Michael Garcia and Farid Tamjidi, founders of Garcia Tamjidi Architecture Design, are known for their minimalist aesthetic and have established their reputation in the industry working on multiple scale projects such as Apple, Airbnb, Pixar, Index Ventures and Kendo. Both from the Bay Area, the pair met in the early 1980s at the UC Berkley’s school of architecture. After working for different companies in the industry, in 1998 Garcia and Tamjidi opened their own firm. They combined their skills and developed a holistic process for architecture and design.
We asked Garcia Tamjid a few questions about their firm and their projects.
How has local design and architecture changed in the last 5 to 10 years?
We’ve noticed an increase in local interest that’s keeping pace with an international surge in fascination with design. Compared to ten years ago there are so many outlets focused purely on design and visual culture. In the last five years in the San Francisco Bay Area, where we do a lot of our work, we’ve noticed that our clients come to us aware of visual culture and fluent in a visual language. There seems to be a strong interest in work that tells a coherent + consistent narrative, and also engages with these deep architectural issues like form, light, space, and more.
How is technology affecting the way in which you work?
We still start out with simple hand-sketches, which is always the first step/building block of design for us. What we try and do is to work at the intersection of multiple forms of technology - standing in a project site and getting a phenomenological feel for the place - the way the light bounces, the way the volume of the space feels and what elements need to be brought to the fore. And then, of course, we couple that with the ever-increasing ability to store amounts of information and images on a scale that wasn’t possible ten years ago. We work to keep ourselves tethered to the fact that everything we create will be lived (or worked) in by humans. So while tech helps us to keep better records and make quicker edits on drawings, we’re still always oriented towards creating spaces that people are going to experience without technological mediation.
When you have to start a new project. What do you do? Could you tell us about your process?
It’s different for every project, of course, but a basic framework is to clarify the program and identify limitations; we want to be clear on site, budget, schedule, and the client’s needs. The more information we have, the clearer the direction and the better the solution, but every client and every project is different. We have one client who is hyper-involved on the detail level, so we started working with him by having daylong meetings where we talked about everything he wanted to do and how to do it. And then we have others who want to have a much lighter touch, who want us to really frame and shape a solution in architecture that they couldn’t have even imagined.
Do you approach residential and commercial projects in the same way?
We'd say that we approach all architecture in a similar way by focusing on details, quality, that moment where you walk into a space, whether it’s a jewel box apartment or a 20,000sf office space, and just think “oh…. wow.” That’s what we’re going for. Of course, the parameters are different - sites, budgets, schedules vary for different types of projects. We like to think that there’s a consistency in our investigations into materiality, form, how to shape space. We’ve also noticed that line between what’s considered appropriate for residential versus commercial architecture is becoming increasingly blurred, with a cultural increase in thinking about issues like work/life balance. Commercial clients, for instance, are becoming much more interested in “life” issues. Residential clients, instead, are thinking more about how to incorporate spaces for work and thought. We bring an emphasis on daily interactions and how they can be addressed and improved through design.
Could you describe to us your aesthetic?
Overall our approach is very restrained, we like to build what’s absolutely essential. We pay attention to detail so that we can create a space that appears simple and functional, and every single project devotes an enormous amount of thought and attention to natural light. We’re keenly aware of the play of light in space. Le Corbusier said that “architecture is the masterly play of form and light,” and that’s a way of framing the work we do that’s always resonated with us. We love how the eye tends to travel along long lines and really crisp forms. We did a residential project where there’s this curved marble kitchen bar that seems like such a simple shape but it anchors the entire open living space and turns itself into a work of sculpture. That’s the kind of aesthetic that we have. Quietly artistic, but also really workable/usable. One of the things we love is when our clients talk about a problem that they never knew they had, but that we’ve in some way solved.
Could you share with us the design concept behind Kendo?
