TAG TEAM This dog-tag installation was created as a project proposal for a gay soldiers’ memorial in Hollywood. Each tag has a line of poetry hammered into the metal. The goal is to encourage people to pick up the pieces and think about the people behind the tags. The project speaks to Luce’s human side—she’s always thinking about the people aspect of any project, a trait that has been noticed by her peers and jurors from the American Institute of Architects, which has bestowed upon her more than 10 awards so far
It’s one of many dualities that Luce straddles. She enjoys designing large spaces while ensuring that every fastener is adjusted just so. She loves working with hard, cold metal but constructs it in a way that’s comforting and esoteric. She loves the rationality of architecture—the measurements, the details, the precision—and the poetry of building something, with its opportunity for visual metaphors.
Her company did the workspace for The Imagineers, the theatre performers at Disney in Florida. It’s a highly secure space, and no one’s allowed in without badge access—factors that could encourage restriction and caution. Luce took a theme from Disneyland itself—the idea of a street—and built one to run through the entire office. Early reaction from some Disney folk was surprising: why do we need this empty space?
Luce’s theory was that in a creative profession, there was a need for space that was not programmed ahead of time, one that a creative mind could program for itself. The bosses saw things her way, and The Imagineers ended up using the street as a practice space to test new ideas in front of their colleagues.
In project planning, the human aspect is always high on the agenda for Luce. “I’m so fascinated by the way people process information, how they think and how they’re inspired,” she says.
Luce launched her firm in 1990 at the age of 30 and ran it for six years out of her beachfront house in La Jolla before setting up shop in nearby Pacific Beach. Her firm originally focused on living spaces. Driven by her conviction that live-work spaces were merging, she realized she could bring concepts of lifestyle and environmental design for healthy living to the workplace. After all, “It’s actually where we spend more of our time.”
The work-life equation came up during the renovation of a 1970s ranch house in La Jolla in 2001. The homeowner, Greg Lemke, was inspired by his workplace at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, where he’s a professor of molecular neurobiology. The campus was designed by architect Louis Kahn, with a layout intended to facilitate discussions among peers.
The building was proof that design can change the way individuals and organizations function. But for his home life, Lemke wanted a simple layout to provide calmness against all the thoughts running in his head. The home won an award from the San Diego chapter of the AIA in 2007. Jurors admired Luce’s decision to keep the original structure rather than tearing it down and starting over—a way of doing things that’s standard in California.
Finally, the business world understands the value of good design and how it can increase productivity.
She took that adaptive reuse philosophy to an old warehouse in the Cedros Design District of Solana Beach. It houses the Burton Landscape Architecture Studio in the back, while the retail storefront is a housewares shop. For the landscape experts, Luce created a collaborative, open space, with desks and drafting tables dominating the central area, while offices behind large sliding doors line the room. Printers, servers and other gadgetry are stored behind a wall of library shelving, which houses colourful gardening books and other reference material.
Hiding the hardware was more than just an aesthetic choice; it’s a philosophical one that supports her view on the place of technology in the scheme of things. “The storing of information and data allows us to have access to anything, anywhere—but the truth is that we truly crave to be together, and workspaces will become more critical in answering that need.”
She practises what she preaches. In her own offices, she moves tables around, changes the lighting and tries out new schemes. “It’s a wonderful environment for people to come to, even though it’s really simple,” she says. “They can see that we are open to change, and that’s essentially what we do in our work. We facilitate change, which is so hard because people are afraid of change not allowing them to be successful at what they do.”
Project planning is structured collaboratively too. The Luce et Studio team sits down with clients to sift through their needs and expectations. Ideas emerge from both sides. “It is an iterative process and it is about discovery,” she says. They listen a lot. “Once we’re done listening, we know everything about a business—we’re a repository of information.” From there, everyone at Luce et Studio takes a stab at a project. They have a group meeting and decide whose direction feels best, then they follow that path.
I’m so fascinated by the way people process information, how they think and how they’re inspired.