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Meet architect and craftsman: Joshua Aidlin

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Brecon Estate Winery. Photographer: Adam Rouse

Brecon Estate Winery. Photographer: Adam Rouse

In 1998 Joshua Aidlin and David Darling founded the award-winning architecture and design firm Aidlin Darling Design. Over a span of almost twenty years the studio has won several awards such as the 2013 National Design Award by The Smithsonian Cooper -Hewitt Design Museum, the James Beard Award and two National AIA “Cote” awards for excellence in sustainable design. Aidlin Darling Design today is a multidisciplinary platform combining architecture, design, craftsmanship and engineering in a holistic way. If you happened to go to In Situ, the well-known restaurant inside of the SFMOMA, one of their latest projects, you would have a taste of their work. They are famous in the industry for their “designing for all the senses” philosophy, where a project is developed in a series of layers. This includes visual, psychological, material, acoustic and environmental elements. It is a design principle that they apply to all of their projects, including institutional, such as the Santa Rosa High-School, commercial such as Bar Agricole or the Emeryville Center for the Arts, and residential such as the Sonoma Spa Retreat. “Our ultimate goal is to create soulful building”, Joshua Aidlin explains.

We met Joshua Aidlin at his office to discuss the design philosophy for Aidlin Darling Design and the firm’s process in further detail.

How has architecture changed in the last five to ten years in San Francisco?

The architecture has become much more scientific in the performance of the building. Twenty years ago we could have presented just a plan of the structure of a project. Now we have to do mock up model, we have to deal with all the documentation about permits, the sustainability standards and certification. The amount of research that is done on the performance, the collaboration with engineers, the selection of materials, everything has become much more demanding and scientifically based. Before it was a more simplified process. Now, with Pinterest and online sources, the process is becoming an extended dialogue about lighting, fixture, ceilings, floor and more. People have more access to information. You have to become an expert on everything and your range of expertise has to grow tremendously.

Courtyard Residence. Photographer: Matthew Millman

Courtyard Residence. Photographer: Matthew Millman

How is Technology affecting your work?

From a fabrication point of view, now, we are able to use 3D printing and other technical tools that we could not have used in the past. These tools give to us more opportunity to work on a project even if we are not on site all the time, and to dig into details, in a more accurate way. On the other hand, we are also craftsmen as we make furniture with our hands, so we always try to balance artisanship and technology. If you look at the ceilings of In Situ, without technology that couldn’t have happened.

Could you explain to us the philosophy behind your “designing for all the senses” approach?

In the late ‘90s and 2000 and even today there was and there is an obsession for the visual. At that time as well as today, we are still not paying attention to the opportunity to investigate into the psychology of the building and the people. If you think about all the receptors we have in our body, our skin, the temperature and those within a space like the acoustic, the texture, if the building is made of smooth wood wall, or stone, or concrete. Consider all the elements that psychologically affect human beings. The question is what is the impact that everything has on the psychology of human beings? It is very important to ask to ourselves as well as our clients.

In Situ. Photographer: Matthew Millman

In Situ. Photographer: Matthew Millman

Could you tell us more about your creative process?

It is uniquely specific to the project or the people involved. Even if it is a remodeling of a building, we always ask a lot of questions to understand the clients needs. We want to understand their psychology because we are going to design a custom house for them. When we talk to clients we often see an interesting distinction between how they have lived in the past and how they want to live in the future. What is their pattern today? And how do they want to live now? We put them in a new environment that they can create. What are their rituals? What are their rituals going to be? At this point the process gets exciting because we start to see our clients dream about the potential of their lives. After this investigation phase, we combine and integrate all the architecture, the psychological and the material elements, collected. Then, we break everything down to create a realistic, powerful and magical environment where clients can pick and choose what they really want.

Could you tell us more about your design aesthetic?

Both David and I and all team are pretty obsessed with proportions. We make our furniture with our hands so we design our buildings with the same precision. Being able to balance all the proportion creates an undeniable elegance within any piece of furniture or building. The thickness of a table whether it is 2 inches or 3 inches makes the difference. This obsession is something that we don’t want to get rid off. We all agree that if you do it once, do it right.

 

Ventilla Writing Table. Photographer: Marcus Hanschen

Ventilla Writing Table. Photographer: Marcus Hanschen

In your team do you have people that work on just residential projects and people who work on commercial and public spaces?

We try to mix everything up. We have company creative retreats and we also talk to the people of our staff about what they want to work on. If they want to work on residential or on a public building, we try to satisfy their wishes. It is a collaborative studio and we tend to help one another. We don't care about who the idea belongs to. There are going to be equal opportunities. David and I are always involved in any project. Sometimes one is acting as lead designer and sometimes as the critique voice. The lead designer knows everything about the project and the critique voice doesn’t know anything. So during the meeting the role of the critique is to give a proper feedback and see what is working and what is not working from a point of view of someone who is not involved.

What kind of positive mark do you intend to leave?

I hope that with all I have done there is an undeniable level of craft and sensuality and that will inspire the culture to respect and love design. Design is open ended and our ultimate goal is to create soulful buildings. 

From the left: David Darling and Joshua Aidlin. Photographer: Marcus Hanschen  

From the left: David Darling and Joshua Aidlin. Photographer: Marcus Hanschen