Contract - 2013 Designer of the Year

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2013 Designer of the Year

25 January, 2013

-By Russell Fortmeyer


 Unlike other design studios that often appropriate the trappings of an industrial loft for effect, Los Angeles architect and designer Joey Shimoda’s office is the real deal. Out of a loft in the city’s Downtown Arts District, Shimoda leads a 10-person studio—Shimoda Design Group—that balances several projects at once, ranging from a large interior retrofit in Michigan to a new, ground-up creative office development in West L.A. When he founded his firm in 2000, he was one of the early adopters of a downtown neighborhood that is now filled with other designers, trendy restaurants and shops, as well as home to the Southern California Institute of Architecture. And this is Shimoda’s home—the loft is his live-work studio.

Like a lot of his pioneering neighbors, his relatively snug studio is messy in the way a creative space becomes through hard work, long hours, and a lot of intense collaboration. It belies the architect’s own philosophy when it comes to working for clients. “I like to edit back instead of adding more stuff,” Shimoda says. “That’s probably a reaction to my years working in corporate firms, where there are eight million finishes in a project.”

Of course, he’s joking, but the understated elaboration of this “edited down” material palette in each of his projects epitomizes a process that values, among many things, both the design and the fabrication of architecture, often productively influencing the one with the demands of the other. “You have to start sculpting the idea and eventually it becomes something you never realized it would when you started,” he says.

Respected in the industry
Shimoda and his two long-time partners in practice, Susan Chang and Dan Allen, have worked with a number of dream clients—Steelcase, Mikimoto, Rolex, and MTV Networks, as well as several local creative companies. It is for the quality and breadth of his design work that often transforms the mundane, for his consistently strong client relationships that have served his small firm well in challenging economic conditions, and for the respect he garners in the profession—that Contract magazine names Joey Shimoda its 2013 Designer of the Year.

Joey Shimoda: Contract magazine's 2013 Designer of the Year from Contract Magazine on Vimeo.


Shimoda himself is modest and gives clear credit to clients for his firm’s success. “Our clients have very, very strong visions about what they want their projects to be like, and we think that is incredibly important to the success of a project because we are able to take those visions and create something well beyond what they had thought to be possible,” Shimoda says. “A primary goal in all of our work is that it does not look repetitive—we make sure that each client gets a little bit more, gets something more interesting and more reflective of their own personalities. As a result, because we spend so much time with that relationship, we tend to work with them over longer periods of time, helping them evolve through a collaborative conversation in terms of building their business.”

His work for Steelcase exemplifies the kinds of relationships he nurtures to extend beyond one project into repeat commissions. Shimoda first worked with Steelcase on the furniture manufacturer’s showroom in Santa Monica, completed in 2004. The showroom brought several of Steelcase’s product lines together in one space, establishing a brand identity for the company in Southern California.

During the Santa Monica project, Shimoda developed a collaborative relationship with Steelcase’s in-house design staff, particularly with James Ludwig, the company’s vice president of global design. Ludwig, who instantly hit it off with Shimoda, describes working with Joey as a “kind of work alchemy that is really special. His ability to crystallize our conversations or to articulate something that is quite nuanced in what we want to capture through drawing, through sketching, in real time, really turns all of our conversations into workshops.” After successfully completing the four-floor showroom in Santa Monica, Shimoda gained several key Steelcase projects, including its showroom in Chicago and significant work at the company’s headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In each of Shimoda’s projects, a single element often emerges that subtly defines a space, not necessarily competing with other materials or design gestures, but given just enough extra attention and finesse to visually read as essential. In the Chicago showroom for Steelcase, the folded landscape of large white columns establishes their primacy. At the total renovation of 6565 Sunset Boulevard, a five-story office building in Hollywood, the new lobby’s ceiling creates a geometry and color that ripple through the furniture and floor. At Mikimoto’s Beverly Hills flagship store, pronounced cast glass columns attain a presence and gravity when played against white translucent drapes that softly envelop the interior.

