Sunshine pours in onto the large-screen computers which are lined up in the center of the main room, by strategic design, to encourage conversation that runs seamlessly so that everyone’s ideas get heard. The main room of A+M+L Architecture is a hub of activity and looks like a tech start-up but with architectural rendering, blueprints, and architectural art adorning the walls.
The firm is a collective that brings together principals Fulvio Massi, Richard Acierno, and Kirk Lehman, plus their staff who are busy working on various projects. We sat down with the Italian born-and-bred Massi to deep-dive into the firm and learn more about their history as a team, their work philosophy, and what he thinks about designing the East End’s gorgeous homes.
Fulvio, you hail from Italy. How did you find yourself on the East End of Long Island?
My wife, Naimy, is from East Hampton, so my first visit was in 1974. Since then, I spent a lot of time here and finally moved here permanently in 2000.
How did studying architecture in Italy translate to the American aesthetic? What were the differences in building materials or architectural details that you found interesting when you came here?
In Italy, the principal structural building materials I was working with were concrete, masonry, and steel, very different from the wood stick frame that is common here. I wasn’t familiar with wood construction, so for me, it opened a whole new world. In a way, a common denominator can be found in the cedar shingles — being a modular material, it does have some relation to bricks.
Was it challenging switching from the metric to the imperial system?
The thought of switching from the metric to imperial system was worrisome, but I was surprised how quickly I embraced the feet and inches, as they are intimately related to the human body. Oddly enough, at this point I don’t miss the metric system.
A+M+L stands for the three principals: Richard Acierno, Fulvio Massi, and Kirk Lehman. How did the three of you come together to create the firm?
We met while working as Project Architects for Barnes Coy Architects in the late 1990s. We left to pursue our own design interests and founded A+M+L Architecture in 2001. Our current office is arranged with a large open communal studio space where ideas are freely expressed and there is a cross pollination of thoughts and intuition.
We work together in this way to remain aware of the multiple dependencies and requirements of our projects. In fact, everyone is encouraged to provide input and proposals regarding the project development.
Are modern and traditional they different in terms of methodology when fleshing it out into a finished work?
Our firm is versatile and well familiar with differing architectural languages and styles. While the finished works may look very different to the aesthetic observer, there are design parameters that remain consistent throughout our design process. The relationship of interior space with the surrounding landscape and the development of a highly functional and efficient plan are important aspects of design for us.
Another important theme for us is the degree to which material expression can inform the feeling of interior space, as this can be realized through decorative or additive procedures or conversely, by editing or reductive moves. All of these are critical elements and reflect ideas that transcend style.
What projects are you currently working on?
We have many projects in various stages of development throughout the East End and in Manhattan. We are currently completing both traditional and modern homes in Sag Harbor and here in Southampton Village, a stunning penthouse in SoHo and another on Park Avenue. We have multiple projects now under construction and many exciting projects that we are currently designing. So, we are very busy.
That is another aspect of our work that we find so fascinating — the constant juxtaposition of finalizing and initiating architectural concepts.
What was your favorite project that you worked on?
We have been very fortunate to be able work with wonderful clients that allow us to express our architectural intuitions through the realizations of the work. The best projects are those that allow us to work through a design trajectory in a natural way without a preconceived visual agenda.
Who are your architecture or design heroes?
As I mentioned earlier, our office is a large communal work space, so conversation in the office will routinely reflect on the many personalities in various fields that appear in the office psyche and continually inspire us to develop and pursue integrity in our work, from Louis Kahn to Nikola Tesla to Miles Davis.
How are you incorporating green building into your projects?
We are typically implementing many green building initiatives into our work. Some of these include photovoltaic solar arrays, high performance insulation packages, LED lighting packages, high efficiency appliances and HVAC equipment, high performance window and exterior door systems, and geothermal heating and cooling systems. We also prefer to use locally sourced materials whenever possible.
You’ve designed so many show-stopping homes on the East End. What inspires you about the region?
There are, of course, things that we all lament about the changing physical nature of our communities out here on the East End, but this remains a truly special and significant place. The natural environment provides the framework for understanding the region and its architecture. The ocean, bays, lakes, and ponds provide focus at the periphery of the built environment.
We are inspired and intrigued by the dialogue between exposure and protection, permeability and privacy that inform the experience of these places. But we are also inspired by how these themes equally apply to the more densely built environment throughout the villages in the region. These are universal concepts that can only become specific at a particular place, orientation and time.
Does the firm employ bidding for the projects you are hired for by the homeowners or do you work with select builders to realize your designs?
The circumstance for the development of our projects is varied. Sometimes clients come to us because they’ve seen something we’ve done that they really liked or we are recommended by a family member or friend. In that case, it might naturally evolve to the point where we are inviting different builders to bid the project.
Sometimes we are brought in to a situation where a builder already has a relationship with a client and a bidding process is not required. We generally follow the request of the client with this aspect of our work.
How would you define the homes you design in terms of their style?
We would describe our work as diverse. We are very inspired by both the historic architectural fabric reflecting hundreds of years of shared experience and the contrasting characteristics of a modern response to that context. These are equal positions for us that are informed and revealed by the intuitions about the nature of a particular place.
What magazines, websites, or books do you read or follow for inspiration?
We have in our office a good array of books that we keep close at hand for reference, spanning from architects’ monographs, architecture history, technical details etc. We have also a subscription to a series of Italian and American magazines like Architectural Record, Architectural Digest, Wallpaper, El Croquis, Casabella, and Domus.
When you’re not designing luxury homes, what do you do for fun?
Painting, cooking, and traveling.
To reach Massi or inquire about A+M+L Architecture, call 631-287-7230 or visit www.aml-architecture.com.