From architecture to Instagram

Nick Myall
08 Sep 2017

An interview with Takashi Yanai, FAIA, Partner and Residential Studio Director at Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects

Takashi Yanai, FAIA has been the Residential Studio Director at Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects since 2004 where he leads the firm’s efforts in the design and execution of award-winning single family residences. Takashi's projects have been published extensively in the national and international press. Prior to practicing architecture, Takashi was an editor at GA Houses in Tokyo where he had the privilege of engaging with the world's finest residential architects. He was elevated to the American Institute of Architects' College of Fellows earlier this year.

- Please can you give a brief background into the history of the practice and its evolution over the years?

The practice was founded by my partner Steven Ehrlich… he is a modernist, but one that brings in lessons from the vernacular, especially those he learned by living in Africa in the early 1970s…. he came to Los Angeles in the late 1970s and set up practice in southern California… the practice has always held at its core a desire to take advantage of the southern California climate, blurring the boundaries between indoors and outdoors… and there has always been a reverence of the culture of a place whether this is California or Africa or wherever a project may be… the other partners including myself are a generation younger and are building on the legacy, evolving the practice. I am the director of the Residential Studio. Single family houses are something the firm started with decades ago and is still central to the practice. It is my personal passion.. I enjoy the scale of the projects. Architecture has become increasingly complex and at this scale one can still be involved in all aspects of a project. You have an opportunity to work collaboratively with the builders and craftsmen. But most of all I enjoy the intimacy of working for clients many of whom become good friends. It is a priceless reward to impact the lives of people you enjoy knowing through architecture. 

- What is your initial thought process when approaching a new building project?

I am always thinking about the landscape and the relationship between the client and his environs. So the architecture is a kind of intermediary. It is the thing that creates a personal context for the occupant and gives him/her grounding in the world. In the simplest terms it is about creating an architecture that mediates between people and place, so that means the client or users and the land and the greater physical, societal and cultural landscape and context in which it is located. On another level, architecture is always about the metaphysical… placing man in relationship with all time and space. 

- What are your main channels of procurement?

My own projects come to us through personal referrals, seeing the projects in publications and interestingly lately people have been connecting through social media, especially my Instagram account @t_yanai

- How much of a role does politics play in the architecture industry in LA? Have you experienced any situations where politics have been a factor in design first hand?

Politics plays a part in so far as often times there are multiple people you are serving, whether it is family members for a single family house, members of a building committee, or vying interests between a developer partners. We also pride ourselves in our relationship with the cities we build in. We want to make a positive impact on the neighbourhoods are designs are built in, so our strong relationships with cities is something many of our clients value. 

- What are your practice’s aims or visions?

We are a medium-sized design-centred practice working in the modern idiom. We enjoy the diversity of the project types in our studio. Some say that medium sized firms are going away. We hope not. But it is increasingly difficult to compete with small start-up boutique firms on one hand and the large corporate firms on the other. We hope that turning out great work and providing great service will be recognized and that we will be able to continue doing so. As far as our vision goes, we continue to be interested in exploring new ideas and evolving as a practice and as practitioners of design. We highly value our decades long legacy on one hand, but also look forward to seeing and exploring what we can bring to architecture in the future.  

The house, this personal shelter, is the most basic architectural expression. It’s a big reason why I’m drawn to the architecture of house. So for me personally as I mature as an architect, I realize architecture is less about the physicality of the building even if I continue to care deeply about the materiality and craft. But more and more I think of the architecture as vessel or an apparatus that helps the inhabitant find bearing in the landscape, in the city, in life and in the world. 

- What advice would you give to emerging architects and students?

I have gotten a lot of advice from key people as a young aspiring architect. The first was from a professor who encouraged me to study broadly and to spend time to pursue interests outside of architecture. For me that meant art history, philosophy and literature. On the other hand another mentor admonished me, declaring that design was something that required deep focus and practice everyday. All this time later, I think both points of view are right and that one needs to do both! 

For the emerging young professional I advise working for a few places, getting on as many project teams as possible and most importantly get out and network, meet mentors and mentees in architecture, other design disciplines, and other walks of life all together… And eventually if you come upon the thing you want to focus on, you will be able to draw on all those diverse experiences and encounters to create architecture with your own multivalent, unique and impactful point of view. 

Several of these interviews have ended with 'fast fact' sections, i.e. finishing the following sentences, and it would be good if we could include your responses:

I became an architect because... I wanted to create something that was impactful and positive for both people and place… for individuals and for our neighbourhoods, cities, landscapes and planet… 

For inspiration I look to... nature

The one project I wish I'd worked on is... something on Naoshima Island

My favourite artist is... several…  Isamu Noguchi, Donald Judd, and Hiroshi Sugimoto

In my spare time you'll find me... at a bookstore, museum or in my garden

Katerina Hojgrova

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