Famed photographer Julius Shulman took this shot of Steven Ehrlich in 1981 at Kalfus Studio, the architect’s first ground-up project in Los Angeles. Photographed by Julius Shulman
Famed photographer Julius Shulman took this shot of Steven Ehrlich in 1981 at Kalfus Studio, the architect’s first ground-up project in Los Angeles.

Celebrating 40 years in business, Steven Ehrlich of L.A. and San Francisco-based EYRC Architects (eyrc.com) is one of the world’s most respected architects in the game. Here, he bares all.

What made you want to become an architect? As a kid, I loved building things, starting with model airplanes, lean-tos and forts. At 12, I won a New Jersey state science fair competition with a solar home design. As a teenager, I built treehouses. When I was in high school, my father, an inventor and engineer, gave me a book on Frank Lloyd Wright, whose work amazed me. I guess I always knew that I wanted to pursue the glorious possibilities of architecture.

I heard that this photo (above), taken by Julius Shulman, helped launch your career. Can you explain? My first ground-up project in Los Angeles was the Kalfus Studio in 1981. I had met the legendary architectural photographer Julius Shulman and asked him to photograph the art and photography studio. He said yes on the condition that I work as his assistant. On day two of the shoot, Julius decided he needed a live model in the frame and asked me to take my clothes off. At this early point in my career I was not about to say no, but the nude photo has never been published before. However, Julius’ other photos of the Kalfus Studio did appear on the cover of The New York Times Home section and helped launch my career.

How do you think your work (and your firm’s work) stands out as unique and interesting? After architecture school, I spent six years working, teaching and traveling in North and West Africa, which gave me a deep appreciation for the wisdom of Indigenous builders. When I started my practice as a residential architect 40 years ago, I wove multicultural and vernacular elements into a California modernist idiom. Even as my partners and I have diversified with big projects including schools, workplaces and hotels, we have maintained the same inclusive, culturally and environmentally sensitive approach to architecture. We believe that people should feel at home in all of our buildings.

What has been your proudest career moment over the past 40 years? In 2015, our firm was honored with the national American Institute of Architects (AIA) Firm Award, which recognizes design excellence achieved by a collective. Building a robust practice of 45 people has been one of the most creative and fulfiling aspects of my career. There’s an African proverb that I love: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.’

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced? The profession of architecture is rigorous, and leading a team successfully requires one to have the utmost enthusiasm at all times yet be ready to take a direct hit. I’ve always had passion but I’ve also had to cultivate flexibility and adaptability to ride the ups and downs and switchbacks along the road.

What else would you like to achieve in your career? There are two types of buildings I’d still like to tackle. One is a spiritual space of some sort, which could be religious or artistic or contemplative. The other is community-minded architecture, such as low-cost housing and cultural venues for the disadvantaged.