In 1993 a young professional couple with two toddlers and a large suburban lot in Naarden, a town less than half an hour's drive southeast of Amsterdam, approached Ben van Berkel to design an unusual house. They envisioned it as progressive and innovative in every way possible. More than that, they wanted a kind of building that “would be recognized as a reference in terms of renewal of the architectural language.” Before settling on the architect, they spoke to several candidates, including Rem Koolhaas. They chose van Berkel who five years earlier, together with his then-wife Caroline Bos co-founded their eponymous practice, because as he told me, “I went to the site and studied it carefully and already had ideas about what I called the four quadrants of the landscape. I knew what kind of house it would be. I could see clearly where different rooms would go, how they would be shaped, and how they would relate to each other.” The couple couldn’t resist. Yet, there would be no rush on the project which took five years to complete, most time was invested in its design, going through many iterations and refinements, all based on the Möbius loop.
Founder of the New York-based non-profit Curatorial Project. Trained as an architect at Cooper Union in New York, Belogolovsky has written nine books, including New York: Architectural Guide (DOM, 2019), and Conversations with Architects in the Age of Celebrity (DOM, 2015).
“A Building Can Become This Organic, Soft, Beautiful Thing That You Want to Touch and Hug”: In Conversation with Chris Bosse
Chris Bosse started LAVA, Laboratory for Visionary Architecture, with his partners Tobias Wallisser and Alexander Rieck the year Watercube, the Aquatics Centre for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics was completed. Bosse was one of the leading designers of Watercube when he worked at PTW Architects in Sydney. Now LAVA employs about 100 people in four offices in Ho Chi Minh City, Sydney, Stuttgart, and Berlin. There are also two satellite offices in Honduras and Parma, Italy, led by former associates. Projects range from furniture to houses and hotels to master plans, urban centers, and airports in the Middle East, Central America, Europe, Australia, and Vietnam.
Eva Prats and Ricardo Flores started their Barcelona-based practice, Flores & Prats Arquitectes in 1998 after both worked at the office of Enric Miralles. They overlapped for about one year there, from 1993 to 1994. After her nine-year stint with Miralles, Eva won the EUROPAN III International Housing Competition with a friend. The success that led to a real commission and was going to be built, served as the springboard for starting their independent practice. Shortly thereafter they won another competition. Ricardo joined Eva after working for five years with Miralles. By then they were a couple for three years and decided to start working together. Today they practice out of the same sprawling apartment where Eva’s original studio rented a room along with several other young architects and designers. Even though the office now occupies the entire space—the architects told me they typically employ ten, no more than twelve people—they keep traces and memories of the former “dwellers” alive. Curiously, Eva and Ricardo implement the same strategy in their architectural projects as well.
“Our Mission Is to Preserve and Explore the Neutra Legacy”: In Conversation with Raymond Neutra, the Youngest Son of Richard Neutra
It was, of course, Frank Lloyd Wright who set up the ground for modern architecture to happen in Los Angeles. Then came the Viennese, Rudolph Schindler in 1920 and Richard Neutra in 1925 at the invitation of Schindler. Both worked for Wright choosing to learn from him what they saw as essential—by focusing on spatial and formal clarity, transformability, restrained materiality, and the living environment to achieve a desirable quality of life within. Neutra and Schindler collaborated at first, and then each built a rich portfolio, mainly comprising houses and apartment blocks. Universal in principle, these abstract robust structures defined and led the development of a local building vernacular. These buildings, of which there are several hundred, are now strongly associated with the two architects’ adopted city.
James Wines, a New York architect and environmental artist, has been on a mission of sorts. He believes that architecture needs to be liberated from itself. This act of liberation is expressed in many radical projects that he and his company, SITE (Sculpture In The Environment) realized in 11 countries. Wines is world famous for such projects as Ghost Parking Lot (Hamden, CO, 1977), Highrise of Homes (theoretical project, 1981), Highway 86 (Vancouver, Canada, 1986), Fondazione Pietro Rossini Pavilion (Briosco, Italy, 2008), and Off-White Showroom for Virgil Abloh (Ginza, Tokyo, 2021). The very essence of the architect’s work is expressed in his fascinating stores for BEST Products Company, the key focus of my conversation with the architect that took place over Zoom on August 10, 2022, following many of our in-person meetings.
