Leslie Lokko in L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui

 



Leslie Lokko and the African Futures Institute, L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui, Sep. 2022.


A Laboratory for Contemporary Spatial Identity: Lesley Lokko and the African Futures Institute 


Scottish-Ghanaian author and educator Lesley Lokko founded the African Futures Institute last year in Accra, Ghana as a way to position Africa and the diaspora at the center of a transformative vision of the relationships between identity, the environment, social justice, and architecture. A widely published novelist and architectural educator, Lokko founded the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg in 2014. In 2019, she became dean at the City College of New York’s Spitzer School of Architecture but left the following year in what she described as a profound act of self-preservation and returned to Ghana. This year, the Venice Architecture Biennale selected her to curate its 2023 edition, The Laboratory of the Future.
 
AA: What is the project of the African Futures Institute? 

The best way I can describe it is to say that in 2014, I started a school of architecture in Johannesburg, the Graduate School of Architecture (GSA). The GSA was a really interesting experiment. It came on the back of student protests about decolonization and access to tertiary education. Taking a curriculum that had originally been developed at the Architectural Association in London and transplanting it to South Africa was actually fairly revolutionary, and the students responded to the curriculum in really interesting ways. 

The plan was to try and do something similar in New York, which didn’t work out. When I left Spitzer, I thought, if I don’t go back to home now—back to Ghana, to West Africa—I probably will never do it. The idea was to set up an institute very much like the GSA. The mandate is really simple: it’s to provide world-class architectural education here on the continent, but also to take the more experimental, radical space that Africa offers to think about architectural education differently, not just for Africa, but globally as well. 

AA: Do you have some intuitions about the role of architecture in imagining identity on the African continent and what the process might yield? 

For me architecture has always been very narrative driven. The physical artifact, the building, is always trying to tell some kind of story. Particularly in—let’s call it the Global North, it’s assumed that story is a universal one. But actually it’s quite culturally specific. If you come from locations outside of that canon, you don’t see yourself, your cultural values, your beliefs reflected in the environment. You don’t see the school as a space where you can explore how to translate different narratives into form. 

The school really ought to be the protected space where you can grapple with these really difficult questions of identity, of language, of history, of occupation, of settlement. Africa is the youngest continent; the average age is 20. There’s an incredible energy here at the moment, with very little infrastructure to be a platform or a catalyst for that energy. What I’m seeing in the creative industries—music, fashion, film, photography, art—is almost an explosion of a pent up desire to say something, and architecture has been very lax in taking up that challenge. Those of us who are in our late 50s/ early 60s have the possibility to put those structures in place, which is what the AFI is. 

AA: In Issa Diabaté’s lecture last year at AFI, he talks about passive techniques for mediating climate at a domestic and institution scale. It’s an incredibly hopeful vision from a purely technical point of view to moderate climate on a human scale through architecture.

The power of the imagination to suggest ways of thinking, working, seeing, for me, is the real draw in education. The university’s draw is a place where you construct new knowledge. There’s a tendency in architectural education to think of it as training. You perfect something that’s already there. On this continent, students understand that somehow architecture has failed them. They’re not afraid to go beyond it. There’s a curiosity about other disciplines and a willingness to work across fields that I don’t encounter in the Global North. 

The relationship between climate and landscape, for example, or between landscape and narrative, or between narrative and emotion, those distinctions here are quite blurred, and it produces really interesting, thought-provoking work. And it’s too early to say what the translation into architectural form will look like—we’re still in the process of figuring that out—but if you think of architecture as being about the building of knowledge almost as much as the building of buildings, there’s an appetite here to build new knowledge that for me is unparalleled. 

AA: Olalekum Jeyifous, who lectured at AFI recently, also does work along these lines, in which he’s scripting an alternative set of conditions through which a space is created. 

Absolutely. Jeyifous is a good example. I think, if there were 100 more like him, we would have 100 times the power of that imaginative courage. Lek would describe himself as somewhere between a filmmaker, an artist, an architect, and an activist. That boldness in slipping in between categories is really compelling right now. A school like the AFI should be a place that incubates that confidence. 

