PalmSprings.com Spotlight: An Interview with Modern Designer Chris Pardo

Photo: Jaime Kowal

Largely self-taught in the field of design, Chris Pardo spent eight years living/studying across the West Coast before returning to Seattle to attend the University of Washington’s Masters of Architecture program. While a student, he cofounded Pb Elemental Architecture along with former partner Dave Biddle. The firm grew quickly focusing not only on design, but also construction, development and real estate. In less than five years the duo had successfully designed over 500 projects. Now Chris Pardo Design: Elemental Architecture has offices in Seattle and Palm Springs.  

In 2007 Chris was honored with an AIA commendation award for the design of the Sterling Residence, received the 2008 Design achievement award from Seattle Homes & Lifestyles Magazine, in 2009 was named to the “20 under 40 top architects” as well as honored as one of the “Top 25 innovators” by Seattle Business Magazine. Recently he was named in the “Worldwide Architecture: The Next Generation” as one of the top architects under 40 in the World, and was named as “Decades Best” by Seattle Magazine. In 2011, Pardo was honored as one of Seattle’s “Most Influential People” by Seattle Magazine. He has been featured in many national/international blogs, magazines, books, and newspapers. 

Chris is also the co-founder and designer of several successful establishments in Seattle & Palm Springs. Recent projects in Coachella Valley include The Arrive Hotel, Coachella Music Festival restroom buildings, Il Corso Restaurant in Palm Desert, Hacienda Cantina & Beach Club, and Ernest Coffee.  

Kate Buckley: Chris, you are a renowned designer who got his start in Seattle. What brought you to Palm Springs?

Chris Pardo: Originally I was looking for a vacation home to get out of the cold winters in Seattle. After visiting for the first time three years ago, I feel in love and started looking closer at doing business here. Before you know it I was here fulltime (maintaining my practice in Seattle and opening one in Palm Springs).

Pardo 35

Photo: Cal Dahlstrom

KB: You work on projects all over the United States. Are there specific challenges to designing for Palm Springs that don’t exist elsewhere?

CP: There are challenges and opportunities. Compared to the Northwest and Northeast, Palm Springs’ sun exposure guides design. Solar positioning, cross ventilation and screening is essential. These elements become design attributes of the building and help define the architectural language. Indoor/outdoor spaces become paramount to the design and lifestyle.

KB: Tell me about some of your current Palm Springs-based projects—I understand there are quite a few!

CP: We are designing some very exciting projects in Palm Springs. First and foremost is the Arrive Hotel on Palm Canyon and Vista Chino; construction starts at the end of the month with plans to open just before Coachella Music Festival. The design has midcentury nods while offering a modern material application and aesthetic. The main structures are clad in rusted corten steel and wood grain ceramic tile. The main restaurant, Reservoir, resembles aspects of the Alexander Butterfly homes in the Raquet Club. Two retail spaces flank the restaurant and the other buildings surround a large pool area with cabanas, firepits and a bocce ball court. Some other exciting projects we have worked on over the last year are Il Corso Italian restaurant in Palm Desert, the recently opened Hacienda Cantina & Beach Club here in Palm Springs (8000 sqft restaurant and 30,000 sqft pool area), Ernest Coffee Co & Bootleggers Tiki (opening next week) in the Uptown District, Lugo Lofts in the Tennis Club area ( 11 loft style modern homes), Sandfish Sushi/Whiskey bar on North Palm Canyon, and the Orchards housing development in La Quinta.

KB: And didn’t you also recently do something with the Coachella Festival?

CP: Yes! We completed two restroom buildings on the grounds just before Coachella this year. The structures hold all most 200 bathroom stalls, providing a much better experience for festival attendees. The buildings carry a similar aesthetic to most of my work, with concrete block, Stucco and a thin steel roof line. More permanent structures are planned.

image-2KB: What would you say is your design philosophy, and how does this methodology figure into your work?

CP: I start fresh on each project, the site and program informs where my mind goes. Typically I like to use three materials on exterior design and carry then into the living spaces. On restaurants and hotels it is a unique opportunity to create a backdrop, almost like a set of a play for activity/life. It’s quite fun having the ability to work in both residential and hospitality interiors as they scale very differently.

KB: Chris, I’ve noticed that an obvious aesthetic quality runs through all the work that you do, though the end results may be different. How would you describe your personal aesthetic?

CP: Simply modern. My work is based on the natural environment in which the buildings are placed, while accentuating the way we inhabit space today. I love true materials: wood, concrete, stucco, glass all revealed in the correct lighting.

image-5KB: I think it’s safe to call you multi-talented: architecture, design, construction, development, and real estate. Do you have a favorite? What’s the common denominator in all you do?

CP: I just love to create, it excites me and is my life. No matter what I am physically doing, I am thinking about how I can improve the look or flow of things.

KB: And what’s next for you? Any projects we should look for on the horizon?

CP: We are just starting some very exciting new hotel and residential developments here and across the country. We have a seven-story loft building in Seattle about to start construction, A beautiful home just finishing in San Gabriel near LA, a gorgeous home on the water in East Hampton, NY, a very modern home in Austin, TX, and an exciting project called the Lisbon Lofts in Oklahoma City. I am also quite passionate about the renovation we are currently designing for the Wexler Steel home #4. The owners have been a dream to work with and the end results are stunning. As a designer, working on a Donald Wexler historic building is a once in a lifetime experience.

image-4KB: What would you be doing if you weren’t designing?

CP: I think I would be writing. I have a passion for movies/screenplays and have dabbled a bit. I would love to write more and maybe create a book on development and the importance/value of great design.

KB: Where do you see Palm Springs in the next 5-10 years?

CP: I cannot hide my excitement for the future of Palm Springs. The next 5-10 years will usher in a refinement of what has been building over the last ten years. The community has embraced this town, and has created a place unique to itself. In the very near future, Palm Springs will become a full international tourist destination and will have cultivated a reengergized population of designers, artists and entrepreneurs. Amazing!

KB: What do you love most about Palm Springs?

CP: I love the people. I have a tattoo on my arm of every place I have lived so far in my life—13 places. Of all the places, Palm Springs has been the most welcoming—with the most interesting and talented people I have ever met. People’s understanding and appreciation for art and culture is astonishing. I look forward to many more years here. Let’s just say I don’t expect a 14th tattoo anytime soon!

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