New York’s Iron Accessory by Helen Zouvelekis

I have a note on my phone listing all of my impressions from the first time I visited New York, almost exactly a year ago. It starts with boarding the plane: first 10 rows, all men in suits making important business calls, and continues to exiting the airport: terrified of taxi, watching the meter $$$ climb!

And then my favorite part, because it led me here: fire escapes…It just makes me so happy they’re real. Growing up in Atlanta I didn’t run into them. The few times I recall seeing any fire escapes was when visiting movie sets and on the facade of a few trendy buildings, added merely as a decorative piece. For some reason, I had assumed all New York movie location scouters were walking down the same few streets lined with buildings coated in these magical metal floating stairs. I had no clue in reality they were around every corner.

A 1929 law required two coats of contrasting colors to let owners and inspectors know when to check up on the stairs!

The history of how fire escapes came to be the iron jungle gym clinging to the city is no surprise. By the mid-19th century, New York was filling up fast with the influx of new people arriving to the city. With the island expanding so fast, buildings started to move up and into the sky. They were built taller and quicker with cheap materials. These overcrowded and unsafe structures resulted in many fires, including a deadly fire in the basement of a bakery in the 1860s. This lead to the city’s first egress law in 1867 requiring an exterior stair be added to all buildings.

Since then people have used fire escapes as a personal extension of their apartments. From gardens, to refrigerators, bike storage, and love story settings (West Side Story obviously needs a shout out), they have served many purposes far from their intent. It wasn’t until the 1968 building code that required interior stairwells and sprinklers that fire escapes were no longer a necessity.

I have an interior room without a fire escape so I had to add one to my wall.

For years architects have dealt with the inevitable reality of designing the perfect facade only to have a metal Z slapped on top of it. I can only imagine a fashion designer creating a dress and finally seeing it on a model only to have a jagged metal necklace clipped around her neck. It creates an interesting conversation about designing with codes and safety in mind, and finding means of integration that are honest to the design. For example, designing reception desks with ADA height surfaces and ramps that feel intentional, not like an afterthought added to meet a code.

My camera roll tends to fill up with fire escapes, look up while you walk around!

The future of fire escapes is up in the air. They are no longer required and many have been removed during renovations, however not without kickback like at buildings in SoHo on Greene Street where tenants protested and successfully stopped an architect from taking them off. The Zs have become an iconic character in this city’s story. My first day in the city I completely fell in love with them for that reason. After I got over my initial shock that they were in fact real and had an actual use (if only their name made their purpose more obvious), they came to embody all of New York to me on that first trip. Everyone and everything was trying to replicate this city. Every movie, every new development in other cities, everyone was trying to get a taste of this energy and atmosphere.

But here was the most authentic version, the only real version of New York City was New York City, standing tall and proudly wearing its iron jewelry.

 Caroline Percy

Caroline Percy

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"The Bronx is Up, but the Battery's Down" by Helen Zouvelekis

When Spacesmith moved into One New York Plaza, right across the street from the Staten Island Ferry and Battery Park, I was surprised to see how much Battery Park had changed since I had last visited it. 

Granted I had not been there in a dog’s year or so, but this was certainly not the run down, barren park I remembered from the 90s. It is now so robust now with many types of plants, wild flowers, new art installations, a café…you can even get a beer there.

And, oh yes, that carousel, which is not the subject of this blog, but yes, that carousel.

So it has become a habit of mine during the warmer months to stroll through the Park on a lunch break and take in the seasonal fauna, or even a nap in the Battery Oval (an acre of land, formerly hard surface, now green lawns and winding gardens). 

I got it into my head that a gif showing the transition from winter to spring in the Park would be fun to do. In hindsight, fun was not the right word, but I remained committed. From April 3rd to June 27th, every Tuesday morning I took pictures from two vantage points in the hopes that I could capture spring awakening, to share the amazing work the Battery Park Conservancy is doing in concert with Mother Nature. FULL DISCLOSURE: I did miss two Tuesdays (one in May and one in June for reasons I will not bore you with) but I managed to keep my date for almost 3 months. Rain or shine. 

