Three Shades of Gold

A year-long dialogue with American artist-turned-architect and punk modernist Robert Stone about his unique approaches and perfect backdrops for the fashion world’s upper crust.
Words: Ger Ger
& Julia Koerner
Images: Ger Ger

"At some point during his Vogue shoot, Steven Klein asked me if they could put the tiger in the house. And I was like, 'Go ahead, but be ready to shoot if it starts tearing everything up. I want that picture.'"

Robert Stone is a character and one of the most unconventional living artists-turned-architects today. His projects have been on the cover of Architectural Digest, have been named among the 25 most beautiful houses in the world, have been part of countless international fashion spreads. The crème de la crème of designers like Cavalli and Dior — and most recently Anthony Vaccarello with Saint Laurent SS17 muse Travis Scott — have produced their campaigns in his constructions.

We sat down with Stone in his Los Angeles atelier and spent a night at his famed houses Acido Dorado and Rosa Muerta in the California desert. We continued the conversation over a period of 12 months. The complete interview will be in the print issue of The Unseasonal.

"I think one of the most interesting things about our time is that our relationship to nature is totally different than it was in the modernist area. It is not romantic any more. We are at war with nature. I wanted to put something out there that is unmistakably unnatural. It is like if you go on a hike and you find an old aluminum can that is so bleached out by the sun you can barely read the printing. That kind of object says more about our relationship to nature than anything that pretends to be in harmony.

I'm not looking for harmony. I'm looking for interesting tension and complexity. I set up the relationship to nature and then let it play out."

"I was looking for a way to make architecture that felt more meaningful. I looked at it, in a way, like music. There are songs that we all have in our lives that bring us to a certain place, always modified by the present.

I'm building small houses, I'm not building airports, I'm not building museums, and I think they can work just like a really nice song. They can be strange, they can be mysterious, and they can feel like they are yours alone."

"I don't design the perimeter for something and then put holes in it. I design intersections of planes and then figure out how to enclose them. It is a modernist approach but one that I have tried to push much further. The natural state of the building is continuous with that abundant space all around it. I never draw closed squares. The natural state of those houses is open. It is like you open it and just live that way."

"One of the turning points for me was ‘90s Miu Miu. Miuccia Prada has a way of using materials and shapes that went far beyond architecture’s abstract purity.

She wasn't asking you to shut off the part of your brain that has a memory. She made things that looked entirely new but also brought in those connotations and memories. It was more strange because it was vaguely familiar. It was more alive because each piece connected to things beyond itself. It gave me a different understanding of materials than I had learned in the architecture world."

"At that time, everything could be understood as Prada versus Miu Miu. All the cool architects were wearing Prada Sport, which was the conservative black stuff with the little red tag. But at the same time, Miu Miu had this secret key that unlocked a whole different way of thinking about materials and ideas. So while I was obsessed with Miu Miu, all the architects were wearing black and their little fancy eyeglasses and all of that. I was so out of step. I was tattooed to the point that nobody would hire me and I used to go and sketch in the Miu Miu store until someone would kick me out. They would get uncomfortable because I was looking so carefully."

"Abstraction is a fantasy in the architecture world. I don't want to sound so negative but I have to push back because it is so ubiquitous. My understanding of it comes from the art world: abstraction is like an imaginary contract between the viewer and the object that says we are going to agree to only think about these things within a certain framework. That contract can be valuable but it leaves out everything else architecture can be."

"Growing up in Palm Springs felt more like Larry Clark than Julius Shulman. It was about actually living in these modernist houses, using them and sometimes destroying them. There is this strange historical overlay between skateboarding and the decline of modernism. In the ‘80s, they didn't put transitions in pools anymore: they built squares and you can't skate them. So we would search for pools by looking at the architecture. You would know from the street that a modernist house was going to have a rounded pool in the backyard. I think it gave me a more complicated understanding of how the modernist project overlaid with real life.

I swear, if all my roofs cave in and my houses burn down, they still are going to look really good. They are designed for that on purpose. I'm designing architecture that I want to look good in ruins."

"Not everything is positive in my work. The two-way mirrors, for example, come from this idea of engaging in some dialogue with the corruption of modernism, the part where it got dark. I mean, I love the end of the sixties where the ideal started to turn on them and got weird.

I have always been much more interested in fashion and art photography than in empty architecture. I want the houses to be portrayed in the way bodies connect to them and the way people bring poetic ideas to them. So it is almost natural that it is also a perfect stage for fashion. Architecture is only part of the equation. Movements of a tiger can complete it as much as the life anyone brings to it.

Am I a dreamer? All the time. So much that it is part of my everyday life. It is like air, it is like the water for the fish."
— Robert Stone