Thomas Phifer and Partners
Thomas Phifer and Partners

Thomas Phifer and Partners

Architects from Varick Street, New York, United States
The best architecture strives for design excellence. It is not a quality easily defined, but we recognize it when we see it. It doesn't reside only in form, style or materials; it is reflected in the deeper attributes of appropriateness, proportion, attention to detail and celebration of craft; it is expressed in neighborliness and a democracy of spirit. Buildings marked by design excellence are connected to their surroundings and embody the culture of the places they inhabit; they are simply open and accessible. They are built, first and foremost, for the people who use them; their design is rooted not in fashion of form or theory, but in the very activity by which they are realized.

Architecture is grounded in the technology of its time. That was as true of the ancient Greek temple as it is of the curtain wall buildings of today. Technology defines the possible. In the twentieth century, architecture has used the vastly expanded possibilities of advanced technology to erect barriers; buildings which close out the natural world and subsequently compensate by creating artificial environments within. Such "progress" has come at a high cost - financial, ecological, physical, and spiritual.

There is another way. Our innovative use of technology creates architecture with a different spirit, architecture that connects us with nature, rather than separating us from it. We take our cues from the environment, thus allowing the elements of nature to inform the design. We make an architecture that is enriched by an awareness of location and landscape, the movement of the sun, and the changes in weather. We design buildings that foster a sense of tradition and culture, that make permeable the boundaries between inside and outside, and that enable the inhabitants to experience the passage of time, through days and seasons.

Our interest in this way of making architecture was stimulated by our work in Europe, where resources are more costly and rules about access to natural light and air are more stringent and humanistic. In our recent work in North America, we have combined a mix of traditional materials and techniques with leading-edge technology to effect direct and ecologically sensitive solutions to lighting, air circulation, heating, and cooling.

In all of our work, we seek a natural economy of elements through order grounded in nature and predicated on conservation. We shape the character of our architecture through passive solar and ventilation strategies; incorporating ancient and modern principles of air movement. We consciously aim for simplicity - in planning, our use of light and air, building organization and circulation - because it is our experience that simplicity leads to economy, efficiency, and improved performance.

Such architecture demands a different process. It can't be done within the tradition of architect-as-autocrat. The requisite know-how is too complex, the necessary skills, too diverse. This architecture requires an egalitarian, collaborative process involving practitioners from a variety of disciplines: structural engineers, services engineers (mechanical, electrical, plumbing), materials researchers, ecological scientists, soils experts, and manufacturers, who have too often been kept out of the initial architectural problem-solving process.

In this process it becomes the architect's responsibility to continually challenge the client and the design team to achieve both appropriateness and invention. We aim to integrate the art of architecture with technology and environmental imperative, through the fusion of architecture, engineering, and contemporary methodologies and materials. The collaborative process emphasizes interdisciplinary teamwork, rather than personal expression, and user needs rather than formal conventions. It embraces unity and order through the creative interaction of many previously semi-independent disciplines. It fosters simplicity and integration that result in an inherent economy, not only of money, but of gesture.

As architects, we design the building by designing the process. Our clients join with design, construction, manufacturing, and research specialists to define and discover appropriate architectural solutions. Our goal is to make architecture in which one can experience surprise, intellectual stimulation, a profound sense of physical well-being, and an affirmation of the spiritual unity between man and nature.

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