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Lisa Iwamoto and Craig Scott in their studio.
Photo by Patricia Chang.

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San Francisco’s IwamotoScott uses digital tools to create intricate spaces

It’s been a big year for the Bay Area firm

With projects like the Bloomberg Tech Hub, the Miami City View Garage, and a private hexagonal home in Napa County seeing completion in the last 12 months, it has been a big year for IwamotoScott Architecture, the team of Lisa Iwamoto and Craig Scott.

The two are partners in work and life (they met early in their careers, married, and then opened their own architecture firm), and judging from their number of just-finished and in-the-pipeline projects (including a mind-blowing one that is so undercover we aren’t allowed to write about it yet), it appears that clients are picking up on their way of seeing the world.

That point of view consists of seeing what is there, and not there—in other words, the positive and negative values of a building—and playing with materiality. If you look at a roster of their work, many of the projects appear to be woven or knit together with an almost honeycomb effect. Iwamoto says they have technology to thank.

Photo by Patricia Chang.
Inside the Bloomberg Tech Hub in San Francisco.
Photo by Bruce Damonte, courtesy IwamotoScott.

“We came of age at the same time as digital fabrication and advances in building technology,” says Iwamoto. “A lot of the materials in our work are viewed through a digital lens.” But these days, the pair says they are as obsessed with the volume of materials. Scott says the nature of their interest in the subject could be summed up with the desire to “make things thin.”

An example would be the Bloomberg Tech Hub, a building that serves as a West Coast workplace and event venue for the New York company. The interior is partially clad in a wood “skin” that wraps around portions of the space and across the ceiling, where it becomes cut and twisted.

It is a delicate-looking maneuver that might be more easily wrought in thin and flexible fabric. However, in the hands of Iwamoto and Scott, slicing, folding, and otherwise manipulating building materials like wood, steel, and concrete looks deceptively easy.

At right, the prismatic fish tank in the Bloomberg Tech Hub.
Photo by Bruce Damonte, courtesy IwamotoScott.

Another example of their unique perspective here is a fish tank that holds rays and is topped by a prismatic feature that turns stock market readings into abstract light patterns before popping up into the floor above as a work center. “All Bloomberg offices have some take on a fish tank,” explains Iwamoto. “And we had a client here who just kept pushing us to make it more sculptural.”

The Miami City Garage.
Photo by Robin Hill, courtesy IwamotoScott.

Their unique sleight of hand can also be seen in the Miami City Garage, a project that paired them with New York architects at Leong Leong and Southern California fine artist John Baldessari to create a parking structure. Each player designed roughly a third of the large building, and the section by IwamotoScott is easy to spot.

Their vision is a digitally fabricated aluminum screen that covers a part of the building and appears to be folded around diamond-shaped cut outs. Indeed, it is beautiful, but it’s also functional, as the openings allow for necessary ventilation to occur without the use of fans or exhaust systems. The added benefit is that the porous form can withstand high, hurricane-force winds.

The Goto House in Napa Valley.
Photo courtesy IwamotoScott.

Another project, the Goto House in Napa Valley, is much smaller at 2,000 square feet, but it carries some of the principles of their larger, commercial work. The black-metal clad building is a hexagonal doughnut, with the outer walls done in glass and positioned to take in stunning wine country views.

The inner walls encircle a small, Japanese-style garden. The form allows the house to encompass a 360-degree landscape, rather than just small framed pieces of the countryside. The inner circle is meant for the private spaces.

Inside the Goto House in Napa Valley.
Photo courtesy IwamotoScott.

That’s not to say that all of their work is (or will ever be) built. Perhaps because they both have one foot in academia—she is an architecture professor at University of California at Berkeley, he holds the same title at California College of the Arts in San Francisco—they have a healthy number of entries in purely intellectual design challenges.

They’ve rethought a former football stadium in San Francisco, recreated SF as the City of the Future, and come up with spatial and architectural propositions for an Estonian city. The firm has so many of these experimental exercises under their belt, they created a separate section for them on their website called “Speculations.” “We like to investigate things,” explains Scott.

Lisa Iwamoto and Craig Scott in their studio.
Photo by Patricia Chang.

What’s next for the firm? If they continue on the same trajectory, perhaps even larger projects. “We’ve been chipping away at the same block for some time now, and it does appear that people are starting to appreciate the way we see things, and that’s exciting,” says Iwamoto. “We have seen the scale of our projects change, and we are doing bigger things. It’s allowed us to create buildings that make greater contributions to cities and their environments.”

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