Interview, Dan Brunn Architecture

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Introduction

We were first introduced to Dan Brunn’s work when our colleague (and his), Taiyo Watanabe, photographed his immaculately crafted Beverly Hills sushi restaurant, Yojisan. That was late August of 2012. Since then, Brunn has been amassing award-after-award for his recent work and gaining much deserved publicity along the way. His Venice Beach dream modern residence, he recently completed for an elder Los Angeles couple, has garnered considerable buzz; appearing on numerous architecture blogs and even scoring a profile piece at The New York Times.

In the few exchanges we have had, aside from being a conscious, ambitious, hardworking and talented designer, Brunn comes off as an ultra-professional and an über affable gent. We started a slow-burn email correspondence almost two months ago (right before the premiere of Mad Men’s seventh and final season; we see you, Bertram) and this is the digital conversation that transpired.

Obviously, his growing body of work and portfolio came up in conversation and we talked about the value and fortune of having good clients and patrons. He briefly mentioned the necessity of being environmentally aware as an architect in our current milieu.

He talked about music and his love of The Beatles. The subject of creativity came up. The Harvard-trained architect cites traveling as his biggest influence. From his upbringing in Tel Aviv to his brief time in Japan.

Check out the interview below as Dan Brunn has some intelligent and insightful things to say about design. Not to mention, the pictures and videos –there’s lots of eye candy. We’re fans of the more-than-competent and in-demand architect. In a landscape of starchitect divas, he’s a rising star which proves nice guys can finish first.

@teemunny

  • Trevor Tondro for The New York Times
  • Flip Flop House © Brandon Shigeta
  • Flip Flop House © Brandon Shigeta

Interview

TONY TRINH: In 2007, you won the Interior Magazine Best Showroom award. In 2012, you won a Best of Year Award for your design of the Beverly Hills restaurant, Yojisan; an immaculate space. A year later you were recognized as a Best of Year honoree for the Flip Flop House in Venice Beach. Which is a clean, sublime, super modern, and sustainable beachfront structure. You have been on a roll as of late. I realize it’s nearly impossible to pick your favorite child but which one of those wins had the most impact on your practice? I ask in terms of personal pride and building confidence, leverage and momentum in what you do.

DAN BRUNN: I remember the first win quite vividly, it really took me by surprise. That feeling repeats each time, really, without a doubt, the excitement is always there. With each project, I always endeavor to push the limits of design, and each project answers to a unique set of current conditions, and to be recognized for it is really priceless.

I would say that the Flip Flop House has to be the one though. I was fortunate enough to work on a virgin plot of land right on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. This is something I don’t take lightly, quite the rare opportunity. Being situated on a corner lot, takes on a whole other set of responsibilities. I knew going into the design that this would be a building that could be a beacon for the community and something that would hopefully last the test of time. Venice Beach is right now going through a bourgeoning phase. A slew of tech startups and Google have recently moved to the near by Playa del Rey community, and with it comes a lot of fresh young minds with money.

TRINH: There are a bunch of CGI/VFX houses in Venice Beach also. Hollywood, likewise, is taking over Venice. It always has been a great area and now it’s booming. Let’s talk a little more about the Flip Flop House. A hallmark project for your practice; you and the project were recently featured in The New York Times. Which is big time. The owners of the residence, Hedy and Samy Kamienowicz, seemed like dream clients for an architect. You said they basically let you run with the design –which is rare. What was it like having full authorship of a design like that? You have previously mentioned the “flip flop” concept and how the contemporary structure addresses issues concerning duality, fluidity and sustainability. Would you elaborate on these themes you were working with?

BRUNN: Thank you, it was quite an honor! The clients really are incredible people. As you mentioned, they gave me full authorship and I believe that as a result they have a true expression of my work. It is almost unedited and pure. I say this, because the municipality did have me change some design elements. This comes back to the concept of “flip flop”. The intent was to have these large wall panels spin 180º exposing the interior art, outwards. Venice Beach is a bohemian community, and the arts are in its roots. I wanted local artists to paint murals on the inside of the house, and then spin the walls outwards to share the art. This would completely alert what a “private residence” is defined as. We had an issue with the city codes. The flip flop doors do live on though, they always did serve another purpose, and that is to open views from the office towards the beach. When the doors are open to about 5-10º, you get clear views of the beach. I believe that in any good design, elements should function in multiplicity.

The name of the house came about quite naturally to me. It was born around the time the press was accusing Obama of being a “flip-flopper”. The word obviously stuck in my head. I am naturally drawn to comedy and puns. Flip flops at the beach is what most people might take away. I have always tended to express my architecture in a whimsical way.

The house also is quite sustainable and actually breathes. Through planning, we designed the house to passively cool itself. With the amount of glass we have, the typical heat gain is passively mitigated. I would go through all of the other green building design elements, but somehow I feel that this subject is saturated. I believe that as an architect in this day and age, I am ethically bound to save our environment.

