Patience is its own reward, as the proverb has it, but it’s nice when it also pays off in more tangible ways. For New York–based WORKac, this year brought a major reward: the opening of the Kew Gardens Hills Library in Queens, which the architects have expanded and transformed with a new exterior, made of glass-fiber-reinforced concrete, that looks like an open book. The project had been delayed for years. “We are always imagining the future,” says Dan Wood, FAIA, of the practice he leads with Amale Andraos. “Especially,” he adds with a laugh, “because projects sometimes take a long time.”

Bruce Damonte

Kew Gardens Hills Library (click here for more photos)

Bruce Damonte

Stealth Building (click here for more photos)

WORKac earned another major reward this year: the Number One spot in the design ranking of the Architect 50. The firm’s portfolio included the Edible Schoolyard at P.S.7 in East Harlem, a bright hands-on children’s garden with a greenhouse and kitchen classroom; “Stealth Building,” a renovation, featuring a sharply pleated rooftop addition, of a cast-iron Tribeca building; and an off-the-grid “earthship” house in Arizona.

“Playful, colorful, and well-detailed projects that emphasize space over form and surface,” is how one judge described WORKac’s submission. “The work uses a fresh formal vocabulary to engage social and environmental ideas.”

Stealth Building
Bruce Damonte Stealth Building

Andraos is dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University, so it’s not surprising that research is interwoven with the practice. “It’s a way for us to keep ahead of our own work,” he says. “We use research in the same way we teach, to think more broadly about architecture’s ability to engage with issues. When we have a project, these ideas come back into play.” Investigations into ecology and urbanism have shaped the firm’s work in the past, but its current research focus is preservation, as evidenced by its Chicago Architecture Biennial installation (with James Ewing) about a 1930s Art Deco villa in Beirut.

Raymond Adams

Edible Schoolyard at P.S.7 (click here for more photos)

A mission statement on the firm’s website reads: “We hold unshakable lightness and polemical optimism as a means to move beyond the projected and towards the possible.” There’s something heartening about a commitment to “polemical optimism” in fraught political times. “As architects, we’re always manifesting change. We’re creating things where something didn’t exist before,” Wood explains. “You always have to be optimistic that you’re going to contribute to the city or the site or the discipline. I think we are kind of like science-fiction writers.”

Top 50 Firms in Design

Rank Organization Score
1 WORKac 100.0
2 NADAAA 96.2
2 Marlon Blackwell Architects 96.2
4 John Ronan Architects 94.9
5 Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects 91.2
6 Skidmore, Owings & Merrill 90.9
7 Atelierjones 89.1
8 MASS Design Group 87.3
9 Anmahian Winton Architects 87.1
10 Studio Gang 87.0
11 Studio Ma 85.3
12 nArchitects 84.3
13 archimania 82.8
13 Behnisch Architekten 82.8
15 Works Progress Architecture 82.3
16 El Dorado Architects 81.9
17 BNIM Architects 80.6
18 Architecture Research Office 79.1
19 The Miller Hull Partnership 77.8
20 Payette 77.7
21 Koning Eizenberg 77.0
22 Richärd+Bauer Architecture 76.6
23 Hacker 75.6
24 DesignLab Architects 75.4
25 Eskew+Dumez+Ripple 75.1
26 MSR Design 74.8
27 EYP Architecture & Engineering 73.9
28 HGA Architects and Engineers 73.6
29 Machado and Silvetti Associates 72.8
30 ZGF Architects 71.0
31 5G Studio Collaborative 69.8
32 DLR Group 69.6
33 Ross Barney Architects 69.0
34 SRG Partnership 68.8
35 Perkins+Will 68.4
35 CBT Architects 68.4
37 CannonDesign 68.2
38 Bruner/Cott & Associates 67.8
39 Helix Architecture + Design 67.1
40 Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects 66.7
41 Gensler 65.1
42 HDR Architecture 64.5
42 Ayers Saint Gross 64.5
44 Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects 64.2
45 Mark Cavagnero Associates 64.1
46 Ziger/Snead Architects 64.0
46 LMN Architects 64.0
48 William Rawn Associates, Architects 64.7
48 Dake Wells Architecture 64.7
50 Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture 63.3

Design Judges

Liz Gorman

Sheila Kennedy, AIA
Kennedy is a founding principal of Kennedy & Violich Architecture, which was established in 1990, and is professor of the practice of architecture at MIT. In 2000, she started MATx, a pioneering materials research unit, at her firm. Kennedy studied architecture at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and received the Masters of Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Eric Staudenmaier

Mark Lee
Lee is a principal and founding partner of Los Angeles-based Johnston Marklee, which was founded in 1998. He has taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Princeton University, the University of California at Los Angeles, the Technical University of Berlin, and ETH Zurich. With partner Sharon Johnston he is the artistic director for the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Joe Pugliese

Jennifer Yoos, FAIA
Yoos is a president of Minneapolis-based VJAA, which was the recipient of the 2012 AIA Firm Award. She was awarded a Loeb Fellowship at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and was most recently the Ruth and Norman Moore Visiting Professor at Washington University in St. Louis. She is co-author, with partner Vincent James, FAIA, of the book Parallel Cities: The Multilevel Metropolis (2016).