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.

Exterior of the Tate Modern, showcasing the new Switch House extension by Herzog & de Meuron. Photo courtesy of Design Curial.

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.

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

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!

California Cool: The Met Archive goes Digital, Online, and Free

Smooth aesthetics, a razor sharp cultural focus, and the cutting edge of art, architecture and design – for those who call Los Angeles home, it might be all bright-lights-big-city, the epicenter of California cool and an endless vista of sophisticated whimsy, but we rarely stop to ponder from where this wellspring of American popular culture was sprung. As contemporary Los Angeles architects, we are constantly influenced by the legacy of SoCal pioneers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Richard Neutra, and John Lautner. But what about those who came before? Those who laid the ground work, built the infrastructure of architecture we now enjoy, and first realized the potential of this light and languid landscape; who saw a future in the mountainous backdrop and promoted a substance of architectural style to the masses who might want to go west and prosper? Thanks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which has recently digitized a large portion of its photographic design archive, we can now glimpse the nascence of the metropolis and its surrounding territory.

"architectural abstract" by Susan Sermoneta is licensed through Creative Commons under CC BY 2.0

With the release of more than 375,000 images to the public domain, the legendary New York institution has not only set a precedent for other cultural behemoths but has also made the history of California accessible in a way that was previously only possible to those who had the time, resources and inclination to visit the archive in person. The Met digitized the images and uploaded them to the Creative Commons, a non-profit that offers an alternative to full copyright, meaning all of the images are free to view and download without copyright restrictions, and will also be accessible on platforms like Wikimedia. As the Met’s Director, Thomas P. Campbell, has commented, the museum “now becomes the largest and most diverse open access museum collection in the world”, which makes art, architecture and design culture available to audiences who may only have dreamed of visiting the prestigious collections prior to the ambitious project. Importantly, the Met’s direction has set the tone for local stalwarts the Getty and LACMA, which have also begun similar initiatives. For example, Getty Images – one of (if not the) the largest source of imagery in the world – recently announced that it will allow free, non-commercial embedding of 35 million pictures from its stock photography database. These moves provide unfettered access to a diverse range of users and help build appreciation for art, architecture, design and culture among a wide audience.

“Los Angeles”, albumen silver print from glass negative, Carleton E. Watkins, 1876, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

With the dissemination of information increasingly, and quite literally, at our fingertips, the practice of making knowledge sharing a free and equitable activity is growing in popularity and demand. Creative Commons has become a trailblazer in the field of open global collaboration, helping to build a productive digital realm where anyone and everyone can upload their images for use and appreciation by the general public. CC helps individuals and institutions legally share information and provides free, easy-to-use copyright licenses, which in turn fosters a simple and standardized way to give the public permission to share and use creative works on conditions of the creators’ choice. In this way, the works become part of the public domain with the promise that users appropriately credit the original owner. While this caveat places great trust in the members of the public, it also opens an important dialogue about the governance of intellect, which is why CC is overseen by a network of over 500 researchers, activists and legal, education and policy advocates and volunteers who serve as CC representatives in over 85 countries to ensure region-specific approaches to copyright and intellectual property. They work with organizations and platforms including flickr, Wikipedia, YouTube, and vimeo to guarantee the responsible sharing of open data, so that institutions like the Met feel comfortable releasing content that otherwise would be closely guarded.

“Migrant Pea Picker’s Makeshift Home”, gelatin silver print, Dorothea Lange, 1936, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

As architects in Los Angeles who often look to the past to help us build the future of this great city, we are always researching, learning and seeking new creative inspiration. We are grateful to the Met for taking this groundbreaking step toward the democratization of culture, and will certainly be turning to the Met Archive and other digital repositories of artistic knowledge as we continue to design modern architecture in Los Angeles. In the meantime, we’ll continue to share our own original work and hope you’ll share your ideas with us, too!

Source: “Ten of the Coolest California Images from the Newly Digitized Met Archive”, by Julia Wick, laist, February 8th, 2017 (online)


The Global, the Local and the Authentic in Contemporary Architecture

No matter which side of the aisle your views rest upon, it is generally agreed that the world is moving into uncharted socio-political and economic territory. As modern architects living and working in the American West, we can’t help but wonder how this new order will affect our industry: How will clients feel about the home of their dreams when their dreams may no longer reflect reality? Alternatively, will others feel bolstered by the changes that have occurred and want to invest further in their future on terra firma? What will happen to the cost of architecture, and the materials and labor of its construction? How will a shifting perception of the “local” versus the “global” influence the way our architects design and how our clients view contemporary architecture?

Horizon House by RCR Arquitectes. Photo courtesy of H. Suzuki

It seems others are asking similar questions. The 2017 Pritzker Prize (architecture’s equivalent of the Nobel) was awarded to a firm that, like Sparano + Mooney Architecture, is attempting to strike a delicate balance between maintaining a regional dialect and simultaneously conversing fluently in the international architectural dialogue. RCR Arquitectes, founded in 1988 by Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilalta in Olot, Spain, is the 2017 Pritzker laureate. Hailed by the jury for an “approach that creates buildings and places that are both local and universal at the same time,” RCR is known for an adept handling of natural and industrial materials, and sensitive integration of their built environments into the surrounding landscapes. As the Pritzker jury noted, RCR have resisted “the call of the metropolis in favor of remaining closely connected to their roots”.

