interview JORGE PEREZCHICA
Originally from Seattle, Washington, it’s clear Chris Pardo arrived to Palm Springs with his own vision. At first impression Chris comes across as a rock star of architecture, dressed casually in his trademark navy-blue t-shirt and jeans, arms covered in tattoos, and a fohawk haircut. In conversation there is an intense curiosity in his eyes, he will talk about architectural design with fervid energy and enthusiasm; from the big picture to the small details, angles, shapes, materials and colors. With 87 active projects, Chris Pardo dives in fearlessly as if he can see the future mapped in blueprints.
JORGE: When did you first get into architecture?
CHRIS PARDO: Since I was six years old, I had a subscription to Elle Décor magazine and Sunset magazine. I would go with my dad on the weekend to go to open houses. When we’re walking through the open houses, I would draw the floor plans of the buildings we were walking through. I always had this interest in architecture and design, so I decided to go to undergrad in architecture and construction. Actually, a couple of years into it, my dad’s like, “You’re not very good at math and you’re never going to make a lot of money as an architect.” I actually transferred out of architecture and then into hotel management. My undergrad degree is hotel management, that’s why Arrive and all these other restaurants made sense. It’s been a secondary interest of mine. I ended up going back to grad school for architecture. Then for my thesis project, instead of doing a faux project, we actually built two townhouses from the ground up in the central district in Seattle and started a development design-build company. The first 100 townhouses that we designed, we actually built ourselves as well. That led to us getting more and more clients and ended up being a designer for other people.
JORGE: You’re originally from Seattle, right?
CHRIS: That’s right, about an hour North in a town called Arlington.
JORGE: What inspired you to visit Palm Springs?
CHRIS: I came down actually on vacation and fell in love with Palm Springs in 2011. Then started looking at real estate, we found this vacant lot, where we ended up building Arrive. Once we purchased the lot, so I started coming down once a month to go through the permitting with the AAC, Planning Commission and City Council. Every time I would stay a little bit longer, a little bit longer, a little bit longer and then I just stopped going back in March of 2013. I’ve lived here for almost four years.
JORGE: Were you already familiar with the iconic Modernism architecture of Palm Springs?
CHRIS: I was familiar obviously with the Kaufman house, and I knew of Wexler. I actually really wasn’t familiar with Palm Springs at all. I think partly my generation, if you weren’t in Southern California, you didn’t really know Palm Springs. To me, it was amazing to discover the architecture here and the history. Over the last four years, really learn what it is and what it means and how important it is to the culture here.
JORGE: How did you start designing projects in Palm Springs? Was it a challenge or did it happen quickly?
CHRIS: Well, for Arrive, we’ve been working on the brand for about seven years, actually. Looking for the first spot to build it. Once I came down here and we started talking about it, my others partners are from LA so they were already familiar with Palm Springs. We felt it’d be the perfect place to launch it. That’s what really got me into building down here, was the hotel itself. Then from doing that, I started meeting a lot of other clients and developers that liked what we were doing here. They would ask me to work on the project and that’s how I ended up working on the downtown project for John Wessman.
JORGE: You recently won an award for Arrive hotel, can you talk about that.
CHRIS: It was super exciting and unexpected. I didn’t think we would win, but I never think we’re going to win. It was a Gold Nugget Grand Prize Award for best project under 26,000 square feet. We went up to San Francisco and attended the award ceremony, just enjoying the free food and then they called our name. We went up and accepted the award with Dave Johnston, our general contractor. It was really exciting, actually. My son was the only one that really thought we would win.
JORGE: When you are designing, are you thinking to blend in with the rest of the architecture in Palm Springs, is there a middle-ground, or do you have your own vision?
CHRIS: I definitely have my own vision, but everything’s built on relating to urban fabric that’s already there. I learned a lot from other buildings. How they dealt with the climate here is the main reason that Mid-Century Modern works so well, these large overhangs that cover your windows provide the energy efficiency. I’ve learned a lot from the buildings that were already here. I lived in Alexander home, so I got really familiar with it. I’ve lived in a Wexler. I got up close and personal, so those definitely influenced the design. Although, I never want to replicate anything, because I think it’s not authentic. It doesn’t benefit the community if I’m building something that’s more like Disneyland, making these fake mid-century moderns. Arrive does obviously have influences from mid-century, but it’s not replicating the past. We’re trying to be what Palm Springs is today.
JORGE: Can you design however you want, or does the city have guidelines?
