February 28, 2024
by: AIA New York
Benjamin Cadena headshot
Benjamin Cadena, AIA, LEED AP, Founder, Studio Cadena. Photo: Studio Cadena.
The exterior of Masa restaurant
Masa in Bogota, Colombia. Photo: Studio Cadena.
Over The Wall outdoor sculpture installed at Art Omi
Over The Wall at Art Omi in Ghent, NY. Photo: Studio Cadena.
Exterior of One Domino Square
Domino Square in Brooklyn, NY. Photo: Studio Cadena.
Happy Flatiron Plaza
Happy Flatiron Plaza in New York, NY. Photo: Studio Cadena.
Interior of Three Room Loft in Brooklyn, NY
Three Room Loft in Brooklyn, NY. Photo: Ian Allen.

Benjamin Cadena, AIA, LEED AP, is founder of Studio Cadena, a design and architecture practice based in Brooklyn. His work engages contemporary life, the city, and its people to create captivating spaces, places, and experiences for those who use them. Cadena was recognized with a 2016 AIANY New Practices New York award and was showcased in the related exhibition. He also received a 2020 AIANY Architecture Honor Award for Masa Cafe & Bakery, two Golden Cube awards from the Art Directors Club of New York, and the Continental Prix Versailles from UNESCO. In parallel to running his practice, Cadena teaches at Columbia University and has engaged a broader discourse by curating and organizing a variety of exhibitions, panels, workshops and events.

Q: How/why did you decide to pursue architecture?

As a child of two architects, I grew up surrounded by design and architecture but I came to the field in a roundabout way. When I moved to the States for college I was determined to carve my own path studying economics and then worked in finance for a few years after graduation. This was challenging and interesting in many ways but it never felt like the right fit. I guess my upbringing left a lasting impression and I always remained drawn and involved with more creative pursuits. I quit my job, and after a long search, I decided to return to school for my master’s degree in architecture and never looked back. It was a great choice.

Q: What are some of your favorite recent projects that you’ve worked on?

My favorite project at the moment is the design for Domino Square in Brooklyn. It is a design for a building that hybridizes public space, a retail arcade, and a water treatment facility in the heart of Brooklyn’s waterfront. Not only is this my first ground-up building in New York, but one that combines infrastructure and public space in a way that responds to the needs of the contemporary city. The project is under construction with expected completion later this fall.

Q: What do you see as an architect’s role—and responsibility—within our culture?

Architects are responsible for shaping context. This is often forgotten when we focus on individual projects, clients, or interests. Big or small, each design has the potential to directly or indirectly impact the lives of others and reshape our understanding of place and cities. This can be understood in urbanistic, environmental, political, sociological, or material terms, but always should be considered part of the architect’s remit. This understanding of our broadened role is the added value we offer and ultimately the cultural value of our work.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges, or opportunities, facing cities today?

Cities change. This has always been the case but the pace and scale of change today bring about a set of new challenges and opportunities. I think we need to embrace this change as it opens the possibility of revisiting and remaking parts of the city that no longer respond to our contemporary needs and circumstances. Housing, infrastructure, and quality spaces for urban life are intertwined components of the city that are facing tremendous pressures and should benefit from embracing change.

Q: What are your greatest sources of inspiration?

The more mundane aspects of daily life. How we move through the city, gather and relate to our surroundings. I like to observe how people use or misuse spaces to make them their own. The city is filled with moments that can instigate new ideas or reflect aspects of how we choose to live our lives in the contexts we inhabit. I find this endlessly interesting.


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