Shimoda has a term he uses to describe the mature essentializing logic of his work—extra superfino, an Italian phrase that could be considered the mantra of the architect’s practice. Shimoda picked it up after noticing “extra superfine” printed on sugar and rice packages while living in Florence, Italy, to study with Christiano Toralda di Francia of Superstudio for a year during college. He liked the idea that architecture could bring something unexpected, an additional surprise around which an interior space could pivot. This is not to say that Shimoda doesn’t have clear affinities to design in Los Angeles. “When I first moved here in 1989, everything was rusty, pointy, and sharp, and I found that exciting,” he says. “Los Angeles has been a great place for young architects because there is no dominant style or expectation for built space. The city is almost indifferent to being built, so you can do pretty much anything.”

Beginnings in California
Born in Alabama, Shimoda moved to Marin County in Northern California with his mother when he was still a kid. Before graduating with a Bachelor of Architecture degree at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo in 1988, Shimoda interned with then-upstarts Thom Mayne and Michael Rotondi in Los Angeles.

Shimoda’s early experiences in L.A. architecture mirror the city’s slow embrace of edgier homegrown talents, as well as the rise of large corporate firms through the partnerships and consolidations that increasingly define the industry. He worked for Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner for a while before moving on to a more established L.A. firm, Johannes Van Tilburg and Partners (now Van Tilburg, Banvard & Soderbergh), where he worked on multifamily housing projects. He then shifted to a brief tenure at Frank O. Gehry and Associates, now known as Gehry Partners, working on the Olympic Village in Barcelona and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. In 1991, Shimoda joined the architecture and interiors firm Keating Mann Jernigan Rottet (KMJR), which later became Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall Rottet. It was there that he worked closely with Lauren Rottet, the 1994 Designer of the Year who is now the principal of her own firm, Rottet Studio. “I worked with her for nearly nine years,” Shimoda says of Rottet. “And that is where I really learned how to work with corporate clients and understand big, big projects for Fortune 500 companies.”

Rottet describes Shimoda as a detail-oriented architect who is deliberate—never arbitrary—in his decisions. “What I find interesting about Joey’s work is that it’s forward-thinking and creative, without being in your face,” Rottet says. “It’s refined and beautiful. Even when he was younger, his work was very mature.”

One of the first projects Shimoda landed on his own was the 2001 full-scale renovation of 6565 Sunset Boulevard, a 1965 office building in the heart of Hollywood. The original building had all of historically unplanned L.A.’s usual architectural signifiers—brown cladding and dark glass, an odd site located mid-block, with no apparent relationship to neighboring buildings, and a lack of visual connection along the ground-floor street front. Shimoda’s response was to reclad the south-facing street elevation with a blue glass and open up a reconfigured ground-floor lobby with walls of glass-fin–supported structural glazing. His early use of color-shifting LED lighting along a top-level outdoor terrace, with a striking elliptical cove installation of cold cathode in the ground-floor lobby, still makes the building stand out on the street a decade later.

“We wanted to transform the whole building, even though we were only working on the street elevation,” Shimoda says. “Unlike a lot of the billboard architecture you find in Hollywood now, the building creates a pause along Sunset.” Prior to completing 6565 Sunset, Shimoda developed an art installation for the project while it was under construction and the south façade had been removed, but not replaced. In the box-like cavities formed by exposing the building’s concrete shell, the architect placed light fixtures that bathed the entire interior in blue light, calling the project 6565 Blue Sunset.

Such art practices, rooted in craft and, increasingly, digital fabrication techniques, materialize in many of the firm’s projects. For the Beverly Hills Mikimoto store, completed in 2004 on the ground floor of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Shimoda wanted to soften the arched windows of the historic building with minimal intervention. He divided the space into a series of salons, using internally illuminated cast-glass blocks, which he describes as “frozen glass and water,” to dematerialize the store’s partitions. The blocks were cast by John Lewis, a glass artist in Oakland, California, known widely for fabricating the glass chairs at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. “These took almost a month to fabricate, since he had to pour and cool them individually,” Shimoda says. It sounds easy, until you realize each block is around five feet by 2½ feet and 2¼ inches thick.

