INTERVIEW: Architect Andrew Franz, A Modernist But Not a Minimalist
Architect Andrew Franz first caught our eye when we spotted his incredible renovation of a West Village townhouse just months ago. Since then, we’ve often found ourselves ogling his site for design inspiration, further falling in love with his ability to blend the old with the new through thoughtful material choices and a unique use of light and space. It goes without saying Andrew is a standout amongst the city’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of homogeneous architects.
We recently caught up with Andrew to find out about some of his latest projects, how collaboration plays into his process, and how he approaches the design of homes and buildings in a dynamic and storied environment such as New York City. Keep reading to find out what he had to share with us.
Maine Studio; Image courtesy of Andrew Franz Architect, PLLC
Tell us a little bit about your past—where are you from?
Andrew: I grew up in New York, in Brooklyn, in the age of graffiti and looking over your shoulder. I spent most of the summers in Maine. It was the best of both worlds and always adjacent to water. We traveled, hopped the pond a few times, but no grand vacations. I thought New York and cities were the norm.
What made you decide to go into architecture?
Andrew: My mother says I was always building things and creating communities from whatever building blocks were at my disposal. I’ve tried to leave the field a few times to study law or international relations, but then some enticing opportunity arose. The architectural process can be painful, but the results are so rewarding at times. Creating things is fun.
Hudson Street Townhouse; Image © Albert Vecerka/Esto
How would you describe your style?
Andrew: Definitely modernists, but not minimalists. We care greatly about texture, layering and complexity, but that that doesn’t obviate clarity. Design should be simple not muddy. We approach all problems with a fresh perspective and always explore multiple options. I never trust the first solution, though sometimes instinct does prevail and the first option is the best.
Who are some of the architects and designers you admire?
Andrew: That’s difficult and almost a loaded question. I respect so many, but for many different reasons. There are those who craft space, and others who communicate messages or perfect material connections, those who relate to and honor their context; or have built great business models and accomplished great commissions.
Much of the time it’s the craftspeople that I admire the most. I am always drawn to something that has been influenced by the maker or the material, not that machine. I don’t require a handcrafted car or appliance, but a handcrafted environment tells a story. If I have to name a few contemporary firms, Tod Williams Billie Tsien, Herzog & De Meuron, and SHoP all come to mind for different reasons, but they are all exception practices on many levels.
Soho Penthouse; Image © Albert Vecerka/Esto
You’re dabbling in furniture. Can you tell us more about this venture and why you’ve decided to start doing this?
Andrew: We want to be a firm that creates more than just unique one off pieces, whether large or small. We had developed custom furniture in the past, but not much lighting, which we always struggle to find. OTTO by andrew franz is a collection of handcrafted furniture and lighting designed to be easily integrated into all styles of modern living. We’ve seen how better design helps improve our day to day experiences, animating the fundamentals of daily life. Yet high-quality, responsibly produced, and affordable pieces are a true challenge to find.
OTTO pieces; Image © Albert Vecerka/Esto
Building on our work of custom-made furnishings for some of our clients, the OTTO collection brings together original, high-quality and handcrafted design to a larger audience. The collection debuted in May 2014 with the Box Table Series and the Ettore and Alberto Lighting Pendants. It has been well-received and featured in Dwell, Architect, and Domaine, amongst others.
So how is it to go from designing a building to designing the smallest bit that fits inside a building?
Andrew: Worlds apart. I love both, but I find myself more inclined to look at smaller than larger works. I think this circles back to the intimacy and the direct user experience and appreciation of the material and maker. Perhaps that’s why we are developing OTTO.
Palisades House Renovation; Image © Albert Vecerka/Esto
You’ve worked quite a bit with historic structures. What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of approaching a storied building or space?
Andrew: I must admit that I can be quite nostalgic. I recognize the need for progress, but I do resist change. That’s a long way of saying that we appreciate buildings and the lives they have lived, including their battle scars. Our approach to restoration and working in storied spaces is to let the history be as present as possible, not white washed or so heavily restored that it seems new. It’s often challenging to explain to a client why we shouldn’t do something; that it would not be appropriate. Just because one can, either technologically or financially, doesn’t mean one should. Sometimes the imperfect brick and cornice, old windows or patched uneven floors are exactly what makes the building interesting. This is more of a European sensibility. Old buildings are imperfect and uneven. We need to embrace these characteristics as features not liabilities.
One of our projects, which is a great example of this, is a renovation of a Tribeca Loft where we exposed the heavy timbers and original brick of building and repurposed as much material as possible. This project is part of Dwell on Design’s home tours on October 11th.
Is there a project in NYC that you wish you had worked/could work on?
Andrew: Many. New York lost a big opportunity with the Freedom Tower. We would have loved to have worked on the redevelopment of Lincoln Center or any of the new university buildings going up.
Do you have any exciting projects in the pipeline that you’d like to share?
Andrew: Currently we are working on a new office space for an investment firm. The project is a renovation of the top two floors of a space in a historic building into an open and collaborative work environment to nurture an ongoing exchange of ideas. We are performing a feasibility study for a great New York theater company. Additionally, we have several houses underway upstate, in Maine, and on Cape Cod and we are in different phases of several Manhattan apartments and duplexes. We are also proud of our pro-bono work. As part of desigNYC, we are designing and renovating several heavily used classrooms for the non-profit Union Settlement Association, an on-the-ground resource for East Harlem residents. Our project will be included in desigNYC’s retrospective and final exhibit at the Centre for Social Innovation on November 6th.
We are developing several new pieces for OTTO by andrew franz and, personally, I’m working on an inspiring project called Juliette. She turned 7 months, yesterday. This one is long term!
Andrew Franz’s work featured on 6sqft:
Architect Andrew Franz Restored This West Village Townhouse to its Historic Glory
And even more of Andrew’s work can be seen here.