Born in Los Angeles, California, Architect Glen Irani received his Bachelor of Architecture degree from the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona in 1987. Over the following eight years he developed his professional skills at the noted architectural firms of John Lautner, Skidmore Owings & Merrill and Richard Meier & Partners. In a world where style and fashion so often trump substance and longevity, Glen Irani Architects has created an uncompromising repertoire of custom residential and commercial projects while maintaining unique, self-defined values.
Over the last 20 years in terms of environmental and resource sustainability, the firm GIA has been researching and implementing strategies that have saved countless amounts of carbon output and resource usage. Everything from the foundations to the mechanical systems to the finish systems are carefully designed to provide a balance of sustainability, longevity and serviceability.
Glen Irani believes in building contemporary eco-responsible structures that have an elegant usability and such that push the envelope of human experience without over stimulating the senses. We at Home Review presented him with a few questions related to sustainability, his credo and the modern day state of architecture. Here are the answers that he so graciously supplied.
How much of your work is based on sustainable architecture?
All of our work has a strong focus on sustainability although I’m a bit loath to brand our work as ‘green’. Architecture in the mainstream, meaning primarily all architecture of the developed world, is far from sustainable if we’re to define ‘sustainable’ as technology that can continue to be used indefinitely without causing permanent harm to the ecosystem. It is, however, our responsibility as architects to push technological evolution toward sustainability, and this is exactly what I strive to do in my practice.
Is there something inspirational in humble materials?
I believe all materials, humble or not, can be inspiring. We use plastic as creatively as we use stone or wood. What I find inspiring and expressive of ‘design humility’ is how we can use less material, fewer finishes, longer lasting and more efficient technology in an architecture that is innovative, exhilarating and modest while approaching sustainability in the most effective possible way.
Do you see your craft as an instrument of transformation?
Certainly, our craftsmanship represents the ‘state of the art’ and pushes our design technology as well as our building craftsman to new and higher levels of achievement. So in that sense we are evolving the field.
Of course, we do smaller projects so you’re not going to see us performing the technological gymnastics seen on the most advanced, contemporary, large, civic projects. From a cultural perspective I’ve noted that a lot of what architects are doing is bravely employing the computer’s capabilities to implement sculptural forms. We’ve found that this approach, while pushing the boundaries of our craft as designers, often bluntly aims toward an architecture that glosses over more pressing issues of our time. My attitude is that while we want to foster this innovation in the craft of design, we also want to keep our focus on what is truly important. It’s about balance.
Is technology changing things for you as an architect? How are things different from five years ago?
Technology has nothing short of exploded in the last five years. It is no longer feasible to push the envelope of architecture at ANY level without employing the latest CAD and CAM technologies. Everything from design explorations, energy usage analysis, structural design, and fabrication of everything from steel structure to the finishes can and should and often must utilise current technological tools. The real question is whether any of this makes an important difference. The answer is both yes and no. Is architecture addressing the most pressing issues of our time by using any of this technology? I’m not so sure. Housing the masses, curbing carbon output, streamlining mainstream building systems material demands, modelling embodied energy – sadly, these are not really the major goals being established in my profession through technology – certainly not above the goals of ‘sculpturalism’ and technological showmanship.
Was there a mentor who really inspired you or a time and place where you realised you were headed down the creative road that you’re on now?
Clearly John Lautner was a huge influence on my design focus and ethic. He was a local hero of Los Angeles in the mid to late 20th century that was not highly acknowledged during his lifetime, but whose uncompromisingly innovative portfolio has brought him much deserved acclaim posthumously.
I grew up in a neighbourhood dotted by the wonderful work of design luminaries like Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler, Raphael Sorriano, Frank Lloyd Wright and many of the mid century heroes of Southern California, but the work that sank in deep was that of John Lautner. Even as a young boy it was irrefutable that his work stood above the rest from an innovation point of view. He was the thinking man’s architect and his clientele was highly devoted and committed to his work. I was lucky to eventually work for Lautner as an intern – it was my first job as a budding architect and it was a working experience that to this day, after having worked for such greats as SOM/Richard Keating and Richard Meier & Partners, was the most influential in my current attitude as an architect.
Which structures of India impress you?
The contemporary architecture of India doesn’t impress me. It’s doesn’t ring out as belonging to India as much as it appears to be imitating the most impressive projects in the western world.
So I would still say that the historical palaces and religious structures are the most impressive to me as they are unique to and ‘of’ the country. To me, if globalisation is going to homogenise the work of all architects in all cultures, we don’t have much to look forward to as architecture aficionados. After all, why travel thousands of miles to experience the same things you experience in your own city.