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Bryony Roberts, a 2018 Architectural League Prize winner, focuses on the overlap of subjectivities

Bryony Roberts responds to existing architectural + urban conditions, creates transformative interactions + collaborations

Bryony Roberts’ installation at the Architectural League Prize exhibit at Parsons School of Design 
Courtesy of Bryony Roberts Studio

In between traveling to New York to create dynamic installations and crafting reflective lectures on design philosophies, this year’s roster of winners of The Architectural League Prize for Young Architects and Designers juggled busy agendas. Still, each of the six winners made time to talk to Hunter Douglas Architectural about what it feels like to win the prestigious design competition, which we are immensely proud to help sponsor. Sometimes we caught them en route to Parsons School of Design, which plays host to the League Prize’s winning exhibit this summer. Other times we found them hard at work, meticulously aligning exhibit postcards on display or adding a final touch of powder-coat paint. And still, other times we chatted after they’d just finished delivering their presentation within the remarkable lecture series. The conversations, like the winners’ exhibit, focused on the competition’s theme, which tasked the talented young designers with dissecting the “Objective” within the context of architecture. The series of inspiring interviews that follow are as varied as the new visionary voices behind the League Prize exhibit, which remains open through August 4.

“Rather than trying to achieve absolute objectivity, which I believe is impossible, I’m interested in finding understanding through the overlap of different subjectivities.”
– Bryony Roberts

Bryony Roberts
Photo by Jenica Heintzelman

Here’s our exclusive Q+A with Bryony Roberts, who says winning the League Prize feels like “a vote of confidence, which makes a difference when you’re starting out in the field.” She created a site-specific installation using a grid of hexagons climbing from the floor up the wall. These are subdivided into smaller patterns; the clever nuances between different patterns formed are in sync, and yet subtly challenge the viewer’s perception of the materiality on geometry. She says there is no such thing as true objectivity, but approaches the topic by overlapping different subjectivities and partial perspectives. Driven by the social element of architecture, Bryony also reminds that everyone brings a different sense of context and perception when experiencing a space.

“Objective Installation Version 1” by Bryony Roberts
Rendering Courtesy of Bryony Roberts Studio

HD:The League Prize is one of the world’s most prestigious design competitions and its winners truly showcase unique perspectives and backgrounds. What inspired you to submit your design proposal? Why, in your opinion, is it important for young architects and designers to put their work out there and submit portfolios for design competitions?

Roberts: The Architectural League Prize has such a presence for emerging practices in the U.S., especially for experimental and unconventional designers. It’s an important platform for young practices because it gives them a national stage, and I’ve heard from friends who had won previously what a difference that made for their practices. So I’ve known about it for years and have actually applied for it several times before.

“Objective Final Wall-Vinyl” by Bryony Roberts
Courtesy of Bryony Roberts Studio

HD: Describe the moment when you found out you won.

Roberts: Anne Rieselbach, the League’s program director called me, and as soon as she introduced herself, I had to catch my breath. I knew it was a good sign that she was calling. When she told me I had won, I was thrilled, I was really bouncing off the walls for days.

HD: How does it feel to be selected by such a prestigious jury and to be a part of the Architectural League Prize’s storied legacy of winners?

Roberts: It’s such an honor. It feels like a really meaningful recognition and celebration of your work, given the history of the institution and the impressive jury. It feels like vote of confidence, which makes a difference when you’re starting out in the field.

“Pavimento” by Bryony Roberts
Courtesy of Bryony Roberts Studio

HD: What informed your conceptual response to the League Prize theme of “objectivity” and can you tell us some of the challenges involved?

Roberts: For my portfolio, I wrote about the idea of “intersubjectivity” as a response to “objectivity.” Rather than trying to achieve absolute objectivity, which I believe is impossible, I’m interested in finding understanding through the overlap of different subjectivities. This can happen through collaborations with other artists and local groups, or by responding to existing architectural and urban conditions.

