Book Review: WORKac

WORKac: We'll Get There When We Cross That Bridge by Amale Andraos, Dan Wood
The Monacelli Press, 2017
Hardcover, 360 pages

Amale Andraos and Dan Wood started WORKac in 2003 after both worked at OMA. They are celebrating fifteen years with this monograph, its title a play on the familiar phrase, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it." The title flip-flop, combined with the way the text snakes itself across the edge of the cover around "WORKac," hints at the firm's sense of humor, the playful nature of their work, and the way the duo upends conventions. The neon orange, green and pink lettering also alludes to the structure of the book: five-year chunks that hinge upon global events circa 2008 ("post-housing bubble") and 2013 ("post-oil-price crash") but also correspond with happenings in the office and in the life of the married partners (notably children and a deanship). These five year chunks also give Andraos and Wood the opportunity to revisit a project that took up two-thirds of WORKac's existence to date: the Kew Gardens Hills Library in Queens, which they were commissioned for in 2007 but didn't open until 2017; in fact the photos at the end of the book document the completed building before books were moved in and people started using the library.

[Kew Gardens Hills Library, Queens | Photos: John Hill]

Even though Kew Gardens Hills Library is in the borough I call home and has therefore been a project I have posted about every now and then, the building is also indicative of WORKac in a few ways. First, it is an expansion rather than a freestanding building. Other notable projects in this vein include the Stealth Building in Tribeca, the DVF Headquarters in the Meatpacking District, and the Blaffer Art Museum in Texas. Second, it is inventive. The plan simply adds an L-shaped zone, enlarging the open interior of the corner library toward the intersection, but the new concrete walls are lifted to create expanses of windows and give the branch library its strong presence. (The librarian was a bit perturbed when I visited and tried to take some photos inside, making me think they're getting a fair number of archi-tourists trekking to this distant neck of Queens.) Third, even though the project is small, is remote from more high-profile parts of the city, and took a long time to realize, it has brought the firm (more) loads of attention.

[Kew Gardens Hills Library, Queens | Photos: John Hill]

This last point is important. Even though WORKac has not realized any buildings of a substantial size in their first 15 years, they are very well respected and influential within the profession (they topped the most recent Architect 50 list for design). I chalk this up to a few things, all evident in the monograph. One, even the smallest projects are deeply considered and highly creative. Villa Pup, one of their first projects, is a case in point, as are their numerous interiors projects, such as Wieden+Kennedy NY and the Children's Museum of the Arts. Second, their work ranges in scale from small interiors to urbanism, the latter in the form of masterplans, proposals, exhibitions, and books. In essence, Andraos and Wood are not content to limit their unique approach to single typologies or scales. Third, their designs manage to strike a balance between the serious, particularly in regard to environmental issues, and the playful, expressed through Pop sensibilities that are more endearing than ironic. Fourth is the whole shebang in the form of this book. It documents many of their projects through revealing conversations between Andraos and Wood, snapshots of their office and private lives, lots of full-color images of notable projects, and a clever graphic design by Neil Donnelly that is a suitable match to the architecture on display. As much a diary as a monograph, We'll Get There When We Cross That Bridge injects new life into an often tired format.

For those in NYC, McNally Jackson is hosting a discussion on May 29 with Amale Andraos and Dan Wood of WORKac and book designer Neil Donnelly, moderated by Monacelli Press editor Alan Rapp.