In the Studio - Phillip K. Smith

Timeless Attraction


To design with a conscience is equally important as being design-conscious. It is within this notion that artist and architect Phillip K. Smith III operates his multidisciplinary studio and workspace, The Art Office.

“It is our desire to mesh the art and architecture disciplines as a means of creating innovative spaces and inventing new forms of architecture,” says Smith, who established his Indio studio in 2000. “We seek to redefine existing forms of communication to create work that interacts with the community, creates place, and establishes its own identity.”

He has been quick to effectuate innovative and graceful designs amid the desert landscape, beginning with the Palm Desert Presbyterian Church, which won the Grand Award in Public Design from the Concrete Masonry Association of California and Nevada in 2004.

One of his most recent artistic endeavors, Cylinders, combines Douglas fir wood stakes, chance, and patience.
“It began as an experiment,” Smith says. “I bought some stakes and stacked them in circular patterns over the course of four months. My assistant, Burzeen Contractor, and I began to listen to what the materials had to say. The brilliance was already there, existing; we just had to uncover it. The further we trusted the work, the better it got.”

The results are sublime and inspirational sculptures that, through natural and artificial light, reveal geometrical and structural individualities.

Smith is now exploring materials such as Cor-Ten steel, high-end woods, and colored Plexiglas for a multitude of applications, including furniture and lighting.

Born in Los Angeles and raised in Indio, he left in 1991 for Rhode Island School of Design and earned bachelor degrees in fine arts and architecture. After graduation, he worked for several prestigious Boston architecture firms, including Machado + Silvetti, Office dA, and Doug Delezal Architects.

While there, he also committed himself to the Harvard Graduate School of Design Gallery, overseeing curation and comprehensive installations of numerous exhibitions, such as Carlos Jimenez, Rei Kawakubo + Commes des Garcon, and Gio Ponti. He also taught at architecture design studios at Boston Architectural Center and Northeastern University.

Smith returned to Coachella Valley in 2000 to pursue his art. His work space, efficient and simple, is divided into two sections: a small area for general office use and artistic conceptualization and the rest for fabrication and production.

“A lot has to do with the name of this place, The Art Office,” he says. “The idea behind it was to establish a studio where I could collaborate with other people and work on projects that neither of us could do on our own. I wanted to create a center of art and architecture for the desert.”

Smith’s enthusiasm earned him the honorable position of founding chairman for Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Council. Through the newly formed organization’s efforts, renowned artists have lectured publicly, among them Jorge Pardo, Andrea Zittel, and architect Michael Maltzman. This season, designers Rick Joy and Karim Rashid, among others, discuss their projects and work philosophies.

“I wanted to bring more culture to the desert and have found that there is a real interest here,” Smith says. “My hope is to affect design in the desert so that people 50 years from now will want to be preserve what is being designed today.”

Notwithstanding his many accomplishments (the Palm Springs Modern Committee recently presented him the Excellence in New Modern Design Award), Smith continually strives for balance between art and architecture. Yet, his quest for purity endures.

“Good design creates a positive, memorable experience and shows us something about a place, a thing, or a use of a building that we never thought was possible,” he says. “Mostly, I think good design affects people. In all of my work, I try to create an experience that is unquestionably beautiful. I just don’t think that beautiful gets enough press these days.”

Art + Culture

Related Articles

10 Things To Do in Palm Springs This Weekend

Palm Springs Life helps plan out your weekend in Palm Springs and the desert resort cities with concerts, events, restaurants, nightlife, clubs and the world of entertainment only found in the desert.

Wesley Eure Will Co-Emcee at Desert AIDS Project Benefit

Chelsea Lane Bodywear presents Under & Out 3, a fashion show and poolside party on Oct. 5 as part of a benefit for the Desert AIDS Project.

"Top Rock" Commands Stage at Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

"Top Rock" brings a brash, rockin' musical tribute to the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs on Friday and Saturday nights through September.

Palm Springs Horoscope - August 2014

Just persevere through these tough times, and know that the hard way will become the right road in 2015.

Palm Springs Horoscope - July 2014

Entering Leo on July 16, Jupiter ramps up the social calendar. There will be more summer parties than last year — expect an overbooked schedule.

Promotions + Contests

90 Days of Summer Romantic Palm Springs Getaway 2014

90 Days of Summer Romantic Palm Springs Getaway 2014

Experience the beauty, romance and excitement of the Palm Springs area when you enter to be the lucky winner of this romantic couple’s getaway
90 DAYS OF SUMMER Instagram Contest 2014

90 DAYS OF SUMMER Instagram Contest 2014

Win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!

Win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!

Each month, a first place winner will be selected to win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!And, each month, three additional runners up will be selected to win a wonderful Palm Springs area Dining certificate!
2013/14 Best of the Best

2013/14 Best of the Best

Palm Springs Life’s annual Best of the Best. Readers tell us who their choice is for the “Best of the Best” of the Coachella Valley in over 40 categories.
Cartoon Caption Contest

Cartoon Caption Contest

Each month, we provide a vintage 1950’s cartoon illustrated by Alice Rovinsky. You are invited to submit a caption or vote for your favorite caption.
Enter to Win A Celebrate Dance Experience!

Enter to Win A Celebrate Dance Experience!

Enter just once for a chance to win tickets to one of the second annual Palm Desert International Dance Festival performances.