wHY’s New York office operates out of an airy Soho loft where ideas are tossed around and explored with gusto. This salon-style energy is integral to the bicoastal firm’s practice, providing the foundations for a diverse range of projects.
wHY was founded in Los Angeles in 2004 by Kulapat Yantrasast, who worked closely with Japanese minimalist Tadao Ando for years. The New York office was started in 2012 and is focused on bringing a multi-disciplinary approach to its work. The practice is structured around the collaborative efforts of four distinct yet interrelated workshops: buildings (architecture and interiors), objects (products and material explorations), ideas (research and strategy), and grounds (landscape environments). According to grounds workshop leader Mark Thomann, the teams’ synergy fuels open and fluid discussions, resulting in more interesting and lively designs. “We’re finding it to be quite a successful model of working,” Thomann said.
wHY’s holistic attitude toward design is echoed throughout all of its works, from museums and art galleries, to residences, educational facilities, and large-scale landscape projects—such as Jackson Park in Chicago, for which the firm is currently developing a new master plan. In addition to a spectrum of nationwide projects, wHY is also working internationally with assignments underway in Italy, Thailand, and Egypt.
Another common theme that connects each project is a commitment to creating designs that transcend time. As New York office director and buildings workshop leader Andrija Stojic explained, “We like our buildings to look like they’ve been there forever, that they belong to the site.”
For Yantrasast, timeless architecture can be realized when its conceived in a way that embraces the long-term process of designing and constructing a building. “I think that more and more people these days consume architecture like it is fashion. It becomes an overnight sensation; one person can get a prize today, yet the next day there is a new flavor. We love fresh and exciting new things—we are human—but there’s a time and investment we must put into architecture. It has to stand for more than that,” he said.
Drawing on his experience working with Ando, Yantrasast is driven by a desire to expand architecture’s role in society. His work seeks to impact people in meaningful ways—“I want people to look at our designs and think about how it can relate to them,” he told AN. “I hope that they encourage people to think and to contemplate bigger pictures.”
First commissioned before the Arab Spring ignited in 2010, the initial design work for the Alexandria Library headquarters, which will be located in Cairo, has resumed after a period of political setbacks. “Now the project is back on, and they gave us a much bigger site and a much bigger program…the client really liked this as an idea to talk about culture,” Yantrasast said. The project, which according to Yantrasast will function a bit like the Smithsonian, is planned to be a major cultural and arts center in Egypt.
Speed Art Museum
wHY was tasked with the master plan and redesign of the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, a 1927 neoclassical building with a history of additions. With this project, the firm applied its “acupuncture approach,” which Stojic explained as a “very specific pointing and finding of problems.” The renovation, which includes 20,000 square feet of new gallery space, a combined indoor-outdoor cafe, and a multi-functional pavilion, is set to open this March.
Harvard Art Museums
In an effort to unify Harvard’s three separate museums, wHY collaborated with Renzo Piano Building Workshop, curators, and senior leaders from the institution to redesign 100,000 square feet of gallery space. Careful attention to lighting and materiality helped to place emphasis on the approximately 250,000 objects in the collection, as opposed to the actual spaces that they occupy. The resulting design provokes a more fluid and cohesive viewing experience.
New York City
For this exhibit, entitled What’s the Matter, wHY did the exhibition design and contributed individual limited-edition furniture pieces including a lamp, chair, and table, all based in some way on a particular wHY project. According to Yantrasast, “The subject that we proposed was on materials and how different people from different times and different cultures have dealt with the same materials.” Yantrasast likens wHY’s process in designing the exhibit and its individual components to that of a laboratory or kitchen. Ultimately, the exhibit was about the objects themselves. “We didn’t want to put objects in a domestic context so people could buy them, we wanted people to see them as they are—lifting the function out of them and focusing on how people process material objects.”