Aidlin Darling Design Takes Over the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art

Through an exhibition at a California museum, an award-winning San Francisco architecture firm offers a glimpse into its design process.
Text by

The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art in Sonoma, California, is giving over its entire 5,000-square-foot exhibition space to Aidlin Darling Design, an award-winning San Francisco firm that has cultivated an unconventional, multidisciplinary approach to architecture.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is C-Chassis, a site-specific, 55-foot-long installation. Made from charred or stained cedar, it is intended to raise awareness of the roles that the non-visual senses play in the design process. Photo courtesy of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.

"Site & Senses: The Architecture of Aidlin Darling Design" opens December 21, 2013, and runs through March 2, 2014. It is the first solo exhibition for the firm, which Joshua Aidlin and David Darling founded in 1998. They say the museum approached them with the idea of building an exhibition that focused on the design process as much as, or more so than, the finish product.

A reflecting pool for a residence that Aidlin Darling designed in San Joaquin Valley, California. "This rural residential project incorporates the agricultural vernacular language of California's Central Valley, including irrigation aqueducts and vastness of scale," David Darling says. "Landscape, materiality, and the cooling effect of water elements were paramount." Photo courtesy of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.

The pitch made sense to Darling in light of his firm’s collaborative, somewhat unorthodox approach, which emphasizes designing for all the senses. It’s a philosophy that has helped Aidlin Darling win numerous prestigious awards, including a 2013 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for interior design.

Aidlin Darling designed this undulating canopy to hang on the ceiling at Wexler's, a restaurant in San Francisco's Financial District. Darling says it "evokes a sensual and emotive connection" to its setting. Photo courtesy of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.

"When someone walks into our studio—not to flatter ourselves—it’s kind of like the Eames studio, where you’re surrounded with materials and models, and there’s a wood shop," he says. "It’s kind of a candy store of physical things that we’re constantly engaging and testing."

These early abstract studies for a residential project in Mill Valley, California, show the firm's creative process at work. Image courtesy of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.

"The focus is on the process," Aidlin says of the exhibition, "so there’s a lot of raw sketches, models, physical mockups and furniture."

These three-dimensional site sketches for a winery in Petaluma, California, show it as an extension of the landscape. Image courtesy of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a 55-foot-long installation called C-Chassis, which Aidlin describes as "an immersive, almost deprivation womb-like space." Fashioned from reclaimed cedar that has either been charred or stained, it is intended to call attention to the roles that the non-visual senses play in the design process.

Aidlin Darling's design for a three-story, Cor-Ten steel addition to a beachfront house in San Francisco was featured in the September 2007 edition of Dwell. Photo by Robert Schlatter.

"The intent is to create a physical environment that you walk into that’s darkened, so it limits the visual and begins to ideally heighten the physical and the olfactory," Aidlin says.

Kate Eilersten, the museum’s executive director and chief curator, says the Aidlin Darling exhibit is a perfect fit for the museum.

"Aidlin Darling’s project-specific design approach reflects their philosophy of rigorous pre-design research, intensive collaboration, and reference for the site," she says. "This exhibition gives a rare insight into a very exciting group of talented designers.


Last Updated

Get the Dwell Newsletter

Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.