Art, Architecture, History + Identity: The Chicago Architecture Biennial

Chicago may be known as the Windy City, but for architecture aficionados, the metropolis is a veritable treasure trove of world-renowned architectural gems. From historic structures including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House (1910), Mies van der Rohe’s Federal Center complex (1974), and Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City (1964), to more recent structures such as Studio Gang’s Aqua (2009), Chicago boasts numerous architectural landmarks. Though our firm of Salt Lake City and Los Angeles architects are based in the American West, we nevertheless have closely followed the most recent incarnation of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, a showcase of over 140 architects and artists, exhibitions and events across the city, free and open to the public. Hurry! The events come to a close in early January, so if you find yourself in need of inspiration to start the new year, make haste to this cultural hub and take advantage of the truly breathtaking array of architectural wonders on offer.


Chicago Architecture Biennial Projects by (L to R) Atelier Bow Wow, “Piranesi Circus”, Courtesy of Chicago Architecture Biennial, Photo: Steve Hall/Hedrich Blessing; So-IL, “Passage”, Courtesy of Chicago Architecture Biennial, Photo: Tom Harris/Hedrich Blessing

The second Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB) is the largest architecture and design exhibition in North America, and makes use of the city’s breathtaking backdrop as the gallery for internationally-acclaimed presentations “showcasing the transformative global impact of creativity and innovation in these fields”. Make New History is the theme of this year’s CAB: practitioners representing over 20 countries were invited by the CAB’s artistic directors Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee (of the firm JOHNSTONMARKLEE) to participate in this city-wide presentation of thought-provoking creations and explorations of urbanism, the evolution of community identity and the impact of looking to the past to inform the present.

This is a deeply evocative and moving exploration of architecture that travels well beyond traditional presentations of architectural discourse. We are particularly impressed with the CAB’s emphasis on narrative, cultural examination, and the advancement of architectural design within a framework of accumulated conventions. How do we, as modern practitioners, assert our own identity and create the “new” when we are undoubtedly indebted to precedent? Indeed, the CAB seeks to explore this dichotomy and to highlight the ways in which architects, artists and designers working today are shunning the need to create the unparalleled in favor of incorporating historical models into their work; in other words, “committed to progress, but always from within an architectural tradition,…producing innovative and subversive works grounded in the fundamentals of the discipline.”


Chicago Architecture Biennial Project by Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zürich + Self Assembly Lab, MIT, “Rock Print”, Courtesy of Chicago Architecture Biennial. Photo: Tom Harris/Hedrich Blessing

With this powerful statement in mind, the overriding purpose of the CAB and Make New History is to invite members of the public and well-versed practitioners alike to explore the ways contemporary architecture has the ability to assert an historical impact globally, irrespective of site and geographical boundaries. Topics include Image, Material, Building, and Civic Histories, and highlight a myriad of creative methods of architectural expression, from drawings, experiential environments, and performances to books, films, design objects and academic analyses of architectural thought. These topics unite the shared interests, concerns and practices of architects, artists and critics who are helping to shape the future – and, therefore, the history – of the industry and field. As Mark Lee explains, “buildings are not always the end result…We think that producing ideas through different mediums – perhaps before one achieves the chance to build buildings, or maybe in lieu of that work – is relevant to the changing state of the discipline today.”


Chicago Architecture Biennial Project by Amanda Williams, “Color(ed) Theory”, Courtesy of Chicago Architecture Biennial. Photo: Steve Hall/Hedrich Blessing

The main exhibition takes place in the Chicago Cultural Center, which Johnston and Lee have transformed into complex, intertwined corridors, galleries, arcades and salons dedicated to juxtapositions of past, present and future incarnations of architectural design. For example, an exhibition of innovative experiments in contemporary architectural photography, curated by Jesús Vasallo, is on display, as well as a reconsideration of the landmark 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower. Numerous satellite events at off-site locations include educational programs with the Chicago Architecture Foundation, and free tours of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed SC Johnson headquarters. The platform offers a unique assemblage of exhibits, large-scale installations, and creative programming with which visitors are encouraged to actively engage and consider through a global, critical lens.


Chicago Architecture Biennial Project by Aranda\Lasch, “Budidesa”, Courtesy of Chicago Architecture Biennial. Photo: Tom Harris/Hedrich Blessing

Presentations such as the Chicago Architecture Biennial are key to the advancement of our field. They help underscore disciplinary concerns, draw new audiences to architecture and aid in the development of new architectural identities and modes of expression. If you were able to take part in this year’s CAB, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the event, and hope to see you in the Windy City for the CAB’s next installment in 2019!


The Chicago Architecture Biennial

Season's Greetings from Sparano + Mooney Architecture!

We would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to our amazing clients, colleagues, consultants and friends during this Festive Season. Happy Holidays and warmest wishes to all for a wonderful New Year!


Adrián Villar Rojas and Sparano + Mooney Architecture Create “Theater” at MOCA

Sparano + Mooney Architecture and our team of Los Angeles architects and designers have established a fantastic working relationship with The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, and we were delighted when the institution approached us to provide architectural services and interior remodeling for their latest exhibition of cutting-edge contemporary art, titled Adrián Villar Rojas: The Theater of Disappearance. We have also collaborated with MOCA on acclaimed shows by Matthew Barney and of works from the 1990s at the museum, and were more than happy to partner on this occasion to bring Villar Rojas’ eclectic and boundary-defying art to The Geffen’s savvy audience.

For this show, Sparano + Mooney Architecture worked with Villar Rojas’ proposed layout for the exhibit, made modifications in order for it to comply with current codes, such as building and fire, and also collaborated with structural engineers to ensure columnar components of the space held up.


Installation view of “Adrián Villar Rojas: The Theater of Disappearance”, The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. Courtesy of MOCA, the artist, kurimanzutto (Mexico City) and Marian Goodman Gallery New York/Paris/London; photo by Studio Michel Zabé.

Adrián Villar Rojas (b.1980) is a South American artist whose work embodies the abstract, abject and ephemeral. His object-based “environments” and gallery-specific interventions exist in a liminal space void of typical past/present/future dichotomies. Food waste, raw meat, concrete, geological formations and flora and fauna are juxtaposed in his work, and the viewer is asked to contemplate at what stage a “work of art” is created. Is it when the items are conceived? Installed? When they are revealed to the first visitors? Or when they break down, morph and decay? These so-called “post-human” artworks – some of which are inert sculptures, some organic totems and manufactured fossils, some inorganic relics – certainly defy canonical, art historical categorization. And, perhaps that is Villar Rojas’ motive: to treat the exhibition space as an evolving realm that promotes decomposition and obsolescence of these alien art forms, and to comment critically on the commercial nature of the institutional art world. Though the work may be at times obscure, there is nevertheless a romanticized notion to his approach. Villar Rojas creates art that is at once otherworldly and visceral and in doing so, we are confronted with contemplating uncomfortable truths about our own material existence in time and space.


Installation view of “Adrián Villar Rojas: The Theater of Disappearance”, The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. Photo courtesy Sparano + Mooney Architecture.

Villar Rojas’ approach to curating his work is unique, but is strikingly similar to how we approach our own work as contemporary architects and designers. Villar Rojas produces art that is uncompromisingly site-specific; he often spends a great deal of time in the spaces he will exhibit his work in order to understand the limits and potential of these architectural interiors, and to garner as much understanding of the social, cultural, geographical, and institutional contexts as possible. In this way, Villar Rojas is able to consider the “poetics of space” and how a venue’s structural setting deeply affects a visitor’s perception of his work. At Sparano + Mooney Architecture, we explore hyper-specific cultural cues culled from each project’s client, program and/or site. This research is used to provide the architectural order and transcend convention. We too seek to construct a more meaningful relationship between modern architecture and the experience of its inhabitants. Therefore, the underlying organization of our work is a deliberate choice to position people at dynamic centers of architecture and to let space and form unfold around a continuous path of travel. Though our fields are quite different, we feel an affinity to the approach used by Villar Rojas and are pleased to have been a part of this exhibition at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. We look forward to the next opportunity to collaborate with this awesome Los Angeles museum and cultural institution!


