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Emerging Voices Lecture Series: graciastudio & SO – IL

Last Thursday, the Architectural League hosted the first in a series of lectures from the recipients of the 2013 Emerging Voices program. Selected for the promise they have shown in forging unique paths in architecture, the eight firms will be presenting lectures on their personal philosophies each Thursday this month. On deck last night were Jorge Gracia of graciastudio and Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu of New York City-based SO – IL. With an introduction by architecture critic Thomas de Monchaux, the two firms spoke to a packed crowd at Cooper Union’s Rose Auditorium.

Jorge Gracia of graciastudio takes the stage. Photo provided by The Architectural League of New York.

Having grown up in Tijuana, Jorge Gracia looks to his childhood and the United States/Mexico border for inspiration. He finds images and emotions from his youth are easily translatable to an architectural context and takes particular delight in interpreting these elements via texture and use of material. Finding his greatest restriction to be those of an economical nature, he uses creativity to sidestep financial obstacles. At the start of his career, he learned the quickest way to find low budget solutions was by going straight to the source—the craftsmen. He quickly accumulated a vault of information to access by understanding their processes. This resourcefulness is easily identified in his work—whether that be a “Home Depot lamp” made from plumbing pipe or a “Costco sun lounger” he whipped up for a client when enforced with a furniture budget of zero.

The plaza at the culinary school by graciastudio. Photo provided by graciastudio.

This ingenuity works well on a much larger scale, too. When designing a culinary art school in a decidedly un-urban area, Gracia felt an area was needed to encourage social interaction. He took matters into his own hands and created a plaza at the center of the school to encourage students to stay on campus between and after classes. His love for creative material use is also seen at work at the culinary school—a classroom floor is covered in loose stone from a nearby river to elicit an emotional reaction from those who enter.

It would appear Gracia has intuitively mastered the art of knowing a client’s needs before they do themselves. As with the plaza, he had a firm stance on the use of 100 hectares he was approached to develop for a client. The client hoped to populate the land with homes, but Gracia said nobody would move to such a vast area if they hadn’t experienced it first—so the homes became a hotel (this also secured his first hotel project, Enedemico Resguardo Silvestre). But not just any hotel—the land being so vast, he felt visitors shouldn’t be confined to one small portion—so the hotel became individual bungalows spread across the landscape with one main building housing the lobby, a winery, and common spaces.

The pool at Enedemico Resguardo Silvestre. Graciastudio built the pool furnishings and firepits. Photo provided by graciastudio.

Garcia works to make as minimal an impact as possible. The bungalows are prefabricated and raised on stilts to create a minor footprint. When constructing the pool, the plans were adapted around a large boulder encountered while digging.

Gracia says he likes to “connect the dots in between our clients.” This ethos is readily visible—whether that be helping them envision a better project or building relationships amongst them (an art gallery he transformed hosts dinners catered by students from the culinary school and complemented with wine from the winery).

From south-of-the-border all the way to the east coast, SO – IL spoke next. An international duo, Netherlands-born Florian Idenburg and China-born Jing Liu choose to exchange control with “deliberate ambiguity” in their projects. This practice is easily seen in all their work, and particularly so in the installation they completed for MoMA PS1 in the summer of 2010. Eight flexible poles set up throughout the outdoor space were covered with netting to form a grown up playground of sorts. When competing for the project, the two fibbed a map to show that while outwardly expressing instability, the construct would in fact be stable. Fortunately, they were able to prove themselves correct and managed to securely stabilize the construct after several rounds of trial and error. Incorporating sound into the installation and even an iPhone app, the Pole Dance became an interactive piece open to interpretation—to some it was art, to others play.

The east entrance of the Kukje Art Gallery by SO – IL. The removed lobby gives the netting an opportunity to show its flexibility. Seoul, South Korea. Photo by Iwan Baan.

Proposing ideas and figuring out the logistics later seems to work for SO – IL. When renovating the Kukje Art Gallery in a historic district of Seoul, their plans called for the building to be draped in mesh in order to soften the reading of the building in its environment. The client loved it and they set to work figuring out how to scale the drapery from model to reality. Seeking a strong material able to withstand the elements but also capable of molding to the shape of the building they took to an unlikely source—alibaba.com—the eBay of China. They struck gold. A fabricator’s promising sample led them to in-person visit to a village in China. While the work didn’t hold up in person, Idenburg and Liu discovered there were nearly 2,000 other factories in the village known for its net-making. After making the rounds, they found a match and eight months later, they had their net.  The result—a building that is able to blend with its surroundings and often not immediately noticeable until one is in close proximity.

The practice is also known for the innovation of their un-built projects.  Their entry for the adAPT competition calling for plans for a micro-unit apartment building stood out from others for its different take. Idenburg said rather than “making a Swiss pocket knife” with collapsible walls and multi-use components like many of the other entries, the two stripped the units down to create an open space. To do so they utilized a single loaded corridor to yield light and clean dwellings. Though the firm didn’t win the competition, the small apartment dweller in us selfishly hopes their small-living plans come to fruition some day.

Next week‘s lecture will feature Susannah Drake of dlandstudio and Michael Murphy and Alan Ricks of MASS Design Group.

Click here to find out more information and purchase tickets for this second evening of the annual Emerging Voices lecture series.

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