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!

Photo courtesy Filmmaker Magazine. © Filmmaker Magazine

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!

Main Street Park City. Photo courtesy Gallery MAR. © GALLERYMAR.COM

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”. 

Photo courtesy Saint Joseph the Worker Catholic Church. © Saint Joseph the Worker Catholic Church

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. 

Image courtesy Big Cartel. © Big Cartel, LLC

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. Photograph courtesy World Architecture. Photography by Luke Hayes. © 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. Courtesy Metropolis Magazine. Photography by Denise Scott Brown. 

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!

Sparano + Mooney Architecture is named AIA Western Mountain Region Firm of the Year!

Sparano + Mooney Architecture is honored to announce that it has been awarded the American Institute of Architects Western Mountain Region Architectural Firm of the Year for 2016!

Each year, the AIA Western Mountain Region recognizes substantial achievements by an architectural practice in the western United States who embodies the cause of creating an excellent built environment. The prestigious Firm of the Year Award identifies the continuing collaboration among individuals in a firm who have produced distinguished architecture over a period of at least 10 years, have made significant contributions to the AIA, the profession and their community, and have transcended their regional boundaries in making these contributions. Significantly, this year’s award is the first ever to recognize a Utah architect for the Firm of the Year in the 37-year history of the AIA Western Mountain Region Honor Awards. Based in Washington, D.C., the American Institute of Architects has been the leading professional membership association for licensed architects, emerging architectural professionals, and allied partners since 1857. With nearly 300 state and local chapters, the AIA serves as a voice of the architecture profession and the resource for architects and its members in service to society.

Principal architects John P. Sparano, FAIA, NCARB, and Anne G. Mooney, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, formed Sparano + Mooney Architecture in 1997. From their award-winning studios in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Los Angeles, California, the firm collectively and 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 the firm’s architecture which has been commissioned by clients in Utah, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Colorado and California. Significant project types include art museums, cultural centers, performing arts projects, recreation and resort projects, institutional and commercial work and private residences in Park City, Los Angeles, Denver, Santa Fe and Salt Lake City.  Sparano + Mooney Architecture is a practice that believes in the potential of the American West as a point of departure for world class design and has consistently produced a body of work dedicated to contributing to the elevation of a strong regional design movement.

In addition to numerous local, regional and national design awards for built and conceptual work, Sparano + Mooney Architecture has previously been recognized with election to the AIA College of Fellows (John Sparano, 2015), the AIA Western Mountain Region Young Architect of the Year Award (Anne Mooney, 2014), the AIA Utah Bronze Medal Award (John Sparano, 2013) and the AIA Utah Architectural Firm of the Year Award (2012).  The Salt Lake City architects have design work that can currently be seen in an exhibition at the Rio Gallery in Salt Lake City until October 21, 2016.

Congratulations to the Sparano + Mooney Architecture team for this monumental achievement, and thank you to our visionary colleagues and clients for your dedication and contributions to the firm and our work together! 

Park City Architecture Designed by Sparano + Mooney is Featured on the Cover of Utah Style & Design, Summer 2016

If you are looking for a pleasant way to pass time indoors as the seasons change, look no further than the Summer 2016 issue of Utah Style & Design - a Park City modern home designed by Sparano + Mooney Architecture has been featured on the cover!

The corresponding article, “Opening Act”, written by Natalie Taylor and photographed by Scot Zimmerman, showcases the “strikingly beautiful” contemporary residence, which “combines dynamic architecture with high-style livability and sustainability”. The clients were clear about choosing the right Park City architect and about their must-haves: “We wanted a relatively quiet house with no duplicate spaces. It was critical that the house feels like it belongs on the land and that it fits peacefully into its environment without feeling forced”.

Located in a mountain setting with views of Park City Mountain Resort, the Utah Winter Olympic Park and the Glenwild Golf Course, the architecture and design approach to this mountain modern home sought to embed the architecture into its site. Exterior materials are both rough and refined: a highly textured board-formed concrete wall is capped with smooth wood panels and glazed surfaces above. These materials reference the highly textured scrub oak prevalent at the site under an expansive western sky. The vegetated rooftop incorporates native plant materials and will mirror the surrounding landscape each season: from the snow in winter to green in the spring to muted brown and yellow tones of late summer.