Site-specific conceptual constructs by Sparano + Mooney Architecture.

Adrián Villar Rojas: The Theater of Disappearance is on view at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA from October 22, 2017 – May 13, 2018.  


Adrián Villar Rojas: The Theater of Disappearance, MOCA

The Amber Road Trekking Cabins: Architecture Competition Entry by Sparano + Mooney Architecture

At Sparano + Mooney Architecture, we are always in search of creative outlets for our ideas and for new ways to innovate and promote sustainability in architectural practice. Submitting conceptual projects to architectural competitions is just one way that we attempt to advance our critical thinking, and our team of architects and designers recently put forth a tiny house proposal to the Amber Road Trekking Cabins architecture competition, organized by Bee Breeders in association with the Latvia Nature Conservation Agency, which calls for the design of several travelers’ cabins to be situated along the extensive and stunning Amber Road trekking path. The path will run along the beaches of the Baltic Sea, a remote treasure of natural beauty in Northern Europe renowned for the fragments of glowing amber that wash up on the region’s shores. Winning designs will be considered for construction as a means of boosting tourism to Latvia.


Sparano + Mooney Architecture’s entry for the Amber Road Trekking Cabins architecture competition. Courtesy Sparano + Mooney Architecture.

Sparano + Mooney Architecture’s entry was designed to accommodate four travelers and their basic micro-housing needs for 24 hours, to implement an amber-tinted polycarbonate façade for its aesthetic and technical characteristics, to harness the solar path and prevailing wind patterns for sustainability considerations, and to be constructed from prefabricated “flat pack” wooden structural components to minimize on-site construction and installation requirements. These variations make the cabins adaptable to most outdoor environments and weather conditions experienced along the trekking path throughout the year, meaning travelers to the area will be able to utilize the facilities on an extended basis and the Latvia Nature Conservation Agency can maximize its investment in this catalyst for economic and architectural development.


Sparano + Mooney Architecture’s entry for the Amber Road Trekking Cabins architecture competition. Courtesy Sparano + Mooney Architecture.

The Amber Road trekking path is planned to allow long-distance hikers the opportunity to traverse the country from the border with Lithuania to the border with Estonia. The total distance a trekker could hike would be 530 kilometers (approximately 330 miles), an arduous journey that would necessitate accommodations for the weary along the route. We took the opportunity to suggest structures that would both provide shelter and allow the occupants to indulge in the country’s scenic wonders. The competition brief stipulated that the architect’s designs be suitable for various terrain found along the route, and that they be constructed in a manner that would not disrupt the natural environment or interfere with the conservation and preservation of the landscape. Indeed, the competition organizers requested that the cabins pay homage to Latvia’s heritage and to have the potential to become cultural landmarks in their own right. Sparano + Mooney Architecture’s entry sees the translucent polycarbonate act as a colorful amber cladding covering the traditional Latvian timber structure. These tiny house cabins, scattered throughout the scenic landscape, will help travelers recollect and preserve their experiences here as amber-hued memories.


Sparano + Mooney Architecture’s entry for the Amber Road Trekking Cabins architecture competition. Courtesy Sparano + Mooney Architecture.

We are excited to have been able to submit our designs for this project, and should our proposal be successful, we would be honored to have our concept constructed in such a beautiful setting! Do you have an abstract idea you would like help exploring? From large projects to small, we are focused on delivering thoughtful, innovative, contemporary and sustainable design solutions in architecture to accommodate each client’s visionary, functional and budgetary requirements. We’d love to hear from you!

The Glorious Getty: Art + Architecture

Sparano + Mooney Architecture loves art and culture – and as contemporary architects in Los Angeles, we also adore examples of institutions in this great city that combine these passions and pursuits. Which is why we are crazy about the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center and the treasure trove it offers throughout its sprawling California campus. Housing an expansive collection of European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, photography, textiles and decorative arts created from antiquity to the present, the museum serves diverse local and international audiences and continually offers groundbreaking exhibitions and programming to the public. The Getty Center’s overriding mission is to “inspire curiosity about, and enjoyment and understanding of, the visual arts by collecting, conserving, exhibiting and interpreting works of art of outstanding quality and historical importance”. Now that’s a mission we can support!


David Hockney, “Pearblossom Hwy., 11-18th April 1986, #2”, 1986. Collage of chromogenic prints. Courtesy the J. Paul Getty Museum, © David Hockney

The history of the Getty Center is storied and speaks to the legacy and prolific collecting tendencies of its founder, oil tycoon, industrialist and businessman J. Paul Getty (b.1892 – d.1976), who believed that art could be a “civilizing” influence on society. Throughout his life, Getty worked to make art available to the public and to promote the educational benefits of cultural artifacts. In 1948, he donated a significant portion of his collection to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; in 1953 he established the J. Paul Getty Trust, and the following year he opened the J. Paul Getty Museum in his Malibu ranch house (the site now serves a mission focused on antiquities). After his passing, the Trustees looked to build upon Getty’s unwavering dedication to the visual arts, expand the museum and its collections, and offer a broader range of programming, educational pursuits and scholarly research opportunities to the art world and members of the public alike. With this mission to hand, the Getty Villa was conceived and constructed and the Getty Conservation Institute, Getty Research Institute and Getty Foundation were created and constitute “the Getty”. In 1983, the Trust purchased the 110-acre hilltop site in the Santa Monica Mountains that would come to house the current site of the Getty Center, designed by architect Richard Meier. Incorporating lush gardens and celebrating the site’s rugged topography, the Center opened to great art – and architecture – acclaim in 1997. Today, the Getty is the world’s largest cultural and philanthropic visual arts institution.  


The J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles, California. Photography: The LA Times Magazine, December 7, 1997. Courtesy Lawrence Weschler

The Getty Center, while focused primarily on promoting and exhibiting the visual arts, is nevertheless an all-encompassing cultural institution, offering performances, film screenings, talks and lectures, tours and family events for all to experience its architecture and cultural offerings. Research and conservation play a crucial role in the Center’s operations, and educational programs for audiences of all ages engage audiences through the rich resources at the Center and Villa. For example, the education department offers a session titled “Drawing from Antiquity”, in which informal drawing lessons are taught on the grounds and students can sketch from works of art, architecture, sculpture and the gardens of the Villa. The course sounds to us like the perfect way to spend an afternoon honing our foundational skills!

The exhibition program is wide-ranging and never fails to innovate. Recent exhibitions have included “Giovanni Bellini: Landscapes of Faith in Renaissance Venice”, “Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney” and “The Metropolis in Latin America, 1830-1930”. We are also excited about a forthcoming exhibition (opening June 26-October 21, 2018) titled “Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography 1911-2011”, featuring works by industry stalwarts such as Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton while also recognizing the talent of artists less well-documented, including Neal Barr, Hiro and Ray Kellman.


Left: Neal Barr, “Dianne Newman”, 1966. Gelatin silver print. © Neal Barr. Right: Hiro,Black Evening Dress, New York”, negative 1963; print 1994. Dye imbibition print. © Hiro. Courtesy the J. Paul Getty Museum. 

Whenever we have a spare minute in Los Angeles – and especially when we are seeking architectural and creative inspiration – we head to the Getty Center. We are in awe of its collections and the dedication of its professional staff in continuing the passion for art, architecture and culture that J. Paul Getty originally established. It would be a dream to collaborate with this venerable institution. We hope to see you wandering among the collections and bougainvillea soon! 


