The BMW i3 and i8 are some of the most innovative and exciting-looking cars in the past few years, I think. I’ve been a fan of their design since they were introduced, so when I read this Dwell article about how the man behind the design of those cars, Richard Kim, designed his own house, I was interested. There’s some controversy about if he actually did design the house, and many questions about what design credit means.
Kim is currently the head of design for the startup electric car company Faraday Future, and his design for the BMW i3 is often described as being “loft-like,” with its novel use of materials and a use of space that feels more architectural than conventional auto design. With all that in mind, it didn’t seem too much of a stretch to imagine this talented guy designed his own house.
The Dwell article doesn’t exactly hedge about who designed the house, since the first sentence of the second paragraph says
It’s that kind of thinking that drove Richard to design his own home, where he lives with his wife, Kristine Arellano, in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles.
In case that’s not clear enough for you, the story goes on to say that
the two-bedroom home was the culmination of a trying, half-decade-long saga, and the first architectural project for Richard, who had previously created showroom concepts but never before realized an entire building.
Acting as lead designer, Richard worked with structural engineer Salvador A. Pineda and contractor Jerry Martinez to ensure the plans were up to code.
There’s no mention of any architectural firm in the story anywhere, at least until you get to the comments, when Aaron Neubert’s name starts to crop up.
The reason those names come up is that Aaron Neubert and his architectural firm ANX were the designers and architects of Kim’s house. A number of other articles about the house (known as the Manifold House) make this quite clear, quite a different story to what’s portrayed in the Dwell article.
I contacted Aaron Neubert to ask him what the real story was here – did Richard Kim design the house, or was it his firm?
“We’ve been on this job since he bought the property. We are the designers of the house,” Neubert told me.
“Kim’s level of input was like any other client when we do a residential building. We work hand-in-hand with the owners, as every site is different. A housewife we worked with on another job, had as much input as he had, as well as a banker on another project. Neither of them claim to have designed their homes,” Neubert continued.
What makes Kim’s claims to design the house different than, say, if that banker claimed to have designed his house is that Kim is an accomplished designer in his own right. If the banker said he designed his house, everyone would likely have known to take that with a grain of salt – dude’s a banker, after all.
But when Richard Kim claims to design something, that carries a lot more weight. If, hypothetically, he wasn’t actually the designer, that would be kind of a shitty thing to do to the people who did.
Kim’s resumé certainly doesn’t need the padding, but architecture firms rely on press about the houses they design to get new clients. Would it have been so hard to mention the architecture firm? I’m sure Kim had plenty of input about the house, but, according to the architect, that’s all it was.
Dwell, for their part, made it clear that they leave it up to the property owner to credit whomever they see fit regarding their house, and that’s certainly their right. There’s nothing illegal or anything about any of this, of course, but maybe Dwell could have pushed the matter more.
Dwell did mention in the comments they’ll have a statement from Aaron Neubert in their next issue.
I reached out to Richard Kim, via a PR contact at Faraday Future. Initially, Kim was a bit defiant at the suggestion that he may have taken too much credit for the design of his house:
Yes, I designed my own home. Like any architecture or large design project, there is a team of many professionals working together to help make it all happen. There is never only one person doing all the work alone. Yes, I worked with ANX and Aaron. I had the design of my dream home in mind when I hired ANX. Aaron and the structural engineer were instrumental in teaching me what I could and couldn’t do in order to meet city code. After ANX drafted the architectural plans and they were approved by the city, we slowed down the working relationship. I met my wife during that time and we did a major overhaul of the design ourselves to fit her needs, with huge support from the general contractor.
To corroborate his claim, he also provided this lovely little sketch he did during the design process:
Then, about an hour later, at 1:15 AM, I received an additional message from the Faraday Future PR department:
I spoke to Richard and he would like to add an apology:
I would like to apologize to Aaron, I should have mentioned the ANX team’s involvement and I have spoken to Aaron personally to tell him.
So, I’ll admit, I found a lot of this interaction strange – the timing, the initial statement and then the apology, but, it is an apology.
In the end, I expect everything will work out fine; ANX will (hopefully) be credited for the work they did, Kim has his lovely home and some degree of authorship in it, and we’re done.
Still, it doesn’t sit well that the firm would have been left out in the initial article, and that first message I got from Kim certainly wasn’t interested in giving ANX design credit. I understand that all big projects like this, or like an automotive design, are the work of a team. When I’ve done art installations, I’m always paranoid that I’ll forget to mention someone who helped in some crucial way, and I understand the temptation just to go the easy route and take full credit for a project you’re proud of.
Kim’s house is amazing, and I’m sure he himself had a major hand in how it was designed and developed. The lack of a mention of ANX’s role in what may be the biggest mass-market architecture magazine is notable, though.
I’ll tell you, when I headed up the design of the BMW i3, I always made sure to give everyone plenty of credit where due. Just so you know.