As the Los Angeles Times has reported, it is – if not explicitly stated – easy to implicitly read the jury’s decision as a comment on the ways that globalization, urbanization, the economic crisis and current political climate have derailed rural culture and the “authentic” in localized architecture. Indeed, the jury’s statement sharply underlines this viewpoint: “We live in a globalized world where we must rely on international influences, trade, discussion, transactions, etc. But more and more people fear that, because of this international influence, we will lost our local values, our local art, and our local customs.” There is anxiety here, the same trepidation that some architectural analysts have credited with giving rise to the political forces we’ve recently seen at play. The LA Times also indicates that while this fear is justified, temperance may be found in a new approach to the production and consumption of culture, and architecture might play an essential role in this new path. RCR’s tagline might say it best: the need for a “universe of shared creativity”, in which we are able to stand firmly rooted but welcoming to wider socio/economic/political/historical/cultural influences. Looking out, while honoring what’s within.

Topaz Museum + Education Center, designed by Sparano + Mooney Architecture. Photo courtesy of Brian Buroker

It is important to consider this language and what it might mean to us and our own “regional” approach, set within the inevitable, international backdrop of our industry. Our firm collectively and our architects individually draw inspiration from the context of the American West – the region’s unique history, landscape, materials, architecture and culture has deeply informed and inspired our work, which has been commissioned by clients in Utah, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Colorado and California, as well as Africa and Haiti; our team has lived, worked, and studied in London, Switzerland, Spain, China, Italy and Germany, as well as the United States. Our architectural clients hail from diverse backgrounds. This polyglot has nevertheless led SMA to believe in the potential of the American West as a point of departure for world-class design, and we have consistently produced a body of work as architects dedicated to contributing to the elevation of a strong regional design movement.

The Topaz Museum, for instance, was designed by Sparano + Mooney Architecture to house the collections and present the experiences of the Japanese Americans detained at the nearby internment camp during WWII. It is tied directly to a remote locality, and yet it is inextricably linked to an ongoing debate about xenophobia and cultural identity. This relationship is complex. Is multicultural the new local? Can we entrust architecture to articulate our reservations about this new world? Perhaps it is not a matter of answering these questions definitively, but of the role of architecture to pose them in the first place.

Source: “Architecture’s highest honor goes to Catalan trio, with a nod to the forces that gave rise to Brexit and Trump”, by Christopher Hawthorne, the LA Times, March 1st, 2017

Uncommon Modern (Architecture)

Does the thought of mid-century modern architecture put some pep in your step? Do you long to surround yourself with glass and concrete assembled when the Rat Pack were roaming, or perhaps come home to an architect John Sugden-designed space each night? If so, you might want to check out Uncommon Modern Salt Lake! This event will celebrate mid-century modern architecture (buildings constructed between ca. 1945-1970) and kick off an inventory of period buildings in Salt Lake City. Stop by cityhomeCOLLECTIVE at 645 E South Temple tomorrow, February 9th from 7pm, to take part in this important project.

Roberta Sugden House, by John Sugden, 1955

Supported in part by Preservation Utah, AIA Utah, the University of Utah College of Architecture + Planning, and Sparano + Mooney ArchitectureUncommon Modern Salt Lake  follows similar efforts in Houston and Philadelphia to categorize and exhibit modernist architecture in an urban context, whether residential or commercial. The project aims to educate the public about the place modernism occupies in Salt Lake City's built environment and promote advocacy for buildings that might be in jeopardy - each of us has the opportunity to participate in the preservation of our city's heritage. To find out more about the project, please visit the Uncommon Modern Salt Lake Facebook page, and come on down to the event tomorrow! As Salt Lake City modern architects, we hope to see you at the event and would love to talk about designing your next modern architecture project!

A Phoenix Rises in Los Angeles: Architects Restore the Ft. Moore Pioneer Memorial

What do a London-born sculptor, Connecticut-based/German-native artist, the Mormon Battalion of Salt Lake City, Mormon Battalion of Council Bluffs, Iowa, and our firm of Los Angeles architects have in common? The answer might surprise you: the Ft. Moore Pioneer Memorial in Los Angeles, California. As reported on the front page of the Los Angeles Times on Saturday, January 28th, 2017, thanks to generous support from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and with the technical and design team at  Sparano + Mooney Architecture, the “forgotten memorial” is undergoing critical restoration to return the monument to its original civic glory. 

Photo: Bruce Cox, Los Angeles Times, July 3rd, 1958

If you drive along the Hollywood Freeway, cross the Los Angeles River, pass Union Station, and look towards Chinatown, you may have noticed an enormous – if blighted – stone fortification of sculptural carvings, some 300,000 multi-colored mosaic tiles that once facilitated a dramatic 77-foot-wide waterfall, and a red brick wall, now blistered by worn graffiti and years of inattention. This is the current state of the memorial, which, after 40 years of neglect, will be resurrected after a serious effort to resuscitate this stirring tribute to military history, the enduring pioneer spirit, and California’s heritage. “It’s the most historically and geographically important monument that nobody knows about,” says Clare Haggarty, manager of L.A. County’s art collections.

