ABOUT THE ARCHITECT:
Shane Neufeld, RA is an American architect and artist born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1982. He received his BA in Fine Arts in 2004 from Amherst College, where he studied painting and literature, and his masters degree in 2009 from the Yale School of Architecture. He is the founder of Light and Air Architecture, (www.landa-arch.com) a architecture and design firm based in Brooklyn NY. The firm’s work has been widely published, and completed projects include the Z House, Switchback House, Sterling Place, Skylit House and Nassau Street Loft. The office also focuses on issues concerning social justice, such as L/AND/A’s competition winning entry for the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Memorial in Richmond, Virgina.
After graduate school, Shane spent three years with Rogers Marvel Architects in New York, working on a variety of projects that focused on urban, residential, commercial as well as institutional architecture. Such designs include Pierhouse, a large-scale residential building to be completed on Brooklyn’s waterfront, SandRidge Energy’s amenities campus in downtown Oklahoma City, and RAMPed Up, a USGBC National Competition Winner for an affordable house in New Orleans. Additionally, he was a Project Architect at Christoff : Finio Architecture where he oversaw the design and construction of the Kentucky Museum of Arts in Craft in Louisville. Shane has also served as a faculty member at the New Jersey Institute of Technology School of Architecture. He is a Registered Architect in New York.
ABOUT THE PROJECT:
The Z House (named for the shape of its stair) is a transformative renovation providing a different model for the urban, domestic experience. At the project’s center is a new “switchback” stair that integrates the house vertically and horizontally, carving out the existing structure in order to shape dynamic sightlines that connect inhabitants in new and exciting ways. The stair’s drama is heightened by the placement of large windows punctuating the rear façade, allowing the vertical space to open to the exterior - directing views from the stair, through the house, and to the yard beyond.
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Doug Pat (DP)
Let's go inside the vault. The design vault.
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Shane Neufeld (SN)
I think what was special about this project was that the clients were able to generate a lot of input that forced me out of my comfort zone, think about things in new ways, and take some of the systems and strategies I had in place, but to create something completely different than had been done before.
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This is my guest, Shane Neufeld. I'll share more about him shortly. In this episode from the Design Vault, we highlight Shane's project in Brooklyn, New York, called The Z House. The Z house, named for the shape of its stair is a renovation, providing a unique model for the urban domestic experience. At the Project Center is a new switchback stair that integrates the house vertically and horizontally, carving out the existing structure in order to shape dynamic sightlines that connect inhabitants in new ways.
The stairs drama is heightened by the placement of large windows punctuating the rear facade. These allow the vertical space to open to the exterior directing views from the stair through the house and to the yard beyond. Descending from the rear of the parlor floor is a smaller stair slotted between a steel guardrail and oak millwork. This connects the living room to the new horizontal additions below.
Here, the added square footage accommodates the kitchen and dining room in a single dramatic double height space that visually unites the rear yard and the parlor floor above. A green roof located above the garden level helps to buffer sightlines and cultivates a natural intimacy for the residents inside.
Hi, I'm Doug Pat and this is Design Vault. Shane Neufeld is an architect and artist born in Brooklyn, New York.
He received his B.A. in Fine Arts from Amherst College, where he studied painting and literature and his master's degree from the Yale School of Architecture. He is a registered architect and the founder of Light and Air Architecture and Design in Brooklyn. The firm's work has been widely published and completed projects include the Z House, Switchback House, Sterling Place, Skylight House and Nassau Street Loft.
After graduate school, Shane spent three years with Rogers Marvel Architects in New York, working on a variety of projects that focused on urban, residential, commercial as well as institutional architecture. Additionally, he was a project architect at Christopher Fernyhough Architecture. Shane is also served as a faculty member at the New Jersey Institute of Technology's School of Architecture. So welcome, Shane.
Nice to have you with us today. So tell us a little bit about Light and Air Architecture in Brooklyn, New York. So obviously you're located in Brooklyn. What's the size of your firm and what type of work do you do?
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It's great to be here. Thanks for having me. Our office is 2 to 3 people. It varies from project to project. We do mainly residential work in Brooklyn, although we have done apartments as well in the city. We're trying to get beyond residential for institutional projects, so we're very open minded about the kind of work we want to do.
But we see a lot of potential spatially, in particular with residential work and in townhouses here in New York. For us, the townhouse is rich with opportunities to explore, and in a city that tends to maximize every square foot, we kind of take a more artful approach where we want places that people want to spend time in rather than maximize.