On my first trip, there was still snow on the ground. A good start, I thought.

So below, behold, my amateur photography turned into amateur animation. I’m hoping a gif will say a thousand words. 

Battery Park Gif A                

Battery Park Gif B

Learn more about the Gardens of The Battery and the amazing landscape architecture going on at the Park. “Since its founding in 1994, The Battery Conservancy has demonstrated that public parkland can become a paradise of plants, achieved through the breathtaking beauty of gardens. Visited by millions of people each year, The Battery was the first New York City public park to introduce a horticultural landscape without fences or an admission fee.”

“New York, New York, it's a helluva town!”

 Kristen Persinos

Kristen Persinos

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Retrofitting Industrial Brooklyn by Helen Zouvelekis

Pfizer, the giant global pharmaceutical company founded in Brooklyn in 1849, was a huge presence for many generations of scientists and factory workers. It was at the forefront of innovation in medicines and was the source of good jobs across the boroughs and the city. However, in 2008 it closed the (more or less) original manufacturing and research and development (R+D) site. Bad news for South Williamsburg.

 Deco Exterior of Pfizer Building with Graffiti

Deco Exterior of Pfizer Building with Graffiti

 The Old Pfizer Williamsburg Plant

The Old Pfizer Williamsburg Plant

Developers stepped in to keep the facility available for light manufacturing. It's a massive industrial building repurposed for, among other things, a yeshiva, a food training program, food startups, and Pratt's newest spinoff the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator.

Pratt administrators realized that when their students graduated, the ideas they had developed during their schooling walked out the door with them.

  • Can they extend their reach with capturing the next stage of development and share in any successes they nurtured?


  • Can they at least keep designers in NYC despite dizzying rents and the maddening difficulties of manufacturing locally? 

With an emphasis on technology and sustainable processes and materials, the BF+ DA was opened for its first entrepreneurs in 2014 with seed money from the Institute, the borough, the city, and state.

 Neon BF+DA Logo

Neon BF+DA Logo

View of Knitting Machinery and Cut and Sew Studio

The lab pipes are still in place (and labeled) but the spaces have been reconfigured for small apparel companies. There is also an in-house cut and sew factory, advanced knitting sampling and manufacturing, and a resource library of sustainable fabrics for the apparel designers.

Sustainable Fabrics Library

 Fashion Week

Fashion Week

Support for Venture Fellows, who must apply for mentorship, includes advisement on finance, branding, sales, marketing, and sustainable strategies. Sunny studios come with common access to tools and targeted networking and educational events. If a company is approved, the studios can be rented for up to three years.

One of the research areas of the BF+DA is embedded technology and textiles. Last summer an intensive design charette yielded what they called "Tek-Tiles." 

 Chalkboard Showing Monthly Activities for Venture Fellows

Chalkboard Showing Monthly Activities for Venture Fellows

 Experimental "Tek-Tile"

Experimental "Tek-Tile"

Are they reinventing the wheel? Are these knits, embedded with sensors that respond to heat or touch, like apps that are substitutes for simple human interaction? Is this a new chapter to the Pfizer legacy—see what you invent and then find a use for it? In any case, the BF+DA is addressing the issue of "the rent is too damn high," giving at least a few fashion startups time and room to grow.

Elizabeth Frenchman, NYC


Our Path to Zero, Part II: Design Influence by Helen Zouvelekis

Two of the great pioneers of modern architecture, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, designed houses based on the following premise: a house should be an efficient tool that provides for the necessities of life and is free from decoration. Le Corbusier actually named his houses “machines for living,” taking advantage of new technology to support his theories. At a time when load-bearing walls and masonry construction were the norm, Le Corbusier embraced new construction methods. 

