Studio: 3890 La Cumbre Plaza Lane, Suite 200,

Partners: Russell Shubin and Robin Donaldson

Notable Projects: Contemporary office spaces and creative interiors for, Sonos, tech companies, ad agencies, and many modern residential homes.

“Santa Barbara is the perfect feng shui, the perfect relationship of ocean to mountains,” explains Robin Donaldson, poised as the consummate architectural professional who exhibits his own balance between calm and enthusiasm while explaining his firm’s focus on creative local workspaces and modern homes. “What I think about is how a building will relate to the special location that we have here in the world.”

Donaldson came to Santa Barbara in 1987 to work on the notable contemporary Crawford residence in Montecito with the Morphosis firm headed by Thom Mayne. He then settled here to attend UCSB and study architectural history with the late David Gebhard, admitting that he has long been a student of Schindler and the modern Californian case-study houses of the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s. “I look at people like Frank Gehry and Thom Mayne as just a continuation of these great masters,” he says as he explains how the style has progressed. “Now there’s a new generation trying to carry on.”

After completing his architectural studies at SCI-Arc in Los Angeles, Donaldson returned to cofound Shubin + Donaldson with Russell Shubin and grow it to a 55-employee firm that has racked up more than 36 design awards to date. “What I don’t think people realize in Santa Barbara is that there’s a good amount of really interesting contemporary architecture being done,” he says. “A lot of our clients want something new and fresh, open, full of light and optimistic.”

As a fourth-generation Californian, Donaldson seems to have woven the state’s elemental substances of light and optimism into his personal and professional history. “We think about the site, seasons, how the sun moves, the wind, and all the environmental factors,” he says as he explains the influences of his design choices. “So we can interpret the architecture in a much more creative way because we’re not bound by Andalusia Spanish architecture, which says the window has to be in the middle.”

Indeed art and landscape have left a mark on Donaldson and his aspirations. “I think Santa Barbara would be a spectacular place for a museum dedicated to plein-air painting,” he says when asked if he had any local architectural dream projects. “We have a lot of great painters in Santa Barbara and Southern California.”

What’s Next: The firm is currently working on a three building development on the 400 block of Anacapa Street that will house new offices and a residence for Donaldson and his family. “We think of the development as a small ‘creative campus,’” says Donaldson of the project that will be completed in 2017.

Shubin + Donaldson is also involved in a large urban-planning project combined with a series of building designs in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico. “It’s a very interesting challenge to understand what they are trying to achieve and then apply our methodology,” says Donaldson of his firm’s international clients. “We bring some of the attitudes that we have here in Southern California. Yet, we need to learn how our expertise can stitch into their culture.”


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