Arjun Desai and Katherine Chia expand from residential to commercial and industrial design.
Stephen Treffinger -- Interior Design, 9/1/2011 7:45:00 PM
After meeting at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Arjun Desai and Katherine Chia started out their careers in separate worlds, he in historic preservation and she at Maya Lin Studio. But they also moonlighted together on other projects, primarily loft renovations in Chelsea and TriBeCa. When demand for the couple's work became high, mostly through word of mouth, they transitioned into a full-time professional partnership as well. Desai/Chia Architecture's output has since grown to include commercial projects and bath products. Office clients range from investment bankers to structural engineers. And a sink and tub, launched by AF New York at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, are a natural extension of the firm's private residential work. In fact, for Desai and Chia, integrated design begins at home. Their ultimate testing ground is the Union Square apartment where they live with their son and daughter.
How have loft interiors led to product ventures?
KC: We're always looking at how products can be an extension of us as architects. Clients are receptive to us saying that they don't have to simply buy a stock sink or piece of furniture. We can design something for them, something tailored to their needs-and always integrated with the architecture.
AD: Because we do think about our interiors transitioning into products, we keep a relatively tight rein on materials and forms. We're very conscious of the body of work as a whole, as opposed to doing each project separately.
Could you talk about the combined sink and medicine cabinet that won a Good Design award?
AD: The idea came from really small New York apartments, where you have very little space to work in. Recess_Lav projects a mere 12 inches when installed in a standard stud wall, and the durable resin construction eliminates the need for tiling the backsplash area.
KC: We've designed a number of plumbing fixtures for specific residential clients over the years-resin and stainless-steel sinks, a concrete tub. AF New York saw some of those custom pieces and felt there was an opportunity to translate them into ones that could be produced for a larger audience.
What are some of your concerns specifically related to products?
AD: Designs can't be too complicated to transport or assemble. A sink, for instance, should be easy to install. We know, as architects, that you go ahead and order certain things, and figuring them out later can be real gymnastics. With our products, the entire process is thought through.
KC: Also, we are exploring cost-effective ways to make things. Instead of just using technology to create the most outlandish forms, we're thinking about how technology is part of the design and fabrication process. Design is at the core of what we do, but a design is only as good as its built results.
What drove the unusual approach for one of your first commercial projects, an investment firm on Bryant Park?
KC: They talked to us about how to encourage their people to collaborate. So we treated the space more as an atelier than as an office. You can see from one end to the other, but there's acoustical privacy in the conference rooms and the "think tank" lounges.
AD: Regardless whether you're the CEO or an assistant, you have equal access to each other.
Are you doing other offices?
KC: We're renovating the New Jersey office of Arup, the structural engineering firm that has handled several of our projects.
What else is on the horizon?
KC: On the Lower East Side, we're working on a cultural center. The project involves designing an art gallery and public spaces and creating a signature identity through dynamic signage and lighting concepts. And we're doing houses upstate, in the Hamptons, and in Connecticut. We're thinking a lot about how to integrate sustainability in a practical way.
AD: The projects take into account solar, passive solar, and geothermal sources as well as materials that allow a building to regulate itself better in terms of energy consumption.
KC: In addition, we're developing products for release next year. They include bathroom accessories and door handles with AF New York.
Why do you like working in the city?
KC: It really is a hub for fabricators. That's given us the opportunity to work with great people who do laser cutting and CNC milling, for instance. We've also found some metalworkers who still make things in a very handcrafted way.
AD: Working directly with fabricators, we've been able to get feedback on how materials react to various situations and how to use materials in a more economical way. You get a lot of suggestions.