This exclusive interview with Simon Jacobsen, Managing Design Partner, Jacobsen Architects was conducted by Nicola Linza and Cristoffer Neljesjö in Washington, D.C. during March 2011
Interview with Simon Jacobsen
How would you describe your personal style?
I prefer to use the term discipline rather than style. I do not see myself designing or operating within a style that could be flimsily associated to clothing or decoration. I work within a movement that is not contemporary, but modern in its truest sense. My approach through initial inspiration and process is to define the problem and simplify it, to make the design intuitive to those who use it and understandable in the final effect of those who have to build it. The programs of my clients are extremely complex and often have do more than one thing at a time. What I try to do is make it seem like it happened naturally and that the 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle fell into place all by itself.
Can you describe your personal architectural methodology when beginning a new project? What are the first considerations? What follows?
The first thing I do is to design the furniture layout and living patterns of the spaces. I learned this from the old man and it is very unique. I think much is lost in the design process when architects start out box building or random form generating and then when the exterior is finished, they then try and pound in all the furniture and living spaces. You can spot these buildings when they are unfortunately built and I think I can say in unison with my design colleagues that it is what separates the counselors from the campers.
If you had to select one single project that stands out to you which one would it be? And why?
I am always surprised at which projects the public responds to and the ones that are published everywhere or awarded something but never talked about. This month I am both surprised and perplexed about a dermatology clinic I designed a few years ago. I never published it formally but it made its way through that industry's mags submitted by the owner. From that all Starphire® glass and sunlit project which is unheard of in medical offices where the interiors often look as worried and nervous as the patients, from that I have been approached to design veterinary hospitals, tattoo removal franchises, a huge hospital in Ohio, dental and physician offices and alike. I am very reluctant to take these types of projects because architects and designers have to be careful of being type cast. "They only do houses"; I am not foreign to this thinking and I have spent 16 years trying to undo it. But I did accept another clinic in Miami because it was a one of those clients you can't say no to.
What particular design considerations come into play when a historical space is being renovated?
Sometimes you have to let go of the cynical approach of modernism and recognize the honor it is to be asked to bring an old building back into the living but be challenged to make it better than it was meant to be. The first order I tell myself is not to 'erase and replace'. The other voice that is whispering in my ear is telling me that 'just because it is old doesn't necessarily mean it is good.' True, materials and spaces that have decayed and been neglected over time have a romantic and humanly tragic feel about them, but if you walked into a neglected water-damaged and rotting Home Depot you wouldn't be filled with the same nostalgia. If is good then save and celebrate, if it is bad, out it goes and try and do better.
It is 1970 and we are meeting in Rome for a private party hosted by Luchino Visconti. What are you wearing? In addition, whom do you want to meet?
I was five in 1970 and I was also cross eyed-not exactly an ideal dinner partner, so I will jump ahead and assume the age when I was the best looking and the dumbest, at 32 . First, I am down a quart at this party because I am too boxy-masculine and very American. I smell like hamburger to these people and I am actually considering asking for a cigarette to hide it. I have absolutely nothing in common with anyone so I am going to make them think I have a trash bag filled with cocaine in the backseat of my Opal Hertz rental-that ought to get them talking. It works.
Everyone who is in conversation is glancing over the shoulder of the person they are talking to to see why Luchino has this expression on his face. He is confused by when I introduced myself I mispronounced his name (Look-Een-OH) and then I tried to make a joke by asking if there is anything of value in the house. This is going to be a tough room. I move towards the fireplace and YOU, who is equally horrified and unhelpful because I left the poor man all alone, pretend to look at the art and strewn photos of Italian cinema starlets that is on the Mies coffee tables. A woman on the couch who is in an all-white Peter Max vinyl condom dress with competing eyelashes that can touch the back of her head signals to me that I should perhaps do the walk of shame back to Luchino and give it another redeeming shot. I break the ice with a funny quote from a Hollywood producer that I enjoy: "I have a bust of Abraham Lincoln in my office, and it's not because of the greatness he did for our country, but it's because when whenever I look at it I have to remember an actor killed him." He replies "Who is Abraham Lincoln?" It's going to be a great night.
The above interview with Simon Jacobsen 2011 © Manner of Man Magazine/Welldressed. All rights reserved. Reproduction is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.