1. "About the J. Paul Getty Museum"
2. "History of the Getty"
3. "Behind the Scenes at the Getty: the History of Fashion Photography Revisited" by Gisely Ruiz, the iris: Behind the Scenes at the Getty, 16 October 2017

Now Open: The Newel + Jean Daines Concert Hall and Daryl Chase Fine Arts Center at Utah State University!

The Utah State University Caine College of the Arts and Daryl Chase Fine Arts Center celebrate a 50 year anniversary this October, and to mark the occasion, we are honored to announce that the Newel and Jean Daines Concert Hall will open its doors after undergoing an extensive renovation and addition! Sparano + Mooney Architecture was integral to the design of the new performing arts facility and we are beyond excited to see our team’s hard work and vision come to life.


The Newel and Jean Daines Concert Hall, Utah State University. Photography by Alan Blakely

We would like to extend our greatest appreciation to our team of consultants on the project – including Newson Brown AcousticsCache Landmark Engineering, Inc.Landmark Design, Inc.Calder Richards Consulting Engineers LLCVan Boerum & Frank AssociatesSpectrum Engineers and Gramoll Construction – and to Auerbach Pollock Friedlander, who played a tremendous part in realizing this wonderful facility. We are grateful for your support and are proud to have worked with such a dedicated group of professionals on the Daines Concert Hall and Fine Arts Complex renovation and addition!

The Utah State University Fine Arts Complex Addition/Renovation consisted of adding an additional 15,000 SF of space on two sides of the complex and renovating 107,000 SF of space in the existing building. The crown jewel of the project is the renovation of the Daines Concert Hall (formerly the Kent Concert Hall). Upgrades include a new acoustical shell, acoustically reconfigured walls, removal of the existing ceiling, and upgraded theatrical audio and lighting equipment to enhance the acoustic performance of the venue for both performers and audience; all new theater seating; HVAC systems improvements to decrease ambient noise levels; addition of a fire sprinkler system; structural modifications to the ceiling to improve seismic stability; new catwalks and tension grid; addition of dressing room suites; and improved ADA access to the concert hall from the lobby and from the hall to the stage. With seating for 1,743, the Daines Concert Hall is a performance facility with secondary use for convocation, lectures and general assemblies.


The Newel and Jean Daines Concert Hall, Utah State University. Photography by Alan Blakely

The renovation of the Daines Concert Hall also removed the old ceilings, proscenium arch, existing electrical, mechanical, audio visual systems and existing seating. It added a gallery to both sides of the house and behind the stage. The stage was extended forward by 15 FT. The acoustics for the concert hall were of utmost importance. The walls for the hall were carefully designed to optimally direct the sound into the space. The new acoustic design allows for the sound to envelop the listener no matter what seat they might be in. The new gallery levels curve behind the stage, and this aspect permits patrons of a choral and orchestra performance to be elevated above the stage, giving them a more intimate experience. In an orchestra-only performance this vantage allows the patron to sit in these elevated seats behind the stage, giving them a whole new perspective of the performance. The curving natural wood on the walls lends the hall a warm and inviting feeling. All new seating in the concert hall provides the patron a wonderfully comfortable experience.

The mechanical ductwork increased in size to slow down the air movement, making the building comfortable and quiet. The structure has been opened, especially above the stage, making it inviting and expansive. New cat-walk throughout the space allows those working behind the scenes easy access to almost every corner of the Daines Concert Hall.

In addition to the Daines Concert Hall, the Fine Arts Center also saw the expansion and renovation of the Morgan Theatre Scene Shop and Costume Shop, which provides an additional 7,900 SF of space to accommodate design and construction of theatrical scenery and costumes. These improvements provide significant economic benefits for the Morgan Theatre due to expanded scheduling of the facility for its use as a rehearsal, performance, and teaching venue for Utah State University and the various theatrical groups that use the Theater. As part of the Fine Arts Center’s renovation, the Tippetts Exhibition Hall and Gallery has also been transformed and now shines as an example of a world-class exhibition space.


The Morgan Theater Costume Shop, Utah State University. Photography by Alan Blakely

The Utah State University Fine Arts Complex Addition/Renovation results in an architectural landmark for both the Utah State University campus and Northern Utah, and our team is tremendously proud to have contributed to the institution’s cultural and educational landscape. We are grateful to have been a part of designing and realizing the Daines Concert Hall and the Fine Arts Center and look forward to another 50 years of arts and culture in the new facility!

Announcing Design Week 2017 and a Sparano + Mooney Architecture Exhibition!

Now in its seventh year, the 2017 edition of Design Week is opening from October 16th-21st and we can’t wait to take part in this city-wide cultural showcase! As Salt Lake City architects deeply committed to producing, experiencing and inspiring great design, we are excited to check out the creative smorgasbord that this artistic city has to offer during what is sure to be a stellar event. And, we hope to welcome you to our studio on Monday, October 16th from 5:00-6:30pm, for an exhibition of work by University of Utah School of Architecture students, taught by our own Anne Mooney!


Sparano + Mooney Architecture has participated almost every year with open studio tours, architect talks, exhibitions, installations and design award celebrations. This year is no exception, with Anne leading an exhibition of architecture and design work by her senior undergraduate students in the Sparano + Mooney Architecture gallery space. The students have explored a wide range of spiritual traditions and their expression of faith in space, light and form. Watercolor paintings of this research will be exhibited along with three-dimensional, mixed-media models of sacred space and architectural explorations of landscape, light and shadow.


Image of model courtesy of Utah architecture student, Betty Freer

The intent of Salt Lake Design Week is to bring creativity to the forefront and explore the city’s diverse and thriving design scene for a week-long event filled with collaboration and inspiration, and also seeks to raise awareness of the impact that all design – including architecture, product, interior, graphic, photography, digital, fashion, and advertising – has on our cities, its residents and visitors alike. Salt Lake Design Week assembles professionals, students, entrepreneurs, educators and community members to celebrate design in our vibrant metropolis. Significantly, since its inception seven years ago, Design Week has engaged over 50,000 people and continues to motivate critical thinking in its diverse participants.

In addition to our own presentation, this year a series workshops, lectures, business development sessions, film screenings, studio tours and exhibitions will encourage collaboration among Salt Lake’s numerous design cognoscenti, museums, architects, businesses and educational and cultural institutions. Through these platforms, Salt Lake Design Week will provide multiple forums for all to enjoy, glean inspiration, interact and grow creatively, and in doing so, initiate a stronger imaginative community. We love that!

A cross-section of events include: “Act Like You Know What You’re Doing”, a conversation with designer and photographer Josh Scheuerman about enacting change in our community and championing social advocacy (held at cityhomeCOLLECTIVE); “Salt Lake Furniture Design Show”, an evening presentation featuring ten pieces of exquisite furniture made by local professional builders and talented design students (held at Clubhouse SLC); and several studio tours which form an integral component of Salt Lake Design Week. Tour stops include Kilter Design, Contravent Creative, Underbelly Creative, Work Hive, and Dinng. These tours offer eye-opening insight into the creative processes honed by some of the city’s most notable design firms.


As part of Salt Lake Design Week, we invite you to visit the Design Arts ’17 Exhibition at the Rio Gallery, which features the award-winning LOOP Bench project designed by Sparano + Mooney Architecture. The exhibition closing reception and celebration will take place Friday, October 20th from 6-9pm. If we don’t have the chance to meet during Salt Lake Design Week, we’d love the opportunity to discuss our design philosophy and to create a unique work of architecture for your next cultural, civic, institutional or residential project in the American West!

Salt Lake Design Week is hosted by the Salt Lake City chapter of AIGA, the Professional Association for Design. For more information, and to purchase tickets to selected events, please visit the Salt Lake Design Week website. Design matters!