AA: Can you talk about the AFI’s ambition to engage architecture in rethinking the relationships among African governments and between them and international powers?

I remember distinctly as a student that my culture—Africa, blackness—had very little to offer architecture. I felt like a supplicant coming to this very well-established discipline with a few concerns and ideas of my own, almost begging for an audience. Architecture had no use for anything African, anything black, anything other. It was seen as an affront to architecture. Those of us with those sorts of concerns were always agitating at its edges. The feeling that I got then was that we were lacking—by we, I mean the diaspora, otherness—and that we were too chaotic, too disorganized, too corrupt, too inferior, and that we had nothing to give architecture. 

After 30 years, I swear I have come full circle and I understand now that it’s actually architecture that’s lacking. It’s not able to deal with the complexity and the contradictions that a context like Africa throws up. If you think about hybrid or diasporic identities that are multiple, made in more than one location, people who speak more than one language or have more than one home, fundamentally architecture is about the opposite of that. It’s about grounding something, making something solid and in place, and here we’re talking about cultures that are very much out of place. 

The next five or ten years are going to be very exciting ones for architecture as a discipline because climate change has suddenly forced the issues of climate and climate justice onto the table. In the same way that Black Lives Matter put questions of race and identity back on the table, architecture, finally, after so long, has an opportunity to respond. These questions of decolonization are a gift to the canon. They enrich it. They don’t destabilize it or diminish it. 

AA: As you were saying, you can see it in these Afrofuturist fashion gestures and in art and visual culture. We’re already living in a future that hasn’t quite appreciated the changes already in place. Our selves are partly merged with machines in many ways, and we’re multiple in terms of cultural exposure in ways that people have probably never been, ever. 

One hundred percent. Even though the AFI curriculum focuses especially on Africa, we are all African. The conditions that operate here, conditions of translation, of movement, the African diaspora, the fact that the official languages are English, French, and Portuguese, but everyone speaks another language behind closed doors. All of those questions many people around the world resonate with, it’s not just Africans. If you think about what we’re trying to do with architecture as an analogy for what’s happening to many, many people—in terms of sexuality, identity, location—it’s all here. My hope is that by focusing very specifically on a place, you’re able to tell a story that resonates far beyond these borders and gives some kind of—maybe hope is too strong a word—it gives a push, an impetus to students and practitioners and activists who have the same questions. 

One of the reasons why it was possible to implement something so different in South Africa was precisely because the level of anger that was brewing in the student population anyway. I thought after George Floyd and after the pandemic that there would be similar levels of anger in the Global North, but that anger has been translated into a kind of fear, and fear for me is often not a productive place to start from. It’s defensive. It’s insular. It’s often quite reactionary. Anger, by definition, is outward facing. It’s about change. I’m not saying that students have to be angry, but in a climate where anger is palpable, you can get an incredible amount done. In a climate where people are fearful, my experience is that you get almost nothing done. The amazing thing about educational projects is that you plant a seed and suddenly it sprouts somewhere. The group of young students in Johannesburg who became tutors and young practitioners did things you could not possibly have predicted. 

AA: Is there a resonance between the African Futures Institute and plans for the Venice Architecture Biennale?

It’s an unusual curatorial position because on one level, I am the African Futures Institute: the separation between it and myself is very blurred. It’s unusual that something so young and fresh—the AFI is a year old—would have such an opportunity for such a global presence. On the other hand, I’m a fiction writer as well as an educator, and it very much is the same story that I’ve been talking about for the last 30 years. It feels almost surreal to have thought about my work as very marginal, and suddenly, after the pandemic, George Floyd, and all of the upheavals of the last two years, to find that it’s of interest to a wider audience. The college project of the Biennale could be very interesting, because for the first time we will have an educational project that runs alongside the Biennale. 

AA: I love the fact that you’re emphasizing a humanities and social science education. 

