// IN DESIGN
Design trends are fleeting, but Woods Bagot goes way back to 1869 — when Frank Lloyd Wright was barely a toddler. What mindset brings a creative organization that kind of longevity? How do you balance trends with timelessness?
For each of our projects, we think through how we can create settings that respond to their locale, and this often results in bringing in natural elements. From New York to Miami, Dallas to Toronto, we assess what environmental features could elevate our interior spaces, and integrate the best ones. While the need for flexible live/work spaces continues, adding in natural touches to create serene interiors that help with focus during periods of work, and relaxation during periods of rest, are top of mind.
As one of the world's oldest continuously-operating architecture firms, Woods Bagot has been a pacesetter in design across three centuries, a journey that’s spanned from Gothic campus halls in Victorian-era Australia to contemporary projects at the global forefront of modern design.
We caught up with Krista Ninivaggi, Interior Design Leader and a principal at the firm — her personal studio, K&CO, merged with Woods Bagot in 2021 — for insight into the inner workings of this legendary organization and their recent work at New York’s Symphony House.
Symphony House was a reimagining rather than a ground-up build. Walk us through your attack angle, and the challenges and constraints of working with existing construction rather than starting anew.
Renovation work is my favorite. It’s so satisfying to see improvements of a well-worn space. I love bringing it back to the glory that was felt when it was new. We approached Symphony House as “selective surgery” more than a true renovation. The worst thing in my mind would be to erase what was there before. We kept a lot of the original thinking, but refreshed, and updated the interiors for a current perspective.
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"I think there’s a real opportunity to create something beautiful, and this is an example of a real need for an amenity in a residential building—not just having more amenities but having appropriate amenities."
That’s such a tough question. “Make it timeless” is probably the most popular request among all clients, regardless of the sector or industry. No one wants to look dated. In contrast, as designers, we’re always looking for the next new thing. It’s exciting to innovate and be different. Sometimes, those new ideas are part of a hive mind collective, bubbling up in different studios and then showing up in magazines which set the trends in stone. I always love looking at projects that are 10 years old and analyzing if they feel dated or not. Things like color and materials, even ideas about circulation or how you occupy a room, can make a place feel dated. Getting that ethereal “timeless” quality really is just about good design — great detailing, using non-trendy materials, maybe even “uncool” materials, in unexpected ways. You can hit all the notes right.
Many of your firm’s recent commissions have environmental design components and, in urban projects specifically, features that invite the outdoors in. What considerations, from an interiors perspective, come into play in that regard?
A resident lounge Krista and her team designed at The Greenpoint, located at 21 India Street in its namesake North Brooklyn neighborhood. The 40-floor, 95-residence building — which offers some 30,000 feet of amenity space — was brought on the market by Corcoran Sunshine. Photo: David Mitchell (courtesy of K&CO, in association with Woods Bagot).
At a personal level, you’ve worked at some of the world’s biggest-ticket firms across multiple specialties: residential, hospitality, offices. What core principles matter most that they all share? What, individually, defines your work most?
There are really two things that permeate all our work: 1) Prioritizing the people that inhabit the architecture — people architecture,” as we say at Woods Bagot — and 2) Using inventive materials. For the first, every project needs to provide some sort of hospitality, even if it’s only boiled down to a welcoming seat. And then, we always think about how to throw a party in every space. Where would you locate the DJ, or the bartender? Secondly, I love turning common materials on their side to come up with new ideas of how they can be installed and used. A great example of this is the concrete technique we developed with Oso Industries to mimic the striations of rammed earth. In another project currently in design, we’re using petrified moss as a wall covering. Both add tactile elements to the space, and they’re unexpected.
A particularly unique amenity is the new indoor/outdoor co-working center. Tell us a bit about that, and how you see the borders settling as we redefine the relationship between the places where we live and work.
This is such an interesting topic to talk about. Are we going back to the office? Is flexible work here to stay? Everyone is asking these questions, but in my opinion, the answers do not matter. What’s most apparent to me is that we need different types of spaces than we did before the pandemic. What is important and needed in our environment has changed. Observationally, a focus on the home has become much more important. There is a renewed excitement about making spaces feel considered, and I do feel that there has been a rejuvenation about design. Logically, it makes sense to me to have a proper workspace just outside your home. An amenity like this gives residents options for how, when, and where they work.
Many buildings used to feature an amenity called a “business center.” These spaces often consisted of a sad computer, a broken printer, and a too large or too small conference room. The refreshed idea of a coworking space that mimics the way workplace design has evolved is much more compelling alternative workspace. Our new coworking space at Symphony House is designed with varied types of touchdown spaces that feel more like a café or open office. The heart of the space has a communal pantry surrounded by Hollywood banquettes to support informal meetings. We also have phone booths, open work tables, and conference rooms at different sizes. And you can even work outside!
For their retail flagship on Williamsburg's North 6th Street, fragrance ateliers D.S. & Durga turned to Krista and company to conceive a store experience as immersive as their products. Photo: David Mitchell (courtesy of K&CO, in association with Woods Bagot).
"For each of our projects, we think through how we can
create settings that respond to their locale."
A communal workspace at The Greenpoint frames surreal views of the East River. Photo: David Mitchell (courtesy of K&CO, in association with Woods Bagot).
Krista and her team, in an award-winning collaboration with Pliskin Architecture and SHoP, designed the handsome interiors of this top Washington D.C. law office. Photo: David Mitchell (courtesy of K&CO, in association with Woods Bagot).