Construction Updates from the Wabi-Sabi House

We are excited to report that construction is well underway on the Wabi-Sabi House in Emigration Canyon, Utah! Our Salt Lake City architects and designers have been hard at work in collaboration with our wonderful and inspirational clients, as well as our dedicated team of consultants – including Living Home Construction and Structural Design Studio – to make the dream of a tranquil, mountain modern home a reality.


Wabi-Sabi House Interior Rendering, courtesy Sparano + Mooney Architecture

Wabi-sabi is an ancient tenet of Japanese aesthetic culture. It is a philosophy of beauty that embraces the imperfect, the incomplete and the transient. Wabi-sabi architecture espouses simplicity and honesty in expression, those modest things in our world that express beauty as they weather and age. In conceiving this house and while walking the site, the work began to coalesce around an idea of textures, materials, and expressed joinery and connections.

This 4,000 square foot home, designed for a young family, celebrates a unique elevated Utah mountain site with a rare and direct connection to nature. The design was conceived as an expression of both static and dynamic elements, referencing the relationship of the mountain and the vegetation and wildlife on the site. The entry design is a perforated wall with segmented views of the site and surroundings. Upon passing into the architecture, the occupant is presented with a long corridor offering a path lit by a skylight running the full length of the volume and illuminating a textural wall, and is also presented with a framed view of the mountains to the west. As one progresses through the space, the shift in program is presented with the public volume in line directly with the canyon view. The architecture includes a basement level that incorporates a creative office space with a private outdoor patio. The living-room fireplace is mirrored by an outdoor fireplace and both create places for family and friends to gather.

Materials, including CorTen steel, were selected to reference the site and are crafted to express their constructed connections and detailing. This approach to materials extends to the selection of interior elements, fixtures and furnishings. The vegetated roof is planted with local grasses and serves to camouflage the home design into its context. The residence sits within its mountain site with minimal disturbance to the landscape, which is augmented with native and drought-tolerant plants and trees.


Wabi-Sabi House Construction Site Photo, courtesy Sparano + Mooney Architecture and Living Home Construction

With excavation, concrete and sub-rough plumbing complete, the project is moving into framing with a critical stage – steel – currently in progress.  We are very happy with how the texture and finish of the board-formed concrete has turned out, and look forward to seeing how this feature will relate to our exterior wood cladding finish in the coming months. The steel wall trusses require a few weeks of detailed site assembly and field welding.  The project is now officially “out of the ground”, and one can begin to get a sense of form, scale and views that will be captured by the architecture on this spectacular mountain site in Utah.


Wabi-Sabi House Construction Site Photo, courtesy Sparano + Mooney Architecture


Wabi-Sabi House Construction Site Photo, courtesy Sparano + Mooney Architecture and Living Home Construction; capturing the mountain view that the full height glazing will allow at the end of each volume.

We look forward to bringing you more updates as the home’s construction progresses. The anticipated completion is July 2018 – watch this space! We are specialists in contemporary residential projects in the American West and would love to hear from you if you are interested in bringing your own vision of your dream home to life!

Design Arts '17 Exhibition at the Rio Gallery

Do you love arts, culture, design and architecture? Why not visit the Rio Gallery in downtown Salt Lake City, where our award-winning LOOP Bench is on display as part of the Design Arts '17 exhibition?


The Design Arts platform is an annual review dedicated to the promotion of excellence in the diverse fields of design in Utah. They strive to help community members see, experience, utilize and value the art of design that surrounds us. The LOOP Bench Project, which won a Design Arts '17 award for design excellence from the Utah Department of Heritage & Arts, Division of Arts & Museums, takes the native ocean flora along the Manhattan Beach, California, coastline as its point of departure. The bench is a simple, solid concrete “loop” derived from a section of slice of the basic tube structure of much of the sea flora studied. It is curved with a slight undulation in the long direction and square in the short direction with eased edges. It is constructed using a mold and cast with high strength, fiber-infused concrete with its overall dimension being approximately 2’ x 9’. The concrete is bright white, hand-toweled smooth with a power buffed, glossy finish on all surfaces. Working in collaboration with local Utah artisan, we developed a mold and a foam-and-wood positive so that future editions of the bench could easily be visualized and cast. The first bench was installed on the Manhattan Beach Strand this summer. 

From now until October 20th, the Rio Gallery will display this year's best and brightest in architecture, industrial, product, information / media / graphic, and realized, conceptual, and prototype design as part of the Design Arts '17 exhibition. The closing reception, which is free and open to the public, will be held on Friday, October 20th from 6-9pm. We hope to see you there to celebrate this achievement and Salt Lake City design!

Rio Gallery, 300 S Rio Grande Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84102

Loop Bench

For Sparano + Mooney Architecture, great design at all scales is at the heart of our practice. We are urban architects based in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. As you may know we are engaged in developing architecture, urban designs and products and deliver these thoughtful, innovative and contemporary designs to accommodate our client’s vision and lifestyle. Yes, we design large-scale buildings – museums, performing arts centers, recreation and aquatic centers, mountain-modern residences, and centers of worship – but we also apply our creativity to smaller scale manifestations of our architectural mindset and are eager to continue developing this facet of our practice. This is why we were thrilled when a client contacted us about our design competition winner, the Loop Bench, and commissioned us to produce one as a memorial for installation in a specially-selected spot along the beach strand in the City of Manhattan Beach, California.

The Loop Bench, as tested and approved by SMA Principal Ludwing Juarez.

Originally conceived for the City of Manhattan Beach Cultural Arts Division, our Loop Bench prototype takes the native ocean flora along the Manhattan Beach coastline as its point of departure. Our process for the design of this bench began with a survey of the natural jetsam and flotsam that presents itself on the shoreline of Manhattan Beach every day. This quotidian detritus revealed the presence of simple aquatic forms of “soft-shelled” sea life with many of the organisms having a hollow, tube-like architectural structure. Seaweed, kelp and other plant material were among the forms studied for the design.

The bench is a simple, solid concrete “loop” derived from a section or slice of the basic tube structure of much of the sea flora studied. It is curved with a slight undulation in the long direction and square in the short direction with eased edges. It is constructed using a mold and cast with high strength, fiber-infused concrete known as Organicrete®, which requires no metal reinforcement, with its overall dimension being approximately 2’ x 9’ and a weight of 1,600 lbs. The architects selected a bright white concrete, hand-toweled smooth with a power buffed, glossy finish on all surfaces. The bench structure sits on a deeply recessed, 1” high concrete plinth creating a visual separation from the sidewalk and a deep shadow line around the base of the bench. If desired, text can be etched into either the top or side of the concrete surfaces. The first bench that has been completed was installed for the aforementioned client on the Manhattan Beach Strand this summer.


Aquatic forms of “soft-shelled” sea life that formed the conceptual basis for the Loop Bench.

We would be delighted to discuss a bespoke commission of the Loop Bench with you! It is designed to be situated outside, so would make an ideal and beautiful addition to any private project, and would be equally suited to a civic location such as a transportation hub, public park, or recreation center. Or, alternatively, there is no reason this sleek design object couldn’t also be placed inside as an objet d’art. We worked with Tyler Blaine of Modern Craftsman to help create this unique piece, and retain the mold for the work, meaning we are able to produce additional benches upon request.

Original rendering of the Loop Bench, courtesy Sparano + Mooney Architecture.

We are also delighted to announce that this newly constructed project has recently garnered a Design Arts 2017 Award! A juried exhibition of the work will be on display at the Rio Gallery between September 8 – October 20, 2017, with a closing reception and celebration on October 20 from 6-9pm to coincide with Salt Lake Gallery Stroll and Salt Lake Design Week. We hope to see you at the reception and look forward to discussing the award-winning Loop Bench with you then, or give us a call in the meantime if you’re interested in commissioning your own Loop Bench!

