F. Jason Campbell discusses Buffalo as an architectural lens and an influence on his multidimensional career

Jason Campbell serves as a designer for Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ) in San Francisco, teaches undergraduate studios at Berkeley, and captures the architectural world around him through photography. Images courtesy of Jason Campbell

By Rebecca Rudell

F. Jason Campbell (Architecture BS ’11) has cut himself a unique and enviable path. He is a designer at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson in San Francisco, teaches at Berkeley, pursues architectural photography and is a co-founder of ELL, a hybrid exhibition/work space that brings together artists, architects, entrepreneurs and others interested in working together and exploring ideas.

Originally from Long Island, Campbell fell in love with Buffalo and its buildings during his time at the university. “While at UB, the city was always the foundation from which we theorized and speculated on architecture,” he says. He mentions the diversity of departmental offerings and how every studio he took differed from the last, which taught him to explore every design project from alternative perspectives.

The divergent topics studied in Buffalo and at UB even made their way into a recent lecture about his trajectory through the field of architecture that Campbell presented at Berkeley, where he has been leading undergraduate studios since 2015. In addition to teaching at the college, he works full time as a designer for Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ) in San Francisco, contributing to projects such as a lecture hall at UC Davis (now under construction) and office space for the international engineering firm, Arup.

Another undertaking, architectural photography, began as a documentation-based interest for Campbell while at UB, but soon became more conceptual. “It was a device used to question architecture and uncover the overlooked in the built environment,” he explains. And while he has served as an in-house photographer for firms he’s worked for, including BCJ, photography has also become part of his process and often supplements his design projects.

Campbell in ELL San Francisco, a pop-up exhibition and event space that explores the intersection of art, architecture and design. 

In fact, photography and architecture—as well as music, food, and other media—were the inspiration behind Campbell’s latest personal project, ELL, which he founded with a former client, and colleague. The young men wanted to create a space to support the intersection of these seemingly disparate creative fields. But the venture had to be sustainable. With this in mind, ELL developed as a nuanced art business model with a rentable workspace for meetings, pop-ups and private events, the capital from which helps support a variety of artistic and academic initiatives. So far ELL has been very successful, with unique exhibitions including a collab with the Stanford Urban Resilience Initiative, as well as Yale’s architectural journal, Perspecta.

The space, designed by Campbell, was previously a grungy massage parlor. But after peeling back the layers and revealing what he calls the “embedded histories” and “unforeseen factors of space” that he likes to draw upon in his design work, he found old-growth Douglas fir and beautiful board formed concrete, which are now highlights of the interior. One of Campbell’s philosophies—to find what’s already there and elevate it—is more than apparent in this hardworking, multi-use space.