“I Think of My Work as Imploding Rather than Exploding:” in Conversation with Michael Rotondi of Roto Architects
Michael Rotondi’s buildings—museums, civic centers, education facilities, monasteries, restaurants, and residences—evoke kinetic mechanisms that fold, hinge, twist, and split open. They express the architect’s feelings, thinking, and mood at the time they had been designed, and, on some occasions, during their assembly and construction. Rotondi was born in 1949 in Los Angeles.
He established his RoTo Architects, a research-based firm in his native city, in 1991 after co-heading Morphosis for 16 years with Thom Mayne. Parallel to his practicing career, the architect has been teaching and lecturing at SCI-Arc, Southern California Institute of Architecture, which he co-founded in 1972, led its graduate program from 1978-1987, and was the school’s second director for a decade from 1987 to 1997.
Roland Halbe came into photography entirely by accident, discovering it at the age of 15 in a class on optics. His physics teacher presented camera obscura effects, which immediately triggered his fascination. He then started borrowing his father’s old camera quite regularly. While still in high school, Roland worked part-time at a camera shop, eagerly discovering everything there is to know about photography. Those were the circumstances that kindled Halbe’s lifelong romance, first with black and white, and, eventually, color photography with a focus on the built environment.
I first went to China in 2002, a year after the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2008 Summer Games to Beijing. That initial trip was about exploring nature, cuisine, ancient temples, archeological sites, and, in general, experiencing lifestyles in China, mainly outside of its major cities. I was motivated by the pure curiosity of a Western tourist driven to an Eastern country in search of the old world, the exotic, hoping to catch a glimpse of a rich traditional culture on the cusp of its inevitable radical transformation. At the time, there was no modern, or rather contemporary, architecture in China to speak of. There were only the promising first hints of the development of a potentially new architectural language being undertaken by just a handful of independent architects almost entirely under the radar.
“Our Ambition Is to Redefine What a Large Company Can Be”: In Conversation With Shawn Basler of Perkins Eastman
Shawn Basler, a New York-based architect, founded his firm Basler Mosa Design Group in 2000; seven years later he merged with Perkins Eastman, one of the world’s biggest and most dynamically growing architectural practices. He is now co-CEO/Executive Director—with Nick Leahy and Andrew J. Adelhardt III—of this 1,100-strong global force headquartered in New York City and operating a total of 24 offices, seven of which are outside of the U.S., namely in Shanghai, Mumbai, Dubai, Singapore, Vancouver, Toronto, and Guayaquil in Ecuador. In addition to designing many international projects, Basler shares the responsibility for fostering the firm’s growth around the world.
“We Are Just Beginning to Explore the Possibilities of Shaping Space”: In Conversation With David Hotson
David Hotson (b. 1959) founded his New York City-based practice David Hotson Architect in 1991. His projects – houses, loft residences, penthouse apartments, and galleries – are known for their remarkable spatial and visual complexity. His Church of Saint Sarkis in Carrollton, Texas is especially distinguished for the luminous and sculptural qualities of its interior space as well as the exterior grade high-resolution digital printing on its west façade. Earlier this year this appealing work won the US Building of the Year award by World-Architects.com. Hotson obtained his Bachelor of Environmental Design from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and earned his Master of Architecture in 1987 at Yale.
In the following interview with David Hotson, we discussed the architect’s design process, focusing on making concave spatial voids legible and primary, being inspired by Byzantine architecture and his favorite building ever built, what structure he considers the most important work of contemporary architecture, what makes his award-winning Church of Saint Sarkis special, and the use of space and light as the essential tools in creating architecture as a figural void and ultimately an art form.
“As Architects, We Don’t Discover Our Identity, We Construct It”: In Conversation with Rahul Mehrotra
Rahul Mehrotra is a practicing architect based in Boston and Mumbai and he has been teaching at Harvard’s GSD where he is currently Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design and Director of the Master in Architecture in Urban Design Degree Program. Born in 1959, Mehrotra grew up in Lucknow, a city in Northern India and an important cultural and artistic hub. His father was a manager at a large machine tool company. The family moved a lot following Mehrotra senior’s frequent promotions, which led to changing residences owned by his company. Besides a few years in Lucknow and Delhi, they lived in different neighborhoods within Mumbai.
Kim Utzon started his small architectural practice, Kim Utzon Arkitekter, in Copenhagen in 1987, choosing to work primarily in Denmark and neighboring Sweden, to keep close ties with family and be able to reflect effectively on regional building traditions. Kim is the youngest son of Jørn Utzon (1918-2008), the Pritzker Prize-winning architect whose most celebrated buildings include the Sydney Opera House (1973), Bagsværd Church near Copenhagen (1976), and the Kuwait National Assembly Building (1982). Kim’s brother Jan Utzon is a practicing architect and his sister Lin Utzon is a ceramic artist.
