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Lauren Amador on Embracing Identity in Architecture & Design

Alumna Lauren Amador (BArch ’15) is the founder of Amador Architecture. As a second-generation architect and Angeleno, she founded her practice with the mission to design and open the only lesbian bar in the City of Los Angeles, the Fingerjoint. Amador is currently designing a portfolio of custom residences, ADUs, and commercial projects. The practice is interested in advancing conversations around queer representation and ownership versus “queer programming”, and queer historical erasure in architecture. We recently caught up with Lauren to discuss her personal career path and how she’s working to change the way designers consider identity in architecture.

Interview with Lauren Amador

Q: Why did you choose to study architecture?

Puzzles and creativity and people and history. I was raised by two architects – I spent a lot of time under my mom’s desk and a lot of time outside building things with my dad. I knew for sure it’s what I wanted to study on a trip to England when I was 13. On that trip we drove four hours out of the way to see a building. My dad pulled over, stepped out of the car and looked at the building for three minutes, and got back in the car. I remember thinking that was so cool and definitely worth it. I didn’t tell anyone that I wanted to be an architect until I applied for accredited schools in LA – avoiding the whole parental-influence comment. My dad wanted me to be a contractor or an engineer and my mom never pushed anything, but now I know they’re both very happy to have an architect child.

Q: You started your own practice, Amador Architecture, last year. Why did you choose to start your own firm, and what kind of projects do you want to work on?

I always knew I wanted to start a practice, but I didn’t think I would take the leap as early as I did. The plan was to go to grad school, but I also really wanted to design and open LA’s only lesbian bar… I went to open houses in Boston the winter of 2018. Irma Boom wished me “much success” after a post-lecture, oracle-like conversation in the lobby. Other potential students were asking me about getting licensed and what it was like working for Barbara. I decided on that trip that the hiatus from LA wasn’t worth it, I had too much internal momentum on the thing I really wanted to do – open a lesbian bar in LA.

Heather Peterson, who had been helping me weigh grad school against the bar, had texted me while I was on a bus from Boston to New York with the idea that I pop up my lesbian bar concept at the Unmentionables Symposium. I said yes, and that was the beginning of the Fingerjoint. To bootstrap the bar I went out on my own in practice. Over the last year as Amador Architecture, I’ve gone from just myself to a small team (3 people) plus project-based part-time help. We’re working on small custom residential work outside of the Fingerjoint bar project, some product design, ADUs, and remodels and additions, from Silverlake to Malibu, which is exactly where I want to be at this stage. We’re experimenting at an under-appreciated scale where people are willing to have fun with design. I’d like to design another restaurant or bar project in parallel with the Fingerjoint.

Q: Your recent Fingerjoint Pop-up Bar was featured in the New York Times and brought attention to issues of queer space in Los Angeles. How can designers create more inclusive projects that address identity in the city?

I think this type of inclusivity in design has a lot more to do with gender/relationship constructs than sexuality. When I’m designing for the lesbian bar I’m actually designing with women, gender non-conforming, and trans people in mind first. How do their bodies, things they carry, and culture want to interact with the physical space – what is missing and what needs to be eradicated. I’m talking seats, brightness, sound quality, materials, spacing, signage – all of this can be rethought from the perspective of anyone other than a cis-male and you’ll get something new. Queer sexuality is more about branding, visuals, and a programming perspective.

If you’re an ally – if you have a friend or colleague that is queer and not a cis-white-male aka gay man – ask them what type of space is missing or under-considered from a design perspective in their environments. What are the projects they want to work on in their lifetime for their community?

If you’re a gay man – lift up other less privileged queer people and take your name off of it and ask someone else to be the moderator. Gay white cis-male space is well-funded, well-explored and shouldn’t fill this quota when I say talk to queer people. Gay men own a city in LA. Lesbians and other queer identities are in need of owning a single 1500 sf cocktail bar. Everyone will be better off in the matriarchy.

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?

I think that architects will focus on a building’s beauty and programming potential because no one else is better suited for that fight on a project and it’s the first thing to go. Barbara Bestor once said to me that our job is to keep ugly things from being built – I really like that. Architects will be the cardinals of PHYSICAL SPACE in a world that’s majorly lived online or in money shots. Then we focus on knowing how to communicate with the other experts in our field to get the best systems and technologies integrated into the work. Example: talk to contractors to get the best construction techniques.

Q: What projects have you enjoyed working on most?

The lesbian bar. All of the projects that I have aren’t built yet. I want to redesign all of the bathrooms along the pacific coast highway. I want to re-purpose ten different corner gas stations as case-studies for the future of all that property that’s current program will go extinct.

Q: You worked for four years in Woodbury’s Making Complex, including in the metal and wood shop, and the digital fabrication lab. How does this experience in building shape your design approach today?

The shop gets you out of your commander-computer seat, making things, and talking to people. I built a hundred times my own projects in school by working in the shops. That means I failed faster and I learned from other people’s ideas, mistakes, processes. I like watching someone make something way more than I like looking at the finished product. I still operate that way and I focus my energy on the construction site and on the design process. I have a lot of goals for results but I hate thinking about or communicating final results. More physical models and mockups, less renderings unless they’re hand sketched. The other experience I took from shop that’s shaping my design approach is that word of mouth goes a lot farther than an image. If someone says, “that person can help you make that because I’ve seen them do it” I’m going to take note as opposed to someone showing me a picture of something that they say they can make. It’s why I don’t have a website yet but I’m still getting work.

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

Get licensed. Consider it an extension of school and an autopilot first step while you learn how to practice- like a lawyer or doctor. Licensure is way cheaper than your investment in a degree, it feels fantastic, opens doors, and it lasts your whole career. Receiving my California license at 26 is my biggest achievement. Being a member of AIA is an honor and I often wear my gold pin on my lapel to everyone’s amusement.

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

Better in one word: a holodeck.

 

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