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REAL ESTATE - INTERVIEW

Interview with Principal Architect Adam Sokol, Founder of asap/ adam sokol architecture practice from Los Angeles

Bringing creative minds together, who are already talented, and working together with a mentality that is far away from hierarchy, can create a very productive and creative working environment. I talked with Adam Sokol about the architecture practice that he founded with this philosophy.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Adam Sokol

Adam Sokol

REAL ESTATE - INTERVIEW

by Meryem Aksoy

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When Adam Sokol decided to pursue a career in architecture, he knew the importance of education. He studied architecture at some of the notable universities such as Columbia, Yale, Harvard, and Paris. After his graduation, he started his professional career but his desire for freedom led him to establish his own firm. In 2011, Adam Sokol established his own architectural firm asap/ in Los Angeles. I talked with Adam Sokol, Founder and Principal Architect of asap/ adam sokol architecture practice, in order to learn more about his career, projects, team, and the basics of architectural projects. Enjoy this interview.

Adam, when did you first become interested in architecture? What inspired you?

I don’t remember a specific moment but I definitely enjoyed building legos and other things.

That was back in ancient times when they were just blocks unburdened by branding deals and movie tie-ins.

How did you decide to pursue a career in architecture?

A wise teacher I had in college once told me, “architecture is what you do if you can’t be happy doing anything else.” I think there is probably some truth to that. I don’t feel that I pursued a career in architecture exactly, I’d say it pursued me.

The Emperor Hotel Beijing Qianmen - asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

The Emperor Hotel Beijing Qianmen - asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

You have studied at notable universities in the US and France. Could you tell us about your educational background?

Yes, I was fortunate to study at some great universities, Columbia and Yale primarily, with some brief stints at Harvard and the University of Paris. But I probably think of my education more in terms of teachers than schools: Barry Bergdoll and Kenneth Frampton were especially significant at Columbia, then Robert A.M. Stern, Vincent Scully, Demetri Porphyrios and Frank Gehry at Yale.

What type of projects did you work in your professional career?

It’s becoming quite a menagerie! A couple of hotels, some residential and commercial interiors, one home, a couple of multifamily buildings, then there was a museum and a handful of urbanism studies. And did I mention the inflatable teahouse we are working on?

asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

How did you decide to establish your own firm? Could you tell us about asap/ and your team?

Well, I had no choice really, I’d be like a caged animal otherwise. I think we are fortunate now, after several years, to have a solid core of some very dedicated and talented people who are behind the work the firm is doing. There are undoubtedly some detours. Over time you figure out what works for you personally. One of the great things about architecture is that there are as many ways of practicing as there are architects. Historically our firm has been very “flat” in the sense of being non-hierarchical and non-specialized. Recently that has slowly begun to change but I hope we will still maintain that spirit. It’s sort of a balancing act to find the sweet spot between studio and firm, art and business.

What does collaborative design practice mean?

It means we collaborate. We work together. We ask each other what everyone thinks about the work and what ideas they have for improvement. We debate design direction. We recognize where our individual strengths do and do not lie and work with everyone collectively to our best advantage.

Apartment of Perfect Brightness - asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

Apartment of Perfect Brightness - asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

What are the challenges and easy aspects of managing a large team of experts, each one skilled in their field?

Mainly just recognizing what help is needed, ensuring you have the right number and type of people, not too many and not too few. And in those cases where many people are required, managing and coordinating them begins to become a sort of art unto itself.

What are the advantages of working with such a team for your customers?

As buildings and construction have become more complex, the amount of knowledge required begins to exceed what one individual, or indeed even one firm, can master. This gives rise for a need for greater expertise. For clients, I would say it’s about maximizing value, by which I mean getting the best result for their particular investment. Note that reducing cost is one way to increase value, but it’s not the only way, and often not the best way. Undoubtedly there are projects where a specialist acoustics consultant is overkill, but there are others where not having such a person would lead to an inferior result.

The Emperor Hotel Beijing Qianmen - asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

The Emperor Hotel Beijing Qianmen - asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

asap/ has received many national and regional design awards. Could you tell us about the awards that you proud most?

Awards are great recognition for our firm and all the people who put their hearts into the work we do. But it’s also important not to take them too seriously. At the end of the day, we don’t do what we do for awards. After two and a half years of work, I recently had a client tell me this: “I love it with all my heart and am totally satisfied with it and am absolutely fascinated by it. I can’t wait to show it off to my friends. Thank you for creating such a masterpiece of architecture for me.” I value that comment more than any award.

Besides your awards, a lot of your projects have been featured in notable magazines. What do you feel when you see your projects in magazine pages?

It’s a strange feeling in some ways-years of work, thousands of hours get boiled down to a couple of photographs. Unlike a lot of other media, any given work of architecture can only be experienced in person by a select few. So magazines are particularly important as a vehicle to share work with a broader audience.

