Safdie Rabines Architects

Defining Context, Character and Design

Brent Haywood

Devoted to design elements that incorporate the environment with function and character, the architectural designs of Safdie Rabines Architecture draw one into the living space they create as naturally as the elements that inspire them. Remarkably, the unique play of light, shadow, earth, and sky are fused into their designs as effortlessly as nature itself. In business together since 1993, the husband and wife team of Taal Safdie and Ricardo Rabines has been creating award-winning site-specific architectural designs that are both socially responsible and environmentally sustainable.


And it is just such a focus that reveals their distinctive style in residential and commercial creations that is impressive, producing bridge and infrastructure projects, mixed-use designs, large master plans, as well as home designs in the San Diego area. Having met in architectural school in Philadelphia, the two hail from different parts of the globe - Taal from Canada, Ricardo from Peru, bringing unique perspectives that emerge into an integrated whole.




In a recent interview with FINE Magazine, the two principles confirm what their literature suggests: “Context drives the design,” utters Ricardo.  “When looking at the sight, we look for clues — the ground the home sits on, its view and perspective, trees and grasses, all need to ‘endorse’ it. Understanding location is critical. Clean lines and simplicity are important too.” He adds, “Their designs utilize glass effectively while incorporating linearity and slopes, steps and arches as well.”


Taal reinforces this adding the vital component of client personality and lifestyle. “Some clients like great involvement; others far less,” she says. Taal goes on to describe that establishing rapport with a home’s occupants is essential whether it requires frequent ‘engagement’ or ‘efficient task-oriented meetings’.



It quickly becomes clear as the two architects discuss ‘back and forth’ how they work, collaborating on the essentials that express nature’s elements with client’s lifestyle. They discuss the project until they have arrived at the design that will be ‘honorable to the site’, while expressing personality and the ‘ritual’ of those who will live there.




“The character of a house has to be translated clearly,” says Ricardo. This includes “function, landscape, and materials,” Taal says, adding, “Materials have to be in balance.”  Often they select warm colors – reds, oranges, and soft colors that appear in nature; though selections are always dependent on the site characteristics themselves. “It is a big deal [for us] to choose color and materials of stone or wood, that is connected to the earth,” Taal posits. Since Ricardo believes in expressing a sense of ‘spirit’ in their work, openness is a defining characteristic, suggesting both freedom and expansion. Yet, shadow ‘construction’ softens it so as not to overwhelm its occupants.



When asked what their favorite projects are Taal finally confesses: “the ‘Tree House’” in San Diego, pausing, and the “Robert Paine Scripps Forum” at UCSD in La Jolla. Each structure serves as an example of the principles they incorporate into their designs. Since they are a full-service architectural firm, when asked if they have a preference of residential versus commercial or institutional, Taal notes “we like both. Sometimes if we’ve been working on a large commercial project and we get a home project, we are very excited to design a home.”


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