Ramona Albert, the founder of her eponymous architecture firm, shares her insight into the evolution of architecture and the design secrets to some of her most famous structures.
Your approach to design is unique in that you operate an all-encompassing architectural planning and project management firm, overseeing the entire process from initial stages through final construction, no?
RAMONA ALBERT: I believe that the way we engage with design and architecture has changed quite a bit over the course of the past decade. Both design and fabrication are now essentially at our fingertips through apps, VR and 3D printers. We cannot separate the process of design from that of building, especially given the speed at which we need to operate today.
For me, design always involves experimentation, and understanding materials and construction methods is key to innovation. To create good architecture with high quality details, we engage in the construction process from the beginning via managing the entire work, or bringing in consultants early on. This is great for the client because they are more involved in the design process, and it is highly educational for everyone. Also, it speeds up the process and creates better quality work.
Some of your projects have included Barclays Arena, the Lincoln Square Synagogue, and 5 Manhattan West, but which project was the most challenging for you?
RA: After graduate school at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, I started working with a façade consulting firm where we worked with some of the world's best architects and consulted on the design of building envelopes all over the world. Here I was part of a group that focused on construction, and with the Lincoln Square synagogue I was fortunate to manage the design and building of the façade. It was an amazing process, where we created comprehensive models of the entire façade system in 3D and completed the assembly in our shop in Brooklyn. I also spent a lot of time in Shenzhen, China, coordinating the glass assembly process, involving Hermès fabric laminated between the glass panels.
This was for me a great opportunity to learn some of the challenges of building and construction. When I went to Tishman to coordinate the 5 Manhattan West façade construction, my experience as a designer was crucial in translating the ideas of the architect into reality. The process was amazing and complex, with many layers and many great minds coming together to accomplish an innovative construction process.
These experiences have really influenced my work as a designer and I have learned the importance of good building techniques in bringing designs to reality.
Is that where you draw your inspiration from? What inspires your overall design process?
RA: I’m always looking for the timeless, where spaces and forms are rooted in the natural world, and I’m interested in ideas that question the norm. The formal qualities of space are important in the way that they shape our experience. To me every building needs to tell a story.
For example, our design for the mountain chapel, which won a prestigious AIA award, is entirely dependent on the materials and capabilities available on site, while pushing the limits of fabrication, and the space itself has a sublime experiential quality through the use of daylight. The glass house in upstate New York has a geometrical interior core that is barely visible from the outside, while the exterior curved glass shell reflects the environment onto itself, and immerses the dweller in the environment. We’re now working on a project that looks at the integration of a new housing typology in the existing historic urban landscape, and reimagines the definition of a carriage house in a densely populated area of Brooklyn today.
You also create design objects from wine decanters to tables and candelabras. At what point did you begin designing these objects?
RA: The objects started out as an exploration of ideas. They were mostly exploration of form, material and texture, that aided the design process for the architectural projects. They are important in my practice because they allow for a platform of experimentation on a different scale, that is more tangible. At the same time, they require the same amount of rigor and prototyping so they become special projects on their own.
I’ve just recently partnered up with a glass fabricator for additional glassware, and I’m working on the 3D printed metal jewelry line.
What current projects are you working on in New York?
RA: One of the most interesting projects is a new carriage house/townhouse for a hedge fund manager in Brooklyn. The new house is on a through lot with a townhouse already on one side, and the new building addition is a contemporary version of the carriage house corresponding to the existing residence. The owner was very interested in new material technologies, so the building has a 3D milled concrete cast stone façade, with a two story glazed front and floor to ceiling glass doors on the garden side.
Some other projects include a glass addition to an existing residence and a townhouse renovation.
We are also working on the renovation of an 1852 historic home in Sag Harbor, which is a challenging project as we’re working out the language of the dialogue between the old and the new.
For more information on Ramona Albert architecture or to contact Ramona Albert for your next design project, visit ramonaalbert.com.