The Ft. Moore Pioneer Memorial was dedicated on July 3rd, 1958, and celebrates the first raising of the U.S. flag over Los Angeles in 1847. At the dedication, members of the Mormon Battalion of Salt Lake City reenacted this historic event, originally performed by their forbearers, the Mormon Battalion from Council Bluffs, Iowa (joined by the 1st Regiment of Dragoons and the New York Volunteers) some 111 years earlier. These pioneering members of the U.S. military had marched some 2,000 miles to Los Angeles in preparation to protect the city from destruction in the Mexican-American war. The war had ended upon their arrival, but despite the ceasefire the Battalion stayed on long enough to hoist our nation’s emblem in commemoration of the first Fourth of July in Los Angeles. The event took place on the earthen walls of a fort the soldiers had built in order to defend the city during the conflict, named for Benjamin Moore, an officer who lost his life fighting in a battle near San Diego. 

The creation of the Ft. Moore Pioneer Memorial resulted from the influence of the L.A. Society of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, as well as the need for a large architectural wall to contain the earthen embankment known as Ft. Moore Hill, which remained after much of the original fort was leveled to make way for roads, buildings and a new Civic Center. The face of the hill was the design canvas for London-born artists Albert Stewart and Connecticut-based, German native Henry Kreis, immigrant sculptors who designed the bas-relief vignettes depicting the Mormon Battalion’s march and flag-raising, period transportation infrastructure, and regional scenes including cattle ranching and orange groves. The memorial also features a tableau recognizing the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power as a sponsor of the monument, and a 68-foot tall pylon bearing an eagle-adorned dedication inscription.

In 1977, the memorial’s centerpiece – an enormous cascading waterfall – was turned off due to drought conditions, and when water was once again plentiful, the waterfall was sadly beyond salvage. The mosaic tiles were crumbling, and the pumps had been vandalized. The red bricks became an urban canvas for graffiti, and the terra cotta tiles comprising the bas relief sculpture became worn and unkempt. The Ft. Moore Pioneer Memorial declined into obscurity, until an elaborate reenactment in 1997 reignited the community’s interest in the monument and its place in American history. After many years of effort, a plan for revitalization was approved in 2014, with funds committed from the Board of Supervisors and the City of Los Angeles. Sparano + Mooney Architecture is proud to be a part of this restoration, which will see the waterfall flow again (with a mindful balance between historical accuracy and water conservation), the tiles replaced, the bas-relief mural refurbished and the graffiti scoured away. A re-dedication is planned and we hope that when the date is announced, we will see you at the site of the Ft. Moore Pioneer Memorial, which will once again serve as a poignant reminder of our nation’s and Los Angeles’ architecture history and heritage.

Rendering courtesy Sparano + Mooney Architecture

Hot off the Press! The Salt Lake Cultural Core Action Plan is Approved and in Print

We are excited to announce that the Salt Lake Cultural Core Action Plan has been unanimously adopted by both Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, and that the Plan is being printed for posterity as this post goes live! Sparano + Mooney Architecture is honored to have been integral to the development of this master planning initiative, which seeks to make our downtown an even more dynamic and celebrated place to live, work and create.

Image Courtesy of BWP

Our firm worked with a national consulting team, including the Cultural Planning Group, BWP Communications, Nancy Boskoff, Soren Simonsen, Surale Phillips, and Holly Yocum and Lia Summers of Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City, respectively, and was well as stakeholders and members of our thriving creative community, to realize this important catalyst for long-term development in the "Core" - an area stretching from North Temple to 400 South and from 600 West to 400 East. This area is identifiable as the heart of the city’s happenings, and the master plan intends to heighten civic pride in our downtown community and its offerings. Luckily for residents, both the City and County have officially recognized the importance of having a vibrant, identifiable and distinct arts and cultural center to enhance quality of life and economic viability. Our team of architects led the placemaking, urban design and public art planning effort to infuse the City with great design experiences at multiple scales, for diverse local and out-of-state visitors alike to enjoy.  

We would like to thank our colleagues, local architects, urban designers and practitioners and focus groups for helping to make the Salt Lake Cultural Core Action Plan a success and a reality. Let's continue to work together to promote our city as the arts and cultural hub that it is, and to support the creative communities that call Salt Lake City their home. And of course, please get in touch with us if you have an arts, culture, or master planning project that you'd like us to help you with, in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, the American West or beyond! 

Now Showing at a Theater Near You - The Sundance Film Festival

The architecture and design connection between Los Angeles and Park City might not be immediately obvious – but to those in the film and entertainment industries (and for culture vultures in general) the two cities are inextricably linked. For a contemporary architecture firm with offices in both metropolises, Sparano Mooney Architects understands the rich, vibrant link and is excited that until January 29th, the 2017 Sundance Film Festival is previewing the most cutting-edge, avant-garde and downright awe-inspiring cinematic projects in venues across Park City, Salt Lake City, and Sundance Mountain Resort.  Angelenos and Utahans will gather together for inspiration and we hope to see our friends in both locations in Park City, Utah this, if you want a break from the films we can show you some of our new modern residential design in Park City!

We love film and the craftsmanship that filmmakers and actors pour into their work; as architects, we understand the passion involved and can’t wait to sample some of this year’s offerings. Think you might be able to spot the next Little Miss Sunshine, Whiplash or Beasts of the Southern Wild? Need a break from the incessant powder on Utah’s finest slopes? Then check out the 2017 Sundance Film Festival! Tickets are still available – visit for more information. We hope to see you at a screening near you!

Exhibition Highlight: Imagining UMOCA

We are pleased to announce the opening of an exciting new exhibition titled Imagining UMOCA, which will be on display at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art from January 24 - April 15, 2017.

