barbara bestor interview
barbara bestor interview barbara bestor interview
jan 01, 2014

barbara bestor interview

barbara bestor interview
portrait © designboom


designboom recently visited the studio of bestor architecture in silver lake, los angeles, where we talked to barbara bestor about her work and influences.


DB: what made you want to become an architect?
BB: I have always enjoyed making things. when I was very young I spent a lot of time in germany, visiting my grandmother and while I was there I would make little model boats from empty coffee containers and all sorts of things they had lying around. when I was around thirteen or fourteen I started babysitting the children of some local architects and designers in massachusetts (which is where I grew up). while the kids where sleeping I would read their parent’s architecture and design books and probably that’s the first time I got a taste for architecture. when I went to college I decided to study visual arts at harvard because I wanted to get a good overview of the arts. in my second year I studied at the AA school of architecture in london, that was in 1985-86 and there was some great teachers and visiting lecturers there at that time. that’s when I got serious about being an architect.



bestor architecture office in silver lake LA



view of the bestor architecture office
photo © designboom



DB: how did you end up moving to LA?
BB: it felt like there wasn’t a lot of work in london for architects at that time – which was good for me in a way because my teachers were busy experimenting and that had a huge influence on me. anyway, a lot of people were saying they’d love to work in los angeles at that time and I remember the architects review having gehry’s lifeguard tower house in venice beach on the cover. I thought to myself ‘LA could be a cool place to go’. my boyfriend at the time got a job working in the movies in LA and so I decided I’d go visit him and see what was going on there. I did an internship a morphosis that summer and I loved being in LA. I had to finish school in massachusetts but I’d decided that I really wanted to live in los angeles. the next year I went to study my post grad at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc).



early model of the floating bungalow
photo © designboom



development model of the floating bungalow
photo © designboom



presentation model of the floating bungalow
photo © designboom



floating bungalow, LA. to read more about this project, click here.
photo by john ellis



DB: how did you come to start your own studio?
BB: after SCI-Arc I was doing a lot of small projects in LA – mostly designing home/offices and furniture for people working in the film industry. then after a year or two I met a client that wanted to do a house. at that time I felt that I wasn’t experienced enough to do the project on my own, so I asked my friend norman millar if he wanted to collaborate on the house with me, he did, and that was my first substantial project. it took a couple of years to finish and in that time I made the contacts to start more projects and in turn start my own office.





bestor house upon purchase, LA



bestor house after its remodel



bestor house



DB: how has your office evolved since then?
BB: in the beginning my office was two or three people including myself and we’d collaborate with other people as and when we needed to. there’s been lots of changes in between but I’ve been in this office now almost ten years and we currently have around seven or eight people working here regularly plus external collaborators.


DB: do you teach?
BB: yes, I have taught more or less since I started my own office. first at SCI-Arc, then at UCLA and now I teach at the woodbury school of architecture, where, funnily enough, norman millar is now the dean.



glendower house model



glendower house, LA – the building sits on a steep lot below frank lloyd wright’s textile block ennis brown residence



back yard of the glendower house



DB: how would you describe your style to someone who hasn’t seen your work?
BB: we don’t really have a style – in that our projects look different from one another. but in terms of approach I would say I like to try and create heightened experiences. my motto for the office is that ‘everyone should experience strange beauty everyday’ – which is a reboot of viktor shklovsky’s ‘art of making strange’. that influences our work, in that we might take a typical space and amplify or distort certain characteristics to see how it changes the experience of the space. my goal is always to cause a pause in perception.



house over a wall, LA



house over a wall, LA



DB: what’s been the biggest singular influence on your work?
BB: I’d have to say popular culture. I like to think that I have a pretty good historical knowledge of architecture and am always surrounded by it. I keep myself up to date on what’s happening – so to pick a reference from the ‘architecture world’ is hard, it all filters through.


what I’m interested in is seeing how architecture can stay relevant and relate to the issues of today and how people live today, where our minds are at. keeping an open mind and an eye on popular culture is how I try to do that. I love contemporary art, music, music videos, films – seeing how those mediums push technology and seeing how ideas from those fields can become part of what we do.


for example, I would never play the video game grand theft auto, but the way that the fictional city ‘los santos’ (based on LA) is depicted in that game is incredible. thousands of hours have gone into achieving that level of detail and it will probably shape a lot of people’s perceptions of how los angeles is – even though it’s wildly distorted. what I get from that is comparing it to my reality; how does that version of LA compare to the city where I live? those ‘outside’ influences are what stimulate me the most.



intelligentsia coffee shop, LA
photo by ray kachatorian



intelligentsia coffee shop
photo by ray kachatorian



intelligentsia coffee shop
photo by ray kachatorian



DB: in the time you have been working technology has dramatically changed architecture….
BB: well yes it has, it’s made many things that seemed impossible possible. in terms of construction it’s changed things a great deal. for large scale projects I think there’s been a real revolution and it’s really impressive the power of the software that’s available to almost anyone. I’m all for pushing the limits and if we have new tools that can help us – then that’s great.


on the other hand what we see now is that people use technology where it’s not always the best solution. sometimes you do need to work with other tools, or at least I do. I have seen young architects use things like rhino for small spaces which is a bit pointless. sometimes the physical details, the things you see ‘up-close and personal’ can make all the difference.



pitfire pizza, culver city
photo by ray kachatorian



pitfire pizza, culver city
photo by ray kachatorian



DB: do you think it’s important for an architect to be able to draw?
BB: it’s relative. I’m not of the old-school view that thinks it’s completely necessary for every architect to be a great draftsman. I sketch and think a good level of sketching can help you in terms of quick communication and getting ideas out of your head and onto paper but I’m not obsessive about being a great drawer. if we’re being realistic it’s important that people learn the software they will need to use to make a living. being great at photoshop is probably a more valuable skill than being good at drawing these days in terms of communicating an idea.



silent disco installation at SCI-Arc, LA
photo by joshua white



the temporary structure was covered in ‘razzle dazzle camouflage’ as used on WWI ships
photo by joshua white




DB: do you have any superstitious beliefs?
BB: I’m not superstitious but I do avoid certain things regarding my work. I don’t like things that are too slick and I don’t like to be too ‘architecty’ – I want our studio to be non-conformist. I don’t want us to tow the party line of any movement or follow trends that are promoted by magazines. sometimes you notice that what you are doing has become the norm and then it’s time to change. if you think of it like music, you wouldn’t start a project and find any reason to use autotune – because it’s already been done to death.


DB: what’s your most prized possession?
BB: if I have to name one I would say it’s a bright and brilliant artwork I own, which illustrates the cycle of life and the encroaching forces. the message of the piece is to have a good time, ‘make hey while the sun shines’ so to speak.




bohemian modern – living in silver lake‘ by barbara bestor with illustrations by geoff mcfetridge
this book highlights notable projects by bestor alongside other significant locations and characters
within the silverlake area of los angeles where the architect has been based for over twenty years.
photo © designboom



DB: what’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
BB: if you get stuck on something go for a long walk. sometimes I can get very intense and obsessive and in those  situations it’s best to take a moment and breathe. for me taking a walk helps me to breathe and gather my thoughts.


DB: what’s the worst advice you have been given?
BB: wear a suit.

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