Phillip K. Smith, III

architecture & design
PKS3.com (formerly The Art Office)

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June 2006

What is The Art Office?

The Art Office is a multi-disciplinary office for art, architecture, and design. We work out of a 2000 sq. ft. warehouse in Indio, CA, (in the Palm Springs area) where we have 600 sq. ft. dedicated to a clean space for drawing and computers and 1400 sq. ft. dedicated to a build space for experimentation and fabrication. We enjoy being hands-on and involved in all types of projects from inception through completion. It is our desire to mesh the art and architecture disciplines as a means of creating innovative spaces and inventing new forms of architecture, while working at all scales of design. We seek to involve the client as a crucial link to design innovation, to involve, challenge, and learn from builders and fabricators, to redefine existing forms of communication, and to create work that meshes with the community, creates place, and that establishes its own identity.

Who or what inspires you?

My greatest inspiration comes from God, the desert, and friends and family. God for who I am, where I’ve come from, and where I’m going. And the desert for the very real physical beauty that I’m happily surrounded by on a daily basis. There is no denying the scale of the desert. It can be taken in and appreciated from the macro to the micro. Also, I’m the chairman of the Architecture and Design Council at the Palm Springs Art Museum and we’re finishing up our third season of lectures and symposia, with speakers ranging from Rick Joy to Karim Rashid to Andre Zittel. The speakers are, no doubt, inspiring, but the receptions afterwards are amazing because you get to meet so many like-minded people that are concerned about architecture and design in our desert. There’s some incredible people out here and a very real movement to re-establish Palm Springs as a source of cutting-edge design.

Tell us about the most innovative space you’ve created?

We’ve designed a space for my property in Joshua Tree that, I believe, works at the scale of the desert. It is a room inspired from our Cylinder series of sculptures that we created about a year and a half ago. During the day, it is activated through shadow, texture, and light from the moving sun. At night, it becomes like a silhouette of a precise geometrical screen. From dawn until dusk, the piece completely transforms from opaque to translucent. And it’s an amazing space for watching the high desert stars…totally uninterrupted from the city lights.

Do you have a favorite piece of art or architecture?

Anything ScarpaKahnLe CorbusierPonti, and anything Brancusi, Pichler, Bertoia. Those are the fathers for me and so many others. Their work is undeniably original, pure, and human. For new folks, I appreciate the work of LOTEK, Office dA (who I used to work for…so there’s a bias!), Rick Joy, Wendell Burnette, and I have a new found appreciation for Karim Rashid after I heard him speak as part of our lecture series this year.

What has been your most challenging project?

Any of the architecture projects seem to be the most challenging. The timetable and the ups and downs can seem insurmountable at times. I designed and completed my first building, the Family Life Center, from 2000-2003. It was a 27,000 sq. ft. school building with classrooms, a lecture hall, and gymnasium for the Palm Desert Community Presbyterian Church. It launched my design office and has given me every architecture project I’ve ever had in the office since then. It was hard work that was non-stop, with a massive learning curve. I started most conversations with consultants and builders with, “I’ve never done this before, so I’m going to have a lot of questions for you”. In the end, that openness, combined with a challenging design, produced a general desire for the various builders to raise their level of craftsmanship. The masons really stepped up on this project!

What’s your greatest hope for the future?

My greatest hope for the future is that we get back to the importance of a sense of place for us as individuals and as a community. Homogeneity is running rampant in the US. Everything seems to look the same. I hope that cities and developers realize that great design has the potential to create place and identity for a community. And I hope that individuals realize that their own living space can be a source of inspiration in their daily lives. I hope that some of the new RP technologies will allow us to have mass-customization that could potentially help us on both of these fronts! Technology seems to be catching up to people’s minds!

To see more of Phil Smith’s work, please visit: