Profiles in Design: AB Design Studio
AIA Award‒Winning Firm Attracts Attention for The Lark Complex and Adaptive Reuse Designs
Architects: AB Design Studio, Inc., 420 E. Haley St., abdesignstudioinc.com
Principals: Clay Aurell and Josh Blumer
Notable Project: The Lark complex in the Funk Zone and “container urbanism,” including a home made from shipping containers
“Our battle cry has been exceeding all expectations,” explains Josh Blumer. “We are highly interested in what is good design. We all have to struggle with what that is and then try to get there.”
The Funk Zone area where The Lark complex now exists was previously fenced off and ignored before AB Studio designed an adaptive reuse plan to create the feeling of new life in a curated retail space. “We really wanted to bring a lot of richness to the project,” said Blumer, who aims to have each project he works on find its own voice without it being the byproduct of an egotistical point of view. He credits that project’s developer for putting a lot of thought into what would work to create a “scene” around the new space. “Each different component and lease had an impact on the overall success of the project,” said Blumer. “There was no accident in how the place turned out.”
As for “container urbanism,” Clay Aurell said that the firm has been playing around with the idea of using large shipping containers in urban designs for years. The studio has had several clients request such designs, which Aurell says often save money and naturally add a sustainability concept into a project. “The trade deficit has caused there to be a lot of containers in the United States that do not have a destination,” said Blumer, explaining that these containers are plentiful throughout California.
In collaboration with CubeDepot, a Santa Barbara company that supplies containers, AB Design created an office project with a patio for the Dwell on Design show in Los Angeles. “It was a lot of fun, and we got a lot of great response from it,” said Aurell. “Ultimately we’d like to find a way to market and sell them.” He said the modular containers are inherently fun for architects to play with, explaining, “They are very sturdy, strong, and regular. You can stack them and do all kinds of things with them.”
They are currently designing a residence from shipping containers that is in the permit stage. “The material that it’s being built from is easily recyclable,” said Blume about another bonus to this design. “Most buildings get recycled, which isn’t really on people’s radar.” That’s especially true as new construction materials are dwindling, so these adaptive reuse concepts are a sustainable step in the right direction.
“We can’t just keep chopping down forests,” said Blumer, who believes environmental agencies are starting to look fondly on recycled building materials. “We are going to be chopping down buildings to be finding wood and re-engineering other products.”
What’s Next: A container-based project in the Funk Zone that adds features for retail, wine tasting, and galleries, and the MOXI Santa Barbara children’s museum, which will be the first LEED museum in Santa Barbara County.