July 2009

Tastemakers 2009 Sharon Johnston & Mark Lee

by Jonathan Schultz / produced by Mayer Rus / portrait by Jason Schmidt

Sharon Johnston & Mark Lee Challenging the lone-draftsman romantic ideal, young architects are increasingly establishing studios on the principle that two T squares are better than one. The partners (photographed at Oscar Niemeyer’s Strick House) founded their firm, Johnston Marklee, in 1998 without a trademark style to sell, and their approach virtually guarantees they will never develop one. That has not precluded them from creating some of the decade’s most exciting L.A. architecture. The firm brings artistic and conceptual gravitas to its work by involving photographers, writers and sculptors in commissions. “We like conflating different points of view,” Johnston says. “You’d think it would diffuse your thinking, but it helps us home in on what a project needs. Besides, it’s fun.”

Johnston Marklee’s most trafficked creation is Helios House, the silvery, spidery BP gas station at Olympic and Robertson (designed in partnership with Office dA and Ogilvy & Mather). For Culver City’s Roberts & Tilton gallery, they created walls and alcoves with forcefully angled planes, while at Beverly Hills’ conjoined fashion nexus Mameg/Maison Martin Margiela, they utilized trompe l’oeil, appliqué and reflective materials. Few cues among these designs would lead a discerning eye back to Johnston and Lee. “Our common thread is that we try to have as much complexity in a project as possible while maintaining its coherence and directness,” Lee says. “If anything, we strain to be glamorous.”

Left: Hong Kong Design Institute Competition; right: Helios House, Los Angeles