by Alexander Luckmann
Architect Koray Duman, AIA, LEED AP, believes that “architecture should be functional and unexpected, engaged and poetic, experimental and affordable,” according to his firm’s website. Originally from Turkey, Duman continued his studies in Los Angeles, where he worked for a number of years, before moving to New York, where he started Sayigh+Duman Architects (now Büro Koray Duman) in 2009. Now boasting a team of eight architects, the Manhattan-based practice has built a name for itself as a conceptually and formally inventive firm addressing a broad range of issues through built work and research. This year, Büro Koray Duman received Architizer’s Emerging Firm of the Year Award. In addition to his practice, Duman teaches at the New School and is co-chair of AIA New York’s New Practices Committee.
Recent standouts from Büro Koray Duman include a proposal for the Islamic Cultural Center of New York and an addition to the home, studio and exhibition space of an American artist in upstate New York. The former unbuilt proposal would have wrapped an outer glass wall around an inner enclosure, as if the traditional Turkish set of buildings surrounding a mosque had been turned on its side for a tight New York City site. This project won the 2015 Best of Unbuilt award from the Architect’s Newspaper. The latter, a masterplan for an artist living in upstate New York, addresses a very different program and context. The first completed building on the site, a gallery and art storage space inspired by the architecture of local barns, won Architizer’s 2017 Commercial-Factory and Warehouse award. Here, Duman tells us why the focus of his practice is shifting.
Q: You worked in Turkey and Los Angeles prior to founding Buro Koray Duman. What made you come to New York to start your own firm?
A: After school, I worked in Los Angeles for 5 years. During that time, I entered several competitions with friends, working on them during nights and weekends. I decided then that I want to set up my own studio to investigate issues that I am interested in, but I didn’t feel at home in LA. It was too removed from Turkey and Near East. Whenever I was in NYC, the city gave me the stimulation I craved for—and it was closer to home—so I decided to move to NYC in 2004. First worked in other firms for few years to settle down and understand the city and eventually started my own firm.
Q: This year, your firm was named Architizer’s Emerging Firm of the Year. How does this award validate your work?
A: In the past several years, we won design awards for individual projects. Architizer’s award was the first one that recognized the overall body of the work, and our studio’s approach. Maybe the recognition validates that we are in a tipping point, where we have enough work that can tell a story and our interest in design. I am glad to see that studio’s unique voice is recognized by an international media outlet.
Q: How is your work changing? Do you see an arc toward more, or bigger, projects? Is your studio changing or growing as a result?
A: Growth? I wish but not yet! The change is more about the type of projects we are called for. We get more inquiries about the kind of projects we are interested in. We were recently invited for a museum extension competition for which we just won the commission.
I am also very interested in extending the architect’s role in shaping our cities through research projects and organizing workshops and symposiums. The award gave me the ability to connect with various thought leaders. I have a lot of ideas on how to insert architectural thinking (or design thinking) to enrich our daily life. The studio’s focus is partly changing towards becoming more of a think tank.
Q: According to your website, “Architecture should be functional and unexpected, engaged and poetic, experimental and affordable.” How do you make sure that these values are respected or applied in your everyday practice?
A: There has been a lot of value judgements placed on certain terms in architecture and simultaneously the creation of binary oppositions; functional/expected versus formal/unexpected, affordable versus expensive/experimental. We don’t believe in ‘either-or’ propositions. We want to pursue ‘both-and.’ A project can be functional and unexpected, affordable, and experimental, and so on. In our everyday practice, we don’t take these definitions for granted in order to expand upon them.
Q: How do research and building inform each other in your practice?
A: I am not sure if there is an easy and clear way to define how they inform each other. They both come from the same studio so an assumption is that they come out of the same way of thinking. Maybe the procedures of our research projects are more like day dreaming whereas the procedures of a built-project (regular architectural projects) is based on checks and balances of the realities (the realities of budget, schedule, material constraints, and etc). There is a slippage between. You start day dreaming while trying to resolve a detail on site and you think more about the harsh realities of building and make them a part of your constraints for research projects.