Practicing ArchitecturePracticing Architecture
Julie Eizenberg, AIA: Elevating Everyday Architecture
Some budget and material savvy, as well as a keen understanding of program, can transform any architectural experience
By Sara Fernández Cendón
Julie Eizenberg, AIA, is interested in the buildings of everyday life. This includes buildings for grocery shopping to counseling services—activities that, much to her chagrin, often are not the focus of much design attention. Her work focuses on ordinary experiences that can be elevated through imaginative, site-specific, people-oriented design. At the helm of Santa Monica, Calif.–based Koning Eizenberg Architecture, which she founded in 1981 with partner Hank Koning, FAIA, Eizenberg has done just that.
The Children's Institute, Inc. (CII) Otis Booth Campus in Los Angeles, which received a 2012 Institute Honor Award for Interior Architecture, used design to reconceptualize and destigmatize counseling services by folding them into a larger community-oriented program. The project involved the adaptive reuse of three industrial buildings to create the headquarters for a nonprofit that serves children, youth, and families that have been victims of violence.
The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, a 2006 AIA National Honor Award recipient, repurposed an 1890s post office and an abandoned 1939 planetarium, and linked them through an addition framed in steel and glass. More importantly, the project was conceived to attract children and their families to an area of the city in need of revitalization. The firm’s longstanding involvement with projects at the historic farmers market in Los Angeles has helped shape commerce into a more organic experience, with architecture that supports and guides while mostly staying out of the way. And the Koning Eizenberg office itself is a great example of the smart simplicity that has come to characterize the firm’s work.
Though its portfolio is broad and varied, the firm is known for housing, community, and educational work. What all of its projects have in common, however, is a preoccupation with the way in which space influences and, ideally, enhances human interaction, as Eizenberg explains.
LESSON ONE: Architecture Isn’t Just for Special Occasions
LESSON TWO: Acceptance of Imperfection Can Fuel Composition
LESSON THREE: All Space is Social Space
Children's Institute Inc. (CII) Otis Booth Campus
What we really enjoy is making great social spaces, whether it’s domestic scale or public-use space. We have a knack for being able to use materials and things that the user group wouldn’t normally think of as appropriate for that use. So early on, CII knew the studio-style environment approach we were discussing would be more cost-effective than a traditional office, but I don’t think they realized how much people would embrace a creative setting. It’s concrete floors, nifty graphics, airy, and spacious. It’s loose. And that community, which isn’t exposed to that stuff at all, loves it.
People have preconceptions about what’s appropriate, and I don’t really think that’s the key. I think it’s the way things are used and organized that’s key. This is not to say you don’t formally think things through, from a craft and spatial point of view. But the organizing principles are really about how you set up opportunities for interaction, and that’s not just bringing people close together. In this particular example, it’s about figuring out what is the right social distance. It’s about setting elastic limits so that you get the right kind of energy.
CII’s core mission is to serve kids and families who have been exposed to violence. They gave us their program by departments, and we worked with them to conceive the place. The program included a clinic with a community center, and an administrative space. We re-characterized the whole thing as a community center that happened to have these other components in it. The minute you reframe the problem from a number of separate services into an umbrella that has the personality of a community center, you’ve normalized a whole lot of things that otherwise are uncomfortable to deal with. So people coming to counseling are coming to a community center, and happen to go off to the side and have a session as they would if they were taking some study help or a similar service. I think reframing opportunity is where the creative process really begins.