A firm obscures views and distorts perspectives to challenge the familiar and produce the unexpected.
Brooklyn, New York
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.
Lott formed Para eight years ago with Brian Price and Dominic Leong, two fellow graduates of the undergraduate architecture program at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The practice gained momentum slowly, and for the first few years, the three principals had day jobs at firms including OMA, SHoP, and Bernard Tschumi, while moonlighting as Para-Project. The name, Lott maintains emphatically, does not connote parametric modeling. Rather, it comes from the prefix para-, meaning “beyond,” and refers in part to the firm's early days, when it worked mostly on theoretical projects before commissions started to trickle in. “I wanted the name to be as general as possible,” Lott says, adding that his goal is to have a flexible practice and a name that suggests he is amenable to a wide range of building types. “I have an allergy to a specialized way of working.” Around 2008, work started to ramp up, and the architects left their day jobs to focus full-time on Para. (Price and Leong have since gone on to start separate practices, with Price founding Price Studio in San Francisco in 2012 and Leong, with his brother Christopher, starting Leong Leong in 2009.)
The firm's most recently completed project, located in Syracuse and finished in November, is the Haffenden House, a writing studio for two poets who own the house next door. The clients, wanting a light-filled space with few distractions, asked that the building feel like an escape from its uninspiring surroundings. To give the house an ethereal quality, Para covered the wood-frame structure in a layer of white fabric. “It purposefully stands out,” says Lott. “I want people to pause and think about it. I hope it inspires some reflection, some intrigue and curiosity.”
DESIGN STAFF: 4
PRINCIPAL: Jon Lott
EDUCATION: Harvard GSD, M.Arch., 2005; Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, B.Arch., 2003.
WORK HISTORY: OMA/REX, NYC, 2005/2008; New York City’s Capital Projects Department, 2007
KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: Haffenden House, Syracuse, 2013; Huntington Hall, School of Education, Syracuse University, Syracuse, 2013; FritzKraus Haus, Brooklyn, 2013; La Casita, Syracuse, 2011; Crawford Attic Writing Room, Syracuse, 2009
KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: Van Alen Institute, New York City, 2014 (with William O’Brien, Jr. and Michael Kubo, Collective-LOK); Syracuse University School of Architecture Info Spot, Syracuse, 2014; Skaneateles Lake House, Homer, New York, 2014
WEB SITE: www.para-project.org