Illya Azaroff, AIA
Photography: J. Carrier

Illya Azaroff, AIA, founding principal of architecture firm +LAB and associate professor at CUNY – New York City College of Technology, has expertise in disaster mitigation and resilient planning, design, and implementation. As a regular adviser for local and federal officials, his guidance is evident in the New York Department of City Planning’s Housing Retrofit Guidelines, as well as FLASH (the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes)’s Resilient Design Guide and Enterprise Community Partners Multi-Family Resilient Strategies. Additionally, his studio, in collaboration with industry partners, is engaged in the design of a residential prototype (#HurricaneStrong) in Breezy Point, in Queens, N.Y.

Architecture is rooted in culture, and that culture is defined by the place, the people, and the circumstances that form that particular moment in time. Often, we tap into the narrative of what the future may hold by working with these communities. Whether we do that through community workshops or individual clients, we uncover the collective vision of where they want to be and where they want to go. It’s a holistic approach to design that considers the desires of the client but also recognizes the forces at play—the geographies, the specificity of the place, the science. Every project, I learn something new—a different place, a different person, a different circumstance.

Following Superstorm Sandy, the idea of information sharing became second nature to everyone. Those strong bonds, threads, and bridges that were built during that period still exist today. As architects, our open, collaborative nature became infectious, with agencies and officials ultimately increasing sharing across various platforms in the government processes. They’ve learned a lot from architects in that collaborative process. For the most part, that has been key to New York advancing its sustainability and resilient policies. The question remains—have these attitudes proliferated to the next generation of leaders and architects? That, I’m not sure about. I hope that it does, given the trend towards social impact design.

For the model home, our goal was to bring together the best practices across the industry to create a resilient and sustainable home that will not only inform policy but spark future innovation.

Our hope was to bring that collaborative effort together with FLASH and a team of industry partners to create this home. We’ll be sharing the plans, the house’s operation and all of the performance data with nonprofits, industry partners, and governing bodies. We’re hoping we’re going to change policies in the way that people really look at replacement of housing. That’s the ideology behind this, being agents of change. Changing people’s minds, changing policy, and making resiliency accessible to the general public. —As told to Caitlin Reagan