Three Shades of Gold.
We had a year-long dialogue with American artist-turned-architect and punk modernist Robert Stone about his unique approaches and perfect backdrops for the fashion world’s upper crust.
Words: Ger Ger & Julia Koerner / Images: Ger Ger
“At some point during his Vogue shoot, Steven Klein asked me if they could put the tiger in the house. And I was like, ‘Go ahead, but be ready to shoot if it starts tearing everything up. I want that picture.”‘
Robert Stone is one of the most unconventional living artists-turned-architects one can meet today. His projects have been on the cover of Architectural Digest, have been named among the 25 most beautiful houses in the world, and have been part of countless international fashion spreads. The creme de Ia creme of designers like Cavalli and Dior – and most recently Anthony Vaccarello with Saint Laurent SS17 muse Travis Scott – have produced their campaigns in his constructions. We sat down with Stone in his Los Angeles atelier and spent a night at his famed houses Acido Dorado and Rosa Muerta in the California desert. We continued the conversation over a period of 12 months.
“I think one of the most interesting things about our time is that our relationship to nature is totally different than it was in the modernist era. It is not romantic any more. We are at war with nature. I wanted to put something out there that is unmistakably unnatural. It is like if you go on a hike and you find an old aluminum can that is so bleached out by the sun you can barely read the printing- That kind of object says more about our relationship to nature than anything that pretends to be in harmony. I’m not looking for harmony. I’m looking for interesting tension and complexity. I admit that relationship to nature and then let it play out.”
“I was looking for a way to make architecture that felt more meaningful. I’m building houses, I’m not building airports, I’m not building museums. I think they can work just like a really nice song. They can be strange, they can be mysterious, and they can feel like they are yours alone.”
“I don’t design the perimeter for something and then put holes in it. I design intersections of planes and then figure out how to enclose it. It is a modernist approach, but one that I have tried to push much further. The natural state of the building is continuous with that abundant space all around it. The natural state of those houses is open”
“One of the turning points for me was ’90s Miu Miu. Miuccia Prada has a way of using materials and shapes that pointed far beyond architecture’s abstract purity. She wasn’t asking you to shut off the part of your brain that has a memory. She made things that looked entirely new but also brought in connotations and memories. It was more strange because it was vaguely familiar. It was more alive because each piece connected to things beyond itself. It gave me a different understanding of materials than I had learned in the architecture world.”
“At that time, everything could be understood as Prada versus Miu Miu. All the cool architects were wearing Prada Sport- which was the conservative black stuff with the little red tag. But at the same time, Miu Miu had this secret key that unlocked a whole different way of thinking about materials and ideas. So while I was obsessed with Miu Miu, all the architects were wearing black and their little fancy eyeglasses and all of that. I was so out of step. I was tattooed to the point that nobody would hire me and I used to go and sketch in the Miu Miu store until someone would kick me out. They would get uncomfortable because I was looking so carefully. “
“Abstraction is a false fantasy in the architecture world. I don’t want to sound so negative but I have to push back because it is so ubiquitous. My understanding of it comes from the art world: abstraction is like an imaginary contract between the viewer and the object that says we are going to agree to only think about these things as abstract shapes, forms and light. That contract can be valuable, but it isn’t real- It leaves out everything else architecture can be.”
“I have always been much more interested in fashion and photography than in empty architecture. I want the houses to be portrayed in the way bodies connect to them and the way people bring poetic ideas to them- not just as empty abstract sculptures. So it is almost natural that it is also a perfect stage for fashion. Architecture is only part of the equation. Movements of a tiger can complete it as much as the life anyone brings to it.”
“Growing up in Palm Springs felt more Larry Clark than Julius Shulman. It was about actually living in these modernist houses, using them and sometimes destroying them. “
“There is this strange historical overlay between skateboarding and the decline of modernism. In the ’80s, they didn’t put transitions in pools anymore: they built pools square and you can’t skate them. So we would search for pools by looking at the architecture. You would know from the street that a mid-century modernist house was going to have a rounded pool in the backyard. So, I was looking at modernism before I knew anything about architecture. I saw it lived in, used, and abandoned. I think it gave me a more complicated understanding of how the modernist project overlaid with real life. “
“I learned that you have to let in some negatives to make things more interesting. There has to be some awkwardness to re-define beauty for our time. So, not everything is positive in my work. It’s not just about “nice”. The two-way mirrors, for example, come from this idea of engaging in a dialogue with the corruption of late-modernism, the part where it got dark, corporate, like us, like our world. I mean, simplistic mid-century nostalgia is boring, but I love the end of the sixties where the ideals started to turn on us and got interesting.”
“If all my roofs cave in and my houses burn down, they still are going to look really good. I’m designing architecture that I want to look good in ruins.”
“Am i a dreamer?-All the time. It is like air for me, it is like the water for the fish.”