In a previous post we stated that the future of architecture is incredibly effulgent. The young up-and-coming and aspiring designers of this generation are nothing short of remarkable. For months we’ve been searching for a particular person to feature on the blog. An individual that is both creative and ambitious, to say the least.
One day I stumbled across a blog…the extraordinary kind. The kind of blog you find yourself viewing multiple times a day with hopes that you will find an endless stream of tantalizing information to consume. The blog in question, BiltBlog, was never a disappointment.
After several correspondences I learned that its author is a promising architect in New York. Michael Archer, and his dear friend Raphael de la Fontaine, are young architects with an insatiable appetite for design. Currently working at separate firms, the two dream of someday creating a firm together, a firm they will call RFMA. RFMA is the sobriquet for this design duo. Having constructed several projects together, their work emulates multiple styles including both traditional and modern architecture. I had the extraordinary pleasure of picking their brains about their lives as designers in 2011 and beyond.
Ludlow: How do you view your own/the current generation of designers?
RFMA: We find our current generation astounding. To be a part of the unprecedented situation that is the 21st century as young designers is both terrifying and liberating. How we collectively handle our approach to such a scenario is what will certainly set those that graduated in the new millennium apart from their predecessors. And while we are certainly amongst a vast field of colleagues Raphael and I have occupied much of our time defining the perspective we share as aspiring architects.
Ludlow: What are your aspirations for the future? Where do you see yourselves in the years to come?
RFMA: We operate under the moniker RFMA and are hoping to see those letters hanging in the window of our own office one day. And perhaps that’s where we’d start when giving advice to those who ask of it; don’t be afraid to verbalize your dream. If you want to open an office then share that dream with the world. If you want to manage large projects at an elite firm then say so. By declaring what we aspire to we’ve been able to help each other plan steps toward smaller goals along the way. Opening your own practice surely starts with a meaningful education that you take seriously and treasure. We pushed each other through school, always talking about the moves we were planning in our projects. We pushed each other to enjoy life and strike a balance between work and pleasure. I’ll never forget swimming in the ocean off of Mexico while talking about the concept behind a skyscraper we were designing. There aren’t many people you can do that with.
Ludlow: What advice would you give the next generation of aspiring designers, especially with it being so difficult to find a job in our current economic situation?
RFMA: …The reality of the economic crisis shouldn’t discourage those about to graduate. Establish a relationship with the people you want to work for and keep that line of communication open long before you graduate. We tried several approaches to getting hired and found that the ratio of input to output is incredibly one-to-one. Those classified ads you send a generic cover letter and work samples to will very rarely result in a phone call from a prospective employer. However, those people we took the time to write sincerely to and send work we felt they would really appreciate ended up getting in touch with us after some follow-up calls. If your school has any form of open house for local firms or a career day of some sorts it would be foolish to not attend. Remember that we’re part of a wave of people with methodologies, thought processes, technical skills and role models that are fresh and inspiring. You are valuable, you have something to contribute, and someone will truly value you; you’ll just have to fight hard for the chance to show them.
Ludlow: What are your lives like as up-and-coming architects in New York?
RFMA: The struggle continues. The trick is to not let it overshadow the real reason we’re all doing this; the architecture. We’re both enjoying our positions in the firms we’re a part of right now. Raphael is designing international projects and transforming parts of Asia with KPF and I’m designing residential projects in the newly rezoned portions of New York with GF55 Partners. The schedules are hectic, the work is both demanding and intimidatingly challenging at times, but the amount of knowledge to be gained is literally limitless. In order to keep testing the professional relationship we want to pursue we’ve been entering competitions and designing projects after work and on weekends (of course, and most importantly, keeping our social lives bright and healthy) in order to develop a workflow, strategy, and collection of projects between the two of us. We see this as the beginning of our office. Though it seems exhausting on the surface to put another 20 hours per week into projects outside of our respective office it’s something that we enjoy doing. Designing something and imagining the role that it might one day play in the lives of so many people makes us happy. Perhaps that’s why we all do what we do.
Featured RFMA Project: In a recent competition the duo, with location-based help from Matt Zambelli, designed a program in Tikal, Guatemala. The project is a hostel and museum in the heart of the Guatemalan jungle.
Located deep within the forest of Tikal, Guatemala are the ruins of the most prosperous ancient Mayan city. The act of ascension is deeply embedded into Mayan religious and social culture and the evidence of its importance at Tikal is astonishing. We wanted to respond to their existing architectural expression regarding this experience by further enhancing it. The two main programs of the project, a hostel for visitors and an archaeological museum, are both distinguished and integrated by a main Grand Staircase. This staircase serves as an axis along which visitors ascend from the floor of the jungle up to the very top of the city podium. Certain moments allow connection from this reimagined causeway to the exhibit spaces within the museum as well as the main hostel entrance and a cut through to a scenic nature trail along the very edge of the city’s podium.
At all instances we focused on the effects of changing the experience through stratification. The shifts in section throughout the surrounding ancient buildings showcase the powerful potential this technique has. The hostel section evidences a shift in publicity tied to the terraces oriented towards the jungle. The rise in section through the museum evidences an increase of focus and permanence associated with the collections on display. As one ascends the staircase and natural trail systems they approach the base of the Tikal podium (level with the very highest point of our new intervention so as to not subvert the importance of the old city’s position).
The act of redefining contextual framework is something that Rafi and I as architectural professionals strive to do with our work. Perhaps more importantly is the ability to do this as a person with each new project you conceive. Tikal has certainly been cast in a new light for us after making this proposal. We hope the same holds true for those who view our work. – RFMA
All photos courtesy of © Michael Archer, Raphael de la Fontaine & MLZ Design