Elizabeth Felicella

New York’s Architecture Research Office (ARO) is renowned for design that is both humanistic and analytical, and it is this unusual combination that won the firm the 2020 AIA Architecture Firm Award. Led by principals Stephen Cassell, AIA, Kim Yao, AIA, and Adam Yarinsky, FAIA, ARO has been as much laboratory as design practice since its founding in 1993.

“Over the last 25 years, ARO has earned a reputation for elegant, imaginative architecture born out of relentless exploration and engagement,” wrote Paul Mankins, FAIA, and Douglas A. Benson, FAIA, co-chairs of the AIA Committee on Design Nominating Committee.

Working in a variety of scales and contexts, ARO has created a number of buildings for university campuses across the United States, as well as public buildings and religious structures. One of the firm’s recent projects is a new home for New York City’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, which boasts the world’s largest LGBTQ+ synagogue congregation and champions gay rights. ARO worked closely with more than 100 congregants and a handful of religious scholars for more than four years. Ultimately, they identified a Cass Gilbert–designed building in Midtown Manhattan for adaptive reuse. ARO’s design encompasses 50 feet of storefront, incorporating lit signage with vertical gold pinstripes and lavender glass. It’s an ideal space for a modern institution set inside a landmark setting. Another large-scale cultural project, a new home for Houston’s Rothko Chapel, will improve the lighting in the chapel as well as upgrade interior acoustics, address aesthetic differences between the wall and ceiling, and update weatherproofing and security systems. An adjacent new structure will accommodate guest services, conferences, meetings, administrative spaces, and guest housing for visiting artists and scholars.

ARO has earned six AIA Honor Awards, the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for Architecture, and the Academy Award for Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

“Through the emphatic presence of their work, [ARO embodies] the ideals, possibilities, and values required of our profession to better the built environment,” wrote Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, in his letter supporting the firm’s nomination.