Frances F. Denny

Firm name: Agency—Agency
Location: New York City and Toronto
Year founded: 2014
Firm leadership: Tei Carpenter, Assoc. AIA
Education: B.A., Brown University; M.Arch., Princeton University
Experience: Toshiko Mori Architect, Shigeru Ban Architects, and a short spell at Steven Holl Architects; adjunct assistant professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
Firm size: Two to four

We design thoughtful, experiential projects that reframe everyday encounters with the built environment, and create new value propositions for design through productive engagement with the public.

Origin of firm name:
The dual meaning of agency is combined and connected with the line to make Agency—Agency. I think it allows for a double reading of the practice as an ideological idea and as a more expansive idea of “office” that operates at multiple scales and levels of engagement.

First commission:
My first commission was almost right out of school for a renovation of a hair salon in NoHo, in downtown New York City.

Courtesy Agency—Agency Conceived with Brooklyn, N.Y.–based designer Chris Woebken, these hydrant hacks offer New Yorkers alternative methods for interfacing with conventional fire hydrants in an effort to highlight the city’s water quality.

Favorite project:
New Public Hydrant is a series of small-scale infrastructural prototypes that reimagines public interaction with local water infrastructure in New York City. To raise awareness of the high quality of the city’s drinking water, we developed three “hydrant hacks”: a multi-species drinking fountain, an immersive sprinkler, and microclimate/bottle-fill station. Developing these with input from city agencies, and seeing reactions to the designs from people on the street, was interesting. We’re now working to develop these beyond the prototype phase for more permanent applications.

Second favorite project:
We worked with curator Irene Sunwoo to design “Model Projections,” an exhibition focused on architectural model making and its relationship to architectural production. The immersive installation and display system used off-the-shelf materials to evoke an architectural work in progress. By embracing the artifice of architectural models, the design oscillated between multiple scales, intertwining the materials and methods of model making and architectural construction.

Courtesy Agency—Agency A finalist in the 2020 Times Square Valentine Heart Design Competition, “Heart Rising” calls for 100% post-consumer recycled plastic panels configured like a 3D heart emerging from the ground. By repurposing 11,200 plastic detergent bottles for the panels, Agency—Agency aims to raise awareness about climate change.
Courtesy Agency—Agency

The best advice you've ever received:
“It’s a long game” and “keep it light.”

Special item in your studio space:
A giant fiddle fig tree that almost reaches the ceiling and is surrounded by tons of plants and cactuses

Courtesy Agency—Agency

Design tools of choice:
Olfa knife, camera, WhatsApp

A tool you would love to invent:
A mind and body doubler to be in two places at once!

Design aggravation:
Big unselfconscious gestures for their own sake

James Ewing Agency—Agency used drywall fragments and exposed metal studs for display cases of the 2018 “Model Projections” exhibition—which highlighted architectural model making of the mid-20th century—at the Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery at Columbia University GSAPP.
James Ewing

Favorite place to get inspired:
The subway: I like the background noise, chaos, and unexpected encounters to reset my thoughts.

Recent inspiration:
The interdisciplinary art and design work that the TBA21 Academy is catalyzing to raise awareness about the oceans, like the recent Superflex expedition on “deep sea minding.”

Favorite destinations for architecture:
Berlin and Tokyo

Courtesy Agency—Agency The first-place winner of the 2017 Nuclear: Landmarker for a Waste Isolation Site ideas competition, Testbed envisions installing multiple carbon sequestration technologies to capture the gaseous byproduct of nuclear decomposition and to deter human interaction. Over time, these processes would create new geological forms that would become markers for the site.
Courtesy Agency—Agency
Courtesy Agency—Agency

When I’m not working in architecture, I:
Outside walking, surfing, swimming, or exploring with my newborn

This month, architects should be discussing:
The Green New Deal and what an energy transition and decarbonization imply, and what they look like.

Michael Vahrenwald/Esto The new 20,000-square-foot Houston headquarters for the nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters features a three-story atrium, open and private offices, a children’s playroom, an event space, and a balcony with views of downtown and the Buffalo Bayou.

Skills to master:
Unity (software) and “business operations”

Currently reading:
A Moving Border: Alpine Cartographies of Climate Change by Marco Ferrari, Elisa Pasqual, and Andrea Bagnato (Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 2018); Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life (Random House, 2019) by Ali Wong; Charlotte Posenenske: Work in Progress (Walther König, Köln, 2019) from the recent exhibition at Dia: Beacon.