Steelcase as key client

Shimoda’s Steelcase showroom in Santa Monica was fairly straightforward—he describes it as “see-through planes of materials.” But his second project for the company, the 45,000-square-foot WorkLife Center in Chicago completed in 2008, proved more challenging since it combined four separate existing spaces in a corner of a floor within the city’s vaunted Merchandise Mart. Shimoda wrapped the space in curving glass walls, which have the effect of multiplying reflections, activating the surface visually and drawing one’s eye into the showroom.

The Chicago Steelcase showroom has four clearly defined elements—the undulating glass wall, a series of a dozen faceted columns, a grille over the building’s large return air louvers, and a veil surrounding presentation spaces, a café, and bar. Working with Steelcase’s internal design team, Shimoda developed a diamond pattern for both the white columns and veil (as seen on this issue’s cover) in glass-fiber reinforced gypsum (GRG) that could shift scales and orientations, yet maintain cohesion in the space. Shimoda worked with Toronto-based Formglas to develop Rhino and CATIA models to create molds using a CNC mill in which the gypsum was cast. The columns consist of four pieces, hand-finished and plastered together in place to appear seamless. “At the time, we were looking at medical stints and the notion of revitalizing something, as well as signifying a change,” Shimoda says. “We were interested in how biology and technology morph in a way that allows different possibilities for how space is made.”

Pleased with the Chicago showroom, Steelcase asked Shimoda to complete a major interior transformation at its headquarters in Grand Rapids, where the company celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2012. Looking to reinvent how its employees worked and interacted, Steelcase hired Shimoda for both a total redesign of the company’s 20,000-square-foot cafeteria, dubbed the Work Café, completed in 2011 [Contract, May 2012, page 144], and a new innovation center that is nearing completion in early 2013. For the Work Café, Shimoda turned to a boat builder in Holland, Michigan, to fabricate another stint-like mesh panel, constructed of foam-filled fiberglass, that swoops down from the ground floor of a building across a new, large walnut staircase that leads to the lower level cafeteria. The innovation center includes a model shop, design center, and testing lab. In both cases, Shimoda and his partners give significant credit to the firm’s 3-D digital modeling process, even though they all admit simple sketching and drawing remains critical to their work. Steelcase’s Ludwig sees the project’s success not in the drawings but in the realized interiors. “The thing the images can never really capture is the culture and spirit of a space that the people bring as they interact with it,” he says.

Flexibility as hallmark of his work

Shimoda has brought that aesthetic of flexibility and thus a hybrid quality of spaces to many of his projects over the years. For MTV’s West Coast operations in Santa Monica, completed in 2006, Shimoda created casual meeting rooms that eschewed fixed tables and conventional seating, replacing them with club chairs and a coolly glamorous, though not flashy, interior color scheme. George Sheldon, MTV’s director of planning and design, says Shimoda intuitively understood the fast-paced culture at the network. “We’ve easily adapted the large conference room for impromptu afternoon acoustic concerts,” Sheldon says. “That only began after the space was unveiled and staffers could envision a new use for it.”

For the Santa Monica office of a confidential client who is a producer and screenwriter, completed in 2010, Shimoda renovated two existing adjacent buildings that had a variety of industrial and commercial uses over the years into a single office with an intentionally generic appeal. The architect, working with client design representative Andy Waisler, stripped out existing wood joists and added in steel elements to beef up the structure. This, in turn, allowed Shimoda to design an opening in the building’s interior spaces, which responded to a client demand for transparency so that employees and visitors could see the creative processes happening throughout the building. “We wanted to be able to experience movement and sound, all through finding an authenticity to the space,” Shimoda says.

