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All good design adheres to certain rules. Over three decades of practice Deborah Berke Partners has developed and continually refines its own set of design principles. House Rules explores eight guiding principles as they relate to the firm’s residential work. These range from the mundane—Account for all things; display a few—to the aspirational—Honor daily life. The book delves deeply into the firm’s working process and its unique approach to design, showcasing over 50 built houses arranged in chapters according to the House Rules. Explanatory captions accompany over 200 photographs and drawings to engage enthusiasts and practitioners alike.
Publisher: Rizzoli (July 12, 2016)
Dimensions: 10.1 × 1 × 10.6 inches
Hardcover: 208 pages
Climates: Architecture and the Planetary Imaginary
Bernard Rudofsky's Lessons to Be Relearned
Bernard Rudofsky’s Architecture Without Architects is the architecture book from my parents’ library I remember best. Modestly subtitled “A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture,” the name of the volume concealed his rather grand ambition to challenge Western architectural history and recast the study of the built environment. Historians, he believed, had constructed architecture’s chronology as if “dating the birth of music with the advent of the symphony orchestra.” Seeing the absurdity of this, Rudofsky set out to reset the clock and the canon.
Through his highly popular book and an exhibition of the same name at the Museum of Modern Art, he exposed alternative examples of architecture — remarkable expressions of human ingenuity — to a large public audience. Functioning as collector, curator, writer, and book and exhibition designer, Rudofsky literally expanded the historical frame of reference, using dramatically cropped, full-bleed, and often aerial photographs of hill towns, bridges, arcades, and subterranean dwellings to draw formal and visual connections that traversed continents and centuries.
Architecture Without Architects relates directly to the current conversation on the environment in that many of the buildings and structures it examines work in concert with natural systems and do not rely on external energy sources. But more importantly, Rudofsky’s pluralism — aesthetic, geographic, disciplinary — reflects the kind of thinking we as architects need to employ today. As he wrote in 1964, “the wisdom to be derived [from studying the wide-ranging work of anonymous builders] goes beyond economic and esthetic considerations, for it touches the far tougher and increasingly troublesome problem of how to live and let live, how to keep peace with one’s neighbors, both in the parochial and universal sense.”
- Deborah Berke
This essay is included in the book Climates: Architecture and the Planetary Imaginary, a collection of essays at the intersection of architecture and climate change. The publication is a project by The Avery Review, a journal produced by the Ofﬁce of Publications at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. © 2016 Lars Müller Publishers and the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Essays © the authors. All rights reserved.
Climates: Architecture and the Planetary Imaginary asks: "In what sites does a concept like the planetary inhere? Where might we locate the nebulousness of climatic thinking in the built world? The answers can be obvious, but more often than not they are surprising and may well be fanciful. Architecture is comprised by myriad imaginaries and multiform realities, always intersecting and messily overlapping. From arctic villages to Noah’s Ark, from log cabins to electric cars, from human waste to utopian landscapes, design is inspired by objects both fictional and real, millennia-old and still-unfinished, at the world scale and the microscopic.
The Avery Review asked a group of thinkers and designers to each propose a single precedent project—represented by an image and short text describing its significance—that has informed their understanding of “climate.” Taken together, the wide-ranging and incisive responses begin to offer something of a cognitive map of how designers might imagine climate anew."
On Top of the World: Skyscraper Living
Originally published in Monocle, Jul/Aug 2014
Though New York was a desolate and lonely place in 1976 when Kurt Vonnegut wrote Slapstick, his description of it – “Skyscraper National Park” – rings even more true now. Today, New York is a ravishingly alive and electric place. A stunning park full of beautiful and wondrous things.
Part of the magic of New York has always been its tall buildings. We didn’t have the first skyscraper and by century’s end we might not have the most but we are the world’s ultimate skyscraper city. In the late 19th century the physical limits of the island of Manhattan had already shaped buildings vertically since they couldn’t grow horizontally. And at various times in the 20th century, eight different New York towers hold the title of the world’s tallest building. But those spires were for offices, not for living. Sixty, 70, 80 storeys or more – these were the homes of successful, proud, booming businesses. Fine residences started to be built in taller buildings yet the classic grand apartment houses of the pre-war 20th century were 15, 18, or maybe 25 storeys tall.