Led by our own Anne Mooney in the Senior Design Studio course at the University of Utah's School of Architecture, students imagined possibilities for expanding the museum to serve its diverse and growing audience. They began by researching contemporary artists, and then developed their analyses into 3-dimensional designs for one of three downtown sites, attempting to capture the essence of the artist they selected in their proposals. These final concepts by six students will be exhibited in the museum's Ed Space Gallery. The concepts meet UMOCA's programmatic and functional requirements, while also creating a spatial experience that unfolds gradually for the visitor and engages both body and mind. 

Rendering by Michael Frazier

Imagining UMOCA is on display in the Ed Space Gallery at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art from January 24 - April 15, 2017. The opening reception will be held on February 3, 2017 from 7-9pm. The exhibition is generously supported by Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts & Parks (ZAP). We hope to see you there! And, if you have a museum or cultural project in mind that you would like us to help you imagine and realize, please get in touch!

An Artist among Us: The Sketches of Jorge Beltran

There’s no doubt about it – the Sparano + Mooney Architecture team are a talented bunch. We work hard to deliver thoughtful, innovative and contemporary design solutions; every day striving to produce beautiful architecture for our amazing clients. The interpretation of an idea from start to finish often involves numerous iterations of sketches, renders and plans. Putting pen, pencil and brush to paper is a key aspect of our practice and drawing skills are essential to the profession. But did you know that our team member Jorge Beltran, who recently celebrated eleven years with the firm, also produces phenomenal sketches at work and in his free time and is a supremely talented artist in his own right? We are blown away by Jorge’s talent, and interviewed him to discover more about his work.

When did you first begin to draw?  I started drawing in elementary school. The first notebook my mom bought me had Scooby-Doo on the cover. I tried to sketch it many times.

How did you learn to draw? Did anyone in particular teach or inspire you to draw? I would always sketch on my own until I enrolled in our local community center to take the “Intro to Art” class. By this time I had been fascinated by the paintings that were inside our Bible. I always tried to sketch them – those paintings were my daily inspiration.

Do you still love drawing as much as when you first began? I stopped drawing for a long time. The last “serious” drawing I made was way back in 2001. That was my “retirement” from art! After this, I only produced architecture-related work. Now that I recently started free-hand sketching again, it does feel the same as when I first began as a kid and I love it!

Why do you draw? After all these years in architecture (I started college as an Art Major before I switched) I kept telling myself that I needed to start sketching again. Years passed by and maybe only a handful of (non-architectural) sketches made it to see the light of day. If I’m not drawing, I feel as if I am missing something – I need more than the click of the mouse every day!  

What inspires you? My family is my inspiration. They do what they love and they are great at it. I hope to think I do the same.

How does drawing influence how you practice architecture? Sketching gives me a lot of freedom, it makes me see architecture with fresh eyes every time.

Have you ever exhibited your artwork? Not in a gallery, but I was fortunate enough to have had some of my work exhibited. My art class work was promoted in the local TV news, and my piece was one of the few that was featured in the press. I entered art contests throughout my school years and was lucky enough to have those artworks exhibited.

What is your favorite subject matter? As of now, my favorite subject matter is diverse and just something that catches my attention.

What is your favorite medium? My favorite medium right now is pen and/or marker on napkins. I love napkins since they give me the freedom to not hesitate and just draw anything as loosely as I want. I sketch any artwork or images that catch my attention online.

Do you like talking about your artwork and talent? I tend to keep it mostly private, especially since right now I am only sketching from images that I find online. I share a few sketches with my family and a group of friends BUT once someone asks me about it I can’t seem to stop talking about it! On that note, I hope my family doesn’t get tired and annoyed with me drawing their portraits!

When is your favorite time to draw, and do you have a favorite place to draw? My favorite time(s) to draw is late at night and sometimes whenever I can during lunch at work.

How do you title or describe your work? I don’t have any descriptions of any of the sketches since they are sketches of found images. If I find an image I like, I sketch it.

How do you hope your artwork will develop? I hope I can make more time so I can draw more often. As it is, I only sketch once or twice a week at the most. Eventually if time permits, I would like to go back to where I left back in 2001 and with the practice/inspiration/exploration I get from the images I find online, I might get to where I’m doing my own drawings…one napkin at a time.

Watch this space – we have a feeling that Jorge's talents will continue to flourish! In the meantime we are so grateful to count Jorge as a longstanding member of our team and can't wait to see what he draws next...

Happy Holidays from Sparano + Mooney Architecture!

At the close of another year, we gratefully pause to reflect on recent achievements and to share appreciation for our visionary clients, colleagues and collaborators.

Warmest wishes for a joyous Holiday Season and a New Year of peace and prosperity!



This Thanksgiving we are so grateful to have the opportunity to collaborate with the best architects, designers, artists and consultants in the industry, as we serve amazing clients who care so much about the built environment. A BIG thanks to our community - we hope you enjoy a relaxing day with loved ones and share in our gratitude this holiday season!

Science, Sustainability and Spirituality Join Forces in Architecture

Green is good! At Sparano + Mooney Architecture, our architects value providing innovative, modern and sustainable design solutions for our clients. So, we were excited to read that two of our award-winning projects, the Saint Joseph the Worker Church and the Saint Marguerite School, have recently taken steps to continue their conservation efforts. 

