Vera Shur: Redefining Architecture Roles in Practice
Vera Shur is redefining the traditional role of the architect, looking at the intersections that happen between the built environment and product design.
Vera graduated with a BA in Architecture from Columbia University and a Masters of Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. She’s worked in a variety of design and architecture firms, including Moshe Safdie Architects in Cambridge, Snohetta in New York City, and Mark Cavagnero Architects in San Francisco. Her architectural work has spanned many scales, from the design of exhibition casework and furniture, to educational buildings, amphitheaters, and urban master plans. Vera also designs furniture that investigates the unexpected properties of everyday materials and the back-and-forth workflow of digital design and analog fabrication. Her interests lie at the intersections of environmental, interactive, and product design.
The Quick Details:
Name: Vera Shur
Location: Oakland, CA
Occupation: Architecture and Furniture
Title: Physical Designer & Design Coordinator
Degree(s): BA Architecture, Columbia University; M.Arch, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Influences: Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, Craig Dykers of Snohetta, Arthur Ganson, Theo Jansen, Rube Goldberg, Alvar Aalto, Bruno Munari, V.S. Ramachandran, Schindlersalmerón
What first made you interested in architecture?
I’ve always been interested in the interactions of people and their environment. Many of those interactions take place in a full context of history and culture that informs how they think, feel, and act in complex and overlapping ways. Many of the projects that sparked my interest in the profession were at the edge of architecture, such as exhibition design, furniture, and interactive installations. Some artists engage with space making in this way as well, but I preferred the rigorous analytical approach of an architectural education.
What do you do now?
I work for Rapt Studio, a broad design firm in San Francisco that aims to approach projects holistically through a combination of design strategy, graphic design, and architecture proper. What drew me to the office was the interdisciplinary nature of the work and the deep relationships Rapt develops with its clients, starting early in the design process with a strong discovery phase.
I also design mixed-media furniture as a part-time artist-in-residence at Autodesk’s Pier 9. Working as an architect often means leaving behind that satisfying link between design and fabrication that was such an integral part of my architectural education, and making furniture allows me to maintain that connection. It also lets me pursue material investigations and design processes that are difficult to find time for in a client-based practice. Currently, I’m collaborating with Dremel to incorporate 3D-printed components and traditional woodworking techniques into mixed-media furniture, to market their new 3D printer.
How do you apply your architecture background to your current job?
Much of the work I do is actual architecture. I develop programmatic requirements and plans, produce drawings for design and construction, coordinate with consultants, and research materials. Architecture school taught me how to create a comprehensive framework for project design, development, and management, and I employ this type of thinking every day.
As a furniture designer, I use my architectural background to inform how I employ and alter materials and the production process. It allows me to think about the same issues facing architects – users, program, space – but on a micro scale.
What’s in store for the future of the architecture education, the profession, and/or the building industry?
By its nature, architecture is a slow-moving animal. It just takes so much time and people to get a building from design through construction. On top of that, architectural practice often encumbers itself with inefficiencies and redundancies – partially because architects aren’t trained in how to run a business, and partially because the expectations of the client and the architect don’t always coalesce – which further burden the building process. I’m excited to see that architectural education and practice is starting to incorporate ideas from fields such as product design and user experience design to create a more streamlined and effective model of client engagement and deployment. Taking industrial and product design as a model, I think that architects should start to see themselves less as providers of design services, and more as partners in the development of their clients’ missions and brands.