The house celebrates Utah’s brilliant light and raw beauty as nature provided the architectural inspiration. As architect Anne Mooney explains in the article, “Utah has incredible environmental scale and you want spaces that refer to the mountains, the sky and the horizon. But in a home, you want more personal, human scaled spaces”. The siting therefore maximizes its passive solar orientation bringing light deep into the house in the winter and shading the living spaces through well-considered overhangs in the summer. Outdoor living spaces are integrated adjacent to the master suite and great room and a rooftop deck that overlooks a nearby golf course. The green Park City home, has been certified LEED Gold, and incorporates renewable energy with a ground-source heat pump and high performance, energy efficient building systems.

Sparano + Mooney Architecture is delighted to have been able to work with the client to deliver a beautiful, livable mountain modern home and to have contributed positively to the Utah architectural landscape. And, we are honored to have been featured in Utah Style & Design, which continually showcases the best of Utah and the mountain west’s design, architecture and dining, as well as entertaining ideas for living the good life at home. The magazine features unique and beautiful interiors, decorative treatments, lush landscapes, inspiring entertaining ideas and provocative residential and commercial architecture. Published with the discerning homeowner in mind, this award-winning magazine provides its readers with innovative ideas and interesting stories, insightful writing and lavish full-color photography, sharing the best of Utah style throughout the state and beyond. A big thank you to the magazine for including us and our work as architects serving Park City in this category!

Electric Earth: The Modern Narrative of Doug Aitken at MOCA

Sound and image bleed and fuse. The viewer sees, experiences and questions. Modern hyper-mobility and the relentlessness of human existence are served up in the guise of moving pictures. Such is the entropic landscape of the art works by Doug Aitken, which will be exhibited in a mid-career retrospective at the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). The show will be the first North American museum survey of Aitken’s work and will include seven large-scale video installations, a recent live sound piece and several cross-disciplinary, multimedia artworks that, in typical Aitken fashion, defy acute categorization.

Doug Aitken, Black Mirror, 2011 - installation at Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 2015. Photo by Norbert Miguletz

For over twenty years, Aitken has misaligned our perception of locality and representation. His works, which include films, musical explorations, architectural sculptures, collages, drawings, photographs, graphic design, publications, architectural works and cultural happenings, are at once optimistic, brutal and frenetic. An overwhelming sense of social atrophy belies any cozy familiarity. As Aitken states, his oeuvre “speaks of uninhabited places, ruins, remains of a place where time seems to possess a different pace”. Aitken imbues his works with intentional discomfort, a measure rooted in the need to explore his thematic interest in human, urban, architectural and environmental decay. The 2009 outdoor installation titled Sonic Pavilion, in which Aitken dug a 700-foot-deep hole in the Brazilian rainforest in order to record the imperceptible sound of tectonic plates shifting, was a sophisticated yet subtle effort to disrupt listeners’ surefootedness. The micro-noises and reverberations were powerful, unsettling reminders of a constant transference taking place not only in nature, but within ourselves.

This vulnerability of the social and individual condition, as well as the theme of post-industrial abandonment, punctuate Aitken’s work. He is enthralled by the ephemeral, collective digital consciousness that characterizes our image-based contemporary (dis)order. These questions of alienation, abjection and shifts in contemporary existence are all addressed in pieces such as Station to Station (2013), Altered Earth (2012), Black Mirror (2011), and migration (empire), a 2008 multichannel video depicting wild animals devouring, nudging and frolicking in dated, lonely motel rooms across the nation. The surrealist vignettes – one of which sees a horse standing near a television playing a video of another horse running wild, and another an unruly buffalo boxing with the bedspread and accent lamps – are, as Aitken explains “almost like a survey of the landscape…It’s a cinematic portrayal of an idea that’s somewhat fictional, futuristic, yet set within our current reality”.

