and Simple: Three New Modernist Designers Deserving of a Nod
(Originally published in 2007 by City Beat)
Given the chance, young, scrappy, entrepreneurial architects would bring their wild ideas-on-paper to a city block near you. Too few, though, are purse-strings daring enough to help make it happen.
San Diegans seem to favor the safe formulae of Tuscan McMansions and Olde Spanish fantasies over the modernist principles of straight, clean lines bridging indoor and outdoor spaces. It's a shame-from what a few local architects have shown, putting modernist principles to practice can make for some beautiful buildings.
In North Park, Christopher Puzio and wife Emily Fierer recently completed their first San Diego project, combining their home, design studio and art gallery. In their space, which they call Spacecraft, architect Puzio sought to reference fellow Cranbrook graduate Charles Eames' own home and studio in Pacific Palisades.
Knowing that work and home would be merely a few yards apart, Puzio turned the two buildings in the compound away from each other. The front doors to each are located on opposing sides, creating a safe distance between the demands of the workspace and the comforts of home.
Spacecraft, as the name implies, is aesthetically alien to its North Park neighbors. The flat-roof and horizontal lines of its craftsman-like, oiled wood exterior are sparely punctuated with glass. But Puzio and Fierer (also an architect) have created a comfortably small home with handcrafted detailing; a backyard replete with built-in concrete spa and barbecue; and a dynamic gallery space all connected by a carefully landscaped path.
A few years ago, the couple left their Mies Van Der Rohe-designed apartment in Detroit for a cheap, commercially zoned and frightfully frail structure in North Park. Planned as a remodel, Puzio and Fierer learned quickly that the house's four walls were barely holding up the roof. A remodel opportunity became a tear-down necessity. Puzio and Fierer didn't know what the non-residential space would become as their hammers hit the first nails.
Puzio's influences are steeped in an appreciation for the West Coast's
brand of modernist architecture. Spacecraft is the end-result of “keeping
things simple and on budget... and keeping the space straightforward,” he
says. One can also read the twin structures as a nod to the logic of
the couple's box-like Mies Van Der Rohe apartment. Puzio says this
wasn't purposeful, but rather “we needed a place to live, not
a place to put a calling card.”
R3 was crafted as a three-dimensional work of art. As sculptors, both Lloyd and Ame examined how the building would look from a variety of vantage points (including the breakdown lane of the highway above) and admit they had no plan for how they would use the space inside.
“A building takes on a life of its own,” says Lloyd. “We stepped back and knew it would become something other than what we thought at the beginning.”
On the first floor is the R3 Gallery, a street-level concrete-block exhibit space, showcasing contemporary art by those who catch Ame's eye. Above the gallery space is an intoxicating, high-ceilinged space defined as much by light as materials. The east-facing glass wall pivots horizontally to become an outdoor patio space. High above the kitchen and living area is a loft-like room and catwalk-like standing-room-only patio where one can reach up and nearly touch the landing gear of planes in the landing path.
Upon completion of his first home for himself, Lloyd commemorated
the building-his third-by naming it R3, a reference to R3 Zoning, or
Residential Mixed Density Zone, as well as the three-sided lot it occupies.
Their most recent project, the UCSD Original Student Center Expansion (OSCE), boldly stands as a view into their current aesthetic directions, and also the soul of the firm.
An honest steel, wood and glass structure embracing the surrounding eucalyptus grove, the first sketches of OSCE show the horizontal slats in contrast to the vertical nature of the surrounding trees. The project opens itself to the grove through intimate patios where minimalist benches allow faculty, students and visitors a place to eat lunch, sip a latté or contemplate their next move. OCSE almost weaves itself, like twisted branches, through the grove, to become one with the site. And for those who like to stay indoors, there's plenty of glass to savor the landscape.
“If you look at every one of our buildings as a painting, each
will share some issue and critics will see it as a style, but it's
really a slow evolution of our explorations rather than a style,” explains
Gates. While one could see a similarity between the South Building
of their UCSD Original Student Center Expansion and the Lee Residence,
also in La Jolla (recently featured in Dwell magazine), it only encompasses
their “Slat Phase.” The horizontal, slightly spaced-apart
boards are as much a fence as the exterior skin of these two buildings.
Gates and Brown admit this phase is complete, yet one more stop in
the firm's design evolution.
What more would the public expect from a modernist aesthete?