Although retail projects are often small, the firm’s partners enjoy the creativity they allow in unexpected moments. In 2008, the firm completed an award-winning retail interior for a now-defunct Dallas chocolatier, NoKA, where the shape of cocoa pods informed the wall texture. The tiny 500-square-foot flagship store was designed as a chapel for chocolate—a one-room, single idea entirely focused on the product within.

Like many small design practices that had to be nimble in the recent recession, Shimoda is intent on expanding cautiously and taking on projects that are worthwhile. “We are able to work on tailored, bespoke projects that are each quite different intellectually,” Shimoda says. “But we can definitely take on more people and move into larger scales and planning.”

TOMS Shoes: Shimoda’s largest interior
The firm recently completed its largest interiors project—50,000 square feet of creative warehouse office space in West L.A. for TOMS Shoes, a company known for matching every pair of shoes sold with a donation of new shoes to a child in need. The TOMS project takes advantage of the Southern California climate with outdoor rooms and landscape in a holistic, people-centered approach. The TOMS building, Shimoda points out, is “taking TOMS from a company that started in an apartment to a company that is now a globally relevant force for doing good and for creating a product that helps to do good. We wanted to keep the flavor and energy of what TOMS Shoes was about, which was about authenticity in materials and smart use of materials.”

A sign of things to come for Shimoda is his latest project, the Museum of Neon Art (MONA) in Glendale, California. This renovation and expansion project, likely be completed this year, will be Shimoda’s first civic project. On the roof, a 19-foot-long neon female diver cantilevers over a proposed water feature in a plaza below. “We wanted to make it feel like she was diving into the water,” Shimoda says. Once completed, MONA will be one of Shimoda’s most accessible projects, and it points in the direction he’d like to take his practice—from the interior and private to the urban and very public. Given the evolving urban nature of L.A. itself and Shimoda’s critical success, the timing for such a move is probably better than ever.


A senior sustainability consultant at Arup’s office in Los Angeles, Russell Fortmeyer is a regular contributor to Contract magazine. He is a former senior editor at Architectural Record.




2013 Designer of the Year

25 January, 2013


 Unlike other design studios that often appropriate the trappings of an industrial loft for effect, Los Angeles architect and designer Joey Shimoda’s office is the real deal. Out of a loft in the city’s Downtown Arts District, Shimoda leads a 10-person studio—Shimoda Design Group—that balances several projects at once, ranging from a large interior retrofit in Michigan to a new, ground-up creative office development in West L.A. When he founded his firm in 2000, he was one of the early adopters of a downtown neighborhood that is now filled with other designers, trendy restaurants and shops, as well as home to the Southern California Institute of Architecture. And this is Shimoda’s home—the loft is his live-work studio.

Like a lot of his pioneering neighbors, his relatively snug studio is messy in the way a creative space becomes through hard work, long hours, and a lot of intense collaboration. It belies the architect’s own philosophy when it comes to working for clients. “I like to edit back instead of adding more stuff,” Shimoda says. “That’s probably a reaction to my years working in corporate firms, where there are eight million finishes in a project.”

Of course, he’s joking, but the understated elaboration of this “edited down” material palette in each of his projects epitomizes a process that values, among many things, both the design and the fabrication of architecture, often productively influencing the one with the demands of the other. “You have to start sculpting the idea and eventually it becomes something you never realized it would when you started,” he says.

Respected in the industry
Shimoda and his two long-time partners in practice, Susan Chang and Dan Allen, have worked with a number of dream clients—Steelcase, Mikimoto, Rolex, and MTV Networks, as well as several local creative companies. It is for the quality and breadth of his design work that often transforms the mundane, for his consistently strong client relationships that have served his small firm well in challenging economic conditions, and for the respect he garners in the profession—that Contract magazine names Joey Shimoda its 2013 Designer of the Year.

Joey Shimoda: Contract magazine's 2013 Designer of the Year from Contract Magazine on Vimeo.