I inherited those terms like humanities, social sciences, sciences, and physical sciences, and for a long time I thought of them as sacrosanct. But when you come here to the African continent and you’re confronted with a knowledge system that’s very different, it makes me question all of those assumptions about the separation of knowledge. For me life—as far as I understand it—is narrative driven, it’s about the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. 



Detroit's Marquette Building Office Design for Metropolis


BDG Redesigns a Detroit Power Plant for the World’s Largest Ad Agency, Metropolis, Aug. 15, 2022.


British advertising agency WPP, the largest firm of its kind in the world, has been on a mission to refresh its image and consolidate its offices across the globe. The latest of these projects gathers an assortment of WPP-owned agencies and companies in Detroit and its suburbs under one roof in the downtown Detroit neighborhood of Greektown. For a new home WPP selected the ten-story Marquette Building, which was designed in 1905 by Rogers & MacFarlane in what was then Detroit’s Financial District as a steam-heat-generating plant. To modernize the looming brick building, WPP tapped the New York office of London-based architecture firm BDG architecture + design, which developed a plan to revamp the building’s interior and transform it into an office that could accommodate all 1,200 of WPP’s employees in the Detroit area. 

WPP took on its sprawling multinational form through the acquisition of dozens of smaller companies, including ad agencies J. Walter Thompson and the Ogilvy Group in the late 1980s. It now employs 130,000 creatives in more than 100 countries. In recent years, it accumulated so many marketing, branding, PR, tech, and commercial entities spread among countless offices that it had begun to identify itself more as a holding company than a unified brand. As part of an ongoing mission to streamline operations and clean up its own image—partially a response to questions about the ethics of working for oil corporations and lawsuits against some of their fossil fuel clients like Chevron for misrepresenting themselves as sustainable—WPP has been purchasing older buildings and adapting them for use as energy-efficient, “on-brand” headquarters. 

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The move is another step in a moment of extraordinary change for downtown Detroit. A flood of 1,000 new office workers will utterly transform the environment of that corner of the city, yet the public transportation infrastructure lags far behind, bringing a daily onrush of automobiles and customers for local businesses that have survived. If the city can keep up, adapt, and spread the wealth, WPP’s new headquarters may turn out to be much more than a simple rebranding exercise. 

Accessory Dwelling Unit in LA's Hancock Park for Dwell

 

This Azure ADU Is an L.A. Teen’s Home (Slightly) Away From Home, Dwell, July 25, 2022. 


David Thompson, a founding principal of Assembledge+, had recently participated in a Los Angeles Magazine project to imagine solutions for those who lack housing in the city. Their notion was for public agencies to subsidize building ADUs in backyards along alleyways, dovetailing with existing alley revitalization initiatives. 

That concept, titled Rear Projections, became a jumping-off point for other types of ADUs, and it ultimately informed the design of the Vernetti’s Hancock Park project, which replaced a detached backyard garage and extended the rear of the old house to create a new main bedroom, with French doors that lead out to a new deck. 

Brotherhood Sister Sol in Oculus

 


Brotherhood Sister Sol: In West Harlem, Urban Architectural Initiatives makes architecture for social change, Oculus, Summer 2022.



The young, fashionably dressed Black and brown teens hanging out on the front benches of Brotherhood Sister Sol (BroSis) in West Harlem give its new headquarters a particular power and resonance. Designed by Urban Architectural Initiatives, a minority-owned office co-founded by Tony Shitemi in 1996, the five-story structure is built for Black and Latinx youth. That alone is extremely telling, and it shows. The members of the youth mentoring, organizing, and training organization radiate a sense of ease and belonging.

“Their mission is to provide a space that fosters good health, good mental health, and good sense of well-being,” Shitemi says. “We took that up as the building being a tool to promote well-being and positive selfhood.”

The headquarters, which opened in May on 143th Street near Hamilton Place, replaced a three-story brownstone that had served the organization for roughly 20 years. As it grew, BroSis acquired the neighboring lot with plans to expand. With help from city and state funds along with foundations and private donors, it combined the lots into a single structure. The front façade’s formalistic skin syncopates opaque and translucent glass and tan limestone-colored panels to reference the fingers of a hand—reaching out to the community, giving a hand—offering a mixture of privacy and public visibility in daylit rooms.

