Q+A: Wes Rozen of SITU Studio
DUMBO has some amazing businesses and SITU Studio is definitely one of them. SITU Studio is a unique architectural studio that focuses on various media. Not only do they provide design consulting services, they also operate their very own digital fabrication shop. We sat down with Westley Rozen, SITU Studio partner to learn more about their creative studio!
What influenced you to create SITU?
SITU is the root of situation and was created by 4 partners. We were all friends in school. We all studied architecture at Cooper Union and we wanted to set up a place where we could work both digitally and physically. So before we even knew what kind of work we would be doing, we wanted to at least have a place we could work in that was similar to how we worked in school.
In Cooper Union, architects mostly move between the third and fourth floor of the main building. The third floor is a big drawing studio and the fourth floor is a big fabrication shop. We were encouraged to work through our architectural ideas both through the drawing room and the fabrication shop. That's how we learned how to think architecturally so that was important for us when we went out into the world. Eventually, we set up a space on the other side of this floor that was a little bit smaller but a 50/50 split between drawing studio and fabrication shop. Then we started doing work with a very broad approach to architecture by doing work with people outside of architecture. We were doing work with scientists, geologists and supporting ourselves by doing a lot of fabrication work. Through that work, we try to find a sweet spot between what can be done with computers and what can be done with traditional techniques like old fashion craftsmanship.
By having a fabrication company, we are able to work with a whole range of architects. For most architects, the typical path is to go through architecture school and then spend 3-5 years learning the trade at one office where they learn one approach to architecture. But for us, it is exciting to work with 20-30 different architecture firms through the fabrication shop and learn about all these different approaches. We receive a lot of perspective and exposure which helps position us in the industry. When first opened, we started doing a lot of small projects like architectural models and prototypes but now, all those relationships that we started then are valuable and have helped us work on larger projects.
Have you done any projects in DUMBO? If so, can you talk a little about them?
We are just finishing a project for a building that's going up around the corner, 1 John Street. It's an Alloy project. Alloy came to us to develop the sculptural wall panels that wrap around a part of the facade and go into the lobby of the building. We developed a technique for casting textured concrete panels where we use beeswax and salt in the mold to create the texture. We just finished installation of those panels two weeks ago and the building is going to open in July. It's nice to have work on a project that is going to be a permanent feature of that building.
We also had a piece in the Pearl Street Triangle called Heartwalk. That was a project we built shortly after Hurricane Sandy hit the city. We were invited to submit a proposal for Times Square. We wanted to bring the edges where most of the damage occurred to the middle of the city. We salvaged most of the boardwalk boards and created this heart shaped platform. It started in Times Square and then moved over to the the Pearl Street Triangle for 2-3 months in 2014. Then it moved to Far Rockaway and now it lives in Atlantic City. So we moved it around to all the areas that were hit really hard by Sandy.
We also set up one of our pavilion structure that ran alongside the Tobacco Warehouse for the DUMBO Arts Festival, a couple years before 2012.
We moved in to the neighborhood in 2003 or 2004. We were actually over on 70 Washington which is an interesting story. The building was about to be converted from office space to condos but there was a 9 month window where a few of the areas in the building were vacant. It didn't make sense for them to rent out those spaces because they were about to convert but as a group of students at the time, they were fine with just letting us move into one of those spaces temporarily. We built up our own walls and set up the infrastructure that we needed which allowed us to get to know the neighborhood. When construction began, a lot of the people in 70 Washington moved over to 20 Jay Street. So we came to 20 Jay and we wanted to continue developing our business here in DUMBO. We saw the appeal because we were so close to the city. It was easy enough to receive various raw materials or ship things that we built. It's much easier to move things in and out of here than any place else out in the city. And of course, the community is amazing.
It's great to be around artists and other designers. It's definitely a little village. I can't count the number of times I've run into colleagues or peers on the street or in the coffee shops. It's also a beautiful part of Brooklyn with the two bridges cutting through the neighborhood and the waterfront. The history of the neighborhood is something that we appreciate on a daily basis. We enjoy being a part of the culture here and I think our clients appreciate it as well.
Last but not least, what are some of your favorite spots in DUMBO?
I really like that very narrow corridor that goes between the Anchorage Place and the garage on the other side. It's kind of a grungy space but it's the only type of space like that in New York. It only takes 10 seconds to walk but you have a moment where you feel that you are an individual in the city because you can only move through the space alone. I also think the Archway is an amazing space. It's noisy in there but it's one of those spaces that is unlike anything else in the city. It's awesome to have places like that, that are folded into our daily lives in DUMBO which is inspired just by the scale and craftsmanship that went into building the bridge.