JENSEN at 30: Creative Minds

Community, Context
Jensen Architects
As Jensen Architects celebrates a milestone anniversary, we dive into some of the creative minds and projects energizing three decades of design.

Over the past 30 years, Jensen Architects has designed spaces for the expression of creativity: galleries, sculpture gardens, artist studios, and exhibitions. For our anniversary, we wanted to shift our perspective and explore how innovation and imagination is cultivated in our studio. We reached out to our Jensen Architects team and asked them to share their processes and reflections on art and culture projects that made an impact.

In the Studio

“Inspiration comes from willingly stepping outside the bounds of our profession and engaging with the vantage points of other creative disciplines,” says Mark Jensen, noting that the most successful architecture for arts spaces are generous in their capacity to foster creative occupation and encourage reinterpretation—even misuse. Jensen Architects’ designs aspire beyond a prescriptive “form-follows-function” approach. He believes that the best spaces “have strong character and solicit engagement from creative and curious users.”

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Senior Architect Keri Goodlad was part of the Jensen Architects team who transformed an old vaudeville theater into the pioneering CounterPulse performing arts space. For her, working with a nonprofit that supports emerging artists and cultural innovators was inspirational—requiring both empathy and creativity. “As arts and cultural spaces are also community spaces, listening to diverse voices and collaborating with both team and community members is an integral part of the design process,” she says. “Our role is to listen and to distill the ideas to a solution that creates a sense of belonging for everyone.” Belonging is reflected in the neon sign out front, which acts as a beacon for the Tenderloin neighborhood, and from tile to signage in the all-gender restrooms.

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Last year, the exhibition “Designing Peace,” organized by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum opened at the Museum of Craft and Design. Designers Christina Kull and Chenyu Huang developed an exhibition design that embodied the theme and connected the iconic peace logo—expressed as an oversized display table—to San Francisco’s anti-war legacies. 

“The pieces showcased in “Designing Peace” were truly awe-inspiring, addressing a wide spectrum of human rights and social justice concerns, ranging from global issues to those deeply personal and local in nature,” says Kull. But accommodating these works in the gallery posed a challenge: a relatively small gallery with an exceptionally tall ceiling. Huang explains that inspiration came from this context. “We understood the sequence of how people circulate the space and where people tended to stop,” she notes. The team devised a design approach that, in Kull’s words, “would encourage meaningful engagement and dialogue, even if it meant confronting discomfort, both with the art and among visitors.”

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“We focus most of our creative energy on bringing critical spaces for arts-related business, studios, and even galleries to life by optimizing the biggest impact with the fewest moves,” says Senior Architect Lauren Takeda. “This is actually the most exciting and thought-provoking part of the creative process to me because it’s an exploration of opportunity and it’s new each time.” She worked on the Minnesota Street Project, a trio of revamped warehouses in the Dogpatch neighborhood that provide space and an economic toehold for San Francisco’s artists and galleries. Mark Jensen points out that while the project’s central atrium is a gathering space designed to host exhibitions and lectures, it also has to accommodate yet unimagined occupancy. 

Creativity often comes from the unknown. Every day in the studio, we seek it out in order to design inspiring spaces that bring people together to think, engage, and delight.

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Home is Where the Art Is

“Art occurs in the process of life itself,” said conceptual artist David Ireland (1930-2009) in an 1983 interview. He lived out that philosophy for 34 years in his home in San Francisco’s Mission District. The Italianate style house at 500 Capp Street is considered his greatest artwork—a wunderkammer of found objects and site specific installations made from the remains of the everyday. Jensen Architects preserved the 1886 building when it reopened as the 500 Capp Street Foundation in 2015, working under the vision of founder and trustee Carlie Wilmans. Taking care not to disrupt the fragile layers of Ireland’s art, we stabilized the foundation and added a basement-level archive. Today, the arts nonprofit uses the new and revitalized spaces to host exhibitions and public programs.

“An encouragement to see the world anew is inherent in cultural production,” says Mark Jensen. It’s a sentiment that resonates with Ireland’s work. “One of the joys of designing for artists and arts organizations is being pushed past predictable, default architectural solutions.” Read more about the David Ireland House.

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Embracing the Handmade

Jensen Architects’ creative exploration isn’t reserved solely for collaborations with arts institutions and artists, it weaves through all our projects. The murals we designed for YouTube’s offices express how space reflects and supports the company’s culture and creative ethos. Bold and playful shapes animate elevator lobbies and social areas, giving the workplace a sense of warmth and personality. “Creating the murals started with black construction paper and a pair of scissors,” says Senior Interior Designer Nicole Germano, sharing how a humble technique can elevate the design process. “The idea of using collage, ​a very accessible form of artistic expression, really resonated with this larger theme, the mission of YouTube as a platform where people can easily share ideas and connect.” Read more about Germano’s process.

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