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Feature: Annabelle Selldorf, FAIA, Makes a Place

Annabelle Selldorf, FAIA, Principal, Selldorf Architects. Photo Credit: Dean Kaufman

Annabelle Selldorf, FAIA, Principal, Selldorf Architects. Photo Credit: Dean Kaufman

Annabelle Selldorf, FAIA is the Principal of Selldorf Architects, a 50-person firm in New York City that she founded in 1988.  The international practice has worked on public and private projects that range from museums and libraries to a recycling facility, and at scales from the construction of new buildings to the restoration of historic interiors and exhibition design.   Clients include cultural institutions and universities such as the Neue Galerie New York, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, and Brown University, as well as numerous galleries including David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth and Gladstone Gallery amongst others.

David Zwirner. New York, New York. Photo Credit: Jason Schmidt

David Zwirner. New York, New York. Photo Credit: Jason Schmidt

Beginnings – What attracted you to architecture and how did you begin your career? Was there an influential experience, or mentor, that helped steer you toward this field?

I grew up in a family that was involved in design. My father was an architect and my mother designed interiors, so it has always been part of my DNA.  Even so, I was not always sure that I would pursue architecture as a profession, but when it actually came time to attend university I only applied to architecture schools and ended up coming to New York from Cologne, Germany to attend Pratt. There was not a prescribed style or overt dogmatic approach to the study of architecture.  Rather students were allowed to explore many avenues of thought.  I really appreciated this openness to new ideas.  It allowed me to explore and develop my own personal expression and find my voice as an architect.  It is something that I continue to value in my practice today.  We approach each project without preconceived ideas or expectations but rather develop a design solution out of the individual demands and constraints of context, program, and budget.

Sunset Park Materials Recycling Facility. Brooklyn, New York. Photo Credit: Radii Inc., Courtesy of Selldorf Architects

Sunset Park Materials Recycling Facility. Brooklyn, New York. Photo Credit: Radii Inc., Courtesy of Selldorf Architects

What does “architecture culture” signify to you, and how do you go about contributing to, and/or changing, this culture? What are your hopes and dreams for the future of architecture and the built environment?

I do see a lot of architecture today that seems to be more concerned with form than content and that does trouble me somewhat.  With the prevalence of the computer in design, it is much easier now for people to explore shapes and forms almost endlessly.  But for me, that is not architecture.  Architecture is much more than just what one sees—it is how buildings can actually create environments that enhance one’s experience and perception. I have had the pleasure of serving as president of the board of the Architectural League for the last three years and as an organization, we are committed to advancing the art of architecture by fostering community and discussion.  We present lectures, symposia and exhibitions by some of the most interesting architects practicing in the world today, and simultaneously support and encourage younger talent through competitions and grants.  This important dialogue serves to raise awareness of architecture to a greater community and keeps the public conversation focused on the important issues of the day—not just what building looks like.

Pika House. Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado. Photo Credit: Thomas Loof

Pika House. Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado. Photo Credit: Thomas Loof

Advice for someone interested in entering an architecture-related field?

One needs to find their passion.  If architecture is it, then you should pursue it whole heartedly and not be deterred.  The architects I have met who are most satisfied with their lives are the ones who are truly committed to what they are doing—they have found their passion—they could not be doing something else.

Favorite site, place, building? Why does this particular location speak to you?

I am drawn to the Buddhist temples of Kyoto.  I find them to be a perfect resolution of program with place.  The relationship of the buildings to their garden settings is one of seamless integration where the removal of any one element would compromise the whole.  It is a type of perfection that is difficult to achieve in the day-to-day world but it is an admirable thing to strive towards.

Relevant Links:
Annabelle Selldorf in the BWAF Dynamic National Archive

Annabelle Selldorf: Architecture and Context,” Women of Architecture 2011 at the National Building Museum
Video – Annabelle Selldorf: Architecture and Context, Women of Architecture 2011 at the National Building Museum

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