Working out of the Box is a series of features presenting architects who have applied their architecture backgrounds to alternative career paths.
Are you an architect working out of the box? Do you know of someone that has changed careers and has an interesting story to share? If you would like to suggest an (ex-)architect, please send us a message.
Archinect: Where did you study architecture?
Airi Isoda: I studied architecture at University of Southern California.
At what point in your life did you decide to pursue architecture?
I decided to study architecture in college after I had summer internships at Kisho Kurokawa’s architecture firm in Tokyo & also at Hakuhodo, a Japanese advertising firm in Singapore. I asked the architects, what would you do if you could pick between doing architecture or advertising? And they passionately answered, “architecture.” I also asked the same question to people that worked at the advertising agency, and funnily, they picked architecture, too. I was really torn at the time, and I thought, “wow, architects want to be architects, and other design professionals want to be architects, too,” so that really helped me decide, and I am so glad I did.
When did you decide to stop pursuing architecture? Why?
Seeing the exhibit Skin & Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion & Architecture was a light-bulb moment. It was the first time I saw fashion in a new light - conceptual and architecture for the body. Viewing an elaborately draped dress with folds similar to a façade of a building I studied in school… it was just an eye opening experience because I saw intellectual fashion, past its somewhat superficial and superfluous nature. In April 2008, I started fashion school and have been trying to do more bridging of architecture & fashion ever since.
Describe your current profession.
I am one half of wrk-shp, a fashion/architecture/product design company based in Los Angeles. I am the designer for clothes and products at our label, creating womenswear clothing for 4 seasons per year, and a line of accessories. I also collaborate with my husband & work partner, Ryan Upton, who is a practicing architect, on lighting products, small everyday objects and building projects.
What skills did you gain from architecture school, or working in the architecture industry, that have contributed to your success in your current career?
Every time I meet someone who asks me about architecture school, I tell them that it is the best thing to study in college. I truly believe that architecture school prepares you for any career!
For me, the main thing that architecture school taught me was to think design, to have a concrete idea, and how to apply those concepts into your projects. Working in the industry, it taught me to be resourceful, detail-oriented, and to be a manager. In my fashion job, I wear many hats since we are still a small company. I am one day, sewing samples, being very technical about how fabrics come together, and the next day, I am sourcing trims or managing the budget, or trying to be a salesman for the current collection. Architecture really teaches you to be good at everything. Know a little bit about everything and think both macro & micro about a project.
Do you have an interest in returning to architecture?
We are hugely influenced by the story of Charles & Ray Eames, and we hope to make a name for ourselves practicing in various media, like architecture, fashion, products, and graphic design, all influencing each other. I plan to continue the fashion and product development, and Ryan will expand the architecture side of wrk-shp. Our dream is to have our studios combined in a brick-and-mortar space where we “work” and people can visit us and “shop”, hence wrk-shp.