Jonathan Lopez joined P+R Architects as Project Design Director in 2014. He has led a variety of projects ranging from boutique interiors to large scale mixed-use master plan projects including Powerlong Hangzhou Urban Roof Garden and P+R Architect’s anticipated new urban office in downtown Long Beach. Jonathan received his Bachelor’s of Architecture from the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and studied at the Washington Alexandria Architectural Consortium in Washington DC. He is the recipient of the RTKL Travel Fellowship Award. Jonathan’s work has been published and has been recognized with several design awards by the American Institute of Architects. Recently, Modelo had the opportunity to learn more about Jonathan's design philosophy and unique approach.
On becoming an architect
I had the fortune of experiencing the Montessori approach through my childhood education. This learning philosophy fostered self-directed, hands-on learning rooted in discovery and driven by personal interest. Immersion in the Montessori learning model revealed that my natural inclinations were vastly diverse among the sciences, mathematics, art, and music.
Growing up, I sought to blur the creative and technical disciplines together in a career path, but did not even consider architecture until prospecting options for college. My search led me to study at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo whose “learn by doing” philosophy was an extension of Montessori’s fundamental pedagogy and created a familiar playground to investigate various approaches of design processes. My passion in this profession solidified when I grasped how a simultaneous interplay of both the right side and left side of the brain can be achieved through the practice of architecture
On discovering his voice as a designer
Discovering my voice in the design field is an ongoing process. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the breadth and range of proficiencies required in architecture. The philosophical concept of Uomo Universale, well known as the Renaissance Man, encourages embracing all knowledge and developing personal capacities as fully as possible. I personally relate to this philosophy of having a multi-disciplinary curiosity.
I started my career at a boutique practice named Bauer and Wiley Architects, designing institutional projects including museums, university work, R&D facilities, creative office and custom residential work. I was influenced by these formative years in a smaller practice because it demanded everyone to take on multiple roles within a project team. A core value of the practice was the synergy of architecture and interior design which gave us the benefit of shaping projects inside and out. I believe that there is a danger of losing conceptual clarity and strength when these disciplines are divided. It is critical to have a role in both exterior and interiors of a project to fully craft a spatial experience. I feel limited solely working on one or the other in isolation
On joining P+R Architects
I joined P+R Architects at a unique time in the evolution of the practice and transition of design leadership. I was introduced to P+R Architects through a former colleague Scott Parker who is now a Design Director at Studio111 (a studio within P+R Architects, focused on urban revitalization through integrated practice of architecture, urban and landscape design). This introduction led to a unique opportunity to build and shape a focus on design process as a design leader at P+R Architects. Backed with the foundation of a firm with 40 years of experience, I have the support of resources of a large practice coupled with a youthful spirit of a startup.
On principles he strives to adhere to
I find that the most fulfilling work emerges from projects that bring positive social impact ranging from intimacy of a dwelling to expansive urban scale. This has the potential for profound influence on individuals and the larger community and requires a sensitive, thoughtful mindset.
I focus on challenging spatial norms while balancing context and concept centered approach. I am particularly interested in exploration of materials, light and space that evade the constraints of style and aesthetic homogony. Our approach is rooted in client and site sensitive values and at the same time, questions conventional assumptions. Using a collaborative process with clients, specialized consultants, fabricators, and builders allows creative exploration to enable understanding of appropriate solutions.
On his role as Design Director at P+R Architects
My primary role is to facilitate the design dialogue among clients, consultants and our project team. As the ideas evolve from the preliminary stages through construction, maintaining clear concepts employ the need for a liaison and ambassador to advocate for design clarity. Admittedly, I can find a design opportunity in anything. This extends into all aspects of a project from details to form manipulation, furniture to materials, and graphics to branding. Bridging the abstract, intangible concepts with the realities of the build environment is an art form.
On recent projects that represent the firm's unique approach
I think it’s detrimental to bring preconceived answers to a design problem. A research-based approach using inquiry and relevant questions unveil project specific information and findings to allow the emergence of tailored ideas.
We are currently working on a project in Puerto Rico with a visionary client seeking to craft a project with a different perspective. We were able to initiate the project with a Brand DNA identity process that we facilitated to extract and identify what this project is at its core before we sketched preliminary thoughts on paper. We traveled together with the client to visit case studies and organized a series of workshops that unearth the brand positioning qualitatively and quantitatively. This investigative process backed with a market research and analysis revealed a byproduct that significantly shifted the direction of the project’s identity.
On his design toolkit
My process involves an exploration of mixed media, collage and critique. The methods in architectural education remain relevant in how we engage our daily interaction of our teams inside and outside of the design studio. Pinning up research and work through the process allows us to constantly evaluate through discourses and discussion to critically edit or augment.
We utilize various methods of visual representation of both analog and digital tools including sketching, 3D modeling, and rapid prototyping and scale models to test and develop ideas. Both traditional and progressive methods are used as a toolkit for design and hand-drawn sketches are a core part of my design process.
I would hesitate to rely too heavily on one specific technology as a design tool. Being able to utilize the tools that are available is important; however, the hunger to learn and adapt to new methods and software simply expands your ability to communicate ideas in different ways.
On the state of design software today
We have to be adept and nimble in utilizing technology to study, explore, gain efficiencies and interact collaboratively. The range of design software used is common among architectural practices. Selecting the right tools is equally as important as maintaining the core fundamentals of design and critical evaluation.
It is tempting to be seduced by the complexity that technology and software enables us to achieve, but with that comes a real responsibility to evaluate the purpose of what our intentions are. Technology and software should be extensions of our intent; otherwise we are limiting our thinking to confines of software output.
On the future of architecture in the next 5-10 years
Buckminster Fuller’s concept of “ephemeralization” suggests that technology gets smaller as it gets more sophisticated. As people get more transient, the notions of single use of spaces will more aggressively be blended to multi-functional models and overlap. In an attempt to seek sensorial reprieve from an over-stimulus of technology, there is a fundamental need for simplicity.
I believe that we will expand our range of services and value to guide our clients well before pre-design and well after occupancy as a more sustainable business practice. This strategy-based model will further expand to interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary practice.
On the future of P+R Architects in the next 5-10 years
We are currently designing a new urban office to serve as our headquarters, workshop and gallery. This purposeful relocation is a conscious move from occupying two levels of a corporate office tower to a one story, open-concept office, while simultaneously revitalizing a retail center in the heart of downtown Long Beach. The new location will surround P+R Architects within the local community, fostering authentic interaction in the neighboring urban context.
Acting as a catalyst, the new office seeks to allow its creative teams to share one space. The design’s bold gesture removes private offices from the traditional office model toward the concept of a transparent workspace. This planning strategy eliminates the spatial hierarchy of our staff in order to create variety intimately scaled flex spaces for communal use. Our office intends to be a testing ground for our new work model and its evolution.
We see this as an opportunity beyond a new office design as a public research project. Since this is the first phase of an 8 block repurposing, this transformation allows us to experiment with strategic urban strategies as a test bed to challenge the typical development formulas.
On advice he would give his younger self
Perfectionism is limiting and don’t feel the need to eat everything in one sitting (but eat first).