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Focus on Fabricators
Who do you go to when you need an undulating ceiling constructed, a textured metal facade made to order or some bold built-in seating installed? In this designer's guide to fabricators, top architecture and design firms open up their black books to reveal their manufacturing mainstays
The Metal Experts Behind Two Stunning Projects
The Best Furniture Fabricators For Built-Ins
3 Impressive Custom-Created Ceilings
DJA and Coloredge Create a Stunning Glass Wall at ArtCenter College of Design
Focus on Fabricators
Focus on Fabricators
A Study in Bronze

At studioMDA’s High Line Nine in New York, the collaboration between an architect and his foundry of choice yields a striking cast-bronze facade

Last year, Markus Dochantschi completed two art venues along New York’s famed High Line: Kasmin Gallery and High Line Nine. In an auspicious coincidence, both are situated within view of the 520 West 28th condos by Zaha Hadid Architects, the firm at which Dochantschi worked before opening his own office, studioMDA, in 2002.

For High Line Nine, Dochantschi decided to clad the low-slung, 929-square-metre building in a striking yet understated facade that curves its way into the entrance. “Because of its proximity to the High Line,” he says, “I wanted to make sure not to do a very loud building, but I did want to use a traditional casting method as well as state-of-the-art 3D-modelling software.” Ultimately, the architect opted for an elegant white-bronze facade that subtly referenced the scrapyard formerly located on the site. The casting of the facade’s metal panels was done with 3D-printed sand moulds, allowing for each of the panels to be unique.

For his fabricator, Dochantschi chose Polich Tallix, an upstate New York foundry that specializes in complex work, including sculptures for Joel Shapiro and Jeff Koons. When he approached the business to create the panelling for High Line Nine, its owners were enthusiastic. “This is unlike anything we’ve done before,” they told him, “so we really want to do it.”

The point of departure was a 60-by-91-centimetre slate slab that the team found in a stone yard. They scanned the slab to capture its contours and depth, then manipulated this image and applied it to a 3D model of the gallery created with ZBrush, a digital sculpting tool used in the movie industry. After figuring out the maximum size that the foundry could cast – 142 by 229 centimetres – Polich Tallix created sand moulds and cast 66 panels: 27 for each side of the front facade as well as 10 on the east side and two on the west side.

Because the entrance’s two identical sides are curved, it was necessary to bend the panels in some areas. Waterjet-cut for perfect alignment, the panels were assembled in the Polich Tallix warehouse before being shipped to Manhattan for installation. The dramatically veined cladding evokes both metal and stone, two time-honoured materials that were replicated, in this case, via both new technologies and some old-school casting know-how.

Aluminum Foil

When designer Marc Newson needed a shimmering display feature for a landmark Azzedine Alaïa exhibition, he called on the pros at Neal Feay

Founded in 1945 and based in California’s Santa Barbara County, Neal Feay Company is an aluminum fabricator whose portfolio is, to say the least, broad. Encompassing everything from women’s accessories for Hermès brand Petit H to the world’s biggest subwoofer, the projects are “just all over the map,” says Neal Feay’s president, Alex Rasmussen, grandson of the firm’s namesake founder.

For Marc Newson, one of a roster of major names with whom he frequently collaborates (others include Peter Marino, Holly Hunt and Joan Behnke), Rasmussen recently helped make the shimmering pink aluminum screens that the architect designed for last year’s Azzedine Alaïa retrospective at the Design Museum in London.

“They got a beautiful, demountable Marc Newson piece for the price of manufacturing,” quips Rasmussen. The core idea was to make metal look like fabric, thereby changing the perception of what anodized aluminum can be. Newson’s team designed the motif, while Neal Feay engineered the deep-textured, double-sided surface using Rhino, SolidWorks and Mastercam. The panels measure 3.5 by 11 metres and are only 15 millimetres thick. The firm manufactured them in its 4,645-square-metre factory and sent them to London – via FedEx – for just $2,400.

Breaking the Mould

For a restaurant in a former ceramics plant in Maastricht, the Netherlands, Studio Modijefsky enlisted Holland’s Fiction Factory to devise dynamic, space-defining seating.

The Dutch aren’t afraid of colour. For proof of this, consider the vibrant custom interior of the Commons, a three-level restaurant, bar and event space that Studio Modijefsky of Amsterdam designed for the Student Hotel, a stay-work-meet space geared to university kids and tourists, in Maastricht. The Student Hotel is located inside the Eiffel, a so-called “horizontal skyscraper” distinguished by its 183-metre-long span. Formerly the home of the equally celebrated Sphinx ceramics factory, the setting served as a big source of inspiration for the new 975-square-metre facility, which is situated in the building’s northeast addition, constructed out of steel.

