We had the good fortune of connecting with Edwin Chan and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Edwin, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
When I was the Design Partner at Gehry Partners for over 20 years, I had the opportunity and privilege and to have designed many cultural projects all over the world, including the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. However, these are mostly stand-alone icons for established clients, and I realized that there are other aspects of architecture that I would like to explore, such as architecture’s relationship with the urban context, with landscape, and with the arts. So, when I decided to start my own office in 2013, I named it EC3, which stands for my commitment to Empower Cross-disciplinary Collaborations in Creativity. I envision my office to be an open platform to collaborate with designers and innovators of different disciplines, including landscape architects, urban designers, engineers, scientists, and of course artists and curators etc. to conceive a holistic approach in design that fosters a closer relationship between the built and natural environments, and unifies architecture with the arts into a Gesamtkunstwerk (a total work of art) for our time. My first built project at EC3, the CHALET, is a collaboration with the international artist Piero Golia to create a social salon at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas that demonstrate this principle.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
What excites me about our work and sets us apart is our collaborative process of working with our clients and the team to create a design that’s unique for each project. I don’t start each project with a preconceived idea or image of what the project should be. Our design process is a creative journey; using physical models as the tool to to explore each project’s full potential with the client and the team in a series of in-person design workshops. What energizes me the most in the collaborative process is when new ideas emerge, often by accident, that charts an unexpected and new design direction. For example, we decided to use the prefabricated structures of Quonset Huts in our True North project in Detroit as a result of my conversations with the client Prince Concepts. This idea led to a design that is both a commercial and critical success. We are currently working with the same client on a new residential development in Core City Detroit. Our collaboration led to the decision of using off-the-shelve materials for construction, once again a departure from the conventional design thinking of developing customized architectural details.

Similarly, the hybrid mass timber tower concept for Atlassian Central in Sydney is the synthesis of the tech company client’s vision to create a net zero tower for their new headquarters, with the inputs of a diverse team of amazing engineers and consultants. For the same tech company client, we also developed and realized a new office design concept in 2019 that anticipated many workplace design principles that are now common practice as a result of the pandemic. Arriving at these design approaches with the client and the project team that I would not have conceived on my own is what I find to be truly gratifying.

On a personal level, I strongly believe that Arts and culture as catalyst for positive change to create a better future for the next generation of humanity. This is why I approach every project as a “cultural project” to make the arts a more integral experience for people’s daily lives. My designs for museums at Gehry Partners, such as the Guggenheim Bilbao and Fondation Louis Vuitton have set a new standard for what an art museum can be in the last millennium. Now at EC3, I would love the opportunity to reimagine what a contemporary art museum could be today. In the art world, there is this preoccupation that art spaces must be a minimalist and neutral “white box” in order for the art to stand out. But in my opinion, this idea of “white box” has led to the perception of the art museum as a highbrow and elitist institution, accessible to only the privileged few. I would like to challenge that idea to envision a new type of art museum with a strong architectural expression that is more democratic, accessible and inviting for diverse communities in our society.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?

I think that LA is the most unique city in the world with easy accessibility to both culture and nature. A one-week itinerary for a friend visiting LA for the first time would be organized to showcase this duality:

I would start the week in Venice Beach with a walking tour of Venice architecture, the Boardwalk, Abott Kinney Blvd. and the Canals. After grabbing brunch at Gjusta, then head up to Malibu in the afternoon to check out the beach and maybe catch some waves. Neptune’s Nest near the county line is a good spot to have happy hour and to watch the sunset.

For day two, we would explore LA’s art scene, starting with the Downtown Arts District, visit the Geffen Contemporary, Hauser and Wirth gallery, MOCA on Grand, the Broad; and finish the day with a concert at Disney Hall. Grand Central Market or the taco trucks in Boyles Height are good options for lunch; and dinner at one of Downtown’s many great restaurants such as Manuela, Bastia or Damian. The Bradbury Building, where they filmed Blade Runner, is also not to be missed.

We continue to West Hollywood the following day to check out the Melrose and La Brea areas. We stop by LACMA and the Motion Picture Museum to see more art exhibitions, as well as the galleries around Santa Monica Blvd and Highland, such as Regan Projects and Jeffrey Deitch. The original Farmer’s Market on Fairfax is a good place for lunch, and K-town has many good options for Korean BBQ dinner.

To burn off the calories from the Korean BBQ, we spend day four with a hike to the Hollywood Sign and visiting the Griffith Observatory. Squirrel in Silver Lake is a good place to grab a takeout lunch for these hikes.

On day five, we indulge in a more “touristy itinerary” to Beverley Hills, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a spin on Sunset Blvd. I love the courtyard at Chateau Marmont for drinks (and celebrity sighting), and instead of the original Matsuhisa / Nobu, we go to Sawtelle (a.k.a. little Osaka) for a sushi dinner. After dinner, take a drive along Mulholland Drive for the unforgettable view of LA’s city grid at night, immortalized by many films and the paintings of Ed Ruscha.

The weekend is reserved for an excursion to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree (I consider the desert a natural extension of LA). In addition to visiting the collection of mid-century architecture, Palm Springs has become quite a gastro hub with many fine dining restaurants. Joshua Tree obviously offers many hiking trails to experience the other-worldly rock formations, but a detour to the Noah Purifoy’s outdoor museum is highly recommended. If possible, spend the night camping is the best way to end the week under Joshua Tree’s clear and starry sky.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would like to dedicate my first shoutout to Mike Larson, my first architecture professor at UC Berkeley where I did my undergraduate study. Mike has been an inspirational mentor in supporting my interest in architecture as an artistic and humanistic practice. With Mike’s encouragement and guidance, I continued to develop my architectural career at Harvard GSD, and afterwards at Frank Gehry’s office. I invited him to the inauguration of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao; and consulted with him when I decided to start my own office. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2016, but his advises will always stay with me.

Then, I would also like to dedicate my second shoutout to my current team at EC3. I know that they have the choice of working for more famous “starchitects” or at more established offices, but they have decided to take the chance with me and grow the office together. I hope I will not let them down and we will build our shared vision together that would make a difference in our profession and in the world.

Website: www.EC3.us

Instagram: @edwinchan323

Facebook: Edwin Chan

Image Credits
Edwin Chan Portrait by Alexi Tylevich EC3 studio Workshop by Alexi Tylevich Fondation Louis Vuitton Aerial by L’Observatoire Int. Chalet Dallas by Jeremy Bittermann True North Aerial by Rafael Gamo Atlassian Tower Design Model by EC3 Atlassian San Francisco Office by Chris Miele Guggenheim Bilbao 25th Anniversary by Guggenheim Bilbao

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.