When it comes to being creative, eclectic, and ambitious, there is perhaps no architecture firm more exciting than Manhattan-based Bureau V. The 10-year-old company is the type of success story one can’t help but root for—combining a small amount of luck with an intense amount of grit, dedication, and far-reaching creativity.
Led by principals Stella Lee (40), Laura Trevino (36), and Peter Zuspan (38), Bureau V has, in many ways, broken the mold of traditional architecture firms by way of the trio’s diverse backgrounds and educations. Zuspan, for example, studied opera singing while also pursuing an undergraduate degree in architecture. Lee, who studied architecture as an undergraduate and graduate at Columbia University, originally intended to pursue a career in fine arts and took a year off to study fashion in Paris. Trevino, who holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in architecture from Columbia, is passionate in such areas as furniture and fashion.
Early on, the firm made a small name for itself by collaborating with other artists in a variety of genres including fashion (with Mary Ping’s clothing collection “Slow and Steady Wins the Race”) and improvised dance pieces (with Assume Vivid Astro Focus), among others. It was the group’s diverse background, willingness to expand their creative horizons, and experience in the performing arts that eventually led them to their break-out project in 2008: National Sawdust.
“This was the first building we ever finished,” says Zuspan of the century-old converted sawmill factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “For us, the aspect of the project being about a performance-based space gave us a lot of confidence in our plan.” Kevin Dolan, a former international tax attorney turned music enthusiast, had a vision for a nonprofit that allowed new musicians and composers to have a professional space in which they could have a real opportunity to find their paths. Dolan wanted the architecture to reflect that same mission and so decided to give a new and exciting firm a golden opportunity to shine. Enter Bureau V, a studio that had impressed many in the industry with its willingness to take risks and work in nontraditional spaces. More important, perhaps, was the fact that the firm included architects like Zuspan, who had actually performed as an opera singer. “Dolan wanted the sound in the venue to be incredible, and the space to look like something people haven’t seen before,” says Zuspan. “One of the real challenges of this space was the fact that, since all the musicians are new and don’t have a big following, we had to ensure that if only 40 people showed up to a performance, the venue would not feel empty.” They achieved this feat by implementing a reductionist design philosophy—one in which the interior space was refined to aesthetically take on the needs and expectations of a wide range of musicians and performers. It’s a complex design approach which, when done successfully, looks spectacular for its refined harmony.
Bureau V is nothing if not a testament to the power of diverse educations and gritty zealousness. The group has created a road map for what other young firms should consider doing in order to survive in the increasingly competitive world of architecture. “Younger firms are always trying to break out in terms of earning money, as well as body of work,” says Zuspan. “So while our story isn’t completely unique, I do think our willingness to study non-architecture-related topics, as well as our ability to succeed in areas such as furniture and fashion design, has helped pave our way.” Anyone who stepped foot into National Sawdust would agree.