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A CONVERSATION WITH ARCHITECT RON RADZINER

The Designer of the New San Francisco Store Talks about Building a Legacy


Along with his partner Leo Marmol, and the company they co-founded together,Marmol Radziner,Ron Radziner has been hugely instrumental in the preservation and restoration of some of California’s greatest architectural treasures. His own work designing retail spaces - includingthe new San Francisco storefrontfor Oliver Peoples, which opens this week - and residences (for photographer Steven Meisel, Tom Ford and Flea, among others) has become iconic in its own right. We talked to the architect and designer about stretching out and building a legacy.

Do you approach retail design differently than your residential work?

When designing a house, you are telling a story of the family—how they live, what living means to them. With retail, you are telling the story of the brand, and what’s meaningful to it. For both a house and store, whether it is San Francisco or Los Angeles or elsewhere, the design is relative to that place. So in that sense they are similar.

For the Oliver Peoples boutique in San Francisco, we referenced the Bay’s rugged shoreline features. The design draws inspiration from found objects on the beach, ships in the bay, the colors of sunset and sun-bleached grays. Our goal was to maximize the space, encourage customers to engage, and reinforce the Oliver Peoples brand.


Those uniquely Californian features—the indoor/outdoor lifestyle and the desert light, among other things—are fundamental to what we think of as Californian design. But is there some other, magic thing that you are working with? Some special ingredient?

A few things come to mind. One is the horizontality that allows you to spread out, to look out. As opposed to East Coast urban environments, where there is a verticality and even natural environments can seem to enclose a space, California’s openness lends itself to what you see in design here.  In general, and also specific to the firm and our clients, there is an openness toward new things in California. A lack of strong tradition allows for the introduction of new ideas.

Was there a specific building or moment or designer that hooked you, made you into an architect designer?

Not really, because I’ve always loved building and making things since I was a child. Though, as a young person, I remember seeing Ray Kappe’s house in the Pacific Palisades. I admired the way it is surrounded by nature like a treehouse that floats in the air.

Your own former home in Venice, as well as those for Steven Meisel and others, have become the new LA landmarks in a way. Do you think at all about your legacy in the LA landscape?

I can’t say I think like that. We’re just trying to get the work built, to do good work, good architecture. Then years go by and you have this legacy that’s developed. I do see our work as part of the continuum of Los Angeles architecture, of what has come before. Not everyone sees their work this way. I’d like to be seen as coming out of that modern California tradition of Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler, John Lautner, William Wurster, and others.

Marmol Radziner has of course been closely involved and associated with some of the great icons of California design, including the restoration of the Kaufmann desert house (as well as those by Cliff May, Schindler, Neutra and others)—and awarded for your efforts. Is the inspiration behind these restorations the same as that of, say, a film preservationist who wants to make sure the masterpieces make it down to later generations? Or is there a deeper connection with those great architects; is there interpretation and homage going on/modernization?

When done correctly, a restoration looks like it could have always been that way, as designed by the original architect. You are not making your own statement as a firm. In this way, restoration is similar to film preservation.  A connection with the original architects happens when you are able to get into their heads, understand their intentions, and fulfill that. We learn about Modern thinking and ideas. In some ways this influences our approach to the design of contemporary houses.


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