But more recently the appeal of living high in the sky has become the must-do, must-have urban residential choice. It is happening around the world, in South Korea, Hong Kong, and throughout the UAE. All these buildings share an appeal: you wake up in the morning and you have the sky, the air and the staggering distances visible while still in your pyjamas. It is mesmerizing and addictive.
And in New York it is even better. Perhaps because the geography of Manhattan offers such clear, distinguishable views – from 432 Park Avenue [the Rafal Vinoly-designed tower, the interiors of which Berke designed] the view north is Central Park and the view south is the Empire State Building and the tower of Wall Street. There’s a wide river to the west and in the distance the hills of the countryside; another river, thinner, to the east, contains a Manhattan-shaped island within itself. The grid of the streets reinforces the geography and it is all so captivatingly present. You lose the immediate presence of Tarmac but you have a constantly active, foregrounded view of other skyscrapers.
Living in a skyscraper not only changes the life of those high up but also the life of those on the street. One can bemoan the shadows and the breezes but skyscraper life brings density and life to the city. It doesn’t so much change a city’s personality as it does fully enhance it.
[Originally published in Monocle Magazine, July/August 2014, issue 75 volume 08.]
Originally published in Monocle, Jul/Aug 2009
The new era in architecture began last autumn, when the world’s financial markets imploded. The world of architecture as the US knew it – boisterous new buildings, cranes on every skyline, unlimited budgets – came screeching to a halt. An era of bombastic, willful and self-centered architecture has changed to a new sensibility that will characterize architecture from now on.
So what does architecture need to become? New projects must now embrace the aesthetics of austerity and make a virtue of economic necessity. Beauty must be a function of simplicity, composition, and quality rather than expensive materials or structural gymnastics. Architects must do more with less. The new architecture of austerity demands a redefinition of the sorts of projects we even consider worthy of the question, “Is it beautiful?” Promised improvements to our national infrastructure must have a vision for their physical presence.
While we should applaud the Obama administration’s commitment to spending on infrastructure, we should be made very nervous about the concept of “shovel-ready”. It can only mean no time went into thinking about what it looks like. To paraphrase Einstein, you can’t solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that created it.
Infrastructure is important enough for us to care about its physical form. That requires a stunning shift. It means talking about museums and hospitals rather than access roads to green-field McMansions; schools rather than highways, and soaring bridges and train stations rather than mundane road repairs and widenings. It means including what is required by citizens of a civilized country: parks, schools, libraries and housing. The list of “what is infrastructure” must be expanded to enrich its aesthetic potential. Financial constraints can lead the masses to appreciate the beauty of projects that come under the prosaic rubric of “infrastructure”. Infrastructure deserves an aesthetic and one that exalts austerity. Think “back to basics” with a twist of social responsibility. Think about Utopia. —Deborah Berke
Architecture of the Everyday
Steven Harris and Deborah Berke, eds.
Ordinary. Banal. Quotidian. These words are rarely used to praise architecture, but in fact they represent the interest of a growing number of architects looking to the everyday to escape the ever-quickening cycles of consumption and fashion that have reduced architecture to a series of stylistic fads. Architecture of the Everyday makes a plea for an architecture that is emphatically un-monumental, anti-heroic, and unconcerned with formal extravagance.
Edited by Deborah Berke and Steven Harris, this collection of writings, photo-essays, and projects describes an architecture that draws strength from its simplicity, use of common materials, and relationship to other fields of study. Topics range from a website that explores the politics of domesticity, to a transformation of the sidewalk in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo, to a discussion of the work of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Contributors include Margaret Crawford, Peggy Deamer, Deborah Fausch, Ben Gianni and Mark Robbins, Joan Ockman, Ernest Pascucci, Alan Plattus, and Mary-Ann Ray.
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press (1997)
by Tracy Myers; Forward by Amy Hempel
This book is the first to explore Berke’s remarkable career as an architect, designer, teacher, and writer who has forged a strong and evolving aesthetic. As examined in a series of engaging essays, Berke’s architecture blends tectonic coherence, a keen sensitivity to the intrinsic qualities of materials, and meticulous attention to detail. While all of her work possesses these distinctive attributes, each project is subtly rooted in its context and ennobles the uses specific to that space.
