of honesty in this modernism. People are keep questioning about themselves, their lives, their spaces which can bring to new opportunities and new challenges. It is great to see Mid Market revitalized thanks to Twitter. That specific area of Market Street is finally getting a life. There are more pedestrians on the street and in the Tenderloin too.

D: Talking about the Tenderloin, what do you think of the design competition promoted by Eleven magazine, a publication based in London, focused on remodeling the Tenderloin?

OL: I don’t know. I just think they need some sort of attention.

D: What do you like about San Francisco? 

OL: Its diversity, even though we are losing it because of economic reason. It is becoming more and more a place for wealthy people. It is going to be like Manhattan and all the diversity will be out of this center. Tech people want to live in San Francisco and they are settling down. Google, Salesforce, they all understood that. 

D: What are your favorite buildings in San Francisco?

OL: The Federal Building which is very different from any other building in the city. V.C. Morrison Gift Shop, the only building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and San Francisco’s Ferry Building. I think the Ferry Building is becoming the center of the city. San Francisco is built on the water and the Ferry building is a symbol of it. 

D: What are the ones you don’t like?

OL: I think unfortunately Hotel Vitale is a lost opportunity but It was not easy to work on that. There were many difficulties. 

Lundberg Design.

Lundberg Design.

D: You have done many restaurants in the city what are your favorite in terms of interior design? 

OL: Usually when I go to a restaurant I pay attention more to the food than the design. Anyway I think Nopa is nice.  My favorite was Stars which closed in 1999. It was the restaurant of chef Jeremiah Tower, former chef of Chez Panisse. A wonderful space with great interior, open kitchen. It was close to City Hall so there were a lot of politicians and celebrities there. It had a New York vibe.  

D: Who are the current stars of design in San Francisco in your opinion?

OL: David Darling and Joshua Aidlin of Aidlin Darling Design, Greg Mottola of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. I am a big fan of Peter Bohlin, founder of the firm. Many years ago Peter built a house for his parents which was published on the cover of the New York Times magazine. When I saw that image I realized I wanted to be an architect. 

D: What are you doing to leave a positive mark on it?

OL: I have already contributed building the SFMTA Bus Shelter. This is my city signature. Besides the shelter, with The Slanted Door we have been the fist designers to introduce in the city unisex bathroom. 

Slanted door

The Slanted Door.