Fanatical about Form + Fashion: The Work of Cristóbal Balenciaga

Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972) left such an indelible mark on the world of fashion design that his contemporary Coco Chanel once described him as the “only couturier in the truest sense of the word. The others are simply fashion designers”. This is high praise from fashion’s grande dame, and a new exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, titled Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, seeks to uncover why this virtuoso is universally regarded as the maestro of modern fashion design, haute couture, and architectural cut, shape and material.

X-ray photograph by Nick Veasey of Balenciaga’s 1955 silk taffeta evening dress. Courtesy the Victoria & Albert Museum© Nick Veasey

Born in Getaria, a small fishing village in the Basque region of northern Spain, Cristóbal Balenciaga first encountered fashion through his mother, a seamstress whose clients included glamorous ladies from the local provinces. Remarkably, when Balenciaga was only twelve years old, he began an apprenticeship at a tailor’s shop in the fashionable resort town of San Sebastian, which would shape his career significantly. Here, he learned technical skills that other couturiers lacked, including pattern drafting and cutting and the ability to assemble and finish a garment. In 1917, he established his first label, Eisa, which he always maintained as a diffusion line offering more affordable options to his clients. He then opened houses in Barcelona and Madrid before moving to Paris in 1937, with the Parisian outpost becoming the city’s most exclusive global destination for couture. Balenciaga’s reputation was that of a fierce perfectionist, his precision so exacting that he was known for ripping apart seams that were not to his liking and insisting his models walk in a stilted, haughty march in order to allow the garments to languish properly upon their bodies.  

Alberta Tiburzi in Cristóbal Balenciaga’s “Envelope Dress”, 1967. Photograph by Hiro Wakabayashi for Harper’s Bazaar. Courtesy the Victoria & Albert Museum© Hiro

His uncompromising fastidiousness was not only astounding, but his approach to the shape and execution of his designs was also radical and extraordinarily clever – he pioneered new architectural shapes in women’s fashion, which he refined from season to season for his devoted clientele including Ava Gardner, Gloria Guinness and Mona von Bismarck, one of the richest women in the world who, upon hearing that Balenciaga had closed his fashion house in 1968, reportedly shut herself away in her room for three days. His designs, such as the baby doll and balloon-hemmed dresses, were groundbreaking. For example, he provoked the fashion world in 1957 when he introduced the “sack dress” at a time when Christian Dior’s New Look and hourglass silhouettes where very much still de rigeur; although the “sack” was met at first with disdain from the fashion press, the sleek, straight-up-and-down form that eliminated the wearer’s waist eventually filtered into the shift and mini dresses so popular in the 1960s and 1970s. This inclination toward abstraction would culminate in Balenciaga’s four-pointed, angular “envelope dress” of 1967, launched to critical acclaim and made from his favorite fabric, the lightweight but rigid silk gazar. Balenciaga’s sculptural forms would not only define mid-century fashion, but would also continue to inspire generations of designers in his wake, such as Paco Rabanne, Emanuel Ungaro, and Andre Courrèges, as well as the most recent Creative Directors of this resurrected fashion house, Nicolas Ghesquière and Demna Gvasalia.

Balenciaga’s spiral silk hat for Eisa, 1962 (left) and Nick Veasey’s X-ray photograph of the hat (right), with the hair comb still tucked inside. Courtesy the Victoria & Albert Museum© the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; © Nick Veasey

This exhibition is not a definitive retrospective of Balenciaga’s work, instead highlighting the 1950s and 1960s as seminal decades in his oeuvre. Curator Cassie Davies-Strodder explains that the V&A sought to present the subject matter in a new manner to the staid clothes-on-a-mannequin approach often seen in exhibitions of contemporary fashion and historical clothing. “We are using new approaches, such as X-ray images and pattern animations, to reveal the hidden elements of Balenciaga’s design and construction process invisible to the naked eye,” she explains. The museum worked with photographer Nick Veasey to reveal in a new light the hidden structures and craftsmanship inherent in Balenciaga’s creations: the boning, hoops, dress weights, and even left-behind dress pins and hair combs all divulge themselves through Vesey’s forensic investigations. These images of Balenciaga’s work give us, as modern architects, a fresh insight into structure and form, not to mention the haunting reminder of the human hands that “built” these architectural feats of fashion.

“Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion” is on view at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum until 18 February 2018.


“Perfect Form”, by Anna Zappia, Metropolis Magazine, May 2017 (print: p.156-161) and online

“Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion”, the Victoria & Albert Museum London (online)

“Introducing Cristóbal Balenciaga”, the Victoria & Albert Museum London (online)

Let There Be Light: The Art of James Turrell

“My art is about your seeing,” states the enigmatic artist James Turrell (b. 1943). Although one could argue that most art is intrinsically about the experience of the viewer “seeing” it, this is not art as we know it – art that asserts itself as a singular entity on a wall or polished concrete floor. Rather, Turrell’s art is pure, otherworldly, and intended to affect profoundly the viewer’s experience and perception when encountering the works crafted solely with light as the medium; light, not as a medium for looking at other things, but as “an architecture of space created with light”. As architects working in the American West, an area that possesses a unique quality of light, we are fascinated with Turrell and his tireless obsession with the effect that light, both celestial and manufactured, has on an occupant in a space.

“Bridget’s Bardo” by James Turrell at the Kunstmuseum, Wolfsburg, Germany, 2009. Photo courtesy James Turrell Studio. © James Turrell

Turrell, who was raised a Quaker, was often encouraged in his faith to “go inside and greet the light”, a metaphor for the soul searching that takes place in the austere Quaker meeting houses. Later, at university, he was fascinated by vibrant color and the field paintings of Mark Rothko. In graduate school at the University of California, Irvine, he realized that by positioning a slide projector just so, and by focusing the projector’s beam of light sharply at the corner of a wall, he could create a luminous apparition that appeared to hover and protrude into space. He had created space using the presence of light. As Turrell explains, this work, titled Afrum (White), was groundbreaking because “the light is used as material, and…it has a physical presence as such, and that [resulting] space is solid and filled and never empty”. His point is that “light can hold a volume, and have a surface”. The psychophysical effect is similar to the German term Ganzveld, a word used to describe the phenomenon of the total loss of depth perception when encountering a structureless field of vision. Indeed, some of Turrell’s works – including those at an infamous exhibition at the Whitney Museum in 1980 – have caused visitors to precipitate to the floor after becoming so disoriented and confused, mistaking fields of light for solid walls.

“Afrum (White)” by James Turrell, 1966. Photo courtesy James Turrell Studio. © James Turrell

An obvious comparison might be to the work of Dan Flavin (1933-1966), a contemporary of Turrell’s renowned for creating sculptural objects and installations from commercial fluorescent light fixtures. However, while both artists were preoccupied with the effects that light could have on a room and viewing public, Flavin’s work used a light-emitting bulb, or an amalgamation of bulbs, as the subject matter – light was a byproduct of form; what Turrell requires of light is that it be objectless, and that it be pure space. Another comparison, given Turrell’s magnum opus titled “Roden Crater” located in the Painted Desert region of Northern Arizona, to which he has unwaveringly devoted his life, is to the Land art movement. The immersive work is a gateway to the contemplation of light, time and landscape, a “naked eye observatory” and offering to the element Turrell worships. Turrell has toiled on the project since 1977, and while it takes its place within the movement, Turrell insists: “I am not an ‘earthwork’ artist. I am totally involved in the sky”.

“James Turrell: You Who Look”, film directed by Jessica Yu.

Turrell’s work has been exhibited internationally, most recently at LACMA, the Guggenheim, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Much of his work is located in obscure locations across the globe: an 18,000 SF museum dedicated to his work in Argentina, a pyramid Turrell constructed in eastern Australia and another on the Yucatán Peninsula. “Roden Crater”, though not a constructed pyramid, nevertheless draws parallels with the archetype. Turrell’s chambers carved into the earth lead to sacred spaces – altars to divine light. 

