Architect Crush: Andrew Mann


1. When did you first know you wanted to be an architect, and what was the journey like to get there?

Lego.  Lego made me an architect.  I was obsessed.  I didn’t build cars, or boats, or planes; I built houses.  And I left the backs off so that one could look in and see the rooms.  I also spent hours drawings floor plans of houses, perspectives of little towns and city streets.  The fact that my path was set pretty early on was really revealed to me about 15 years ago when my parents sold the house I grew up in and it was time to clean out the attic. I rediscovered all those drawings, and seeing them with the perspective of time, it became clear that architecture was always going to be the thing that provided meaning and satisfaction in my life.

2. Tell us about your decade working with William Turnbull, Jr. and the knowledge and skills you developed during that time. 

The work of William Turnbull, Jr. is very much rooted in the tradition of the Bay Area Style of architecture.  I was exposed to a dialogue about what it meant to build in Northern California, including attention to climate, connection to the outdoors, use of natural materials, and attention to the use of natural light as a primary design element.

3. Being from New England, what are your favorite and least favorite parts of California life?

I love the dramatic landscapes and beauty of Northern California.  It takes my breath away every day.  I miss the strong connection to place that is inherent in growing up in New England.  There is a rootedness in that which San Francisco does not have.

4. What principles guide your designs? 

My firm’s goals are first and foremost to solve a client’s pragmatic needs. Once we have that diagram, we use natural light to define and enliven space and volume.  With those abstract qualities defined, we use clean lines and crisp details to enhance and articulate those spaces.  Our work is not rooted in style, so character usually falls into place based on the context of a neighborhood or the look of the existing house if a renovation, and whether the goal is to enhance or contrast that existing character. 

5. A big part of your approach revolves around the abstract qualities of space — tell us more about that and why that’s so central to your design focus.

Abstract qualities of space include things like axial connections, the contrast between tall spaces and low spaces, or between big rooms and small rooms.  These qualities can be used to create relationships between spaces, such as an axis running through a building that links all of the major rooms and provides views to the outdoors.  Or, these qualities can define spaces, such as where tall, skylight spaces might indicate circulation zones.  Using these elements creates hierarchy and order that ultimately defines the feel of a house.  When complete, our goal is to make all of the design elements feel inevitable.  

6. What is the typical process for getting to know a client, understanding their goals, and collaborating on a design plan, and how long does that process usually take?

The key to being a good architect is to be good listener. Doing residential work is so personal; it’s about how our clients wish to live, socialize with family and friends, and present themselves to the outside world.  The key to a strong connection is making sure you know your clients well enough to understand both what is said and what is left unsaid.  

The design process is iterative and takes a fair amount of back and forth between homeowner and architect.  Our first schematic design ideas capture what we know to date about our clients.  If we’ve listened well, we have solved the major problems, but additional feedback helps us understand desires and needs even more.  We then continue to refine our concepts so that when built, the house captures who our clients are and enriches their daily lives.

7. Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to your dream dinner party and why?

For me, a dream dinner party isn’t with a group of people of historical note, it’s about spending time with those with whom I hold near and dear.  I’ve spent the last four summers with a sketch group in Rome. We are spread out across both coasts and are only all together for a brief period of time each year, so my companions from my trip would be my dream dinner party guests.  And of course, it would need to be in some fabulous Baroque Roman palazzo.

8. Which musical artist and/or album motivates you and why?  

I became hooked on jazz about 20 years ago. The first artist that resonated with me, and still does, is Ahmad Jamal.  His distinctive, rich piano style in both melody and rhythm, plus the spareness of his trios is always satisfying while working or relaxing.

9. What do you like to do when not working, or how do like to unwind? 

The Sea Ranch, the rustic modern Northern California vacation community, is where I go to unwind.  I enjoy the beauty of the rugged coastline, the sound of the surf and the feel of the cool wind and the warm sun.  I can disconnect from my digital devices, spend time with friends and just relax.
Lightning round!
10. Ice cream or fro yo?

Ice cream.

11. Beach or mountains?


10. Netflix or night out?

Night out.

11. Take-out or home cooked?

Home cooked.

12. Sweet or savory?


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