Los Angeles, Calif.–Renowned architects Julie Smith-Clementi and Frank Clementi recently announced the launch of their new firm, Smith-Clementi, which will offer a full spectrum of place-based design. Both architects bring with them a robust portfolio of high profile projects, such as The Hollywood Bowl, The Music Center, The Greek Theatre, and Moody Theater, home of Austin City Limits.
“I find the greatest satisfaction in creating urban experiences–places where people come together in a community,” says Julie Smith-Clementi. “My work on the Hollywood Bowl, for example, where thousands of people share a space over several hours, has given me a keen understanding of brand, performance, and place, with a healthy dose of logistics.”
The team’s award-winning work includes institutes of education, parks and plazas, as well as commercial and retail spaces, residences, and even an array of product designs.
We recently sat down with Julie Smith-Clementi and Frank Clementi to learn more about their new firm, upcoming projects, and their thoughts on designing commercial spaces in the 21st century.
Can you talk about a current or upcoming project you’re especially excited about?
A benefit of being “just us” is that we can be very deliberate about what we work on. True choice is an extremely valuable commodity. Currently we are working on a significant mixed use masterplan in Southern California. It’s a very rewarding opportunity with an extremely forward thinking and committed client that integrates all of our place making and design vision experience of the last 30 years…We are also continuing our interest in handheld design, pursuing object scale design with craftsmen around the world.
Will you be taking on residential projects and more product design as well commercial work?
Our experience has been very broad based, and we’re still interested in participating in everything from parks to plates, even simultaneously. So the type of project is not the aim, but rather the relationships. A current project is essentially commercial but includes an entertainment component, along with an integrated residential community.
We have also been approached, and are enthusiastic about, the intimate collaboration on per-client, custom residential work as well. At the same time we will continue to include not-for-profit work as part of our mix. We’re continuing to be involved in projects that provide the benefits of thoughtful and uplifting design to the underserved in our complex urban environment. This community-centered grass roots assistance is an outgrowth of our PeopleStreet, Sunset Triangle project in the Silver Lake community of Los Angeles.
Can you describe what you mean by “place-based design”?
SC: Rather than impose a specific external design direction on a project, we research the place and culture to react more authentically to its context. While we benefit from the modern ease of travel and communication, we also see that a globalized culture can lead to homogeneity.
The uniformity of what architects call “the international style” has had the effect of blurring the distinctions between places. We actively work to make projects that have a dialog with their history, people, and land, while still providing a novel conception, authentic in its form. Each place has an identity that’s worth preserving and revealing.
The uniformity of what architects call “the international style” has had the effect of blurring the distinctions between places. We actively work to make projects that have a dialog with their history, people, and land.
How would you describe the tenets of your new firm’s design practice?
SC: This is the fun part…
- Go outside, get outside the problem.
- Solutions rarely come from within the system that created the problem, sometimes you can only see the problem from the outside.
- Who is the user? Everyone!
- We are compelled by work that serves people with contrasting interests — client, user, spectator, performer, worker, but especially those of different professional, social or cultural identities and backgrounds.
- The center is boring, the edge is where it’s at!
- The boundary where one condition gives over to another condition is where the greatest adaptation and diversity emerge. This might be at a geographic or political frontier, or one that straddles two trades or disciplines.
- Reason only makes you right, it doesn’t make you good.
- A rational explanation isn’t enough to spark an emotion.
- Beauty exists in the simultaneous combination of the familiar and the exotic.
What do you find most exciting about designing public and commercial spaces in 2020?
SC: We like to riff with places and buildings that have an already inherent posture or body language. Public space is often relegated to the void in and around buildings and infrastructure. Buildings can be exclusive, they have a deliberate inside, and often a dedicated use, but the public spaces surrounding them often serve multiple uses over the course of a day or throughout the seasons. These spaces are best seen as a combination of layers.
We think holistically and design buildings as part of their public space.
Where can we expect to see your upcoming projects?
SC: We are excited by the notion of a more mobile office. A few years ago we had an opportunity to work with fellow architects in Mumbai on two commercial towers in east-central China. Last year we co-taught a multi-scalar studio at the Milan Politecnico Design School in Italy, exploring the commercial and climatic challenges facing the glassblowing artisans on the Venetian island of Murano.
We love Los Angeles, it’s what made us, and we will continue to work here in Southern California, too.