On Architecture Schools and Professional Practice for Oculus

 

The Pipeline: Are Employers' Needs Being Met by Architecture Schools? Oculus, Summer 2022. 


The work culture and technological needs of the architecture office have noticeably changed in recent years, and it’s worth asking if architectural education has kept up with the profession. It’s not just the rupture of the pandemic, which gave greater credibility to concerns about the health and well-being of everyone, shifting the ground under architecture’s traditionally exigent office culture and requiring increased sensitivity on the part of bosses. And it’s not just office workers, interns, and recent graduates whose labor environments have been affected. The value of living happily, protecting a healthy work/life balance, promoting diversity and equity in the workplace, and limiting the potential harm caused by the stereotypically competitive, sometimes cutthroat field: these points of contention, consciousness-raising, and demand on the part of students and labor organizers have spilled over into a more general reassessment of the limits of professional ambition in the business of architecture.

Gone, to a large extent, is the assumption that all-nighters, endless workweeks, unpaid internships, and uncompensated overtime are normal occupational hazards one must inevitably endure to prove one’s love, passion, and desire for advancement. The real scandal of architectural historian and theorist Marrikka Trotter’s statements during a SCI-Arc panel in March about the exploitative work environment students can expect is that she was describing an accepted norm, up until very recently, and one that still persists widely. To borrow a phrase from the journalist Michael Kinsley, a gaffe is what we call it when someone accidentally tells the truth.

Meanwhile, some architecture firms are asking questions that go against the grain of these cultural trends: Are architecture schools adequately preparing graduates for professional practice? Why are students not trained to be proficient in Revit, for instance, when it has become the standard tool required by design offices—especially large ones with complex projects involving overlapping specializations and contractors? These concerns lead to the long-standing question about the role of architectural education: Should it prepare designers to be attractive hires for practical office work, able to enter into production on building projects immediately? Or should it equip them with a deep, critical knowledge of architecture, its history and possibilities, stimulating them to use their imaginations beyond production of built environments?

“People have complained back and forth since the first departments of architecture were established in the U.S.,” says architectural historian and SCI-Arc head of research Erik Ghenoiu. “William Ware at MIT and then at Columbia fought for intellectual training, and the practices protested, but then later didn’t like it when they got students who were not generally educated. Professional practice is no longer the only solution for architecture education. We graduate many more students than are needed in the industry, and we need people who can move fluidly between scales and types of practice from architecture to startups to gaming to policy. Providing that is a better service to the students, giving them access to a broader way to define their careers.”


For the Birds at Brooklyn Botanic Garden in Architect's Newspaper

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For the Birds, now on view at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, explores biodiversity through architect-designed follies, The Architect's Newspaper, Jul. 11, 2022. 


For the Birds opens a space for visitors to think about how we can build in a way that enhances the natural world we belong to and on which we depend. Despite its avian theme, For the Birds is really for the people to think about birds, rather than for birds themselves. The distinction matters: While the Environmental Protection Agency protects nature for human use, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforces the 1966 Endangered Species Act. Concerns surrounding biodiversity are newcomers to the ongoing conversation on sustainable design. Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring initiated a movement to curb agriculture pollution, but there have been few similar moments of ecological awakening for architects. One product-based example is the campaign to popularize the use of bird-safe glass in tall buildings. The rewilding movement, which pushes for extensive wild spaces within human inhabitations to accommodate other species, is gaining ground in Europe. It’s not much of a stretch to argue that biodiversity should be part of the building code and incorporated into all planning decisions.


 

Achille Boroli, Between the Mountains and the Sea in L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui


 

Achille Boroli, Between the Mountains and the Sea, L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui: 449, Jun. 2022. 


SZ: During the tasting, you describe the way sunlight impacts the grape on one side of the hill or another, the process of fermentation and malolactic fermentation, aging in casks and in a bottle, and when you open the wine, how the taste changes over 10 or 20 minutes. These are phenomenological things that have to do with how we experience taste and the world around us. 