Notably, he used reinforced concrete supported by slim columns to provide large open spaces that could be divided as needed. Because the exterior of the building was independent of the structure, he was able to use long uninterrupted windows sealed with gaskets, a new technology derived from aircraft manufacturing. The Villa Savoye, designed between 1928 and 1931, is a culmination of these principles. The house is deliberately detached from the ground to reinforce the concept of a self-contained machine. 

The Villa Savoye

Fifteen years later, the equally brilliant architect Mies van de Rohe also leveraged structural innovation in his house design. The Farnsworth House, a weekend house designed in 1945 for his friend Dr. Edith Farnsworth, is the finest exemplar of his ideas. Using new steel technology and curtain wall design, the house allows for a simple thin framework with floor to ceiling windows around the entire perimeter of the house. Unlike the Villa Savoye, this house was designed to embrace the surrounding landscape, to “bring nature, houses and human beings into a higher unity,” in the words of Mr. van de Rohe. This concept of connecting built environment to landscape has been particularly inspirational in our design.

The Farnsworth House

When my husband and I set out to design our second house on a beautiful undisturbed site surrounded by 250 acres of nature preserve, we set up our own design guidelines:

  • Locate the house on the site to retain as many trees as possible.
  • Make as efficient a floor plan as possible to minimize construction materials and site disturbance.
  • Use new “Passive House” energy technology to heat and cool the house with a minimum of energy expenditure. 
  • Connect the house with the surrounding landscape, as much as possible, with floor to ceiling operable windows on the south and west exposures.
  • Use interior finishes that are sustainable and warm.
  • Use exterior finishes that require little to no maintenance.

Below find our design plans that will make all of our concepts a reality.

Site Plan

Floor Plan

Axonometric of Structure

Exterior structure facing south west, floor to ceiling operable windows on south and west, and interior wood beams continue to allow shading in summer.

View of Living Room

45 foot long open kitchen, living, dining reduces materials and allows light throughout

Wall Section

Roof truss structure allows for added insulation / 1"9" wall made of 2 x 6 studs, exterior insulation and cedar siding

Through much of the Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe design influences, my husband and I envisioned our own unique perspective. Our goal is to have the smallest impact on the planet as possible with an efficient and beautiful space while accommodating our home to its natural environment.

 Elisabeth Post-Marner

Elisabeth Post-Marner

If you have any thoughts, suggestions, or questions, click below!


INDUSTRY CITY by Helen Zouvelekis

"Your father would love this place!" my mother repeated as I walked her through Industry City for the first time.

I venture to Industry City whenever I'm in the mood for a good weekend lunch, need to shop for gifts, or just want to check out a free show or exhibition, this is my go to spot. Industry City is a collection of enormous warehouses stationed in Brooklyn from 32nd to 37th Streets on Third Avenue, and from 39th Street to the waterfront on Second Avenue.


What used to be Bush Terminal - an intermodal shipping, warehousing, and manufacturing complex that covered 200 acres in the early 1900s - is now home to many diverse businesses including garment manufacturing, design/build firms, data centers, and warehousing. Occupying 6 million square feet, it is also a home to a tasty food hall, gaming rooms, retail shops, and event spaces. 

In the mid-1980s, Bush terminal was renamed to Industry City and renovations to modernize the historic infrastructure started in 2012. 

Industry City has become a meeting point for the international creative community, also taking part in NYCxDesign! In the past couple of years they have teamed up with Wanted Design and put on eleven days worth of events and workshops, as well as hosted their own Open Studios. This place is a thriving destination for cultural collaboration, entrepreneurs, startups, and much more.

Industry City offers a cheerful hangout during the holidays!

As Brooklyn emerges as a new hub for the design world, we’ve seen Industry City grow into a dynamic community of 21st century makers across a wide variety of disciplines.
— Andrew Kimball, CEO of Industry City

Industry City is a community that works together and still has so much growth and possibilities! Within just a few years it has really taken off and I'm excited to see what else they will bring to the area. I highly recommend Industry City to anyone looking for a fun weekend trip...check it out!

Please enjoy this video "Industry City - Anthem" for the full intensity and energy of this amazing place!


