Recently, we visited Thomas Phifer’s office in New York – a working floor that embodies the same spirit as his architecture with its pristine furnishings and axial organization. Phifer (who is also an avid Arch Daily reader) began his firm back in the 1990s and, as his office has grown and developed, his projects have been honored with several AIA Honor Awards and American Architecture Awards.
In fact, the firm’s North Carolina Museum of Art project is one of only ten projects to have been awarded a 2011 AIA Honor Award, the organization’s highest recognition for building design. The AIA commented that the building’s interior’s “gently luminous setting,” the result of natural light that is filtered through hundreds of elliptical oculi in the ceiling, and the way in which its exterior, enclosed in matte aluminum panels, “continue[s] the discourse with the landscape” and offers “unexpected and scintillating reflections.” Since opening in April 2010, the project has dramatically transformed the visitor experience of both the Museum itself and the 164-acre park in which it is sited, and with which West Building is visually and experientially integrated. Surrounded by five courtyards, each of which seems to enter the structure, the museum is a strong example of Phifer’s desire to blend the natural with the artificial.
From smaller scale residences to larger scale courthouses or pavilions, Phifer’s design principals and strategies emphasize a sense of inspiration gained from the environment teamed with providing an elegantly functional structure. Phifer notes that each project provides the opportunity to push limitations and expectations, “It becomes the architect’s responsibility to continually challenge the client and the design team to appropriateness and invention.” It is a way of design that offers thoughtful and refined architecture.