A+D Partner Spotlight: ERĀS, an Interview with Evan Raabe
ERĀS CEO, Evan Raabe sat down for an interview with us, to discuss owning a business, his favorite project, and what advice he'd give to aspiring young designers.
1. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I am originally from Denver, Colorado, but I moved to California as a child and attended college at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where I graduated with my Bachelor of Architecture in 2005. Throughout college I spent a few years with internships at various architecture firms, where I worked on a bit of everything – from educational to residential to commercial offices to industrial. I eventually found my way down to Southern California where I started as a Job Captain and eventually worked my way up to a Project Architect. After several years I accepted a position in a full-service real estate / development company where I ran the Architecture and Project Management divisions. During that time, we completed several notable projects such as the Hauser & Wirth art gallery in Downtown LA, Christie’s in Beverly Hills and a handful of restaurants. A short while ago I decided it was time for another big life-changing career move, so I took the leap and opened my own architecture firm, ERĀS. It has been about six months now and I am currently working on hiring my eighth employee.
2. Congratulations! That must feel like such a big, but exciting change. How did you come up with the name?
Over a beer with my wife and 9-year-old daughter. My daughter wasn’t having a beer, to be clear (laughing). We were trying to come up with a name that somehow incorporated my name without being my name if that makes sense. So, ERĀS is a play on words of sorts, meant to sound like “erase” while also standing for Evan Raabe Architecture Studio.
3. When did you know that you wanted to be an architect?
I knew by the time I was a teenager that I had a knack for how things went together. When I was younger, I was one of those kids who loved rearranging my furniture in my bedroom all the time. I did it so much that it drove my parents nuts. And my stepdad was in construction, so I grew up around that too, and I was always intrigued by the construction field. He thought I would end up being a contractor, but I never really enjoyed the manual labor aspect of it. I took a drafting class in college, and I sort of thought that’s what I would be doing forever, I thought that’s what architects did. But I continued along until I became a licensed architect, which turned out to be so much more than drafting floor plans.
4. What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I enjoy seeing peoples’ reaction to the spaces once they are complete, and I love seeing the space in use – especially people-centric projects like restaurants and galleries. There’s always this moment of fulfillment. The process can be a bit challenging at times, but the end result is so rewarding.
5. What are the primary types of industries you design for?
I do a lot of cultural, hospitality and adaptive reuse. Lots of taking old buildings and giving them a new life. I often work with un-reinforced masonry buildings – a building type that many architects tend to shy away from or not fully understand, but it's fun for me. I’ve done a little bit of everything, and I prefer it that way.
6. Is there a specific project that would excite you to work on?
I’d love to work on a high rise or a stadium/arena. Either of these would be a fun challenge.
7. How would you describe your design style?
Reactive. A lot of how I approach design is in response to what we the existing building/site tells us. There are a lot of poorly designed tenant improvement projects and people doing these without permits. So much of what I do is peeling away what has been done, revealing the original building (hence “erase”) and then adding to it in a more thoughtful and intentional way that makes sense for how and what the space will be used for. You really must understand the fundamental aspects of the building first.
8. Do you have a favorite or memorable project that you worked on?
Yes, Hauser & Wirth in the LA Arts District. Literal blood, sweat and tears went into this project – often at the same time. This was a high-pressure project and there was a lot at stake. So many things had to fall together for it to happen the way they did – a ton of conversations with the city. They had a 15,000-person grand opening scheduled and I was sitting in the office waiting to get the certificate of occupancy the day before. It was very stressful but rewarding at the same time.
9. What was your favorite part about working on this project?
This project was a bit different because it was a 100+ year old building and so much of the result is what you don’t see. It started out with 35,000 lbs. of asbestos, and everything was covered in lead-based paint. We had to remove all of that, open the space up, and design it in a way that makes sense for today’s codes. We had frequent collaboration with Annabelle Selldorf to ensure everything was approached with the correct lens.
10. What advice would you give to an aspiring young designer?
Don’t do it! Kidding (laughing). I would say to question everything. You will learn best through asking questions, but best not to ask the same question more than twice (laughing).
11. Great advice. Has anyone had a memorable impact on your career journey?
Early in my career Jon Zimmerman and Lon Stephenson played a very important role. Jon hired me out of college and his insight is something I have always found myself going back to. I also learned a lot from Lon early in my career. Those first 5-6 years were the only years I had access to senior architects that I could ask questions too. Once I left that company I became the senior. Luckily, many of my friends are architects so we can always bounce ideas off each other and look to each other for feedback and a gut-check. More recently I have been fortunate to collaborate with other great architects such as Annabelle Selldorf, wHY Architects and Joey Shimoda to name a few. All have a unique approach to design which I admire and have learned from.
12. Awesome. Let’s get into some fun questions…how do you like your coffee?
Black pour-over coffee, with nothing added. It’s all in the flavor of the beans for me. At home, I typically grind my beans each day. I guess I am a purist when it comes to coffee.
13. Do you have a favorite go-to coffee shop?
Verve is my go-to.
14. Do you have any side hobbies?
Currently my business occupies most of my time. However, I used to enjoy fixing up old cars. I also like spending time with my family.
15. Do you have a favorite piece of furniture?
My wife’s Herman Miller Eames Lounge Chair. We got it last year and it is such a beautiful and timeless piece of furniture.
16. Favorite tv show or movie?
Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso are my current favorite TV shows. Breakfast Club will always be my favorite movie.
17. What would you do if you weren’t an architect?
I’d be a baker. I grew up in a cooking house and my daughter loves to bake.
18. You are a new addition to the Crayola box. Which color are you and why?
Subdued. It is a tan neutral color that doesn’t jump out at you right away, but when you study it closer, you are continually drawn to it.
19. Is there something people might be surprised to learn about you?
I have a full sleeve tattoo. It's been a slow progression over many years, but I am just about finished with it. It is very meaningful to me. The meaning of my last name is raven, so it started out with three ravens representing my three nephews. From there, I added in a dark forest scene that moves down my arm. There is also an owl which represents protection for my family and an a-frame house which represents my path into architecture and acts as the light source. Subsequently, I discovered after getting the tattoo that my grandfather built an a-frame house that looks just like it, which was a wonderful coincidence.