National Design Awards: Why ARO KO’ed the Competition

Research Projects From left, ARO’s R-House in Syracuse, New York; five principles for Greenwich South; and Princeton University School of Architecture addition. (Photos: Richard Barnes, Architecture Research Office, Paul Warchol)

Our National Design Awards reactions round-up rolls on with the winners in the architecture design category: New York-based Architecture Research Office (ARO). Led by Stephen Cassell, Adam Yarinsky, and Kim Yao (the pensive trio pictured at right in a photo by Lajos Geenen), the 18-year-old firm has worked with cultural institutions, government agencies, and the likes of Prada and Princeton (so far this year, ARO has racked up commissions from three more leading architectural schools: the Harvard GSD, Cornell, and the University of Michigan). Also among the firm’s current projects is working with Judd Foundation to transform 101 Spring Street, the five-story cast-iron building that Donald Judd used as a home and studio, into a museum. “It’s the inflection point between Judd’s art and architecture,” said Yarinsky of the Soho landmark during a talk last month at the Museum of Modern Art.

“Architecture Research Office very much deserves the National Design Award,” says architecture and design writer Marc Kristal, a member of the ARO-led project team that developed a planning study for the Greenwich South district of lower Manhattan. “As the firm’s name suggests, they have consistently used research, particularly into materials and methods of making, to invest all of their projects with a high level of originality, innovation, and imagination.” It was this quality that led Kristal to feature one of the firm’s residential projects in his 2010 book, Re:Crafted (Monacelli). “Their work displays a degree of craftsmanship—the presence of the hand—that is unusual in contemporary architecture, especially as it involves such unlikely tools as CNC laser cutters and unexpected materials like MDF, resin, and paper,” he tells us, pointing to a consistent refinement of style that emphasizes light, space, surface, construction, flow, and the presence of nature. “ARO is by any standards a young office, yet its accomplishments are prodigious and exceptional,” says Kristal. “And their best work, I am sure, is yet to come.”