The Adventurous Architect: Morocco

by Katarzyna Kuta

I love to travel! It is one of the things that makes me come alive. I love immersing myself in other cultures, tasting exotic foods and meeting interesting people along the way. Recently I had the pleasure of visiting Morocco and although I’m back in New York for a few weeks now, my mind is still partially there. Trudging through the New York City snow, I try to feel the hot sand of the Sahara under my feet, see the incredible views of the Atlas Mountains and the vivid patterns and colors that are embedded in its architecture.

Travels with Kate_1 Fez

I began my trip in Fez, which has one of the oldest Islamic Medinas in the world. The streets in that part of town are very narrow so the only way to move through the city is by foot or scooter…and it is not the easiest to navigate. Unlike our tidy grid, Fez is a real life labyrinth in which you are guaranteed to get lost! The exteriors of the homes are very simple and keep a uniform look. The most interesting part of the exteriors are the doors. Each entry way featured a Moroccan archway uniquely designed with gorgeous details such as wooden hand-carved patterns or brightly colored tile. The simplicity of the exterior often disguises a lavish interior courtyard and garden. The courtyards are decorated with magnificent tile work inspired by the Islamic culture. Sipping a delicious Moroccan mint tea soaking in the beauty of those hidden courtyards is one of my most vivid memories of the trip. It was here within the riad – a traditional Moroccan home – that I really got a taste of the heart and soul of the culture.

Travels with Kate_2 Fez

Next stop – the Sahara desert. Riding a camel through the Sahara definitely goes down in my book as the best experience so far! The calmness of the desert coupled with the welcoming company of the locals made the trip unforgettable! While the accommodations were not lavish, the wonderful people, authentic cuisine, local music, bon-fire and dance more than made up for it. I highly recommend visiting and spending the night in the Moroccan Sahara! You won’t regret it.

Travels with Kate_3 Sahara

From the desert, we headed through the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech. The ride through the mountains is extraordinary and the ever changing landscapes will take your breath away. After a long drive through the winding roads of the mountains I approached what turned out to be the most chaotic city I’ve ever explored! From the moment we entered the city it appeared as though there were no traffic rules being enforced, crazy colors, snake charmers chasing us for taking their pictures, countless good and services being bartered for…even a city girl like me was overwhelmed by its energy. I finally found some peace and quiet in the ruins of the El Badi Palace and the colorful Jardin Majorelle… both, a must see.

Travels with Kate_Atlas-Marrakech Revised

My final but brief stop was Casablanca. There I got to see the third largest mosque in the world, Hassan II Mosque. It was magnificent! Every single detail of this colossal space was hand carved by some of the best Moroccan artisans. It is also known as one the most innovative Mosques in the world. Even though the complex itself is enormous, the roof slides open on bright days to allow the sunlight to enter the interior of the space.

Travels with Kate_6 Casablanca

The journey through Morocco allowed me to familiarize myself with yet another culture and way of life – its detailed and colorful architecture was so incredibly inspiring. Not only does the spirit of a place like this stay in your heart but it’s shape, style and artful beauty can’t help but inform one’s work as a designer. I can’t wait for my next adventure!

TAG/Katarzyna Kuta

Living Small

By Lauren Rubin

We‘ve all seen a ridiculous amount of information on how to design a small space.  It is constantly addressed in articles, blogs, and websites because it is a universal challenge in residential design. We all need tips…

NYC apartment living takes small living to the absolute limit.  As architects in NYC we have explored every avenue of planning, storage, and design to address this problem. We continue to push the limits of small living for almost all of our projects.  Here are our latest designs – all of these ideas can be applied to any living space!

Room Separators and Studio Apartments

Dividing a room for a sleeping and living area is difficult.  You don’t want to close of the space and make it claustrophobic and you don’t want to reduce the natural light to either space.

For this studio apartment, we created a feature wood wall with a fully rotating TV.  It partially defines the apartment creating a sleeping area and living/kitchen but maximizes light and functionality.

Small Space-1

Niches EVERYWHERE

Do not miss an opportunity to fill a dead space.  Open shelving is simple and straightforward and always looks beautiful.  It even opens up a space to make it feel larger and airier.  Put niches and shelving everywhere….around doors, in bathrooms, along walls, under windows and don’t be shy about it.