Sparano + Mooney Architecture was honored to provide community outreach, programming, master planning and design services for the Saint Joseph the Worker Church in West Jordan, which was built in 2011. When the worship project was completed, the design of the building allowed for a reduction in water consumption and xeriscaping was also implemented to help conserve resources. The solar array, installed in 2015, is the latest addition to the parish’s sustainable outlook. The church installed a bank of 55 solar panels to the building, which has cut the power bill by one third. Should more panels be necessary in the future, the required infrastructure is in place. The panels have given the church the ability to produce electricity, be more self-sustaining, help care for the environment and reduce its power bill. “Going green is kind of a big commitment”, says pastoral associate Jeremy Castellano, but the investment has paid off – since the solar panels were installed, the Saint Joseph the Worker Parish has eliminated 15 tons of carbon dioxide emissions and offset the equivalent of more than 2,000 gallons of gasoline and 4.5 million smartphone charges.

Saint Joseph the Worker Church and Saint Marguerite School each received grants through Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky Renewable Energy program to cover a portion of the cost of adding the solar panels to the architecture. The program was initiated in 2006, and it has helped fund over 100 projects in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. The church is working with Synergy Power, who helped facilitate and install the panels, to monitor how much electricity the panels produce, and to reveal other fascinating details about how the church is reducing its carbon footprint. The monitor is situated in the Gathering Space so that visitors can also keep track of the energy data. You can also view the real time data of the solar panel array – just click HERE!

A similar monitor is installed at Saint Marguerite School, also designed by Sparano + Mooney Architecture. The school, located in Tooele, is the third Diocese of Salt Lake City facility in three years to install solar panels (Saint Thomas More Parish was the first to install panels to its parish center in 2014, followed by Saint Joseph the Worker Church). Principal Lorena Needham says that the 32-kilowatt solar array and accompanying monitor allows the teachers to incorporate data from the panels into their curriculum across academic disciplines, adding that “it will enhance our ability to teach care of the environment because we can show by our actions what it is we’re teaching”. 

The solar panel arrays on Saint Joseph the Worker Church and Saint Marguerite School are not yet large enough to power the entire facility, but the savings are measurable and significant nonetheless. However, as Castellano states, “it’s not only about saving money, which is of course important when you’re running a church on donations, but the real big pro is helping save the environment, and that’s part of what we look at is being Catholic here: protecting the environment and God’s creation, and this is our way of making a small, little difference in our little corner of the world”. Amen to that!

Thinking about starting an eco-friendly architectural project of your own? As experts in sustainability in architecture, we can provide you with sustainable design guidelines and audits, sustainable project planning, passive design and LEED consulting services, net zero projects and LEED certified architecture. Give us a call – our architects will be happy to talk to you about your next green design project in California, Utah and beyond! 


1.       “Solar Panels Help Parishes Continue Conservation Efforts and Save Money”, by Marie Mischel, Intermountain Catholic, 29 July 2016, Vol. 78 No. 28 (print and online)

2.       “Solar Panels”, Saint Joseph the Worker Church website (online)

Bringing Art to the Shopping Cart with Big Cartel

At Sparano + Mooney Architecture, we care deeply about our unique clients and strive to deliver thoughtful, innovative design solutions for each client’s vision for their architecture and interiors. Our clients are our inspiration, our bread and butter and our driving force. We love what we do and do what we love, and are eternally grateful to be able to work with people and companies that help us cultivate the culture of excellence that defines our firm! Which is why we are so excited to write about Big Cartel, a company that not only shares our core values, but a fantastic architectural client – we are designing their company headquarters in Utah - and an incredibly cool webstore business provider dedicated to assisting creatives in reaching their potential. 

Launched in October 2004, Big Cartel is the brainchild of Matt Wigham, co-founder and CEO, and Eric Turner, co-founder and design director. As Matt explains, “the idea for Big Cartel came about when I needed a simple way to sell my band’s [merchandise] online. I wasn’t too thrilled with any of the existing shopping cart systems out there, so being a web guy I decided to make my own. Pretty soon I realized that a lot of my other friends could use this for their bands, tees, art, etc. and Big Cartel officially launched". Although the company was originally tailored to bands and record labels, Matt and his team soon found that creatives from diverse art communities were craving what Big Cartel was able to deliver: a simple online store where they could showcase their hustle and make a living doing so.

The site offers makers, innovators, designers, musicians and other artists the platform to build a unique online store, run a business and develop an independent brand – all while keeping the process straightforward, so that the creatives can focus their resources on being, well…creative! The simple tools, which include several sleek, vibrant pre-made webpage “themes” as well as customizable shopping cart options, help the makers organize their shop, manage and sell their work and engage with their patrons, fans and local communities. Big Cartel also assists with the tricky technical aspects of building and maintaining an online store, such as real-time statistics, search engine optimization, order management, promotional tools and mobile-friendly programming.

Today, nearly a million artists and makers internationally have used Big Cartel to set up shop and run their businesses on their own terms. That number is beyond impressive, and speaks to the sense of solidarity that the platform, and the support it provides, allows each user. Independent design brands include Friends of Type, a graphic design cohort stationed in Brooklyn and San Francisco offering bright, original typographic design and lettering in the form of prints, objects, posters, tees, fonts and artwork; The Good Twin, a Los-Angeles based illustrator’s shop known for its fun and sunny stationery; Herriott Grace, a father-daughter venture selling beautiful, hand carved and hand turned wooden objects from Canada; and Lucy Kirk, a Nottingham, England, centered illustrator, ceramicist and farmer whose works exhibit titles such as “Tiger Tamer", “Beryl the Brawler” and “Cool Mermaid”.

