“I’m fascinated with counterpointing a kind of primal, elemental feeling against a light, futuristic, technical experience.”
Steven Ehrlich, AD
Yesterday I had the great pleasure of talking with California-based architect Steven Ehrlich. His houses… from California to the Persian Gulf and West Africa… with their simple but powerful forms are for me one of the most beautiful modern-day classics. Steven Ehrlich has earned a total of seven AIA awards, Green Good Design Award and Maybeck Award for life-long achievement in design. He spent six years working as an architect and a teacher in Morocco and Nigeria after architecture school. Steven Ehrlich was a Peace Corps volunteer in the mid-1970s and that organization’s first architect in Marrakech. He has 3 daughters and 1 grandchild, loves mountain climbing and is also a visiting professor at USC.
Neutra Addition, Santa Monica
What was the moment when you knew you would be an architect?
When I was quite young (about 10) I used to love to build things…ie. tree houses, models, forts, etc. For my 7th grade science fair project (12 years old), I designed a “solar home”. About that time I was given a book about Frank Lloyd Wright. After being inspired, it finalized my decision to become an architect…which has never changed.
Is there something that connects all your projects?
All of our projects respond to people and place – the specificities of the local culture, site, climate and what the facilities will be used for. This is a unique design philosophy that our firm has evolved over the past 30+ years that we call Multicultural Modernism. The fusion of indoor and outdoor space is a big interest of mine and continues to be an important element in all of our projects.
Kreuzer-Schroeder Residence, Houston
Looking back at your first project what design knowledge do you wish you had back then?
As time progresses and experience increased…I have become more aware of the quality of craftsmanship one can demand during construction.
What have been the rewards of practicing architecture?
To make people happy in an environment that enhances the goals and demands of the project yet has the magic to lift spirits high.
At this phase of my career I am often asked to lecture and/or teach in foreign lands. This gives me the opportunity not only to share our work and ideas but also a great way to meet new people and see new places.
Helal New Moon Residence, Persian Gulf
How do you think the role of the architect will change over the next years?
I believe the architect will need to get more involved in producing and developing of projects. For example, a current trend in the U.S. is the design/build delivering methodology. We first embraced this process on the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. We were able to produce the structure in record time and great value for the University.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
My 3 children and 1 grandchild.
I am proud of the body of work this past 30 years. I was awarded the Maybeck Award for life-long achievement in design, awarded by the American Institute of Architects of California.
I am also proud of the creative environment in our studio of 30 people weaving multiple talents together.
Macmillan Residence, San Jacinto Mountains
Your favorite books…
Non-fiction books about mountain climbing like “Into Thin Air” and “K2”. Currently I am reading the biography of Steve Jobs.
What’s your advice to upcoming architects?
It is a very demanding profession…but if you MUST do it…it is the best thing in the world! I also advise you to “open your eyes and plagiarize” which is a funny way to say always be a good observer….this becomes part of your knowledge base. I encourage young soon to be architects to also experience and work/live in foreign lands and different cultures.
Steven Ehrlich’s house
My signature question – what are the most important design elements?
· Connection of indoor and outdoor space
· Contemporary clean lines with the warmth of natural materials
· Embedded sustainability where the wisdom of logical and fundamental design decisions can greatly reduce demand.
photos: Steven Ehrlich Architects, Erhard Pfeiffer, Matthew Millman