 Danielle Kachler

Danielle Kachler

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Where the Rubber Meets the Road by Helen Zouvelekis

Okay, so the design phase is over, the contract documents are complete, and a general contractor (GC) has been awarded the contract. Now what?

For me, this is where the project gets really fun.

This, now, is the Contract or Construction Administration (CA) phase where, as they say, the rubber meets the road (who says this?). Months (or years) of hard work and late nights now become a reality.

The CA phase in the construction process is when the GC takes the design team's coordinated, detailed drawings and specifications and begins the building process. 

In a project on an existing site, the GC begins by preparing the site for construction. There are often times when some remedial demolition work or a walk-through with the landlord and client may need to be done in order to identify any issues with the site. The GC then begins the partition layouts, followed by the mechanical and electrical services layouts. Invariably the team will run into unforeseen conditions that were uncovered after demolition, or other potential issues. As the architect, we are the arbiters of the solutions to such challenges and how they may effect the design intent.

Site Observation

Additionally, the GC begins the shop drawing and submittal phase where they issue detailed drawings showing how they intend to construct the architect's design, be it millwork, metal work, or curtain wall assemblies. It is the architect’s responsibility to review and approve them, or return them with enough redlines to give direction on how to resubmit. The contractor’s may then have questions that are submitted in the form of a Request for Information.

Field Meeting with the Project Team

Sketching Details on Site

Graphic 7.jpg

Spacesmith Partner Jane Smith Sketching Out a Detail

Weekly visits and field reports are other tasks that are part of the architect’s scope. This is to allow the architect to become familiar with the progress of the construction. The GC is still responsible for the quality of the work and adherence to schedule and budget. By being aware of the site progress, the architect can also sign the contractor’s requisitions for payment. Any changes to the design at this stage, regardless of reason, is known as a change order. At the end of the project, the architect produces a punch list that identifies the items that require the GC’s further attention for repair or replacement .

Getting Up Close to a Detail

Reviewing Site Layout

Look at All the Potential!

It may not sound like it, but personally, this is the most interesting part of the entire design and construction process. After the many hours spent drawing and envisioning the design, you can begin to see it in reality. You can walk through the site to get a sense of the spatial qualities you were designing, see how the natural light interacts with the built environment, and, ultimately, watch how others experience your design.

Spacesmith Partner Marc Gordon Looking at a Detail

Spacesmith Associate Amy Jarvis Observing on Site

During CA, I speak with the builders and their subcontractors, such as the carpenters, the electrician, steamfitters, tin knockers, and millworkers, to name a few. Oftentimes they have tips from other project experience to help resolve a design issue or to even improve upon a detail. You learn that while we can draw to the 1/8”or 1/16” in Revit, construction detailing may require greater tolerances. As always, the contractor’s role is to build from your drawings as much as possible. When a conflict arises, I enjoy talking to the GC or their subs to hear/learn from everyone to come to a solution.

Construction Administration is the culmination of the team’s hard work in bringing a design to the real world. 

Will Wong

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Opus 40 by Helen Zouvelekis

Last fall, I visited Opus 40, an amazing environmental sculpture park located in Saugerties, NY.

In 1938, Harvey Fite, an Amercian sculptor, painter, and one of the founders of Bard College's Fine Arts Department, purchased an abandoned bluestone quarry and began construction on what would become Opus 40. Over the next 37 years, Fite ended up creating a 6.5-acre labyrinth of stone.

The nine-ton monolith was set in place using techniques adapted from ancient Egyptians, and is held in place by its own weight and balance.

Swirling out from the nine-ton monolith, which is situated at the center of the site, are ramps, stairs, stone walls, and narrow subterranean paths, some as deep as 16 feet, with bridges connecting the overhead stone terraces. It was a beautiful and surreal experience walking through the cool dark corridors of stone which, depending on the path taken, would lead to the blinding sunlight found on the plateaus around the monolith, trees and pools, Outlook Mountain perfectly framed off in the distance, or seeing nothing but stone.

