Designer Jason Payne keeps one eye on reality and the other on possibility. Yet, as an architect, he’s learned to meld the what-ifs with reality, often looking to his hometown of Los Angeles for inspiration.
“I don’t think you can ever do experimental design if you get too terribly wrapped up in behaving according to the rules,” he says. “I can’t imagine a better city to be in to think like this. I imagine independent film makers living in the hills all around me, the musicians that are here. The innovations in computing and technology are everywhere. It’s a great place for a designer to be, (and) there’s a long history here about pushing the envelope of what it means to live in a house.”
Payne recently met with success during a home design contest for a parcel of land on Mulholland Drive underneath the Hollywood Sign. The iconic and anti-iconic form of his “Ambivalent House” resonated with the judges. There’s a consistent incongruity that travels throughout his work, whether it’s a residence, gallery exhibition or both.
Currently, the gallery at Southern California Institute of Architecture features a rooftop he’s designed for a home in Utah. The cedar shingles curl outward, accenting the weathering process; a sub roof provides full protection for the home. Once the exhibit is over, the roof will be placed on the structure, succumbing itself to natural elements and ever changing the structure.
“I like to see if I could take an object that is so iconic and shake it up a bit,” he explains. “I have a fascination with empty signifiers; either they don’t mean anything or mean too many things to settle into one meaning.”
One popular exhibit Payne created involved taking disco balls and converting them into other forms. “People begin to doubt if it’s a disco ball or something else,” he tells. Yet, while he embraced the other-worldliness approach, he also considered how they would be displayed, the response of the crowd, how individuals would react when in groups as opposed to when alone, and even if anyone would buy them.
That balance permeates his work at his firm Hirsuta, as well as in his teaching at University of California, Los Angeles’ School of Architecture and Urban Design. It’s a logical evolution for a person who wanted to major in philosophy but opted for a more traditional profession.
“I pursued architecture and was ambivalent about it,” he recalls, “but when I really started to understand what design was about and that it was another form of thinking, I really got into it. It’s not unlike philosophy: It’s looking at ‘the what of the world, the how of the world, what is the world all about, and how does it really work.’”
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