Doug Aitken, Altered Earth, 2012 - installation at La Grande Halle, Arles, France, 2012

A Los Angeles native, Aitken is pleased to be able to present his work to a more local audience than other installations have allowed; he has shown works internationally at venues including a disused warehouse in Arles, France, and the Venice Biennale, but his exhibition at MOCA, within the architecturally cavernous 40,000SF Geffen Contemporary, is on his own turf. “My work has always existed elsewhere – Europe, New York – and not in Los Angeles”, Aitken says of his larger-scale pieces. “So to have this period of time to be able to share them and show them from this landscape that I live in and with this community that I feel so close to, I’m really grateful”. The exhibition will intentionally reinvent past installations for the museum so that the Geffen itself evolves into another of Aitken’s immersive artworks that he calls “a film set of the mind”.  The exhibition, like Aitken’s work itself, will surely be an unorthodox narrative – be prepared to act outside of your own preconceptions and to author your own experience. “How can we see [the museum] as a kind of living, breathing space where the viewer feels empowered? Where it’s always evolving, always moving forward?”

Doug Aitken’s “Electric Earth” is on view September 10, 2016 – January 15, 2017 at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA before opening at the Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth in May 2017.


1.       “Doug Aitken’s ‘Electric Earth’ will shake up the MOCA landscape”, by Deborah Vankin, The Los Angeles Times, 26 August 2016 (online)

2.       “It’s Colossal! It’s Stupendous! It’s Doug Aitken!”, by Ken Johnson, The New York Times, 31 August 2016 (online) and 4 September 2016 (print)

3.       “Doug Aitken: Electric Earth”,  

An Introduction to the Salt Lake Cultural Core

Picture your perfect Saturday night: Does it include a musical performance at Abravanel Hall, followed by a stroll through downtown and a meal at one of the award-winning downtown restaurants, brewpubs or bistros? Or, perhaps it involves a ballet at the Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theater, stargazing at the Clark Planetarium, and an exhibition at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art? A Utah Jazz basketball game? An outdoor film in Pioneer Park? There’s no question about it – Salt Lake City is a vibrant community, with a rich artistic, civic, cultural and religious heritage, and we are proud to be involved with making our downtown an even more dynamic and celebrated place to live, work and create!

El Mac & Retna Ave Maria Mural, 158 East 200 South, Salt Lake City

Sparano + Mooney Architecture is working with a national team led by the Cultural Planning Group on the Salt Lake Cultural Core, a master planning initiative that seeks to be a catalyst for long-term development in Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County. The “Core” – an area stretching from North Temple to 400 South and from 600 West to 400 East – 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 recognize 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 are leading the placemaking, urban design and public art planning effort to infuse the City with great design experiences at multiple scales. 

In 2010, the two local governments joined forces on the Cultural Core Interlocal and established a sales-tax based funding mechanism that could invest nearly $10 million over 20 years in Salt Lake City’s downtown Cultural Core. The original committee is working with the current consultant groups, including Sparano + Mooney Architecture, to develop a master plan that will help distribute funds and compliment the shared vision of creating a strong, vital downtown. The goal? Attract diverse local and out-of-state visitors and encourage engagement with our city’s artists, cultural and creative experiences. The key areas of investment include:

Programs to enliven the Core and attract varied audiences

Place-Making to strengthen the identity of the Cultural Core by enhancing physical and visual connections between venues and throughout the area of focus

Promotional Initiatives to build the region’s cultural brand and deliver actionable information to local residents and visitors

Significant input will be sought from community conversations and workshops with local architects, urban designers and practitioners, among other focus groups. We are excited to move forward with the planning and design of this Salt Lake Cultural Core Master Plan – if you have any ideas about what you’d like to see more of in your creative community, let us know!

Art, Identity and Femininity: New Work by Cindy Sherman at the BROAD MUSEUM, LOS ANGELES

In what light do you see yourself? What do you fear? How do you IDENTIFY? In a world that is increasingly dynamic, in which we sleep next to our mobile phones and swarm anonomously among an ever amassing population, our personal identities are more and more fluid, strained and undefinable. This condition is one that prolific New York-based artist Cindy Sherman is intimately familiar with, and seeks to address through her latest photographs, her first body of new work to be exhibited in five years. 

Cindy Sherman. Installation view, 2016. Metro Pictures, New York. Courtesy Metro Pictures.

In this series of portraits Sherman, true to her milieu, has appropriated the dress and appearance of fading starlets in an attempt to come to terms with her own ageing. Gloria Swanson and Greta Garbo take the stage, as do several leading ladies from Hollywood’s Golden Age. “I relate so much to these women”, Sherman explains. “They look like they’ve been through a lot, and they’re survivors. And you can see some of the pain in there, but they’re looking forward and moving on.” 

