// IN DESIGN
Workshop/APD’s Andrew Kotchen
& Matt Berman
Beyond traditional architecture, you’re masters of industrial design — you produce custom furniture, fixtures, and finishes. How do those distinct practices co-mingle on a large-scale commission?
Few (if any) facets of design are untouched by Workshop/APD. Now in its third decade of existence, the acclaimed studio, which released its Rizzoli monograph in September, is blurring the lines between hospitality and residential environments — a crusade that recently culminated with 300 West 30th Street in Manhattan’s emerging Penn District. We talked with the firm's founding duo about their latest projects, unwavering passion for details, and how they keep their vertically-integrated practice at the top of its game.
The surrounding swath of Midtown West, which is undergoing a rebrand as The Penn District, sits at the cusp of broad-brush redevelopment. How do you see that neighborhood evolving? What role will 300 West 30th Street play in its transformation?
MB: Well, for starters, I think that Moynihan Train Hall is a spectacular gateway into the city, and Hudson Yards and the High Line have completely transformed the way New Yorkers and visitors experience Midtown West. I think a lot of people wanted to escape the city during the height of the pandemic, but as things have normalized, they’re now realizing a desire to be in the heart of things, even if it’s only for 3-4 days per week. And there’s a blurring of the lines between personal and professional space, as well. At 300 West 30th Street, residents are situated at the center of this explosion of art, food, retail, work, and public/green space, giving them unprecedented access to not just the neighborhood but the entire city and its surroundings.
AK: When I was a kid, New York City had “good” neighborhoods and “bad” neighborhoods, but that’s just not the case anymore. There are more developed and established neighborhoods, and neighborhoods that are in the process of becoming, and those areas are some of the most compelling. I walked up to Penn Station from Madison Square the other day, and the evolution of The Penn District is just astounding. It’s anchored by some incredible architecture, rapidly improving infrastructure, and a cultural scene that feels fresh and interesting. To see 300 West 30th at the nexus of all of that is exciting for us, because it represents the future of the city and a modern way of living.
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AK: We’re focused on expressing holistic design intent within each project. We look at larger design — compositional and proportional elements — and then interpret them at every scale, so there’s a constant interplay between architecture, interior design, and product design, blurring the lines between the disciplines. Having a multidisciplinary team that spans all three also creates incredible cohesion and innovation through open dialogue and collaboration. Between us executing the design, the client, and the site, we’re able to bring that holistic vision into focus and create something absolutely unique. This is a prominent theme (and the title inspiration) for our new monograph with Rizzoli, Workshop/APD Homes: Architecture, Interiors, and The Spaces Between.
MB: I would say that design is design regardless of the scale, and we’ve always taken a very fluid approach. We’re all fascinated by the relationships that are formed by large and small-scale details, so even though we may kick off a project by talking in broad strokes about the macro concepts, they’re influenced by how we imagine they may be interpreted at a mid-scale and micro level, and all of those considerations drive our decisions. It doesn’t matter if we’re designing a building, or a room, or a piece of furniture or a door handle, there’s a unifying creative concept — a narrative thread — and relationships between materials and forms.
You recently designed 300 West 30th Street, which in many ways feels like a boutique hotel. Tell us how your extensive work in the hospitality space informed your vision. Which attributes most differentiate the building’s residences and amenity spaces from its peers?
MB: What we’ve learned from the hospitality world is that first impressions are everything. You need to lean into user experience, from the building’s approach to the most intimate private spaces. This ranges from the hardware you grasp to open the front door to a warm, luxurious lobby that greets you to the elevators you take to your floor — even the dynamic carpeting in the building corridor. When you arrive home following that sensory journey, it’s almost as if you’re a guest at your favorite hotel. The residences are luxurious, tactile, and functional, designed to address and anticipate a homeowner’s needs and provide a sense of comfort and ease. And the public spaces, including the lounge, gym, and courtyard, are as experiential as they are functional, carrying through the same standard of modern design as the rest of the building so residents are drawn to them. This attention to detail and emotion is what differentiates a building like 300 West 30th.
AK: Our practice has really evolved and matured over the last two decades, and I think our ability to expand beyond high-end residential into luxury hospitality and development work is due to a constant cross-pollination between the three verticals, and a desire within each to incorporate the best aspects of the others. What they all have in common is an understanding of the human experience and a desire to spark similar emotions, connections. The connective tissue is an ability to bring the ambience and excitement of your favorite hotel into someone’s home and shared amenity spaces.
In sharp juxtaposition to Manhattan residential towers, you’ve also designed stunning single-family homes in destination markets across the country — Greenwich, the Hamptons, Nantucket, Aspen. How does your approach compare, in similarities and differences, with your large-scale commissions?
AK: As a firm we’re extremely focused on contextual design, focusing on the place we’re working and the end user or inhabitant. Because people, place, and purpose are unique to each project, the continuous thread is tailored design based on these inherent differences. The same processes, rigor, exceptional execution, and commitment to creating spaces that are unique and special are all constants, but the designs themselves are expressions of the site and circumstances.
MB: At the end of the day, this goes back to our earlier discussion about design at every scale. In large-scale commissions, particularly those where we have a sense of the end user but will never have a chance to get to know them intimately, the design process is more focused on larger gestures than it is on the most intimate details. We know how we want people to engage with public and private spaces, what sort of emotions and explorations we hope to spark, and of course take broader practical considerations into account. We take what we’ve learned from decades of incredibly intimate work with private residential clients and translate it to a broader audience, providing the space for each guest in a hotel or resident in a multi-family development to further tailor the experience to their individual needs. But the hallmarks of Workshop/APD design also remain constant; high-tech and hand craftsmanship that bring warmth and humanity to modern spaces, crisp architectural reveals, luxurious materiality, and the conscious activation of liminal spaces, among others.
The guest rooms at 1 Hotel Nashville draw inspiration from the Music City's stunning natural surroundings and rich history. Photo: Douglas Friedman.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re designing a building, or a room, or a piece of furniture, or a door handle. There’s a unifying creative concept — a narrative thread — and relationships between materials and forms.”
At 300 West 30th Street, in Manhattan's rapidly-evolving "Penn District," a 12th-floor sky terrace beckons views from Hudson Yards to the Empire State Building — a panorama rivaling that of many Midtown roof bars. Rendering by VUW Studio, courtesy of Corcoran New Development.
Matt Berman (left) and Andrew Kotchen (right) founded Workshop/APD in 1999.
If you could describe your firm’s mission and approach with one word, what would it be?
A glassy, open rear façade defines this ground-up townhouse by Workshop/APD in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.
Photo: Donna Dotan.
Workshop/APD’s Nantucket Courtyard House is composed around an extraordinary central courtyard, with each interconnected mass opening fully to the core for seamless indoor/outdoor living.
Photo: Read McKendree.
It might be in the middle of Manhattan, but indoor-outdoor flow is central to life at 300 West 30th Street, both in individual residences (left) and the building's chic common spaces (right). Renderings by VUW Studio, courtesy of Corcoran New Development.