We have to think about the wine as life. Wine starts to be a baby when it is in the barrel, and then you put it in the bottle, age the bottle, and try to bring it up to when it is ready to drink. Sometimes you say, it is too young. 

Wine has an influence on where you are, how you feel, if are tired, if you are happy. It’s something that is very personal. I had a 2005 bottle of Barolo for a tasting. When I opened the bottle, a client said it was a bit closed, we need time. I said, this bottle is 17 years old. For 15 years, it has been closed in the bottle, and we want it to be ready in five seconds. Think about when you stay closed in a room, open the door, and light comes in. You need a moment to breathe again. And the wine is the same. 

Wine needs oxygen. It’s not a dead object. It’s not immaterial. It’s an object that has a life; it’s made of a material, it’s a fruit, it’s coming from fermentation. You have a million living parts that have a function. We have to understand the best expression of the grape to have the best experience of the wine. It’s a complexity of many details to have the best expression of a bottle of wine, especially the Nebbiolo. 

SZ: When I talk to people working in agriculture, there’s a real clash of culture between cosmopolitan people and folks who live in the countryside. But when you’re working in agriculture, your closeness to nature gives you a concern shared with city folks: care for the well-being of the planet that supports humanity, plants, and animals. 

Of course, there is a difference between people who live in the city and people who live in the vineyard. We work every day under the sky, so we perfectly understand all of the terrible consequences of global warming, the dangers of bad weather and pollution. I was looking at the soil today and saw that there was absolutely no humidity in the fields, and this is a big problem for me. For a guy who works in an office in the city, they cannot realize that. 

That can change your mind, looking at nature, because for me it’s a necessary part of my life. I survive selling wine that is a top level. When you have this in mind, you respect more and more the nature where you live. When you go in the mountains, when you go on the seaside, when you go see a garden, you respect all. I am very proud that I live with my feet in the grass in the vineyard. If I didn’t make wine and lived in the city, maybe I would have less respect for nature than others. 


Steven Holl’s Architectural Archive in Metropolis

 


Steven Holl’s Architectural Archive Preserves His Firm’s Designs and the Landscape, Metropolis, Jun. 22, 2022. 


Steven Holl can often be found reading poetry and painting watercolors in a tiny cabin overlooking lotus flowers on the edge of a lake in Rhinebeck, New York. The cabin sits on a 28-acre reserve that Holl purchased in 2014 that now hosts Holl’s full-time office, and ‘T’ Space, a nonprofit arts organization offering creative exhibitions, environmental installations, and architectural residencies. Wrapping around several large trees and linking through a passageway to another existing 1959 cabin, the Steven Myron Holl Foundation’s Architectural Archive and Research Library, built in 2019, is the latest building to be carefully situated in the lush landscape.

Holl covered the exterior surface of the 2,700-square-foot archive in an aluminum cladding with narrow corrugated bands that reflect light and diffuse shadows as the structure weaves through the landscape. It is heated and cooled by a 500-foot-deep geothermal well, which produces radiant underfloor heating while consuming almost zero energy. A green roof was installed in May. Local zoning allows Holl to extend the lodge up to 8,000 square feet, so the archive is anticipated to branch farther out as its collection grows. 




Adams Administration Infrastructure Priorities for Architect's Newspaper


The Adams administration promises it will make improvements in New York’s built environment—only it isn’t ready to talk about any of it, Architect's Newspaper, Jun. 2, 2022.


Judging by the halting responses of various press offices within the newly formed mayoral administration of Eric Adams to a basic question about its infrastructure priorities, I fully expect that in a matter of weeks New York City will collapse into a pile of fiery debris: Its bridges will fail; its subways will be permanently inundated by stormwater; and its residents, having taken to homemade rafts, will begin scavenging for food, water, and shelter. More patient, less alarmist observers suggest the mayor’s staff simply don’t know how to answer the question yet.

