Various New York architecture studios have research entities, or labs, which are each unique in their scope, funding and their stakeholders. They do not offer alternative or tangential ways to practice architecture. Instead, these units live and work in the studio context and adhere to the protocols and cultures of architecture offices. They follow similar design-think/problem-solve paradigms but operate with different frameworks and business models, providing different services. They challenge the binary division of client and architect, and are located in a different position in the decision-making process.
Research units like this are growing in number, with architecture studios diversifying their work portfolio in an attempt to amplify their popularity and influence. As a result, architects’ creative and political interests have produced new exploratory platforms with stable financial performance within their business models. Thornton Tomasetti's CORE Studio has collaborated with Autodesk on cutting-edge design software almost since its inception. Snøhetta's brand design unit was commissioned to design Norwegian banknotes, and Prada/AMO, as a design-powerhouse duo, has had significant influence. The field of architectural design, often relegated to intellectual isolation or wrongly commodified, is thus finding innovative ways to detach product and process, and capitalising it in novel and sophisticated ways. Such initiatives seem to have launched the studios concerned into new markets and disciplines, harnessing the transdisciplinary nature of the profession while expanding the scope of their curiosity.
In 2014, I interviewed leading protagonists from successful in-house research units in New York. We discussed their methods and how they manage their financial and human resources. I explored with them what prompted their bold exploration into new, creative territories. This paper presents excerpts from four interviews with: Shogei Shigematsu, OMA/AMO; Richard Olcott, ennead/Lab; Jonatan Schumacher, Thorton Tomasetti/CORE Studio and; Michael Sorkin, Terreform.