Shimoda himself is modest and gives clear credit to clients for his firm’s success. “Our clients have very, very strong visions about what they want their projects to be like, and we think that is incredibly important to the success of a project because we are able to take those visions and create something well beyond what they had thought to be possible,” Shimoda says. “A primary goal in all of our work is that it does not look repetitive—we make sure that each client gets a little bit more, gets something more interesting and more reflective of their own personalities. As a result, because we spend so much time with that relationship, we tend to work with them over longer periods of time, helping them evolve through a collaborative conversation in terms of building their business.”

His work for Steelcase exemplifies the kinds of relationships he nurtures to extend beyond one project into repeat commissions. Shimoda first worked with Steelcase on the furniture manufacturer’s showroom in Santa Monica, completed in 2004. The showroom brought several of Steelcase’s product lines together in one space, establishing a brand identity for the company in Southern California.

During the Santa Monica project, Shimoda developed a collaborative relationship with Steelcase’s in-house design staff, particularly with James Ludwig, the company’s vice president of global design. Ludwig, who instantly hit it off with Shimoda, describes working with Joey as a “kind of work alchemy that is really special. His ability to crystallize our conversations or to articulate something that is quite nuanced in what we want to capture through drawing, through sketching, in real time, really turns all of our conversations into workshops.” After successfully completing the four-floor showroom in Santa Monica, Shimoda gained several key Steelcase projects, including its showroom in Chicago and significant work at the company’s headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In each of Shimoda’s projects, a single element often emerges that subtly defines a space, not necessarily competing with other materials or design gestures, but given just enough extra attention and finesse to visually read as essential. In the Chicago showroom for Steelcase, the folded landscape of large white columns establishes their primacy. At the total renovation of 6565 Sunset Boulevard, a five-story office building in Hollywood, the new lobby’s ceiling creates a geometry and color that ripple through the furniture and floor. At Mikimoto’s Beverly Hills flagship store, pronounced cast glass columns attain a presence and gravity when played against white translucent drapes that softly envelop the interior.

Shimoda has a term he uses to describe the mature essentializing logic of his work—extra superfino, an Italian phrase that could be considered the mantra of the architect’s practice. Shimoda picked it up after noticing “extra superfine” printed on sugar and rice packages while living in Florence, Italy, to study with Christiano Toralda di Francia of Superstudio for a year during college. He liked the idea that architecture could bring something unexpected, an additional surprise around which an interior space could pivot. This is not to say that Shimoda doesn’t have clear affinities to design in Los Angeles. “When I first moved here in 1989, everything was rusty, pointy, and sharp, and I found that exciting,” he says. “Los Angeles has been a great place for young architects because there is no dominant style or expectation for built space. The city is almost indifferent to being built, so you can do pretty much anything.”

Beginnings in California
Born in Alabama, Shimoda moved to Marin County in Northern California with his mother when he was still a kid. Before graduating with a Bachelor of Architecture degree at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo in 1988, Shimoda interned with then-upstarts Thom Mayne and Michael Rotondi in Los Angeles.

Shimoda’s early experiences in L.A. architecture mirror the city’s slow embrace of edgier homegrown talents, as well as the rise of large corporate firms through the partnerships and consolidations that increasingly define the industry. He worked for Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner for a while before moving on to a more established L.A. firm, Johannes Van Tilburg and Partners (now Van Tilburg, Banvard & Soderbergh), where he worked on multifamily housing projects. He then shifted to a brief tenure at Frank O. Gehry and Associates, now known as Gehry Partners, working on the Olympic Village in Barcelona and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. In 1991, Shimoda joined the architecture and interiors firm Keating Mann Jernigan Rottet (KMJR), which later became Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall Rottet. It was there that he worked closely with Lauren Rottet, the 1994 Designer of the Year who is now the principal of her own firm, Rottet Studio. “I worked with her for nearly nine years,” Shimoda says of Rottet. “And that is where I really learned how to work with corporate clients and understand big, big projects for Fortune 500 companies.”