Through newly commissioned photographs, twenty-one of Berke’s thought-provoking projects appear here, including the Irwin Union Bank, Yale School of Art, 21c Museum Hotel, and Marianne Boesky Gallery. Also featured are Berke’s reflections on her growing interest in the “here and now” – an approach to architecture intended to counteract the banal placelessness of much of our environment by designing buildings that are intensely bound to and grounded in their sites.
Tracy Myers is curator at the Heinz Architectural Center of the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Amy Hempel is a fiction writer whose publications include Tumble Home (1997) and The Dog of the Marriage (2005).
Publisher: Yale University Press (November 3, 2008)
Dimensions: 11.3 × 10.1 × 1.1 inches
Hardcover: 240 pages, 46 b/w + 201 color illus.
Here and Now
originally published in Deborah Berke
Reviewing projects for inclusion in this book I could not help but think back on their creation, and the influences—internal and external—that helped shape them. The work featured here, twenty-one projects out of nearly 200 designed since I started practicing more than twenty years ago, reflects an evolution in my thinking over those twenty years, although the majority have been done in the last decade.
Taking a second look at projects, with the perspective offered by time and distance, is cause for me to consider what it is I think, or believe, about architecture. Ten years ago, I was deeply engaged in the concept of the everyday in architecture. This philosophy of embracing and learning from that which is not expressly constructed through high culture or self-conscious design was crucial to my development as an architect and as a teacher. The results are evident in my work of that period, as well as most explicitly in the book I co-edited with my dear friend and colleague Steven Harris, The Architecture of the Everyday. What I was trying to do through my buildings was see if it were possible to make an architecture of exceptional everydayness.
However, the irony of being the poster child for the anonymity associated with the everyday was not lost on me; nor were, as the 1990s unfolded into the new century, the limitations of a philosophy based on the status quo. The evolution of my thinking is less a case of no longer believing in the everyday and more a case of the everyday itself transforming under the impact of our hyper-accelerated, mass-mediated civilization. The world that has replaced the former everyday world is no less authentic (how can it be anything but authentically what it is?) than what I was initially inspired by and drawn to, but it is no longer everyday in the way that I once used the word. We, the world of architecture, and it, the everyday, have become too deeply self-aware, imitative, global. Everyday architecture may still be anonymous in its making—maybe even more so as culture becomes ever more placeless and production ever more "offshore"—but it is no longer local in its references. It has specific and identifiable attributes, but they are now not specific to a place or a people. Today I am more inspired by the contradictions of this new everyday than moved to emulate it.
That an architecture of the everyday is no longer my primary concern is also the result of changes in the world of architecture. Architecture’s full ascendancy to celebrity status, which began a decade ago or more, has reached a level previously unimaginable, I would suppose, even to those who are now at the pinnacle of this phenomenon. How the individual architect is treated, regarded, respected is of little relevance to my thoughts, though the celebrity of a few has most definitely improved the conditions for all architects. However, the way architecture itself continues to be produced and experienced is of enormous interest, and concern, within the context of this phenomenon. I find many of the buildings born of this condition to be bombastically present yet sadly disengaged from their physical situation. My instinct is to suggest that these signature pieces of celebrity architecture each require much more local distortion and a much less legible signature. What I am proposing is an architecture of a far more nuanced signature shaped, above all, by local conditions.
As I have continued to make architecture during the process of making this book, I have recognized an evolving tendency in my work, the philosophical underpinnings of which have grown out of the proposal put forth the above. I will call this position “local knowledge,” or the “here and now.” This philosophy suggests that architecture must strive to be both of its place and of its time. By “of its place” I do not mean that the architect must be local, but rather that the architecture itself must be, foremost in all of its creative criteria, bound to and grounded in its site. I am interested in an architecture so grounded in its site that it can be nowhere else.
Site-specificity emphasizes the importance of particulars of place and denies interchangeability even in today’s global context. “Interchangeable” so often means a dumbing-down, a one-size- fits-all approach. If something can work everywhere/anywhere, this is only because it has reduced places to their most common elements at the expense of their unique ones.