Visceral, spiritual, abstract, theoretical, and elemental. Turrell’s art is perhaps so beguiling because embedded within the concept of light is the passage of time. Whether cosmic light or the light emitted from suffused, glowing bulbs, the light with which Turrell works and the resulting creations touch on something primordial. A painting may be psychedelic, but Turrell’s colorfields and optical illusions innately possess the ability to shift our consciousness. Turrell’s works are revelatory – “light itself is becoming the revelation”. This is powerful work that hints at a human connection with a higher supremacy and an interconnectedness with nature, truth, and a spiritual connection to the world around us.

The Los Angeles Design Festival: Celebrating L.A.'s Design Culture

It's that time of year Angelenos! The Los Angeles Design Festival kicks off this week, and will take place from June 8 - June 11 across the metropolis. Honoring L.A's status as a global design capital, the festival celebrates the city's rich design culture, with a purposefully broad definition of the term "design" in order to reflect L.A.'s diverse and exceptional talent. 

An opening night party and fundraiser will take place at City Market South, with additional scheduled events including: New California Craft, a design show curated by Happy Mundane championing a rediscovery of traditional craft techniques with a fresh, modern vision by artists and makers in California; Jig+Saw, a tour of the new creative community space for entrepreneurial women that provides business resources in a safe, welcoming environment in the Historic District; Atmosphere Pop-Up, a concept space event showcasing a collaboration of artists and designers inspired by the natural world and holistic approaches to design and wellness - activities include live painting session, soundbath and tea ceremony; and a tour of SCI-Arc (the alma mater of our own architect Anne Mooney!), the quarter-mile-long campus that houses a state-of-the-art laboratory for architectural experimentation.

"White Sail Pot" by Tracy Wilkinson at the Los Angeles Design Festival's New California Craft exhibition

The list of events is expansive, and as modern Los Angeles architects and designers, we are so excited to take part in this annual showcase of the city's best and brightest! Do you plan to attend the Los Angeles Design Festival? Let us know where and when and we hope to see you there to discuss art, architecture, design and culture brewing in L.A.!

The Status of Women - in Architecture

When the March, 2017 issue of The Architectural Review hit newsstands, in conjunction with International Women’s Day, women’s rights marches, and waves of pink “pussy hats”, it reopened and spurred an essential, if uncomfortable, dialogue that is vital to the future of our industry: the role, status and prospect of women in architecture. Issue number 1439, March 2017, explores the status that female architects occupy in the field during a time of global upheaval and a reconsideration of socio-political and economic values. It is also a reflection upon a century or more of sometimes nuanced, oftentimes blatant discrimination, obliteration, and systemic repression of women from the public record of architecture. So what’s it all about?

Denise Scott Brown, photographed by Robert Venturi, 1966. © Robert Venturi

Perhaps as a reaction to the divisive rhetoric currently pervasive in international politics, the “issue” of women’s rights is again at the forefront of social discourse. As contemporary Los Angeles architects and Salt Lake City architects, and as a firm with a leading female architect as a co-founder and principal, this debate is poignant. In “The Invisible Woman”, their article for the aforementioned issue of AR, Eva Alvarez and Carlos Gomez outline the ongoing struggles women architects face in their quest for legitimacy and recognition in the industry. Citing well-known examples of erasure – such as the Pritzker jury’s controversial failure to honor practice co-founder Denise Scott Brown as well as Robert Venturi for the Pritzker Prize in 1991 – Alvarez and Gomez underscore the pesky problems of sexism and lack of academic validity that frustratingly persist and are rampant in architecture today, as they were decades ago. As David Adjaye has noted, “We’re in the 21st century…This is such an old story, we should be way past this. I find it exhausting that women are still fighting for gender parity”. But fighting they are. In a survey conducted by AR, there’s still a long way to go toward equity in the profession. From hours worked and differences in salary to the experience of direct discrimination and sexual harassment, it is clear that architecture and the building industry continue to do a disservice to women working in the field, and to those who are contemplating associated careers. For instance, the survey reported that male partners in firms earn substantially more than female partners, and found that 32% of women polled compared to just 3% of men have experienced sexual discrimination in the workplace and industry in the past year.

The erasure of women and authorship in architecture: Zaha Hadid, from the Architectural Review, Issue number 1439, March 2017. Courtesy the Architectural Review

When the Pritzker committee overlooked her in 1991, an impassioned campaign began to retroactively revise the award so that Scott Brown would be duly credited. The committee did not alter its decree. Architect Scott Brown has said that the real prize was the grassroots petition to recognize her as an equal to her husband in their work together. Her 1989 essay “Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture” remains a key text about the inequity in the industry, and addresses the patriarchal slights she and other architects have had to endure – the blatant misattributions of shared designs, the (mis)assumptions about a woman’s role on an architectural project, the unwelcome entrance to the boy’s club. A 2016 New York Times article titled “I Am Not the Decorator: Female Architects Speak Out” chronicles the quotidian battle for equality in the profession. As the late, great architect Zaha Hadid stated, “It’s still a man’s world”. “Write about my work”, Scott Brown has pleaded, to those who would ask her husband about his lauded designs, but would merely implore her to discuss her “woman’s problem” in relation to the feminist movement.

From “Six Myths about Women in Architecture” by Justine Clark, on Parlour: Women, Equity, Architecture© Parlour

Maybe we should follow Scott Brown’s pleas, and move on from this discussion, which to some may seem to perpetuate and ratify the “them” versus “us” dichotomy. But “we” have to start somewhere. AR has been instrumental in the first steps toward legitimizing women in architecture (as if women were not legitimate to begin with – but you get the point). The annual Architects Journal and Architectural Review Women in Architecture awards were just announced, and this year, Scott Brown was handed the Jane Drew Prize for raising the profile of women in architecture, as well as for her portfolio and research. Engaging in this dialogue and bringing awareness to the injustices that are continuously perpetrated are essential actions if we want to move on to a place of neutrality and equality. Of course, there are pioneers: Scott Brown, Drew, Hadid, Annabelle Selldorf, Amanda Levete – our own Anne Mooney. There are those who came before, who were outstanding in their own right but perhaps unable to fully emerge from the association with their spouses (Ray Eames) or with the “feminine realm” of designing furniture and interiors (Eileen Gray, Florence Knoll). Let’s champion each of these trailblazers, let’s talk about their work and herald them as individuals. Let’s encourage young women to enter this profession and elevate architecture to a place where the playing field is even, the accolades are gender-blind and discourse no longer need bother worrying about the “problem” of being a woman in architecture.


1.       “The Invisible Woman: How Female Architects were Erased from History”, by Eva Alvarez and Carlos Gomez, The Architectural Review, Issue 1439, March 2017 (print and online)

2.       “How Architecture Cheats Women: Results of the 2017 Women in Architecture Survey Revealed”, by Bruce Tether, The Architectural Review, Issue 1439, March 2017 (print and online)

3.       “I Am Not the Decorator: Female Architects Speak Out”, by Robin Pogrebin, The New York Times, April 12th, 2016 (online and in print, April 13th, Page C1)

4.       “Denise Scott Brown and the Fight for Recognition”, by Mimi Zeiger, The Architectural Review, Issue 1439, March 2017 (print and online)

5.       “Denise Scott Brown wins Jane Drew Prize 2017 for Women in Architecture”, by Dan Howarth, dezeen, February 7th, 2017

6.       “David Adjaye ‘embarrassed as a male’ that women still need to fight for gender equality”, by Dan Howarth, dezeen, January 23rd, 2017

7.       “Six Myths about Women in Architecture”, by Justine Clark, Parlour: Women, Equity, Architecture, September 6th, 2014

Open House at Sparano + Mooney Architecture!

To coincide with the firm’s 20th Anniversary Celebration, Sparano + Mooney Architecture is pleased to invite you to our Open House on Friday, May 19th from 6-9pm!

