To Harry Bates and Paul Masi, AIA, modernism is not primarily an aesthetic principle. It’s a commitment to redefining what materials can do, and to providing just the minimum of what’s needed to create the overall home experience. “We’re continually researching each project, trying to learn something new,” says Masi, whose client base circulates around the Hamptons and surrounding islands.
Whether it’s designing a hemp rope ceiling—how much does it stretch, will it shrink if it gets wet—or inventing a new way to hang siding, the firm often ventures into uncharted waters. And clients seem happy to go along for the ride. But the partners also return to territory they know well. With a 45-year history—Bates has been practicing since the 1960s; Masi joined him in the late-1990s—the firm occasionally is asked to sensitively update or add onto the spare, classic homes Bates designed decades earlier. In each case, the architects try to solve a problem with as few materials as possible. An example is the modest writer’s studio, for a client for whom Bates had designed a house in 1968. The novel use of a Home Depot cantilever rack system provided the structure, a cohesive concept, and a unique sense of place. This year Bates Masi received two American Institute of Architects New York State Design Awards, adding to the 20-some accolades collected in the past seven years. “An iconic structure we still love 50 years from now,” Masi says. “That’s what we’re hoping to achieve.”
What is the most gratifying aspect of residential practice?
The personal engagement we have with clients and how the architecture enhances their lives and even changes the way they live.
What is the most frustrating aspect?
There is never enough time.
What is your mission statement or firm goal?
Our core value is continuous improvement and never being satisfied. Our core purpose is to design environments for unique life experiences.
What is the most indispensable tool in your office?
Lately it seems to be the laser cutter, but I still feel it is an industrial pair of scissors we use to edit our models and drawings during the design process.
What software does your firm use?
Primarily ArchiCAD & Photoshop, but we use pretty much everything.
Who is your ideal client?
One that is actively engaged in the process from start to finish. The more they are involved, the more tailored and interesting the projects become.
What is your favorite building?
The Castelvecchio Museum restored by Carlo Scarpa has made a lasting impression on me. Besides the interaction of the architectural layers, it reveals a story about politics through a constructed craft.
If you didn’t have the time to design your own house, who would you hire?
Shim-Sutcliffe Architects or Office dA.