Small Space-2

Double Load Your Kitchen

Narrow galley kitchens are tough.  Typically you can load one side with a 24” typical countertop and the other side becomes useless.  Don’t be afraid to double load your kitchen creatively.  We use upper cabinets below a countertop.  They will be anywhere from 12” deep to 14” deep.  It is a narrow counter but you will always find use for it, not to mention the storage!  Of course you still need enough clearance in the middle of the kitchen but even IKEA cabinets can be retrofitted to work.

Small Space-3

Custom Closets

I know.  It is hard to spend the additional money on closet interiors.  It will be the first thing that comes out when you are trying to reduce the cost of a renovation.  But if you let your architect or quality closet company design your closet interior, you will be constantly rewarded with the amount of found space and utility you gain.

Small Space-4

The right design can create an enormous amount of storage even in a tiny space. Opportunities are everywhere. Your space may be small but your style can stay big!

TAG/Lauren Rubin

LEGOS: Still good for your head

by Laura Knight-Keating

When I was a kid, we had two cardboard boxes, formerly cases of beer, filled with Legos. Aside from Star Wars action figures and board games, I would say they were the toy that all seven of us – and this includes my parents – would play with together. I can’t actually remember what we built but I remember my dad showing us how to assemble the bricks to get the maximum amount of stability and fighting with my siblings over the flat base pieces and the windows. My kids have built some astounding structures with their Duplo Legos and recently graduated to the regular size Legos. When they became interested in Lego, I was super excited – having such fond memories of building for hours with my family as a kid. I was surprised when I first started shopping for them that you really have to look hard to find a set of just bricks rather than a kit with a set of instructions.

lego_2

I know this isn’t a new topic. Parents and researchers have been saying for years that Legos are less creative now that they are sold as kits and attached to all sorts of pre-established characters and franchises. In some ways this is totally true. It’s been proven that building with a set of instructions forces your brain to work in a different way. It’s a skill – probably no less valuable – but it does put a damper on one’s ability to think and create more expansively. I’ll admit I was a little annoyed at first for a number of reasons. For one, my kids can’t actually follow the instructions and yet they want to have the product on the box so it is up to me to immediately assemble the kit – (there goes my creativity!). I also felt like, because the pieces are so specific to the kit, that there was actually no way for the kids to do their own thing.

You would think that in nearly five years I would have learned never to underestimate my kids’ ability to see things from all angles wacky. The product on the box, painstakingly assembled by yours truly, typically lives for about two days. Slowly, pieces are extracted to construct something new or I step on it one too many times and disassemble every creation in a fit of rage. At the Lego Store, there is a wall of choose-your-own Lego pieces that you can purchase for set prices in different size containers. There are regular bricks as well as levers, little console pieces and tiny circles and squares that my kids love to use to construct elaborate control panels. You can also for $9.99 assemble your own set of three Lego people – each with a hat and a prop. My babysitter finds it a little disturbing when my kids decapitate all the Lego people and build a tower of heads…I think it shows a lot of creativity.

lego_3

Kids love to build. Mine start with Legos but eventually add blocks or an old Fisher Price castle – before you know it one of them is showing me their “tire swing” which is really a silicon watch band hanging off of a precarious tower of lego pieces which is attached to something else with a rubber band. I think you have to work pretty hard to completely rob them of their desire to create. And of course, all humans are different – even from the tender age of 2 or 3. There will always be the kids that build towers of heads and the kids that follow the directions – in toys and in life. Either way has a multitude of possible outcomes – positive and negative.

What I can say positively is that when I hear my son say – “Vivi, lets build!” – it’s music to my ears!

TAG/Laura Knight Keating

Architectural Musings

photo: Robert Frank, “Elevator — Miami,1955”

 

by Laura Knight-Keating

Today I have a number of random thoughts about the city of New York. Some about architecture, some about other things.  I’ve lived here for the better part of twenty years and as I wander around the city streets I never stop wondering…WHAT are all these people doing?!  What is going on in all of these buildings? Why are you people walking so slow??