And so we pursue clients and tell clients this off the bat so they know what they're getting into. And it's a different type of work in our mind than what new people normally see and people are used to.
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So how long has a firm been around?
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We were founded in 2017. I founded the office on my own house, the Switchback House, which was a derelict brownstone in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and I used that as a starting point.
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So that's your home? Yes. Oh, that's so great. It's beautiful.
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It must have been a great project for you.
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It was intense. I was working still at an office, so I was drawing the plans at night and eventually left my job to work on it full time during construction. It was an incredible learning experience. I hadn't really worked with Townhouse in New York before. I'd work on the Louisville Museum of Arts and Craft, which was a masonry building that would use steel. So I was familiar with the kind of means and methods are getting into, but not in Brooklyn itself.
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So you have a family and you all lived through construction.
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I actually had a loft in Bed-Stuy, what I call Home Depot Heights, which wasn't so nice at the time. It's loud, but we lived there at the time. My son wasn't born yet, so it worked for us.
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So tell us a little bit about the history of the location, the building. How long has it been there? Was it always three stories?
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Yeah. So with the Switchback House, my work got out there pretty fast and a young couple came up to me interested in exploring ideas of a new house for themselves that wasn't traditional, that had aspects and qualities that they saw in the Switchback House. And so they had purchased a derelict brownstone in Clinton Hill. It was two stories and a basement, so I guess that's three.
But it can be confusing, but parlor with one above. Basically it had a kind of 1960s faux concrete facade at the time. It was split up into multiple units. They had a big vision for transforming this house entirely from the get-go.
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So let's back up a little bit. So you explained how your office got the project. Did you know the clients?
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I did not. And so that's something that I've tried to be, you know, getting clients in architecture is very, very difficult. It's very much word of mouth. Obviously, people are spending lots of money. They want to work with someone they're comfortable with, someone they know will provide a product that they're happy with and that works. But it's a catch 22 at the very beginning.
Those connections don't exist. And so what I've really tried to do, and I think this originates from my background as a painter, is that I try to make work that's evocative and I want people to see the images. I want them to say, Hey, that's what I like, that's what I want, and kind of bypass a lot of the other stuff.
That's the hope at least. And so I think thus far I've been able to do that. And so they saw my projects online and had that reaction. And through a series of interviews and get togethers and walkthroughs, eventually they felt comfortable with me through other recommendations, obviously, as well.
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So what was the scope of the project? What were the clients’ programmatic requirements?
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That's pretty interesting as well. So I mean, there was this idea early on that we sketched of a kind of grand public floor on the stoop level. Basically, they knew they wanted to add to the building horizontally. We weren't yet sure about vertically, but the original building, it was wider than most townhouses, 22 and a half feet, but it was only 32 feet deep.
So the addition was necessary in order to function, basically. Then the idea of the living space on the parlor floor and with bedrooms above and originally, as I've done in other projects, I thought of the adult level on the second floor with the kids above. They pushed me to invert this, which created a very interesting programmatic and spatial result.
Basically with the vertical addition on the rear, you end up having a terrace on the top floor off the master bedroom. I think what was special about this project was that the clients were able to generate a lot of input that forced me out of my comfort zone, think about things in new ways and take some of the systems and strategies I had in place, but to create something completely different than had been done before.
So in that respect, when I first started this project, I thought about it as, you know, Switchback House 2.0. I like this idea of the Switchback as a typology that offers a multitude of spatial outcomes depending on the family's needs.
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So it can't be easy getting a new addition done in Brooklyn, right? I mean, what do you go through in terms of project restrictions, zoning codes, etc.?
00;08;04;10 - 00;08;27;29
That's a very good question. I mean, luckily this building wasn't landmarked, so we didn't have to go through landmarks review. We were given kind of free range to do what we wanted. But a horizontal and vertical submission is significant. It requires an old one change of use. We went from a two family or three family to a single family.
It was significant time for approvals. We did not do SOE. We we didn't dig out the cellar in the rear.
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So the building plan, straight rectangle?
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It's actually staggered slightly in plan and the addition and that has to do with the lot line itself. So you can see that in the kitchen, the area where the sink and window are that that actually pushes out slightly beyond where the sliding doors are that defined the end of the dining room space.
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Do they have a backyard?
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So they were encroaching on it when you put the addition on?
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Slightly but 30 feet to the rear is the code.
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So they still have a backyard. They've got room.
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Oh, yes, significant room.
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So how long did the planning process take? City Review design to construction? Like start to finish? How long were you on the job?