  • Yojisan © Taiyo Watanabe

TRINH: We are always interested in the influences of artists and designers. Whether it was playing with LEGOs as a child, or the time you spent in Tel Aviv, or your education at GSD –how have these experiences informed your craft? You’re also a musician. What other inspirations do you draw from?

BRUNN: I think it is a mixture of so many experiences. When I was a child I used to touch everything, I was very tactile, and now that has connected me to the built world quite well. I also used to take apart everything I could get my hands on. Steve Jobs said that creativity is just connecting things. I think he is right. When someone asks me how I came up with something, I usually don’t have a very straightforward answer, it was so blatantly obvious to me.

Traveling has probably been my biggest influence. It is experiencing the world that drives my design. When I travel I tend to not necessarily visit the touristic sites, or go on a typical architecture tour. Instead, I venture in as a native. Eating a meal could have the most profound affect. I don’t think Yojisan Sushi would have been what it is without my two weeks in Japan.

And, of course, I have my music. Recently, I starting playing with a new band. We are just doing some cover songs for now, but it too has opened up my mind. When you’re working with new people, it engages your emotions instantly. My designs come from emotion, so that’s were music and design merge.

TRINH: I like that Steve Jobs quote. It’s a poignant angle concerning creation. At the end of the day, our creative output is driven by our instincts. That’s why we’re continually intrigued by people’s influences and how it may affect their craft. I always like to scratch that surface, especially with the cultural agents (artists) we talk to. There’s this notion out there that everything is a remix; nothing is truly original or unique. “Things” may emerge but not without their predecessors. We are just filters. We take in information and pollinate these ideas with our influences. What are you currently reading, watching or listening to?

BRUNN: True, I didn’t ever really attribute it to that, and I think I tend to agree. I had a poignant discussion about the new factor at my office a while back, I think that to be “new”, could just simply mean re-appropriating something. I look at The Beatles as a prime example. Their use of the eastern instruments didn’t introduce any new notes, but it did breakthrough onto pop culture. That is new to me.

I am currently waiting for Mad Men, though somewhat distraught that this is the final season. Curious to see how the end of a decade is portrayed. I am listening to a band from Sweden, Viktor & The Blood. I just got their new album, and have it on constant rotation. On my lap over the weekend was a book, Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible. I am thinking that it might be a great gift to all my clients, it’s my mantra synthesized.

TRINH: Yes, can’t wait for Mad Men. Here comes 1969. We’re talking Led Zeppelin, Richard Nixon, Harvard Admin building is taken over by hundreds of Democratic students, the Stonewall riots in NYC, the first troops are withdrawn from Nam, Apollo 11 and Neil ArmstrongChappaquiddickThe Manson Family/Sharon TateWoodstockHurricane Camille, the first ATM is installed in New York, Willie Mays hits 600 HRs, The Beatles/Abbey Road, The Brady BunchSesame Street and Monty Python’s Flying Circus premiere, the Chicago Eight trial, AltamontButch Cassidy and the Sundance KidMidnight CowboyEasy RiderThe Wild Bunch.

Thatsa lotta stuff, Lucy. We didn’t start the fire, Billy. 1969 is a crazy, dense backdrop for Donald Draper, Peggy Olson and Co. They picked a good year to go out on. Anyway, I digress.

You’ve worked on a variety of projects from retail, hospitality to high-end residential. We briefly mentioned topology. What is your next ideal project that you have yet to work on? What are you working on currently that you can talk about?

BRUNN: I didn’t know that was the year of the first ATM, I always thought mid 70s.

I am quite fortunate to have touched upon many varied project types. Recently, Flaunt Magazine approached me to design a space for a last meal, that was really quite fun. A quick project, with a bold statement. That’s something that really intrigued me. I am working towards more civil work, some public projects. I would love to do a small plaza, or a gallery space. My dream would be a full fledged museum, or a spiritual space. I wasn’t raised religious, but somehow, I am quite drawn to the idea of designing a Synagogue. I love that throughout history, the Jewish temple has not had a typology and has always adapted to the context and history. It’s quite a liberal space, and requires intense, yet delicate control of light. Perfect architecture.

Right on mark mentioning what projects we can or can’t talk about. I was recently on a design panel for Interior Design Magazine, and the other firm leaders were faced with the same issues of nondisclosure. I can’t talk about some really cool projects, and wish I could share them. We are working on our first all concrete structure, a three story beach home. I am quite amped about that. Also on the boards is our first hillside residence, of a mega scale, 11,000 square feet! At this point, we are building large commercial projects.

The year is quite dynamic for us, with a few new projects that have just been completed. In the next two months, two more beach houses will be completed, and we just completed a condo renovation last month.

TRINH: Yes, TYPOLOGY. I’m glad you caught that. I meant “typology” rather than “topology”. Although, topology could also apply with what we’re discussing. Form.

Yes, I could see you having success with designing a contemplative space such as a church or synagogue. Did you ever see Dror‘s modern take on the synagogue in SoHo New York? Not my favorite project but some interesting ideas there.