While the notion of things being of a place was once called “vernacular,” that word has come to convey—at least in architecture—quaint, old-fashioned, or nostalgic. My desire for buildings to be of a place is not that they be quaint, old-fashioned, or nostalgic, but that they be anchored. This quality is the antidote to so many places being placeless, interchangeable, and unrecognizable while also being completely familiar. In other words, it is, paradoxically, placelessness that has become all too familiar today. I believe that architecture still has the capacity to challenge this, through its own qualities.
My philosophical position no doubt stems in part from my love of New York City. I love all cities, but New York City above all confirms my belief in the power of the everyday place to be absolutely unique. I love the New York City of grime and confusion, of trestles and bridges and streets and streets of anonymous buildings, just as I exult in the new New York City of glass and more glass. New York has taught me that a building can be an icon without being a monument. I do not at all long for it to be as it was, but I do not want it to lose the bits that remind us daily that it is a working city. I strongly object to the obliteration of the things, old or new, that make this place this place alone, that distinguish it as a place from any other. It is not that I am nostalgic for the New York City of a certain era. I simply like the feeling New York City inevitably gives me of knowing where I am. And that desire applies to everywhere.
I believe in the power of architecture not to transform but to underscore, highlight, and direct. We need not only to build of a place, but to build in an effort to enhance and underscore the nature of that place. We need do so because this is the most resistant, dig-your-heels-in response to banal, uncaring placelessness and the obliteration of the here and now. Reasserting the here and now, which is the antidote to placelessness and homogeneity, demands absolutely that one avoid predictability. To bring out the here, something might have to be quite unexpected, jarring us into the moment, asserting the now. Today I believe in both the here and the now, the here being someplace very deeply specific, the now being an architecture of today, totally responsible in its making. A building that can say what here is will also imply what there is, and it can do so without rhetorical posturing.
If this were a manifesto written for architects, it would start boldly and stridently. Make no buildings that are not anchored in their place. They can be made of anything you wish, and in any way you wish, but once they are complete, you are gone and they must be more of the place and less of you. This does not mean they cannot be totally recognizable as yours, it just means that they would not be complete if they were anywhere else.
This is local knowledge; this is what I am calling the “here and now.”
Publisher: Yale University Press (2008)
Urban Intersections: São Paolo
Edited by Nina Rappaport, Noah Biklen
Urban Intersections: São Paolo documents the collaboration of Edward P. Bass Fellow Katherine Farley, senior managing director of the international real estate developer Tishman-Speyer, and Yale adjunct professor Deborah Berke, assisted by Noah Biklen, at the Yale School of Architecture. The book features ways to examine the process of urban design and development in São Paolo, Brazil, a rapidly growing global mega-city, with all its attendant vitality and contradictions. The work engages both the development issues of schedule, phasing, risk, sustainability, value, and density along with the architectural issues of scale, formal clarity, envelope articulation, use of color and texture, and the relationship of building to landscape. An essay by Vanessa Grossman analyzes and critiques development in Sao Pãolo.
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Co. (2011)
At Deborah Berke Partners, we design buildings that are elegant, authentic, inventive, and modern. We understand individuals and their lives and institutions and their missions. We are architects and designers who resolve complex considerations – programmatic, urbanistic, environmental, and social – to distill buildings and spaces to their essence.
For years, Deborah’s singular vision guided that process as she built a practice of like-minded people. Over time, we refined an ethic based on virtues like balance and thoughtfulness. Our work became known for its simplicity, clarity, thoughtful use of materials, and a sensitivity to the landscapes and local contexts in which we build. Our buildings were drawn from complex sources, but today they look timeless.
Over the past decade, we have grown to a practice of about sixty people led by fourteen professionals who have a long history working side-by-side. Guided by Deborah’s design vision, we rely on a shared ethic grounded in our earliest practice, and enriched today by each design leader’s distinct talents and area of expertise. We work at many scales, and in almost all project types, and our many design capabilities and diverse skills make us better than ever at applying this shared vision. No matter the type, we celebrate the intrinsic and indispensable possibilities within each project and its place.
Lectures + Interviews
Books + Writing
We’ve been holding semi-annual exhibitions in our office since 1997. It’s a great way to support the artists we love and enrich our office environment.
