Two Minutes With // Sander Architects

Hello, and Happy New Year! Today’s interview is with Sander Architects, of Los Angeles, California. Whitney Sander and Catherine Holliss, of Sander Architects, have shared some thoughts on their niche expertise of environmental prefab design, materials, and approach. Check out their website to view more great projects.

Images courtesy of Sander Architects.

VT: A consistency found throughout your work is the idea of prefabricated construction. How has this method opened up new design opportunities within your projects? Have you experienced any drawbacks or limitations with prefab?

SA: Sander Architects has always been fascinated with the products and strategies of construction. Whether cutting-edge or traditional, knowing the options available is important to the designers in our studio. Wherever possible, we also employ green strategies and eco-friendly building materials. The prefab components we consistently use are structural frames most often used in warehouse construction. They are fabricated from recycled steel and bolt together so that they can be unbolted and returned to the steel supply, should the project life come to an end.

However, it’s important to note that we do not limit ourselves to prefab construction but use it as one of many tools. Each project is completely unique, depending on the program, the site and the budget. We don’t use a module, or modular construction, like pure prefab companies. That is why we came up with our branding phrase “Hybrid House: part prefab, all custom™.” We work with whichever prefab components help to keep a budget in check, and use those alongside standard construction techniques and materials where that makes financial sense.

This has allowed us to design projects which win national and international architecture awards — and yet still have very efficient budgets. Keeping budgets in check has turned out to be an advantage in this difficult economic climate. In that sense, the design opportunities afforded by working with prefab are that we have quite simply been able to continue to work despite the downturn.

We don’t view working this way as having limitations; however, it is critical to understand these prefab components with geometric simplicity. Straying too far from simple shapes quickly offsets the gains of the methodology.

VT: Sander Architects claim to use “covert strategies of innuendo” and direct their design to “grow out of a series of metaphors.” How does the culture at Sander Architects foster and implement this ideology into the designs?

SA: Sander Architects has poetry at the heart of every project. Architects who build buildings are, by nature, extremely pragmatic: buildings have to stand up to weather, tectonic stresses, their occupants — and theyhave to be practical from a user point of view.

With that said, architecture provides an opportunity to inspire, to bring beauty into the world, and to set an example of functional fine design. In our studio, each project goes through a process of exploration at its inception: program, site, client biases, passions, and interests. We find that from this brew comes an “aha” moment when the metaphor begins to assert itself. Keeping that metaphor in play helps to keep the design direction honest during the ensuing stages of the process when other pressures come to bear, such as a need to value engineer or to accommodate the requirements of a permit office.

Our base philosophy includes a belief in the possibility of metaphor to inform an architectural process that simply becomes part of the DNA of every design decision we make.

VT: How does Sander Architects convey the use of poetry and metaphors in a way that resonates with the program and users of each space?

SA: Beautiful, inspiring spaces fundamentally affect our lives on every possible level. When we are in a space that has design unity, we can sense the harmony, however subtle. Whether overt or covert, we believe that it is the metaphoric/poetic aspect of our designs which contribute directly to that design unity.

It is worth adding that the clients we work with come to us because they are first and foremost attracted to how our work looks. The fact that the studio has received international recognition and has a reputation of being at the forefront of green architecture is an added bonus. Thus, the clients in our practice are already open to the possibility of poetry to create an aesthetic. Indeed, it is probably no coincidence that it is often the lives and careers of the clients themselves in which a given metaphor is rooted.