Whether an apartment building, house, storefront, office interior, or restaurant, Glenn Sestig’s architecture consistently reveals itself in tidy fragments of robust and determinately monumental geometry that tends to evoke urban qualities. His austere facades, colonnades, stair landings, and even reception desks and shelf displays appear to be quite hefty and substantial. And, in fact, every project, be it a small boutique or gallery, starts with rigorous planning – visual primary and secondary axes get established, circulation flow is laid out, and major anchors are identified before the architect moves on to addressing the appropriate materials, surfaces, and details. Every space is architecture first; its program and appearance will fit into it.
“I Followed My Father’s Advice and Did Not Design a House for My Family” in Conversation With Paul Tange
In the following interview with Paul Tange, the chairman and senior principal architect at Tange Associates in Tokyo, we discussed the relationship with his famous architect-father Kenzo Tange (1913-2005; the most influential architect in postwar Japan and the winner of the 1987 Pritzker Prize), the fate of the house Tange senior built for his first family, the decision of joining his father’s practice right after graduation from Harvard, sharing his father’s design principles, and the vision behind his first independent built work – a 50-story Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower in Tokyo, a vertical campus that can accommodate up to 10,000 students; the project won an international competition, in which 50 international architects participated.
Most architects design projects in the comfort of their offices, sitting behind their desks, making decisions by looking at their flatscreens, never visiting a construction site, and managing everything remotely. This attitude may lead to a design of a sleek and even objectively beautiful building. But such a solution can’t be anywhere near a genuine response to what any given site may require. How do you even find out? Is it possible to build something new as if it were an extension of what is already there in the most innate, consequential, yet original form? The only way to find out is to start from the site itself, says Vinu Daniel, the founder of Wallmakers, an award-winning architectural practice in Trivandrum, the capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala.
Boston architect Brian Healy moved around for his early career, before settling and building in New England. He had studios in Florida, California, and New York, eventually opening his office in Boston. Healy acquired his bachelor’s degree in architecture at the Pennsylvania State University in 1978 and continued his studies at Yale where he encountered such influential professors as James Stirling, Vincent Scully, John Hejduk, Aldo Rossi, and Cesar Pelli, among others.
Healy graduated with a Master of Architecture in 1981 and then used traveling scholarship money from Yale, the Van Allen Institute, and the American Academy in Rome to travel around the world for a year, exploring ancient ruins in Ireland, Italy, Greece, Sudan, Egypt, India, Nepal, and Thailand. Prior to the trip, he had worked at the offices of Charles Moore and Cesar Pelli. Upon his return, he designed and built homes in Florida before working for Richard Meier in New York. In 1985, he started Brian Healy Architects. Parallel to that he taught at over twenty universities across North America, including Yale, Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania. Healy was the 2004 president of the Boston Society of Architects and, from 2011-2014 he served as Design Director at Perkins + Will.
Earlier this year the unprovoked barbaric Russian invasion of neighboring independent Ukraine forced millions of people to flee their cities and the country in search of safety. I talked to one of Ukraine’s top architects, Oleg Drozdov, who was forced to relocate his practice and architecture school he co-founded in Kharkiv, to Lviv, 1,000 kilometers to the west, next to the Polish border. His staff and professors — many of them assume both roles — resumed their work just weeks after the war broke out.
London-based architect Alison Brooks was born and grew up in Canada and studied architecture at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario. Upon graduation in 1988, she left for London where after working with designer Ron Arad for seven years she started Alison Brooks Architects in 1996. Her most representative works include the Stirling Prize-winning Accordia Brass Building in Cambridge, Exeter College Cohen Quad in Oxford, the Smile Pavilion for the 2016 London Design Festival, and several expressive single-family residences in London: VXO House, Fold House, Lens House, Mesh House, and Windward House.
Among the studio’s current projects are The Passages in Surrey, Canada; Homerton College in Cambridge, and other residential and cultural projects throughout Britain and in North America. This month the architects’ design was shortlisted for the LSE Firoz Lalji Global Hub and Institute for Africa in London. Together with Nigerian practice Studio Contra, the ABA-led team was one of six finalists chosen from 190 international submissions.