Icing on the Cake | Monocle

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Asking an Austrian to glorify the cupcake is like asking an Italian to drive a Buick; Sachertorte will do just fine, thanks. But the founders of LA-based company Sprinkles needed an architect, and they had one simple request for the reluctant Andrea Lenardin Madden: try a cupcake and see what you think. Needless to say, the all-organic confections that have had Oprah rhapsodising are a long way from Mum and margarine, and Lenardin Madden took the job.

Since the Sprinkles Beverly Hills flagship opened in 2005, lines around the block have been part of the allure. Last year the shop – with its white-oak counters, natural lighting and prime people-watching position – received two AIA/LA Restaurant Design Awards. Sprinkles currently has 17 more shops in the pipeline, including in London and Tokyo, and Lenardin Madden is now the company’s creative director – a multidisciplinary role that suits her expansive way of thinking. “I like the idea of dealing with one single product,” she says, “and creating a whole world around it.”

A programme at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in Vienna sent her to Los Angeles in 1996; meeting her future husband at the residents’ closing exhibition at the Schindler House led her to stay. With a debate waging among LA architects and academics about the validity of the built environment versus the theoretical, Lenardin Madden boldly straddles all the lines. She’s a conceptual artist who’s handy with a set of tools, a modernist who thinks in a non-linear fashion, and a minimalist who is fascinated by consumer culture and happens to collect a lot of stuff.

Asked about the balance between something as practical as designing a building and her conceptual art project/sticker book “Instant Days” – which comes pre-packaged with requisite doses of excitement, sadness, etc – she laughs. “I don’t know if there is a balance.”

Her work is unified, however, by the theme of memory and its impact. “Even in a very clean, modern environment there have to be traces of memory,” she asserts. “Your life has to be able to infiltrate the place.” She adds, “an architecture that can be informed by memory is an architecture that can have moods… I strive to create substance that can absorb, sustain, and reflect these moods.”

In the architect’s hillside home – a 1959 post-and-beam with sweeping views of the downtown skyline – mood is reflected by a glass-topped kitchen island with a recessed space for changing displays. Cheerful peppermint sweets fill the space; past collections have included the wine corks amassed from a year of drinking. “It’s pretty pathetic how much we drank in one year!” she giggles, leading me down to a terraced garden where a boules court awaits warmer days.

The Southern California ideal of indoor-outdoor living is a key objective in all of Lenardin Madden’s residential projects. For a family in Beverly Hills with an inherited collection of fine Bordeaux wine, she created a Lusthaus (pleasure dome) for adults and children, which transformed a separate house, garden and back house into a suite of spaces united by a garden and outdoor dining area with a fireplace.

The Seaview project in Santa Monica was more of a logistical challenge, despite the fact that the clients had only two requirements: ocean views and a parking space. But the property was on a narrow lot, and local regulations required a 1918 cottage (termite-ridden, no less) to remain standing, deeming it historically significant. Still, she restored the cottage and connected it to a new structure via a central dining room that opens on a courtyard.

“The idea was to create a space where they can work in different areas,” says Lenardin Madden, indicating an upstairs suite and a mezzanine overlooking the living room. “If they change their minds, they can migrate in their own house.” She also gave them their ocean views and a three-car garage to boot, rescuing them from the parking purgatory of a California beach town.

Trying to separate life in LA from one’s relationship to the car is futile, and Lenardin Madden believes the only way you can get something out of the city is by “understanding it through motion”. That idea has informed projects as diverse as the Konsum Museum, a conceptual “board game” where the city itself becomes a museum and points are scored by acquiring “art’’ in various forms, and the more practical Travelling Schindler, a self-guided driving tour of Rudolf Schindler’s Los Angeles work that is part of the MAK Center’s latest guide. Somewhere in between the two sits 7 Day LA, a collaborative multimedia project and soon-to-be-published travel guide to the “real” LA which leads intrepid tourists from Malibu to downtown to east LA and beyond, bringing them “closer to the pace of Los Angeles” – which can mean sitting in traffic all day.

Interested in process over product to a degree that “makes my husband very impatient”, Lenardin Madden maintains that all her work is meant to reach a certain point in the end. “I just start from very different corners in order to get to that point.”

Ask Andrea

What would be your dream project?
A Konsum Museum, where the city becomes a museum.

What makes a dream client – other than deep pockets?

Favourite materials to work with?
There are not many materials I would not want to explore. Material is integral to both look and function in my work. I choose materials for their intrinsic qualities and never just as a surface.

What would you like to build in LA?
A drive-through supermarket.

What would you do away with?

What two skills would you teach American tradesmen?
Go metric! It would mean smaller units, easy to add and subtract, this would minimise dimensional errors, encourage precision and ultimately improve craftsmanship. Communicate! Ideally via a PDA (get one, learn how to use it and always have it on).

What do Austrians excel at?

What do Americans excel at?

Favourite architects – past?
Adolf Loos and Mies van der Rohe.

Favourite architects – present?
Diller & Scofidio and Shigeru Ban.

www.almproject.com; ‘Sunset: Delayed’, Andrea Lenardin Madden’s installation with the artist Kasper Kovitz, opens at MAK, Vienna in April; www.mak.at

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