written by:
August 3, 2012

Award-winning designer Winka Dubbeldam is the principal of leading design firm Archi-Tectonics, NYC, a Professor of Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, and—while widely considered to be a leading voice in modern design—also something of a real estate newsmaker.

Dwell recently shared a lively conversation with the highly quotable Dutch architect, covering topics philosophical, practical, and playful—from women in design to baroque to the "need for problems" to, well, the trouble with neon.

Winka Dubbeldam architect headshot
Courtesy of 
Winka Dubbeldam
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Vestry project by Winka Dubbeldam

Vestry project (currently under construction).

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Winka Dubbeldam Greenwich street residential design project

Greenwich St. Project (2004).

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Winka Dubbeldam architect headshot
Image courtesy of Winka Dubbeldam.

With projects as diverse as the Holon City Center in Holon, Israel, and the Greenwich Street Project in New York, works range from commercial to residential and include built, virtual, and installation. Current projects include the luxurious nine-story residential Vestry in New York and a soon-to-be-announced restaurant in the Brewster Carriage House. The list of achievements goes on: lecturing stints at both Harvard and Columbia; twice published; numerous exhibits including "The Unprivate House" (MOMA, 1999) and "Young Architects" (Also MOMA, 2001); the Emerging Voice award (2001) and the IIDA/Metropolis Smart Environments Award (2006). Archi-Tectonics also recently won the Design Competition for a Sustainable Neighborhood and Farmers Market on Staten Island, New York.

Vestry project by Winka Dubbeldam

Vestry project (currently under construction).

Here, some memorable moments with Winka:

On Sustainability...

"Maybe it's my Euro background, but sustainability is one of the first things we think of. We consider systems efficiency, cost; we source a lot of materials locally. It surprised me, for example, that upstate New York isn't more of a supplier to New York City. We do a lot of radiant floor heat, smart systems in facades—such as classic south facades with big overhangs."

...and Standardization

"This is really needed. And we have to start with contractors being more interested, more innovative; we constantly are looking for them, finding them in prefab contractors. But not the fancy ones, the more technical builders, the extremely boring ones [laughs]. We are not working with any of the 'fancy' people."

The Woman Question

"What's really funny is I never think about it in theory—only when an issue on women comes up. But the client who just bought a penthouse at Vestry said there should be more women contractors, because they would be more practical. She is a biologist, and thinks through systems. I think that people like that women are so precise. I also like to think they are quite daring. But I do think it's just a profession like any other profession. There are, in fact, a lot of women architects, but it's a team profession. We do not really have a lack of female architects. What ends up happening is there aren't that many single men running offices either. There are very few architects running architecture firms. I don't think it's necessarily women, just the nature of profession."

The Need for Problems

"There is that famous saying: Don't solve a problem, create the right problem. I always use this. Architects are presented as problem solvers, which is a reduction of what we do. The reality is that we are supposed to take something and make a much more interesting concept. Through that you will also solve what needs to be solved. We have discussed how to work with smart skins and smart spaces; how to integrate comfort; sound systems; padding. It's much like industrial and car designers do."

On Cars

"Buildings are dumb now; they are slow. Why don't buildings look more like cars? Why don't buildings work more like cars? The distance between what a car is and what a house is—we're totally interested in seeing how we can move that forward."

Winka Dubbeldam Greenwich street residential design project

Greenwich St. Project (2004).

On Minimalism

"I think we need to go much more baroque. But baroque can be minimal. Execution can be minimal but the thinking is complex. I often see something and I think yeah, that's not brilliant. But you can also look at something minimal and be amazed. That's the kind of minimal I like—not minimal in thinking. It could be ironic, it could be the perfect thing for the right spot in an original way. Minimal thinking is not sustained."

Designs of the Times

"Irony and fun are showing up in architecture, but it's more in European architecture—I don't know why but we should see more here. Good architecture is only good if there is a sense of humor or even irony. You have to have a very intellectual approach to things, rather than just an aesthetic or a 'Let's fit in' approach. We're seeing it in object and furniture design at the moment—this could be actually the new direction we could go to in this country, but it's just not happened a lot yet. This would give a fresh, clean, much more fun approach—and we could include sustainability in a more ironic way. 'Look at me, I am doing something weird.' [laughs] This is probably why I liked the Pacer so much—it's like, 'Oh my god, look at that thing!' every time it's parked.

I want people to do a double take in my buildings—even in a small sense, you should have something like that."

Status Update

[Discussing formulaic residential architecture] "Take the units in the Vestry—none is the same. There is no need to repeat units endlessly. Shopping for a great apartment should be like shopping for a sweater: it can be red, it can have short sleeves, it can be knitted, it can be silk. I tried to make variations so people could really go shopping."

Pushing Prefab

"We won the competition on Staten Island—showing you can build a whole neighborhood in four months with prefab. With a farmers' market integrated, it becomes urban, and yet it becomes green. There is no loss of material in prefab—that's why I am trying to push really really far for this."

Give Me Your Young, Hungry, and Talented Yearning for a Project

"In Europe, it's very normal to hire a very young architect—the visas of this country should hire young architects and trust where innovation comes from. We have to try to be more daring. No one in this country wants to stick their neck out."

On the Topic of Neon

"Too bright!"

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