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April 3, 2007
by Carolyn Sponza AIA LEED AP

Event: The Gil Oberfield Memorial Lecture
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.15.07
Speakers: Calvin Tsao, FAIA, Zack McKown, FAIA — partners,Tsao & McKown Architects
Organizer: AIA NY Interiors Committee

Tsao & McKown Architects relies on pragmatic solutions to guide each project’s style. With a portfolio of work ranging from custom furniture and retail installations to architecture and urban design, designs may seem theoretically and geographically scattered, but they ultimately find common ground. So with the ambitious opening “We want to dare to traverse…where we find the thread of connection to link all of our endeavors together,” co-founders Zack McKown and Calvin Tsao, FAIA, began a dizzying retrospective of their partnership. Though the duo identified upwards of a dozen concepts that influence their projects, the ideas that resonated most were the firm’s attention to interconnectivity and spirituality.

The firm is constantly investigating “the soul behind the style,” according to Tsao. For the master plan of Suntec City on the outskirts of Singapore, Tsao & McKown used the mandala as an organizing principle. While the circular form of the mandala has cosmological significance specific to Hindu and Buddhist religions, it also speaks to harmony among scales. In Suntec City, a central water element focuses and links five new buildings with interstitial commercial spaces tying together large and small elements into one system. At the River Lofts Condominium complex in Tribeca, the designers were challenged to provide a different type of linkage — tying together a new residential building with a renovated warehouse. The project provided deep windowsills to give residents “a sense of dimension beyond their domain” said Tsao.

Images of their interiors projects reveal a modern vocabulary tinged with Victorian extravagance. In one project, a series of fabric-draped chandeliers perch above a sculptural atomic sunburst. Another residence features a fluttering of appliquéd butterflies springing from a bedroom headboard to “help the client dream better.” Tsao & McKown has the insight to divine what is human and universal about the design experience, while elevating it to a higher level.

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