"Roy's Sunrise" by Kent Budge, 2016

We will open our doors as part of the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll and South Salt Lake Creative Convergence, with a range of our architectural works on display. To coincide with the event, we are also excited to present “Point of View”, an exhibition of new photographs by acclaimed artist and Utah native Kent Budge. Renowned for elevating the aesthetics of common, everyday scenes, industrial landscapes and overlooked architectural details, Budge offers a means of uncovering a natural beauty and compositions that wait to be seen.

Salt Lake Gallery Stroll is a monthly, free event for the public to meet artists and browse the thriving arts scene in our vibrant city. The organization is committed to bringing the value of visual art to the forefront of Salt Lake City's cultural identity. By gathering galleries and other businesses to promote visual art, Salt Lake Gallery Stroll strives to stimulate interest and investment in an ever-growing local visual art community. We are thrilled to be a part of this important event! In addition, we are excited to partner with South Salt Lake Arts Council's Creative Convergence, two days of activities and events that bring together public and private sectors to discuss the potential for using arts as a means of economic development in South Salt Lake.

Please join us for an evening of art, architecture and creativity! 

Location: 57 W 2100 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84115 (parking is available on Richards Street)


Searching for Beauty, Meaning and Truth in Architecture and Museums

It should be no secret that, as architects specializing in arts and culture projects in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and the American West, we adore museums. Their hallowed galleries contain priceless paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings and objets d’art, but they also possess the residual stories of the artists themselves, countless visitors who pass through, talented curators who bring the exhibits to life, and architects who have helped realize those storied spaces. It is a pleasure and a privilege to roam the creative displays and learn from some of the most influential museum designs in the world, just as Anne Mooney and John Sparano did recently on their European tour of London and Paris where they visited Sir John Soane’s Museum and the Tate Modern in London and the Louvre, Picasso Museum and the Rodin Museum in Paris. The inspiration drawn from these stalwart institutions absolutely helps inform our own design process, and we are excited to incorporate new ideas into our own museum projects, such as the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art (NEHMA) at Utah State University.

“Sectional Perspective of the Dome Area & Breakfast Room”, by Frank Copland, 1818. This section conveys the dual nature of Soane’s house as residence and museum. Image courtesy of Sir John Soane’s Museum.

Sir John Soane’s Museum is truly a hidden gem in London. Founded by one of the most inventive architects of the 18th and 19th centuries, Sir John Soane (1753-1837), the museum was originally a home, office, architecture academy and space for Soane’s collections. Rebuilding and adding on to the property over a number of years, Soane embarked on an ambitious project: to turn the space into an educational monument to architecture and a museum of architectural models, casts and drawings organized in a rational, if eclectic, manner. Soane also graciously opened his collections and home to students, hoping the examples presented would aid their studies. In 1833, Soane bequeathed his home and its substance to the public and asked that they be preserved and kept open and free after his death. As he intended, his collections continue to inspire. For us, this project is all about the architectural section: letting light into a mass through strategic cuts in the architecture’s floor, walls and roof. The gallery walls open to reveal Soane’s immense collection, and open yet again to connect spaces through carefully considered sight lines. The organization of the museum may seem chaotic, but in fact, Soane designed the juxtapositions carefully and purposefully to affect the visitors’ experience of his collections. We were in awe of the space and its contents.

Since it opened in 2000 in the former Bankside Power Station, the Tate Modern in London has consistently broken attendance records with its thought-provoking exhibitions of international modern and contemporary art. Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron converted the industrial structure while retaining much of the original character of the building, and also completed an addition to the museum that opened this year to house new gallery, performance, education and administrative spaces. The iconic power station, with its brick construction, imposing central Boiler House Tower chimney, and broad edifice that abuts the River Thames, has welcomed more than 40 million visitors and has presented acclaimed exhibitions by artists such as Ai Weiwei, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Rauschenberg and Damien Hirst; the permanent collection is home to an entire room of moody Mark Rothko paintings, and controversial installations have included Doris Salcedo’s subterranean chasm titled “Shibboleth”, a giant crack in the Turbine Hall’s concrete floor into which overzealous patrons (in)famously slipped and fell. The Tate Modern is impressive in its scale, use of materials, and successful conversion of historic architecture into a beacon of modern art and architecture. It beckons us time and time again.

The Picasso Museum, with Pablo Picasso’s “La Chèvre” (The Goat, 1950) sculpture in the foreground. Photo courtesy of Paris Museum Pass. © INTERMUSÉES

The Picasso Museum, or the Musée National Picasso, in Paris has recently re-opened after a major renovation and it is a delight, as well as an important example of the state’s commitment to preserving and showcasing creations by one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. The museum is unique in its arrangement of the works within the asymmetrical footprint of the historical building, which was built in the 17th century as a private courtyard home in the Italian Baroque and French classical style. The challenges of exhibiting in variable gallery spaces are embraced rather than fought, resulting in a quirky yet intimate setting for Picasso’s paintings, sculptures, and drawings and his personal collection of art by old and contemporary masters. As you move higher in the building, the rooms become smaller in scale and labyrinthine. Each room is a surprise waiting to be discovered, offering unique ambiances around every corner and glimpses into other spaces.

The Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, front view and walkway. Rendering courtesy Sparano + Mooney Architecture.

After visiting these exceptional treasure troves of art and architecture, we are inspired to continue work on our own museum project: The Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art at Utah State University. As part of the USU Fine Arts Complex, the renovation to NEHMA includes the design of a three story, approximately 7,600 SF addition on the west side of the existing campus museum as well as renovation of parts of the existing museum. The expansion’s primary goal is to provide a new entrance for the museum, creating a stronger campus presence and connection. It will also: allow for the relocation of administrative offices to a new area in order to provide research space for scholars and curatorial staff; provide shared presentation and teaching and learning spaces suitable for visiting artists, elementary school visits, seminars and classes in art, design and art history; increase available climate-controlled, secure storage and exhibition space for the collection; and preserve emergency and loading dock access for operational personnel. Construction is underway with projected completion in 2018.

Our trip to London and Paris was an incredible learning experience and we are excited to apply these lessons to our practice and projects. Do you love museums? Do you have a museum, arts or culture project you want to begin? Give us a call and let’s talk art and architecture!

The Beauty of Imperfection in Architecture

In an era of quick-fix consumerism, it might be tempting to eschew the flawed in favor of the refined. Why mend a broken flower pot when a shiny new model can easily, and cheaply, be acquired from any number of big-box stores that continue to pop up in our neighborhoods? Why refinish 100 year-old wood floors when synthetic, sanitized replacement planks can be laid instead? Well – why not? What is the true cost of this “modern” need to resolve all that is deficient? This is a poignant question, one that hints at a new wave of appreciation for the true and the humble in all facets of life, including architecture and design.

Wabi-Sabi House heuristic device. Courtesy of Sparano + Mooney Architecture

The idea that the rough should be celebrated as the refined is not a new concept. It is an ancient tenet of Japanese aesthetic culture known as wabi-sabi, a philosophy of beauty that embraces the imperfect, the incomplete and the transient. Wabi-sabi elevates simplicity and honesty in expression, those modest things in our world that express beauty as they weather and age. Wabi-sabi is representative of craft that rejoices in the “authentic”. It is not a well-defined term; rather, it is one that is imbued with specific cultural connotations and innate understanding. In fact, as Leonard Koren states in his book “Wabi-sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers”, the Japanese do not attempt to define the movement in intellectual terms, instead preferring to revel in the “feeling” such unconventional beauty bestows upon the beholder. In line with wabi-sabi is the concept of kintsugi, a philosophy that treats breakage as part of the history of an object, and therefore an integral component of that object’s life. With kintsugi, cracks are filled with lacquer or golden material so as to highlight the damage and uphold the memory of the passage of time. With both wabi-sabi and kintsugi, an eyesore is transformed into a unique design detail.