The layered paths create a fantastic play of light and shadows, highs and lows, open and closed, as you weave through and explore the sculpture, each nook becoming its own unique environment.

Although Fite spent much of his life working on Opus 40, it was not initially intended or designed to become what we see today. In 1938, Fite purchased this quarry as a site to build his home and art studio. During the summer of that year, he worked for the Carnegie Institute and helped to restore the ruins of the great Mayan civilization at Copan, Honduras. This work deeply affected him and, upon his return, Fite began experimenting on his own and testing the Mayan techniques with the stone in his quarry. He initially created various statues on the site, and began building walkways, steps and ramps to connect them, by using only traditional hand tools. Some 25 years later, when he was able to erect the monolith, which he found in a nearby stream, he began to see the whole site as a single sculpture and continued to work on it for the rest of his life.

Several structures exist on the site, including Fite’s private family home, a studio, and the Quarryman’s Museum

The site also includes Quarryman’s Museum, showcasing a large collection of indigenous tools of quarrymen, similar to the hand tools used by Fite to single-handedly create this extraordinary site. 

Quarryman’s Museum - A display of tools (below) at the Quarryman’s Museum

Harvey Fite at work, image source

Opus 40, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is open from Memorial Day weekend through October, Thursday-Sunday from 11:00am - 5:30pm. I would highly recommend a visit, next time you're near Saugerties.

 Alexandra Koretski

Alexandra Koretski

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How Startups Can Avoid Costly Real Estate Mistakes by Helen Zouvelekis

Recently, Commercial Observer published an article (advertorial) titled “4 Real Estate Mistakes Every Startup Should Avoid.” The article was authored by Breather, a global provider of on-demand meeting rooms. While Breather raises some very important issues and concerns as they relate to the real estate needs of startups, what it fails to do is mention that, by partnering with an architecture and workplace design firm, a startup can often avoid the four common, and often costly, mistakes mentioned in the article.

As a startup, or even an established company works with an architecture and workplace design firm, they will get the help needed to:

  • understand lease terms and contracts
  • find the right office location
  • know if the space is flexible enough for future growth

In addition, a planning firm can help a company figure out how best to:

  • determine the need, design and layout of certain types of spaces (e.g., collaborative, private, common, amenity, etc.)
  • accommodate the needs of service providers and/or clients that may visit the office
  • increase and promote employee well-being, productivity and morale through design
  • incorporate branding elements into the workplace

And, most important of all, by working with an architecture and design firm, startups can develop office spaces that aid in the retention and recruitment of talent!

 Roger Marquis

Roger Marquis


4 Ways to Achieve Acoustic Privacy by Helen Zouvelekis

Open plan offices offer a great deal of positive attributes and have become the go-to model in the last 20 years or so. They offer transparency, flat hierarchy, free up more space for shared amenities, and are almost always cheaper to build. However, there is a caveat that can keep employers from joining in on the trend: acoustic privacy.

Office Noise.jpg

Recent studies suggest that workers are up to 66% less productive when co-located with a person or group having an unrelated conversation. On the flip side of that, we all have a need to make private phone calls or talk about confidential projects that must not be overheard. In a traditional office plan these conversations would happen behind the closed doors of a private office. As we have embraced open plan, these types of spaces are becoming extinct. Only 8% of the workforce in offices built in the last year work in enclosed offices. There is clear need to address the issues of speech privacy in open plans in order for them to work for you.

Here are 4 ways of achieving acoustic privacy in your open plan workspace.

Minimal Impact:

The easiest way to approach the issue of distraction is on a personal level. The ubiquitous use of technology has stripped away the negative connotations that may have once surrounded the use of headphones in the workplace. Music or white noise can be a great way to zone out auditory distractions and focus on a task, particular repetitive tasks. This solution only helps with one of our problems, so what about when we want to keep others from hearing our conversation?

While wearing headphones all day probably isn’t appropriate, they could really come in handy if you need an hour or two to buckle down.


