Jon Lott, the principal of New York'based Para-Project, says he wants the firm's work to allure while raising questions. “Ambiguity, distortion, and estrangement are essential tools for me,” says the architect, who cofounded the practice months after graduating with his M.Arch. from Harvard's Graduate School of Design in 2005. “I play with the relationship between the familiar and the foreign. Unless you make it strange, it's taken for granted.”
For one of Para's first jobs, a small project in Syracuse, New York, where Lott taught until recently at Syracuse University's School of Architecture, the firm converted a 400-square-foot residential attic into a writing studio, inserting a large window opposite a bookcase lined with mirrored inserts to create the illusion that the space is open on both sides. “I continued that experiment in a lot of other projects,” says the architect, who routinely uses screens and various translucent and reflective materials to distort light and space. In the fall, Lott won a competition with fellow Vanguard winner William O'Brien and Michael Kubo to redesign the ground floor of the Van Alen Institute, a nonprofit architecture organization in New York. Their scheme lures pedestrians to the entrance with mirrored panels and uses a series of transparent scrims suspended from the ceiling to differentiate interior spaces.