When the Jerde Partnership moved to Venice Beach in 1990, it left a historic Red Car electrical substation on Sunset Boulevard. "It took a few years for there to be a patina on this place to give it the experience," says David Rogers, AIA, partner and design co-director.
Though the firm has grown to about 120 people and five offices worldwide since its start in 1977, some staffers have stayed on nearly since the beginning. John Simones, partner and design co-director, came on in 1983.
Although the Jerde Partnership has offices in Berlin, Hong Kong, Seoul, South Korea, and Shanghai, the firm’s design work happens at its Los Angeles headquarters.
Senior design staff are assigned to every project, which is reviewed by the entire group and reflects the opinions of the office as a whole.
Design work happens on the road, though: When the designers travel to pitch projects to clients, they build a three-dimensional model on site to demonstrate some proposals. "We bring foam-cutters with us and build a studio within the client’s office," Rogers says.
Despite the enviable view of the Pacific from its front door, the Jerde Partnership doesn’t think of itself as a West Coast firm. "We’re so global now, we think of ourselves as a global company," Simones says.
The distinction between object-making and place-making—what other firms do and what the Jerde Partnership does, respectively—is the key way that the partners talk about their work and their firm. That distinction underscores the firm’s culture, Simones says.
"When you bring someone into a firm like Jerde, we’ve created our own approach to how we solve the problems at hand," Simones says. "The same approach we started with is the same approach we use now."
Just more than half of the Jerde Partnership’s staff hail from outside the U.S., from places such as Russia, Turkey, and, increasingly, China. "It’s like an international city here," says Rick Poulos, AIA, partner and executive vice president.
There’s nothing fixed about the workspaces at the firm’s Los Angeles headquarters. "One day you might walk through an area that’s empty, the next you might find 25 people in the same spot tearing up a design charrette," Rogers says.
The partners say that the centralization of the firm’s design work at its headquarters has helped it to weather its own growth. The managers and directors who work at Jerde’s further-flung offices start in Los Angeles.
And while the studio work takes place at headquarters, senior designers captain all of the firm’s offices abroad in order to liaison with clients as well as local design institutes in the field during the design and execution stages of a project. "You kind of feel like they’re your arm reaching out to the client," Simones says.