CHRIS: The city is very particular on the design. They are super particular. Besides general zoning guidelines, they don’t have that many written rules. Once you go through architectural committee and planning commission, you could be there for years if you don’t understand what they’re looking for. It’s an unwritten guideline of what they want, I think. They want high quality materials. In general, they’re supportive of modern projects. They’re questionable on murals. It is a process, for sure.
JORGE: Does that push you creatively or does that hinder you?
CHRIS: In some aspects, it pushes me to do better and I think that’s mostly in the quality and the refining of details. They’ll even ask me how the railings are connected down to the ground. They want to see the details of how the screws go into it and how it aligns with everything. No other city I’ve ever worked in has asked me for that close of details during preliminary approvals. It does hinder it though, somewhat, on things like the mural. If I want to just do some creative, great project, there’s so many cooks in the kitchen, when you start presenting it to the architecture committee and planning commission. Hypothetically, it ends up not being exactly what your vision was at the beginning. In my experience so far, it’s actually worked out fine, but it always scares me when I’m trying to do a creative endeavor and someone else is controlling what the overall finished project is.
JORGE: What makes Arrive unique and stand out from other hotels?
CHRIS: One, it obviously is the first new construction hotel, I think in 20-something years. Low rise built on a vacant lot, so it’s urban infill. It’s really a hotel that’s designed around being more of a neighborhood restaurant, than it is necessarily a hotel. You can see the whole building, there’s no lobby, there’s no check-in area. It’s just a restaurant. It’s designed primarily to be for the local community, the people that live in the neighborhood behind us, north of us, east of us. Then the same with the coffee shop. You can see there’s no entrance even into the hotel area from the coffee shop. It’s really for the public, forward facing. The ice cream shop is the same. What’s unique about Arrive, is it’s unlike a typical hotel. Hotels by nature are for travelers and we’re more for the neighborhood itself. That’s how every Arrive that we’re doing in the future is as well. We are working on one right now in Austin and in Memphis. The same concepts, they are community focused restaurant and entertainment gathering space that happens to have rooms attached.
JORGE: Did you design the coffee and ice cream shops from the beginning, or was that an after thought?
CHRIS: It’s actually pretty interesting. During the permit process, you have to define or say what you think the space is going to be. At the beginning, I had added two retail spaces. The city asked us to identify what it would be. I said, “This will be a coffee shop and this one will be an ice cream shop.” We were just doing them for placeholders at the beginning, but then we started thinking about it more and more. We were like, “Those are qualities that are additive to the rest of the hotel, the restaurant experience and the neighborhood.” We ran with the concept. Now, every Arrive is going to have a Custom’s Coffee that features a different local roaster. This one, you can see our logo has the Joshua Tree coffee logo in the middle of it, he’s our local partner for roaster. Then in Austin, we have a local Austin roaster that’s going to be featured. In Memphis, it’s a different roaster. Every one is going to be focused on the community roaster, which is kind of fun.
JORGE: When guests visit Arrive, what’s the experience and ambience that you want to create?
CHRIS: We want it to be a more comfortable experience, less formal than a traditional hotel experience, when you stand in line to check-in and have a concierge talk to you. We want to feel more like you’re staying at a friend’s house or even an Airbnb. It’s just a more authentic experience of getting a residential feel to that city.
JORGE: Can you tell us about the Draughtsman?
CHRIS: The Draughtsman, I’m super excited about. It was originally a Bob’s Big Boy, I think built in 1971. It then became a Pizza Hut. When we were acquiring the Arrive property, we started talking to the owner and he let us know that Pizza Hut was planning on moving out. We told him that we’d be interested once they do move out. That happened about a year and a half ago. We finally took it over and then started renovating into the Draughtsman. It’s a really a good fit for Palm Springs. It’s a architectural beer pub, basically. A play on the word draftsman, obviously. Draft beer and drafting. It should be a fun place to hang out.
JORGE: What about the Downtown Palm Springs project? Is all that designed by you too?
CHRIS: I’m working on every single project in some capacity. The Kimpton and Block A. I was hired after the building was designed, basically to refine the overall look of it and get the final approval from the city. My involvement, there has mostly to do with adding a lot of the architectural details on the outside and then doing the restaurants and public space interior design. Block B, I designed from the ground up. It’s more reflective of the Arrive, I would say. It has the swooping roofs that go down from 28 feet to 38 feet and they angulate opposite of each other. Really beautiful, all retail space on the ground floor and residential units on the second floor. Block C, is three restaurants, then I think 68,000 square feet of retail space, four residential lofts. Then the Kimpton, my role was to design the rooftop pool area and the restaurant up there, the café on the ground floor, and coordinating some of the interior design. To the North of that, I designed, from the ground up, the Virgin Hotel, expected to start construction in 2018. Also we worked closely on all of the hardscaping and landscape design for the public paseos and the new streets with Tom Doczi and Allen Sanborn.