HD: What does translating your vision for the ‘objective’ into a realized form entail?

Roberts: I wanted to do a site-specific installation for this exhibition, in order to create an immersive, full-scale experience of my work. So I installed a large vinyl graphic that covers the wall and part of the floor in my area of the gallery. This installation builds on past work I’ve done with patterns made of stone textures, studying how texture reinforces and complicates geometric patterns. I also included portfolios of past projects, displayed on a custom shelf that aligns to the graphic pattern on the wall.

“1 Marching On”  by Bryony Roberts + Mabel O Wilson
Photo by Miguel de Guzman 

HD: In today’s climate, why does the preservation of the idea of “objectivity” matter to you?

Roberts: I think it’s important that we doubt established forms of objectivity and begin to look at other sources of knowledge that have been previously overlooked. I try to learn from other fields as much as possible – anthropology, political theory, performance, art – to challenge assumptions about what we know in architecture and our relations to the people we design for.

“Marching On” by Bryony Roberts + Mabel O Wilson
Photo by Miguel de Guzman 

HD: What other projects are you working on? What inspires your drive to be a voice within the architecture and design worlds? Who would you like to speak for or what needs would you like to address?

Roberts: I’m working on scaling up my practice to larger-scale building projects. I’ve always done work that responds to cultural histories and complex existing conditions, through interventions, performances, exhibitions and urban designs. Often these take place through collaborations and conversations with local community groups. As I move forward, I’m exploring how I can merge the agile responsiveness of ephemeral collaborations with the longer term process of architectural design.

“Inverting Neutra 4” by Bryony Roberts
Photo by Jaime Kowal

“Inverting Neutra 1” by Bryony Roberts
Photo by Jaime Kowal

“Inverting Neutra 2” by Bryony Roberts
Photo by Jaime Kowal

HD: In brief, describe your own background and past accomplishments.

Roberts: I’ve always been interested in working in response to existing conditions – social, architectural, urban. In order to do that, my practice combines methods from architecture, art, and preservation, and I am always bridging between those three worlds. After I earned my MArch at Princeton in 2011, I founded my own practice Bryony Roberts Studio, which has produced international design projects. I have been awarded the Rome Prize at the American Academy in Rome for 2015-16 and a MacDowell Colony Fellowship for 2018. The practice has been supported by the Graham Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Some of the projects include: “Inverting Neutra,” an immersive installation at the Neutra VDL House in Los Angeles; “Primo Piano,” a site-specific installation at the American Academy in Rome; “Imprint,” commissioned by the Orange County Museum of Art; and “We Know How To Order” for the Chicago Architecture Biennial of 2015. Recently Mabel Wilson and I exhibited the project “Marching On” at Storefront for Art and Architecture, which was also featured in Performa 17.

In addition to the design projects, I have published research in the Harvard Design Magazine, Log, and Architectural Record, and have edited the volumes Tabula Plena: Forms of Urban Preservation, published by Lars Müller Publishers, and Log 31: New Ancients with Dora Epstein Jones. I also teach architecture and preservation at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.

“Corpo Estraneo” by Bryony Roberts
Photo by Claudia Pajewski

HD: Bonus question — who’s your dream client?

Roberts: A cultural institution with a complex existing building / site that they want to transform and re-envision!

“South Shore Drill Team We Know How To Order 1” by Bryony Roberts
Photo by Andrew Bruah

To listen to Roberts’ full lecture, click here to visit the Architectural League of New York. The 2018 Architectural League Prize winners are Anya Sirota of Akoaki, based in Detroit; Bryony Roberts of Bryony Roberts Studio in New York; Gabriel Cuéllar and Athar Mufreh of Cadaster, out of Brooklyn; Coryn Kempster of Julia Jamrozik and Coryn Kempsterin Buffalo; Alison Von Glinow and Lap Chi Kwong of Kwong Von Glinow in Chicago; and Dan Spiegel of SAW // Spiegel Aihara Workshop in San Francisco.

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