Cindy Sherman’s oeuvre has seen her play a variety of roles: centerfolds, horror film victims, society darlings and even corpses. She shattered the contemporary art scene nearly 40 years ago with her acclaimed “Untitled Film Stills” series, black-and-white photos in which she transformed her own self into caricatures of B-movie neophytes. These young women, actresses presumably, appeared vulnerable and precarious as they teetered on the brink, their status of ingénue not yet cemented. Though Sherman once claimed that her portrayals were definitively not autobiographical, she has recently come to terms with the fact that the characters she has created indeed exhibit aspects of herself, even in her early work. The self-referential nature of her photographs is precisely what makes them so appealing; the viewer is able to see actively (and comparatively) how a woman’s identity has formed over time, and how it has been limited and shaped by the appropriation of images of other women. We as the viewer ask, “Who Am I?” 
This play on postmodern femininity, the body politic, and gender identity is one that has summarized Sherman’s work since the start of her career. In the past, Sherman has obliterated her “self” in favor of shape-shifting into other, anonymous cartoons of the women she wanted to represent; in her current work, however, she boldly embodies the women she portrays. In all of her humanity, Sherman is present here. Do these women feel regret? Doubt? Does Sherman herself experience these sentiments as she reviews her career? “I, as an older woman, am struggling with the idea of being an older woman,” she says.

Where Sherman evolves from here is uncertain. She says this is last time she wants to use herself as her mannequin, and thinks she may turn to moving images instead. Following a recent show of these new photographs at Metro Pictures in New York, there will be a retrospective of her work at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles. A lifetime of pictures in one room – ageing gracefully has taken on a whole new meaning.  

Untitled, 2016. Courtesy Metro Pictures, New York. © Cindy Sherman.

Cindy Sherman, Imitation of Life at the Broad Museum, Los Angeles, California June 11th – October 2nd, 2016. 

1.    “Cindy Sherman’s Divas, Poised for a Final Close-Up”, by Holland Cotter, The New York Times, 26 May 2016 (online)
2.    “Ready for her Close-Up”, by Blake Gopnik, The New York Times, 24 April 2016 (print)

Commonwealth: Photomural Project Features Sparano + Mooney Team

No, you’re not seeing double and yes, our team member architects Anne Mooney, John Sparano and Seth Striefel are indeed larger than life! At least, in the Arts Council’s photomural public art project, where oversize photographs of the architects, along with 50 additional creatives and artisans who live and work in the community, have been affixed to the exterior of local businesses. 

In planning the new Downtown, the City wanted to highlight the revitalized arts district and showcase the area’s unique talent. “We have been blown away by the creative talent and innovative thinkers already here”, said Arts Council Coordinator Lesly Allen. “Sparano + Mooney Architecture is a key element to what we want our downtown to be”. Lesly also noted this architectural firm’s ability to take gritty, industrial-feeling spaces and create welcoming environments in which you’d want to spend time.

The mural project, a creative place-making initiative and community identity program, was inspired by the East High School project titled Inside Out, which involved photography being posted on building exteriors to bring awareness to wider social justice conversations. Like the Inside Out project, the Commonwealth: Inside South Salt Lake photomurals are made from a unique material: wheat paste. This non-toxic solution is easily removed with power washing and is designed not to impact masonry facades or walls. In fact, Sparano + Mooney Architecture was proud to offer the east wall of its building to the exhibition – our wall featured images of other Utah creative professionals Aruna (a Bookworm), Clyde (a Guitarist) and Casey (a Photographer).

The photographs of Anne and John were located on the south facade of Shades of Pale Brewing, and the image of Seth was located on the exterior of The Tree Broker. It was a wonderful project and we were thrilled to help support the fantastic work being done by our local Arts Council.

Photo Credit: Lars Call

Jun Li Presents Her Vision of a Standard Architecture in a Not-Standard World

“Forget about the Boring World! Welcome to our Not Standard World!” So begins Jun Li’s presentation titled Not Standard, which she delivered recently to the next generation of architects visiting from an immersive summer design program. Jun, an architectural intern at Sparano + Mooney Architecture, asked the students to consider: How do we design for a diverse public experience in an increasingly standardized world? Though it may be tempting to conceive of and produce generic spaces, Jun posits that you can design for individuality and the creation of a unique product, perhaps paradoxically, through a standardized data-gathering process. First, we must take into account the variability of a client and the fluid environment in which they wish to live or work. But, by asking broadly applicable questions to distinguish differences such as gender, age and body type, and subjective preferences like whether one prefers to live alone or among others, Jun proposes an evolution of architecture that is intimate and better suited to clients’ personal needs. 

