Stephanie Bayard and Phillip Anzalone are co-founders of Atelier Architecture 64, or aa64. Phillip actively bridges research with practice as he engages as a Professor of Architectural Technology at CUNY’s NYC College of Technology. Stephanie is currently a professor for design studios and housing seminars at Pratt Institute’s Graduate Architecture + Urban Design Program. Atelier Architecture 64 is an architecture firm with diverse expertise in building design and material research. aa64 is an innovative practice focused on bridging material explorations and fabrication processes developed in the workshop with the specific needs of each project. The atelier was founded on the principle that materiality plays a central role in environmental performance, architectural detailing and methods of manufacturing. New material types, advanced computation, digital fabrication and complex assembly procedures require us to engage in the challenges they present to traditional practice and construction standards. Intricate involvement in physically testing new means of production and materials against traditional methods allow the firm to effectively realize inventive designs and solutions tailored for clients. Recently, Modelo had the opportunity to learn more about Stephanie and Phillip’s unique approach and design philosophy.
On becoming architects
Phillip: I started out in engineering actually but at the same time going to school I was also a furniture builder. I got to go to the site a lot; we installed cabinetry and furniture. The connection between engineering and design was always something that interested me. That introduced me to the field. I was 19 or 20 years old at the time, so it wasn’t something that came from playing with Legos. I went to undergrad and switched from engineering to architecture and kept going. It was my own connection between design and technology.
Stephanie: In my case it was more like a cultural thing. My parents were not in the field but were very into design and that’s how I started. I think it was something that just came up. In France, there’s not really college and grad school where you can actually start to explore other paths. I just went to architecture school in a natural way. Maybe I would’ve done something slightly different if I went to an American undergrad — exploring other aspect of design. But it seemed like a natural path.
On discovering their own voices as designers
Stephanie: As a student, seeing Corbusier’s work-since there’s so many examples in France was influential. Later on I worked for Bernard Tschumi and that was an amazing source of inspiration. Working with him was a great experience.
Phillip: Because I started out crafting and building things, it was my own exploration that started my interest in detail and how things go together which is a lot of what drives my current work. I was lucky to be able to work with Greg Lynn, starting in school and right out of school as a designer. I actually moved to facade consulting at some point and worked for Robert Heintges who is a world renowned facade consultant. I had the chance to work with these two extremes and that helped me develop my idea of how technology, detailing and science intertwining design as well.
On starting their own firm
Phillip: We slowly started practicing about 8 years ago at least. At the beginning it was us and sometimes a student as freelance. The jump was 3 or 4 years ago when we hired people. It was a (r)evolution: gaining clients and all the management, payroll, taxes…
Stephanie: At the beginning it was almost accidental. It was one project and then it was another that just came and so on. We had some interesting projects and some more conventional. We were thinking if we wanted to push into more experimental design work, we needed to hire someone so we could build a team and spend more time focusing on other things. That’s how it started; it was about the design direction.
Phillip: Simultaneously we were teaching and were involved in a lot of design-build installations in school with students, at the Center for Architecture… We’ve been very fortunate to build with some students number of installations that gave us a chance to test ideas because they can be a little more free and experimental than a built projects. That helped drive the office design; being able to build, go out to the site and talk with the contractors. We like to be involved with it all the way to the end.
Stephanie: Designing some components of the project, that traditional contractor couldn’t do, using unusual material. We used cast resin for a project. We are involved in the fabrication process by finding people or trying to use some other technology that a typical contractor wouldn’t do. And helping them understand how to use it. One thing we’re interested in, is this junction between designing and the building practice because there’s a split there. There are still many contractors that are hesitant to build differently or might charges a lot to do a little piece. We’re interested in trying to fill the gap between the design and construction practice-not that we want to be contractors.
On specific principles they strive to adhere to across projects
Phillip: We have an interest in material and how things go together- assemblage. What’s interesting is to see how you can take something innovative or unusual or interesting and move it into a realm that tends to be a bit more conventional and a little conservative. There’s a nervousness about using something new in construction that we understand-it’s expensive. Bringing something novel into the project is always an area we look to.
Stephanie: Trying to find a logic in the system that you might find in a project. Whether it’s infrastructural, spatial, structural, or mechanical-there’s a logic of how the system comes together when you compress them all into one. My students are always confused at the beginning but eventually there’s a coherence between all the systems and how they are laid out.
Phillip: But also trying to eliminate the complexity of it and bring things to simple cleanness. It has to be good design but also built; the connection between the far ends, the construction has to reflect the concept even if it’s simple. Some of our concepts at the gallery are simple but we always have to go back to it and follow through.
Stephanie: It’s not necessarily about formal; it’s more conceptual.
On specific projects that represent their unique approach
Phillip: We’ve done a lot of studies of these flexible tensegrity structural systems. There was a competition for a bridge- we’re not engineers but we thought why not. We worked with an Laufs Engineering Design in the past. We’ve always been designing these tensegrity structures standing up and we basically turned it on its side. Usually the structure may be straight but the bridge was able to turn and twist; we felt it was interesting to move through the structure.
