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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

 

Meet designer: Pamela Babey

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The Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli, Italy 

The Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli, Italy 

Pamela Babey, founding principal of San Francisco-based interior design firm BAMO, is a globetrotting enthusiast. Pamela is internationally renowned for her visionary designs. She masters the art of combining unique arrays of colors and patterns and elevates artisan crafts to luxury standards. A member of Interior Design’s Hall of Fame and Hospitality Design’s Platinum Circle, she has collected an award-winning portfolio by working on a variety of projects. Her design portfolio includes projects such as the Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli, the Four Seasons Hotel in Milan, a residential compound in Beijing and a yacht built by Benetti.

Between a work trip to Venice and another one in Hong Kong, she took some time to share with us her passion about her job and her point of view on the industry.

How has the hospitality industry changed in the last five years?

I think hotels are getting a little bit more boring than what it used to be in the past. Few months ago, I was looking for a hotel for my trip in London and did some research on hotel.com and expedia.com. I went through all the list of available hotels and they all looked like the same: the upholstery, the white sheets, the white pillows, the accente blanket on the bed. It was just boring. I know that a room in a hotel has a limited number of elements available, yet I think that there is an opportunity to make those elements more interesting. For instance, adding more layers to a fixed formula. When you look at magazines, you see the greatest historic hotels, such as the Ritz Paris or the Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli with their historical elements. Reading about them and looking at the pictures, you perceive a kind of soul within them and you know that there aren’t any other places that look like them. I believe that hotels do have a personality and it is not about expensive materials but about the use of creativity in the space.

Matsuri restaurant, Santiago, Chile.

Matsuri restaurant, Santiago, Chile.

Could you tell us about your process?

In the industry we developed the concept that a process starts from the eyes and goes to the hands. I always start a plan by asking the client a lot of questions. Then I pick up a pencil and I start drawing something about what the space could be. So I think, it could have a mezzanine or a particular door or a wall that can become an art wall, and maybe I can place a sofa in front of it. I just begin to build up these ideas of what the space could be and how a person can have dinner in it, spend a cold night in front of a fireplace, or stay in on a warm day. The next step is to think about the materials, the lighting and what I want the place to be visually.

Could you explain to us the concept of “design storytelling”?

The process is as I mentioned before, it is about telling a visual story. Sometimes the storytelling is unraveled into a mini series like at the Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli, which tells many different stories. There are four different buildings in the hotel and each building has its own personality, its own soul. Legendary hotelier and owner of the hotel, Bob Burns began his career in the industry as bartender for a hotel. So we did some research on cocktails to get some inspiration in order to incorporate some of Bob’s personality and life story into the design plan. However, from time to time the story we built from dies upon completion of the project. This happens because sometimes the management changes and they want to make adjustments based on their own vision of the needs for the space.

San Francisco Residence.

San Francisco Residence.

How have your travels influenced your work?

I have always traveled. When I was very young I used to travel a lot with my parents. I am sure I got a lot of insights from my trips, but I am not sure about how much all the places I visited have influenced me. I know it gives me a broad base to draw upon. At BAMO, we like to define ourselves as an International style design firm.

What was one of your most challenging projects?

When I was doing the Regent Hotel Milan (now Four Seasons Hotel), I remember when I went there for the first time that I was quite nervous. It was my first big hotel assignment. I was a designer from San Francisco and I had to design a hotel in a city where there all the best interior and fashion designers in the world are. So I shared all my thoughts with Paolo Moroni, owner of Sawaya & Moroni, an International firm of architects and designers, and he told me; “Thank God they have hired you, have you ever seen a hotel designed by an Italian that works?” Our concept behind the project was to leave everything as it was, old as old, new as new. So we added a modern flair without redoing or touching an al fresco that we found on the wall. At the beginning we didn’t realize it, but later we discovered that the concept “old is old and new is new” applied to the hotel, reflected the temperament of the city and the people. In Milan, you see people living in old apartment buildings with modern furniture a happy marriage.

Four Seasons Hotel, Bora Bora

Four Seasons Hotel, Bora Bora

What do you like about fabrics?

I guess that I inherited the interest from my mom and then later in college I became drawn to tribal fabrics and I would go and collect them. That was probably the first step into it. Then I met Fortuny and that was it. Fortuny has everything I always loved. Their items are made of natural fabrics and layers of colors. Those layers create the interest an cotton in such "simple' material.

How does technology affect your way of working?

I don’t quite understand technology and when people ask me about it I try to determine whether they are talking about the people that work in the Technology industry or the tools that we are using in our daily jobs. I think that the conversation is not about the Technology in itself but it is more about the wealth that Technology is bringing in.

Lady Candy Master Suite Lounge

Lady Candy Master Suite Lounge

 

Do you approach the hospitality projects and residential ones in a different way?

No, the process is always the same. Moreover, at BAMO we don’t have designers that only do residential or only do hospitality projects. We all participate. Personally, I think that I have a lot to offer in residential because of my hospitality experience. Of course, the process for a house is more involved and personal. Hotel projects are involved too, but you have to please different people’s needs. However, the quality of both residential and hospitality projects is the same. Both translate into the feeling of being at home.

What is design for you?

I don’t know what design is, honestly, or what it is for me. There is always an excitement related to the project that I am doing, or that I am going to do. Sometimes I sit in a bar and I look around and I think what if that wall was painted with that color, or what if they had put that coffee table there, then this place could have been a totally different experience. It is a great profession because it always changes. 

What kind of positive impact do you want to leave to the industry? 

When you are dead you are dead. I think that there are really few people that have left a positive impact worldwide. I love my job and I love working and always thinking about the next project. I just hope that my address book doesn’t get lost, there are very interesting people in it. BAMO is based on creativity and I guess that this is the impact I want to leave.

Pamela Babey. 

Pamela Babey.