Firm name: Büro Koray Duman
Location: New York and Istanbul
Year founded: 2013
Firm leadership: Koray Duman
Education: Bachelor of Architecture, Middle Eastern Technical University in Turkey; Master of Architecture, UCLA
Experience: Frederick Fisher and Partners in Los Angeles; Architecture in Formation in New York
Firm size: Four to six
Your firm’s mission:
We believe in architecture’s ability to be a social infrastructure. In our projects we want to design spaces that encourage people to interact with others and the space around them, and spaces that are meant for production of culture. Early on, we decided to move away from prescriptive and overwhelming design gestures to design spaces that are stimulating yet open for interpretation.
What inspired you to start the firm?
In Turkey, after school if you continue to practice architecture, there are not too many paths to consider. When I graduated there was not even one office with more than 50 employees. The most common route was to start your own firm with friends. That stuck in my mind as the only option. I started entering competitions when I was working at other firms and sketching bathroom and kitchen renovations for friends.
A second floor addition to a single-story building in New York's Lower East Side for an art gallery.
Most important project and why:
The Islamic Cultural Center. We were able to get involved with the project from very early on. The research we did with the client and the multidisciplinary team was pivotal to think about what it means to create a cultural center for an underserved minority community, what it means to be an American Muslim now, and what kind of an institution should foster the new generation of American Muslims. To be able to bring architectural thinking to the table from the very beginning helped to form the identity and program of the institution, and the architecture became a natural extension of the research and debates we had. It was the first time I realized how our profession too often shrinks to being merely a technical consultant and how we need to constantly push its boundaries to expand.
Second most important project and why:
Helsinki Hamam. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York. They want to expand their program beyond working with Finnish artists and designers. Turkey and Finland share several cultural rituals, including the Finnish Sauna and the Turkish hammam. The project evolved from several conversations with the Institute, and curatorial team and research into Helsinki, Istanbul, and New York City. Waterfronts have always been an economic resource for New York, and the city has discovered their social and cultural potential in the past two decades. The idea was to create a temporary pavilion on water, looking at how people socialize in saunas and hammams, and introduce New Yorkers to different ways of socializing around water. Similar to Islamic Cultural Center, we were able to define the question for the project with the client, rather than only providing a creative solution. The project, scheduled for May 2020, was unfortunately canceled due to COVID-19.
Who are your mentors and how have they influenced you?
Not technically a mentor, but Nat Oppenheimer at Silman. His ability to lead without ego, to be serious and light/playful at the same time, and his sharpness and efficiency to be available regardless of whether you're a small client or a starchitect are incredible attributes that I aspire to.
How would you describe the personality of your practice?
Eternal optimists. We believe design’s strength is to see opportunities where people see problems.
What’s one thing everyone should know about your studio?
We are the most creative when we truly understand the underlying problems and desires on a project that requires a close collaboration with the client and stakeholders.
Biggest career leap:
Being shortlisted for a new addition to the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City. It was the first time our office was invited to a shortlisted competition for an institution. We won the project three years ago and the construction is due to start this fall.
Biggest design challenge you’ve overcome:
Not knowing what the outcome will be when you start designing. For a long time, I had the anxiety to figure out as quickly as possible what the project should look like. In the past 5 years, I let go of the anxiety and keep my mind open as we explore several ideas and options, trusting that the project will shape itself at some point during the process.
Design tool of choice:
Blackwing matte pencil
Unnecessary twisting and turning of forms for the sake of formal play. If the gesture does not provide interesting spaces within or around or opportunities for the users or public, do not bother.
The most important piece of criticism you ever received:
You can be the best cook in the world. It does not guarantee you to have a successful restaurant. That requires a great team.
Most urgent question of policy or politics facing architects today:
In the past few years, we witnessed the limits of the Internet’s transparency; its horizontality and so-called "non-hierarchical" and "non-mediated" structure, which make it a threat to elements of democracy. We have realized the echo chambers that we have been living in.
For me the most urgent question is, How do we foresee physical public spaces taking back civic responsibilities or supporting a more democratic digital realm? How can we promote and make possible a physical space that provides the social infrastructure necessary to promote social exchange, conversation, and the production of knowledge and civic spaces?
A social media account everyone should follow:
What are you reading?
"Felix Gonzalez-Torres," by Miwon Kwon and Robert Storr, and edited by Julie Ault
"Countryside, A Report," by AMO and Rem Koolhaas, Hon. FAIA