Carlos Rodriguez Interview
Zak SITS DOWN WITH Carlos Rodriguez-Infanzón, Principal of Rodriguez Studio Architecture PC
We love graceful, uncomplicated design that just feels right, works right, looks great-now and in 50 years- from a piece of furniture, to a room, to a house, to a city.
Our architecture uses materials in compelling, inventive ways that are cost effective and transcendent.
We take the particular constraints-physical, financial, and programmatic-of each project to generate opportunities to create architecture that embodies the goals of each project.
We use evolving software technologies, spatial explorations-physical and digital, knowledge of established and new building practices, material investigations, intense analysis, and systematic compilation of project benchmark data, to bring projects from concept to reality.
In terms of the environment, we believe in being part of the solution, we believe in integrating energy efficiency and sustainable technologies at all scales be it an interior renovation or an entire building.
Rodríguez Studio is a widely published firm with offices in NYC. Founded in 2004, our work includes adaptive re-use of buildings and spaces particularly in the residential and retail sectors and our theoretical work includes high performance ground up homes, public works, and master planning.
Zak/1625: “Let’s start with the project : ‘House 153’ , what an interesting space , what can you tell us about how that came to be ?”
Rodriguez: “It’s funny, that’s one of the few projects, where the clients essentially found us sort of randomly. They basically stumbled upon our work on the internet, they reached out to us, we had a few discussions about what they wanted to do and something clicked in the process.
At the end of the day, I think the clients chose us more because of the personal rapport that we had developed than, say, our portfolio, and that proved to be very important, because that job essentially was a journey.
The building was in poor condition, estate condition, and needed a lot of work. Initially the client had fairly orthodox ideas about what the final outcome might look like, but as the plan options began to unfold, the entire home began to be reimagined.
By the end of the design stage the client became far more open to a more modern style, which we all felt very comfortable working towards, and it wasn’t just about being more contemporary, it was about doing something appropriate and interesting.
The client thankfully was very enthusiastic about engaging in a conversation about simplicity and about how to make the most out of what already existed while making essentially as few moves as possible.
With regards to the lines in the ceiling in the attic, it was mostly about taking what was already there and then working in tandem with the woodworker to get it right. It was always going to be a play-room, so we figured we’d soften it up and allow the play of the ceiling’s geometry to come through. “
Zak/1625: “You’ve done quite a few apartment combinations, there’s been a lot of talk recently in the NY Times etc., about the increase in apartment combination projects in the city, what can you tell us about the opportunities and challenges inherent in these kinds of projects?”
Rodriguez: “Combinations are interesting and I think we’re going to see more and more of them. Most are horizontally-oriented, for obvious reasons, buildings historically have been hesitant to allow for vertical combinations, largely because of perceived structural constraints, but I think we’re going to see more and more buildings allowing for those as well.
Apartment combinations sometimes bring forth other fun opportunities. For example, we had a really fun project that dealt with multiple generations in a single family. In this particular instance, we had a couple, living with their daughter and a pied-a-terre where the grandparents stayed, and the challenge was how to connect the spaces while giving the parents of the daughter their own space and privacy.
An idea emerged that perhaps the kitchen would become the “crossroads”. Creative applications of doors and impermanent partitions allowed for dynamic use throughout. The idea was that on a Sunday morning , the family can come together and talk and meet at the kitchen and have meaningful interaction there , but then they’d also have their own spaces.
Zak/1625: “Talk to me about light?"
Rodriguez: “We’re big fans of skylights. We’re big fans of orienting windows properly. Window positioning and location can be critical, for example in House 153 , we brought in windows above the cabinets which allowed even more light to access the home. We also use light to connect spaces. Light, when properly positioned can garner a feeling of amplitude.
Zak/1625: “Your practice seems to have a particular approach to the connection between public vs. private spaces?”
Rodriguez: “I think it’s important, in fact it may even just be a default human proclivity to delineate which spaces are going to be more private versus areas that will be more public. This of course is just an extension of the idea that different areas in a home generally are for different kinds of activities, cooking, bathing etc.
Public spaces often want to include a feature material, evoke a sense of openness, while clients sometimes want their bedrooms to be cozier, more confined, frequently incorporating softer materials. This includes acoustics as well of course.
NYC of course is very unique. Public outdoor space is at a premium, so frequently, we have people trying to mimic outdoor space in their own private environment, so sometimes we get rather confined entrance spaces and then things open up more in the back of the home or apartment. Additionally, NYC’s outdoor space, when it does exist, in a backyard for example, is in the rear of the property, some of this is because of the noise, possible trash, and at one point in time in this city, the prevalence of crime, on the sidewalks, so then the backyards or rear gardens became more the focus of private space.”
Zak/1625: “If you weren’t in NYC, where else might you consider working?”
Rodriguez: “I wouldn’t mind working in Spain. I was recently in Barcelona, and although Gaudi is exceptional, I’m more into, say, The Barcelona Pavillion, that’s just something I’ve wanted to visit for many years. There’s just a lot of ambition in Spanish architecture, particularly in Barcelona. Everything has a little bit of art in it, even the newer social housing.
Sometimes I think about places as near as like, upstate New York, maybe somewhere near a nice body of fresh water.
Zak/1625: “Who’s work would you say has most affected your thinking or process?”
Rodriguez: One of the reasons for my recent visit to Barcelona, was Mies Van Der Rohe. I’d say, I might try to be a bit more exuberant perhaps, but I’m a huge believer in doing as much as you can with as little as possible. There’s really something to be said, I think, about showing some restraint, I’m always impressed when something evocative or amazing can be created with very few steps.
Zak/1625: What's one of your favorite environments in NYC manmade or otherwise and why?
Rodriguez: “One of the reasons for my recent visit to Barcelona, was Mies Van Der Rohe. I’d say, I might try to be a bit more exuberant perhaps, but I’m a huge believer in doing as much as you can with as little as possible. There’s really something to be said, I think, about showing some restraint, I’m always impressed when something evocative or amazing can be created with very few steps.
Zak/1625: “What are your favorite eras or periods in architectural history”
Rodriguez: “Growing up in Europe, I think I’ve always had a fascination with history and with really ancient themes. At one point in my youth I thought I might even go into history, as a career, obviously that’s not what I ended up doing, but really old stuff, ruins and such, things that have been around for thousands of years, I find that stuff extremely cool. Perhaps not to the same extreme, but my parents for example live in a house that’s 350 years old, and of course it always sounds more fun to work with a space that old than it actually is, due to the challenges inherent in working with materials that are compromised, and sometimes with approaches to construction that few people know how to execute these days.
But in terms of eras, I’m just really interested in anything that’s done well.
Zak/1625: “Some of your favorite structures?”
Rodriguez: “In NYC: I think the new Calatrava building down the street is remarkable, it’s ambition is astounding. In NYC we often end up chasing the lowest common denominator, or chasing whatever might be the most profitable in the short term, and that doesn’t always lead to the most inspiring architecture. Not that I’m super “pro-ornament”, but there’s something to be said for making something beautiful, or quirky.
I like buildings that question how you live or how you approach things.
I like clean lines. I like function.
Zak/1625: “What’s something that you’re passionate about outside of architecture?”
Rodriguez: “I do a lot of competitive sailing, when I can. I’m personally drawn to the physics of it, I like the idea of using natural forces to move something, but I’m also very attracted to the competitive aspect of it. To race, offshore, for days at a time, like Newport to Bermuda for example.“