Collaboration in High Ideas: Design Dialogue with Mark Vaghei

Westwood, California
The following in an excerpt of  Jan Horn’s Interview with Mark Vaghei, AIA , Principal at atelier V : architecture (www.atelierv.com) that appeared in the Sunday edition of Los Angeles Times on July 13th, 2014.
1469 Bel Air 30 702496
Mark brings to the architectural table a sense of style and design aesthetic that hails from his native blueprints containing a wealth of building history. One of the central and cultural elements found in his archived memories of home is—the courtyard. With his affinity and appreciation for modernism, the courtyard concept is a natural synthesis between his early roots and the love for this period of design.


His firm’s name, “atelier V : architecture,” with the French word atelier translated to English as “workshop,” conjures up visions of a master artist and his/her apprentices working together to produce pieces of art. The workshop—a place of close collaboration where people join together to work and create. This model of cooperation is at the heart of Mark’s designs, and from that place you get a sense of his philosophy as you journey with us through our delightful conversation with a present-day modernist.
Jan Horn: Can you expand on the unique definition of your work, which you describe as “High Idea” custom modern design?
Mark Vaghei: The “High Idea” concept is when, as architects, we engage in projects at a deeper level. It’s beyond merely servicing the client’s immediate program needs. It serves as a metaphor as well as context, technology, details and sustainability.
JH: What new products or materials have caught your eye for the modern Southern California home?
MV: There are certainly many interesting panelized products out there, such as Fiber cement boards, Parklex, and Metl-Span panels, as well as various types of natural materials of siding in terra cotta, metal and wood.
JH: What would you like to be remembered for in your contribution to architectural history?
MV: Making buildings that communicate in the language of form, materials and textures. Architecture in my view as an art of substance. Materialized ideas about space responding to the demands of the program, site, locale, building technology and social responsibility. I would like to be remembered as an architect who respects the history of architecture, not to evoke an association with past forms and motifs, but to be better able to formulate relevant, responsible and imaginative ideas about architecture.
JH: Where do your design aesthetics or core values for architecture come from?
MV: A fundamental belief in the harmony of parts, a rational procedure, a concern for quality of proportion, a precision of detail, constructional integrity, programmatic appropriateness and human scale. Seeking to pursue the plastic limits of modern architecture outside of its traditional boundaries.
JH: Can you walk us through the beginning stages of the design process, from the moment you meet the site?
MV: Every site is different, and the moment I see a site, an initial solution and image immediately comes to my mind. More often than not, the very first solution ends up being the most appropriate. In my view, every site has only one really good solution, and one needs to search for that. In our design process, we normally do several schemes and exhaust all possibilities before presenting our client with one solution that we believe provides the best balance of program and aesthetics. This normally assures our client that no stone has been left unturned and validates our initial approach.
JH: What is the greatest value you bring to the client?
MV: Personal service, excellent design skills and an open mind. I am a strong believer that you need to listen to your client carefully to identify and define his/her needs, goals and objectives and make him or her a member of the team. We take time to go slow to go fast. Then we validate and confirm our analysis with the client and the project team. We work to communicate the “big idea” and not limit ourselves to conventional and safe solutions. Clients want options, flexibility and a strong concept. We provide real alternatives, not “straw men” that attempt to manipulate the decision-making process. Finally, we realize time is money. With a great understanding and respect for the budget and schedule, we know our clients are counting on it—on us!
JH: Can you give examples of key design elements you incorporate into your designs?
MV: Open plans, a lot of transparency and layering, correct proportions, sense of balance, interesting use of materials, timelessness and simplicity.
JH: Where do you see modern luxury living heading for Southern California?
MV: I am a strong believer in modernism—it’s here to stay! Homes are going to be increasingly multifunctional and flexible in nature, adapting themselves to various living arrangements. Homes of the future will be more sustainable, making maximum use of recycled materials and various alternative sources of energy. I don’t believe that bigger is necessarily better. As people become aware of good design, they will increasingly reach out to hire architects to design homes for their needs rather than buying the prepackaged varieties.
JH: What are a few of your favorite design elements or principles of modern architecture?
MV: The grid, simplicity of form, strong lines, openness, transparency and structural integrity.
JH: How would you describe the experience of meeting one of your residential designs?
MV: Satisfaction!
JH: Is there an architect or architectural philosophy that you look toward for inspiration?
MV: Modernism.
Mark Vaghei, AIA is a Los Angeles-based architect, principal and founder of atelier V : architecture (www.atelierv.com). He is a graduate of Harvard University Graduate School of Design in architecture and a recipient of several AIA honor awards.
To see the entire interview please go to to: