March Studio is celebrating 20 years of branded architecture. We took the opportunity to sit down with the founders, Todd Erlandson and Sherry Hoffman, to reflect on the history of the company and what they envision for the next 20 years.
What is your initial reaction to March Studio hitting its 20 year mark?
“Wow. 20 years is a long time. It is the same age as my children," says Sherry Hoffman. “The sustained effort reminds me of the title of the book by Eugene Peterson A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.”
“I knew this was my life’s work,” says Todd Erlandson, “so I am not surprised to be here. Looking back I see consistency in purpose, the opportunity to formulate our ideas regarding branded architecture in teaching and practice.”
How did the idea of marketing and architecture come up?
“While we were [living] in Vico Morcote, Switzerland and Todd was a fellow at SCI-Arc, I began to understand my value as a marketing professional amongst architects. Not being an architect was an asset, as I was able to bring new perspectives to the design process.” – SH
“When I was at Wolfgang Puck working as part of their interdisciplinary design team, I saw the value in speaking the marketing team’s language. Our aim was to increase sales and there was an expectation about how design supported the experience.” – TAE
Who were your influencers as March Studio grew?
“I was not too familiar with other architecture firms practicing in the same vein as we were. I borrowed processes from my experience in advertising, using creative briefs like I had developed at Y&R to initiate and drive projects.” – SH
“I looked to Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s work regarding the ‘decorated shed’ and how buildings convey meaning, which stems in part from my thesis work at SCI-Arc with advisor Ron McCoy. We also looked to our contemporaries at the time like the late George Yu and his work with Imaginary Forces for IBM, where the space was inspired by the IBM logo and had to convey the brand in multiple cities.” – TAE
“Also, the work of Charles and Ray Eames for their corporate clients (March Studio designed an exhibition on the Eames with the A+D Museum for Pacific Standard time in 2011). Reading publications like Metropolis that were showing multidisciplinary work from companies like IDEO was also a driver for us.” – SH
“The collaboration of Bruce Mau and Rem Koohlaas was a significant influencer later on when they produced the MOMA Museum/Prada stores.” – TAE
What was your first project?
“Our first project was the headquarters for NiCE Ltd. in New York City. I remember walking the empty space with Davide Nicosia (the client) and he was asking ‘what is the reception area going to look like’ and we said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know who you are as a brand and culture yet.’” – SH
March Studio would go on to design NICE’s offices in Singapore as well.
How has 3008 Lincoln contributed to the growth of March Studio?
“I always liked how Marmol Radzinger’s old offices had a storefront on Bundy Ave with signage that they could play with and put messages up for the community. We have a similar touchpoint with our storefront window on Lincoln. We wanted the ability to connect with and give back to our community on a daily basis.” – TAE
What are the highlights and 'aha' moments from the past 20 years?
“HBO Films was a milestone for us. We got the chance to extend the brand spatially and the client trusted us as brand stewards, involving us on design and strategy across many scales and platforms.” – TAE
“The Growing Place was a significant 'aha' moment for us. We understood that we could apply commercial strategies to a community project to greatly add value and sophistication to the design.” – SH
“It was a significant moment when we were asked to teach at Tulane University as visiting faculty for a year in 2004. It helped us refine our thinking about branded architecture through seminars and design studios. It also clarified the role of teaching within our office, which keeps us rigorous in pushing ourselves, finding the cutting edge and participating in innovative discussions happening in the academic world, then testing them in our practice. Teaching in the Creative Action department at Otis College of Art and Design was a benchmark for us. The multi-disciplinary approach and community focus is directly linked to Sherry’s new role at ArtCenter as a Professor of Brandmatters and educational lead of the Designmatters department.” – TAE
“Another highlight would be collaborating with designers in other fields like fashion designer Tadashi Shoji. Working with him on his residence, then his design studio, and finally his retail stores globally was an opportunity to understand the brand and the man behind it." - SH
What are the lessons you have learned over the evolution of March Studio?
“Physical still matters. We watched the dotcom bust before the recession and at the time there was a lot of interesting digital based work, but we have found that it has not undermined but rather emphasized the importance of something tactile." - SH
“Onsite research or 'swimming with fish' is an important lesson. For Fred Segal Beauty, I got my haircut there and the first hand encounter really switched our design perspective. It wasn’t about the audience, it was about the stylists. The same sort of learning came from our testing a co-working site in Venice as a team prior to developing the concept for Our Space. It has proven to be invaluable to the design process.” – SH
Has the rising awareness of branding affected the types of clients and projects you have?
“There is definitely more awareness now then when we started. Initially with Fred Segal Beauty, the owners were excited about how their 'marketing' would affect the design, but assumed they would 'update' the look of the interior in 5 years. They did not equate the interior with the longevity of the brand.” – TAE
“There is a definite trend towards designing for the consumer or user experience, which is in line with our human-centered design process, approaching projects more as an extended service with added meaning.” –SH
Where to from here?
“I am excited about an upcoming opportunity to publish a book about our professional and academic experience in branded architecture. That will be significant for March Studio in further developing our process, educating clients, and moving towards our intention that 'March matters'. I think some of this excitement comes from our service work and our recent return from Haiti. Consistently we are told our community work is very special. It is the ability and privilege to use these skills with a community soul and commercial sophistication. We want to continue to deeply understand our audience, who we are designing for, and have a positive impact. We want March Studio to facilitate people fully realizing their potential, for our clients and their businesses and organizations, as well as for our employees and collaborators.” - SH