If you think sifting through seven figures of stores is a bit daunting, look no further than Shop Indie, Big Cartel’s curated listing of hot stuff. Members of the Big Cartel team – including staff as well as clients – take turns selecting themed groupings of items with product names like “Hold Me Tight Leather Vase” (by Strups), “Afrodisiac Graphic Novel” (by Jim Rugg), “Keep Fresh, Stay Rad Postcards” (by Friends of Type) and “Skull Candles” (by blubirdsoy). With Shop Indie, Big Cartel goes the extra mile in truly bolstering the makers who sign up for service. As Matt says, Shop Indie “is something we feel very strongly about and hope that as more people become aware of the [numerous] unique, independent sellers on Big Cartel, we can help shift the concept of buying online toward one that supports more inspired products”. So, if you’re a burgeoning creative, in need of an awesome gift or simply searching for some inspiration, look no further than Big Cartel – you never know what you might discover…We are so pleased they selected us as their Salt Lake City architects for their office design!


1.       “Interview with Big Cartel”, by James & Josephine, Blog & Buy Sale, 2012 (online)

2.       “Interview with Big Cartel”, by Bo Mekavibul, T-Shirt Magazine, 20 January 2010 (online)

3.       “Big Cartel”, cityhomeCollective, 14 January 2013 (online)

It's Here and It's Happening! Design Week, October 17-22

That’s right – Salt Lake Design Week is officially underway, and we are beyond excited to be a part of this city-wide cultural extravaganza! As Salt Lake City architects deeply committed to producing and inspiring great design, we can’t wait to sample the artistic cornucopia that this creative-minded city has to offer this week. So get ready to sharpen your creative edge and join us for what is shaping up to be a stellar event… 

The intent of Salt Lake Design Week is to raise awareness of the impact that all design, including architecture, advertising, photography, fashion, product, interior and graphic, has on Utah, its residents and visitors. Salt Lake Design Week assembles professionals, students, entrepreneurs, architects, educators and broader members of the community to herald design in our fantastic metropolis. Impressively, since its inception five years ago, Salt Lake Design Week has engaged over 50,000 people and continues to motivate critical thinking in even the youngest of participants. Sparano + Mooney Architecture has participated almost every year with open studio tours, architect talks, exhibitions, installations and design award celebrations. Some of you may remember the fashion show runway installation architect Anne Mooney helped coordinate for her University of Utah architecture students during Design Week 2013.

This year a series of events – workshops, lectures, business development sessions, film screenings, studio tours and exhibitions to name a few –  will encourage collaboration and inspiration among Salt Lake’s numerous design groups, museums, architects, businesses and educational and cultural institutions. Through these offerings, Salt Lake Design Week seeks to provide forums for professionals and the general public alike to interact and learn from each other, and in doing so, initiate a stronger creative community. How cool is that?!

A cross-section of events include: “Designing Gender: The Art of Equality”, a conversation about the intersection of marketing, design and social science, and how advertising can affect the realities of the people it influences (held at Studio Elevn); “Monsters + Mayhem”, a judged mini-monster movie competition with keynote speech and critique, hosted by OctoLeague and the Salt Lake Film Society (held at the Tower Theatre); “Morph 3D”, an exploration of consumer virtual reality and shared digital consciousness (held at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art); and the Bizarre Bazaar closing party, a so-called “psychedelic sideshow and soiree” (held at Shades of Pale Brewing Tap Room). In addition, several studio tours form an integral component of Salt Lake Design Week. Tour stops include Contravent, Jibe Media, Dinng, Super Top Secret, Struck, Modern8 and Brute Squad. These personal and private tours offer eye-opening insight into the creative processes honed by some of the city’s most notable design firms, and we have enjoyed being featured as top Salt Lake architects in past events and studio tours.

As part of Salt Lake Design Week, be sure to check out the DesignArts ’16 Exhibition at the Rio Gallery. The exhibition closing reception and celebration will take place Friday, October 21st from 6-9pm. Award-winning work by Sparano + Mooney Architecture is on display and we hope to see you there! 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 civic, municipal, 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!

Reflections from the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016

At Sparano + Mooney, we are mad about architecture. For us, great design is at the heart of our Los Angeles, California, and Salt Lake City, Utah, based practice and our architects are wholeheartedly focused on delivering thoughtful, innovative, sustainable and contemporary design solutions to each and every client. We explore hyper-specific cultural cues and strive to construct a meaningful relationship between modern architecture and the experience of its inhabitants. Which is why we were so excited to visit the mothership of international architecture – the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016. We were eager to explore visionary architectural creations from architects from around the globe and to be inspired by the plethora of architectural delights on offer. Do other firms share our core values? Does an architect in Ireland approach design in a similar manner to an architect in the American West? How can we continue to progress the cause of research-based conceptual design and architecture to solve the real problems we confront each day? What can we learn from our peers around the globe? Below is a snapshot of the incredible installations and exhibitions we discovered during our trip.

