Bureau V is easily one of the most exciting and eclectic young design firms working in New York.
The Williamsburg-based firm is led by principals Stella Lee, 38, Laura Trevino, 34, and Peter Zuspan, 36, and their diverse portfolio includes not only architecture but furniture design, fashion, performance, graphic art, video production, web design, event production, installation, and still more.
Each project has a sense of daring energy and textured synthesis that is indicative of the firm’s incessant striving to “stay creative,” as Lee puts it, in any way they can. They constantly make up small projects to keep them busy, whether they’re working on others, or if there’s no work at all.
”It’s a schizophrenic focus. Grounding our work in things outside of architecture has been very fruitful,” says Zuspan. “Once the architect was the polymath. We’re supposed to know all this stuff to some degree to be able to create it and shape it.”
Lee, who studied undergraduate and graduate architecture at Columbia University, originally wanted to study fine arts and took a year off to study fashion in Paris at Studio Berçot. Zuspan also received his architecture degrees from Columbia, and spent ample time there learning opera singing.
Trevino, who holds a bachelor’s degree from the Instituto Tecnologico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey and a Master of Science Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia, is considered the most practical one, but she’s still passionate about diverse interests, from furniture to fashion.
The principals, who had separately worked at firms like Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Asymptote, started working together in 2007 after receiving a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council grant to explore large scale architectural drawings and videos.
They then dove into collaborations with artists that have included (among others) creating display systems for fashion designer Mary Ping’s clothing line, Slow and Stead Wins the Race; partnering with musician Arto Lindsay on several interactive performance pieces; designing a clothing line with fashion brand Byco; working with Assume Vivid Astro Focus on an improvised dance piece; and with LA-based theater company Early Morning Opera on a set for a (unrealized) piece inspired by Buckminster Fuller.
”We’re going to art events. We’re working with friends. It’s something we want to keep doing for the life of our studio,” says Zuspan of their various-scaled partnerships.
The firm’s big architecture break came in 2008, when Williamsburg-based nonprofit Original Music Workshop tapped them to design their experimental performance space, National Sawdust. (The nonprofit, which focuses on emerging talent, now takes the name National Sawdust.) Seven years later the facility is finally open.
Bureau V maintained the original brick envelope of the industrial building (Assume Vivid Astro Focus added a wonderfully colorful mural), but inside they offset it with a dark, jagged, and glossy lobby, and a bright, fractured, jewel-like chamber music hall clad in a textured, backlit composite system that is anything but a black box. Advanced acoustics were developed by Arup. “It wanted to be a memorable space, a spectacle, that was indicative of the youthful energy of the project,” says Lee.
The team is also designing an adjoining restaurant, which will be run by James Beard-winning chef Patrick Connolly. Around the corner, they’re working on a mixed-use residential project, 76 North 6th Street, whose facade is wrapped in perforated aluminum composite panels, arranged in diagonal strips.
Moving (as always) outside of architecture, they’re now working beyond the traditional designer-client model. They’re marketing their own white neon and black marble chandeliers inspired by National Sawdust (offsetting the commercial connotation of neon with pristine, high end, veined black marble), developing a chair based on musicians’ ergonomics, and creating new 3D web projects. And that’s just the beginning.
”We’re not waiting for the next client to knock on the door,” says Trevino.