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

anna volpicelliComment



Self-confidence and self-awareness are the keys to succeed in design and architecture industries. This is the mantra that Louis Schump, account executive at Rapt Studio, keeps repeating everyday to his team and his clients. “In any project that we work on at Rapt Studio, our focus is on the client not on us. They trust us because we have worked hard to build the confidence they are looking for and we want to pay them back designing their dreams based on who they are,” Schump said. His words of wisdom are so inspiring that after talking to him you feel a sort of wholeness inside of you and the only thing you can do is to be grateful for what you have. In any conversation he never forgets to mention his 12 years old daughter and how much he is learning from her and from being a parent. Lessons he applies every time he has to approach a new challenge. “Sometimes to solve a problem you have to break some rules, as you do, sometimes, as a parent. Nobody has ever won a competition by following the rules. How do you do that? By asking questions and pushing yourself very hard.” Why would someone shop at this store rather than some other stores? Why would someone stay in a hotel rather than any other hotels? Why would someone work for you rather than someone else? What is it that makes you so special? Why are you doing what are you doing? Why do I care? Those are just a few questions Schump asks himself, his team and his clients each time they have to work together. “What we are offering is not a final product, it is an experience. Design is all about this experience”. 

We met at a coffee shop on 18th Street at 8 am to talk about design, clients, San Francisco and life. 

D: How have the local design and architecture industries changed in the last 5-10 years?

LS: Many design and architecture firms have been acquired by engineering and construction companies. Clients nowadays want comprehensive and coordinated design, engineering and construction services. Time and money are too tight to allow for the traditional “waterfall” process. Rapt Studio adopted an interdisciplinary, agile approach to allow us to focus on creating experiences for our clients. As other concerns surface some designers and architects lament that design is losing importance. I don’t think so. I think there are just more people at the table. 

D: How is technology affecting the idea of design and architecture, the development of new products and new buildings? 

LS: We have this idea that all problems can be solved by technology. Sustainability is a technology problem rather than an exercise in remembering how things were built before World War II. With the raise of technology we are all concerned about how long a project is going to last. It can be six days, six weeks or six years. We don’t know. I think what we can offer today is an immersive experience, like in a theatre,  where we are engaging people by telling them a story rather than focusing on the time. Nothing is permanent. People feel like they want to buy an image because it satisfies an interest on Pinterest. We all know that this interest is not going to last forever. So the question is what is it going to last? What is the meaning of time? How we are going to remember? My house is full of my husband’s family pictures, pieces I designed, objects that have a value for us. How are we going to share this value? What kind of value do we want to build and share? Is technology going to be able to share this permanent and meaningful value?




D: What are your favorite design pieces and architecture projects in the Bay Area? 

LS: The Oakland Museum, The Hallidie Building, someone argues that it is the first curtain wall. The interstice facade on 26th Street, Peter Gutkin’s Klazo tables. 

D: And those you don’t like at all? 

LS: That is a longer list. 170 Columbus Avenue, The Herman Miller "Sayl" chair. 

D: In your opinion, who are the new young and talented designers and architects in the Bay Area? 

LS: Young is relative. People say an architect or a designer doesn’t really hit his stride until fifty. I think Owen Kennerly of Kennerly Architecture & Planning, is very talented. There are some amazing young talents at Rapt Studio. Those precocious few who can see the big picture and find a detailed, beautiful response to it. 

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

LS: Technology is to San Francisco what entertainment is to Los Angeles and finance to New York. Technology is a big part of San Francisco and I think it is always going to be there. The question is “how we are going to use technology to shape our future?”

Google San Francisco. 

Google San Francisco. 

D: What do you think about the Eleven Magazine new design competition focused on restyling the Tenderloin? 

LS: A cynical vehicle to sell magazines. 

D: And about housing affordability? Is there a solution to solve this problem?   

LS: If we want to solve the housing problem we have to break some rules. Acknowledge that as the housing market goes up some renters (and some home owners) will lose the option to move unless they move out of the city. Understand that the pressure on many families to leave the Mission is not because of gentrification reasons. It is because of the poor quality of Public schools. People move to suburbs because schools are better there. One solution can be to allow smaller apartments, co-housing and other illegal unconventional solution. Dismantle the San Francisco brand of participatory democracy that stops change “for the greater good”. Bullshit.  

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

Working at Rapt Studio and helping a new generation of business leaders to understand the power of design to connect. 

Louis Schump.

Louis Schump.