Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael Wacht.
Michael, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’ve always been fascinated by the built world, and especially how we can create communicative architecture that strategically benefits the occupants. My formal education began with studying architecture at Cornell University, where I learned an appreciation for context in its various applications: the environment, urbanism, culture, program, and history. Cornell is an architecture school obsessed with the stark modernism of historical figures like Le Corbusier, the “inventor” of the black frame strip window. For an LA context, this is also the school that decades earlier trained Richard Meier, Architect of The Getty Center. At Cornell, we were taught a design technique called phenomenal transparency, employed thoughtfully at The Getty to unify the visitor experience through a purposeful coordination of architectural components. I often enjoy guiding out-of-town visitors through The Getty, explaining this transformational process.
After college, I began my professional career in the aggrandized realm of high-end residential design in Manhattan, working on full-floor apartments and Hampton’s homes, acquiring a skillset that emphasized materiality and detailing. After a couple of years, I felt the beckoning call of commercial architecture, becoming a project manager for the burgeoning Stephen B Jacobs Group in 2005. Famous for the iconic Gansevoort Hotel in NY’s booming meatpacking district, my new company was flush with new hotel and condominium commissions. I rose quickly to manage the design and construction of over $200 million of new towers in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
By 2008, I had decided to head back to graduate school to recalibrate my career towards more progressive design techniques. I moved to Philadelphia, where I earned my Master of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, I learned to venture into speculative thought, pondering grand creative solutions by omitting constraints. I learned a greater technical expertise, mastering advanced design software to achieve parametric effects. I learned about the heritage of design techniques from Landscape Architecture professor David Gouverneur, who taught me how forms, ideas, and technology all have mappable ancestry. I learned how to create responsive diagrams from German professor Martin Haas, where studio time was filled with academics from northern Europe. These researchers were at the forefront of exploring how data from environmental inputs could organize geometry ecologically, and how social data from urban research could encourage rethinking the scale of public space design.
I moved to Los Angeles shortly after Grad School, landing an enviable position as Director of the LA Studio of MADA s.p.a.m., working under Qingyun Ma, at the time Dean of the USC School of Architecture. The main office of the firm was in Shanghai. So, two months after moving to LA, I found myself on a plane to the far side of the pacific where I soon had a second apartment and an inspiring group of expat friends. For nearly two years, I was venturing throughout China, presenting designs for urban infrastructure, mixed-use towers, and commercial districts. Dean Ma turned out to be one of the greatest mentors of my professional development, teaching me how to succinctly translate strong ideas into recognizable geometric form via architectural diagramming (a process exemplified by the iconic work of Architects like Bjarke Ingels). Dean Ma also taught me how to effectively become a “design manager,” a skillset that emphasizes the fostering of ideas collaboratively rather than as a stroke of genius.
After China, I earned my professional license, and briefly worked for a boutique architecture firm in the DTLA Arts District. While there, I was lucky to work primarily on nonprofit projects for clients including UCSB, Occidental College, Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative, and Academia Moderna (a Charter School in Walnut Park). The nonprofit projects offered me an opportunity to nurture my design skills on the scale of communities, an important design niche for myself as an independent observer of human behavior, and the impetus for founding my own firm a short while later.
Has it been a smooth road?
Though I’ve worked hard to achieve my goals, I have generally been afforded quite a bit of privilege. For that I am very grateful. Though, my ambitions are sometimes thwarted by my outsider way of thinking. I seem to always operate in parallel to the mainstream and popular trends. Thankfully, this engenders a personal and creative gap for myself as a careful observer, to design impactful and responsive buildings.
My independent streak probably began back in childhood, and continues to today. I attended an admirably diverse public school through eighth grade in New Rochelle, NY, bouncing between various social groups. For high school, I transferred to a cushy prep school in Rye, NY, never feeling fully assimilated into the private school world. In college, I was one of the only architecture students to join a fraternity, an outsider in both my personal and academic worlds. In New York, while my career was blossoming in 2005, I also became cognizant of my sexuality, offering yet another point of differentiation to mainstream culture.
My outsider perspective seems to have perpetuated to the present day in Los Angeles, where I find myself a bit too analytical for active involvement in my local trade organization, and a bit too pragmatic for full acceptance within academia. Feeling just apart from broader communities affords me an independent streak, for which I am proud.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with IntuArch – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I started my own firm, IntuArch, 4 years ago. Our name is short for “Intuitive Architecture,” a firm belief that humans have sophisticated subconscious readings of space. As effectual designers, we can prepare better buildings by understanding how occupants cognitively process architectural forms. For us, architecture is communication, it provides cues to users of a building to navigate, work, study, breathe, sleep, shop, converse, learn, etc. In practice, the concept of “configuration” is key to our unique design skills, the manner in which we organize geometries to choreograph intended behaviors.
Broadly, we work in Commercial Architecture, but have two distinct groups of clients: nonprofit organizations and private developers. Perhaps largely due to our focus on designing for the occupant experience – combining patient observation with an extensive programmatic analysis – we are lucky to attract many local nonprofit organizations. This work is both intellectually challenging and ultimately rewarding. We’ve helped several of these organizations strategically plan for their future, including the ONE Archives Foundation, S.C.O.P.E. (in partnership with the USGBC-LA Resiliency Project), Prepatec Charter School, and most recently the Social Justice Learning Institute (SJLI) in Inglewood.
For our developer clients, we bring the same analytical skillset to maximize the benefits of the occupant experience. It’s sort of a secret that we see our clients as the users of a building, not the entity who pays for our professional services. Understandably, a building that excels at its functions will ultimately generate the greatest benefits for the ownership as well. We consult for this type of analysis too, often uncovering why existing buildings underperform because of shortcomings in configuration. Our expertise can identify these shortcomings and prepare solutions for their improvement.
We were delighted to see one of our projects open recently, the Doll’s Kill flagship retail store in Fairfax Village (next to Canter’s Deli), a design collaboration with the amazing fabricator Fraction Hand Built. Another one of our current projects is a 33-Unit apartment building in Virgil Village, designed diagrammatically so that the residents’ circulation is always connected to the common garden spaces. We have also been working on the repositioning of a three-parcel site on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills as a new Creative Office Building, and the renovation of a 5-unit retail center in Silver Lake.
Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love this question, it comes up so frequently in social environments. And, true to LA’s nature, everyone has a slightly different reason for loving LA. For me, I am constantly surprised and heartened by the embrace of creativity by Angelenos. The creative process is an integral part of Angeleno culture and business, a side benefit of living in a city that creates the world’s entertainment content. In my experience, Angeleno culture is primarily interested to foster passion by forgiving failure, an outlook I was enthralled to include in my own personal growth. I believe that is why the ubiquitous LA question: “What do you do?” is not asked because people are brazen opportunists. Rather, I think the question is shorthand for a much broader conversation: “What is your passion? What makes you excited? Are you pursuing it? Can I help you to hone your craft?”
The LA weather is great too, of course. But I think the benefit of our sunny days is to perpetuate the general laid back atmosphere we acquire from being on the west coast. There is less of a rush as we pursue our individual passions, because tomorrow is another beautiful day, right?
- Address: 5919 W 3rd Street – Suite 1A
Los Angeles, CA 90036
- Website: https://intuarch.com/
- Phone: (310) 954-1346
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: @intuarch