Site and Senses: The Architecture of Aidlin Darling Design

December 20, 2013 to March 2, 2014

Established in 1998 by Joshua Aidlin and David Darling, Aidlin Darling Design is a multidisciplinary design firm based in San Francisco with a broad focus including institutional, commercial and residential architecture as well as furniture and interior design. The firm’s project-specific design approach reflects its philosophy of rigorous pre-design research, intensive collaboration and reverence for the site and environment. This exhibition teaches Museum visitors about their respect for fine craftsmanship and rigorous, practical approach to client needs. The meticulously designed installation, takes you on an intimate, personal journey through their creative process.

Joshua Aidlin and David Darling -- and, in their wake, the whole talented crew of Aidlin Darling Design -- add a rare step to their design process: they consider what they want to accomplish before attempting to accomplish it. Almost all architects, after absorbing a client’s needs, tastes, site, and budget, immediately begin to envision the plan, the materials, and the general appearance of the end result, even though they know some of these first choices may have to be changed.

Aidlin and Darling begin an important step earlier: they imagine the character the design should express and, in their fully equipped in-house woodworking shop, they build a quite abstract model expressing that character. For an olive ranch among rolling hills, for example, they may conceive an architectural intervention that itself will be hill-like. For a house to be built in land dominated by rows of grapevines, they imagine a composition of long parallel forms. For building in a climate that is bone dry much of the year, they posit a body of water at the structure’s heart, perhaps represented by a silvery strip of mirror or foil.

These little models, some of which can be seen in this exhibition, are intentionally vague, often mysterious, visually poetic, and capable of many interpretations. A whole series may be attempted for a single commission before a convincing one arrives. After that, there may be a series of further models, each growing a bit less abstract, a bit more realistic than the one before. But finally, armed with a three-dimensional concept, they are ready to determine what design decisions might best satisfy that concept.

There is a further benefit in the Aidlin Darling process: If a building design is held accountable to a concept, then every element of that design must serve that same concept and those that do not are superfluous. This leads directly to the consonance and congruity of parts that many architects and critics have equated with beauty. This process of establishing a clear goal is accompanied, of course, by attention to all aspects of the client’s program, especially to the nature of the project’s site. When appropriate, the partners may pitch a tent and spend a full day observing terrain, vegetation, lighting, and weather conditions at noon, sunset, sunrise, and all through the day.

An Aidlin Darling design is not only site-specific but also client-specific. It considers not only their clients’ quotidian requirements of space and function but also their senses – sight and touch, certainly, but less obviously sound and even smell. Not many architects attend to all these mutually reinforcing senses, but one is reminded of a poem Marcel Breuer once wrote:

                        Colors that you hear with ears,
                        Sounds to see with eyes,
                        The void you touch with your elbows,
                        The taste of space on your tongue,
                        The fragrance of dimensions,
                        The juice of stone

Thus Aidlin Darling Design takes care to consider what the building should be as a work of art before plunging into the practical aspects of how it might function, how it might be structured, and how it might look. Their willingness and ability to focus first on the elemental and philosophical aspects of their work set them apart from their peers.  Though it is a young office headed by young principals (especially compared to other architects, who are notoriously slow to reach professional maturity), the thoughtfulness of their work, resulting in buildings of clarity, appropriateness and authenticity, has already placed them among the finest designers of our time.

-Stanley Abercrombie
Architect and Writer

Read the reviews in DWELL and INTERIOR DESIGN

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