The New York Dozen: 12 Working Architects to Watch

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The New York Dozen is not a cohesive group. Collectively, this assortment of 12 architects can't be seen as a "New York School"; Gotham is too complex, too diverse, too rich in its architectural history and enticements for the work of a "school" to be distilled. The members of the New York Dozen have a strong sense of the role New York plays in their practice. For the Dozen, the city functions as an incubator, a battery, a prompt, a laboratory, a stimulant, a distraction, an exhilaration, an escape, an endless dichotomy. Or, as one of the Dozen puts it: New York is important for its physical, intellectual, and cultural density.

The title "New York Dozen," of course, is a play on "Five Architects," the book published in 1972 that presented the work of architects Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, John Hejduk, and Richard Meier. The Five were a self-appointed group whose members saw connections between their own work and the architecture of Le Corbusier. Sometimes referred to as the "New York School," the architecture of the Five really had nothing to do with the city and made little or no comment on it. It just happened that the Five were practicing in and around New York.

Nearly 40 years on, it seemed like a good time to dip a net into the architectural waters of the city that never sleeps and see what one might catch. The members of the Dozen were selected from a variety of sources. A number were winners in the Museum of Modern Art's Young Architects program, which each year (since 1999) selects a young firm to design a project for MoMA's P.S.1 in Long Island City. Others had been published in Oculus, the journal of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which regularly identifies emerging talent. Observers of New York's architectural landscape, such as New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger, provided leads to young firms doing interesting work. After visiting their websites and reviewing their portfolios, I invited these 12 firms to be part of the collection. I wanted a cross-section of young talent, architects approaching their discipline from different directions, with contrasting values and agendas. The New York Dozen is a slice through the city's strata of architectural talent, taken at a moment challenging architects globally.

Story continues after the gallery.

Demographically and geographically, the members of the Dozen are more diverse and expansive than the Five of 40 years ago. This is certainly not a white-boys-only club. Women architects have principal positions in about half the firms, and many of the firm founders are ethnically and culturally diverse -- just like New York. Many of the Dozen pursue or have built projects on other continents, a reflection of the global stage upon which architecture is practiced today.

As a group, the members of the Dozen are interested in the collaborative nature of architectural design, fabrication, and practice. I think this is a generational trait, a product of the "social media" milieu in which these architects operate. Many of the firms identify themselves less as corporate entities (with a roster of names on the front door) than as workshops, clusters, and platforms for collaboration with other architects, fabricators, software designers, and material scientists. The architects of the New York Dozen approach architecture less as an abstraction, and more with hands-on engagement, an opportunity to work with others on a problem, teasing out a solution collectively.

Columbia University architectural historian Gwendolyn Wright uses the word "constellation" to describe the web of relationships among "stars" (architectural and otherwise), allowing us to see them and their work in a larger, more complex context. Architect and historian Beverly Willis expands on Wright's analogy in her characterization of young architects in particular as more drawn to working in constellations of practice: groups of architects, who through technology and temperament, align with other professionals to create ensembles that play together and collaborate on a single project, and then disperse.

The Dozen's affinity for collaboration, cross-disciplinary pursuits, social media connections, and diversity within the mix all point to an edginess with the star architect system as we know it.

I asked each of the Dozen firms to list their collaborators, and I was surprised to find that many of the names were repeated, which I believe corroborates the constellation structure advocated by Wright and Willis. Many of the firms mention collaborators within the office, as well as outside their practice. "The art of architecture," as one of the Dozen describes it, "has a collaborative heart."

While aesthetics and form-making are important to the Dozen, when they describe their work they do not draw a tight, formalistic circle around the discipline of architecture itself. In fact, cross-disciplinary interests -- in ecology, art, material science, digital media, urban design, construction, human perception and psychology, economics, and sustainability -- appear often in their work. One of the architects says, simply: "Lines between disciplines do not exist." Socially conscious design, especially within the context of sustainability, and architecture with a civic/public role are prominent in the work of many of these young architects.

Many of the projects in the book, some of which are presented in the gallery above, are integrated into the existing fabric in New York and other cities, and bear out the qualitative challenge of designing the urban fabric instead of an object placed in the fabric. Today's architectural insertions in urban fabrics are judged by much tougher standards than they were during the days of the New York Five. The environmental impact of such designs is more carefully assessed, and the new generation of architects takes architecture's carbon footprint into their design deliberations. They are more attuned not only to architecture's ecological impact, but also to the role of nature as a design generator and the fusion of architecture and landscape in landform design.

Of course, today's Dozen and its generation have their own blind spots, such as a certain fetish of seductive computer renderings, but their commitment to socially relevant design and to architectural experimentation that leads to buildable solutions, in addition to advancing architecture as an art, seems genuine and sound.

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New York Dozen author Michael J. Crosbie is an architect and chair of the Department of Architecture at the University of Hartford. He writes frequently about architecture and design for a variety of print and online publications.

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