Entrance to the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016, Arsenale Pavilion, curated by architect Alejandro Aravena. Photography by Luke Hayes

First off, we were blown away by the truly amazing entry space to the Arsenale Pavilion – the vast former shipbuilding facility in Venice that houses the main part of the exhibition – designed by notable Chilean architect and Pritzker Prize architect Alejandro Aravena. The Elemental founder curated this year’s Biennale and created the installation using seven miles of scrap metal and over 105,000 sq. ft. of drywall discarded after the Venice Art Biennale 2015. Sections of crumpled studs are suspended from the ceiling, and the walls covered with textured, stacked sections of multi-tonal plasterboard. Across both the Arsenale and Giardini Pavilions, Aravena used more than 100 tons of scrap material to create not only beautiful works of art / architectural space, but also to spark dialogue around the issues of waste, pollution, sustainability, inequality, housing and quality of life addressed by architects in their work around the world. 

We were also intrigued by the “Losing Myself” exhibition at the Irish Pavilion, which explored the design of spaces for people with dementia. We were interested in the consideration of architecture’s social function and the way spatial cognition can help us understand how humans interpret their surroundings. The floor of this installation accommodated a large drawing of the Alzheimer’s Respite Center located in Dublin, Ireland. The dynamic drawing was animated by multiple projected hands, representing 16 individuals who live in the Center. A simultaneous soundscape projected murmured conversations and other quotidian noises, creating a sense of layered confusion. The architect’s installation communicates some of the shifts in spatial perception caused by dementia and the challenges faced when designing habitable spaces for those suffering from the condition.  

“Losing Myself” Installation, the Irish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 (photo by Anne Mooney, architect)

We found the model of Boris Bernaskoni’s Matrex building compelling because of the successful translation from concept to large scale realization. Matrex is the primary public building in Skolkovo, Russia, intended as a multifunction space for retail, business and arts activities. The model is spectacular – it is well crafted and grand in scale, but maintains a sense of simplicity, effectively communicating the interconnection of pyramidal and Matryoshka-esque shapes that constitute the building’s form.

“Matrex” model by Boris Bernaskoni at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 (photo by Anne Mooney, architect)

Finally, we were drawn to the “Against the Tide” installation at the Chilean Pavilion, not least because the architects chose to feature an ethereal architectural space entirely out of recycled plastic bags. The purpose of the exhibition was to highlight the efforts by emerging architects working specifically within the Central Valley, a rural area of Chile. These architects focus primarily on the social aspects of architecture and how the built environment shapes residents’ daily lives. The issues that affect these communities are often fluid and in flux – hence the symbolic wall of plastic bags wafting in a “tidal” ebb and flow that so caught our eye. 

“Against the Tide” Installation, the Chilean Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 (photo by Anne Mooney, architect)

There is so much to experience at the Venice Architecture Biennale, and this report is just a drop in the proverbial bucket. The next Biennale will take place in 2018 – we hope to see you architects and architectural buffs there!


1.       “Venice Architecture Biennale: Buildings for the People”, by Anna Seaman for The National, 3 September 2016

2.       “Alejandro Aravena uses over 90 Tonnes of Recycled Waste for Entrance Rooms of Venice Biennale 2016”, Jessica Mairs for Dezeen, 2 June 2016

3.       “Reporting from the Front”, by Alejandro Aravena

4.       “Losing Myself: Inside the Irish Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Biennale”, by Niall McLaughlin and Yeoryia Manolopoulou, 17 June 2016 

From Venice Beach to the Venice Architecture Biennale: the “Wayward Eye” of Denise Scott Brown

Every two years, the international architecture community comes together for a truly inspirational presentation: the Venice Architecture Biennale. Held in Venice, Italy, the 2016 edition runs from May 28th until November 27th, and includes 88 participants from 37 countries, as well as 62 national participants and a curated selection of associated events. The Biennale is truly THE place to engage with cutting-edge, thought-provoking architecture – which is why, when Anne Mooney and John Sparano recently visited Venice, they understandably made the Biennale the focus of their stay. Here, we present a blog series about their architectural discoveries…

Installation view of "Wayward Eye - The Photography of Denise Scott Brown"

If you are fortunate enough to find yourself living la dolce vita in Venice, Italy, this autumn, then embrace your inner culture vulture and meander to the Palazzo Mora: here, you’ll find a revelatory exhibition of works by architect, photographer, writer, educator and feminist icon Denise Scott Brown. As part of the Venice Architecture Biennale collateral event "Time, Space, Existence", the "Wayward Eye – The Photography of Denise Scott Brown" exhibition is designed and curated by Scott Brown and chronicles two formative decades of photographing cities from Venice, Italy, to Venice, California. Hosted with the European Cultural Centre, the exhibition showcases Scott Brown’s acclaimed photographic works, which will also be featured in a forthcoming publication by Metropolis Books. Sparano + Mooney Architecture offers sustainable, contemporary architecture and design to our clients from offices in Los Angeles, California, and Salt Lake City, Utah, so we were particularly interested in this exhibition of works that in part examines our roots in the American West.

Scott Brown has been unquestionably prolific in her architecture and planning career that has spanned six decades. Principal of the firm Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates in Philadelphia, she is regarded as one of the most influential architects of the 20th and 21st centuries due to her award-winning design practice, theoretical writings and teachings. Though her built work has garnered acclaim as an architect, she is perhaps best known for her legendary studio course and book with Steven Izenour and Robert Venturi, titled Learning from Las Vegas: the Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form, in which the visionary architects sought to capture the vibrant architecture and culture of Sin City – “things that would shock you and open up your eyes and might make you aesthetically more sensitive”, reflects Scott Brown. The photographs within Learning from Las Vegas

The photographs within Learning from Las Vegas speak to Scott Brown’s persistent relationship with capturing mundane aspects within urban life: “I shot commercial architecture built for quick returns, social succession and invasion, machine romanticism, freeway lyricism, violent juxtapositions between freeways, pylons, and rural cottages, symbolic communication by architecture and signage, and interesting activities and ways of life – a mash of 1960s urbanism”, Scott Brown explains. Through this architect’s camera’s lens, she had begun to do more than just record, she had started to analyze. 