The rounded shapes of the hotel’s custom-made tables, for instance, evoke both spinning pottery wheels and stacked clay vessels; the leather daybeds are suspended on metal rails in a nod to the elevators that serve as vertical connectors in the “overturned” monolith. Even the palette, rendered across the three storeys in both soft pastels and bolder hues, evokes the colours associated with the making of ceramics, from unbaked clay to various glazed finishes.

To construct all the custom built-ins, Studio Modijefsky chose to collaborate with Fiction Factory. Founded in 1989 as a theatre scenery company, Fiction Factory is a construction studio that also realizes its own wacky creations, including 2016’s Wikkelhouse, a small-scale house prototype composed of interlocking cardboard segments.

“We know with which companies we have a mutual understanding, which are the super-precise ones that are into details and willing to reinvent some wheels,” says Esther Stam, Studio Modijefsky’s founder. “Fiction Factory is like us – it’s not an off-the-shelf company. It has electrical, metal, wood and upholstery shops and they draw everything themselves.” Together, the two firms devised various types of seating to encourage different ways of using the facility. Furniture, says Stam, is a good way of defining spaces, while customization distinguishes a firm from others.

Working Model

To inspire Capital One’s Toronto staff, IBI Group imagined zones defined by colour and whimsy. Enter Eventscape

Capital One’s new headquarters in Toronto is a workspace designed to attract and retain top fintech talent. And it does so by prioritizing flexibility and spontaneity. The offices are spread across multiple floors in the middle of a downtown tower, with each level featuring a unique central corridor concept that brings together built-in seating, power, lighting and whiteboards. For instance, one concept comprises a pair of fractal nooks, upholstered in fuchsia. Another, more daring one features a ribbon of seating clad in blue Maharam wool fabric; anchored to the ceiling and wall, the faceted band is made of steel plate, with cushioned panels clipped to the structure.

Eventscape was contracted to engineer, build and install these standout elements, which were designed by IBI Group, the interiors firm that led the project. The Toronto-based fabricator built custom elements in its factories (which the design team inspected) and then broke them down, shipped them to the site and reassembled them in situ. The breakout spaces foster collaboration and feature writable wall panels, enabling staff to ideate on all surfaces.

This story was taken from the March/April 2019 issue of Azure. Buy a copy of the issue here, or subscribe here.

Evoking a fleet of UFOs, the multi-purpose PODS designed by Partisans for a food court at Toronto’s main railway station plug into existing ductwork.
Hot Pods

Who says HVAC isn’t sexy? At Toronto’s revamped Union Station, ductwork-concealing modules invented for the site go way beyond drop tiles

A drop ceiling is typically the default choice when it comes to concealing mechanical, electrical, plumbing and safety systems. For a new subterranean food court at Toronto’s Union Station, however, the locally based architecture firm Partisans adopted a less banal approach, inventing a solution called PODS, which stands for Pressurized Ocular Diffuser System. Partisans designer and co-founder Alex Josephson characterizes PODS as “a seamless marriage of the nerdiest things in architecture: a sprinkler, an HVAC duct, a light and a piece of drywall.” Yet the resulting modules, recalling UFOs or more natural heavenly bodies, are undeniably striking. The 210 hovering over the food court at Union Station were realized in two sizes: 122 centimetres and 183 centimetres.


To design the modules, Partisans used Rhino software, then converted its files to CATIA for engineering tests by Formglas Products, a company that works with major international firms, including Studio Fuksas and SOM, to devise standout architectural features. The 3D computational models the team came up with adhered to a checklist of functional demands, most importantly the even distribution of air and lighting flows – achieving zero glare and eliminating hot spots were among the most challenging requirements. The PODS shape, consequently, eschews sharp angles in favour of curves: It consists of an upper shell and a lower shell that together form a plenum through which air is pressurized and evenly diffused. Formglas has worked with Partisans in the past, most notably to fashion the curvaceous ceilings and walls at the Toronto restaurant Quetzal (see the November/December 2018 issue of Azure).

After some back and forth, Formglas created a mould and cast the PODS modules out of glass-fibre-reinforced gypsum; Partisans then brought in the Toronto office of RWDI to test their functionality (the specialty consulting engineering firm, which has offices around the world, placed the PODS in a chamber with sensors that collected data on, among other things, how air was distributed around the system’s edge and how fast it was filtering out). The unique architectural product that came out of this process plugs into existing ductwork yet offers new kinds of programming: Four to six modules clustered together create a zone that can be modulated for lighting effects and micro-climates.

PODS are a seamless marriage of the nerdiest things in architecture: a sprinkler, an HVAC duct, a light and a piece of drywall.
Alex Josephson

Like the other custom pieces that Partisans has created for Union Station, including cast-metal tables for which it consulted a Boeing engineer, the PODS solution reflects the firm’s distinctly collaborative approach, one that involves sourcing its own fabricators – from wood and metal artisans to ETFE specialists – for every project. “We don’t see a separation between architecture and fabrication,” says designer Pooya Baktash, Partisans’ other co-founder, “and we believe in the idea of the architect as builder.”

