Faculty Spotlight: Lara Hoad & Todd Erlandson Talk Brands-to-Buildings

Faculty members Lara Hoad & Todd Erlandson have both taught classes at Woodbury while simultaneously working together at March Studio.  Lara has a long standing role overseeing March Studio’s design direction, bringing both relevant and broad experience to the team as an architect, designer and educator of noteworthy branded environments, exhibitions and experiences both nationally and globally. Having designed significant branded architectural projects both in the US and Europe before setting up March Studio, Todd has a breadth of architectural experience and a reputation for creating successful projects for diverse brands and organizations. We caught up with Lara and Todd to discuss their work and teaching at Woodbury.

Interview with Lara Hoad & Todd Erlandson

Q: Why did you both choose to study architecture?

Lara: For me it was a meandering path through art school which eventually brought me to architecture. It wasn’t really on my radar growing up, and when I finally found it, I realized that this is where I was supposed to be. I think the blend of art and science, the diverse range of subject matter, and the continuous learning hooked me. It is a profession of blue sky creativity and deep focus and application and I really enjoy the juxtaposition of these two things. It never gets boring!

Todd: I also found architecture over time. I was drawn to art and construction, and worked in the building trades as a student. The act of making and working with my hands had a real attraction for me. I started my career in civil engineering, but quickly found that the rigidity and precision of the profession left little room for creativity. Exposure to architecture in my undergraduate years really opened up the world for me, and traveling taught me how architecture really is about place and culture, the way people live.

Q: You have a diverse background on a range of professional projects working with March Studio, as well as teaching. What do you believe is the relationship between academia and practice?

Teaching provides a platform for architectural risk-taking and satisfies curiosity, being able to explore cultural and design subjects that often exist outside of projects in professional practice. That said, we often encourage a collision of teaching with a client that we are working with, as was the case with the fashion designer Tadashi Shoji who invited the students in our class to design installations made from found objects for his pop-up retail space in the Glendale Galleria. These “real world” opportunities provide both a rich learning experience for our students, responding to a real brief, budget and timelines, while maintaining ability to experiment within the arena of academia. I think the students really enjoy seeing the client being inspired by their imaginations and fresh design approach.

Q: March Studio follows the idea of “brands-to-buildings architecture” – can you tell us more about this approach, and how it is applied in your current work?

We’ve both been affected by “branding” over the course of our careers, Todd through his early work designing restaurants with Wolfgang Puck and partnership with brand strategist Sherry Hoffman in the founding of March Studio, and Lara in her studies of branded architecture at London’s Royal College of Art under Nigel Coates. Brand provides the umbrella and inspiration under which we design, understanding and respecting the unique positioning of our clients while leading the brand in new directions through our work. We believe that relevancy derived from brand is critical to producing authentic architecture; meaningful to the client, their audience and the greater community. We’ve also discovered that this approach is equally meaningful when collaborating with not-for-profit and community-based clients, creating environments that reflect back their vision and core values.

Q: Architects often face questions of narrowing project scopes. With changes to climate, technologies, and construction techniques, how do you think architects and designers will adapt ways of practicing to advance the profession?

We are of the opinion that as our world changes, the approach in thinking that architects and designers bring to the conversation of global challenges and evolution will become ever more relevant, if not necessary. For example, we presented at the first Woodbury University Unmentionables Symposium, and contributed to a subsequent journal, our research and studio design proposals related to how humans will acclimate to space travel and life on different planets, specifically Mars. This is an example of where design thinking has become critical to a conversation, typically populated exclusively by engineers and scientists. Architects and designers are trained to approach challenges with a different and alternative mindset, to solve problems strategically, and that thinking can be applied effectively whether it is designing a building, a shoe or global systems to adapt to the climate crisis.

Q: What projects have you enjoyed working on most?

Eames Words and Windshield Perspective were both exhibition designs for the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time and were immensely rewarding projects to work on due their collaborative nature and the diverse skill sets of the members of the team, including the seminal environmental graphic designer Deborah Sussman and the typographer Andrew Byrom. The playful nature of both shows were able to capture and document a completely new and unique perspective, whether it be the words that inspired the work of Charles and Ray Eames, or the uncovering of narratives of an otherwise mundane stretch of a typical Los Angeles Boulevard. In both of these exhibition projects it was important to create an immersive environment translating two dimensional content into an interactive three dimensional experience for the visitor.

Q: What advice would you give to students and designers who aspire to follow a similar career path?

Be curious and explore broadly. Travel and seek to understand the many facets of architecture and design. Don’t be constrained by what is considered to be traditional architecture. Be multi-disciplinary in your approach and find what resonates with you.

Q: What three words would you use to describe Woodbury?

Relevant in that it is engaged in learning about issues that are currently important.
Critical in regards to the depth and range of inquiry it employs.
Grounded in the unpretentious and modest approach it inspires.


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