Joshua Aidlin is a founding partner of multidisciplinary firm Aidlin Darling Design, formed with partner David Darling in 1998. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Joshua to discuss his family’s early influence on his career, his creative process, and how global warming has changed the way he designs buildings.
Take us back to the beginning. When did you decide to become an architect?
Ironically, growing up I wanted nothing to do with the arts or design, as my entire family were artists. My father started his career in Industrial Design working for the famed Peter Muller-Munk, but his passion led him to both teaching and creating sculpture. My mother is a painter/printmaker/ and collage artist, my oldest sister is a painter/printmaker/and sculptor, and my middle sister pursued a career in the theatre. From a very young age I pursued sports and in particular baseball. I was not a great fan of school but with the advice of my oldest sister I chose a drafting class as my first elective in high school. It was tolerable and subsequently led to an architecture class, in my senior year, where I designed my first house. Due to my lack of interest in any other subject, I majored in architecture my freshman year in college. Fortunately my passion for baseball quickly transferred to architecture and design of all scales while at the University of Cincinnati. Since that first year at University as an 18 year old, I have been consumed by the making of architecture, furniture design, and sculpture. It is curious, that those endless trips to museums that I dreaded as a youth, ultimately lead to and now feed my passion as a designer.
Can you explain how you approach initial projects? What is your process?
In our studio, we are quite adamant that we do not follow a singular design process from project to project. Each project comes with a very unique client, site, and program. The process evolves organically with our design team. I will say that we spend a great deal of time up front listening to our clients needs, listening to the site and what it can offer. We typically camp on our various sites whether urban, suburban, or rural to extract the nuances of the respective site. Ultimately the structure should grow out of the site and not feel additive in any way. We also approach our projects from a psychological and physiological perspective. How a space feels is just as important as how it looks if not more. Designing for all the senses is what we feel leads to soulful buildings.
What would you consider to be the biggest change in the field of architecture since you began Aidlin Darling Design 20 years ago?
I would point to a few different areas. The first is, given the limited resources on our planet and the impact of global warming, our buildings must become more sustainable on all fronts. This drives a more scientific approach to the creation of a building. The performative nature of any given structure is equally as important as how beautiful it may be. Being very thoughtful of the “ingredients” that make up a building and how much energy it consumes, takes much more design time and research than it did two decades ago. In addition, the approval processes have become immensely time consuming. Our firm still has a 100% track record of getting all of our proposed buildings approved by their respective governing bodies but the time it takes is significant. It is one of the many reasons why I have turned back to the medium of sculpture as a creative expression. It is simply you, your mind, and the materials in front of you. It is incredibly liberating. The creation of architectural spaces feeds my sculpture and visa versa.
Have there been any notable influences on your career?
There are so many, but I would have to say that obviously it started with the family that raised me. In retrospect, I was blessed to be exposed to the act of making and a love for the gratification that comes from it. It continues today as my is a wife is painter and her dedication to her craft is endless. My eleven year old son has also been an incredible blessing as he is one of the most curious and gracious beings I have ever known. In addition, my studio is filled with immensely talented designers, Inclusive of my partners, that pour their hearts into every project they touch. Surrounded by all these creative minds I am in the very privileged position of being given the space and time to learn and grow and hopefully give back to society in a meaningful and lasting manner.
What exciting projects do you have in the pipeline?
We are very fortunate to have a wide variety of exciting projects of varying scales, locales, and program types that we are working on. We just finished a 30,000sf ground up High School in Santa Rosa, we recently received board approval for a 60,000sf Contemplative Science Center at the University of Virginia, we are currently designing a winery in Napa, an Eco-Resort in the North Bay, a series of Landscape Pavilions for a Corporate Campus in the state of Washington, a 22,000sf mixed-use building in downtown Palo Alto, two new residences in Sonoma, two homes in San Francisco, in addition we have a house in Palm Desert and two homes in Napa in mid-construction. Its a wonderful mix of Hospitality, Institutional, and Residential architecture on sites that range from urban, coastal, forested, high desert, and vineyard. Regionally they cover the West Coast, East Coast, North West, and South West.
If you were to give your younger self advice in regards to a career in architecture, what would it be?
Interesting question, I’ve always wondered if I had studied structural engineering prior to diving into architecture, how it would have impacted my designs and sculptures. Conceiving of an element who’s form and function are both expressed with minimal effort and gesture is a wonderful goal to aspire to…as long as it expresses a soul.