ByDesign+ INC Architecture & Design

6/10/2022

ByD+ visited our neighbors, Drew Stuart and Hilary Kroll, from INC Architecture & Design, at their SOHO studio.

INC Architecture & Design in SOHO

ByD+ Hilary, have you been with INC since the beginning?

 

Hilary: Drew, Adam and Gabe are the founding partners and technically right now I’m a Senior Associate, but I’m happy to tell you I have recently become a Partner…

 

ByD+ Congratulations and well deserved! I’m so glad we can share that wonderful news!

 

H: …Thank you. So, I actually worked with Drew, Adam and Gabe at another firm, which is where they all met, I was an intern at the time. They left to create INC Architecture & Design and they said, “Hilary, when you are finished with graduate school, do you want to come and work for us?” I said, “Yes, I’d love to.” So, I’ve pretty much been here since the beginning.

 

ByD+ So I imagine the first office wasn’t this incredible space we are in right now?

 

H: This is our fourth office; our first office was in Tribeca. It was very small, a single room, probably as big as this board room. There were 6 of us and a table in the center. We just had room for a printer…We weren’t there for very long!

 

ByD+ So you mentioned a printer, I imagine 2006 would have been an interesting time for adoption of technology in the field?

 

H: We have always been very tech-forward in the company. Gabe has always wanted the most advanced technology for the office. I think initially some of our rendering capabilities were a big sell for our clients. A lot of other firms at the time weren’t able to render ‘in house.’

 

ByD+ Do you think you were early adopters of that technology because of your ages at the time? Some other firms in the early 2000’s were quite publicly outspoken about conserving the hand drawn process and resisting technology.

 

H: I think you’re right; we were young and able to adapt to the changing environment. We were doing renderings right from the beginning. So you can imagine one printer wasn’t going to be enough!

 

Drew: We were on 19th for four years, Union Square basically. Then we found this space and we realized we can get 60 seats in here!

INC Architecture & Design in SOHO

ByD+ So let’s speak a little bit about the beautiful staircase that features in the 18Street Triplex story that’s on Episode 5 of New York ByDesign: Architecture this weekend!

 

H: The staircase was definitely the big feat. Technically speaking and so important because we were combining two apartments, a duplex and a flat… 

 

D: The way the stair transforms from the solid and then inverts to a negative. It’s not something that gets asked of a lot of staircases in the world. A whole suite of challenges. It also functions as a skylight, reflecting and refracting light downwards. We had to cut through two different apartments and then there was the hydronic heating in the floors that we had to cut off and repair. The challenges were almost unquantifiable! 

 

H: In cutting existing superstructure beams, we had to get approval from the building engineer to add in the slab opening.

 

ByD+ The client is an art collector, how did you find accommodating an art collection that was growing, even during the design process?

D: We are able to mock these things up, provide feedback to a client on measurements in real time and give the client an idea of how a piece of art will look in the space. So, for example, the client sent us an email asking if a piece they were thinking about buying would fit. It’s all quite spontaneous- the goal of a dealer at an art fair is to not go home with any of the art they brought with them! Being able to accommodate a spontaneous buy was possible because of the technology we use.

 

ByD+ Being open to a client’s growing art collection… that speaks to INC’s philosophy of human centric design?

 

D: Our work, from its inception has always been about a neutral shell for the client’s art, furniture, furnishings, collections. That’s key to our residential work. To bring out personality in bathrooms, or the stairs as we did.

 

ByD+ As an architect, how is it relinquishing creative choices to a client, regarding furniture choices for example?

 

D: That’s the benefit of using the technology we do. Everything is in 3D. Now days, we don’t do a project unless you can fly around in the software and see a project furnished as part of the process. If a client came to us and said ‘we don’t need 3D’… We probably wouldn’t be a good match; we can’t work like that.

 

H: Agreed, it’s so integral to how we work.

D: It's essential. In a hotel lobby, for example you need to know exactly what you are getting, every piece of furniture matters. The 3D images really bring the clients along and it allows them to be participants in the process. It gets layered and added to over time. It makes their engagement more meaningful; they feel as much kinship to the ideas as we do, because we’ve all been on the same journey, not to sound cheesy!

