Mark Jensen: The Third Place

People / Places / Products / October 17, 2011

Mark Jensen is the principal of Francisco-based architecture firm whose work includes projects like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s award-winning rooftop sculpture garden to lovingly detailed hillside homes.  Lifework, the Herman Miller blog, interviewed Jensen last week, and agreed to allow Architects + Artisans to publish the results as well, with a slideshow:

You are the principal architect of an 18-person firm that was established in 1990. Can you tell us about what drew you to architecture?

Two things: first, my German grandfather hand-crafted a collection of solid maple building blocks for his grandson (thankfully, he didn’t have the tools in his garage-shop to make “blobs”). Second, my high school geometry teacher (a “recovering” architect himself) took one look at my hyper-organized class binder and said to me: “Mark, you are going to be an architect.”

Your residential work is strongly contemporary and very finely detailed. The Kokoris Residence, for example, features almost hidden tile work near the entrance and the Twin Peaks Residence in San Francisco has a system of rounds built into the concrete at the front door that let light into the floor below. Are you inspired in these details by the site? What drives you in your design decisions?

In music, there are some songs that grab you the first time you hear them… but you may quickly tire of them. Other songs only bring you in after multiple listenings.  In my architecture, I aspire to the latter. Standing up to multiple listenings means getting the details right.

Tell us about some of the work spaces you’ve designed in client’s homes. Do you find people are asking for more flexible work spaces? Is a dedicated home office a think of the past as more and more we find ourselves liberated by wireless internet to roam the house?

There is an ongoing discussion about the “third place”: neither home nor office but rather a coffee house or a train station. This is an interesting conversation but I think we are quickly moving past it where we can be connected anywhere at any time. The new home office is the sofa or the pool

Herman Miller is committed to sustainable practice in everything we do. In 2005 you collaborated with a number of design firms to create the Scrap House – can you tell us about that project?

The Scrap House was an interesting experiment in how one could build a single family home with found objects and reclaimed materials. What is more pressing
now is to consider how we could shift the construction culture of single family homes toward a variety of alternatives: smaller floor plans, built closer together, pre-manufactured, and requiring no energy input.

It seems so often these days that work spills out of the office and into the home. How do you strike a balance between your work and the rest of your life?

Since I love what I do, I am not so troubled by striking this balance. But to answer your question: “Less Internet, More Cabernet.” (It sounds better in Italian.)

For more on Mark Jensen, go to

For more on Lifework, go to

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Mike Welton

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