On a recent Saturday afternoon brimming with spring fever, a line of people, young and old, snaked down Manhattan’s Orchard Street and into Galerie Perrotin—a new contemporary-art space housed within a late 19th-century industrial building. The occasion was the opening of Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami’s latest show—Perrotin’s most extensive since its inception in April 2017. The fan-frenzied event, which filled out the expertly lit space’s three levels, was a christening of sorts, and the architects of the gallery, Miriam Peterson and Nathan Rich, were the proud parents. “We’ve done cool projects before,” said Rich, “but nothing that 500 people have walked through in a day.”

Photo courtesy P.R.O.

It’s an exciting moment for the husband-and-wife team, who founded their Brooklyn-based firm, P.R.O., in 2013, when one of Rich’s former painting professors commissioned him to build an art studio in rural Connecticut. The project—a modest, shedlike volume—planted the seed for Rich, 38, and Peterson, 35, to break from their roles at the offices of Steven Holl and of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, respectively, to start something new. For the couple, who met as graduate students at the Yale School of Architecture, establishing their own studio had always seemed the natural course. “I think we actually talked about it on our first date,” jokes Peterson.

It makes sense that Perrotin, with outposts in Paris, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, and Shanghai, approached the two designers, both of whom had worked at firms known for high-profile cultural projects. Perhaps less predictable is the couple’s focus on affordable housing. In 2014, with fellowship funding from the Institute for Public Architecture, they developed a housing concept rooted in the reclamation of underutilized parking lots. Although not implemented, that sealed a relationship with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), for whom they have developed a series of follow-up proposals. In addition to their commissioned work—including residential interiors and wellness spaces for two public high schools in the Bronx—the couple is developing a research component of their practice, focusing on the public realm, which they see as a more productive alternative to entering architectural competitions. Across budgets and scales, the young firm looks for opportunities to broaden their engagement with the city, where Peterson, the daughter of two architects, was born and raised.

The couple’s own neighborhood of Gowanus, the industrial wasteland turned artist enclave in South Brooklyn where they live and have their office, is vital fodder for their process; the two have developed creative ties with many local tradespeople, including metalworkers whose shop provided the blackened steel for Perrotin’s facade. A similar spirit also snagged them a recent commission, now in design development, for a 20-unit rental building and art gallery, also on the Lower East Side: when they saw an artwork they wanted but couldn’t afford, they proposed bartering their services to the owner in exchange for it. “We hustle a lot,” says Rich.

The duo hope to grow their four-person design team, but they are adamant about staying directly involved in projects—together. “She’s more pragmatic, and I’m more conceptual,” says Rich, who trained as a painter, while Peterson’s undergraduate degree is in economics. This friction is an essential part of their design approach, and balances the entrepreneurial and creative aspects necessary to sustain the practice. “We’re actively trying to be good architects and good businesspeople,” says Peterson. With nine projects in the pipeline, including two ground-up mixed-use housing buildings, the effort seems to be working.

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PRINCIPALS: Miriam Peterson, Nathan Rich

EDUCATION: Peterson: Yale School of Architecture, M.Arch. 2009; Cornell University, Economics B.A., 2004. Rich: Yale School of Architecture, M.Arch., 2008; Wesleyan University, B.A., 2002

WORK HISTORY: Peterson: Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, 2009–12 and 2004–06. Rich: Steven Holl Architects, 2010–14; ShoP Architects, 2009

KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: Galerie Perrotin, 2017; Mental Health by Design, Bronx, 2017; Prismatic Bay Townhouse, 2016; Build it Back, Brooklyn, 2016 (all in New York)

KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: New Tenement; 624 Metropolitan, Brooklyn; Sonoma House, Santa Rosa, CA (all in New York, except as noted)