Jun Li was born in Taiyuan, China, and studied Environmental Art Design at one of China’s leading architectural institutions, Jiangnan University, where she specialized in construction, structural and design research related disciplines. She then earned her Master of Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley where she focused on architectural design, landscape design and material research in her graduate study. Jun’s work was selected for UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design’s Annual Project publication and she received the award for Outstanding Undergraduate Thesis at Jiangnan University.

Jun is a wonderful member of the Sparano + Mooney team and we are pleased that she was able to help shape the future of these young and aspiring architects! 

New Project by Sparano + Mooney Architecture will Feature the City of Los Angeles’ First Net Zero Gymnasium

The Studio City Recreation Center Gymnasium in Beeman Park, located in Studio City, California will be Los Angeles’s first Net-Zero Energy pilot project.  Designed by Sparano + Mooney Architecture to LEED-certified specifications, the new 12,000 SF facility will be an immeasurable asset to the neighborhood and community, and will also demonstrate the feasibility of designing self-sustaining energy efficient municipal buildings. The project scope replaces an inefficient recreation building with the construction of new, state of the art modern architecture.  The recreation center will include a full-size basketball court, multi­purpose meeting rooms for the community, office and administration areas, a kitchen, restrooms and support facilities. The project scope also includes security lighting, a parking area, new landscaping and irrigation for the park. With a projected total construction cost of $7M, the gymnasium will be ready for public use and exceed of code requirements for Net-Zero Energy.

Net-Zero Energy Building – What Does it Mean?

A net-zero building exhibits zero net energy consumption – the total amount of energy that the building uses annually is generally equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site. The architecture cleverly balances the energy it needs with the energy it produces from renewable, zero-emissions sources.  The architects , engineers and builders work together in designing and constructing to these environmental standards which offers significant operational and maintenance costs savings, lower environmental impact, long-term improvements in energy efficiency, and better resiliency to power outages and natural disasters. Several Federal executive orders and legislation, as well as State and local initiatives and industry programs, have established Net Zero Energy targets. The U.S. Department of Energy has released a full report on net-zero energy buildings, and more information can also be found through the Sustainable Facilities Tool, as part of the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings.

Another program we follow is the Living Building Challenge, an international sustainable building certification program created for architects and others involving in the built environment to guide sustainable development.  This program is administered by the non-profit International Living Future Institute. It is described by the Institute as “a philosophy, advocacy tool and certification program that promotes the most advanced measurement of sustainability in the built environment.” The Living Building design principals can be applied to architectural projects of all scales, from buildings – both new construction and renovation projects - to infrastructure, landscapes, neighborhoods and planning communities.  The Living Building Challenge is even more sustainably rigorous than the United States Green Building’s LEED program.

Sustainable Design the Sparano + Mooney Way

Sparano + Mooney Architecture is passionate about creating innovative and modern sustainable design solutions for our extraordinary clients. As experts in sustainability in architecture, we offer our clients an integrated set of green design services including: sustainable design guidelines and audits, sustainable project planning, passive design, LEED consulting services and LEED certified architecture, and net zero energy projects. In producing architecture within some of the most spectacular landscapes in the western region, we are focused on projects with lower impact in the architecture and its development, and minimizing waste and resource use.  Our clients see sustainable design is a triple win: green design is good for people, good for business, and good for the environment. The Sparano + Mooney architects seek to develop the architectural potential of each project while ensuring occupants are comfortable and inspired, contractors are building efficiently and responsibly, and owners realize lower first capital and operating costs. Our LEED-accredited professional team brings an integrated sustainable design approach to each project – the resultant architecture is grounded in timeless design principles inspired by nature, including passive design, optimal solar orientation, incorporating day-lighting and natural ventilation, the harmonious relationship between building and site, and green materials and finishes.

We are excited to work on this challenging new project for the City of Los Angeles – watch this community recreation space develop!


