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interview: architect matthew grzywinski

Edited by: Cator Sparks
on May 15th, 2012
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New York can be a funny place to meet people. I have know Matthew for years but usually when I see him I am three sheets to the wind and it’s a high five, “how you doin’’ and I twirl away. So when I actually sat next to him at a dinner party I was rather embarrassed that I had no idea he is an extremely well known and respected architect. (My booze must excuse me Matthew!)

Grzywinski + Pons is the firm he founded with Amador Pons in 2002 and the duo have designed residences and hotels all over the five boroughs of New York including the much buzzed about Nolitan Hotel, the first luxury hotel in Nolita. Matthew is also an accomplished speaker, critic and contributor to think tanks and summits world wide. 

After our dinner I redeemed myself by sitting down with Grzywinski and hearing more about his work, hobbies and adventures. 

When do you first remember being excited about architecture?

 I suppose I can't remember a time when I wasn't excited about architecture - though I am quite sure my nascent interest predated any awareness of architecture with a capital A. I think it was a conflation of a love to draw, a love of what I later identified as the “built environment” (especially cities) and the satisfaction in having a physical manifestation of one's efforts. I remember being around five years old drawing crude approximations of plans and sections of a subterranean complex that connected my cellar with that of my best friend who lived down the street replete with weapons caches, a soccer field, swimming pool, escape hatches… essentially a grossly overgrown pillow fort.

 Do you have a certain style you are known for?

That's a tough question. I like to think I approach every project or commission with an open mind and a fresh perspective (and I certainly learn more and more every time) but I likely have predilections that inform a lot of the choices perhaps even on a subconscious level. If I were looking at our work with the most objectivity I could muster I feel like very project is very different from the others but I would probably confess there is a common thread - though I like to be willfully ignorant as to what exactly that is so we can attempt to avoid repetition (as well as too much introspection - I have too much baggage to be completely comfortable with that either). 

 As a LEED accredited firm-tell us where you see the future of architecture going (environmentally speaking).

I think most practitioners have every desire that their projects be as environmentally friendly as possible and there are present and ever increasing regulatory standards in place that take the option not to make those efforts away. As the entire industry (manufacturers, suppliers and most importantly - clients) continue to get on board I am pretty optimistic that it will rapidly become the norm in the same way there is mandatory compliance with fire codes, seismic regulations etc. The other exciting thing for me is that as these means and methods to be energy neutral if not energy positive continue to mature, projects no longer have to wear their green credentials on their sleeve - buildings can reflect aesthetic and programmatic intentions without screaming sustainability and without abridging those goals.

What is your favorite place to go and explore design? 

 I know it sounds cliché but I love to travel and there is seemingly infinite (and infinitely heterogeneous) inspiration out there. There are of course newly constructed works to explore in Europe, Asia, Latin America and so forth and I find compact walking cities that predate the automobile especially rich in precedent to visit.  A particular favorite for me though are sites of medieval military fortifications. Whether they be Genovese or Venetian maritime forts in Corsica and on the Dalmatian coast, or Spanish garrisons in San Juan and Cartagena they are often made with unintentionally beautiful local materials and integrated into their environments so seamlessly and organically. Concern for defensibility, lines of fire and sight are manifested in an amazing flow through what are ultimately poetic constructions despite their martial origins.

Tell us who you admire in the industry - past and present.

 Hmm. I always struggle with this question. Not because of a dearth of choices but an abundance. There are so many architects I admire and am humbled by. I could write a long list but will throw out a few examples instead like Scarpa, Siza, Zumthor, Herzog and Demeuron... 

Tell us about some of your upcoming projects.

 We are currently working on a hotel in Long Island City - LIC has long been a neighborhood full of promise (much of it realized in recent years) so it is nice to be in on the ground floor in a place that might still be considered the frontier with regard to boutique hospitality properties. We are also working on a pretty large parkfront multifamily rental residential building in Brooklyn and very close to finishing up a pair of houses upstate. 

Where will we find Matthew when not at the drawing board? 

Am I allowed to be anywhere else? I mentioned before a love for travel so I am often on the road. I am also fortunate enough to have a large circle of really creative and inspirational friends (ideally NOT other architects) with whom I enjoy spending time. And like most New Yorkers I like to get out of town now and again to recharge with a particular affinity for being in or on the ocean.


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