After decades of following incredible architects, one becomes really good at identifying potentially groundbreaking important ones that will invoke reverence in terms of historical value. 1100 Architect and its co-founder, Juergen Riehm, is one of those we need to watch. We had the privilege of learning about his work, vision and East End contributions, where he has had affiliation with for over thirty years.
Tell us about how you came to architecture. Was this what you always wanted to do?
I was interested in architecture at a very early age. I grew up in Trier, Germany, which is the oldest city there, so I was surrounded by Romanesque and Gothic architecture, which certainly piqued my interest. My father owned a woodworking company, so I also grew up immersed in craft and fabrication, and this gave me an appreciation from a very early age about the poetics of making.
How did you meet your partner, David Piscuskas?
When I moved to New York City in 1983, I came to know David very quickly. He and I, together with Argentine architect Ines Elskop, started collaborating from an office on Lafayette Street. We were working from Room #1100, which is how we came up with the name of what would become our architecture firm.
Do you each have specific roles in the company?
From the very beginning, the practice has been entirely collaborative, so David and I have always participated in all aspects of the company, including design, project management, team management, and business. When the practice was smaller, we would typically both work on all projects together. Now, with a larger staff and with projects around the world, we tend to manage separate groups of projects, but we are still in constant dialogue about everything the office produces.
The firm has won dozens of awards for your inspiring work
From our very earliest days, one of the fundamental principles of our firm has been to let the work speak for itself. Our work is never about us or about the recognition. Each project is a unique opportunity, so we approach each one with a sense of invention.
With the firm based in NYC, how did you find yourself designing gorgeous modern homes on the East End?
In the 1990s, I bought a home in East Hampton, so my family and I have been a part of the East End community for quite a while. We spend as much time as we can out there, and in doing that, I came to know people who were interested in creating modern homes.
How much influence do you have in the end-result when it comes to incorporating your clients’ lifestyles?
Our client list includes a roster of well-known people. One of our very first projects was a home for the American artist Jasper Johns, so from a very young age, we came to appreciate the role of clients as creative partners.
We never announce ourselves in any of our work. We always want our clients reflected in the design, so the first step of any design process is to get to know our clients and what they want to see in their space. We do this in any number of ways based on whatever works best for them. Throughout the design process, we always go through a lot of back-and-forth, discussing drawings, images, materials, and ideas to continue to make sure the client is as engaged as they wish to be.
Your vision is often modern, yet somehow the end-result is warm and inviting.
We are a Modernist practice, yes, but we are not strident about it. For us, design is never about style. It is about singular environments that respond directly to clients, environment, and context. As such, we believe — emphatically so — that contemporary architecture can be warm and inviting.
1100 Architect has designed renowned commercial and educational spaces, like universities and libraries. Do you apply the same principles to the overall design?
Deliberately, we have created a diverse practice with a wide range of project types. Though each is of a different scale, function, context, and scope, each emerges from the same fundamental priority: to create the best possible solution for any given problem. Whether that is programming a large public library or figuring out a small detail of a single room, our commitment to design excellence is unwavering and consistent.
The cultural works like the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation are stunning. But the Irish Hunger Memorial is artfully intense. What inspired you to achieve that truly original and complex design?
We have worked extensively in art, which includes the galleries and organizations like the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation that you mention, and which also includes work with artists on their homes and studios. For the Irish Hunger Memorial, which is an outdoor memorial in a heavily trafficked public park, we were inspired by Ireland’s own landscape, so we depicted the Irish landscape from that period of the famine, which included an abandoned dwelling that we brought to New York from Ireland.
Can you explain how you designed the house in Amagansett? It’s gorgeous.
For this house in Amagansett, the geometry was linked to an existing cottage. The original structure was designed in the mid-1970s by Harry Bates (who went on to found Bates + Masi). So, when our clients came to us to renovate and expand it, I carefully studied the geometry of the original building. The new design added a second rounded element to bring greater symmetry to the house, and which allowed us to reconfigure the interior to allow for more flexible space and more openness to the overall layout.
The home called “Long Island House” looks distinctly mid-century modern, as if Charles and Ray Eames could live there. Explain the complex design.
For this house, we considered a series of inverse relationships. For example, we designed the street-facing side to maximize privacy, creating a solid wall with smaller windows. Then, for the ocean-facing side, we maximized openness with full floor-to-ceiling windows. We also considered different uses.
Our clients entertain often, so we created an open space at the center of the house suitable for guests and gatherings. But, for more family-based time, the opposite wings of the house are scaled in such a way that create more intimate environments for individual or family use. And with the sandy walkway you reference, we created a place where our clients would be able to watch the sun set in the west, like a viewing platform on the roof.
How are you incorporating green technology into these amazing structures?
Sustainability has always been a fundamental priority of 1100 Architect, and wherever we can, we integrate technologies and strategies that minimize energy, carbon, and waste. We have a studio in Germany, too, and because Germany is often on the vanguard of sustainability, we are able to get early access to sustainable technologies, materials, and research. We recently finished a kindergarten in Germany, for example, which is Passive House-certified, dramatically cutting its energy use.
Where do you get inspiration?
I get inspiration from many places. Being out on the East End is always inspiring, with trips to the beach, visiting farm stands, or going on walks with my family. Art has always been an integral part of our practice, and this, too, I find to be inspiring on a personal level. I also enjoy cooking, and that time can be very meditative in a creative way.
What would you absolutely love to design right now?
Well, I love working on the East End, so I would love to design another project in this beautiful natural landscape.
To learn more about 1100 Architect, call 212-645-1011 or visit www.1100architect.com.