Even a decade after moving from her native Tel Aviv to San Francisco, Irit Axelrod has managed to remain under the radar as one of the Bay Area's best kept secrets. But now that the accomplished architect/designer has completed her first private residence commission in SF, it's safe to say the cat's out of the bag: Axelrod is on her way to becoming big news. Influenced by Tel Aviv's early 20th century International Style architecture, Axelrod has maintained a theme of "quiet power" over the years. Today, she splits her time between Tel Aviv and SF, tackling single-family residential, institutional, and commercial projects. Learn more about the designer in our Q&A below.
- How did growing up in Tel Aviv influence your work?
Growing up in Tel Aviv, I was surrounded by the city’s early 20th century, International Style architecture, which dominated the landscape. The city is home to one of the best collections of Bauhaus or International Style architecture in the world. More than four thousand Bauhaus-style buildings were constructed in Tel Aviv between 1920 and 1940 by German-Jewish architects who studied in the Bauhaus School for Art and Design.
The Bauhaus architectural style is inspired by functionality, and is mostly characterized by clean, simple lines, smooth exteriors, and lacking in any ornamentation. Later on, the Brutalism style which was defined by raw concrete construction and buildings, became part of the Israeli architecture as well and formed part of my daily experience, making a marked impression on me, as I walked to and from school every day. The beauty of the monolithic forms continue to influence my work today.
2. How do the architecture styles in California differ from the ones in Israel?
The architectural style in California, since the early twentieth century, is much more varied compared to Israel. The differences are due to distinctive regional factors, from climate to landscape to history and culture.
Historically, San Francisco grew from a gold mining time during the 1800s, and we continue to see today the Victorian style architecture that was prevalent at the time. During the early part of the twentieth century, populations grew outwards in San Francisco, bringing with it new ways of building and construction in the suburbs during the mid-century. During this period we see the first signs of Modernism, with many suburban communities growing outside of San Francisco. The city itself, continues to be characterized by Victorian style homes. The UC Berkeley School of architecture teachings leans towards the Beaux Arts, which reflect much of the housing stock in the city.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, a city which developed much later than San Francisco, we see the spread of modernism being much more prevalent. Experimental European architects such as Richard Neutra, Rudolf Schindler, Pierre Koenig, and Cliff May were just some of the many architects who emigrated and established themselves in Los Angeles, pursuing a new way of designing and building homes during the mid-century. The Southern California climate offered the opportunity to experiment with the concept of indoor-outoor living, and its impact on architecture. Access to abundant timber allowed for timber framework and construction, which is a major difference to construction methods in Israel. UCLA and Sci-Arc’s architecture courses are rooted in Moderism, and today continues to see its influence on the landscape.
3. Who is your biggest role model?
Architect: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Artist: Donald Judd.
4. How do you get to know a client before starting a project?
Early meetings and conversations set an initial direction and understanding of the client, but not until actual design concepts are being discussed, and time is spent with the client, the true person comes out – and that enables a deep look into ones personality, yearnings, and inspirations.
5. What are the biggest creative differences in completing a project for a residential client versus a commercial client?
Commercial clients are in many cases not as emotionally involved in the project, and with those impediments removed, are willing to dare more and go more extreme with design. They are fast with decision making and letting the architect more freedom with design ideas.
However, being more emotionally involved, residential clients are caring more about every detail and willing to spend more money and time finding the perfect solution.
6. How do you completely unwind?
Spending time with friends over a few glasses of wine.
7. If you hadn't become an architect, which career would you have pursued?
An industrial designer.
8. What’s the worst pre-architecture job you’ve ever had and why?
I’ve been a waitress while studying in the university. Nothing was inspiring about the space, food and owner (and probably also learning that I can’t really work for others).
9. Favorite food?
10. Who are your favorite musical artists?
Bach and Haydn, Amy Winehouse, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan…
10. First celebrity crush?
11. What’s your hidden talent?
12. Best restaurant in your area? Where is it?
Serpentine, SF (Dogpatch).
13. SF or LA?