Firm name: Spiegel Aihara Workshop
Location: San Francisco
Year founded: 2014
Firm leadership: Dan Spiegel, AIA, and Megumi Aihara
Spiegel: B.A., Stanford University; M.Arch., Harvard University Graduate School of Design (Harvard GSD); Aihara: B.A., Brown University; M.L.A. Harvard GSD
Experience: Spiegel: Architecture Research Office, Peter Rose + Partners; Aihara: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Surface Design, Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture
How founders met: In graduate school
Firm size: Sixish
Our practice is rooted in a hybrid of architecture and landscape architecture, allowing us to work across scales—from the tactile object to the city—and across timelines—from the immediate to the ecological—at the onset of a project.
Origin of firm name:
We usually go by our acronym, SAW. It is easier to spell than our names, is only shared with one horror film franchise, invokes a tool used for construction, and alludes to our collaborative, iterative design process.
Low/Rise House in Menlo Park, Calif.
Low/Rise House was our first built work—completed before our office was officially founded—and became the basis for much of our understanding about design and construction. Our focus was simultaneously very narrow—on family, details, context—and broad—the trajectory of suburban housing in the United States. While the project is a specific response to a number of unique conditions, our intention was always to create a new residential prototype based on variable densities of inhabitation.
Second favorite project:
Our 2017 competition entry for Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco. It’s a loaded site, full of pragmatic complexities, diverse constituencies, and symbolic content. Our proposal has no clear delineation between landscape and architecture, allowing for a particular condition of continuity that we used to test some of our ideas about ritual, movement, and memory.
We would probably have a different answer on any given day, but right now we are on a real Carlo Scarpa kick. The details of his work are unconventional and ornate, but manage to feel easy, clear, and obvious. The layers of material synopate across divergent timelines and the juxtaposition of landscape and primal forms seemingly freeze moments of time.
Special item in your studio space:
A few dozen handblown goblets from Megumi’s previous life as a glass artist
Design tool of choice:
The old-school, three-button scroll-wheel mouse, corded
Favorite place to get inspired:
Honolulu: It’s such an improbable city, equal parts tropical Brutalism and rugged landscape, totally isolated and somehow at ease.
The best advice you have ever gotten:
When starting out, say yes to everything.
Biggest challenge in running a successful practice:
Learning when to say no.
A strong attachment to the number 13
Skills to master:
Speaking Japanese, to greater and lesser degrees
Morning person or night owl?
Night by nature, morning by necessity
Social media platform of choice: