Oculus - Spring 2012 - (Page 39)
LETTER FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Smaller than a Breadbox
While many theoreticians – who may or may not be too closely in touch with real life – are still engaging in the idolatry of large size, with practical people in the actual world there is a tremendous longing and striving to proﬁt, if at all possible, from the convenience, humanity and manageability of smallness.
—E.F. Schumacher in Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, 1973
It’s the little things you do / That show me how big you are.
—Natasha Bedingﬁeld in “Size Matters,” 2004
The winner in the small-business game is the owner who has discovered that it’s everything that makes the difference – the big things and the little things and all the inbetween things.
—Eric Tyson and Jim Schell in Small Business for Dummies, 2008
It’s an optical thing. The smaller the table, the larger the plate looks.
—The commenter “whatidsay” on The Gothamist weblog, 08/09/2011
ew York has been called the city of big dreams, big ambitions, and big egos. And the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, with close to 5,000 members, is the largest AIA component. Many assume it is composed, primarily, of big firms. But while there are architectural offices in our city that employ more than 100 people, membership data indicate that over 85% of AIANY firms have fewer than 10 people. Firms have downsized during the economic downturn, but even several years back, 71% of firms had fewer than 10. Last year the “New York New Work” exhibition dominated the advertising space at the West 4th Street subway station during our month-long Archtober festival. On view were 221 projects designed by 130 architectural firms, 55 of which have 10 or fewer staff members. Typical of the newer practices in the show was Massforma Architects, a three-person studio founded in 2010. Its design principal, Alfred Huang, AIA, LEED AP, formerly at SOM, writes: “We are a young architectural and interior design practice that is passionate about bringing smart design to homes and small businesses. We want to design simple and beautiful solutions that delight our clients and their communities.” Massforma’s project was a poetically engaging lakeside retreat in upstate New York. Another project featured was the 1,840-squarefoot Breadbox Café in Long Island City. It was designed by ODA-Architecture, whose principals, Eran Chan, P. Christian Bailey, LEED AP, and Ryoko Okada, founded the firm in 2007 after working together at Perkins Eastman. Adaptive reuse of a former gas station incorporates a variety of sustainable and innovative features, including steel channels with wooden dough rollers in the skin of the building, and concrete block with grass growing where before there was only asphalt. “Cave Bar” and “House Bar” – two proposals for a 36-seat restaurant in the East Village – are currently being displayed on various blogs. Designed by Alexandra Barker, AIA, LEED AP, and Reid Freeman, AIA, in collaboration with Cooper Hanlin Designs, the projects express the design philosophy of Barker Freeman Design Office,
which, according to its website, “employs material research, fabrication Bell at Tiny’s technologies, and system design as generative tools in the development of multivalent responsive spatial solutions.” The Barker Freeman projects in “New York New Work” were in Mongolia and Moscow, showing that small firms can and do work internationally. In regard to firm capability, does size matter? Some architects explain why small firms supply more personal and varied service. “We take on the craziest small projects sometimes,” says Virginia Kindred, AIA, of the 10-person Redtop Architects. “Our goals are not huge. We’ll take on something super low-budget if it’s a way to do excellent work that really matters.” Why do some nascent firms survive while others succumb to the difficulties of paying rent and salaries, collecting fees, and finding new commissions? Perhaps the comparison of a large restaurant like the Grand Central Oyster Bar and a small bistro like Tiny’s on West Broadway provides a good metaphor. In a successful small restaurant, the blog reviews tend to laud the personal service, interaction with the chef, imaginative combinations of flavor, and presentation. The hours may be horrendous and the margins minimal, but the décor is engaging and the regulars rave. It’s the same with architects. The AIANY jury comments for the awards won by small firms such as Marble Fairbanks and MANIFESTO Architects (née Ginseng Chicken) are pithy morsels, delightful and gratifying amuse-bouches. Small restaurants are a trend in big cities. Active design proponents have accused architects, urban designers, landscape architects, and interior designers of being complicit in maladies such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. People need to walk more, take the stairs, bike, and jog. But small-plate specials at restaurants and calorie counts on food packaging are increasingly apparent. Diminutive restaurants are often ahead of the curve, demonstrating how less can be more. Can architects be far behind?
Rick Bell, FAIA Executive Director, AIA New York Chapter
Spring 2012 Oculus 39
Small Firms Doing Big Things
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Spring 2012
Letter from the President: Invitation to the Future
A Word from the Editor - Small is the New Big
Center for Achitecture - Center Highlights
Museum Mile Makeover
Opener: Small, Agile Firms Succeed in Lean Times
Public Projects, Small Firms, Targeted Tactics
Small Firm Workplace: The Whole Wide World
Small Size, Big Thinking
Launch Pad to Success
The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age
Last Words - Smaller than a Breadbox
Index to Advertisers
Oculus - Spring 2012