Firm name: After Architecture
Location: Blacksburg, Va.
Year founded: 2012
Firm leadership: Katie MacDonald, Assoc. AIA, and Kyle Schumann
Education: MacDonald: B.Arch., Cornell University; M.Arch. Harvard Graduate School Of Design; Schumann: B.Arch., Cornell University; M.Arch., Princeton University
Experience: MacDonald: Ofis Arhitekti, Morphosis Architects, Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects, MALL; currently teaches at Virginia Tech; Schumann: Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, Anmahian Winton Architects; has taught at Cornell University and Syracuse University and currently teaches at Virginia Tech
How founders met: Freshman architecture studio at Cornell
Firm size: two-plus
We seek to elevate the everyday and call attention to the ordinary—unseen histories, cultural identities, construction conventions, building typologies—by tweaking, revealing, rearranging, subverting, and reframing to create appreciation for that which would otherwise go unnoticed.
Origin of firm name:
While we love the process of designing architecture, we are not convinced that it has to be limited to the discipline. “After” alludes to our desire to root our work in history and our ambition to pursue a post-disciplinary scope of work.
Our first commission was a permanent installation, Field of Towers, in a waterfront plaza in San Diego. Shortly after graduating from Cornell, we completed an installation, Lightwave, in the Cornell Botanic Gardens for the Cornell Council for the Arts. After the project was published, a hotelier contacted us about designing a larger scale version of the project. We were only a few months out of school and found ourselves working by day on our first full time jobs, and by night on registering our business, corresponding with the client, arranging site visits, and hiring a lawyer to review contracts.
Our most recent project, the Camp Barker Memorial, has been a breakthrough piece because it confronts a powerful historical moment currently hidden from view. Composed of a series of entry portals to a modern-day elementary school in Washington, D.C., the project calls attention to the site’s past as a Civil War–era refugee camp for those escaping slavery. The portals take form as a folding plane that incorporates a central gateway as well as smaller shelters that engage the scale of the child, inviting young students to grapple with America’s fraught history.
Second favorite project:
Hearth was originally designed for a cabin competition and was more recently adapted for a client in Vermont. The design plays with the tropes of the archetypal backwoods log cabin—the log façade, the chimney, the porch, and the stack of firewood out front—integrating each discrete element into a seamless wrapper. This project was pivotal in shaping our thinking about typology and reinterpreting architectural tropes.
We recently conducted a research fellowship to study the work of Edoardo Gellner, an Italian architect who studied with Carlo Scarpa and practiced in the Italian Dolomites. We came to know of him because he built a company vacation town, Villaggio Eni, on the mountainside above Kyle’s ancestral village of Borca di Cadore. Gellner’s work fuses the “anonymous” vernacular of alpine barns and ski chalets with modernist concerns around concrete, structure, color, and organic design. We appreciate the work’s simultaneous sensitivity to context and rigor in advancing architectural expression.
The best advice you have ever gotten:
You will not get an opportunity that you do not pursue.
What design trend needs to come back?
Public space. We both studied abroad in Rome during college, where life happens in the streets and piazzas. An attention to public gathering space with that level of integration into the city fabric is harder to come by in the U.S.
One design trend to leave behind:
Gradients. We see gradients as a manifestation of the pop image culture surrounding media consumption today, where aesthetics are often valued over substance. They are pretty, but they have become a kind of window dressing. We are more interested in the windows.
The best criticism you’ve ever received:
Schumann: The late Professor Arthur Ovaska of Cornell University diagnosed me with “corneritis” during one of my first building projects in a second year studio. Symptoms of corneritis include an obsessive over-defining of space through articulation of closed corners. I am thankful to have received such an early diagnosis, and my plans have never been the same.
Favorite destination for architecture:
Los Angeles—Katie’s hometown—where the weird thrives and insulation is less critical.
Favorite rule to break:
Traditional modes of practice, sometimes by choice and sometimes by necessity. Today’s economy makes it difficult to build a traditional practice at a young age. We believe that there is a certain energy that young practices and students bring to the profession that is often undercut by existing power structures. By circumventing the traditional path, new voices can find a platform.