A deep dive into San Francisco-based architecture firm Garcia Tamjidi and the professional journey of two of California’s staple architects.
In the mid-1980s, long before Silicon Valley would become the world’s epicentre for tech and innovation, Michael Garcia and Farid Tamjidi were just two green architecture students with big plans. They gravitated towards one another during their time studying at UC Berkeley and often discussed going into business together, though only half-heartedly at the time. As it turned out, their vision would eventually be born out in the real world, but more on that later.
“We were twenty to thirty students working in a sea of desks,” recalls Tamjidi of the time the duo spent studying their craft together. The desks were always pushed together and became the aspiring architects’ work stations throughout each term. Once graduation rolled around, Garcia and Tamjidi’s ambitious plans of launching their own firm suffered the fate of so many undergraduate dreams gone by as the two anxiously ventured off into the workforce determined to get their feet into the doors of respected California design firms.
As it turned out, the pair both landed at Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz Architects, a gargantuan San Francisco-based firm founded in 1963 with ongoing projects around the globe. While the two architects were happy to have found respectable work, they felt stifled at times by the corporate environment and lack of opportunity to spread their creative wings. Eventually, Tamjidi moved on to work in Los Angeles and Garcia found work elsewhere in San Francisco, but the two never lost touch.
“We would talk by phone a lot during those years,” says Garcia. “Farid would tell me what was happening in LA and I would do the same for San Francisco.”
As time went on and the two architects’ careers evolved, the gravitational pull that had them regularly seated side-by-side one another in that Berkeley sea of desks manifested itself professionally. In 1997, the two decided to follow through on their earlier plans and launch Garcia Tamjidi Architects. Today, the firm operates out of a robust San Francisco office, but it took time and patience to propel them to where they exist today within the ecosystem of modern design firms.
“We started in a small garage space,” says Tamjidi of the firm’s modest beginning, drawing obvious comparisons to other humbly launched Silicon Valley companies like Jeff Bezos’ Amazon, which was launched during a similar time period out of a garage headquarters. “We started with our own resources and relied on the relationships we’d built with clients who followed us. The biggest leap for the company was hiring employee number one,” adds Tamjidi on the firm’s conceptual years.
Through a combination of fostering strong client relationships and leveraging those into new ones, Garcia Tamjidi soon found themselves out of the garage and straight into the highly competitive arena of California architecture. Shedding their restrictive corporate beginnings, the pair have produced some of the most thought-provoking and substantive modern works that San Francisco has seen over the two decades they have been in business together. The firm’s work maintains a simple aesthetic while simultaneously offering consistently bold and hyper-focused results.
“Problem-solving, that’s the exciting part of any design,” says Garcia of the firm’s thoughtful and purposeful approach to its projects. “We design with a sense of permanence in mind,” he adds. The duo’s dedication to their craft shines through in their recent works, which range from residential San Francisco homes to large-scale projects such as the firm’s work on Apple’s Cupertino, California headquarters, Apple Park, or designing head offices for booming companies like multinational makeup brand, Kendo. Regardless of the project or scope, one thing has remained consistent through the company’s tenure—satisfied clients.
“Michael and Farid took the time to help us understand and articulate our functional priorities, then masterfully designed a home to meet them,” said Erin Hunter, the owner of “Private Residence 1,” a San Francisco home the firm completed in January 2012. “Never could we have expected ‘storage and an open floor plan’ to be transformed into what is now our incredible jewel box in the sky. Their vision delivered beyond our wildest imaginations.” The firm’s glowing reviews extend to the highest echelons of the corporate world, too.
“Working with Garcia Tamjidi, we received an attention to detail not normally found with other architecture firms,” said Dan Whisenhunt, the former Senior Director of Real Estate and Facilities with Apple, on the company’s work on tech company’s campus theatre which, until recently, wasn’t public knowledge. “I’ve worked with Garcia Tamjidi for many years,” he continued, “and find that their approach to projects results in high-quality results.”
While all of Garcia Tamjidi’s projects wind up looking incredibly unique, there’s a rarified unity in their style that blankets all their work. A simple aesthetic unmistakably delivered from the inquisitive minds of the now-sought after architects. Whether it be the pair’s influential California roots or their architectural development now spanning three decades, their work remains deeply personal. And, in addition to their own influence on the end-product, the two architect’s demand that their employees take the work as seriously as they do.
“Everyone that works at our firm becomes a solid generalist,” says Tamjidi, highlighting the fact that all of the company’s employees must hone their skills across many different channels in order to be successful. The firm employs six full-time employees, but has “10 chairs,” as additional workers are often required and are seamlessly integrated into projects that require them.
As the firm has steadily built its portfolio over the years, the two master architects have begun to put their unmistakable mark on not only the industry within The Golden State but within the domestic design community at large. However, remaining consistent with the firm’s muted ethos, Garcia and Tamjidi are happy to celebrate their accomplishments in a reserved way.
The duo released the “Garcia Tamjidi Monograph” in late 2018, an aesthetically-charged, beautifully-yet-minimally written biopic of their work to date. The book, which is written by Eva Hagberg Fisher whose debut memoir was recently featured on the shortlist of the New York Times Book Review, is a picturesque examination of form and function highlighting the two decades that two Californians have been in business with one another. To say that it’s strictly a business relationship, though, would be missing the point. Tamjidi and Garcia are perfectly in sync, like ying and yang, counterbalancing one another in a seamless way on most projects. And the pair are always looking forward, preparing for the next problem they’ll solve together.
Building on that reality, Tamjidi says that the pair’s style isn’t solely defined by the minimalist umbrella so often typecast on modern architects. He says that the firm’s approach is “a very simple reductive, utilitarian approach to problem-solving.” Naturally, with every new project, there’s a new problem to solve.
When asked if one project stands out amongst the 20 years of production together, Garcia doesn’t hesitate: “Our signature project is our next project,” he says.
So, with a bevy of exciting and thoughtful works surely on the horizon for the Californians, it goes without saying that Garcia Tamjidi will be a force majeure for the foreseeable future. Since leaving the relative safety net of corporate life behind over two decades ago, the pair have shown no indication that their decision was anything but destiny. When asked what advice they now have for those rosy-eyed young architects, the duo don’t have a difficult time coming up with an answer.
“We would’ve started sooner,” they both agree about what they might’ve done differently, ending the interview with the same feeling of cohesion that is often omnipresent with the duo.