Whenever I enter a building I have never been in before – and for that matter even buildings I know and love – one of my favorite things is when the elevator doors open on a floor that isn’t my floor and I get this momentary glimpse into another world.  Random yoga studios, production offices, casting agencies, furniture showrooms, small design firms of all varieties and architecture offices tucked into 4th floors, 8th floors, 11th floors all over town. Sometimes the offices are so beautifully designed or intriguing in some way that when the doors open, I almost forget why I am even in this elevator – I want to hop off and look around!

There is no way I will ever know what everyone is doing in New York City and would I really want to know?  Probably not… The city is constantly evolving. This past fall, Lauren and I took this amazing lecture series at Cooper Union called The City Transformed: Part I. It’s all about New York City and how it grew from a haphazardly constructed fort on the tip of the island to the architectural masterpiece it is today. I am fascinated by the number of amazing buildings that have been constructed and demolished and constructed again all for the purpose of forcing the world to see us the way we want to be seen.

Our teacher was very fond of saying – ‘this is how we do things in America’ – we make something beautiful, we change our minds, we tear it down and we start over and make something even better. In the 19th century some massive, ornate, incredible buildings were built only to stand for twenty to thirty years before being replaced by new buildings – ‘this is how we do things in America’. That may have been true in the 19th century but thankfully now we make every effort to redesign, reuse and recycle our beautiful buildings. We have recently been working a lot in Brooklyn and the waterfront there is being totally reused and transformed. Check it out. And to top it all off, Spring has finally arrived. New York City…just endlessly fascinating!

Empire-Stores_resized

Studio V’s plans for Empire Stores on the Brooklyn Waterfront

Here’s the link to our class:

http://cooperunion.augusoft.net/index.cfm?method=ClassInfo.ClassInformation&int_class_id=2671

Search for inspiring Spring palettes on this super fun color resource. My first architecture friend, Amelia Falco, turned me onto it:

http://www.colourlovers.com/palettes/search

TAG/Laura Knight Keating

Inspiring Little Architects!

by Lauren Rubin

As an architect and mother, I always try to teach my children about their neighborhood and the city in which they live.  I’m sure I bore them most of the time, but I know that some of my talks are absorbed.

Both of my children are growing up with an interest in architecture and design.  I know, living in New York City makes discussing architecture easy, but truthfully, no matter where you live, if you are looking up and discussing what you see, architecture can be inspiring at any age!

To help my cause, I also collect children’s architecture and design books. The following authors have done an amazing job inspiring my family.  Not only do they introduce ideas, design and history but they do it in a fun and offbeat way.

Some of our favorites:

The Three Little Pigs, Written and Illustrated by Steven Guarnaccia

The three little pigs are portrayed by Frank Gehry, Phillip Johnson and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Famous architects that every little designer should know. The first little pig, Frank Gehry, builds his famous 1978 house of “scraps” and is blown down by the big bad wolf. Phillip Johnson, the second little pig, builds his celebrated glass house and it is smashed. Finally, Frank Lloyd Wright builds one of his most famed homes, “Falling Water,” of stone and concrete and the wolf is finally defeated. The illustrations are wonderful as are the little architectural design details found throughout the book.

 little architect_3pigs

One of the more well know kid’s building books is Iggy Peck Architect written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts.  The wonderful writing in this book is the real hook.  It is an amazing rhyming book that is witty and funny to both adults and children.  The drawings by David Roberts are wonderful with beautiful graphics and original design work.

It is my favorite book for reading to the elementary school classes and always the best gift for my teachers.  I even end my kid’s walking tours, with a cookie shaped and decorated like the Empire State Building and a reading of Iggy Peck!

little architect_iggy

 

The last book on my list today is Doodle New York by Violet Lemay and Puck Illustrations.  It is a “fill-in” drawing book full of whimsical graphics that enhance rather than contain a child’s imagination.  The drawings are simple but still structured and tell a great NYC story. This is my daughter’s favorite book.  Check out one of her creations!

little architect_doodle

 

 

All three of these books can be purchased at

http://www.amazon.com/

But other great places to purchase these books and other great design items are:

The American Institute of Architects:

http://store.aia.org/

The Museum of Modern Art:

http://www.momastore.org/

 

 

TAG/ Lauren Rubin