No introduction is needed for award-winning Pugh+Scarpa Architects. The Santa Monica, Calif.-based architecture, engineering, interior design, and planning firm has garnered a multitude of honors since its founding in 1991, including two Westside Urban Forum Westside Prizes (2009), the Los Angeles Business Council Community Impact Award (2009), and the National AIA Honor Award (2007). Most recently, the firm was recognized with the prestigious 2010 National American Institute Firm Award at the AIA National Convention this past June.
Contract magazine recently spoke with the humble Lawrence (Larry) Scarpa, principal of Pugh+Scarpa, to discover what drives this award-winning firm, as well as learn a little about Scarpa’s own inspirations.
1. Pugh+Scarpa recently received the prestigious 2010 National American Institute Firm Award during the awards ceremony at the National AIA Convention in June. What does this award mean to you—on both a personal and business level?
It’s always nice to be recognized especially by your peers—it’s a good feeling to think that you may have accomplished something. But generally we just do our work, and let the chips fall where they may. For us, it’s back to our daily routine, and I haven’t given it a ton of thought, other than being happy that we have it. From a business perspective it hasn’t really changed things—not how we operate and the phone hasn’t been ringing off the hook either. I’ve been told that it’s sort of a cumulative effect, and I’m hopeful it will mean something professionally.
2. How did you feel when your firm was named the winner in December 2009?
I was surprised that we were even nominated. In fact, when they told me, I asked: “Are you sure?” I had to think about it. I wasn’t sure that we were even ready to go through this process. I feel like we haven’t even scratched the surface (the firm was founded in 1991). The firm award is for a firm that has actually accomplished something; I feel like I’m just starting my career. I was equally surprised that we won.
3. What do you think it is about Pugh+Scarpa that has led to such widespread, award-winning success?
I think it has to do with a lot of things—it’s a complex issue. Our attitude is that we are not really swayed by public opinion; we do what we believe is right, irrespective of what someone thinks of us. We also listen to our client and have been able to have a strong vision and see it through. Also, with some other areas we’re really interested in, such as materials investigation, we work more like a laboratory and assembly line. Timing is also important.
4. What has been, in your opinion, your most successful project to date, and why?
The next one. Once we’re done with a project, I move on. When I design a building, it doesn’t belong to me; it belongs to the person we design it for. I’ve had people ask me, “Doesn’t it bother you that people modify your buildings when they’re built?” Once the client takes possession, it’s their building, and it’s truthfully very difficult for me to look at my own buildings and judge them.
5. Doesn’t that philosophy feel a bit unrewarding at times? Giving up that mental ownership of a project?
No, not at all. I’m on to other things, the next building. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, and a lot of our buildings—I would say the vast majority—have remained exactly the way we’ve designed them.
6. What has been your favorite project to date at Pugh+Scarpa?
I get more interested in ideas than buildings, and they tend to go in waves. I’m more interested right now in the potential of pattern-making and repeating and non-repeating patterns. I’m trying to come up with a single element to design an entire building and make it really interesting in a way it provides variety and is cost-effective. But that interest could change at any time.
7. Who is your design inspiration?
I always wanted to be an architect. When I was a kid, my father was a mailman and he would go into work early in the morning so he could go to his second job. He built addition onto houses. I thought he was more like an architect, and I decided at a fairly young age that I was going to be like my dad, and be an architect.
There’s an architect that I worked for in Florida named Gene Leedy. He’s really a phenomenal architect that not a lot of people know about; he was part of the Sarasota school. I also look a lot at artists too. I try to work like a sculptor, with that same amount of freedom, and let a project become what it’s going to be as I’m making it.
8. What design-related projects are you currently working on that you can share with us?
We’re working on a museum in St. Louis, a 25,000-sq.-ft. new building on a sculpture park. We have another museum under construction in Raleigh, N.C. I’m working on a coupled of affordable housing projects and schools, as well.