One of the central issues was that we were creating an architectural identity for a company that’s entirely built around pillar brands, but didn’t yet have its own clear brand. So the new office was a chance for us to create a clear ethos for them. There’s a strong visual association with retail environments because Kendo is a beauty company, and devoted to amazing packaging and visual sophistication. So, we took that as a working idea and then incorporated our emphasis on volume, expansive spans, clean lines, and tremendous amounts of storage (to keep the sightlines clear). We worked closely with the Kendo team to create a space where their teams could work really closely together. As a result, there are a lot of areas for people to get together in meeting rooms, or pockets of seating areas that are bursting with natural light. We incorporated massive graphics on the walls that support each of the pillar brands, and those graphics pop because so much of the rest of the materiality is really sleek and simple. We found this incredible shiny black surface that we used to produce a central tableau that’s in the reception area, and then we designed the lighting to produce this really theatrical sense of display.
What is one of the most challenging project you have been working on so far?
We approach each project with the same desire to learn as much as we can and to challenge ourselves - so each project! If you look at our website, each project has a similar ethos of simplicity, attention to natural light, formalist investigation - but we don’t have an immediately recognizable style; no two projects look the same. And that’s because we take each project for what it wants to be, for what the clients want it to be, and for the opportunity it presents for all of us to learn something new; whether that’s about doing something like that marble bar for a recent residential project, or using the window spans in Kendo to produce an almost Gursky-like effect of San Francisco outside. We are as fascinated with architecture today as we were when we met at UC Berkeley’s architecture program, and so in a way we make each project be the most challenging.
What are your thoughts on the future for San Francisco and the Bay Area, from a design and architecture point of view?
It’s such a recognized cultural center for new ideas and innovation, and we feel it’s our job to hold down the fort in a way, to lead by careful intellectual study, experimentation, high level of professionalism, so that we continue to reinforce the role and value of architecture. There are companies being founded every day, and we see ourselves as stewards of a type of precise thinking and exploration. We’ve been working here for twenty years, our twentieth anniversary is coming up, and so we’ve seen so much change. And yet, the fundamental questions that we address are the same: how can we live better? How can we mobilize what is already here (light and air)? How can we help this city to grow in a thoughtful way? How can we nestle our projects into the urban fabric? An example of that is our work with the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, where we worked on this incredibly historically important site on the Presidio and gave the team a space that can be grown into. We’re conscious of San Francisco’s past and also its future. and we hope to continue to be shaping the spaces in which all of this art and thought and innovation happen.
How do you plan to leave a positive mark on the city?
We hope to do that every day with all of our projects, by showing clients that they can work in something really beautiful and really inspiring, and that it’s going to change how they feel every day. It’s not that we’re going to build the tallest skyscraper, that’s not our thing. It’s that we’re going to keep building commercial and residential projects that bring people joy when they go to work, when they come home from work. We remember walking into the Kendo space with the team for the first time, and they were so excited. They hadn’t ever seen an office space that was this compelling - and they couldn’t wait to move in. So that’s hundreds of people who are now looking forward to going to work that much more - that’s a positive mark. And then there are our super-private residential projects, like a really intimate library we just did for an entrepreneur in Marin. This specific client now has a place to go and be silent and rest and think really deeply. We’ve made a positive mark on him, and who knows what kind of city-influencing ideas he’s going to come up with from here! We see our role as architects as creating the spaces that allow more magic to happen.
What is design for you?
Design to us is everything - it’s why we get up in the morning. Because we can’t wait to get to the sketching pad or the CAD file to solve that problem we’ve been thinking about for weeks. It’s the enormous satisfaction that we feel when we get that “aha!” moment. It’s the tremendous joy of seeing clients walk into a space that they’ve seen renderings of and get it - of watching more and more people start to understand how deeply important and specific architecture is - that we’re here to answer deeper questions than where the furniture should go (although we also answer that!) We want to do good work that impacts people’s lives - and architecture and design is one of the most powerful agents for that kind of change.