Event: New Practices 2010 Winner Presentations: MANIFOLD.ArchitectureStudio and SOFTlab
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.25.11 & 02.03.11
Speakers: Michael Szivos — Principal/Director, SOFTlab; Philipp von Dalwig, LEED AP — Co-Founder & Principal, MANIFOLD.ArchitectureStudio
Sponsors: Lead Sponsors: Dornbracht, MG & Company Construction Managers/General Contractors; Valiant Technology; Sponsors: Espasso, Hafele and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Media Sponsor: The Architect’s Newspaper
SOFTlab and MANIFOLD.ArchitectureStudio (MAS) may be both emerging firms with capitalization-laden names, but their philosophies and portfolios appear to be polar opposites. However, principals from each firm agree that they strive to avoid labels associated with a particular design style.
“We are very concerned with the parts and pieces,” explained SOFTlab Principal Michael Szivos of the firm’s design approach, which is fueled by perpetual experimentation. SOFTlab designs many websites and logos, but is best known for creating installations that alter viewers’ perceptions of color and space. Szivos and his colleagues write customized computer scripts that instruct a CNC milling machine to cut complex pieces, which are then assembled into three-dimensional forms. SOFTlab recently designed and installed CHROMAtex.me, a colorful vortex that seemed to suck viewers from the street into a storefront gallery. “The beautiful part is on the inside,” according to Szivos. The sculpture was constructed of white laser-cut panels lined with photo inkjet paper, attached together via thousands of binder clips.
MAS, on the other hand, depends less on technology, creating simple diagrams at the outset of a project to offer clients multiple design options. Though the firm occasionally collaborates with branding and graphic designers, it primarily designs practical, clean interiors for NYC apartments. A theme throughout the firm’s work is the integration of custom, built-in millwork, or “living walls” as Co-founder and Principal Philipp von Dalwig calls them. These thick walls conserve space while accommodating several programmatic elements. For example, when MAS designed the conversion of a former synagogue into the Hirschkron/Camacho penthouse apartment, it created a white-paneled wall to conceal stairs, a wine cooler, media storage, and a powder room.
Von Dalwig believes that clients are drawn to his firm’s straightforward design approach, which he describes as “more European than American.” However, he admitted that he avoids a signature look for fear “of being labeled.” Szivos shares this sentiment, echoing that his firm “pushes back against having a certain style.” Instead, he insists that the work embodies an attitude.