A Chorus of Diverse Voices Representing a New Generation

Amanda Schachter, AIA, SLO Architecture, discusses her firm’s work.

Matt Schoor

Event: New Practices New York 2012 Winners Roundtable
Location: Center for Architecture, 07.16.12
Speakers: Emily Abruzzo, AIA, LEED AP, Abruzzo Bodziak Architects; Julian Rose, Assoc. AIA, formlessfinder; Christian Wassmann, International Assoc. AIA, Christian Wassmann; David Benjamin, Assoc. AIA, The Living; Amanda Schachter, AIA, SLO Architecture
Moderators: Dan Wood, AIA, Partner, WORKac and Adjunct Professor, Princeton University; Troy Therrien, Curator of Experiments in Motion, Columbia University and Partner, Th-ey
Organizer: AIANY New Practices Committee
Underwriters: Axor Hansgrohe; NRI
Patrons: Sure Iron Works; Thornton Tomasetti
Supporter: Samson Rope
Media Sponsor: The Architect’s Newspaper

Like all emerging firms, the 2012 winners of the New Practices New York competition have been tasked with speaking for a new generation of designers. To paraphrase Julian Rose, Assoc. AIA, of formlessfinder, however, this is the first group of “post-Oedipal” architects. They are not trying to physically construct a refutation to a prevailing ideology or aesthetic. Additionally, they are not necessarily united by common ambitions or interests. Instead, this bunch of designers represents the multiplicity of roles that the architect can play in contemporary society.

As moderator Dan Wood, AIA, noted, the one element the winning firms share is that their maturation has occurred in the midst of a global economic recession. As a result, their project types, client base, and professional goals naturally reflect the challenges of design in a volatile new climate. And their practical approaches are radically different, best encapsulated in their responses to the query: Are you comfortable with designing discrete structures, or do your ambitions stretch beyond the building?

David Benjamin, Assoc. AIA, of The Living, expressed a greater interest in tackling problems that exist on the periphery of the profession, such as global resource management and information systems. Christian Wassmann, Int’l. Assoc. AIA, has eroded the distinction between architecture and the arts through a series of installations, temporary pavilions, and artist collaborations. Rose indicated that formlessfinder was determined to rethink conventional architectural norms, structural systems, and materials.

In an unstable economy with fewer architectural patrons most offices are pondering the conventional client/designer relationship. Why wait for a patron to appear when there are so many design problems at hand that are client-independent? Or, why not design for clients without the resources to hire an architect?

Emily Abruzzo, AIA, LEED AP, pointed to an urban design case study by Abruzzo Bodziak Architects that demonstrated how New York City’s zoning code could respond better to phototropic conditions. Wassmann stated that the boundaries between designer, collaborator, and client have begun to blur in his practice. Amanda Schachter, AIA, showed how SLO Architecture has embraced a practical model with an emphasis on community-advocacy and local resource awareness. The designs that result from that approach have brought attention to the city’s waterways and aqueous transportation networks.

Regardless of their attitudes toward design and architectural practice, it is clear that the winners of the 2012 New Practices New York competition have lost none of the enthusiasm and curiosity typically associated with young offices. They are rising to the challenge of solving seemingly insurmountable global problems, both within and without the profession. As representatives of a new generation of designers, their voices sing in polyphony, but ultimately join to create a harmony of unadulterated optimism.