 

ByD+ Cheesy is good! We’ve come so far in the conversation without speaking about the TWA Flight Centre project that featured in this season of New York ByDesign: Architecture. That incredible project was a collaboration between a few different firms? 

 

H: The project was led by Beyer Blinder Belle architects, with two new hotel wings designed by Lubrano Ciavarra Architects, with interior design by Stonehill Taylor. The 50,000 square foot Events Centre was designed by us, INC Architecture & Design.

D: That Events Centre at TWA was Hilary’s project! The importance of that project is- so many architects are taught what I think is a bit of a fallacy; in that modern architecture needs to be distinct from the historical portions of architecture, that’s the training. Here we had the baggage claim area of a disused airport. Actually, did you know that baggage claim was invented by Eero Saarinen?! This was the world's first baggage claim as we know it now. This space now functions as their ‘junior ballroom,’ if you will. The key to this work is the reverence to the site’s origin. We could have easily created a modern ballroom. But, obviously Saarinen wasn’t trying to create a baggage claim that would one day be a ballroom. So we kept the original shape, respecting his vision and design.

 

H: It was such a fun project to work on, an absolute delight. So much to draw from. We were able to create this super rich narrative. The room Drew is speaking about, some architects may have tried to carve out a rectangular room here. But we loved it as is and worked with the unique geometry. In fact, we highlighted the shape in the dropped ceiling and showed that footprint in the carpet. We even used original TWA penny tiles around the carpet.

TWA Hotel, New York. Photography Eric Laignel

D: I’ll say this about Hilary. There are executive architects that are almost exclusively technical entities and can only see technical problems. Then there are architects in the world that just want to make things pretty. What makes Hilary so good is her understanding of the technical requirements of a space while simultaneously creating beauty. For example, you need someone who can understand something like the sprinkler coverage, without caving to every demand made by an engineer. Hilary is an advocate for good design in every moment. Otherwise, everything looks mediocre.

 

I follow the TWA hashtag on Instagram! I’ve seen so many weddings happen in this room, it’s as emotional as I get about our work. When you see someone else celebrating in a space that you have spent years designing; a couple on their happiest day, dancing together, captured in beautiful black and white photography, in this room we designed. It’s awe inspiring to have that life cycle within a project! When we were competing for the project, we went in with the idea, “this is going to be our posthumous collaboration with Eero Saarinen; he may be dead, but we still see this as our way of collaborating with an architect we have a deep respect for.”

The Vanderwater by INC Architecture & Design. Photography Ivane Katamashvili.

ByD+ What is good design to you Drew and Hilary and why is it important?

 

H: Good design is when a space is well thought out. From major executions down to small details. That’s what we try to do here at INC. Like ‘The Vanderwater,’ where we are designing everything from the door hardware to the entire tower. That’s when we are at our best. To me that’s what good design is. On a broader level, emotionally, it’s the human-centric idea- it’s about making humans feel comfortable in a space. I think the La Guardia airport transformation is a great example of why good design is important, I remember how depressing it was to go to ‘the old La Guardia.’ Now when you visit the new terminals it positively affects your day. As human beings we deserve to experience beautiful things and be inspired by the spaces that we live and exist within.

 

D: Hilary! You stole everything I wanted to say! You can create architecture that is both beautiful and humanizing. 'The Vanderwater' tower is a great example. We got notes from neighbors saying, ‘thank you for what you have done here, you’ve made a beautiful addition to our neighborhood.’ It’s not something that you get all the time. Those little moments where you get feedback from the population. It’s so rare that someone would take the time to write you a kind note. I think that says something about our approach to these kind of projects- that we're not just thinking about the population that these structures serve, but also believing that everyone who walks by, also deserves something- that they’re all deserving of a better civic life. You can contribute to the fabric of a city in a way that pushes architecture forward while still locking in the past. 

It’s important because of how it makes you feel. We know not everyone can live in the residential buildings that we create, but the people who live in the area deserve something nice to look at, that is appropriate to their neighborhood.

ByD+ Thank you both so much for your time and for inviting ByD+ to your beautiful space.

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