The founders of Los Angeles–based null.lab,
Arshia and Reza (left and far left—and yes, they go only by
their first names), adopted the firm’s name because it’s
both specific and vague—in other words, slightly dysfunctional.
“A lab is obviously a place of experimentation, where the
process is valued as much as the result,” says Arshia. The
concept of null, he adds, indicates not so much “nothing”
as the unknown. Perhaps that hints at the undefined territory he
and Reza explore when they begin each project, but that’s
one of many possible interpretations. They’d prefer to let
us draw our own inferences.
This open-ended approach is reflected in their design philosophy, which could bear the tagline “Against Functionalism.” Arshia says, “In architecture there’s a bias about the way space is used—that use should be predetermined by function or form or program. We want to defunctionalize architecture in this way. We’d prefer that people engage with our projects like natural spaces—to be able to pick out where they’re most comfortable doing various things, whether it’s sitting or working or reading, as they would in a park.” Reza also cites natural systems as a model. “We want to design in the same manner that nature generates life—DNA, for instance, has the same structure but results in very different-looking organisms. We’re interested in creating complex spaces generated by simple, straightforward rules.” They think of themselves as makers of space rather than architects, a term they find too restrictive; both have dabbled in—and are fascinated by—film and new media.
The partners knew each other for several years before forming null.lab in 2002. Both were born in Iran. Arshia, who lived in Baltimore briefly as a child in the 1970s, studied architecture at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran and practiced there afterward, designing commercial and residential projects and winning awards for both built and unbuilt work. Reza, whose family moved to Columbus, Ohio, when he was 10, earned his degree at SCI-Arc in 1991 and spent much of the next decade working for a who’s-who list of Los Angeles architects: Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, Eric Owen Moss. He and Arshia met in Tehran in the mid-1990s, where Arshia was working for Shirdel/Kipnis as a project architect for the Tehran International Airport, and Reza was employed briefly as a form-maker. When Arshia moved to Los Angeles in 1997, they reconnected, even working together a few times for Michele Saee and others. Now they work side by side at a few makeshift, poorly lit work tables in a huge, raw loft space near SCI-Arc, which seems more 1970s SoHo than City of Angels.
Though Arshia and Reza describe null.lab as a nontraditional firm, that doesn’t seem to be scaring away clients. In fact, their projects downtown and on Sunset Strip involve some of L.A.’s top developers and planners. If the recent honor award from AIA Los Angeles for Bobco Metals (see previous page) is any indication, null.lab seems poised to become a stalwart of an emerging generation of avant-garde designers in a city that has always attracted iconoclasts. The unknown, after all, holds infinite possibilities.