Janet Bloomberg, AIA, and Richard Loosle-Ortega, RA, piloted their five-person firm KUBE Architecture to prominence by inviting clients to be close partners in the design process. For a Washington, D.C., firm like KUBE, that means a lot of time spent adapting the city’s existing fabric. Bloomberg and Loosle-Ortega specialize in transforming the ubiquitous row house to suit more flexible ideas about space. But they also work to expand architecture’s audience by making good design available to nontraditional clients.
I think our biggest investment is in a sense of place. It guides our thinking. We’ve done a lot of row houses in historic areas here in D.C., and oftentimes we can’t touch the front façade. Obviously, we want to bring light into these homes, but at the same time, it has to feel like a home. A lot of our process centers on variations of opacity—creating shadow.
Pro bono work is also a real passion of ours—affordable, accessible design. We’re working on a series of storefronts down in Southeast D.C., and we’ve just started a program with the District Architecture Center to connect good design firms in town with D.C. high school students. It’s called Design in Action—and this is the pilot year. Seven students spent time at the firms during their spring breaks.
We’ve also worked with an after-school program called Beacon House—they had a space in the basement of an apartment building but wanted something more engaging. So they contacted us through the District Architecture Center, and we gave them a whole plan to pursue through in-kind donations and so on.
No matter who the client is, or what the program is, it’s about designing the quality of space to support a purpose. And it matters how you interact with the space. Our website has a front end that talks about our work, and a back end called KUBE2 that talks about our process. We sell more of a lifestyle to our clients, rather than just a design. In other words, if the client’s first question is, “What’s it going to look like?”—that’s not really the client for us. Our whole point is that we don’t know—we grow the project based on an organic process. It’s a process of discovery. The majority of our clients want us to invent something with them. It’s always a team effort, we tell them. Our clients very much appreciate our focus on detail and materiality, and we give them an open, modern space that’s warm.
More and more, clients are asking for a total concept for the site—for the bigger project. But maybe they can only do a kitchen at first. We do the project in smaller pieces. And we design as much of the house as possible, sometimes including custom furniture. For us, fabricators are part of our extended team. And we treat our clients and our fabricators as partners. —As told to William Richards