From a home Adelaide Drive near the Pacific Palisades to the new Vice Media offices in Venice, the architects at March Studio have left their mark on the places where Santa Monicans visit, live and learn across the west side. Whether you sent your children to the Growing Place or shopped at Fred Segal, chances are you have walked through a space designed by the close-knit team at March Studio.
“We feel like we have a responsibility as architects and designers not only to our clients but to the context the project sits in,” Principal Architect Todd Erlandson said recently from their small office wedged between a tattoo removal clinic and an eco-friendly landscaper on Lincoln Boulevard.  Behind him, a bright yellow surfboard and the word ‘love’ punctuated a shelf stuffed with design books.  Todd, his wife, Sherry Hoffman, and design director Lara Hoad specialize in working with brands to create custom spaces.
Hoffman says she began integrating marketing and architecture while the couple was living in Switzerland.  She found her background in marketing gave her a different perspective when it came to design that helped her translate a company’s ethos into a style.  Over the next two decades, her firm has worked with big names like HBO Films and fashion designer Tadashi Shoji to integrate their vibe into their space.  She’s currently working on a book to pass on her knowledge to the next generation of modern designers.
“We’ve designed spaces that are meant to invite people in and really make their process visible and their way of working,” Hoffman said.
When their kids were young, Hoffman traveled to Italy to learn about the educational philosophy behind Reggio Emilia before working with teachers and children to design the Growing Place.  The sunny, yellow building won the LA Design Award from the American Institute of Architects.  During that project, Hoffman said they realized they could apply commercial strategies to a community building to add sophistication to the design.  More recently, the team took a similar approach to revamp an upstairs section of City Hall for the Office of Civic Wellbeing.  The department is in charge of Santa Monica’s $1 million Wellbeing Project (created with funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies) to measure quality of life.
While the design involved a trip to Ikea rather than Europe, the team took the department’s focus on civic wellbeing and translated the concept into a workspace.
“On the roof (of City Hall) there’s this domed space,” Erlandson said, describing the 1960’s addition to the art deco landmark. “We were able to turn it into a collaborative working space with a roof deck outside.  It looks completely different from how everyone else in City Hall works.”
Erlandson, Hoffman, and Hoad said they worked with a tight budget to incorporate natural materials, sunlight and outdoor space to create an area inside City Hall that workers from other departments would seek out.
“They invite people from the city to come up and share this space with them,” Hoad said, “so the space has to reflect what they’re trying to promote, this idea of wellbeing.”
Overall, Hoffman says their success shows that even in the digital age, physical space still matters.  As the collapse of notable retail businesses has city leaders looking to the future of Santa Monica as a shopping and vacation destination, she hopes they will work to preserve a sense of place for the people who live here.
“We’re a unique, very special community and I hope that our environment reflects that and just doesn’t become a destination,” Hoffman said.
The designers and architects develop their own sense of community on Lincoln Boulevard through a playful front window that rotates displays throughout the year.  At any given time passerbys could see a mini bust of Elvis or a bird wearing a bowtie.  Inside, the architects hope their fellow residents stop in for a cup of tea and a chat.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press