Design, Bitches 16.05.16

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The duo’s irreverent style is taking LA by storm, writes Pauline O’Connor

Catherine Johnson, a native of northern California, and Rebecca Rudolph, originally from San Diego, met in 2009 when both were working at the Los Angeles firm of modernist architect Barbara Bestor. Or more accurately, not working. “It was the height of the recession,” Rudolph recalls, “and there wasn’t enough work at Barbara’s office for everybody.” Rather than sit idle, Johnson and Rudolph decided to participate in a competition sponsored by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

“We weren’t too concerned about winning ... It was really more about entertaining ourselves,” says Rudolph. The pair cobbled together a portfolio composed of actual projects they had worked on, interspersed with a handful of mocking mock-ups referencing pretend projects, such as Norwegian Wood, an “environmentally friendly Bluetooth headset” purportedly created for a large Scandinavian cell-phone company – in actuality a curved twig.

Along with presenting a portfolio, the competition asked entrants to complete the sentence, “Architecture is ____.” The pair responded with an impish “ ... design, bitches.” Much to their surprise, the entry was recognised with an honourable mention. More important than that, however, was the realisation of how much they enjoyed working together.

 

Words

Pauline O’Connor

 

Portrait

Chantal Anderson

 

Above: Catherine Johnson and Rebecca Rudolph

quotes story

I do see a cross-design world, images and spaces outside the West Coast, which seems like it’s beginning to spread

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The Springs, Arts District

“What makes our partnership really strong is that we’re both big-picture, conceptual people,” Johnson says, “but we also both think about detail and practicality and how things really function. In a lot of partnerships, one is the creative brain and one is the more practical brain, but we tend to switch.” The duo decided to partner up officially, paying tribute to their initial collaboration with the name of their firm: Design, Bitches.

Six years on, the team’s irreverent, playful streak continues to pay off in spades. In this sprawling city, the vast majority of architects tend to work local. Yet in an impressively brief period of time, DB has emerged as LA’s design firm of choice in the realm of new restaurant design, with high-profile commissions all over the city. The architects have also been collaborating on a residential remodel with a design firm in Tokyo. “It’s a small company called California Komuten,” Rudolph explains.

   

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Superba Snack Bar, Venice

“They’re super-obsessed with California. California, and vintage stuff, and also remodelling. In Japan, remodelling really isn’t all that common — usually they just tear things down. So, along with putting the California lifestyle in their designs, California Komuten want to expand their remodelling practice, encouraging people to see the value of saving older structures.”

Do the designers see the California aesthetic taking root and spreading internationally? “I do see a cross-design world, images and spaces outside the West Coast, which seems like it’s beginning to spread,” Johnson says. “I don’t know if it’s inherently rooted in what people are doing on the West Coast, but if people are leaning towards spaces that are brighter and lighter and warmer and inviting and colourful, I think you can attribute that to California’s influence.”

   

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Button Mash, Echo Park

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