U.S. Department of Energy

Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings 

Living Building Challenge,

Scene Stealer: Underground Art, Architecture and Design is Booming in Los Angeles

“It’s mainly tacos and stray dogs and really nice people”, observes Sojourner Truth Parsons, a painter who occupies a light-filled loft in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights district. Parsons is part of a new crop of achingly cool artists, designers, gallery owners, collectors and culture vultures who are moving to downtown Los Angeles and the Arts District – a cluster of forbidding, abandoned factories and warehouses, industrial spaces, parking lots, strip malls, concrete and barbed wire. The area is scrappy, desolate, and ripe for reinvention as the city’s prime arts and culture hotspot.  It is also home to Sparano + Mooney Architecture where we have been based for almost 20 years.

Los Angeles Arts District. Photography courtesy At Mateo. © At Mateo.

About ten years ago we made the decision to move our architectural practice from the westside to downtown Los Angeles to be closer to our clients and make commute to work easier for our team.  After an exhaustive search for cool space, we were thrilled to find a studio at the Brewery.  This 500+ live-work development in Boyle Heights, just east of downtown was filled with creative people including architects, designers, filmmakers, artists, fashion gurus, photographers and graphic pros.  We felt right at home and have thrived producing great architecture from our 2-story raw warehouse in one of the world’s largest art colonies.  The Brewery encompasses twenty-one former warehouses – with an old Edison power plant chimney dating to 1903 – house work studios, living lofts, restaurants and galleries. Its history dates back to the turn of the century as the Edison Electric Steam Power Plant and then as a Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery.

The vacancy that characterizes many downtown Los Angeles neighborhoods is precisely what appeals to burgeoning creatives – a blank slate upon which to exhibit arcrylics by Yunhee Min, project a film titled Mommy by Maggie Lee, or host a performance by fashion designer Barf Queen. Influential galleries from New York and London, including Venus Over Los Angeles, Maccarone and Ibid are opening alongside local natives with impressive pedigrees, such as Wilding Cran (owned by Anthony Cran and Naomi deLuce Wilding, the granddaughter of Elizabeth Taylor). And, naturally, the DIY artist spaces tucked in disused alleyway garages feature prominently too, perhaps in large part to their raging, late-night opening parties – exhibitions in themselves, with food trucks, beer, coffee and kombucha on tap, kiddie pools filled with Kool-Aid and topless catering staff. The (relatively) cheap rents and sense of community help, too. 

 Sterling Ruby's "Trains" at Night Gallery

Sterling Ruby's "Trains" at Night Gallery. Copyright © Night Gallery


This social energy is the essence of the locale. As Jeffrey Deitch, the former Director if the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, has noted, “The social aspect is essential for artistic innovation. Artists working in isolation rarely have the same achievement”. 25-30 year olds ride their bicycles and skateboards, walk their small dogs, patronize and socialize at trendy restaurants and coffee shops, perpetuate a throbbing youth culture and activate the neighborhood. They frequent the populist galas that have become de rigeur, and have displaced the Hollywood glamor that used to characterize LA. “Culturally we’ve always been overshadowed by the film industry, and now the art world is at a weird parallel with it”, said Sterling Ruby, one of LA’s most renowned artists, who occupies a 4-acre studio complex in industrial Vernon, CA, just north of the Arts District. The uber-modern Broad Museum, designed by starchitects Diller Scofidio & Renfro, has recently opened downtown and guests have included Owen Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art hosted an Art & Film gala sponsored by Gucci and attended by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jared Leto; and international powerhouse gallery Hauser & Wirth has partnered with Paul Schimmel, former Chief Curator at MOCA, to open a sprawling arts complex in the District. An outpost of glitzy Soho House, with its rooftop pool, hotel and restaurants, is opening on South Santa Fe Avenue. Loft apartments have risen there too: a two-bedroom unit is on the market for $1.175 million. Now, blue-chip galleries and adventurous collectors mix with emerging artists, groupies and industry pros. Tides are shifting.

Despite this development, the area’s zany character remains. “It’s all about discovery and taking chances and hopefully finding something revelatory”, states Mieke Marple, Partner at Night Gallery on East 16th Street. Let’s hope that the dream lives on, the tacos remain stuffed and the stray dogs continue to roam free… 


1.       “Art Scene Heats Up in Downtown Los Angeles”, Julia Chaplin, The New York Times, 12 February 2016 (online), 14 February 2016 (in print)