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Well, I started the project. I started designing think it was the end of 2018. It took about a year to get started and the project itself took another two years to finish. Year and a half. Two years.
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00;09;18;11 - 00;09;34;10
Yes, through that as well, through price increases on plywood and windows that took over a year to arrive, miserable at times. But a truly wonderful client who trusted us trusted the process, communicated well, and we really got through it together.
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Yeah, a common story for we architects. I mean, everything took longer, cost more. It was insanity.
00;09;41;09 - 00;10;38;09
Yeah. I mean, I think what's really interesting for me about this project was that this addition that we had, we wanted it to feel completely different than the front of the building. We actually restored the front of the building to its original state, which was a cementitious or brownstone facade. Despite adding a floor, we made it look, appear as if that's the way it had always been.
So we were playing up this Jekyll and Hyde inside, outside contrasting relationship. And so the rear is this monolithic kind of earthy force in a way that appears entirely different from the front of the house. And there was a real desire with the large windows to bring light and air into the space, to feel continuous ness of the space between the inside of the building and the rear.
And I think that's really where the search also for the right brick came into play because we knew that whatever we did, which we wanted to be masonry on the rear also had to be that same masonry on the inside of the addition as well.
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So tell us a little bit about style choice. So the owners, did they just say right away, hey, we want to do something contemporary? They're looking at your project, the Switchback House, and they're thinking, this is what we want to do. That's why we came to you.
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To be honest, I always tried to actually sidestep away from conversations about style, but there was an idea from the get-go that they had seen our work. They wanted something in that vein. There was no conversations about whether something should be stylistically historical or modern or contemporary. There was just questions about where things should be, how they should function, and what material should be the outcome.
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Did the city dictate that the third story on that front elevation had to be a traditional aesthetic?
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Absolutely not. That that was a client driven.
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Yes. And you know what? At first I thought, you know what? If the vertical edition was something modern, stepped back and those were ideas that I was really interested in to play as a counterpoint to the historical facade. But the client and I think to their credit, in the end, this idea of really disguising the kind of dynamism that was going on inside that the front played a more subtle, subdued role.
I really like that. In the end, the front door is a reference to their heritage. Actually, it's a mahogany lattice that references Geoffrey Bauer's work and some of the screens that he developed in his work. So there's suggestions of a kind of different world within, but it's very subtle.
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So tell us a little bit about the building restrictions. Was there an FAR? Zoning codes?
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Yeah, sure. So it's a 20 to by, I think a little under a hundred foot deep lot. So obviously you have to do your calculations. But no, we are not maximizing FAR, we're close, but not maximizing the envelope is, I believe, 50 feet on the street side. But we're not engaging any of those limits.
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You guys used masonry on the interior as well.
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We did. And those are full masonry bricks on the inside.
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So it's load bearing.
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Well, we're not using the bricks for load bearing purposes. It is a CMU all in the addition, but the bricks take up the three and five eighths inch width, which is I think really interesting. I think this is again speaks to the kind of work that we do is that we looked at tile products. I think Glen-Gery very makes tile products too of some of those bricks but we wanted it to turn corners.
We wanted it to move, we wanted it to appear fully authentic. And in the end, I think once we had reflected on all the products available, that using the same brick, the same finish was the right move. And with the 22 and a half foot wide lot, it really afforded us that opportunity.
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So tell us about some of the unique construction details that you guys ended up using on the project.
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This whole project, this whole house was bespoke. I mean, it kind of drove us mad how difficult it was. We were there almost every other day figuring things out. You know, my office is near Clinton Hill, so it's a five minute bike ride. And there were lots of things to consider constantly as the construction progress went on. But I think that one quality that we like to achieve in all of our projects is this notion of materials and volumes, kissing or abutting in very sensitive ways.
So knowing that if you want two finish materials to have a tolerance of, let's say an eighth of an inch or a 16th of an inch next to each other, one has to constantly move back from those materials and think about what's on the inside. So we worked with Henrybuilt on this kitchen. Henrybuilt produces very beautiful high end kitchens.
But I the architect am the verifying field for that if you can believe it we actually designed and dimension this kitchen before the masonry was built so the masonry that you see in the kitchen was actually designed to the specs of the kitchen.
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Wow, that is backwards.
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But I had to know where everything was. So we have the CMU in place. I had to understand the depth of all the materials where they would end up. And using that information we decided what the kitchen was, where it would be. And then I'm on the field supervising, making sure that the masonry is indeed where I think it will be.
