by: Alexander Luckmann
Leonard Kady, AIA, is a leader in the world of small firms. The principal of Leonard Kady Architecture + Design in New York, his practice bridges the disciplines of architecture and historic preservation in an international range of residential, commercial, and retail projects. Before establishing his own firm, Kady worked on larger projects at KPF and Beyer Blinder Belle in New York. Kady says that his practice, which is “marked by a modern sensibility and exacting craftsmanship,” is “grounded in classical principles.” The size of his firm allows Kady to personally oversee all phases of design and execution. He shares the lessons learned in small firm practice with others by past and present service on national AIA committees including the Small Project Practitioners, the Small Firm Roundtable, and the jury of the Small Projects Awards. Here, he tells us why craft is central to his approach and how the AIA supports small firms.
Q: Who or what first inspired you to become an architect?
A: At a very young age I visited Expo 67 in Montreal. That experience made a profound impression on me. I remember arriving to the Expo island site by elevated rail and feeling the excitement of first viewing this mini futuristic city composed of structures like Habitat by Moshe Safdie and the American Pavilion, a Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome. The pavilions expressed the best of each exhibiting country’s cultural and architectural aspirations. After that experience, travel and the discovery of modern technology drew me closer to architecture and design. Whisper-quiet subways on rubber wheels, a fascination with the NASA space program, abstract art displayed in wonderful museums, and art and sculpture in our home instilled in me a love of the art of architecture.
Q: Your practice combines new construction with historic preservation and restoration. Can you talk about what influence these two disciplines have on each other in your work?
A: Working in Europe on historically important buildings and with old-world craftsmen has had a tremendous impact on my appreciation for materials and their fabrication. I am drawn to natural materials that can age with grace, like stone, wood and metal, which develop warm patinas over time. Nature’s weathering effects on architecture of historical significance is a wonderful, positive expression of time. I love the work of master, modern architects who have been able to balance compositions of inert materials with beautifully decaying materials. Mies van de Rohe and Carlo Scarpa, among them, both embraced the heritage and ethos of history as it relates to materials; they prized patina and age. Craftsmanship in historical preservation and restoration is the other aspect that has influenced me. A number of experiences with craftsmen and artists impacted my approach to design and construction. One example is an artist who submitted samples of art work to demonstrate how he proposed to repair badly damaged frescos in a 14th century building I was restoring. The brush work on the sample was painterly, and had a loose, fast quality that I had not imagined would work. However, when we held it up to the original mural, it was a perfect match. On the same project, carpenters delivered unfinished wood panels and doors that had defects like none I had ever seen before on new construction. I hesitated, and then realized that, like the painterly art of the fresco, these imperfections were what made the restoration work appealing and authentic in appearance.
Q: You have worked extensively internationally. What are some differences between working in the U.S. and abroad?
A: From my experience, working in the U.S. tends to require more exacting documentation standards and requires more communication as to ways to achieve certain craftsmanship qualities. Abroad, particularly in Europe, there is a very strong culture that can cross over between art and craft. Craftsmen are well trained. A carpenter often has the skill to draw by free-hand elaborate woodwork patterns, and demonstrate a flair for proportions with great finesse. Each country’s local laws and precedents can shape the length and detail of contracts. Contracts tend to be much more detailed in the U.S. I did, however, encounter stringent local requirements for historical work in England.
Q: You have served on myriad AIA Committees, as well as speaking and organizing sessions at multiple AIA National Conventions. Why is working with the AIA important to you?
A: Working with the AIA is very important for all architects, allied professionals, and the public. The organization of the AIA is served by hundreds of volunteer members who lend their experience and insight into helping the profession. I became familiar with the AIA through my use of AIA contract documents in practice. I then found the Architect’s Handbooks of Practice to be valuable assets, and following that experienced the quality of continuing education at AIA Conferences. These resources and many more are assembled, developed, and produced by the volunteer work of AIA members. I am an enthusiastic contributor to the knowledge community, and feel strongly about supporting small firm architects and small project architects as they navigate the complexities of the profession. Large firms often have a vast knowledge repository. Today, AIA can offer smaller firms access to knowledge and experience which in the past was limited. New digital efficiency of information delivery, and AIA’s social networking potential, is a boon to AIA members. Any AIA member can get as involved as they wish, from simply replying to a discussion on one of the many AIA Q&A forums to serving on committees. The digital age has enhanced the AIA’s impact on its members and outreach to the public, and elevated the quality of the work we produce. I think it is essential that members consider getting involved to serve others and to expand their own professional impact on society.
Q: How do you envision your practice developing over the next decade?
A: I picture technological improvements enhancing architectural practice and adding value in professional service to clients, for my practice and for others. These include such advancements as computer visualization tools, scanning aids, rapid prototype models, aerial 3D surveys, and collaborative web environments. I picture working remotely with architect teams, clients, and stakeholders across town or across the country in more efficient ways than we have known in the past. I see great interest at the AIA National Conventions in sessions regarding emerging technology applications and the development of new tools that are transforming practice through enhanced efficiency, productivity and connectivity.