“Should I spell ‘Hi’ with these magnets to go with my picture?” I didn’t tell her there would be a picture, she’s just good on her feet.
This is Irene Yu, Arcsine’s oldest employee (not by age of course) and this youthful face has worked on monster projects such as the San Francisco Hilton Tower renovations, Oakland’s landmark Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café, and, most recently, Dirty Water in the Twitter building, to name a few. She’s no stranger to collaboration and we want to share a bit more about the process she’s developed.
“I love interesting objects [long pause/distant stare] and dramatic spaces! And I enjoy thinking about why I’m drawn to them.” she says.
I imagine she turns ‘them’ around in her mind, flips the image like a coin and pockets it for a later date. As a twenty something in insta-land with no shortage of visual inspiration, Irene speaks of Monocle, the all-encompassing “Global Affairs, Business, Culture and Design” publication that is a recent fetish – it keeps her wanting to travel and wanting to create interesting experiences. She says she’s the “hype-man” at Arcsine, the one who gets the client excited about new possibilities for a space they just signed a lease for or just purchased. “They are the instigator…and we help flesh it out”. She says that clients want to work with designers who understand them and their mission. As architect/designers we need to be engaging storytellers to draw others in.
At project start, she pitches a wide breadth of different ideas that helps the client see something fresh or clarify something they didn’t want – both are equally important. You can tell from the concept wall of images in the room we are sitting that she loves to tell stories. You can smell the environments, each image is so rich: Smokey cocktail lounges; an elegant silhouette; avante-garde furniture in opulent textiles; verdant feather coat; exotic vignettes of interior spaces. A timeless, space-less destination was proposed for a new bar in Oakland (that is not to be named).
Irene, I ask, with whom do you collaborate? “With everyone”, she says. Sounds true enough, the client comes first and “we, as architects have their back”. She speaks of contractors, for example, “it is extremely important to keep up good relationships with them”, understandable as they help direct budget, timeline and can influence the direction of a project depending on the space. The city is another key player in the building of buildings. Jokingly she says she has to put on her “charmy pants to beg or fight for approval” from a city’s building department permit counter – usually it ends with a collaborative, give/take conversation until everyone can walk away satisfied. Obviously we live in a place where growth is encouraged but there are always hurdles and to quote Irene, “it takes a village to raise a project.”
After the glitz and glamour of concept design, pitches and presentation, Irene helps translate ideas into the tangible. It takes a team within [and out] of the walls of Arcsine to see the finished product. Architects, though, are often the middle man, carrying the story through to ‘the fin’, conceptually and physically.
My last question applies to all creatives involved but specifically here – how does one maintain their voice as a designer? Irene says she always hopes at least a little of her voice comes through “in a compelling niche of a restaurant or in an unexpected/unique detail, but if the client is happy – that is a great thing”.