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Meet Hunter Leggitt: Designer-Builder and Curbed Young Gun

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510 Cabin. Photo by Hunter Leggitt.
510 Cabin. Photo by Hunter Leggitt.

Architect Hunter Leggitt is just 33, but he's already had a varied career, having designed large commercial buildings, a house featured on the cover of Dwell, and a massive stage for SoCal's Coachella Music Festival. Still, the project that Leggitt is most proud of is a modest, 1,100-square-foot cabin near Lake Isabella, in the high desert near California's Sequoia National Park.

Hunter Leggitt Studio's 510 Cabin (above), as that project was called, was built over the course of a year with the assistance of seven architectural student apprentices. It marks the first in what the Curbed Young Gun intends to be a series of side projects that offer aspiring or freshly-minted architects an intensive real-world education.

His career began over a decade ago, when, having recently graduated with a degree in architecture, the Colorado native moved from the Centennial State to California.

"I wanted to be on a coast, where all the design was—all the inspiring, big picture stuff," Leggitt says. "First I worked in commercial architecture, but then I wanted to get really down and dirty, and learn the full design-build-development process."

Wabi House. Photo by Hisao Suzuki.

He started doing some work for Sebastian Mariscal Studio, and eventually moved down to San Diego to become a full member of the team. It was here that he completed his first design-build project, the Japanese-inspired Wabi House. It ended up on the cover of Dwell.

"One of the things I was yearning for was to understand the science of building; how to take something you design through to a completed product. On the Wabi house, I got thrown in the trenches. I literally started with a napkin sketch, jumped right in and built it from the ground up with an eight-guy construction crew. It was a flash education—it gave me the tools I was looking for, and the ability to take full control of a project."

Leggitt's Coachella stage. Photo by Daniel Zetterstrom

In 2009, following the completion of a second project under Mariscal's banner, Leggitt moved to L.A. and started his own firm. The city and entertainment industry has informed the diversity of the studio's work. The studio has, since 2010, also collaborated annually with The Do LaB on the engineering and construction of its artist stage installation at the Coachella Valley Music Festival. (In 2014, the studio also collaborated on the design, fabrication and production of Pharrell Williams' headlining show.)

Pharrell's stage. Photo by Daniel Zetterstrom.

And of course there are the designs for multi-family real estate developments and the recently unveiled Acacia House (below), a four-year project integrating architectural design, landscaping, and furniture craft.

"All of these fields overlap," says Leggitt. "Distill it down and you have the same set of principles, whether it's a house, a festival stage, or a tiny art opening. Because of that, I've made alliances with builders or other partners who transcend those boundaries, so as not to focus on one area but keep it diverse."

Acacia House. Photos by Steve King

This explains why, rather than simple billing as an architect, his studio's list of services reads, more enigmatically, "Design/Build/+". The plus sign represents Leggitt's goal to offer industry leadership and create educational opportunities for the next generation of architects, which brings us back to that cabin in the desert.

For the students who worked on it, the 510 Cabin was an introduction to building real architecture. In fact, it was a 24/7 immersion in building a house from the ground up.
"My experience doing design-build with Sebastian [Mariscal] was like that," Leggitt says. "He really was a mentor and a teacher, and he changed the direction of my career, so I also wanted something I could share with young people and give back." At that particular time, he says, new architects faced a particularly bleak job market. No one was hiring in the recession, and they had the freedom of time, so he offered them a way to supercharge their entry to the profession.

Some of the students, including James Stodgel, Adelina Tahiri, Ben Salance, and Michael Wilson, have already set up studios of their own. What's more, Leggitt insists he's gained as much from the process as they have; now he's looking for a similar project closer to home.

"They could have spent a couple of years working their way up in a large firm," he says, "but when you're thrown into a lightning education like this it gives you a different perspective on what your capabilities are."

510 Cabin. Photo by Hunter Leggitt

· Hunter Leggitt Studio [official site]
· All Young Guns 2014 posts [Curbed National]