By Yixia Xu
For most undergraduate students, the spectrum of practices open to us in the field of architecture–whether construction, design or consultation–can be disconcerting and slightly overwhelming. But what’s the difference between working in a firm that performs these services in-house compared to a firm that outsources those services?
Under this year’s theme, “Futures of Design Practice,” the ArchiteXX Roundtable at Barnard College, ‘In House/Out Source: The Future of Building’ brought together three guests from different backgrounds and architectural firms to help us answer this question. Our speakers Kathy Chang (GLUCK+), Sarah Strauss (Big Prototype) and Lilach Musman (Artimus) gave us insight to the logistics and differences behind their respective firms, discussing the challenges and benefits of both in-house and outsourced services, and even offered a few personal stories into the mix.
Kathy Chang is an associate of GLUCK+, a mid-sized New York-based firm that specializes in design-build work. Chang emphasized that the difficulty in budgeting and keeping costs low is the main interest of her firm. Rather than separating the design and construction of buildings to different companies, GLUCK+ oversees both of these processes in order to fulfill the wants and needs of their clients. A number of the projects Chang presented were affordable residential housing or education institutions, including the East Harlem School, Lady Liberty Academy Charter School and Little Ajax Affordable Housing. Because of the public nature of these buildings, budgeting and strategic design is imperative, and GLUCK+ responds by uniting both architect and construction manager under one roof.
Sarah Strauss’s talk, in contrast, concentrated on her design process. She began with her personal experience, from her student days at the Yale School of Architecture, to co-founding Big Prototype, a firm that specializes in prototyping, with John Nafzinger in 2004. Her projects range from art installations in DUMBO to housing in Puerto Rico, but all concentrate on the idea of using pattern and ornamentation in the urban environment. Strauss commented that working at full-scale taught her the challenges of materiality and of customization of patterns in design.
As the Senior Vice President of Project Management at Artimus, a construction firm, Lilach Musman oversees many projects including affordable housing and reconstruction of old sites throughout New York City. However, she also works collectively with other design studios. Many of their endeavors involve redesigning and reconstructing, because as she notes, “if you tear down buildings you can never bring them back”. Coincidentally, their renovation of the St. Thomas Church was done in collaboration with Peter Gluck, principal of GLUCK+. Having restored the exterior, the interior of the church was remade into a performance center that will be open to the community.
In the conversation that followed, students undoubtedly prompted discussion on the status of women in the architecture field. Although Musman was the only other woman in the firm other than the desk assistant when she first joined Artimus, she says now half of management are women. Strauss on the other hand, struggled in her role as a woman in architecture. She expressed her gratefulness that neither Musman nor Chang felt much gender-bias in their workspaces, as she often deals with contractors and vendors that doubt her capabilities, and has even had to cope with sexual harassment. Hands continued to shoot up with questions from the audience throughout the discussion, which highlighted the experiences involving construction, design, licensing and fieldwork of both the speakers and attendees. All in all, the event was enlightening and informative for our participants, and helped shine light on the reality of the working field and scale of practices in architecture.
In House/Out Source took place at Barnard College, Columbia University on November 25 2014.
Yixia Xu is currently studying Architecture, Political Science and Philosophy at Barnard College, NY.