Friday Five with Michael Volk of Gensler

Los Angeles native, Michael Volk, was recently appointed Principal for Gensler’s Los Angeles office. Over 27 years of experience in design, leading, and executing architecture and urbanism projects in the U.S. and abroad have brought him to this point. An accomplished and award-winning architect and educator, today Michael shares a few of his favorite things in life in this week’s Friday Five.

I was born in Los Angeles, it is my city. And although we broke up once, our relationship reignited a few years ago, and if I do say so myself, now it’s quite hot. Because of this, it is impossible that my five favorites are anything but very L.A.-centric at the moment – how can one actually have only five favorites anyway? At the same time, I must confess that I am not too into materialism. I have evolved as a minimalist nomad who places great value on experiences. My list is slanted this way.

Photo by Craig Fineman

1. Pools by Craig Fineman
This book is amazing to me in so many ways. Those of us who grew up in the 70’s as landlocked surfers in the San Fernando Valley will understand, we were skaters that skated to emulate surfing. There was a short period of time prior to the infancy of extreme skateboarding where ‘pure’ skating was a mirror of this desire. The moves, the style, the aspiration were all based on the smooth and continuous flow of late 70’s surfing. When we discovered skating empty pools – which there were many of in the Valley – it was a revelation. It was just a short window, maybe one summer even, while we innocently carved the pools quickly but gently, like frozen waves, sometimes barely touching the coping – this all before the intensity of extreme skating that would later follow. We felt like explorers, we knew this was new territory, yet had no idea where it would take us (until we saw the Dogtown Z-boys, probably just the next year). This book captures that moment, the feeling, the purity of that small window of time – so pure, barefoot even, surfing in empty pools. I can hear the sound of those early wheels on plaster. This book is gold.

Photo by Catherine Opie

2. Freeways
I love the elegance, power, and systematic logic of freeways. They are majestic and they enthrall me. What will we use them for soon, our pyramids, when autos are outmoded, or too expensive to drive? Surely, they will outlast so many things. Perhaps soon they will finally become the ‘parkways’ they were once sold to us as, but now literally green belts, full of animals perhaps, connecting the dense city fabric as our only open space left. I will love them even more. Although I don’t personally own a piece from Catherine Opie’s remarkable series “Freeways” from 1994-95, they speak to my soul. Ms. Opie, if you are reading, can we talk?

Photo courtesy of NASA

3. Space Voyager 1 2/The Golden Record
What is more remarkable than space? Than the unknown and all-explorable? Than that which literally encompasses all space and all time? That which surely contains other universes and life forms? The answer is simply nothing. I am a NASA junkie and a space exploration fan. What is more inspiring than Voyager 1 2? Maybe just the Golden Record placed on Voyager 2. This is one of my top favorite things. The Time Capsule of all civilizations (that we know of). And by the way, I am waiting and hoping for a Wes Anderson NASA-based movie soon, but I digress.

Photo by David Levin; 2019 Surfline/Wavetrack, Inc.

4. Malibu Pier and Surfrider Beach
The perfect pier and the perfect wall: the Malibu Wall. Its history, vibe, the sea, low and high fidelity subcultures, sun, perfect waves – many more than five of my favorite things that I’ve listed. An early morning before daylight surf at first point on a longboard, or third point on a shortboard and a coffee on the wall afterwards is as sublime as a long hot summer day next to the lifeguard tower; my boards tucked under for shade.

5. Faema E61 S1 Legend Espresso Machine
The only material item on my list of five favorites: the Faema E61 S1 Legend Espresso Machine – glorious. I am an espresso fanatic, an Italian espresso fanatic to be precise. I abhor the American craft coffee tendency towards fruity, sour, and thin espresso. Go away, please just go away. An authentic espresso is deep, dark, and rich with perfect crema crafted from perfect dark roasted beans and prepared on one’s very own Faema E61. Making one’s own espresso is an art. It is perfection.