Based in Washington D.C., Architextual is a small, boutique design firm that is focused on delivering quality design, technical documentation, and project execution to a varied clientele, ranging from single-family property owners to largescale developers. On the back of the firm’s success in the 2019 Leading Designers program we spoke with Catarina Ferreira, Principal, to find out more about their work and expertise.
Architects all over the world have long celebrated a certain diversity of thought when it comes to best practices. Indeed, this very diversity has led to a thriving industry that is defined by innovation and creativity, rather than hemmed into certain styles, techniques, approaches or methodology. Where some focus on the equilibrium between form and function – often blurring the lines between the two – and others flourish and experiment in timeless style, Architextual has found their niche in understanding a rather simple cornerstone: architecture shouldn’t be about visual appeal.
“Of course, we want the building to be beautiful, but honestly that’s the easy part and not what we start with as a goal. Architecture is about much more than appearance, at least it should be if we want the discipline and its professionals to be taken seriously. It needs to make a positive impact in every way possible. That’s our responsibility. On the topic of ‘Form versus Function,’ in my view one does not follow the other; they are interdependent. Form is not a passive follower. The way I see it, form has the power to transform Function, as much as Function has the power to drive Form. Approaching form generation with the goal of pushing it to see what it can do, how it can lead to new functions, is as valuable as ensuring that a design works. Form for the sake of form is not enough, and Form that simply follows Function is also not enough. To me it’s ultimately about action: what does that form do? What does it accomplish, how does it surpass its function? That is the power of architecture.”
More to the point, Catarina believes in focusing on “what a building does and what
its disposition is towards both the city and its occupants.” It’s this sole consideration which has driven Architextual’s exceptional history of success since the very beginning. This only becomes more important when you consider that the firm primarily specialises in single and multi-family residential projects, along with mixed-use developments, whether they are new constructions or adaptive-reuse. By honing on the use of the building, and the degree of practicality that entails, Catarina has cultivated a body of work that is truly extraordinary. The firm’s projects are contemporary wonders, utilising space in new, smart ways to open up areas and increase natural light. More than anything, they are endlessly practical and visually enticing, allowing the gaze to delight in the smallest of touches. Consider, then, their goal accomplished.
As Catarina explains, throughout it all, the firm remains diligently focused on ‘the process’ of the design, not on the end goal. The result is almost circumstantial, comprised of the many considerations and decisions that are made throughout the project. “We are process driven, both in how we approach design and how we approach project delivery. When it comes to design, we believe every project at once the materialization of a pre-existing context/ circumstance, and the outcome of the process of synthesizing all of that into a coherent whole, which we like to call ‘text.’ In a true creative process, the body of work takes on its own life at a certain point, and that determines what it will ultimately be. It’s the opposite of starting with an aesthetic intent and imposing it on a site/client, for example. On the project delivery side, we invest in quality technology to allow us to provide better services to our clients. We utilize BIM software for efficiency in design and project delivery, as well as project management platforms to help us streamline processes and improve communication and collaboration between our internal team, consultants and clients. We are also continually looking for ways to improve in every way possible.” There can be no doubt, the client, always, remains at the centre of the project. That is crucial.
Putting aside the client, for a moment, Catarina continues on to discuss the role of her team. Like herself, they come from a ‘global mindset’ – people from all over the world who have come together, combining their styles and teachings, to create the new and the different. “Our staff is diverse in terms of background and experience, and our origins span continents. I believe that a globally minded staff, like myself, has a lot to offer given their collective exposure to a variety of architectural and urban environments. Collectively, it helps us maintain a fresh approach to our work. Our core staff fluctuates between 5 and 10 individuals. There are two senior staff members, who are both licensed architects, and one senior associate, licensed in Italy. Then there are two other core employees, and occasional seasonal interns. We also have two former employees who now work as contractors based in India and Jordan. In sum, I believe that plurality and diversity lead to good things.”
As a locally-focused design firm, Architextual remains somewhat sheltered from sector volatility, yet, naturally, challenges still rear their head. Among these challenges, of course, sits opportunity. “We are most affected by the Washington DC market dynamics. Currently there is a shortage of housing and, as a result, a lot of older single-family properties are being converted to multi-unit buildings, often through top and read additions and interior renovations.
“We are involved in several projects of this type currently, and our goal is to develop prototypes for growth that are thoughtfully designed and integrated with the existing fabric of the typical Washington city blocks. We do this by trying to merge old and new into a coherent whole, instead simply adding onto it in an obvious way, as is, unfortunately, the norm.”
Ultimately, when it comes to the future, Architextual are committed to fuelling their growth to cater to larger projects and increasing demand. “We are growing as a company in order to accommodate the larger projects currently coming our way. Moreover, we are focusing on fine-tuning our design philosophy improving our inhouse processes and templates so that our methods can be passed on to new employees efficiently and that the quality of our projects is maintained while we grow.”
As for right now, Catarina looks towards these larger projects as a exciting opportunity to showcase the firm’s considerable talents. “Architextual have a couple of larger projects, in the 20 to 30 apartment unit range, and we also have some already under construction that consist of multiple attached row dwellings on large lots. These projects, among many things, gives us the opportunity to design at a more urban scale, which is very exciting.”
Company: ARCHI-TEXTUAL, PLLC
Name: Catarina Ferreira, Principal
Address: 3421 1/2 M St NW, Washington, District of Columbia, 20007, United States
Telephone: (+1) 202 295-9001
Awarded: 2019’s Award for Excellence in Innovative Design Solutions – Washington