Stephanie: That would be a good example to refer to what I was saying earlier. There are built bridge that look very structural. But the amazing structural work is actually completely formal and not structural-it’s more decorative. That’s the part that we try to avoid. If everything is beautifully designed and minimal, it become more successful.
Phillip: We try to keep things minimal but we like to express the details. The other example is a gallery in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. We had this idea of the box of the gallery- which is just a typical New York shaped building- extending out into the street and into yard where we placed a green wall. In the back it was clear, fully open glass wall and we were thinking about the street that’s just this extrusion through the space. If you’re outside you can see all the way through all the artwork to the green wall. That’s a simple concept but the difficult part was designing and maintaining it through the construction, because everybody comes in and wants an exit sign here right within that square. So we had to figure out a way to do that. For the air conditioning, there’s a linear diffuser down one side and it follows this whole line of everything; the facade had to be punched out so we did a steel frame around it. Everything was about remembering the simple idea of a rectangle box, but all the details and moves have to follow that. This frame plowing through the whole space. We designed it that way, but if you don’t do the follow through something always happens and there’s things in the way. The client wanted a stage in the space, hydraulic ones were problematic for that space so we found a stage that cranks up from the floor. And the top surface matches the wood floor so it disappears when the stage is down.
Stephanie: Everything is flush. You always think it’s just a box but you realize it’s actually the most difficult thing to achieve because you want everything to be flush and smooth. In the same project there’s also a very baroque bathroom and that works fine. Everything is white and then the bathroom is black and matte gold. The bathroom is an extension of the gallery since it’s a public bathroom and we’re trying to have a Joseph Cornell kind of collection of items in the bathroom so maybe artists can start to add a permanent collection. Contrasts are especially interesting when you don’t expect them.
On aspirations for the firm
Phillip: We’re slowly finding clients because our work is getting out there and we have a body of work that we can show and talk through. At the beginning you don’t have as much. We’re finding clients that are interested in our work because of what we do. If I had an aspiration- even though you have no control over it- is for us to be able to find opportunities to experiment further. Especially for residential projects. We like the information but we also want to throw something at the clients because ideas or expectations should be challenged. We want to offer them ideas they’re not thinking about. It’d be great to try more experimental work-to see how far a design can actually go.
Stephanie: I want to keep designing and I don’t want to accidentally become a general manager in the office. We run the office like a studio, we like for everyone to design, go to construction sites, experiment… So it’s more about having the right project than having a lot of projects. Among other projects, currently we’re working on 2 residential towers, a duplex apartment, a cabin upstate and are also designing offices for the French cookie company, Michel et Augustin. I don’t have an aspiration to do a very large or small project- I want to do the right project with the right client who may want to do another one with afterwards. It’s almost like serendipity- you have the right connection and those people want to continue working together. That’s a good experience for us because the more you know the client the better the work can be.
Phillip: We had done installations and what we call speculative work in the past. We’re looking at competitions, which we never did because we were always building. We might go back to installations or furniture or products within the office. We’re thinking about how the office can continue its architectural side but also looking at things that are on the edge of that. Now that we have the experience in building, how do we connect back to our roots?
On the future of architecture in the next 5–10 years
Phillip: Hopefully we’re going to see more integration of some of the technologies that we’re working with in school and the office, out in the field. An area of research of mine is the area of construction and job sites- how we’re seeing anything from automation and computation. Can it become more ubiquitous and less about the machine? I’ve done some work with construction companies on this kind of thing. Seeing some of the technology become a bit more normal instead of something special. There are also interesting new technologies out there right now like VR or augmented reality which is making a come back- the goggles aren’t quite as big with the backpack GPS.
Stephanie: Technology on site is going to evolve. It’s not so much the design part it’s more of the network and working with non-linear geometry. There’s a need for the construction field to look into other type of technologies.
Phillip: Means of digital production are one area that everyone is getting into. Obama talks about 3D printing; everybody’s talking about it. How that changes the site as well.
On advice they would give their younger selves
Phillip: One thing I always tell my students is to be patient because it took us a long time of slowly building up projects. We have a website and we do a little bit but we don’t really mark it. There’s no real way to go out and get clients as an architect- they just come. But at the beginning they didn’t come as fast. If people start their own firm it’s important that there’s an understanding. Even if you get one great project right out of school, it doesn’t mean that the next one will be. Think about the fact that we’re doing projects right now and thinking about the next one already. If you’re going to start a business you have to have another one coming and you have to be patient because it’s not easy. Also, go with your feelings. I sometimes question myself and get side-tracked on projects because maybe it wasn’t the design we wanted. We should’ve been persistent about that.
Stephanie: When I went to school in France, I had the most boring architecture historian. The class was on Monday at 9am. Everybody was either sleeping or not there. I wish I was more concentrated on this- he was boring- but had an incredible knowledge. I did travel a lot and worked in different places, but I was always going back to New York; I wish sometimes that I had traveled more to other parts of Europe when I was a student. I would also say: don’t work for free.