“One thing lacking was adequate vertical surfaces,” says Kim Yao, 39, AIA, describing the office held by Architecture Research Office for 13 years. Yao is pictured opposite with Stephen Cassell, 48, AIA; the partners, along with partner Adam Yarinsky, 49, AIA, moved the firm across the street to new SoHo offices five years ago. The type of space was as important a consideration as the quantity of space in that decision to move. “We need that wall space [in order] to be constantly setting up internal reviews. We need to live with the things we make over time.”
Architecture Research Office appears to take its recent accolades in stride. “We’ve been very busy in the last six months or year. We don’t have any grand expansion plans,” Cassell says. “It’s all about doing the work the way we want to do it.” Recently, that has meant fostering a number of collaborations—from the flagship Prada New York store with OMA and Rem Koolhaas to the R-House prototype design with Della Valle Bernheimer (now two separate firms).
Yarinsky notes—maybe somewhat gleefully—that the open studio plan can be irritating. “There are times when people want to work on what they’re doing, and it disturbs them, people touching base or pulling them into crits,” he says.
“In some ways it’s like a very classic, European Renaissance project,” Yarinsky says, describing the firm’s work on Donald Judd’s house at 101 Spring Street, which will be the Donald Judd Home + Studio Museum in 2013. Judd lived, worked, and permanently installed his work there. “It’s like a medieval building that evolved over time—a cast-iron building with Judd’s insertions,” Yarinsky says. “We weave in modern code and technical interpretations that either restore exactly, or work in parallel, with what Judd was doing.”
“This is the first time we’ve seen each other in months,” Cassell jokes—though, given the principals’ commitments, it’s the sort of humor that rings true. Yao says, in fact, that she, Cassell, and Yarinsky make a “concerted effort” to get together one to three times a week to discuss what’s happening: “Sometimes administrative, sometimes design, sometimes staffing.”
The open studio design at ARO reflects the need for modular space and the fact that, as Cassell says, “everyone does everything”—so designers who work on digital models also build their own 3D models. There’s a plan for fitting more desks in, though the space is close to capacity.
Yao describes the studio as “an organized space, though locally there’s a fair amount of piling.” Cassell says that clutter at the old office spurred the move to the new place. “We realized that it was easier to move than clean our office.”