Paul Lewis, FAIA

Paul Lewis, FAIA, is a Principal at LTL Architects based in New York City. He is currently a Professor and Associate Dean at Princeton University School of Architecture, where he has taught since 2000. He received a BA from Wesleyan University and a M.Arch from Princeton University. His New York based firm has completed academic, institutional, residential and hospitality projects throughout the United States. LTL received a 2007 National Design Award and has received multiple AIA design awards. Their recent built work includes Upson Hall at Cornell University; The ContemporAry Austin, an art center in Austin, Texas; Steeplechase Pier at Coney Island; The Helen R. Walton Children’s Enrichment Center, a model school for early childhood education in Bentonville, AR; and projects at Vassar College, New York University and Columbia University. In 2017, they won an invited design competition for an arts center in Telluride, Colorado, and PosterHouse, a museum dedicated to posters, located in New York City.

Joseph D. Jamail Lecture Hall @ Columbia University, photo courtesy of LTL Architects

The firm’s designs and drawings been exhibited around the world, including the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale, and are part of the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Carnegie Museum of Art. LTL Architects are the authors of Intensities (2013), Opportunistic Architecture (2008) and Situation Normal….Pamphlet Architecture #21 (1998). Their newest book entitled Manual of Section, an analysis of the history and typology of section in architecture, was selected by The Deutsches Architekturmuseum as one of the ten best architecture books of the year. It has been translated into Japanese, Korean and Chinese. Paul is a Board Member of the Architectural League of New York and a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome.

Q & A with Paul Lewis

Q. 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? Are there examples in your work where a project required you to zoom out to a city/national/ international level in order to better detail, say something as small as a door handle.

A. Scale becomes intriguing when the conventional assumptions about the agency of a scale are altered. In our designs we see design as necessarily operating at multiple scales, from the urban to the detail, precisely in order to explore effects from one scale into another. For example, in the ContemporAry museum building in Austin, Texas, we explored how the slope a stair tread nose night be expanded into the entire geometry of a three-story stair atrium. In that same project, we positioned and detailed components of a building is unconventional ways. For example, a roof canopy was placed 21 feet above a roof deck, much higher than a ceiling of a normal floor, which produces a space that is both inside the building and outside as part the city, yet the whole space was then able to be wrapped in retractable weather curtains. 

The ContemporAry Austin – Jones Center
Photos by Leonid Furmansky


Our interest in detail and the aggregation of detail is often to oscillate between two definitions of scale, where the aggregation shifts between being a surface and being a collection of objects. On a complete different side of the scale spectrum, we have been dealing with the difficult challenges that a few feet in section of sea level change will have in plan of vast areas of cities throughout the globe. Two projects that represent this exploration include Structures of Coastal Resilience and Water Proving Ground from the MoMA exhibit Rising Current.

Images of SCR and Water Proving Ground, Courtesy of LTL Architects

Q. How do you cultivate innovation in your firm?

A. We cultivate innovation by asking questions and working iteratively. Curiosity is the basis of innovation, which is best achieved through hard work, repeatedly.

Q. We also would love some insight into your process in publishing Manual of Section – how the idea originated and getting it complete.

Book jacket image, Courtesy of LTL Architects

The basic question that motivated the development of the Manual of Section, was our own frustration as design critics with the limited amount of scholarship, writing and research about section. This seemed at odds with how important we believe section to be in design, both in our teaching and in our own practice. In other words, section is fundamental to design, and comments such as “That’s a great section” or “Your section needs work,” are common in design reviews, yet there was no basis for understanding what a section is, what are the different types or models of section, or even how section works.

There are plenty of theories of plan and elevation, and few about section. In parallel with this interest in section, Princeton Architectural Press had asked us what book we felt, as design critics, was missing for students and for the discipline.  Manual of Section emerged out of those two related questions.  Furthermore, we were interested in developing a book of architectural analysis, that was predicated on newly developed images, and less upon texts, and, importantly, that that analysis did not take the form of multiple reductive diagrams. Each of the 63 buildings/sections in the book are presented in a single, highly detailed line drawing that gives evidence to the richness and the complexity of the intersection of form, materials, details, program and space; which is what makes architecture so compelling. Reductive diagrams often kill this intricacy in the name of clarity. These were produced through archival research into the working drawings, details and construction of the buildings.  Each building was modeled in 3D Rhino, from which a single cross-section perspective was extracted and then refined in Illustrator. The drawings are all black and white, partially because of our interest in linework, but also it was a way to reduce the printing costs, so that the book can be affordable and accessible to a broader audience.

Learn more about LTL Architects in the link below.