That said, clues to the intentions of the Adams administration for better governance can be found in a couple of places, including a plan for economic recovery released by the mayor’s office in March, a two-pager shared by the Department of Transportation (DOT), and a trickle of information from other sources.

Suggestions offered by former mayoral staffers, scholars, and expert practitioners could also help guide infrastructure policy toward a more ecological, equitable, and beautiful city (if it’s still standing). We gather from Thaddeus Pawlowski, who worked as an emergency planner for the city in Bill de Blasio’s administration, that the former Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency is being renamed the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice to combine several offices under a single umbrella. Crucially, the office will also be placed under the oversight of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which has substantial capital budgets.

The appointment of top-level officials hailed as smart and competent, such as Rohit T. Aggarwala as DEP commissioner, has also created a sense of optimism among outside observers like Pawlowski. (Initial missteps by the Adams administration, including the hiring of Bernard Adams as director of mayoral security, and the bulking up of police presence on public transit, were deflationary, to say the least.) However, none of these officials were made available to speak to AN after dozens of queries, nor were any current agency staff members, though three deputy mayors and an acting Department of Buildings commissioner spoke at a breakfast sponsored by the New York Building Congress in early April.

 

Boathouse by Prentiss Balance Wickline Architects for Dwell



A Streamlined Boathouse Perches Above the Water in the San Juan Islands, Dwell, May 27, 2022.


"One of the main goals was to recreate the shore’s edge, so that it’s as natural as possible," says Wickline. "We reduced the amount of in-water structure by 98 or 99 percent by creating these really thin columns. We touch that shoreline as minimally as possible to allow for the natural ecosystem to come back to what it once was." 

Now they can open up the windows and connect with the animals inhabiting the terrain. They share the waterfront with salmon, herring, river otters, crabs, eels, dolphins, and whales—as well as foxes, deer, raccoons, and all kinds of birds (including at least one bald eagle).

Brownstone Minimalism by David Cunningham for Dwell

A Design-Savvy Couple Turn a Worn-Down Brownstone Into a Minimalist Home, Dwell, Apr. 18. 2022.



Brooklyn-based architect David Cunningham had helped them inspect the property. When they sent him the detailed brief to turn it into a triplex with a garden-level rental, the extensive thought put into the document impressed him. "It’s pretty unusual for a client to do that," he says. "We’ve never seen it before. A lot of people make lists of things, but they had an overall vision or concept of how everything would hold together."

The brief called for a warm family home that preserved historic details while introducing a more modern aesthetic—and this aim defined the main tension in the building’s transformation. Initially, the couple emphasized the wish to preserve historic details, their appreciation for craft, and a desire for a minimalist but approachable aesthetic. They also mentioned "refraining from anything that is too precious."

As the design progressed, though, much of the Neo-Grec shouldered arch door-and-window trim fell away—only original and well-preserved elements in some rooms were saved—in favor of greater openness on the inside, and the need to add insulation to the front and rear facades.

Future 100 Student Design Portfolios for Metropolis

Future100: These Students Channel Personal Narrative into Supportive Housing, Metropolis, Apr. 8, 2022. 


Among this year’s Future100 students, some express a certain interiority of personal experience through residential architectural forms. Ethical concerns pervade their portfolios. These projects are not technocratic solutions to general problems of housing and programs for institutional clients; rather, they are extensions of an inward search for meaning and a turn toward the particulars of things that matter on a social and existential level. 

For example, when Syracuse University undergrad architecture student Kristabel Chung designs migrant domestic worker accommodations, reflecting on discriminatory labor laws in her mother’s native Hong Kong, her research process involves in-person interviews and quantitative surveys asking workers to evaluate and draw their own spaces. One of her projects performs a forensic study of the 23 holes, tears, and stains on a hoodie her mother wore while doing domestic chores, attempting to replicate the force required to create them, and dissecting the marks through diagrammatic representations. 