View exhibitions from
- AD 100 Architectural Digest
- Architecture Merit Award - Cummins Indy Distribution Headquarters American Institute of Architects - New York Chapter
- Citation of Merit - 21c Museum Hotel Oklahoma City Oklahoma Historical Society State Historic Preservation Office
- AD100 Architectural Digest
- Design Award - Tiny House Society of American Registered Architects
- Best Tall Building Americas Finalist - 432 Park Avenue Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
- Award of Excellence - Tiny House AIA New York State
- Best of Design for Adaptive Reuse, Honorable Mention - 21c Museum Hotel Oklahoma City The Architect's Newspaper
- Honorable Mention - 21c Museum Hotel Oklahoma City American Architecture Prize - Hospitality Architecture / Interior Design
- Best Lobby Luxury, Finalist - 21c Museum Hotel Oklahoma City Gold Key Awards for Excellence in Hospitality Design
- Best of the Year Award, Finalist Interior Design - Hospitality: Urban Hotel
- Winner - Overall Residential, interiors 2015 Bermuda Building Design Awards
- Built by Women NYC Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation; New York Building Foundation; New York Council for the Humanities
- 2015 Design Award Winner - 21c Museum Hotel Durham Society of American Registered Architects PA Council
- AIA High Honor Award - Pilgrim Road House AIA Westchester Hudson Valley
- AIA NC Tower Award - 21c Museum Hotel Durham AIA North Carolina
- Honor Award in Interior Architecture - 21c Museum Hotel Durham AIA Pittsburgh
- Best of Year Award, Hotel Renewal - 21c Museum Hotel Durham Interior Design Magazine
- Honorable Mention - 48 Bond Street Historic Districts Council Design Awards
- Special Mention - 21c Cincinnati Architizer A+ Awards
- Winner - 21c Museum Hotels & DBP Collaboration Good Design is Good Business Awards
- Global Awards for Excellence (winner) - 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati Urban Land Institute
- Rehabilitation Award 2013 - 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati Cincinnati Preservation Association
- Award of Excellence - 48 Bond Street Society of Registered Architects NY Council (SARA/NY)
- Citation for Design, 48 Bond Street AIANYS Design Awards
- Professor King-lui Wu Teaching Award, awarded to Deborah Berke Yale University School of Architecture
- Berkeley-Rupp Architecture Professorship and Prize awarded to Deborah Berke University of California, Berkeley
- 122 Community Center received a Design Excellence Award from Mayor Bloomberg at the Public Design Commission’s 29th Annual Awards for Excellence in Design program. New York City Public Design Commission
- Honor Award - 21c Museum Hotel Louisville AIA Kentucky Design Awards
- USA's Best Hotel - 21c Museum Hotel, Louisville Conde Nast Traveler Reader's Choice Awards
- USA's Best Hotel - 21c Museum Hotel Louisville Conde Nast Traveler Reader's Choice Awards
- Award of Merit, Commercial/Industrial, Large Projects - Marianne Boesky Gallery AIANYS Design Awards
- Merit Award for Architecture - Irwin Union Bank AIANYC Design Awards
- Finalist - Interior Design National Design Awards
- Illuminating Engineering Society of North America - New York Section Lumen Award of Merit
- Citation for Interiors - James Hotel Chicago AIANYS Design Awards
- Excellence for Historic Preservation/Adaptive Reuse - 21c Museum Hotel Louisville AIANYS Design Awards
- Hotel Luxury - Hospitality Design The Hospitality Design Award for Creative Achievement
- Best of Year Award, Hospitality Design - 21c Museum Hotel Louisville Interior Design Magazine
- Hospitality Design Awards - 21c Museum Hotel Louisville Hospitality Design
- Interior Architecture Award - Box Studios AIANY Design Awards
- 3rd place New Housing New York Invited Competition
- James Hotel Scottsdale, AZ Environmental Excellence Crescordia Award
- Interior Design Magazine’s Annual Design Award Hall of Fame Inducte
- Interior Architecture Award - Baron Loft AIANYC Design Awards
- Interior Architecture Award - Howell Loft AIANY Design Awards
- Award for Planning and Design Record House, Architectural Record
- Wood Design Merit Award American Wood Council
- Honor Award Gulf States Chapter AIA Design Awards Program
- AIA Design Awards Program - Honor Award Gulf States Chapter
- Builder’s Choice Merit Award Builder
- Builder’s Choice Merit Award Builder
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