Architecture is rooted in tectonics and craft. Few offices know this better than Hufft, an architecture, interior design and fabrication studio with offices in Kansas City and Bentonville. Founded on the belief that input from builders and fabricators adds value and creates better experiences, the studio's multi-disciplinary team now includes over 50 people. In an interview with ArchDaily, Principal Matthew Hufft discusses the firms values and what it means to build today.
Hufft began in February of 2005 with co-owners, Jesse and Matthew Hufft, and residential commissions in both New York and the Midwest. Then in early 2008, the fabrication division became a part of the Hufft brand. From its roots in residential design, the practice has now built a portfolio of commercial, institutional and hospitality work. Bringing designers and builders together into one seamless team, they are working to create each space and object with the same level of care and detail.
Can you tell us more about Hufft and its mission?
Hufft is a group of architects, interior designers, artists, and fabricators with a mission to create meaningful spaces and objects, inspired by people and places. This is hard for some to totally understand, since what we do is pretty broad. Our work ranges from relatively small and affordable fabricated items to very large and complicated buildings. But what is a constant for us, and the key to our mission, is that we are working on meaningful things that matter. And meaning can be found in all types of spaces and objects, varying in scale and budget.
As a design and fabrication studio, your projects are grounded in an appreciation for craft. The team works across architecture, interiors, cabinetry, and furniture. How does this commitment to detail and the tectonics of architecture shape your work?
We started fabricating some of our work, out of necessity. At the time (a decade ago) we were struggling to find the appropriate fabricators that wanted to focus on modern design. However, this has changed. Now our fabrication studio is more a tool of enhancement, and most definitely shapes our designs. In an effort to meet our mission, we feel that the more we can customize, the more meaningful the work becomes. This is an idea that many famous modern architects used several decades ago, but is relatively rare to see today. The German phrase for this is ‘gesamtkunstwerk’, meaning ‘total work of art’. And it is a practice that frankly we are still perfecting. But I have found that our best work is that with which we have an opportunity to really help our clients figure out the details. This can be a façade system, a line of cabinetry, or a piece of furniture.
What are some recent projects the firm is working on?
We are working on several exciting projects right now. On the residential front we are about to begin construction for a house on Fire Island, in New York, a pavilion for viewing the Rocky Mountains just outside Denver, among many other things. On the commercial front there are many ambitious projects underway. We are in the early stages of a corporate headquarters for Equipment Share, a company focused on making construction equipment autonomous. We have just completed a master plan for a large multi-purpose district in a blighted part of Kansas City. And we just won a large research and development project for the University of Arkansas, which is slated to be one of their most ambitious building projects in their history. Finally, we are about to start construction on the conversion of a 250,000 SF building in St. Louis that was originally a YMCA gym and hostel. We are converting it into a hotel and multiple food and beverage outlets.
With changes to climate, technology, and construction techniques, how do you think architects and designers will adapt ways of practicing to advance the profession?
I think we are a moment in history where we will see the greatest evolution in design and construction, probably ever. I realize that is a big statement, but if you look at the ideas around singularity and Moore’s Law, you can see that science is telling us now is the time. Combine that with this pandemic, and we have just fueled the movement out of necessity. We are all embracing technology, more than ever, because we have no other choice. So, how will this advance the profession? I believe you will see the more innovative and sustainable work created by designers, working from their parent’s basement. Fees will probably go down, and client’s expectations will go up. Everything will happen much faster too. The time from conception to completion will be cut down drastically by the use of automated construction sites and 3D printing.
Recent events with COVID-19 have been swift. With many firms transitioning to remote work, what tips would you provide to firm leaders?
This is week ten for Hufft. To be honest, we are still figuring it out. So I am not one to give tips. But I can tell you that we plan to be remote for a long while. We have officially shut our office down for the summer and anticipate that extending. As such, we have gone from an attitude of ‘getting by’ to one of ‘figuring out’ our new normal. The 9-5, 40 hour work week is history. We are turning our attention to model based on clear communication, scope of work, and deadlines. From there, we are giving our staff the freedom to work how they want, as long as they are meeting or exceeding clear expectations.
Part of mission states that our work is ‘inspired by people and places’. So, no matter where we are working, we try our best to be informed by the place with which it lives. But the Midwest, in particular, is of great interest to us. We started our practice in New York City, but quickly migrated to the Midwest for this reason. We feel there is a lot of untapped potential and much more room to play here.
As you look to the future, are there any ideas you think should be front and center in the minds of architects and designers?
Yes, a focus on innovation rooted in technology. Simply put, if you don't embrace technology, you will become a relic. Like it or not, our industry has evolved, and it is important to embrace this evolution by continuing to educate yourself and your staff. It will take great effort to do so, but the end result will create architecture that no one ever deemed possible. We are going to see some amazing things in the next decade.