Rottet describes Shimoda as a detail-oriented architect who is deliberate—never arbitrary—in his decisions. “What I find interesting about Joey’s work is that it’s forward-thinking and creative, without being in your face,” Rottet says. “It’s refined and beautiful. Even when he was younger, his work was very mature.”

One of the first projects Shimoda landed on his own was the 2001 full-scale renovation of 6565 Sunset Boulevard, a 1965 office building in the heart of Hollywood. The original building had all of historically unplanned L.A.’s usual architectural signifiers—brown cladding and dark glass, an odd site located mid-block, with no apparent relationship to neighboring buildings, and a lack of visual connection along the ground-floor street front. Shimoda’s response was to reclad the south-facing street elevation with a blue glass and open up a reconfigured ground-floor lobby with walls of glass-fin–supported structural glazing. His early use of color-shifting LED lighting along a top-level outdoor terrace, with a striking elliptical cove installation of cold cathode in the ground-floor lobby, still makes the building stand out on the street a decade later.

“We wanted to transform the whole building, even though we were only working on the street elevation,” Shimoda says. “Unlike a lot of the billboard architecture you find in Hollywood now, the building creates a pause along Sunset.” Prior to completing 6565 Sunset, Shimoda developed an art installation for the project while it was under construction and the south façade had been removed, but not replaced. In the box-like cavities formed by exposing the building’s concrete shell, the architect placed light fixtures that bathed the entire interior in blue light, calling the project 6565 Blue Sunset.

Such art practices, rooted in craft and, increasingly, digital fabrication techniques, materialize in many of the firm’s projects. For the Beverly Hills Mikimoto store, completed in 2004 on the ground floor of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Shimoda wanted to soften the arched windows of the historic building with minimal intervention. He divided the space into a series of salons, using internally illuminated cast-glass blocks, which he describes as “frozen glass and water,” to dematerialize the store’s partitions. The blocks were cast by John Lewis, a glass artist in Oakland, California, known widely for fabricating the glass chairs at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. “These took almost a month to fabricate, since he had to pour and cool them individually,” Shimoda says. It sounds easy, until you realize each block is around five feet by 2½ feet and 2¼ inches thick.

Steelcase as key client

Shimoda’s Steelcase showroom in Santa Monica was fairly straightforward—he describes it as “see-through planes of materials.” But his second project for the company, the 45,000-square-foot WorkLife Center in Chicago completed in 2008, proved more challenging since it combined four separate existing spaces in a corner of a floor within the city’s vaunted Merchandise Mart. Shimoda wrapped the space in curving glass walls, which have the effect of multiplying reflections, activating the surface visually and drawing one’s eye into the showroom.

The Chicago Steelcase showroom has four clearly defined elements—the undulating glass wall, a series of a dozen faceted columns, a grille over the building’s large return air louvers, and a veil surrounding presentation spaces, a café, and bar. Working with Steelcase’s internal design team, Shimoda developed a diamond pattern for both the white columns and veil (as seen on this issue’s cover) in glass-fiber reinforced gypsum (GRG) that could shift scales and orientations, yet maintain cohesion in the space. Shimoda worked with Toronto-based Formglas to develop Rhino and CATIA models to create molds using a CNC mill in which the gypsum was cast. The columns consist of four pieces, hand-finished and plastered together in place to appear seamless. “At the time, we were looking at medical stints and the notion of revitalizing something, as well as signifying a change,” Shimoda says. “We were interested in how biology and technology morph in a way that allows different possibilities for how space is made.”

