Firm name: Co Adaptive Architecture
Location: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Year founded: 2011
Firm leadership: Bobby Johnston, AIA, and Ruth Mandl, AIA
Firm size: Six
Education: Mandl: M.Arch. from Columbia University; B.A. in interior design from Kingston University London; Johnston: M.Arch. from Columbia University; B.A. in architecture from University of California, Berkeley
Firm mission: Amidst an industry that is focused on the finished image of architecture, we want to turn the focus to the means of making and maintaining it. Our practice places importance on those aspects generally hidden from view in a finished project, emphasizing building performance alongside the past and future journeys of all the ingredients as they come together. Often, the best materials to use are those that already exist. To that end, we accentuate adaptive and material reuse, reinventing existing building stock and reviving old elements in the buildings we renovate. We are strong believers that architecture is a process rather than a result; it should be a collaborative practice that works to solve today’s biggest challenges—doing this by building upon the past rather than reinventing it.
Origin of firm name: Coadaptation is a term in biology used to describe the process by which a bee adapts to a flower, just as the flower adapts to the bee. For us, the name gets to the core of our goal for architecture as a process, rather than something static, which must continuously adapt to the planet we live on and the people who use it.
First commission: A movable door/wall that carved a new kid’s room from a larger family space.
Defining project and why: The self-commissioned renovation of our own brownstone in Brooklyn allowed us to implement goals for high efficiency, electrification, and renewable energy—turning a beautiful, century-old building into a highly resilient home to take our family into the future, whilst respecting and celebrating the past.
Another important project: Our recently completed Timber Adaptive Reuse Theater was a dream project for us. In collaboration with a fantastic and innovative client, we celebrated the building’s existing heavy timber structure and used CLT for required structural insertions in the reuse of the space. For us, this project embodies many of our values for an architecture that starts to tackle not just operational energy but also embodied energy and material cycles.
Biggest challenge facing architects today: Designing for inclusivity; allowing everyone to face the climate challenges that lie ahead.
One thing everyone should know about your studio: We think old modes of hierarchical thinking are behind us and believe architecture is not about ego but about collaboration.
Design aggravation: The continued use of packaged terminal air conditioner units! The worst, most inefficient way to heat and cool our spaces.
Most urgent policy question: How do we incentivize a circular economy and an equitable use of the planet’s remaining resources?
Skills you hope to master: Mandl: Driving, working with wood; Johnston: Public speaking, paring down to-do lists.
Favorite rule to break: Never be the first to leave the studio.