Designers, architects, artists and craftspeople—every Titans of Trade episode takes you backstage to learn about the people and projects making our world more beautiful.
Made in LA: Architect David Thompson
The homegrown West Coast Modernist discusses his firm’s approach, their notable residential projects and how growing up on the Sunset Strip shaped him.QUOTES
“As architects we’re on a constant learning process. We learn from everything—we learn from every step we make, and every project we’re a part of, and every client and every problem that we’re solving on every project,” he says. “That’s the beauty of the medium of architecture. As architects we never stop learning.”
On growing up in Los Angeles: "It was super inspiring and an incredible place to be as a young person. I think it set me up for the life that I’m living both as an artist and architect, and as a person. It was a great foundation."
“LA is a pioneering place for all kinds of arts and incredible thinkers and people here who have really shaped the world. In that way, that’s what we’re trying to celebrate about LA as well.”
“I grew up on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood,” says architect David Thompson, who’s lived in LA since age four, and was steeped in design at a young age courtesy of his architect father.
Sleepovers in a Schindler house in Silverlake (Howe House) were common, as was gazing over the twinkling expanse of the Hollywood Hills from his bedroom windows.
Growing in his young mind is what Thompson describes as a “subtle kind of fiber,” which would blossom after architecture school in New Orleans and a return to Los Angeles.
There he got to work designing, eventually opening his own firm, Assembledge+, which is known for its award-winning new Modernist residences and studied renovations that add faithful new chapters and volumes to existing Mid Century works. There’s also commercial projects, notably restaurants offering keenly felt residential and sensory experiences.
“Hollywood has been my developmental playground for my whole life, so it’s kind of perfect that we’re smack dab in the middle of Hollywood,” Thompson says of Assembledge+, which is located steps from Sunset and Vine, and a couple of blocks south of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In this far-reaching interview, Los Angeles architect David Thompson joins Titans of Trade to discuss his firm’s approach and his award-winning Laurel Hills residence; as well as the cultivation of his design eye, and the unique West Coast Modernist aesthetic his firm is known for. “California has always been on the radar in the world,” he points out. “We are continuing a Modernist sensibility that has been cultivated here for many years, and carrying on that torch.”
Take the firm’s Laurel Hills Residence. This open-air residence, consisting of three volumes linked by glass hallways, was built by Thompson for his family in Studio City— and has captured over a dozen awards in the U.S. and beyond. “It resonates with a lot of people,” the architect says of its appeal. “All of our work, we consider it to be a warm Modernism. It’s quite accessible to people [and they] understand it.” Typical of an Assembledge+ project, the floorplan stays linked to the landscape—and so do the materials, which present a tactile experience that furthers one’s connection with their surroundings. “If there’s a subtle engagement with nature on a daily basis that just kind of happens, I think inspires you as a human,” the architect points out. Thompson also talks his firm’s historic renovations, where Mid Century California homes are updated and expanded with a current stamp that’s still truthful to the original premise of the project.
“We are trying to put ourselves back into the shoes of the designers and architects of the time—but we realize also that we’re a part of that thread of history that’s going into this project,” describes Thompson.
“We’re breathing new life into it and bringing it up to modern day, so hopefully that historical thread will stay with it for much longer, and then we add a layer of that history to the project and
How Kevin Holland is Shaping the Industry of Architecture
In this episode, meet award-winning architect, Kevin Holland, Principal in charge at HMC Architects, AIA national board member, mentor and industry shaper. Kevin joins us to discuss his work creating public and civic spaces, as well as being part of positively impacting the industry from the inside, and helping to usher in new architects joining its ranks.
Architecture was an early decision for Holland, who first encountered that ideal touchstone of the art, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, the summer before entering University of Virginia as an architecture major. “I still remember looking at the first image, and then when I saw that it was built in 1929, I was floored,” he recounts. “I was absolutely convinced that it was a contemporary building built sometime in my lifetime.”
For the last three decades Holland’s been involved in private and public projects, yet at one point made a full-time shift to projects where he could integrate the interests and perspectives of more than a single client. “Sometime in my career the wheels started turning,” says the architect. “I was able to pivot and find some of those project types that enabled me to serve the community at large.”
He’s currently Principal in Charge at HMC Architects in Los Angeles, and shares the ideas driving the agency’s central premise—Design for Good. Particularly how it shapes its work in higher education, K-12, and what they call their “community + culture” practice areas. “For us,” explains Holland, “‘Design for Good’ encapsulates everything we believe about serving the public at large, not just that single client who may have contracted us. All of our projects are very democratic.”
Being part of AIA’s National Board of Directors is just another stop in what’s been another career-long engagement for Holland: helping to advance an industry he loves. “That sense of providing for the person coming behind you has always been there,” he says. It’s a template of service that was passed to him via his grandfather and mother. “They instilled in me through their example of community service,” he points out, which for him includes being part of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), of which he was president, the Dean’s Advisory Board for the Tuskegee University School of Architecture as well as the Dean’s Advisory Board at his alma mater, UVA.
Finally, when asked to recall something that surprised him about architecture back when he first entered the industry, he says it was the role of consultants, those involved with the structural engineering of a project—-and offers a word of advice to new architects. “I think that dance and interacting with other people is the one thing you have to learn,” offers Holland. “You have to learn how much of it is under your control, and how much of it is under someone else’s control. And what is negotiable.”