Pleased with the Chicago showroom, Steelcase asked Shimoda to complete a major interior transformation at its headquarters in Grand Rapids, where the company celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2012. Looking to reinvent how its employees worked and interacted, Steelcase hired Shimoda for both a total redesign of the company’s 20,000-square-foot cafeteria, dubbed the Work Café, completed in 2011 [Contract, May 2012, page 144], and a new innovation center that is nearing completion in early 2013. For the Work Café, Shimoda turned to a boat builder in Holland, Michigan, to fabricate another stint-like mesh panel, constructed of foam-filled fiberglass, that swoops down from the ground floor of a building across a new, large walnut staircase that leads to the lower level cafeteria. The innovation center includes a model shop, design center, and testing lab. In both cases, Shimoda and his partners give significant credit to the firm’s 3-D digital modeling process, even though they all admit simple sketching and drawing remains critical to their work. Steelcase’s Ludwig sees the project’s success not in the drawings but in the realized interiors. “The thing the images can never really capture is the culture and spirit of a space that the people bring as they interact with it,” he says.

Flexibility as hallmark of his work

Shimoda has brought that aesthetic of flexibility and thus a hybrid quality of spaces to many of his projects over the years. For MTV’s West Coast operations in Santa Monica, completed in 2006, Shimoda created casual meeting rooms that eschewed fixed tables and conventional seating, replacing them with club chairs and a coolly glamorous, though not flashy, interior color scheme. George Sheldon, MTV’s director of planning and design, says Shimoda intuitively understood the fast-paced culture at the network. “We’ve easily adapted the large conference room for impromptu afternoon acoustic concerts,” Sheldon says. “That only began after the space was unveiled and staffers could envision a new use for it.”

For the Santa Monica office of a confidential client who is a producer and screenwriter, completed in 2010, Shimoda renovated two existing adjacent buildings that had a variety of industrial and commercial uses over the years into a single office with an intentionally generic appeal. The architect, working with client design representative Andy Waisler, stripped out existing wood joists and added in steel elements to beef up the structure. This, in turn, allowed Shimoda to design an opening in the building’s interior spaces, which responded to a client demand for transparency so that employees and visitors could see the creative processes happening throughout the building. “We wanted to be able to experience movement and sound, all through finding an authenticity to the space,” Shimoda says.

Although retail projects are often small, the firm’s partners enjoy the creativity they allow in unexpected moments. In 2008, the firm completed an award-winning retail interior for a now-defunct Dallas chocolatier, NoKA, where the shape of cocoa pods informed the wall texture. The tiny 500-square-foot flagship store was designed as a chapel for chocolate—a one-room, single idea entirely focused on the product within.

Like many small design practices that had to be nimble in the recent recession, Shimoda is intent on expanding cautiously and taking on projects that are worthwhile. “We are able to work on tailored, bespoke projects that are each quite different intellectually,” Shimoda says. “But we can definitely take on more people and move into larger scales and planning.”

TOMS Shoes: Shimoda’s largest interior
The firm recently completed its largest interiors project—50,000 square feet of creative warehouse office space in West L.A. for TOMS Shoes, a company known for matching every pair of shoes sold with a donation of new shoes to a child in need. The TOMS project takes advantage of the Southern California climate with outdoor rooms and landscape in a holistic, people-centered approach. The TOMS building, Shimoda points out, is “taking TOMS from a company that started in an apartment to a company that is now a globally relevant force for doing good and for creating a product that helps to do good. We wanted to keep the flavor and energy of what TOMS Shoes was about, which was about authenticity in materials and smart use of materials.”

A sign of things to come for Shimoda is his latest project, the Museum of Neon Art (MONA) in Glendale, California. This renovation and expansion project, likely be completed this year, will be Shimoda’s first civic project. On the roof, a 19-foot-long neon female diver cantilevers over a proposed water feature in a plaza below. “We wanted to make it feel like she was diving into the water,” Shimoda says. Once completed, MONA will be one of Shimoda’s most accessible projects, and it points in the direction he’d like to take his practice—from the interior and private to the urban and very public. Given the evolving urban nature of L.A. itself and Shimoda’s critical success, the timing for such a move is probably better than ever.


A senior sustainability consultant at Arup’s office in Los Angeles, Russell Fortmeyer is a regular contributor to Contract magazine. He is a former senior editor at Architectural Record.

 


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