Kyle Lommen is a Principal at Allied Works Architecture, where he has overseen the design, management, consultant coordination, and the overall execution of the firm’s projects since 1997. Kyle also served as the Director of Allied Work’s New York office from 2003-2011. Currently he oversees all projects from a design, management and strategy perspective as the Principal-in-Charge. During his 20 year tenure at Allied Works, Kyle has played a critical role in the design and management of AWA’s most significant projects including the Weiden+Kennedy World Headquarters in Portland, OR, the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC, the National Music Centre of Canada in Calgary, and the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, OH.
Below is our Q&A with Kyle as told to AIA TN.
This year’s AIA TN conference theme is “In Scale,” recognizing the various scales of projects and design thinking – not just from its physical size but it’s context from the city level to international level. How do you tackle that spectrum? Would you speak about examples in your work where a project required you to zoom out to a city/national/ international level in order to better detail?
Our design approach and resolution considers all scales from overall conceptual thinking down to the specific detail. In all cases, bigger ideas are served through detail and material research to amplify our design intentions. We work closely with fabricators and makers to execute all aspects of design. and implementation. Often, each approach is unique. For example, the concrete walls at the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado – the way we designed the formwork, the process of stripping the forms, and removing the imbedded formwork boards in the concrete created a wall surface that plays with natural light. This process of making and materiality amplify the specific quality of the Denver sky.
In one of your restaurant designs, I was fascinated with how the design included the furniture and even the plates. Would you talk more about how that came about and how you approached the designs of those elements?
During the design of Eleven Madison Park, we were given a very unique opportunity. We proposed to the client that we design the tableware as an opportunity to create a holistic experience. Like with the design of the space, we considered all aspects of those pieces – proportion, use, materiality, detail – to create a very specific experience for how these elements are engaged, touched, and perceived in that particular space. The design attempts to participate in, and enhance, the visitor experience, yet be very specific and unique to itself.
Thoughts on regionalism – tangential to the theme of scale.
How do you assess the dynamics and identity of a place and its effect on the design approach?
Place is a pretty significant factor for us. Sense of place, culture, landscape, ecology, local building traditions, etc. as well as history of the place and the institution are critical considerations to every design. Concept comes from research, analysis and insight. We utilize all opportunities provided to us to gain as much information and insight about the place.
How do you cultivate innovation in your firm?
In our office, we utilize all talent for insights in process and innovation giving everyone the opportunity to engage experts in their fields – fabricators, makers, processes – to inform and educate the team. At the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, we had the unique opportunity to work on a project in the city with facade exposure on all four sides of the building. In order to capture this unique aspect, we wanted to find a material that took advantage of the fact that the building would be perceived from multiple vantage points and experience sunlight on all surfaces. The use of terra-cotta allowed for the development of a custom glazed tile that took advantage of this opportunity. The solution was to develop and iridescent glaze the amplified people’s perceptions and daylight from all vantage points in the City. The final glaze design harnesses this opportunity and provides and every changing experience as one moves around the building. This glaze didn’t exist, so we reached out to artists and specifically skilled building glazing specialists who’ve worked glazes for years to create this iridescent quality – something that had never been done before in an exterior building glaze. Many members of the team participated in the research and development of the glaze giving them opportunities to engage experts, understand the process, comprehend the complications, appreciate and hard work required to create something completely new.
Another example is the Tribeca Loft project in NYC. The project spatially connects four floors and roof of an existing condominium building. Vertical double height volumes connect floor spatially with a vertical element that moves through these spaces stitching them together into one vertical experience. This connecting element became a very important element to the experience, and one that the client wanted to be very special. They didn’t want a material that could be found or bought anywhere else. They wanted something with a unique and dramatic finish. The final material was created by casting aluminum on top of burlap giving it a warm, textural quality, but material weightlessness given the application.
You speak a lot about material innovation. Are there other ways innovation can happen in architecture?
All aspects of architecture can be innovative – at all scales, scopes, processes, etc. It’s a way of thinking and not specific to any particular aspect.
Do you have other interests outside of design that contribute to your work?
Traveling. Landscape. I’m also a record collector. Music has certainly been part of my life. It doesn’t play a role in design thinking but it’s thought provoking. Inspirational. Art. We use art as precedent in all of our work. Art captures an essence of what might be possible in the experience of our buildings. An ideal to serve.
Significant moments in your career. Often, we earn awards and accolades that are significant from a professional level but do you have other moments or achievements that you personally find significant and more valuable?
The most significant thing is experiencing these buildings. That matters most to me. The impact that buildings have on people. It’s transformative. You don’t expect it. You work so long, for months and years on a project. You think you understand what to expect but then being in it once it is under construction and when complete. It’s awe-inspiring. That’s the reason I do architecture. What comes out of a rigorous process and belief, but not completely knowing. That experience is the most fundamental thing to me. What buildings offer to others – that’s far more rewarding.
Advice for young architects – Any lessons learned you would find useful for the new design minds out there?
My advice would be to stay true to architecture. Work in the current cultural context and not get wrapped up in designing buildings that are one-dimensional. Pursue experience, beauty, proportion, structure, and materiality through rigor, iteration, study, research, and innovation creating meaningful architecture.
Interview by Sophorn Kuoy, AIA