by AIA New York
“At a moment when divisiveness and tribalism seem to have gained ascendancy, the simple act of bringing people together in space is a potentially profound one, whether it occurs at the scale of a room, a building, or a city,” says Marc Tsurumaki, AIA, Principal and Founding Partner, LTL Architects. Tsurumaki founded his architecture firm in New York in 1997 with twin brothers Paul Lewis and David J. Lewis. Today, the firm engages in a diverse range of work, from large scale academic and cultural buildings to interiors and speculative research projects. In 2019, the firm was selected as the AIA New York State firm of the Year, and its three partners were inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame. The firm’s recent work includes the Poster House museum in New York; the Helen R. Walton Children’s Enrichment Center in Bentonville, AR; the ContemporAry Austin – Jones Center, TX; Upson Hall at Cornell University; and the Joseph D. Jamail Lecture Hall at Columbia University. Tsurumaki is currently an Adjunct Associate Professor of Architecture at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, and has taught at a number of institutions including M.I.T., Parsons School of Design, Cornell University, and Yale University as the 2006 Louis I. Kahn Visiting Professor. He is currently the President of the Board of Directors of Storefront for Art and Architecture.
Q: How did you decide to pursue architecture?
A: My interest in architecture was formed during childhood travels in Japan where I first encountered a culture in which design was deeply ingrained in all facets of everyday life. That said, I did not make a conscious decision to pursue architecture until my college years. Ultimately, this grew out of an intersection between a long-standing obsession with drawing, and a restless curiosity about multiple academic fields. Architecture appealed to me as a kind of syncretic pursuit, one that promised to encompass my interests in everything from anthropology to physics, philosophy to art history. In this sense, you could say the decision was based on a kind of indecision. This capacity of architecture to create connections and build links between diverse modes of thinking and contradictory practices still fascinates me today.
Q: What are some of your favorite recent projects that you’ve worked on?
A: We recently completed a project in New York for Poster House, the first museum in the US specifically dedicated to the poster. What was particularly compelling to us here was the nature of the site, a rare through block condition between 23rd and 24th streets in the Flatiron district. The unique qualities of this site allowed us to conceive of the museum as an extension of the space of the street, creating a continuous public passage that links sidewalk to sidewalk and relates to the nature of the poster as an urban artifact. It was a fascinating opportunity to speculate about the shifting role of the museum in the city and the potential for a cultural institution to function as a more accessible and socially engaging space.
Q: What do you see as an architect’s role—and responsibility—within our culture?
A: In a cultural field increasingly dominated by virtual social networks and digital media, we feel that architects have a vital role to play in orchestrating physical spaces which catalyze collectivity and build community. As we have witnessed, the accelerating rate of technological connectivity has not always resulted in positive social transformations. At a moment when divisiveness and tribalism seem to have gained ascendancy, the simple act of bringing people together in space is a potentially profound one, whether it occurs at the scale of a room, a building, or a city. Architecture and architects have a unique capacity to conceive and build spaces in which productive interconnections between individuals, communities and the expanded social field can form and flourish.
Q: What are your thoughts on architectural education today?
A: All three partners at LTL are actively engaged in teaching and we have always seen our roles as academics and practitioners as mutually reinforcing and coextensive. Having witnessed the transformations in our own institutions, I would say that the recent shifts in the academic environment have paralleled and even outpaced the profession in encouraging ways. Questions of equity, social and environmental justice, the urgency of the climate crisis, and the role of architecture in propagating longstanding imbalances in the distribution of power and economic resources, are increasingly at the forefront of academic discourse—in many cases supplanting questions of form or optimization that were dominant in previous years. What remains to be further explored is how this positive shift in awareness can become generative in specifically spatial and architectural terms.
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges, or opportunities, facing cities today?
A: Although it is self-evident to say that issues of resiliency and sustainability are the most urgent imperatives facing cities today, these concerns intersect with questions of how we capitalize on and imaginatively transform the existing building stock of historic locations like New York. Radical shifts in infrastructure, new systems of urban mobility, and changing patterns of public activity—like the decimation of street level shopping by online commerce—will continue to evolve alongside and coexist with previous generations of architecture. Since the most beneficial approach environmentally is often one that optimizes existing buildings, it will be fascinating to consider how we reconcile emerging demands with historic fabric in a way that simultaneously protects and reinvents the urban realm.