How’s work?

Three questions for Sharon Johnston

The founders of LA-based architecture firm Johnston Marklee oscillate between professional practice and academic positions at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Although the firm has earned a reputation for its cultural projects, earlier this year they completed a nearly 10,000 sqm office for Tech Giant Dropbox in San Francisco.

So how do you design work spaces for a fast-changing world? Co-principal Sharon Johnston discussed this topic with our CEO Nora Fehlbaum at the Vitra Summit. Here, she answers three questions about her own inspirations.

How does your work in the cultural sector influence the way you design work spaces?

Cultural spaces are about community. About coming together, about learning from one another, whether it's learning from art or art history, learning from artists, learning from educators, learning from each other. I think there is a generosity to civic and cultural spaces which translates to workplace design. We want to come together and do our best – this applies to the cultural realm, but also to workplaces. So as architects, our skills developed while creating cultural spaces really help us designing workplaces, too.

How would you describe your own office, what do you do to make it work?

Our office can be quite a messy working studio, a laboratory. While no one lives there, it does almost feel like a living space, a sort of hybridity between living and working. We encourage people to have lunch or meet inside our library, for instance. Because there's a kind of osmosis that happens. You might glimpse at something – a book, or an artwork – and it connects to something you're thinking about. And obviously, it is all about creative collaboration. Before we worked with Dropbox, we had never done an office of this size. But I think what drew them to us was coming to our office and seeing the way in which our work and our material surrounds us.

The future has just become much more unpredictable. But architecture is a long-term business. How do you approach your work at the moment?

Even before Covid, as a practice, we have been very focused on working with clients that are future-oriented. We discuss climate issues, social equity, or the role of technology in the future. This is what excites us. So even before Covid, the conversation was very dynamic. And I think what we realize is the only thing that's certain today about the future is that it will continue to change. And I think our expertise and experience in the world of culture and the humanities have prepared us well for that.

Publication date: 23.10.2020
Images: © 1-5: Dropbox office San Francisco, Copyright: Daniele Ansidei; Johnston Marklee office, Copyright: Johnston Marklee;

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