Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do
Matthew Peek and Renata Ancona: We are an architect duo that uses global challenges as a catalyst for innovative design. Using research as a foundation for inventing new architectural forms, we believe that the practical application of visionary architecture is accomplished by superimposing the future on the past. For example, our current work on cutting edge flood-proof buildings was spurred by a Fulbright to Venice researching a thousand years of waterfront urbanism. Our designs push the boundaries of the possible, with a leitmotif of “floating” structures, ranging from experimental molded structures to efficient prefab technologies enabling hazard-resistant architecture.
Novedge: You both studied architecture in Italy and in the United States. What are the main differences and similarities between the two countries’ approach to architecture?
Matthew Peek and Renata Ancona: In Italy, the public sees you like a doctor, people on the street call you “architetto.” You are providing a service to the community, regardless of your style. In America, the public sees you like an artist, offering a valuable canvas. Both views are valid, and both countries strongly support individual expression, though they have very different modes of balancing competition with collaboration to attain artistic expression. It is ultimately a conundrum since both individual expression and team collaboration are essential in architecture. Our motto is a quote from Indira Gandhi: “My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was less competition there.”
Novedge: How do you collaborate and divide the work between the two of you?
Matthew Peek and Renata Ancona: It’s all collaboration, no division. When you truly work as a team, the amount of work you can produce is exponential. Having worked with firms of all sizes, we believe that a few people working efficiently are stronger than a big team – too many cooks spoil the broth. The world is so small now that a firm can quickly expand and contract to meet any project size with the correct balance of international consultants and collaborators.
Novedge: Your company focuses on flood proofing and recently even won an AIACC Design Award and a FEMA Best Practice Award. Can you share with our readers your top advice on designing a flood proof building?
Matthew Peek and Renata Ancona: Employ a combination of innovative technology and ancient methodologies. Use the challenge of flood proofing to your advantage: it might seem like an additional layer of design, but an innovative building can double your property value, not to mention providing amazing views. Think of flood proofing in terms of mitigation: let nature take its course – most hazard zones will need a day or two of resistance, so minimize resistance and let the water through. Think of flood proofing in terms of overall structure, but also in the details: a small amount of moisture could be worse than a tsunami, it’s all in the details.
Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?
Matthew Peek and Renata Ancona: Our “Flood-Proof House” in Stinson Beach, CA, is ironically one of our most modest and most recognized projects. Unlike a larger commercial structure, budget can be a significant issue for a second home on the beach. So, the design is almost completely rectilinear, except for the lightning bolt stair. The overall house imparts a quiet floating aesthetic, but the architectural engineering is actually very complex. While this house was less than 1,000 sf, we are currently starting construction on a version ten times the size in New Jersey, using a similar poetry of calm as a response to Hurricane Sandy. One of our most recent and unusual innovations is devising architecture with woven and heat-molded recycled materials. We are proposing using CAD-CAM technology to create a streamlined construction process, based on aerodynamic, ultra-lightweight molded forms. The genius in the overall structure is a combination of lightness and continuous distribution of loads enabling it to transmit extremely low weight on each foundation. Actually, each foundation location ends up being more of a tie down since the structure is almost floating, which is really exciting, virtually obviating the cost of deep foundations.
Novedge: What software do you use?
Matthew Peek and Renata Ancona: Change is so rapid and there are so many consultants involved, that there isn’t one fair answer. Unlike twenty years ago, today there are a number of quality modeling and drafting programs, so an architect needs to understand how to use more than one. Also, different clients are willing to retain you for different types of software, which also makes the answer open. We do have an architectural wish as professors: let’s start inverting the trend of building singular, integrated models. Currently, too many students build a 3-D model, then generate 2-D architectural drawings without seriously studying each drawing independently. Today, we could push the digital envelope further by transforming a hand movement or sketch into a 3-D model, and physically manipulating the model through a hologram. The best place for this digital research is within the university, where projects have no restraints.
Novedge: Do you have any advice for people who are looking to hiring an architect for the first time?
Matthew Peek and Renata Ancona: We recommend selecting an architect with a wide range of experience in project type and location. There has been a tendency in the last few decades of increasing specialization, but, hands down, the best and most creative architects do it all.
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If it's not in the actual 3D modeling and sketching, where is the real difference between the two programs?