The Anahi Restaurant, Paris. Photograph by Alexandre & Emilie (Persona production) for Yatzer; in homage to the Japanese concept of kintsugi, copper leaf highlights the cracks left by centuries of use. ©YATZERLAND LT

As contemporary architects in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, Sparano + Mooney Architecture does not adhere to the values of idealistic beauty in design; rather, we seek to uphold the beauty of the subtle. We recently designed a house that embeds the idea wabi-sabi into the foundation of the residence. In conceiving the Wabi-Sabi House and while walking the site, the work began to coalesce around an idea of textures, materials, and expressed joinery and connections in the architecture.  “It is interesting that there is not a term for this concept in the English language” says project architect Nate King. “The closest that we have is the idea of ‘rustic’. This home was based around this idea of accentuating the imperfect set against a backdrop of the refined, thereby allowing these contrasting notions to build on each other. The imperfect therefore appears to give more character and the refined appears even more polished”, he explains.

Located in Emigration Canyon above Salt Lake City, Utah, this 5,000 SF home celebrates a unique elevated canyon view with a direct connection to nature. Designed for a young family, this home is separated into two volumes that float above the landscape. The north volume is oriented along a direct east-to-west axis and includes the private domestic functions to address the quiet static mountain views to the north. The southwest volume includes the more public, active gathering spaces and is oriented along the canyon axis toward dramatic views to the city below.

Upon entry, the occupant is presented with a corridor and framed view of the mountains to the west. As one progresses through the space, the shift in program is presented with the architecture of the public volume aligned directly with the canyon view. The architecture includes a lower level that incorporates a creative office space with a private outdoor patio. This Utah home, designed to LEED specifications, includes a double wall system for maximum r-value and a vegetated roof, and is being constructed to include a roof-mounted solar PV array. The Wabi-Sabi House is expected to break ground in May 2017.

 Section of a “beetle kill” log. Courtesy Sparano + Mooney Architecture

We hope to achieve a state of grace with this Utah residential design that does not shy away from natural processes, unpretentious irregularity, and heartfelt simplicity. As we continue to explore the nuances of wabi-sabi, and its potential to influence our design process, we welcome the opportunity to discuss how the concept might be applied to your next project. In the meantime, we will look to the cracks in the pavement for inspiration and reflect on how our own flaws make us each perfectly…imperfect.


“Broken is Beautiful: The Japanese Tradition that Makes Broken Things Even Better than Brand New”, Nancy Mitchell, 19 May 2016, Apartment Therapy (online)

“Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers”, Leonard Koren (Point Reyes: Imperfect Publishing, 2008)

Project Updates from Sparano + Mooney Architecture

2017 has thus far been busy for the Sparano + Mooney Architecture team and we are pleased to bring you a report on our progress! We remain committed to collaborating with our clients to produce great design, deliver thoughtful, innovative and contemporary design solutions, and position our exceptional people at dynamic centers of architecture. As architects working throughout the American West, Sparano + Mooney Architecture is dedicated to elevating a strong regional design movement and we welcome the opportunity to discuss your next civic, cultural, performing arts, master planning, worship, mixed-use, residential or commercial project. In the meantime, perhaps the updates below will help inspire!

Wabi-Sabi House, rendering courtesy of Sparano + Mooney Architecture

Rawtopia Restaurant

The award-winning Salt Lake City restaurant, Rawtopia, is relocating to a larger space in the Olympus Hills Shopping Center where its flagship location will serve raw, vegetarian, vegan and organic fare. The restaurant selected our architectural team to create its new space which will double the restaurant’s previous capacity, as well as provide new kitchen space and equipment that will allow for menu expansion. In addition to fine dining, the restaurant design allows for a variety of food services, including a smoothie bar, patio dining and a to-go counter for those who love their Rawtopia on the run. The project is currently under construction and is scheduled to open early this summer.

Utah State University Fine Arts Complex

Utah State University’s Kent Concert Hall is undergoing a major renovation which will transform it from a multi-functional proscenium stage, to a state of the art choral and orchestral performance space. As part of the renovation, it will be renamed to the Newel G. and Jean C. Daines Concert Hall. The project is currently under construction, with theatrical and audio-visual systems being installed, tested and programmed. The first performance is scheduled for next fall, and the acoustics should be amazing!

The USU Fine Arts Center’s Scene Shop and Costume Shop were designed by Sparano + Mooney Architecture to increase the existing shops’ square footage to accommodate large sets and costume production, as well as modern, professional equipment to provide students a real-world theatrical experience. Both shops are now occupied by the user groups who are enjoying the new teaching and learning spaces and improved theater programming and production capabilities.

The Fine Art Complex Courtyard improvements include concrete and brick paving which has been installed, with landscape, lighting and irrigation in process. This landscape project should be wrapping in the coming months, and will provide a functional and beautifully designed focal point as a gathering space for students, faculty and visitors to the Fine Arts Complex.

A preview of the Kent Concert Hall, Utah State University – construction in progress

Recreation Projects

Our Studio City Recreation Center and Gymnasium in Beeman Park will be Los Angeles’s first Net Zero Energy pilot project. The new 12,000 SF facility will be an immeasurable architectural asset to the neighborhood and community, and will also demonstrate the feasibility of designing self-sustaining, energy-efficient municipal buildings. The project is moving into the Design Development phase and we are excited to partner with the City of Los Angeles on this state-of-the-art, modern recreation facility.

The Pawley Pool Aquatic Facility, within the Desert Recreation District in Southern California, will serve the needs of the largest recreation district in the state. Among other amenities, the new pool and bathhouse will feature an activity swimming pool, lap lanes, new pool decks, meeting rooms, event spaces, parking and landscaping. The Design Development phase is complete, and we are awaiting the client’s comments before our architects will be moving onto Construction Documents.

Working with Landmark Design, we developed a series of design and planning options exploring the expansion and potential diversification of the amenities for the Deseret Peak Recreation complex in Tooele County. On 15 February 2017, the entire consultant team held a public open house at the Tooele County building and received community feedback. The team presented some fantastic opportunities to help user groups improve concert events, equestrian facilities and the county fair property. The feedback has been consolidated into a single document and next steps are currently being planned in coordination with the community toward a final master plan for the complex.

New Residential Ground Breakings

The Tree House project is located in the 9th and 9th neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Utah. This modern architecture urban house features a double height great room, a courtyard with a pool, and a secluded master suite. The project is currently under construction with anticipated completion at the end of the year.

The Tree House, rendering courtesy of Sparano + Mooney Architecture

Located in Emigration Canyon above Salt Lake City, Utah, the Wabi-Sabi House project is a new home that is designed to celebrate a unique elevated canyon view with a direct connection to nature. We are happy to report that the permit has been picked up, the Limit of Disturbance fence is installed, and our LEED for homes planning is underway. Ground breaking is scheduled for May. The exterior of the home is a cedar rain screen cladding, and the materials for the interior include a contrast of pure white walls against a white oak wood flooring, cabinetry and hemlock ceilings.

Big Cartel Creative Workspace

You may recall reading our recent blog post about Big Cartel, our fantastic client and an incredibly cool webstore business provider dedicated to assisting creatives in reaching their potential. We have just finished a project to help Big Cartel design their company headquarters, and are honored to have helped bring the firm’s vision for their workspace to life. Located in the historic warehouse district in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, the architectural design of this 3,200 SF tenant improvement was highly collaborative with the client and centered on creating a minimalist space celebrating the contrast between new and historic design elements. Simple detailing and consistent materials provide the setting for Big Cartel’s artist-based platform and graphic style. 

Be sure to visit our blog in the coming months for in-depth articles about these projects, and the many others that are currently in the works, and please feel free to contact us if you have an idea you’d like our architects to help you turn into a reality!