New Practices New York Gauges Seven Emerging Firms

Event: New Practices New York 2010: Jury’s Symposium
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.12.10
Jurors/Panelists: Toshiko Mori, FAIA — Toshiko Mori Architect, (Lead Juror); Joe MacDonald, Assoc. AIA — Urban A&O (Discussion Leader); William Menking — Editor-in-Chief, The Architect’s Newspaper; Guy Nordenson — Principal, Guy Nordenson and Associates; Galia Solomonoff, AIA — Founder, Solomonoff Architecture Studio
Organizer: AIANY New Practices Committee
Sponsors: Lead Sponsors: Dornbracht; MG & Company; Valiant Technology; Sponsors: Espasso; Hafele; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP; Media Sponsor: The Architect’s Newspaper

NPNY

Clockwise: Lux Nova, MoMA P.S.1, NYC, by EASTON+COMBS; Academy of Performing Arts, Sarajevo, Bosnia, by Archipelagos; Hirshkron/Camacho Apartment, NYC, by Manifold; Wedding chapel, model, milled MDF, SO-IL; CHROMAesthesiae, site specific installation at Devotion Gallery, Brooklyn, by SOFTlab; Saipua, Soap and Flower Shop, Brooklyn, by Tacklebox; Phillip Lim Seoul Flagship, Seoul, by Leong Leong.

Clockwise: Photos by Adam Ward; Archipelagos; Dean Kaufman; SO-IL; Alan Tansey; Tacklebox; Iwan Baan; all courtesy AIANY

Every other year, the AIANY New Practices Committee holds a portfolio-based competition for emerging firms in NYC. This year, out of 65 submissions, jurors selected seven New Practices New York (NPNY) 2010 Winners: EASTON+COMBS (highest honor); Archipelagos; Leong Leong; Manifold; SOFTlab; SO-IL; and Tacklebox. The prestigious jury gathered to discuss the selection process, the importance of firms’ representation, and patterns among emerging practices.

Jurors faced the challenge of evaluating “fully evolved portfolios versus really interpreting the work,” according to William Menking, editor-in-chief of The Architect’s Newspaper. “Many emerging professionals haven’t mastered the skills or don’t take the time to present their work well,” he believes. Although graphics are typically the focus of a portfolio, jurors agreed that the text is very important, too.

Toshiko Mori, FAIA, the lead juror, felt that it is important for firms to show a range of practices. She thought EASTON+COMBS showed both “diversity and consistency,” while Archipelago’s portfolio told a “compelling narrative.” Joe MacDonald, Assoc. AIA, founder of Urban A&O and 2009 NPNY winner, was particularly impressed with SOFTlab: the digital and material practice “blurred.” They stood out for their tenacity; aside from creating “extremely successful architectural ‘events’,” they also design websites to stay afloat in the difficult economy. The most successful emerging firms are able to “implement big ideas in small increments,” according to Galia Solomonoff, AIA, founder of Solomonoff Architecture Studio. Guy Nordensen found it interesting to trace the evolution of new practices that emerged from established firms, such as SO-IL from SANAA.

A recurring theme among New Practices juries each year is the topic of built vs. unbuilt work. Menking said that he likes to see at least one project built, even if it’s just a little café. MacDonald was surprised to see so much built work among the submissions, and less speculative work or environmentally driven issues. However, he also saw “nothing daring,” proving that getting projects built won’t necessarily win the prize. Nordensen felt that a strong theoretical perspective was missing among the firms. Although Mori called the winners “a very sophisticated group,” she lamented the lack of innovative practice models and would like for firms be more articulate about credits for the role each person plays. Ultimately, NPNY is “not a beauty contest,” she said, but a gauge of “how you are evolving your practice.”

Menking pointed out that while NYC has a reputation of being a difficult city in which to start a firm, it is also ripe with opportunities for emerging practices. Besides AIANY’s NPNY competition, the Architectural League holds a similar competition for young architects; the Van Alen offers fellowships and holds competitions; the Museum of Modern Art frequently features groundbreaking work; and the Mayor’s Design and Construction Excellence program seeks smaller, creative practices, to name a few.