Lisa Gray, AIA, and Alan Organschi, partners in Gray Organschi Architecture, began their breakout session by noting that its title was something of a misnomer. Their firm takes an active role in creating the interiors of its projects—often to the extent of designing and fabricating furniture—but Gray and Organschi view their work as part of an indivisible whole that includes not only interiors and architecture, but also site, community, and the natural environment. “We look at a project as a total package,” Gray said. The partners, recipients of residential architect’s 2011 Rising Star award, expanded on that theme with examples from their firm’s portfolio.
The Jesuit Community Center, which incorporates housing, communal, and administrative spaces, developed through an extensive collaboration between the architects and their clients, an order of Jesuit brothers. A central goal of the process, Gray says, was “weaving the exterior of the building into the interior functions.” To preserve a sense of continuity, the partners combined the order’s large collection of existing furnishings with pieces designed specifically for the project. The latter include the chapel’s altar, lectern, and screen, which were fabricated from a 4-foot-diameter dead beech tree found on the site.
The firm’s Firehouse 12 Music Studio, located in downtown New Haven, Conn., combines a professional recording studio at street level with a second-floor apartment and a basement nightclub. The recording studio’s undulating plywood ceiling can be adjusted to “tune” the room’s acoustics, Gray noted. The firm also designed and produced much of the furniture for the apartment. In response to a restrictive sign ordinance, Gray and Organschi made the lobby—visible from the street through the former garage door openings—a calling card for the building’s commercial functions. “The interior of that space has become part of the exterior of the street,” Organschi said.
While Gray and Organschi view interiors as integral to their work, they never presume they will have control over that aspect of a project. “That’s really a relationship that builds out of the architectural relationship,” Gray explained, “as the owners gain confidence. We actually have a separate contract for that, and we never go into a project expecting to do the interior design.” That they often do the interior design has strengthened not only the projects, but also the firm, Organschi added. During the worst of the market’s slump, he said, “construction and interior design carried us. We were able to use these other skills to keep the cash flow going.”