It’s hard to categorize the work of Michael Young and Kutan Ayata. Their projects are genre-defying—boomeranging between art and architecture, structure and ornament, reality and trompe l’oeil—and range in scale from a globular scheme for a new Bauhaus museum to a posy of mutant 3-D-printed flowers.
Weird? Maybe. Cerebral? Definitely. But it’s these sorts of aesthetic and intellectual juxtapositions that make you want to look twice.
Young & Ayata’s work is also turning heads in the profession at large. Since establishing their Brooklyn practice eight years ago, the pair has achieved a good deal of recognition in spite of having little built work, including a prestigious prize from the Architectural League of New York and several honors in international competitions.Young, sums up the studio’s approach this way: “Instead of architecture being the single art object, how do you begin to disturb the background? How do you make the familiar unfamiliar?”
Young, 43, and Ayata, 41, met in graduate school at Princeton. Both were enrolled in a course given by architect J. Robert Hillier to teach budding professionals how to start a practice. At the end of the course, students would pitch a proposal and Hillier—as the formidable mock client—would pick a winner. That year, Ayata and Young tied.
In spite of the clairvoyant pairing, it wasn’t architecture firm at first sight. “We were like, ‘What do you mean, tie?’ ” recalls Young.
The two went their separate ways after graduation but later reconnected in the office of Reiser + Umemoto in New York, where they worked on a Dubai high-rise project. They decided to form Young & Ayata in 2008, at the dawn of the Great Recession. The timing was terrible, but it allowed them to develop a set of studio principles, including interrogating the way architecture is represented and perceived.
For example, in a mock-up they created for an exhibition at SCI-Arc last year, they inserted gold-colored 3-D-printed reveals at the juncture of the miniature ceiling and walls. This simple gesture causes the corner to dematerialize, obscuring where one plane ends and another begins.
The pair is employing a similar move in an apartment complex in Mexico City by manipulating the angles of windows and their insets. The effect creates the illusion of movement across the board-formed concrete facade, as if viewed from a speeding car.
Young and Ayata have found academic institutions to be ideal labs for their ideas. Between them, they teach at half a dozen schools—Ayata at Penn and Pratt; Young at Cooper Union, Yale, Princeton, and SCI-Arc. As they do each summer, they will invite between four and eight student interns to join their team.
The architects recently found themselves in another tie. This time, it was a competition to design a new museum in Dessau, Germany, for the Bauhaus’s centennial in 2019. Young & Ayata’s bold design (a series of interconnected vessel-like forms) beat out 815 entries to end up coming in first—along with a more traditional scheme by a Spanish firm. Young & Ayata lost (the jury cited cost), but they are using the design as a jumping-off point for future work.
“A project starts with a competition and then takes on a life of its own,” says Ayata. “It’s never finished.”
Young & Ayata
DESIGN STAFF: 4-8
PRINCIPALS: Michael Young, Kutan Ayata
EDUCATION: Young: Princeton University, M.Arch., 2005; California Polytechnic University, B.Arch., 1997. Ayata: Princeton University, M.Arch., 2004; Massachusetts College of Art, B.F.A., 1999
WORK HISTORY: Young: Reiser-Umemoto, 2004, 2006; Stan Allen Architects, 2005; Pfau Architecture, 1997–2003. Ayata: Resier + Umemoto, 2004–08; Agrest & Gandelsonas, 2003; Friedrich St Florian Architect, 1998–2002
KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: Exquisite Corpse Cone (with Harmen Brethouwer), London, 2016; Wall Reveal, SCI-Arc Gallery, L.A., 2016; “Donkeys & Feathers” vessels, 2014; Light Hive (with Young Projects), New York, 2010
KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: DL1310 Apartments (with MAPmx), Mexico City, 2017; Study, Westchester County, NY, 2017–18