Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
An emerging architecture firm that specializes in designing projects for higher education
This is the first installment of "Portfolio of the Week," a weekly peek inside an architecture firm producing interesting work in the U.S. or abroad.
Less than a decade old, architecture firm ikon.5 has quickly become an award-winning practice that focuses on designing higher education and cultural facilities. Based out of Princeton, New Jersey, their portfolio includes work for Schindler Elevator Corporation, Louis Vuitton, Monmouth Battlefield State Park and others.
We asked one of ikon.5's principals, Joseph Tattoni, about the firm and their approach to design work:
What would you say are the major forces behind the changing visual language in ikon5’s designs since its start?
ikon.5 was founded in 2003. The principals that founded the firm have been working together [at a previous firm] since the 1990’s. The major forces behind the changing visual language was the freedom afforded having one’s own firm and exploring design challenges and opportunities in new ways.
ikon.5 recently submitted a proposal for a visitor’s center and urban park in Newark. What are the biggest difficulties that emerge when designing a public space?
The biggest difficulties in designing public space is scale. At the urban level, the intervention has to be robust enough it fit within the scale of the city; yet at the pedestrian level it has to be intimate enough for the casual visitor or citizen to be comfortable in using the space.
The firm seems to specialize in higher education facilities. How was that reputation developed?
About 70 percent of our practice is in designing facilities for higher education. We have been fortunate to develop and nurture college and university clients who are looking for design excellence and devoted performance throughout the design and construction process. Responsiveness is key to strong client relationships.
Your campus housing and community center at Arizona State University looks particularly southwestern. Are there challenges for a Mid-Atlantic firm in designing something for a culture that has different aesthetic norms?
It is easy for architects to assimilate to a regional design aesthetic and develop forms, colors and textures that are of the place. For us, it was more difficult to understand the specific building construction detailing that is different in the southwest from the Mid-Atlantic. Our local architectural partners often assist us in developing that understanding.
ikon.5 has also done work for private companies. Are there obvious differences in public and private sector clients?
Private sector clients typically tend to have a more streamlined approval process. The committee that designs the project with the architect is typically smaller and very decisive.
The firm seems to place a strong emphasis on different forms of art when approaching work. How does this influence ikon.5’s style?
Art and architecture historically are inextricably tied together. Painting, sculpture, literature, music, etc. often serve as inspiration for exploring architectural themes. Creating an artistic expression, free of the realities of a program and site, serves as an initial tool to explore the deeper metaphoric and philosophical underpinnings to solving a problem.