Interview by Geoff Weisenberger
Southern California architect Anders Lasater has found the perfect balance between designing buildings and banging drums.
ANDERS LASATER APPRECIATES STRUCTURE—not just when it comes to
buildings but also its role in music.
The founder of Anders Lasater Architects in Laguna Beach, Calif., he first made the connection between a design drawing and a final product in his high school woodshop class. In this month’s Field Notes podcast interview, he talks about why he loves California, his experience as a judge for this year’s AISC IDEAS2 Awards competition, starting his own firm, and the connection between architecture and music.
I understand your firm is in Laguna Beach. Are you a SoCal native?
I am! It seems folks move out here for the weather, and I guess that’s one of the reasons I’ve never left. It’s hard for me to think of living somewhere else. I’ve made my career working in coastal Orange County. There’s something particularly special about the sunlight in this area, and that’s what makes being an architect here especially exciting.
Speaking of architecture, when did you start on that path? I think an awareness of the built environment is something that doesn’t come naturally to anyone. But when you become aware of how you can look at the built environment and begin to understand your relationship with it, an entirely new world of opportunity is awoken in you. That really began for me in seventh-grade woodshop class, where we were first taught how to do some basic mechanical drawing, like drawing a circle with a compass. And then you would take that drawing over to the woodworking machine and cut out a wheel for what would ultimately become a little wood truck planter to give your mom on Mother’s Day. And so that kind of relationship between the act of drawing something, being able to create something from the drawing, and then being able to see the reaction that you elicit from someone you gave it to was so powerful, and it left in me this really strong desire to be a creator. And from there, as I grew up, I realized that I had an ability to draw, and architectural drawings became fascinating to me. I learned how to relate to the built environment and how to see buildings in a more specific, more intentional way, and I realized that’s really what I wanted to be, an architect. It was either that or a rock-and-roll drummer, which I was pretty serious about, but I decided architecture was probably the better way to have a more regular paycheck.
To be a professional in the music business was another level of existence that I realized I probably couldn’t attain, whereas architecture felt like a natural extension of me. I could think and be and act like an architect fairly naturally. So that was where I made the decision to pursue it as my primary career and let music be that thing that I could always fall back to and get instant gratification from. Being an architect, it takes years sometimes to develop buildings and to see the fruits of your labor, but it takes mere minutes to turn around and pick up a guitar or sit down at the piano or behind the drums and bang out something for your own instant gratification. Music is a great counterbalance to my architecture.
Do you feel like the two disciplines are related?
Music has an internal structure. There’s dynamic and there’s deviation from the norm, from a datum point, and great architecture is similarly based on order and rigor and dynamic and all of the things we find in a great piece of music. The two are so closely related and yet they’re also very far apart. Architecture exists in three dimensions all at once, where music is temporal. It starts and it has a finish. They don’t exist in the same kind of dimensional plane, but they have very similar qualities.
Igor Stravinsky was a great musician, but I consider him a great designer as well. He designed the most avant-garde music of his time. He used to say that the greater the restrictions he placed upon himself, the more creative his response, and I think that message resonates with architecture as well. I often find that the projects that are harder for me are the ones where I am given no limits. We’re doing a mountain house now in the Lake Tahoe area on a very large piece of property. I can basically put the house anywhere I want, and the shape of the house can be basically anything I want because there are no physical limitations governing my choices there, and to be frank, it actually makes my job a lot harder. I really like when I have restrictions like a small lot or a lot that has a particular shape, whether it’s long and narrow or maybe it’s got a curve on one side, because what I find is that those limitations begin to influence my response, and that results in a unique and very site-specific kind of architecture.
Tell me a bit about starting your own firm.
As I was finishing graduate school at UCLA, I was working for an architect in Orange County named Mark Singer, who was doing some really wonderful modern homes here in the Laguna Beach area. Under his tutelage, I learned how to create buildings, how to interact with clients, how to create contracts—the kinds of things that an architect needs to know not only to be a good designer but also a good businessperson. Eventually, it was time for me to step out on my own, and I remember the day it happened. It was the end of March in 2006, and I woke up on a Saturday, realizing that I’d quit a well-paying job with great clients, doing awesome projects, and I had to figure out what to do next. I had two kids and a wife at home staring at me, going, “OK, smart guy. You wanted it your way or the highway, now you’ve got it. What are you going to do about it?” I don’t think there’s a more motivating thing than waking up in the morning, realizing you don’t have a job and you’ve got three hungry mouths to feed. But you’ve got talent and ability and you need to go put it to work, and I remember getting out of bed that morning practically sobbing in my coffee, and then by noon that day I had already reached out to a dozen different contacts, and the question they all asked was, “What took you so long?” I had the good fortune of having a great network of people that I was connected to, and those people did an exceptional job of helping me accelerate my firm. Pretty quickly, we were off and running, and I haven’t looked back.
That’s great to hear! Switching gears, can you tell me about your experience judging the IDEAS2 Awards?
I really enjoyed being on the jury and looking at the vast differences between the project types and sizes. The winners all used steel in a way where it is celebrated and allowed to become greater than just a support role. One of the things that I say all the time is that a great building will look as good when it’s under construction as it does when it’s finished. I often find that buildings in their construction stage exhibit a really inherent beauty. They have rhythm and order, they have rigor, and they have a logic to them that oftentimes gets covered up with the finish materials. But with all the winners, not only was the steel elegantly exhibited during construction but also in the finished project.
Switching gears again, when did the drumming begin?
Some of my earliest memories were sitting on the kitchen floor in front of the kitchen cabinets, having pulled out all the pots and pans and just sitting there banging away with wooden spoons. I remember even hanging the metal lids for the pans with string off the handles of the cabinets to create my cymbals. I became infatuated with what the drums looked like, how they sounded, the idea of sitting behind them and commanding them, and creating this driving force behind the music. When I was in third grade, I remember we had a little snare drum marching group in our school, and then I started drum lessons and eventually piano lessons as well. I taught myself guitar and now I play the bass guitar too. But with the drums, I can create the foundation, the driving structure, and rhythms that support the other parts of the music.
This article is excerpted from my conversation with Anders. To hear
our chat in its entirety, including Anders’ goal of visiting all 50 states,
his band, and his admiration for Ringo Starr and Lars Ulrich, visit