JORGE: Is that one of the biggest projects you worked on?
CHRIS: It is. It’s definitely the largest projects I’ve worked on.
JORGE: Was there any pressure, did you ever feel intimidated by that?
CHRIS: Constantly. There’s just a million decisions that I’m involved with, from every single detail of the signage for the new streets, the pavers, the colors of all those things. Having to go to the city and meet special committees. Talking about the landscaping, the size of the pots, drainage, everything. It’s been really, really challenging, overwhelming. It’s 60 hours a week at least, just doing that project.
JORGE: Do you see yourself following in the legacy of other iconic architects in Palm Springs? Your work is going to change the face of Downtown Palm Springs once that’s completed.
CHRIS: The project is definitely going to make a huge impact on the city. I don’t see myself that way though. I don’t think I’m adding what those people have done, Wexler and the others are my heroes. I don’t see myself that way, at all. I’m just trying to do the best job I can for the city.
JORGE: How would you describe your personal style?
CHRIS: I always used to describe my style as Asian inspired Scandinavian.
JORGE: Because everything that I’ve seen you design has a youthful, cool, hip, feel to it.
CHRIS: Thank you.
JORGE: Is it intended for a younger demographic?
CHRIS: That’s not necessarily my intention, but I believe that does come through in my work. Most of my work has to do with public spaces now. I do a lot of single family homes still, but the single family homes are a different style than I’d say my more public buildings are. They’re more modern. The hospitality projects I’m doing, they’re meant to be backdrops for life. They have more entertainment value to them and a sense of humor. More natural materials, brighter colors.
JORGE: What has been the public’s reaction to your designs so far?
CHRIS: In general, they’ve been pretty well received. Not everyone loves everything. The downtown project for sure has been a challenge, mostly because of the scale of the project. It’s unusual for Palm Springs to have buildings over 30 feet. Some of the project is 53 to 85 feet tall. It’s not mid-century modern architecture any more, it’s modern architecture. It’s how can you adapt the massing and still have the small town character, the tactile feeling and bring in some of the elements of mid-century into a mass that wasn’t really in that language, that vocabulary of architecture.
JORGE: What keeps your creative flow going?
CHRIS: I would say music and travel are the two main inspirations for me, and movies. I’m a huge movie fan. Travel, I believe, is how I learned everything I know. Like the tattoos on my arm, that’s everywhere I’ve lived. I was born there, moved there, moved there, moved there, then moved there and now live in Palm Springs. The things I learned in those cities inspire the way I design, the way I think and how I see people.
JORGE: What’s the next major project?
CHRIS: We have 87 active projects right now and excited about them all, but looking forward to rolling out a number of hotels in the next 12-16 months.
JORGE: How many designers work in your firm?
CHRIS: I have six here, including me, and one in San Francisco, so seven.
JORGE: When you are designing a new project, how do you work together as a team?
CHRIS: We dive in. That’s why I work so much, because I love it and I have projects that I just want to dive in immediately and start researching what that’s going to be and figure out all the details.
JORGE: What do you love the most about architecture?
CHRIS: The thing I love the most is, when I’m done. The fact of creating something into physical form. Tangible. When I’m, done I can go and see the thing that’s been in my head. In this case, Arrive for four years. It took four years to get it built. Now it’s a thing that exists, it has a life of its own, it becomes something that I never even imagined. That’s the fun thing, is seeing how people end up actually interacting and reacting to what I create. It’s more like art to me and that’s what I love about it. It’s creating something in your head, seeing it to fruition, then having people react to, whether that’s positive or negative in the end, it’s great to see either way.
JORGE: What advice would you give to aspiring architects who want to dive into the industry?
CHRIS: The main thing is that you need to be willing to take risks, make mistakes. A lot of architects are perfectionists and they’re super hard on themselves, it’s not an easy career to be in. It’s one that if you’re passionate about, you can do really well. Don’t be afraid to try new things and really be tenacious about it. You can’t give up. When you’re going through Hell, you just keep going (pointing at a tattoo on his arm) I have advice all over my body. The biggest thing is it’s hard work, but it’s work that’s meaningful.