Lincoln and Pico, Santa Monica, California, 1966

This approach also informed Scott Brown’s teachings, which have undeniably influenced generations of architecture students and aficionados alike. “Students in architecture need concrete examples to understand concepts like ‘symbol in space before form in space’. My aim was not to answer questions but to help students learn to seek answers” she has explained. Scott Brown’s own search began when she was a student herself, visiting Venice, Italy, with her first husband Robert Scott Brown for the Congrès International d’Architecture Modern (CIAM) Summer School in 1956. During this Grand Tour, she learned to reconsider her photographs within a broader geographical, political and socio-economic framework. From Italy, her next stop was the American Southwest in the 1960s: Muscle Beach, Santa Monica, Las Vegas – arid landscapes and sun-bleached vernacular architecture inundated with radiant signage promoting the American dream. So many of these images have become iconic in their own right, but Scott Brown insists they are not works of art. “I’m not a photographer,” she states. “I shoot for architecture – if there’s art here it’s a by-product. Yet the images stand alone. Judge what you see”.

"Wayward Eye – The Photography of Denise Scott Brown" is on view as part of "Time, Space, Existence" at the Venice Architecture Biennale, Palazzo Mora. Until November 27th, 2016.


1.       “The World, As Seen by Denise Scott Brown”, by Anna Fixsen, Architectural Record, September 2016 (print)

2.       “From Venice to Venice Beach: Denise Scott Brown’s ‘Wayward’ Eye”, by Denise Scott Brown, Metropolis Magazine (online)

3.       “Learning from ‘Learning from Las Vegas’ with Denise Scott Brown, Part 1: The Foundation”, Denise Scott Brown and Nicholas Korody, Archinect (online)


A Star is Born: Pulsar House Project wins 2016 Design Arts Utah Award

Sparano + Mooney Architecture is delighted to announce that our Pulsar House Project has been recognized with a 2016 DesignArts Utah Award! The Utah Division of Arts & Museums DesignArts Program is dedicated to the promotion of excellence in the diverse fields of architecture, graphic and industrial design in Utah. They strive to help the citizens of Utah see, experience, use and value the art of design that surrounds us daily – we are honored that our architects were chosen as a recipient of this year’s award!

Creating a design for a client’s new home is always a great opportunity for an architect.  For this house, an investigation into pulsars (short for pulsating radio star) formed the conceptual foundation of this residential architecture project. Pulsars are highly magnetized, rotating neutron stars that emit a beam of electromagnetic radiation. Observations of a pulsar in a binary neutron star system were used to indirectly confirm the existence of gravitational radiation. This residential project was designed for a pilot who envisioned an ultra-modern house on earth, connected to the stars.

Our team analyzed the activity of two particular pulsars, the Crab Nebula (catalogue designations M1, NGC 1952, Taurus A) and Vela Pulsar (PSR J0835-4510 or PSR B0833-45) on the date of August 16th, 2010, a day that the client wished to commemorate through the architecture of his mountain home. The forms were generated to highlight the physical relationships between each pulsar trail and the mountain site located in a canyon between Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah.

In a series of physical study models for the architecture, each pulsar trail is represented as the centerline of the negative space, the magnitude of the pulsar defines the lofting boundary of the centerline, and the geological location of the site is shown as the original 4” x 4” x 4” volume. At the same time our architects developed digital models – full scale in the computer – to study the form and precisely model the spaces and interior experience.  In the programming studies for the house, the pulsar trail acts as a timeline moving through each scene of the client’s daily activities. These events are all connected accurately in the architectural plan and the cross sections with the pulsar location at a specific moment. The final massing is a combination of TIME (programming study) and SPACE (formal study).

The architectural design process incorporated this body of research with broader investigations of the solar system, and generated residential architecture that is simultaneously site specific and universally grounded. In responding to the mountain site, we positioned the form of the house straddling the ridgeline, engaged with the slope at the high end of the site and floating above the land as it falls away, and the linear windows on the façades are meticulously designed to create a dramatic projection effect provided by natural sunlight, which changes continuously according to the time of day and seasons. We selected metal as the façade finish, which has a patina of age, sustainability, recycling and adaptive re-use. This material is also an ideal architectural response to the local climate in Utah.

The architects at Sparano + Mooney are over the moon with the award, and we invite you learn more about the project by visiting an exhibition showcasing this design and all of the other 2016 DesignArts Award winners. The DesignArts Utah ’16 Exhibition will be held September 9th – October 21st, 2016 in the Rio Gallery at the historic Rio Grande Train Station in downtown Salt Lake City. The exhibition closing reception and celebration is October 21st, 2016 from 6-9pm and will coincide with Salt Lake Design Week and Salt Lake Gallery Stroll at the Rio Gallery.  Then let us know if you are ready for our architects to design a one-of-a-kind work of architecture for your residential project in Park City, Salt Lake City or Los Angeles!