When Elizabeth P. Gray and Alan Organschi, AIA, met at Yale University, they hit it off personally. The now-married couple also discovered that they share a passion for design, which has resulted in a collaboration that produces inspired architecture.
Houses are in Gray Organschi Architecture’s DNA, partly because of the early interests of both partners. After graduate school, Gray spent time in Indonesia studying indigenous housing types, while Organschi is a trained cabinetmaker and builder. “The work has been informed by small-scale projects,” Organschi says, adding that doing house commissions is how small firms get started. “But our firm has turned into something more wide-ranging.”
Today, the breadth of the 15-year-old firm is vast. One minute it’s working with a landscape architect on a group of small garden pavilions, the next minute it’s designing a custom home for university professors. Blink again and the firm is designing—and winning awards for—an exquisite 20,000-square-foot residence and apostolic center for the Jesuits at Fairfield University in Connecticut.
Gray Organschi has incorporated a workshop/laboratory where it researches products and materials, fabricates custom cabinetry and furniture for its projects, and resolves and builds construction assemblies. Organschi says the ability to mock-up details is a huge plus for the firm because it makes life easier for contractors and ensures good execution of its designs.
“We have certainly changed over the years,” Organschi says. “We have learned to be good professionals. We are smarter. We’re good at making nice things, but we have been able to find good economies while doing them.”
What is the most gratifying aspect of residential practice?
Repairing damaged buildings and sites and collaborating with smart, passionate clients who want to rework their relationship to the built and natural environments.
What is the most frustrating aspect?
What is your mission statement or firm goal?
Our work explores the intersection of design and building production. We recognize building as a medium through which architectural ideas are most forcefully explored and unforgivingly expressed; as an undertaking that consumes physical and environmental resources as it irrevocably alters the character and culture of a place. We seek to take the greatest possible advantage of those resources that we claim in the process of design and construction.
What is the most indispensable tool in your office?
Our fabrication workshop.
What software does your firm use?
AutoCAD, Revit, Rhino, Maya, SketchUp, Illustrator—whatever does the particular job best.
Who is your ideal client?
One who patiently but passionately embraces the complex process of making a good building with limited means.
What is your favorite building?
Kimbell Art Museum (the original prior to the addition)—total intellectual and technical discipline.
If you didn’t have the time to design your own house, who would you hire?
Some as-yet-unknown impressionable but hardworking and talented young architect with the patience and flexibility to deal with controlling and demanding clients with really strong opinions or Joeb Moore.