Steven M Koch

Firm name: Could Be Architecture
Location: Chicago
Year founded: 2015
Firm leadership: Joseph Altshuler and Zack Morrison
Education: Morrison: B.S., University of Illinois at Chicago; M.Arch., Rice University; Altshuler: B.S., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; M.Arch., Rice University
Experience: Morrison: Bureau Spectacular, Interloop—Architecture, GREC Architects. Joseph currently teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology; Altshuler: Architecture Is Fun, Interloop—Architecture, Landon Bone Baker Architects.
How founders met: We met while drafting a fairy tale about architecture
Firm size: Two-plus

Could Be Architecture designs seriously playful spaces, things, and happenings.

Steven M. Koch On view through April 12 at the Elmhurst Art Museum in Elmhurst, Ill., McCormick AfterParti reimagines the floor plan of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s 1952 McCormick House using hot pink curtains as walls.
Steven M. Koch

Origin of firm name:
“Could be” embodies the optimism that underpins our practice. Similar to the “yes, and … ” mantra in improv theater, “could be” propels us to produce work that approaches existing and future worlds from an emphatically positive position, embracing an attitude that our worlds could be more joyful, engaging, inclusive, and maybe even funny. The open-ended nature of the phrase “could be” also reminds us to continually challenge, expand, and amplify the potential audiences for architecture.

We’re equally interested in the possibilities of “conventional” architectural design as we are in exhibitions, events, costumes, furniture, toys, books and zines, supergraphics, and fiction writing. We’re eager to uncover how other delivery formats “could be” amplified by architectural exploration and performance.

We also like firm names that double as conversational phrases in a sentence. It makes it fun and easy to casually insert our name into informal conversation at parties.

courtesy Could Be Architecture Tiled bathroom of the Beth Tikvah Congregation.

First commission:
The design of new public restrooms within Beth Tikvah Congregation, an existing synagogue in Hoffman Estates, Ill. We were thrilled to take this on because there is no architectural moment more intimate and engaged with the body than a bathroom. Our modest design features cascading patterns of ceramic wall tile to generate visual intrigue and dynamic sightlines within the otherwise constrained footprint. Our graphic strategy for the tile and mirrors produces unexpected alignments and novel reflections, while limiting overall material use.

Matthew Messner The Twisted Hippo brewery and restaurant, in Chicago, features vibrant wall and floor graphics to help subdivide the space and cultivate “a character as ‘weird and approachable’ as Twisted Hippo,” the firm explains.
Matthew Messner
Matthew Messner

Favorite project:
Our design for the Twisted Hippo Taproom and Eatery in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood radically transformed an existing space to create identity and cultivate community for the brewery. By positioning vibrantly colored supergraphics and flora within a cavernous interior, the design deploys a budget-conscious strategy and material set to articulate a series of companionable “little worlds,” each with their own specificity, intimacy, and character. The project bolstered our belief that the precise articulation of bold color produces more than an aesthetic: It stages a performance of bodies in space, giving license to people to suspend a bit of their everyday routine and engage in serious play and interaction. A little lubrication from the libations brewed on-site helps as well.

Steven M. Koch This 2019 installation and performance at the Elmhurst Art Museum restaged German designer Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet nearly a century after its original debut at the Bauhaus.
Steven M. Koch

Second favorite project:
“Re-Staging Oskar Schlemmer” re-enacts and reinterprets Schlemmer’s seminal Triadic Ballet nearly a century after its original debut at the Bauhaus. We collaborated with the high school students of Elmhurst Art Museum's Teen Art Council to curate a multidisciplinary installation project that includes costumes, stage-pieces, and a choreographed performance.

The resulting work expanded both the scope and vision of our original pitch to reinvestigate the work of Oskar Schlemmer in our contemporary setting. The students designed and fabricated wearable architecture, donned their work, and endowed their creations with characters all their own. The final performances far exceeded any of our initial renderings or preconceptions. From our role as curator, witnessing the students take ownership and indulge in the seemingly strange pleasure of an architectural ballet filled us with joy.

Architecture hero:
Our architecture hero is a staircase in the Law Courts Annex in Gothenburg, Sweden, (designed by Erik Gunnar Asplund in 1936). At first glance from across the room, the staircase appears to be a modernist straight edge. But once you become better acquainted, you realize that the stair is really coy, playful, and a little flirtatious. Their rise and run embrace a precise softness, splashed with a minty green stone. The slightly curving support rods for their handrail profess a little wiggle. We fall apart every time we meet their bottommost tread. It lands on the floor like a cartoonish jaw dropping, with its curvaceous tongue rolling out to the side and missing not one, but two erroneously placed columns. Performing an act of almost-kissing, that bottommost stair produces a gesture of suspended tension and continuous animation—a perfect moment of joy.

This project offers whimsical alternatives to residential additions in response to the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association’s #StopThePop social media campaign against “bad” expansion designs.
Courtesy Could Be Architecture

Greatest mentor:
Benjamin Moore Color Preview book

Special item in your studio space:
Theo, the three-person desk

Courtesy Could Be Architecture Could Be Architecture’s finalist submission for the 2019 Ragdale Ring competition comprises five pockets of activity, including sound tubes and a sheltered performance area inspired by the original 1912 Ragdale Ring arcade.
courtesy Could Be Architecture

Design tool of choice:
Text messages to share—and redline—computer screenshots

Dream collaborator:
Oskar Schlemmer (1888–1943). Oskar’s work at the intersection of theater, art, and architecture encompasses an amazing catalog of architectural creatures. Combined with theatrical sets and choreography, Schlemmerian worlds are diverse, animated, and full of wonder. Should our paths cross for collaboration, we’ll revel in the opportunity to build performing worlds and characters with Oskar.

Michael Easthope The Book Nooks pop-up reading area at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago aggregates books from the school’s faculty, offering “a snapshot of the department’s current interests and an opportunity to expand the community’s cultural and literary references,” according to Altshuler and Morrison.
Michael Easthope

What should architects be discussing this decade?
How to bolster inclusion and social justice without sacrificing exuberant aesthetics, vibrant colors, giddy laughter, and whimsical play. We don’t believe that architecture can solve social/worldly problems, but neither is it free to recuse itself from social impact. We’re interested in how the disciplinary techniques (boundaries, thresholds, activities, and affect) and expanded cultural delivery (live performances) of architectural content can build more joyful and inclusive worlds.

What’s on your bookshelf?
The Big Orange Splot byDaniel Pinkwater (Scholastic Paperbacks, 1993). Get your hands on this delightful picture book at your local library to find out what architectural wonders unfold.

courtesy Could Be Architecture Could Be Architecture proposed redesigning the Chicago Marathon with multiple course trajectories and alternative infrastructure.
courtesy Could Be Architecture