This story is the second in a two-part feature on Studio T-Square (Studio T-SQ), an award-winning team of architects, designers, and urban planners with offices in Long Beach and Oakland, California. As responsible stewards of the environment, Studio T-SQ is dedicated to the principles of smart growth, transit-oriented development, and sustainable design. Studio T-SQ created the bold exterior architecture and thoughtful urban planning for Deco.
Today we’re talking to Chris Bystedt, Director of Architecture at Studio T-SQ, who will share his insights on the architectural design process. As Director of Architecture, Chris oversees the technical application of each project, ensuring quality documentation.
Please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I received my architecture degree from the University of Notre Dame and spent a year in the Rome Studies program. After graduation I spent the next 27 months volunteering as the Director of Construction and Maintenance at an orphanage, school, and medical clinic in a small village on the north coast of Honduras. I have spent most of my career in the mixed-use and multi-family residential market with some side ventures for nonprofits, like volunteering with Architecture for Humanity in San Francisco and researching slum developments with the Environmental Planning Collaborative in Ahmedabad, India. I was one of the first few employees hired in the Studio T-SQ Oakland office and spent seven years living in the Bay Area. I have moved back to Southern California and have been working in the Studio T-SQ Long Beach office since January of 2017.
Tell us about the architectural design process for Deco. What was your theme and inspiration?
My role at Deco was mainly to oversee that the Studio T-SQ design team’s vision was successfully implemented during construction. A lot of changes and surprises can happen once the construction phase begins, so our goal is to be flexible and creative. During the construction phase, designing takes on a different level of challenges and constraints, since elements may have already been partially built. The city wants the same product, but the budget doesn’t change. It takes a different form of creativity to manage the many existing constraints, but it is also important to frequently look back at the original vision of the project for inspiration.
You have an impressive background in project management, including feasibility, entitlements, construction documents, and construction administration. How did you apply your technical expertise to Deco?
I love all aspects of architecture from the first “napkin sketch” to the move-in date and beyond. It is impressive to see the number of people involved in making a project like Deco perform at such a high level. With a background in all of the project phases, I have learned to rely on my team members for their expertise and to work collaboratively with the city, contractor, and developer as one team. I always approach construction as a series of smaller design charrettes.
What is your personal design philosophy? Do you have a favorite architect or building? What are your influences?
My education was primarily in classical architecture and traditional urbanism. I studied architecture under a strict standard of proportion, order, and human scale. However, my experience in multi-family residential has always been to push the envelope of design. I am inspired by Irving Gill’s simplicity with the use of multiple planes and the ornate beauty and order of Julia Morgan’s work.
Where do you see the role of the architect in affecting positive global change? How can smart design improve the environment and quality of life for humanity?
In my opinion, the role of the architect is to build community, to create harmony with nature, and to be responsible stewards of our natural resources. By focusing on these values, architects are pushed to use time-tested planning and design concepts to design beautiful, walkable cities that create a sense of place and instill pride in one’s city. But architects must also strive to utilize the latest technologies to eliminate waste and responsibly integrate the built environment into the natural surroundings.
It’s great to pursue your passion, but we know it’s not always easy. Tell us about your challenges and successes.
My biggest challenge is that I have so many interests and passions under the umbrella of architecture that it is tough to focus on one single aspect. An architect is truly a “Jack of all trades, but master of none.” But this keeps life interesting. Every project is a new beginning with new design challenges and learning experiences. Our office has many talented people who have come from different backgrounds. If I get stuck with a design challenge, chances are that someone in our office has dealt with a similar issue along the way.
What are you most proud of as a company, and what sets you apart?
I am so proud of how dedicated our staff is – to do the right thing in order to create a quality project for the community. Sometimes that means taking the unpopular approach. Sometimes it also requires educating ourselves and other project stakeholders. We take a lot of pride in Long Beach since we are local, but we extend that pride out to the other Southern California communities that we serve.
What do you love about Long Beach? Do you have a favorite neighborhood? What do you enjoy doing when you’re there?
I love exploring Long Beach and getting to know it better. Right now, I spend a lot of my time walking in the East Village Arts District. There is so much to take in, and I enjoy all of the murals.
Image courtesy of Studio T-SQ
Chris and family on vacation in Joshua Tree National Park
Image courtesy of Chris Bystedt
Business Address: 115 Pine Ave #425, Long Beach, CA 90802
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