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Marching to a different drummer: Lundberg Design

Twitter's reception desk constructed of reclaimed bowling alley wood.
Twitter's reception desk constructed of reclaimed bowling alley wood.Lundberg Design

He doesn’t fit any particular mold: part hippy, part mad scientist, part junkyard operator, and, of course, full time architect. At one time or another each of those monikers has been attached to Olle Lundberg, founder of Lundberg Design in San Francisco.

One visit to his office/shop/junkyard will convince you that Lundberg is not practicing architecture in any traditional sense. His march to a different drummer began in architecture school at the University of Virginia; an obsession with making things blossomed when he came to San Francisco in 1980 to hammer, weld, pound, pry, and even design his way into architecture.

The big turning point came when Lundberg was commissioned by Larry Ellison (yes, THAT Larry Ellison) to create a modernist residence amidst the stodgy throwback homes along San Francisco’s Billionaire’s Row. The white cubist creation stood in contrast to everything else on the street and propelled Lundberg Design to visibility in the local design scene.

Lundberg’s collection of salvaged wood (the giant teak stump with roots intact is crazy cool), metal objects (who else has a rusted out spherical steel buoy weighing hundreds of pounds), and cast off glass bus stop panels would make Fred Sanford jealous. The difference is that sooner or later the “junk” will be repurposed into new architectural components that will find homes in Lundberg’s buildings. “I’m not trying to create a new line of furnishings or building materials,” Olle commented, “I only use these found objects in buildings that I design.”

San Francisco’s explosive growth since the Great Recession has fueled a new spate of designs from Lundberg.

Best known of Lundberg’s tech expansion projects is Twitter’s new mid-Market home in the enormous SF Furniture Mart. Lundberg teamed with IA to complete the 350,000 square feet first phase. True to form, Lundberg’s shop produced the company’s main reception desk from reclaimed bowling alley wood (fittingly, the bowling alley materials were bought on Craigslist). In a whimsical touch, manzanita branches (found on the Sonoma coast) fill a light soffit in the elevator lobby.

Twitter’s cafeteria, as with most of tech firms, is the heart and soul of the project. The double height space opens to a large rooftop terrace where the young Twitterati chow down on unending free food. The overall vibe of the Twitter offices conform to the requisite “coolness” factor of tech companies. The creative surprised that Lundberg has injected are what make “coolness”, delightful.

At the other end of the aesthetic spectrum, Hard Water exhibits what some used to call “high speed funk”. This bourbon-centric bar exhibits all of Lundberg’s erector set playfulness at its finest. One of half of the rusty steel buoy mentioned earlier has become a massive light fixture above the bar, a sort of sword of Damocles warning to those who come looking for “foo foo” drinks. A towering wall of steel and glass shelves hold a veritable library of American whiskey. Obviously, the architect was in love with bourbon and rye; one can only wonder whether Lundberg employees get free shots in the same way Twitter gives out free food.

Still on the drawing boards is a yet unnamed restaurant from the Aziza team. The project will occupy a portion of the ground floor of the recently renovated 140 New Montgomery (the historic Timothy Pflueger-designed Pacific Telephone & Telegraph). If Lundberg’s previous eatery projects are any indication (Slanted Door, Coachman, Quince, Abbott’s Cellar), this project should exhibit Lundberg’s trademark light industrial touch. And there’s sure to be some salvage yard curiosity that finds its way into the design.

Lundberg Design hearkens back to a day when architects were still makers; the sensibility that said “use it up, make it do, wear it out” is everywhere evident in the firm’s work. In a time when much of the idealism of architectural practice has evaporated, Lundberg has responded, “we’re having fun!” Take a look at the video to see how much fun.