I noticed that you were on the panel at the Interior Design Magazine’s Roundtable at the Leica Store recently. How did that go? Also, do you have any involvement in academia in the Greater Los Angeles area?

BRUNN: I have, it is a cool space. Though to me, it is more about graphics and trends, rather than actually making a profound architectural space. I don’t feel like enough attention was directed to develop the volumes of the space, scale or even light. It is more of a topical design.

Yes, that discussion was a lot of fun, and really quite the honor. My office was amongst some of the real big leagues, it felt great. It was interesting for me to find out that other firms of much larger scale have very similar issues as I have in my small office. I think just another few zeros for everything, but otherwise, we are all in the same game.

I used to teach at USC, which was a real kick to be back amongst some of the same instructors that taught me. Only now, I was on the other side of the grade sheet. I would love to come back into academia, though I am finding that my office is quite busy and I can’t dedicate the amount of time I would like to to teach properly. It takes three, four hour days in the week. I just couldn’t get away. Hopefully in the future, I will be an invited lecturer.

  • Flip Flop House © Brandon Shigeta
  • Flip Flop House © Brandon Shigeta

TRINH: The pursuit of architecture is a consuming venture. As rewarding as design can be, it can be at times a stressful and frustrating sport. How do you keep a level head? What else do you do to unwind besides putting together the latest LEGO set or jamming with your band?

BRUNN: One way is to seriously look back at my accomplishments instead of goals. I am very ambitious, and so I sometimes feel like it’s “not enough”. When I look at my current portfolio, I feel unbelievably proud!

Still, that isn’t a way to unwind. As you mentioned, it is my band usually, or my friends. I have an amazing group of friends that are like family. What’s really cool is that they are all in different creative fields, so we share similar struggles.

Traveling too. I take it very seriously. Los Angeles is quite a distant spot, but I always find a way for a getaway. I get so inspired when I travel.

TRINH: Dan, I appreciate your thoughtful answers, this exchange has been truly enjoyable. It’s no secret that we, at The Superslice, are big fans of your work. I think it’s tasteful, disciplined yet very sensual. We look forward to your upcoming projects and our next repartee. IRL or digital. Before I go, one last inquiry. So, Jason Schwartzman is going to play Dan Brunn in the biopic of your life, right?!

BRUNN: It has been a real pleasure for me as well. Some great topics, that I am sure the superslicers will enjoy. Anyway, funny you mention it, yep, I get that a lot, I have been approached before for photos etc. Once, I even was taken out of a line to a swanky club and let right in. Not a bad deal, though he is half a foot shorter. Maybe more.

Biopic, yes! When? Maybe in a while, I think I am still building up my history. Speaking of, I have a great story of another look-a-like Dan. A few years ago, I was sitting in a pub, this beautiful model comes up to me, “Hey Danny, what’s up?” I was confused, but hey, I won’t deny her the pleasure. So we chatted up, my friends were deeply perplexed. Thirty minutes into our conversation, I turn to her and confess, “I am not sure who you think I am”. Turns out to be Dhani HarrisonGeorge‘s son of Beatles fame. Fast forward six years, I am at a favorite taco stand, who is in front of me? Dhani! The time has come to say hello. We looked at each other, confused, he looks shockingly similar, especially in person. We had a really nice conversation waiting for our food. As you know, I am a huge Beatles fan and was quite taken in by the whole thing. Story doesn’t end…I go to this one music venue every Thursday, for live music, and he was there. A good friend is maybe even a bigger Beatles fan and wanted to meet him. So I said, “Let’s go, I know him”. I walk up to him, “Hey Dhani, remember…” “OH! Hey Dan, how’s it going?” That was cool.

END

  • Trevor Tondro for The New York Times
  • Yojisan © Taiyo Watanabe
  • Yojisan © Taiyo Watanabe
  • Flip Flop House © Brandon Shigeta
  • Flip Flop House © Brandon Shigeta
  • Flip Flop House © Brandon Shigeta
  • Flip Flop House © Brandon Shigeta
  • Flip Flop House © Brandon Shigeta
  • Flip Flop House diagram © DBA
  • Trevor Tondro for The New York Times
  • Trevor Tondro for The New York Times
  • Trevor Tondro for The New York Times
  • Trevor Tondro for The New York Times
  • Trevor Tondro for The New York Times
  • Trevor Tondro for The New York Times
  • Trevor Tondro for The New York Times
  • Trevor Tondro for The New York Times
  • Trevor Tondro for The New York Times
  • Trevor Tondro for The New York Times
  • Yojisan © Taiyo Watanabe
  • Yojisan © Taiyo Watanabe
  • Yojisan © Taiyo Watanabe

Mandip
Mandip
Mandip Thapaliya is a versatile content editor and writer with a passion for crafting compelling stories that resonate with readers. With a background in digital media and a keen interest in celebrity culture, he brings a fresh perspective and creative flair to every piece he creates.

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