Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Innovator: Johnston Marklee

The Maison Martin Margiela store in Beverly Hills, California, is Los Angeles architecture studio Johnston Marklee’s flashiest work to date—literally. Completed in 2007, the fashion boutique is covered in what look like metal sequins but turn out to be white plastic disks that gently flutter in the breeze kicked up by traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard. “It is a high-tech effect achieved by low-tech means,” says Mark Lee, who founded the firm with his wife, Sharon Johnston, in 1998.

Finding simple routes to complex architectural pleasures is the pair’s stock-in-trade. Their celebrated residential projects— commissioned by adventurous clients, manipulated from geometric shapes, and named, for the most part, with one suggestive word (Hill, Vault, View)—showcase the strength of thought over luxury. “If we have a secret, it is in how we economize design energy,” Lee says, referring to his office’s tried-and-true tactic of concentrating the wow factor in precise doses as petite as those Margiela paillettes. The results, he explains, are “buildings where people can feel the difference but can’t put their finger on it.”