In conversation with David Montalba

We continue our series of conversations with individuals who share our philosophy of bringing meaning and purpose to the spaces we inhabit with a virtual trip to Lausanne, Switzerland, to meet with David Montalba of Montalba Architects

Montalba Architects is a multi-disciplinary architecture and design practice based in California and Switzerland, with over 20 years’ experience across a broad range of globally-renowned projects.

David, what drew you to setting up offices in both Switzerland and California?

It’s in my background. My mother was Swiss, my grandfather had a construction company there and my uncle had an architectural practice there so it was really a natural progression. We moved to Carmel when I was seven years old, as my father is an American from California, so we spent most of the year in America and then summers in Switzerland. I feel very fortunate to have been exposed to a European sensibility and a true sense of global citizenship – I think it’s given me an appreciation of each culture, their differences and their commonalities.


What are the differences between the cultures, for you?

I think that Europe has a very different context, in terms of the natural surroundings, which creates a certain thoughtfulness in considering what we design and build, a careful consideration to its impact to history. In American culture, everything is more pronounced, often bigger and more focused on its impact to the bottom line. But working with both of those cultures from a design perspective is really interesting

Was architecture always your dream? How did it all begin?

As I grew up around the profession – buildings, craftsmanship and everything that goes with it mentors in and out of my family had a tremendous impact on me personally and were inspirational in helping solidify that dream.  And spending a lot of my time in both Carmel and the California Coastal landscape contrasted by the Swiss landscape really helped bring to me a great sense of appreciation of natural landscapes and the formality of buildings within it.

I found architecture as my ‘metier’ in college and it was like discovering that I could speak a whole new language, it was already there inside me. It felt fluid and right. Since then, it’s been about bringing a sense of spirituality into the practice, another layer to the art, practicality and craft that goes into our work.    

Why do you think that clients come to your practice? What are they looking for when they choose to work with you?

A lot of it comes down to vision and trust. People trust us because of the care we show in our work and our track record and they want us deliver an unmatched vision.  That said, it’s taken years to get to this point, and it’s an honour to be there.  We have a very international client base, so that means our clients often share mobility and often style or aesthetic which is demonstrated by our existing work.


Is there a specific process that you follow, or an over-arching principal?

We always bring an experience focused and humanistic approach to all aspects of the design and the process – we focus on how we experience space and how the building will affect our experience of life. Not designing objects but rather spaces for people about people and ultimately that compliments our respective humanity.

Your practice emphasises the importance of being socially responsive and aesthetically progressive. Is that what makes a house a home?

It’s simple – people make a home. Buildings don’t have a soul, they are simply frameworks for people to inhabit or live in. That’s how we approach every project; we make sure that we create space for people to live in properly and to accommodate - “their important possessions, their memories, and their connections with the world”. The frameworks are beautiful and ordered, but they really come to life when they are inhabited.


We know that you have VOLA in your own home in California. What is it about VOLA that appeals to you?

The Danish philosophy of ‘have less but better’ resonates with me. That way, things last longer and are more sustainable. VOLA has a restraint and minimalism that makes it timeless. It really doesn’t get in the way or interfere with the architecture but rather compliments it.  The maturity of Danish design and VOLA, which comes from years of exploration truly acts as an aesthetic partner in many of the projects we develop.



What do you enjoy most about your work and what keeps it fresh for you?

We cover such a broad range of programmes, from private clubs, homes and hotels to luxury retail, restaurants and even airports. That kind of diversity can be challenging at times but it’s a great way to keep learning – I’m always grateful to our clients for those opportunities.


A lot must have changed since you set up your practice in 2004. How do you think that our relationship with design has evolved during that time?

Our Clients are very sophisticated and truly appreciate and understand design in a way that years ago was rare.  The digital age, modern visual culture, and design magazines have really helped design work its way into everyday culture, so we have a much more design-literate clientele. When we look back in 50 or 100 years’ time, we will probably think of it as a design renaissance that will give way to real progression in our future.

Also, design is becoming more holistic, which is in fact a very American approach. That’s something we’ve always valued and it’s encouraging to see that being adopted globally.

Everything happens so quickly now – something new comes up and then it’s gone, we move on to the next thing. That said we try to work in a way that retains a timeless spirit one that will transcend trends and yet ensure there is an natural evolution in the work and projects we do.

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