00;14;39;03 - 00;14;50;06
Yeah, I think it's pretty cool. It's pretty rare to see masonry on the interior of a building. You just referenced, there were other materials you guys talked about using for both the interior and maybe even the rear facade.
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The client, they had this dream of a masonry rear facade. I did too. I mean, it's what made sense. I mean, masonry is a East Coast material. It is something we see a lot here. The beautiful old buildings, you know, of the Northeast are made of brick, many of them red brick. And so that was a theme that came up as well.
The client did have a bit of a dream of this red brick facade, but knowing that this brick would live on the inside as well, esthetically, I felt that a red brick spoke too much of exterior use and would be a kind of too much of a contrast to the type of mood and space we were trying to create on the inside.
A lighter brick reflects light. It bounces light around. It doesn't present itself as a color so much as an opportunity for variations in tone throughout a space. There's so much light in this house that we kind of, after some time and looking at many, many different products in many Glen-Gery products, we decided that a white light cream colored brick was the right choice.
And then it came to question, Well, how do we get a white brick that has the texture that works both on the outside and on the inside, and doesn't force someone to see that as an issue in one way or the other. And so we went with, in the end, white velour, which we felt was this perfect middle ground of cream colored was not too white, was not too beige, not too reflective, not too matte, and had a wonderful kind of authentic handed texture to it that I think really helped the house out a lot.
00;16;19;13 - 00;16;23;21
And used a slightly darker mortar. Right? So we didn't know it's brick.
00;16;23;21 - 00;16;39;26
Correct. We tested it out. So that was a sense of do we want the lines to go away? That's always a question you know, architects deal with. I think we found something that wasn't too much of a contrast, but very clearly spoke to the manual craft that goes into putting brick walls together.
00;16;39;29 - 00;16;41;29
So you guys have a green roof on this?
00;16;42;04 - 00;16;42;23
00;16;42;26 - 00;16;46;11
So sustainability was something you guys talked about?
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For sure. We have solar panels on the roof and a green roof, 100 square feet of green roof is required now of new construction in New York on residential projects. If you don't have solar panels, we kind of decided to do both. The solar panels actually came a little later on in the project, but the green roof is integrated into the addition, so that actually when one descends down the stair from the second to the first floor, they look out of a window that views out upon the green roof.
00;17;13;24 - 00;17;30;24
And that green roof also, the intention is over time it grows, it's exotic, it falls down the facade. And so the idea of the brick as a kind of monumental monolithic material that as a counterpoint to the organic quality of the roof itself, our hope is that they really begin to work together in a lovely way.
00;17;31;01 - 00;17;34;05
How much energy can they generate with the solar panels?
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Probably anywhere between 40 to 50%. You know, I think obviously in the winter, not so much, but in the summer a lot.
00;17;40;26 - 00;17;49;03
Yeah, that's pretty cool. Let's talk a little bit about the architectural process, 2D 3D. Do you work in both? What are the programs you're using?
00;17;49;08 - 00;19;06;00
Yeah, well, I'm an artist in the truest sense of the word. You know, I'm a draftsman and I was a painter in college. I still paint, I think, with a pencil and paper. I think through watercolors and painting. And that's how ideas begin to formulate in my mind. And so everything begins in a kind of old school way for me, it's kind of funny.
I like digital tools, but I think that I'm most creative on working directly with my hands. So I also think that's very exciting for clients. People forget that you're sitting at a table with paper and you're with a client, and to be able to communicate ideas through drawing is a privilege and it's fun.
And so that's how I begin the process. And then very quickly, we're moving to we use Rhino for all of our 3D design and a lot of model making. So our office, we have a 3D printer, we've created a hybrid process where, you know, as you can see in the photograph, our models have 3D printed components, wood components that are done by hand, concrete.
In a funny way, the models are a kind of precursor to the actuality of the house itself in that image. That's a quarter inch model there. It's a significantly large model and I think we use that with clients. They enjoy it. The model really offers a quality of light and experience that the renderings don't.
00;19;06;02 - 00;19;08;06
Yeah, I was going to say clients love models.
00;19;08;09 - 00;19;12;26
Yeah, they do. We don't charge for them, but we should.
00;19;12;28 - 00;19;17;04
So you said you had two other people in the office working with you on this project?
00;19;17;11 - 00;19;35;07
On this project, it was just me and one employee. You know, we worked together. Hands and hands, both of us. All hands on deck, figuring this out. I did most of the CA, Construction Administration, on this project, and I'm very hands on on site as well, drawing, sketching with builders, working directly with the foremen. And, you know, those are all things I really enjoy.
