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April 18, 2013
by Greta Hansen
(l-r) Archie Coates, Director, PlayLab + PlusPool; Miguel McKelvey, Founder and Chief Creative Officer, WeWork; Hunter Tura, President and CEO, Bruce Mau Design; Anthony Mosellie, AIA, Principal, KPF Associates; and Alejandro Zaera-Polo, Dean, Princeton University School of Architecture and Principal, AZPA.

Dedicated to exposing new and evolving forms of architecture, the AIANY New Practices Committee organized the panel discussion “RE:THINK Profit” to do just that. Speakers’ firm sizes ranged from a two-person practice to a 600-person global architecture firm. Chris Leong, director of the firm Leong Leong and New Practices co-chair introduced the event and posed the question “How can young architects approach the market?” to a panel made up of both architects and non-architects, all of whom were self-described entrepreneurs. The responses, though various, all touched on the issue of branding.

Hunter Tura, president and CEO of Toronto-based Bruce Mau Design, showed a surprising graphic comparison of Google searches for the words “architect” and “entrepreneur,” which appropriately set up the theme for the evening’s conversation. Though searches for “entrepreneur” have remained stable over the past years, searches for “architect” have noticeably declined. Does this information signal a change in interest in architecture by the general public? Tura thinks so, and stressed the efforts by his company to collaborate with other companies and business types to create objects and spaces that focus on messaging and branding.
Miguel McKelvey, founder of the workspace brand WeWork, was educated in architecture, but approaches the field from the viewpoint of a developer. His company standardizes the creation of beautiful workspaces (with limited architectural manipulation) in the image of the WeWork brand.
If McKelvey’s presentation was the furthest from traditional architecture, the presentation of work by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates Principal Anthony Mosellie, AIA, was by far the most rooted in the traditional. His history of the global firm, now with six offices worldwide and projects in more than 35 countries, posed not only as a foil for the younger practices on the panel, but also as a model for how a company founded in 1976 continues entrepreneurship through global expansion.
The smallest practice on the panel, Playlab, composed of Archie Lee Coates, IV, and Jeffrey Franklin, upturned a traditional architectural practice as well as a traditional form of entrepreneurship. Coates presented their largest project to date, the PlusPool, a proposal for a large floating pool in the East River, which they started without funding or engineering partners. Instead, they generated a visual brand for the project and produced and distributed press materials before finding a client or funding. The crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter was instrumental in generating initial funds as well as spreading awareness about the project to New Yorkers. If KPF was the entrepreneurship model of the 1990s and early 2000s, Playlab may be creating a model for the 2010s and 2020s.

Alejandro Zaera-Polo, dean of the architecture program at Princeton University, moderated a Q&A, noting that an interest in branding tied the widely diverse firms on the panel together. In the world of new media, are architects realizing that visual identity is the key to selling architecture? Or are they simply broadening their focus away from traditional spaces?

Event: RE:THINK Profit : Architecture in the Age of the Entrepreneur
Location:Center for Architecture, 04.5.2013
Panelists: Alejandro Zaera-Polo, Dean, Princeton University; Hunter Tura, President and CEO, Bruce Mau Design; Miguel McKelvey, Founder and Chief Creative Officer, WeWork;Ciel Hunter, Creative Director, The Creator’s Project; Archie Coates, Director, PlayLab + PlusPool; Anthony Mosellie, AIA, Principal, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates
Organizer:AIANY New Practices Committee

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