Apartment of Perfect Brightness - asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

Apartment of Perfect Brightness - asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

How would you describe your architectural approach?

On the one hand, I’d like to think that we begin every project with a fresh set of eyes. Of course we bring certain tendencies and biases, and that is precisely what makes things interesting. Things like legibility and empathy are important to me, thinking about how people might experience things, what connections they may draw. I tend to prefer things that have a somewhat narrative quality, tell a story, have a sense of choreography. And then we try to use materials in a simple, direct, honest, authentic way, seeking to yield a unique experience but without resorting to fakery or clichés.

I believe that there are certain basic interests of architecture that are more or less immutable: space, materiality, proportion, daylight, to name the most obvious. Increasingly I feel ever more strongly about these. We spend more time in the studio thinking about things like geometric refinement, proportion.

Apartment of Perfect Brightness - asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

Apartment of Perfect Brightness - asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

What is your inspiration for your projects?

Recently I’ve spent more time studying ancient architecture, of all different kinds - Mayan, Indian, Egyptian, Roman. Yet inspiration can also come when and where you least expect it.

What are your signatures on your projects? What are you paying attention to make your projects unique?

Well, this is a difficult question, perhaps the most difficult. There is tremendous pressure to have a “style,” some recognizable tendency. I guess then we’ll have a product that’s easier to sell. But as an artist, it takes a long time to understand your own interests and hone them to that point in a way that’s not excessively artificial. Architecture is especially difficult, compared to other art forms, because it’s so slow. It takes a tremendous amount of time, not to even speak of financial resources, to really develop a meaningful level of experience and expertise.

Having said that, I would say that, individually and collectively, we are working towards a geometric language that is seeking to explore morphological typologies, underlying repetitive systems and forms, drawing on ancient and classical architecture, but deploying sophisticated geometry to bring a sense of refinement and modernity, if that’s the right word.

asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

What type of projects does asap/ specialize in? What type of services do you offer to your clients?

If it was up to me we’d never do the same project type twice. We’d offer our clients unflinching devotion and tireless effort in pursuit of our best ideals. Unfortunately, that’s not always a winning business model. I can say that we indeed have done multiple projects in the areas of hospitality, interiors, residential, cultural, among others. I do enjoy projects that are more wide-ranging in scope, whether from architectural spaces to furniture and decor, or at the other extreme, towards urbanism and research.

The Emperor Hotel Beijing Qianmen - asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

The Emperor Hotel Beijing Qianmen - asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

Could you tell us about some of your selected projects?

Our first completed commercial work was the Emperor Hotel in Beijing. We worked with Canadian water artist Dan Euser to make it rain inside. At the end of the day the most basic prerogative of architecture has always been to keep the weather out, so I see it as a kind of special achievement to have actually brought it in and made it our own. But in fact Beijing is essentially in a desert, so rain is sort of a special thing.

Perhaps I’ll bookend that with our most recently completed project, the Park Hyatt X-House, also in Beijing. We somehow came up with the crazy idea of using about 18 domes to create a residential interior in one of the city’s highest apartments. We did a lot of work studying the most optimal geometry for this, eventually settling on Bézier curves as a way to generate the geometry we were seeking. This project in some ways became an exercise in refinement, and I was really pleased that we were even able to integrate things like ventilation and fire sprinklers rather seamlessly.

What is your favorite project? Could you tell us about its story?

My favorite project is always the next one.

asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

What should customers decide before meeting with an architect?

On some level, they need to know what it is they are trying to do, whether functionally, aesthetically, economically, whatever. Even then I suppose perhaps it takes a considerable effort to find the right architect, for those rare few who are so inclined.

What is the secret of a successful project?

In many respects, it is the client who actually has the most difficult job. We need to be creative and responsible. They need to be patient and tough and fearless and relentlessly determined to see the project through. And then they need to pay for it all.

Apartment of Perfect Brightness - asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

Apartment of Perfect Brightness - asap/ adam sokol architecture practice

How did virtual reality, 3d printer and similar technologies affect the architectural world?

Well, we are in fact still trying to figure that out! We are currently exploring VR technologies in our studio to see whether and how they can be incorporated into our work. At this point 3d printing has merely been a tool to make certain types of complex models a bit easier and cheaper to build. 3D printing at building scale is rumored but probably still quite a while off. If and when it arrives that will indeed be transformative. I would say the biggest recent change that’s more widespread has been the adoption of BIM, which in practical terms means we have a much greater ability than before to design in 3D, and to move between 2D and 3D documents as we work.

What is the best advice you have received, and what advice would you give to young architects?

Figure it out for yourself, if you can’t nobody can help you anyway.

How can our readers follow you and your projects?

In all the usual places, our website, Instagram, publications.

What is coming up next for you?

If I knew that, I could be in a much more lucrative field than this!

Thank you Adam for this enjoyable interview.

For more information, please click here and visit the website of asap/ adam sokol architecture practice





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