A TALK WITH GRZYWINSKI+PONS
Photography by Brian W. Ferry
Grzywinski+Pons is a New York City based practice led by architects Matthew Grzywinski and Amador Pons. Their practice is committed to design excellence predicated on quality, beauty, innovation and a rigorous approach to detail. Their trademark is keeping the office structured so as to personally maintain a real direct and visceral connection with their projects. We went to visit their Soho studio to get to know them better and had a chat with Matthew.
How did you meet each other?
Amador and I met through mutual friends while we were both studying at separate universities.
How did you came up with the idea of Grzywinski+Pons?
Interestingly neither of us were seeking a partner and never really had a plan to work together. I always considered myself a lone wolf, and thought I worked best alone. In the US, after architecture school you’re supposed to pay your dues by working for other practices for a couple of decades. I think we both, respectively, were a little too impatient for that. Most colleagues got a job in good practices after school but we, independently, didn’t want to be on that very sensible but long track. Amador wanted to learn how to build, so he ended up working on the development side, and I went traveling abroad avoiding getting a proper job and “furthering my education”. I wasn’t a trust fund kid, so reality did eventually kick in. Amador and I kept in touch and when I was back in New York he got in contact as an opportunity had come up. We were asked to pitch an idea and just sort of went for it. The project was based on executable reality, and we actually got the job against all odds. When we realized how well we worked together and how our differences augmented our work product Grzywinski+Pons was born out of that project.
How would you define your approach to architecture?
I think our shared disinclination to follow the traditional route for — well, just about anything — was probably the first thing that led Amador and I to go into practice together and helps define our approach to architecture as well. We’ve always felt the need to forge our own path, while trying to avoid the pitfalls of ignorance and arrogance and maintaining a reverence for the past. Though it can often be the long way around, we’ve also stumbled upon great shortcuts too. This perspective isn’t always smooth sailing, but it’s well suited for disruptive thinking. When you’ve never been content not to do something for yourself, it fosters resourcefulness which helps in making the best of a tight budget, or turning municipal constraints into design opportunities. It also forces us to weed out chasing novelty for its own sake. We often find ourselves internally debating the pursuit of the aesthetic over the practical and this tension is constructive towards our quest to try to avoid having to make the choice.
You have designed many hotels. Which are the essential secrets of a perfect hospitality project?
I think the most sensitive aspect in hotel design is getting the mix of local or contextual influence right, remaining authentic and respectful without feeling throttled, or subscribing to prescriptive norms.
We like to walk the line where it is still an inclusive experience for guests, and ideally does something simultaneously for the neighborhood. I think good hotels do that well — they aren’t just a tap draining the soul out of a place for people to come and consume. We hope they can be places for cultural exchange, a two-way street where the community can benefit from the travelers as well. Sometimes a hotel — like a cultural institution — can be a lightning rod to crystallize the creative output of a place, so that it’s available for visitors to appreciate and, in effect, that process deepens the sense of identity in a place from both perspectives.
What place does sustainability hold in your approach to design?
Sustainability is incredibly important to us. We think about it at every level – from “fabric first” approaches to building siting and envelopes and fenestration right through to material selection in our interiors. We learn a lot from our consultants as well on the M+E front as technology keeps improving environmental performance. We are keen however to avoid having our architecture wear its green credentials on its sleeve. We aim to have sustainability be part of the inherent nature of the project rather than relegated to conspicuous gestures like arrays of PV’s or wind turbines.
When did you first hear about Mutina?
I lived in Italy for a little while and i remember seeing some tile I loved in Milan and doing a little research on their provenance and discovered Mutina that way.
Do you have a favorite collection?
That’s tough as we love a lot of them. I might have to say Pico though – the subtle combination of the graphic and the textural is so nice and the dots have an almost hand drawn quality to them.
If you could use Mutina ceramic tiles in an unusual place, which one would it be?
Fortunately this isn’t just a hypothetical question! We have just specified some Mutina tiles on a portion of an infill facade on a current project.