For Southern Californians, Taal Safdie and Ricardo Rabines do quite a bit of walking. The two architects walk 7-year-old Raquel, the youngest of their three children, to her elementary school on weekday mornings. They walk to their office, which is situated just a few blocks from their modern home in the Mission Hills neighborhood of San Diego. They walk home for lunch (which they usually eat on their terrace) and back to the office, then home again at the end of the workday.
Safdie and Rabines clearly relish the outdoor lifestyle afforded by the balmy weather of their chosen city. In addition to the time they spend outside, the homes and buildings their 14-person firm designs weave together indoors and outdoors in an uncommonly imaginative way. From the shaded courtyard they fought hard to include in a recent low-budget public library renovation, to the treetop balconies they integrate into canyonside houses, to the master bath showers that exit to a terrace or patio, they always find a way to enrich each project with outdoor rooms. Spaces that must have four walls and a ceiling don't deter them—they just use pocket or accordion doors to achieve the effect of being outside.
Even their office building, a former residence built in the 1920s, features a lush garden and patio out back for company barbecues and al fresco coffee breaks. Rabines created it himself; he and Safdie dream of someday bringing landscape architecture in-house.design education
Rabines has enjoyed the benefits of a warm climate for most of his life. Born and raised in Peru, he attended architecture school at Universidad Ricardo Palma in Lima. One of his professors and eventual employers, the architect Juvenal Baracco, encouraged him to pursue further studies at the University of Pennsylvania. There Rabines met another mentor, Adèle Naudé Santos, FAIA, and Safdie, his future wife.
Safdie grew up in Montreal, spending several years of her childhood living in Habitat '67, the groundbreaking apartment complex designed by her father, Moshe Safdie, FRAIC, FAIA. “It was a really great place to live,” she says. “You're surrounded by water, you have terraces, views, light, air. It's wild-looking and sculptural.” During her senior year at Vassar College she decided to go to architecture school, choosing Penn partly because of the legacy of Louis Kahn, for whom her father had worked in the early 1960s.
After graduate school, Safdie and Rabines married. Both worked for well-known firms—Safdie in New York City for Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and Kohn Pedersen Fox Architects, Rabines for Santos' firm in Philadelphia and Davis Brody & Associates (now Davis Brody Bond) in New York City. The pair moonlighted on a few small projects together and realized their divergent working styles complemented one another. “Taal is an early [-morning] person, I am more of a late person,” Rabines says. “One of us has more emphasis on certain parts than the other. For example, Taal is much more detail-oriented than I am. I rely on her for that and she relies on me [for] different things.” The couple moved across the country in 1990 when Santos, tapped to head the newly formed architecture school at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), moved her practice to the area.
But the school folded after a few years, and though Santos went north to UC Berkeley and relocated her firm to the San Francisco Bay Area, new parents Safdie and Rabines decided to stay in San Diego and start their own firm. “I never had any doubts they'd work it out together,” says Santos, a self-described “informal family member” to the couple who now serves as dean of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning. “They can take a really difficult site and are smart enough to figure out what to do with it.”