The narrow storefront office of Davies Toews in New York’s East Village doesn’t try to hide from passersby. Floor-to-ceiling windows expose its interior—with its warm, plywood finish and a central table covered in architectural models shaped like exploded origami—to a busy stretch of 13th Street infamous for dive bars. “People come in here all day long, wondering what we’re doing,” says Trattie Davies, one of the firm’s founding principals. “The other day, two kids walked in and said, ‘We wanna watch.’ ”

Photo courtesy Davies Toews

The work, like the office, founded in 2010 by Davies, 45, and her husband, Jonathan Toews, 41, invites a deeper look. For example, the 2015 project Hudson Linear Park unites two parts of Hudson, New York, previously separated by a steep slope. It was designed with PARC Foundation, a nonprofit seeking to enrich communities with public art and architecture projects. Together the designers threaded two narrow lots, bisected by an alley, with a ramp climbing the hill in sharp switchbacks. Its procession is interrupted by a staircase and punctuated by greenery. From the street below, the ramp’s zigzagging railings appear jumbled, like a labyrinthine scaffold inviting the kind of interaction you’d expect from a jungle gym.

Davies Toews directly confronts irregularities and constraints to transform potentially awkward moments into meticulously designed spaces and public installations. To address these challenges, the firm creates geometrically complex forms that subtly convey a shift in scales and forge connections between disjointed spaces. “Every problem has to be an opportunity,” says Davies of the low budgets and unusual sites they’re used to working with. This ethos drove them to experiment with affordable materials like plywood, brick, and Sheetrock. In a townhouse in Brooklyn, the architects sculpted the closed, sinuous balustrade and underside of a staircase with Sheetrock. On one floor, it meets the ceiling in a curvaceous turn and spins out into little eddies that echo into the next room, creating drama with shadow and light.

These discoveries are born from an iterative process that emphasizes model-making. “Walking by a model, if something bothers you, you have to fix it,” says Toews. “It’s not as if it lives in the computer.”

In Chicago, Davies Toews recently designed a 72,000-square-foot charter school. The rectangular building with double-loaded corridors would seem relatively straightforward. But the architects realized the school’s dynamic and demanding curriculum required a design that synthesized disparate yet focused activities for students in grades six through 12. The building offers students access to a thesis-preparation room above a double-height foyer, where they can take a break in front of city views or circulate to a green roof, science labs, and research areas. Outwardly, the architects represented this plurality in a unifying facade made from two types of brick, arranged in geometric patterns that shift across the building, which has slight, 12-inch bends. Together, the patterning and parapet-peaked kinks give the dramatic illusion of massing.

A continually shifting perspective in their approach to projects keeps their practice active and engaged. “We’re resistant to people branding or defining us,” says Toews. “We want to let parts of ourselves and our business be discovered over time, and we try to impart this in our buildings.”

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Davies Toews



PRINCIPALS: Trattie Davies, Jonathan Toews

EDUCATION: Davies: Yale School of Architecture, M.Arch., 2004; Yale College, B.A., 1994. Toews: Yale School of Architecture, M.Arch. 2003; Yale College, B.A., 1998

WORK HISTORY: Davies: Gehry Partners, 2005–06; Pierce Allen, 1995–2000; Toews: Grimshaw, 2009–10; SHoP, 2006–08; Leroy Street Studio, 2004–05; Turner Brooks, 2001–03

KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: University of Chicago Charter School Woodlawn Campus, Chicago, 2018; Warren Street Townhouse, Brooklyn, NY, 2018; Madison Park, Memphis, 2017; Regional Plan Association Office, NYC, 2017; Azil Residence, NYC, 2017; Cai Guo Qiang Studio and Residence, Chester, NJ, 2016; HillHouse, NYC, 2015; Hudson Linear Park, Hudson, NY, 2015; Cupsuptic Lake Campground, Oquossoc, ME, 2014

KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: Martha’s Vineyard House, Chilmark, MA; Cai Guo Qiang Studio and Archives, Chester, NJ; Bronx Feasibility Study, NYC; East Village Penthouse, NYC; Pisar Residence, NYC