On a Budget:

Acoustic privacy is an issue that everyone is taking notice of, even furniture manufacturers. If you are looking to improve your existing space or have a limited budget, there are a great number of products that can be employed. Soundproof curtains, felt wall pods, and high back chairs with sound absorbing materials are a great place to start your search. It is best to place the freestanding furniture away from noisy areas as they aren’t sound proof, only sound absorptive. If complete sound isolation is required, take a look at the next two options.

Telephone Booth:

Phone booths grew in popularity following the rise of open offices. These little pods can be bought off the shelf or customized to your needs. They tend to be small because of fire sprinkler codes and generally only accommodate one person at a time. If you need a larger booth, you will likely have to add a sprinkler head and maybe even HVAC, which might rule this option out for a retrofit application. Telephone booths are not meant to be used for extended periods of time or for a group of people, but they do offer a great oasis for a quick call.

New Construction:

Nothing beats original sound proof construction. This is the tried and true method used for conference rooms where confidentiality is important. The key here is selecting construction materials and methods that reduce sound transmission through the walls and ceilings. Gypsum walls should be sealed at the top and bottom, glass partitions and doors should be double glazed, and ceilings should be acoustically rated. Staggering back to back outlets or back boxes for TVs will help as well. This is the most expensive method of achieving acoustic privacy and also uses the most square footage, but it is also the most effective.

Acoustic Wall

Providing acoustic privacy is paramount if you want to get the most out of your employees and your open office. Whether you are looking to remedy a problem or are starting to think about building out a new space, there is an ocean of ideas and designs to draw inspiration from if you know where to look . As these four options show, aesthetic, cost, and impact are just a few of the variables that can help you decided which approach is best for you.

 Amy Jarvis   

Amy Jarvis



I would love to hear back from you. If you have any thoughts, suggestions, or questions, click below!

swirl arrow trans.png

Making Room for Dynamo by Helen Zouvelekis

Hello again!
For those of you that follow my interests (and my blogs), you know that I promised to embark on a more technical walk through of how to utilize Dynamo in order to make architects' and designers' lives a little easier. If you haven't read my last blog post, you can do so here (Diving into Dynamo).

To my fellow architects and designers out there (what’s up!), you may already know how certain tasks in Revit can be painfully tedious. Here, I will demonstrate the practical application of using Dynamo in Revit to stream-line room generation and organization. In particular, I will show you how to:

  1. Import a list of room names to be placed into your project
  2. Relocate the Revit’s room crosshair to be automatically located in the center of the room
  3. Use a model line to automatically renumber rooms

1. Import room names

For demonstration purposes, I put together a hypothetical office building. This was taken and edited from existing projects. My intention was to use a believable layout with a realistic program. I went ahead and planned out a list of spaces to import into Revit. 


A simple Dynamo script (I used elements from the BVN package) can easily take a list of rooms either in a code block (demonstrated below) or by importing an Excel file. I chose a code block because my list of rooms was relatively short. 


2. Centering rooms

After placing the rooms in their general location in my Revit model, I’m left with a somewhat messy layout. I’d like to clean it up a bit using the “Room.CentreLocation” Dynamo script.


As you can see, this script allows me to clean up my rooms with just a click of a button. This task, depending on the size of the project, could take anywhere from five minutes to one hour. 


3. Renumbering rooms

I saved the best for last. I think most architects and designers would agree that renumbering rooms in Revit can be an excruciatingly slow process. Dynamo can help with that! 


By utilizing this script, I am able to reference a model line as a spline and draw the order that I want the rooms to be in, as well as the numbering prefix that makes sense for the project and conforms to your office standards.


Ta-dah! Just like magic!

These steps may seem very trivial at a glance, but they can certainly shave off a significant amount of time. Of course I don’t have to explain to you how time is our most precious resource.

Until next blog!

I would love to hear back from you. If you have any thoughts, suggestions, or questions, click below!

 Katy Marino

Katy Marino