Subversive engagement with the digital as it interacts with human environments is a particularly salient theme throughout the portfolio of University of Massachusetts Amherst MArch student Cami Quinteros. They explore fluid dynamics, mass burial sites in Chile, codesign with computers, and migration patterns in Chiapas, Mexico, through computational line drawings that challenge the political neutrality often attributed to numerical processes. 

North Fork House by MESH Architectures for Dwell

 A Creative Couple’s Long Island Beach House “Bubbles” With Life, Dwell, Apr. 7, 2022. 


Liftin convinced them to design a rigorously energy-efficient passive house. A geothermal well supplies energy for heating and cooling using a ground-source heat pump, offset in upfront costs by 50 percent in federal and state tax credits. Triple-glazed windows, thick spray-foam insulation, and airtight seals provide the highest level of energy conservation, and an energy recovery ventilator circulates air. A contractor who built one of the first passive houses in the area brought local knowledge to the project.

A few lively design details nearly upstage the spectacular views of the ocean. Just beyond the entrance, brightly patterned hexagonal tiles overflow from the open kitchen into the living room, blending softly into blond pine floors. A tall, west-facing window directs afternoon sunlight into the Scandinavian-style space, making the bold patterns stand out in contrast to the shoreline in the distance.

"Surfaces have an incredible effect on our psyche, and we’re very affected by those that we come into contact with," Liftin says. "They have the ability to emotionally affect us. This is about a sense of life that bubbles through the building." 

New Affiliates Exhibition Design for Metropolis

New Affiliates Design Exhibitions that Expand the Imagination, Metropolis, Mar. 25, 2022.


The architecture office of New Affiliates has sometimes been warned by colleagues not to get pigeonholed as exhibition designers. Their response: “Why not? It’s kind of the dream.” Regular design commissions for show spaces like Hauser & Wirth, Park Avenue Armory, and The Shed have placed the young office, co-founded by Ivi Diamantopoulou and Jaffer Kolb in 2016, in close contact with the radical imaginaries of artists like Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Agnes Denes, Rashid Johnson, Rashaad Newsome, Martha Rosler, and Tomás Saraceno. Most recently, they designed Manhattan’s Jewish Museum’s current show, Jonas Mekas: The Camera Was Always Running with curator Kelly Taxter, in addition to the 2019 Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything.

“What has been particularly fun is just being in conversation,” says Diamantopoulou. “There is a very clear idea that everybody comes to the table with. We work with really intelligent curators who are like, ‘Here’s what I care to say. Here’s the thesis for the exhibition.’ We’re also super fortunate to work with artists who are well into their careers, very aware of their projects, and able to articulate what the space should be about.”

On the technical review process for Oculus

A Sure Vet: How the technical review process holds design to a higher standard, Oculus, Spring 2022.


In 2020, AIANY decided to adopt the Common App for all Design Award applications, integrating sustainability as one of the key criteria for design excellence in all projects, while maintaining a special award for sustainability. This year, sustainability ceased to be a separate category and became fully merged into the process of evaluation for Design Awards.

Corbin says the merging of design excellence and sustainability has improved the way the awards reflect the Chapter’s values. “Integration led to greater success in seeing submissions across all categories rise to the top on sustainability metrics into the jury room and receiving awards,” he says.

Some members have raised doubts about AIANY using a technical review process to vet projects for the Design Awards. They suggest it could lead to a mechanistic process valorizing designs that meet quantitative performance standards, while neglecting the qualitative, humanistic values of architecture. Yet what is great architecture if not the art of gracefully deploying a variety of technical skills to achieve deliberate purposes? Technique is the baseline for protect-ing the built and natural environment from catastrophe as well as for creating beautiful, meaningful places.

The technical review process is designed to fully embrace the social and environmental values of the Chapter while allowing the wild diversity of project types by New York members to rise to the top of jury selections. “So many projects are on a different continent, in a far-off place, that it is difficult to funnel them into a language or system here in New York,” Corbin says. “We have to provide some confidence that, if you do your work in an appropriate way and apply yourself in an overlap-ping mindset that you see in the Common App and the Framework for Design Excellence, the jury members will look at your submission more favorably than you other-wise would have thought.”