8 August 2023
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There is such a strong connection between attentiveness and caring – through the act of attentiveness, we support the worth of a person or thing by giving our undivided focus and concentration. It feels like it has never been more important for us to both pay attention and attend to others. As I’ve come to know Kristen Sidell and Rudy Pakravan, I’ve become an ardent admirer of their attention to their practice and their devotion to the integrity of their work. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Kristen Sidell and Rudy Pakravan have been friends for decades. They met when they both arrived to begin graduate school in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, quickly forming a close bond with a like-minded group of students that they maintain to this day. Upon graduation, both returned to California where they maintained their friendship while they each ran solo practices, simultaneously balancing teaching and parenthood, until they came together to form their design partnership, Sidell Pakravan.

Approaching ten years in practice, with a staff of 10, Sidell Pakravan has earned a reputation for a devotion to bold, contemporary design that is also warm and welcoming. The firm works across a range of project types, but what truly defines their practice – more than project type or aesthetic approach – is its focus on relationships and community. As Kristen and Rudy put it,

Our project type is good design for good people.

It is this attention to relationships, to community, and to the architecture itself that sets their firm apart, knitting the work together, and lending a sense of balance and purpose to their practice.

As we sat down to discuss the importance of attentiveness, we began by talking about the dual meanings of “attentiveness,” which can refer to alertness, and focus, (as in “paying attention”), or consideration, concern and care, (“attending to others”). Interestingly, the common antonym is “disrespect” – an observation that launched our conversation.

Attentiveness and care are so entwined. We devote our attention to things we care about, and our care for people and things grows when we pay attention. We also show our respect for people and things by giving them our focused attention.

Kristen: One of our most influential professors in graduate school told us that putting the time in to come up with the best design solution you can is the best way to respect the work.

By giving the design solution your time and undivided attention, you create a set of ideas that are built upon that respect.

Rudy: We devote our attention to our clients, to the site, to the community, but just as important to us is being attentive to the architecture, to the integrity of the design. Sometimes that means pushing back a little bit, pushing our clients or collaborators in the direction of the best solution.


You are stewards of the design.

Kristen: I love that! As women in our discipline, it can be easy to second-guess yourself, but if you respect the work – the design solution you have come to through time and attention – have the confidence to advocate for that solution.

Rudy: As business partners, we share a deep love and respect for architecture. We pay attention to what the architecture is telling us.

Paying attention requires slowing down, spending time to work through things, and reflecting. How do you encourage this practice in your staff?

Kristen: We feel fortunate.

Our staff are attentive simply by being who they are. Rudy and I have both taught architecture, and every member of our staff was once a student of ours. When we asked them to join the practice, we knew them, and we knew we were aligned in that way.

Rudy: Attentiveness and awareness are part of the personality of our office.

Kristen: In our practice, we build models – not as presentation pieces, but as working tools early in the process. This takes time and inherently makes us slow down. It’s a nice way of re-setting the pace.


How do we work together to resist the rapid-fire pace of information, media, social media, etc – distractions directly at odds with attentiveness – in our lives and our design practices?

Rudy: We emphasize in-person meetings, which are so important in building relationships and supporting the creative process. Kristen and I will sometimes have walking meetings to work through a design or a problem.

Kristen: After the pandemic, we were early re-adopters of in-person work. Things went back and forth for a while, and we were flexible, but our staff wanted to be together. It’s so much easier to collaborate, and to pay attention.

Attention is an extension of curiosity, opening the door for more nuanced observations, a greater sense of context and more thoughtful solutions.

Kristen: As architects, we are curious about almost everything – our clients and how they live, the site, the conditions, the community, new materials, new ideas.

The more curious we are, the more we will pay attention, and the more we pay attention the better the work will be.

Rudy: In the practice of architecture, we are creating spaces that reframe peoples’ daily experiences. We hope to reframe their experiences in a way that helps them be fully present. If we can accomplish that, we’re happy.


Now, a few fun questions we always like to ask…

What’s the one thing you love most about what you do?
Seeing conceptual ideas become physical reality

Who — or what — inspires you?
Abstract artists like Agnes Martin, Bridget Riley, and Eva Hesse always inspire us to see things differently.

What’s the single best business or creative advice you’ve ever received?
Fail early, fail often.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Sailing! Kristen is an avid sailor and has been all around the world sailing with her family.

How do you love spending time outside of work?
We both love going on hikes with our family, eating out, and going to museums.

What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?
Rudy is fluent in three languages.

Last book you read?
“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” – I never thought I’d love a book about video games so much.

Do you have a favorite quote? If so, we’d love to hear it!
One of our favorite quotes is by abstract artist Paul Gilliam. When asked if abstract art can be political, this is his response:

[Abstract art] messes with you. It convinces you that what you think isn’t all. It challenges you to understand something that is different […] a person can be just as good in difference […] I mean if that’s your tradition, what you call figures, you don’t understand art anyway. Just because it looks like something that resembles you doesn’t mean that you have understanding. Why not open up?