The California Contemporary Aesthetic w/ Duan Tran of KAA Design Group
In this episode, meet notable contemporary architect Duan Tran who joins the show to discuss highlights of over two decades in award-winning residential architecture, from the firm’s distinctive design approach to their award-winning longevity in the industry. How they’re increasingly transplanting their California contemporary aesthetic to other parts of the world. And the ways that AI and tech are shaping the future of architecture.
“There are computers and artificial intelligence right now that are pushing the envelope about what we can now conceive as what a new building looks like,” states Duan.
Duan Tran is a partner at KAA Design Group in Los Angeles, a firm designing luxury contemporary residences in Southern California, and also in far-flung locations, from Dubai and Washington D.C. to the West Indies and Costa Rica. Known for their distinctive California Contemporary style, each KAA design is firmly rooted in the land, the climate and the unique needs and lifestyle of each client.
“Every one of our projects has our clients’ DNA in it,” says Duan. “Sometimes selfishly, the opportunity to design a house is just an opportunity to really get to know somebody; and understand how they live and what makes them tick. It’s literally a physical manifestation of their lifestyle and their personality.”
Duan shares secrets behind 30 years of success at the firm, which was founded by partner Grant C. Kirkpatrick, author of California Contemporary: The Houses of Grant C. Kirkpatrick and KAA Design (Princeton Architectural Press, 2018).
“It’s almost like another design project,” Duan Tran says of operating their organization. Hiring at KAA is strategic, with the idea of creating super teams made up of individuals excelling in particular facets of design and construction. “It’s about bringing people in that have a certain amount of elitism, or exceptionalism in terms of skill set, and how do we nurture that, and put that together with other people with elite skills,” says Duan. “It’s very exciting for us to find someone who has an exceptional skill, and figure out within our team environment about how to push that.”
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Steve Lazar Designer & Builder of Homes from California Coast to Mountains of Utah
In this episode, meet Steve Lazar! A dozen years ago a luxury beach home popped up in Hermosa Beach, California resembling a lifeguard tower. Designed and built by Steve Lazar—a local surfer who was first an actor, then a construction laborer before working his way up to full-fledged builder—it was the first in a portfolio of his striking Modernist homes along the coast of Los Angeles. Each visually distinctive, yet all bearing his trademarks, from the deft twining of indoor and outdoor spaces, to a director’s command of directing natural light. One even had a tree growing in its center.
These days Lazar is bringing his unique touch to mountain homes outside Park City, Utah, along with a construction-boots-on-the-ground sensibility that has him at the job site daily. “If I’m going to ask someone to sweep the floor, I’m willing to sleep the floor,” says Lazar of his leadership style. On his crew: “We’re a team of little sculptors, and we have this crazy piece of terrain. We spend months digging it up, and making a complete mess of it. Then we spend another 16 months turning it into something.”
Designers and builders, from the DIY to professional, can learn from this far-reaching Titans of Trade discussion with Steve Lazar: From innovative ways to link your home with nature, to turning project setbacks into creative feats, and knowing when less (of a material, a feature or creative theme) is more.
“This has taken me like, 35 years, but the biggest problems that I incur on a project are inevitably going to become a feature that I’m going to be really happy with how it turns out,” shares Lazar. “I don’t get myself too wound up. That’s taken a lot of years to figure out, because some of the worse things that can occur on a job site can inevitably become its finest features.”
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Interior Designer Shelley Starr’s Journey to High-Tone Glamour
Join us in this episode as we chat with Shelley Starr, an A-list designer who has made a name for herself in the world of high-tone glamour. Shelley's unassuming outlook and purposeful approach to keeping her business lean and efficient have allowed her to work with Hollywood heavyweights like Gwyneth Paltrow, George Clooney, and Madonna. In this conversation, Shelley Starr of Shelley Starr Interior Design in Beverly Hills shares her career-changing moment and the philosophy behind her customer service. She also talks about how she channels the theme of a house via great design and makes her clients' worlds more beautiful.
Join us for an inspiring conversation on how Shelley Starr has created a fascinating career by faithfully following her instincts and selecting projects based on a shared quest with her clients.
A career-changing moment: “I don’t know when my career hit a point when a client flies to Capri to tell me they’re going to hire me, and hands me a check when I’m on vacation,” recounts Starr. “That was a big change. The confidence in me started to adjust and grow into a different place.”
Her style of customer service: “No matter what, the client is never to have a bad experience through the process. They hired me to shield them from that,” states Starr. “I’m there to make their world perfect, and that’s what they pay me for.”
Shelley's mode of living: “My life is very compact,” describes Starr. “I’ve built this cottage and we take a beautiful little walk along the harbor, and the boats, and we go to my office, which sits right on the water in the marina. I’ve got this really nice life.”
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Dr. Raymond Neutra: Neutra on Neutra
“One of my morning jobs was to take a glass of hot milk across the patio, and over into the office where my dad had been working since 4 o’clock in the morning on drawings or writing,” recounts Dr. Raymond Neutra. “And going into the office, and there my dad would be sitting on a tall metal stool with his t-square and triangle.” The youngest son of the pioneering architect, Dr. Raymond Neutra currently helms the Neutra Institute for Survival Through Design (NISD), which is actively committed to preserving the physical and intellectual legacy of Richard Neutra. Along with using the Neutra legacy to help solve modern-day design challenges, the Institute promotes those engaged in activities “that reflect the values that my brother, father and mother were committed to,” says Neutra. Dr. Neutra joins the podcast for a far-reaching discussion: From new innovations at the Institute, to in-depth recollections of his famous father and the fascinating people who surrounded him at Neutra VDL Studio and Residences, an innovative live-work space in Los Angeles, now a National Historic Landmark, that was designed by Richard Neutra in 1932.