Founded in 1995 by partners Giuseppe Lignano, Intl. Assoc. AIA, and Ada Tolla, Intl. Assoc. AIA, Lot-ek has witnessed an incredible transformation in the Meatpacking District. “We’ve seen the world spin around us,” Tolla says. “The Meatpacking District has gone from industrial and rough to today. Now we have the cranes of the Whitney [Museum of American Art] right in front of us. I feel like we’re the pivoting point.”
Lignano and Tolla conceived Lot-ek in 1993 in Naples, Italy, where the firm has a studio. “I’ve started to call it the Wild West,” Tolla says, referring to Naples—which resembles the New York to which Tolla and Lignano moved in the early 1990s in many ways. “People think immediately that you are from this beautiful place, with beautiful food and art. And then I think of that insane city we came from.”
Lot-ek isn’t afraid to deploy color—in their work or in their workshop. Art and artists have had an impact on the design studio’s look and feel, but also on its methods. “Because architecturally, we followed our own path, what is important about art to our studio is being obsessive about your own interest, your own research,” Tolla says.
“To some extent our path is less conventional,” Tolla says. “We opened in this loft as a workshop, and it’s been run as a workshop from the beginning. It was a way to think.”
“We came during the early ’90s, when New York was in recession. There were spaces available. Then the economy picked up, and there was a boom in construction,” Tolla says. “But a lot of it was so dismal. It was an exciting moment intellectually, with Columbia University leading things and experimental architecture and so on. At the same time, to see all the construction, none of it by the leading architects—it was quite sad.”
Despite the studio’s renown for progressive design, tradition is crucial to the culture of Lot-ek. At the studio’s New York design workshop, designers set aside their work and come together for a common meal every day.
Tolla says that she appreciates working in a neighborhood that has seen recent additions by Frank Gehry, Hon. FAIA, Shigeru Ban, Hon. FAIA, Jean Nouvel, Hon. FAIA, and others. “The fact that some of that is diluting the roughness, the making, the more dirtier functions that used to be in the city is of course a difficult thing to come to terms with.”
“Nine to five, I don’t think exists ever,” Tolla says. “Not even six or seven. We try to be really good about weekends, unless we have some major deadlines in front of us. There’s a life outside of the studio.”