View Finding

At Columbia University, a historic venue gets a much-needed lift through cleverly conceived coffers

Despite being the place where the Pulitzer Prize is awarded each year, the Joseph D. Jamail Lecture Hall at Columbia University’s School of Journalism was a nondescript room, albeit one with beautiful bones. These include arched windows that, until recently, were obstructed by a standard drop ceiling. The task of LTL Architects – to open up and liberate the views both to the windows and out of them – involved the creation of a tapering ceiling that incorporated existing mechanical systems and lighting (heritage-related restrictions on the scope of the renovation were so stringent that the firm couldn’t even replace the substructure of acoustic tiles). The result is a kind of “architectural coffer” composed of modules that can be recessed or pushed down – extruded into “innies” and “outies,” as LTL puts it.

Brought into the design process early on, the architecture and fabrication studio SITU collaborated with LTL on issues ranging from how to simplify the design for contractors to figuring out the best way to hang the modules. “We worked with them to develop a series of 100 prototypes,” explains LTL’s Marc Tsurumaki. “Some repetition was required for manufacturing and assembly, but we devised enough variation for effect.” Each module is constructed from four sheets of sound-dampening EzoBord – a flexible acoustical-panel material made with recycled plastic water bottles; SITU reinforced the larger coffers with a double layer of the material. The conical design integrates various forms of lighting – a flat-panel LED, a pre-existing diffuser and adjustable stage lighting – and creates an eye-popping effect that both enhances the look and integrity of the space and frees up those glorious windows.

The Right Angles

A coffee house’s translucent ceiling survives value engineering

For Pilot Coffee Roasters’ latest coffee shop in Toronto, architecture and design studio Williamson Williamson strove to create a skylit feel in a concrete-ceilinged storefront. Its solution: a grid structure supporting a series of light-reflecting fins. Originally, the fins were to be made out of perforated 22-gauge steel, but, in order to cut costs, a switch to acrylic was required. “As architects, budgetary constraints force us to make design decisions along the entire process,” says co-founder Betsy Williamson. “So the question becomes: How do you cut costs and keep the thread of a project?”

In this case, the firm went to Unistrut Service Company for an off-the-shelf frame and hardware, which it was able to order in green – Pilot’s brand colour. The angular fins, however, were custom-designed in both solid and translucent versions measuring almost 91 centimetres squared, with a V-shaped drop of 28 centimetres. Fashioned out of Plexiglas Green’s Precision Plastics, the 96 pieces feature flanges pre-drilled to align with the Unistrut elements and are illuminated from above by track lights to achieve the skylit effect. “In hindsight,” says Williamson, “the lightness of the Plexiglas fins made installation much easier. We are now taken with the lighter feeling and more translucent ceiling.”

Inspired by a classic film poster, DJA’s curtain wall for ArtCenter College of Design was created by applying translucent colour-screened film to glass.

When Darin Johnstone Architects designed the Bruce Heavin and Lynda Weinman Alumni Center for Pasadena’s ArtCenter College of Design, the team found inspiration for two standout features – a dazzling glass curtain wall in a colour gradient and a massive interactive screen – among the school’s alumni. The glass curtain wall separates the conference centre and lounge from the elevator lobby and incorporates the school’s iconic motif: an oversized dot.

To establish the tonal field for the translucent colour-screened film applied to the glass, the team referred to the poster for the classic 1966 surfing doc The Endless Summer, a vibrant design by ArtCenter grad John Van Hamersveld that captures the “sunny, vibrant and diverse culture” of Southern California. “Once we established the concept, we worked through many versions of basic colour field and letter form iterations,” Darin Johnstone explains. “When the basic artwork was set, we self-printed many full-size iterations to establish the correct screen pattern and exact colour palette.” His firm then worked with the printer and installer Coloredge to establish the ideal material, printing and installation process.

In the Alumni Gallery space, DJA designed a 7.6-by-2.4-metre digital touchscreen programmed with an interactive virtual gallery of works by distinguished alumni through the decades. The starting point in the curation came from “an amazing set of books” conceived by graphic designer Kit Hinrichs, a 1963 grad. Early on in the process, the team began to work with the collective Downstream, which designed the digital interface and the technical integration.

They then brought on technology integrators Mtek to install the piece. “In some ways, this one component embodies the spirit of the college. Certainly, it captures the work of alumni across time and space, but the design and implementation of the element also required collaboration through the college across disciplines: architecture, graphic design, interface design, engineering and more,” Johnstone says.

These features constitute only two aspects of DJA’s larger redesign of the South Arroyo building, ArtCenter’s newest South Campus addition. The team transformed four of six floors, renovating nearly 585 square metres altogether, in a former office building from the 1980s. The Alumni Center stands out, however, for what the firm achieved graphically with glass.

This story was taken from the March/April 2019 issue of Azure. Buy a copy of the issue here, or subscribe here.