00;19;35;10 - 00;19;39;08
So you're out on site every two or three days, which is wonderful?
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Or terrible, depending how you think about it. But in this case it was wonderful.
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Of course, I was just wondering, you know, you spend so much time with the GC and the subs. There's something you learn like every day. I mean, I feel like I learn an awful lot. I'm 54. I've been an architect for close to 30 years, and I feel like I'm learning something new, whenever I'm in the field that happened with his job or any other jobs?
00;20;02;02 - 00;20;44;15
Yeah, I mean, I really enjoy it because it's really humbling. I mean, I'm not the type of architect who thinks they know the right answer all the time. I really approach my projects from a kind of artful spatial perspective, and I rely on the different trades and the experts that I surround myself with to help me through the process to get the project realized.
And so that means I have a trusting relationship with GCs as best as I can, that, you know, we work together. I take their advice. You know, I follow their lead at times to help resolve certain things that I might not know how to do. That's not frustrating for me. That's the best. And I like architecture because of that. Every project offers me a chance to learn something new and I find that challenge exciting.
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It's a great attitude. It's a humble one, and it's one most architects should have, right? We go out there and we can learn an awful lot from the people that are doing their job.
00;20;53;12 - 00;21;17;29
Yeah, I mean, at some point I want to be in a position to maybe have a bit more knowledge. But I also think you can't be too trusting. I mean, there are moments when things aren't done right or mistakes are made that will realize in making the project not what it should be. It's hard to speak up at those moments and take agency, But yeah, it's a fine line. But all in all, I approach it through teamwork and being humble and listening to those around me.
00;21;18;01 - 00;21;21;07
Did you guys end up using the Mason that you found right away?
00;21;21;09 - 00;21;30;20
This project is pretty amazing in that the crew that we worked with did everything so the Mason was not someone subbed out. It was a crew of guys that did everything on this project.
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That's pretty unusual.
00;21;32;04 - 00;21;34;12
Yes, maybe not as much in Brooklyn, but yes.
00;21;34;17 - 00;22;02;27
So Shane, you're a young architect with a presumably long runway in front of you. Do you have any advice to young architects out there that are looking for projects and they're wondering, like, how does this work? You had said early in our discussion that in the very beginning it's really hard to find work. I mean, you've got to kind of wait for somebody to find you.
And how do you get your work in a magazine and then somebody finds it and then, you know, you're recognizable. It's a long it takes a long time.
00;22;03;00 - 00;23;29;16
I have a lot of varied interest in my life. You know, I have a family, I paint, I do other things. Architecture, obviously is my career and it's what I want to do. But I think, one, it's helpful not to have all your eggs in one basket so that there are many things in life that make you happy.
And I think that helps and affords one with the patience that's needed to be an architect because a project from its beginning to its end to its publishing is five years even on a house, right? So that kind of patients you need, that can be really frustrating I think if you take a step back and think about it that way.
But it's just the reality. Working hard to get the images out there. I do believe I hate to say it, but the photographs are the medium by which our work is understood. It's very important to photograph your work with someone you trust in the way that you imagine it to be understood. I don't think people do that enough.
I work with my best friend is someone I grew up with who's my photographer, and it's very collaborative. We spend one day actually just in the house taking 500 shots. We then go through all of them, choose our favorites, revise, edit, iterate, and you know, then it's a two day shoot and it's a lot of work. We didn't hire a stylist or anything like that for this project.
This is us moving things around, using the client's furniture itself. This is all their stuff. And that's something I worked with the clients on as well. But yeah, just making sure that the project ends up looking recorded the way you intended to be. I think that's really, really important.
00;23;29;18 - 00;23;36;16
So Shane, it's been great to have you here. Thanks for your time. Where could people go to learn more about Light and Air Architecture and yourself?
00;23;36;18 - 00;24;09;27
Yeah, I mean, they should go to my website and look through the work. You can email me at Shane@landa-arch.com, or just search Light and Air Architecture. Either way, you'll end up at my website, and my website shows a selection of finished work and ongoing work. We have a really interesting townhouse that's in construction uptown on 95th Street.
Similar ideas, but completely different type of stair, all constructed out of steel offsite and being brought in more constantly, exploring different ways of thinking about the New York house. So yeah, feel free to get in touch.
00;24;10;00 - 00;24;35;12
Well, thank you very much, Shane.
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