Sarah Hobstetter co-founded Hobstetter Architecture Studio (HAS), a multi-generational firm, in 2013. Prior to starting her own firm, Hobstetter collaborated with Elizabeth Jackson under the moniker, Grayscaled—San Francisco Bay Area locals may recognize some projects that came out of this time, including Mission Bicycle, Domain Bicycle Workshop, and Ratio 3 Gallery. Most recently, Sarah spent time honing her design skills at Geremia Design and Craig Steely Architecture. In addition to architecture, she’s an accomplished artist, whose training incorporates itself into her work, allowing her to look at projects with a careful observation. Read on to find out more about Sarah’s philosophy and process.
Q&A with San Francisco Architect, Sarah Hobstetter
Jeff King & Company: You and your father started HAS after both of you had several years with other firms. What led you to go into business together?
Sarah Hobstetter: I started working on my own projects while I was still in school. When my dad left his position as Principal at KMD, we teamed up to create HAS. Architecture is a field where you never stop learning, so I feel fortunate to have someone with so much experience as a close advisor and collaborator.
Is there a downside to working with a family member?
The hardest part of working with my dad is that people sometimes assume I’m his assistant.
What do you have in common with his style?
We are both inspired by context and view our role as fostering a design or space to emerge, rather than creating an ego statement. We are always debating about symmetry versus asymmetry—or if things should be more horizontal or vertical.
I read that you come from a family of architects—in addition to your dad, you also have two uncles and a cousin who are all architects—and that you were relatively late to the game, thinking you’d go a different route, career wise. What do you think you’d be doing if not for architecture?
You would be surprised how often people come from families of architects! It is really common. I recently got ahold of some of my great-grandfather’s work. He was a plaster artist and did incredible decorative detail in the 1920’s. I’ve been making molds from his work. I want to find a way to translate the technique in a modern way to incorporate it into our projects. If I weren’t doing architecture, I would paint full time.
Speaking of painting, I read that you have an art degree from the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, how do you think your art background influences your work?
I think art makes me a more careful observer. I’ve always loved drawing and painting as an activity and don’t always do it with a goal in mind. It helped me learn to enjoy the process of working through ideas rather than racing through to an assumed answer.
On your website, you describe your firm’s approach to architecture as a social art form. Will you elaborate on that?
I like to think that good architecture is utilitarian art, where people and society are an essential part of the space making.
You have a very clean and modern aesthetic. Where do you draw the line between design integrity and accommodating your client?
At this stage in our business, three years in, we are starting to build enough of a portfolio that we are attracting clients whose taste aligns with ours. RS94109 is a great example of this. The owners are incredible musicians who create dark experimental music and host events for the community. Accommodating their aesthetic is part of the integrity of the design, not a challenge to it.
Your portfolio includes a mix of residential and boutique commercial spaces—how does your approach to such projects differ? Do you have a preference for one over the other?
With all of our projects, we start by taking the context into consideration: the environment, architectural relationships, circulations, and related program. Our preference is to work on projects with a strong creative component—whether it be a restaurant where the culture of food is important or the home for a photographer.
Where do you look for inspiration for new projects?
I look at what is happening in the art world and I do a monthly call with a group of friends who I studied with at the Glasgow School of Art. Their work and intellectual engagement is a huge source of inspiration to me. I’m also obsessed with the architecture blog, Divisare.
Do you have a method or approach to new jobs?
We always start with an interview and site walk. From there, we map the various influences on the project and use this as a tool for the design. I don’t use a traditional hand-drafting process, though I do often sketch out facade and plan iterations. My sketchbooks are a mix of elevations, notes, sketches, and whatever is on my mind.
What’s your favorite part of the design process?
Hand drawing and 3D modeling are my favorite activities. I love the iterative process of seeing a space or scheme emerge. I use 3D modeling and rendering to work through ideas, not to just create finished images.
Wrapping up, I noticed on your website that you have a section for lighting design—is this something you’ll be expanding on or were these project-specific designs?
Yes! This is something we have plans to expand on. I love designing lighting, probably because of my background in painting.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Sarah. And big congratulations for recently passing the final exam for your California license! We look forward to watching your firm evolve and we can’t wait to see your new lighting designs! See more of Sarah’s work at Hobstetter Architecture Studio.