On Not Blending In: A Conversation with Stephen Conte of STUDIOSC

Bar Prima on the Upper East Side, a recently completed renovation by Greenpoint-based design firm, STUDIOSC. Photo: STUDIOSC

Bar Prima on the Upper East Side, a recently completed renovation by Greenpoint-based design firm, STUDIOSC. Photo: STUDIOSC

Before the Greenpoint-based architecture firm STUDIOSC relocated to its own office recently, the team was based at The Yard, the co-working space that Brooklyn Based uses as its home base. The design firm, which includes architect Stephen Conte, interior designer Carolina Escobar and architect Irene Blazquez, have what Conte calls a shared belief in the “contextual philosophy of design,” preferring to work with existing materials as much as possible. Here he describes his favorite buildings in Brooklyn, and the delicate balance of building new residences in rapidly changing neighborhoods.

You say you disregard a stylistic approach, yet in your projects you seem to have an affinity for exposed brick, glass, steel and hardwoods, and geometric shapes. If you had to pin down your aesthetic, how would you describe it? What styles appeal to you?

I think several of our projects have had existing exposed brick, so in keeping with a contextual philosophy of design, we work within the materials we have in front of us.  If you see the house in Medellin, Colombia we designed, it is in a forest and is utilizes a terraced plan approach with concrete and warm wood as the main materials.  We also have to update our website badly, as we have about 12 new projects to show, that are new buildings and renovations.  I think when our more recent work is up on the site, one can see our more diverse approach and our commitment to remain contextual.

You’ve done a few warehouse conversions in Brooklyn. As an architect working in a rapidly gentrifying borough, do you feel a responsibility toward creating buildings and facades that blend in, or beautify the neighborhood? 

I think it’s a delicate balance. In the end, architecture should carry a sense of beauty to it and never blend in, so to speak.  You can respect a neighborhoods context and surroundings, but if you attempt to blend in, you really are just creating a false image.  With warehouse conversions (adaptive re-use), I believe you can keep the existing shell of the building, but your renovation should create a dialogue with the past, creating a visual history of what was there and what was created within.

What is more fun to work on–residential or commercial spaces?

We really enjoy both, equally.

Do you have an all-time favorite building, or buildings in Brooklyn? What are they and why?

Brooklyn has some amazing old and new buildings and spaces that are known and some lesser known. Older buildings, there’s just too many to name, so I’ll list a few of my favorite newer projects in no particular order: The Kickstarter headquarters in Greenpoint by Ole Sondresen, the Higgins Hall center addition by Steven Holl, the Wythe Hotel, Kinfolk Studios Space, there’s really quite a few but I’ll stop here. A lot of talent has been expressed in the borough in the very recent past.

You’ve probably worked with a range of easy to difficult clients. When a business owner or a person hires you–or any architect–to reimagine and redesign their space, do you have any advice for how to make the process go as smoothly as possible?  

Come into the process with a realistic sense of time, budget and most importantly what you want to accomplish. Sometimes a simpler approach is better.

What was it like to run your firm at The Yard?

Working at The Yard was amazing, and we currently have moved on to our own office space, but The Yard really was what helped us get to the point we are at now. It gave us the flexibilty to grow with all of the infrastructure of starting a business in place.

What are you working on now, and what’s in the pipeline?

We are incredibly busy now, and had a few really nice projects finish up. Bar Prima on the Upper East Side and Brooklyn Desks in Bushwick are two commercial projects that just finished up, and we have some great brownstone renovations in Park Slope nearing completion, as well as a church conversion in East Williamsburg. There are also a few larger multi-family residential projects that we’ve started to work on but too early to jump into those. We have a great staff and creative clients, and we are enjoying everything that’s come our way so far.

This interview is part of a series of sponsored profiles on businesses that operate out of The Yard, a co-working space on the Williamsburg/Greenpoint border with outposts on the LES and NoMad (5th Ave. at 27th St.).