Bureau Experts: Epstein Joslin Architects - Design Bureau

Above: Joslin and Epstein, pictured with principal Ray Porfilio, are both artists in their own right — he with sketching and she with weaving. Both are represented by the Mercury Gallery in Rockport, MA.

1. The Globe Theater, London, England

2. Quarries, Carrara, Italy

3. Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

4. Imperial Villa & Gardens, Katsura, Japan

5. Anni Albers

6. Farmers’ Market, Avignon, France

Bureau Experts: Epstein Joslin Architects

Monday, November 21st, 2011

portrait by Simon Simard
travel photos by Alan Joslin

Husband-and-wife team Alan Joslin and Deborah Epstein met as graduate students in the MIT Department of Architecture and have been collaborating ever since. Along with fellow architect and business partner Ray Porfilio, they are principals of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based firm Epstein Joslin Architects. Although each brings different talents to the table, together they’ve shared some unforgettable experiences all over the world. Take a look at a few of Epstein and Joslin's favorite spots around the globe and why they’ve influenced their architecture.

1. The Globe Theater
London, UK

For Joslin, the environment of the theater has always been a place of extraordinary magic: the experience of transforming place through light, illusion, and character acting; the inspiration from the actors’ craft and skill being laid bare in live performance; and the transference of energy between the accompanying audience members. “As architect, scenic designer, and long-retired actor, I have found the Elizabethan theater form, as represented by London’s Globe, one of the most exciting places to experience theatre,” he says. “Artistry and community are inextricably linked in an ideal and intimate composition.”

2. Quarries
Carrara, Italy

According to Epstein, “the opened earth, the snowy inside of the mountain, the echoing cavern,” is a vision of the sublime. “Carrara’s history is awe-inspiring,” she says. “It birthed the Pantheon and Michelangelo’s David. Its structural strength and hardness, coupled with its plasticity, allows it to become breathing bodies and rippling dresses, Gothic cathedrals and Italian butcher tables.” Quarries in Carrara and elsewhere provide unending inspiration for Epstein’s architecture and weaving. And they both say they take the opportunity to swim in abandoned quarries whenever the opportunity presents itself, especially in the early mornings when a quarry “feels like a cathedral full of fog.” 

3. Vernazza
Cinque Terre, Italy

Joslin says he is drawn to the small hilltop and seaside villages of the Italian countryside as a true form of organic architecture: a tight weaving of human settlement in balance with the natural and tended landscape, encapsulated within an easily comprehensible scale. The basic needs and aspirations of humanity—security, commerce, collective celebration, individual expression, spiritual and institutional communality—are all constructed and articulated in built form. “The hilltop town of Vernazza is a particularly striking example,” Joslin says. “It can be viewed so beautifully from a hilltop promenade amongst the surrounding (and fragrant) vineyards, dramatically entwined within and between earth and sea.” 

4. Imperial Villa & Gardens  
Katsura, Japan

Raised in northern California, Joslin has a special affinity for architecture that respects and merges with its natural setting in form, organization, and material. And it is in the Japanese villas of Kyoto, particularly in the gardens and Imperial Villa of Katsura, where he finds the most striking examples of this. “A total composition of interior and exterior spaces, shaped by careful material assembly and craft, guides one through a controlled procession that reveals selected vistas of an idealized landscape, offering a captivating analogue of a harmonious and respectful settling of man within the world,” Joslin says.

5. Anni Albers

Epstein’s long-standing interest in the Bauhaus and textiles led her to the work of Anni Albers. In that creative community of the Bauhaus, architecture and the art of everyday life were merged through the collaboration of artists of many disciplines, an attitude that is consonant with Epstein’s fascination with the Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art). Albers’ personal explorations in weaving push the boundaries of design, leading to innovative structures using old, new, and unexpected materials and color relationships in rigorous yet open-ended geometric configurations. “It is this spirit, at once intensely disciplined and playfully free, that I try to embody in my work,” Epstein says. 

6. Farmers' Market
Avignon, France

Farmers’ markets are Epstein’s color laboratories. For her, they are the perfect place to compose a gift of ochre cumin, rusty paprika, and sparkly salt; or a dinner party with red, orange, and yellow beets, bumpy green cauliflower, early spring greens, raggedy sunflowers, and shiny baguettes; or a shawl of the subtly colored merino skeins, from creamy white to chocolate brown.  “All of these color and texture schemes eventually find their way into our projects and, of course, my woven work,” she says.

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