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Cambridge Architecture Firm Aamodt Plumb is Radically Holistic in Life and Work

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Mette Aamodt and Andrew Plumb in their Cambridge studio. Photo by <a href="">Simon Simard</a>.
Mette Aamodt and Andrew Plumb in their Cambridge studio. Photo by Simon Simard.

Husband and wife team Mette Aamodt and Andrew Plumb, who met while students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, got their first break in 2007, when a potential client asked them to create an ambitious beach house in East Quogue, in the Hamptons. They worried that they had "bit off much more than [they] could chew," as Plumb puts it.

"The inclination could have been to play it safe and do what we're comfortable with," which meant to pass and continue working at their respective firms. "But we really tried to push ourselves. That's carried through in all our jobs," notes Plumb. They went ahead, and simultaneously launched their firm, Aamodt Plumb.

Amodt, 41, and Plumb, 40, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have since created a handsome body of work that mixes tradition and modernity, clean lines with time-tested techniques and materials. The result is no-nonsense, comfortable, approachable, and accessible—much like the architects themselves. They strive for transparency and make a conscious effort to have a healthy live/work balance.

Employees at Aamodt Plumb work 40-hour weeks, enjoy flex time, and receive retirement benefits. "We can really design our lives and design it for the way we want to live," says Aamodt. "It's really not groundbreaking, but in this industry it kind of is." This attention to live/work balance was solidified when Aamodt was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2002. "We realized what was important," said Aamodt. "I was not going to be able to keep up the pace and stay healthy."

Photo by Simon Simard.

The firm's holistic approach extend to clients as well. On their website they distribute a free guide, How to Hire an Architect, which demystifies the "complex" and "frightening" process through nine key points, including searching for an architect, understanding their process, and figuring out fees.

"Very few people understand what we do and what value it has," notes Aamodt. "There is a huge lack of information and a lot of mis-information."

The Beach House in East Quogue was Aamodt Plumb's breakout project. Photo by Jane Messinger courtesy Aamodt Plumb.

This kind of rich simplicity reflects the couple's Scandinavian ancestry, which they say helps ground and inspire them. The two-level Hamptons house consists of overlapping concrete rectangles, carved out with living spaces and framing views of the ocean. It's not clad; just left as-is, a minimalist reflection of the environment, especially because much of the sand used in the concrete was locally sourced. Along the building's flanks, the duo created variety with ornamental steel screens that lend privacy as well as protection from storms. Their intricate delicacy offsets the heaviness of the concrete.

The Beach House in East Quogue. Photo courtesy Aamodt Plumb.

The Scandinavian influence shows again in projects like their renovation of three modernist barns in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Adapted into homes in the 1950's, the structures had been cluttered with an eclectic renovation in the '90s. The couple pared back that job, inserting warm wood screens, ash floors, and an open kitchen, and "scraping away the additions to clarify its soul," Plumb says.

A prefab house in Austin. Photos courtesy Aamodt Plumb.

A prefab home in Austin consists of a single story living space in front and a two-story bar-shaped structure for bedrooms in back. (To build the structure, they poured the foundations at the same time as the envelope was being built offsite, keeping total construction time down to one year.) Spatial intrigue comes in the interplay between volumes and the use of simple, warm materials. One of them, charred wood, is an example of the firm's initiatives to use old techniques in a contemporary way.

"We see too many materials that are ten years old that seem great until they're awful. There's a reason these older things have been around for so long," says Aamodt.

For their competition-winning temporary warming hut in Winnipeg, Canada, the firm created a tactile, "primitive experience," with charred wood cladding and a fire pit surrounded by felt lining inside. A guesthouse in Texas utilizes limestone in several ways, from monolithic blocks to tapered veneer, as if it were woven like fabric. A steel trellis behind a Victorian House in Cambridge—modeled after the form of a carport— provides a structure for creeping vines and encloses an outdoor space.

"It's a way of using a material as a launching point and seeing what we can do with it," says Plumb, of these investigations.

Photo by Simon Simard.

Moving forward the firm is working on creative office and university work in Cambridge, and an ad agency inside a former mill in Manchester, New Hampshire. They only take on work that has meaning for them.

"We have to think about how we make use of our energy and time," says Aamodt.

Photo by Simon Simard.

· Aamodt Plumb [official]
· Introducing Curbed's 2015 Class of Groundbreakers [Curbed]
· Groundbreakers 2015 [Curbed]