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ABRUZZO BODZIAK Designs with Light and Color

Abruzzo and Bodziak at Axor NYC.

Matt Shoor

Emily Abruzzo, AIA, LEED AP, presents the firm’s work.

Matt Shoor

Event: Unfinished: Presentation by ABRUZZO BODZIAK Architects
Location: Axor NYC, 11.15.12
Speakers: Emily Abruzzo, AIA, LEED AP, and Gerald Bodziak, AIA, LEED AP, Partners, ABRUZZO BODZIAK Architects
Organizers: AIANY New Practices Committee, AIANY
Underwriters: Axor Hansgrohe; NRI
Patrons: Sure Iron Works; Thornton Tomasetti
Supporter: Samson Rope
Media Sponsor: The Architect’s Newspaper

Over the course of millennia, light has been the one constant in the architect’s palette. If illumination defines space, then the nature and quality of that light are what generate powerful psychological associations. In addition, the physical properties of the visible light spectrum allow humans to see color, one of the most sensually pleasurable natural phenomena. In the era of electric illumination, color and light are even more intimately intertwined, since color can now be perceived under wholly unnatural circumstances.

Although ABRUZZO BODZIAK Architects’ body of work displays a dizzying breadth in terms of type, size, and budget, their projects share a keen sensitivity to light. Emily Abruzzo, AIA, LEED AP, and Gerald Bodziak, AIA, LEED AP, seem especially attracted to artificial light, and they utilize it to a significant degree in both constructed and conceptual work.

Among the most concrete examples of Abruzzo and Bodziak’s finely tuned understanding of light is one of their most recent projects. “Landscape (Triptych)” was installed at the Center for Architecture this past summer as part of the “New Practices New York 2012” exhibition. This temporary piece explored the potential of electroluminescent wire hung from a tensile armature. According to the architects, when the wire was illuminated at night, the striated pattern inadvertently took the form of stylized rolling hills. This happy accident recalled the initial title of the installation, and resulted in a striking billboard advertising the innovative work being done by young New York designers.

The primacy of artificial light has also infiltrated a number of other ABRUZZO BODZIAK projects. In “Homeless Projection,” the architects wanted to literally illuminate a perennial problem. According to the designers, homeless shelters are often nondescript buildings that serve a crucial social function, and yet they do not trumpet their presence in neighborhoods for fear of reducing property values. The designers chose to challenge this out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude by projecting the current occupancy of the shelter on the façade of the building in block numerals many feet tall. In this manner, there would be no mistaking how many individuals directly benefit from the work done within.

Color is another important facet of the firm’s work, especially as it relates to natural light. In “Pop-up Farm,” a hydroponic greenhouse on a disused lot in East New York, Brooklyn, the pair elected to paint the steel structure an orange hue in an effort to differentiate the building from the monotone urban fabric surrounding it. During daylight hours, the bright orange is visible through the translucent polycarbonate panels of the edifice. Thus, color is used to draw attention to the primary function of the structure, which is to provide fresh produce to a community lacking access to healthful food.

According to Bodziak, the firm uses light as a material to create a lot with a little. It is certainly true that the firm’s investigations have resulted in a handful of potent projects with formal and political heft, and one hopes that future explorations with light will result in a portfolio of structures with deep social significance. Who knew that illumination, a phenomenon without mass, could be such a weighty tool?