Modellus Novus is transforming the practice of architecture from within

Modellus Novus is transforming the practice of architecture from within

Frenchette Bakery, as seen from the Whitney lobby entrance. (Adrien Gaut, courtesy Modelus Novus)

It’s a story as old as time: after working for years at large architecture firms, three up-and-coming architects started their own practices. Whether it’s because of the thrill of entrepreneurship, a desire for creative freedom, or just feeling sick and tired of working for someone else, it’s not unusual for designers to jump into business ownership. However, for New York-based Modellus Novus, the impetus to launch its studio came from elsewhere: a desire to change the way architecture itself is practiced.

For co-founders Preeti Sriratana, Jonathan Garnett, and Stephen Harper, tackling limited access to the profession was integral to their launch of Modellus Novus, which means “new model” in Latin, in 2015. Since then, the trio, alongside Together with the company’s practice director, Anya Gribanova, she worked to show the world the new model she envisioned. “Yes, we wanted to deliver a progressive, avant-garde and beautiful design, but it was equally important for us to build a form that would change how architecture is practiced,” Sriratana said.

With a mission to design spaces for everyone, Modellus Novus itself is a model for such a space. The 26-employee company is global in its makeup, with women making up more than half of the employees from 11 countries and four continents. This diversity is no coincidence. “In order to design spaces where people from different backgrounds feel welcome, it’s not just about the design itself,” Sriratana explained. “The built environment is defined by the people behind it. It’s important to align yourself with people who share your values.”

Ultimately, the company found that this mission actually helped it create a better business. Across an interior design-focused portfolio for industries as wide-ranging as residential, institutional and commercial, with a strong focus on hospitality – including the recently opened and highly acclaimed restaurant Tatiana by Chef Kwame Onwuachi at New York’s Lincoln Center – Modellus Novus has an established reputation She is good at creating places that find authenticity through surprising details and material explorations. “If you have value alignment, it speeds up the decision-making process because we are in agreement about what we want to achieve,” Garnett said. “We are all trying to unleash some potential in the project that can bring people together.”

The precision of crying (Aaron Thompson/Courtesy Modellus Novus)

The accuracy of crying 2016

Located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard behind a modest brick facade, it is a living forest of mature trees, huge boulders, and a collection of live turtles. In designing this 87,000-square-foot adaptive reuse project for Crye Precision, a leading manufacturer of protective armor, Modellus Novus sought to create an unexpected restorative moment for workers and visitors alike. “We pulled the perimeter into the interior of the building to create a place where people can gather, which is a dividing line in all of our work,” Sriratana said. Working with landscape design studio Verdant to implement the Living Forest Park, Modellus Novus has turned the model of a typical manufacturing facility on its head, instead creating a place for people to succeed and collaborate.

Discolo (Adrian Gaut/Courtesy Modellus Novus)

Discolo 2022

Surprise and delight are common elements in Modellus Novus designs, and Discolo is no exception. Hidden in plain sight beneath New York’s Italian restaurant Al Coro (which the firm also designed), the moody, high-fashion cocktail bar is filled with plush built-in furnishings, reflective surfaces, and dramatic lighting. The space reveals itself sequentially, moving from the bar to the lounge to the private room with custom hi-fi equipment. “Discolo leaves spaces to be discovered,” Sriratana said. “While al churro above is the pinnacle of fine dining, Discolo becomes its own subterranean rebel card that loosens the buttons to be pure revelation.” Ultimately, Discolo reflects one of the core principles of Modellus Novus: creating places that celebrate freedom of expression, writing new stories about culture defined by the people who use them.

Frenchette Bakery, as seen from the entrance to the Whitney’s main entrance. (Adrien Gaut, courtesy Modelus Novus)

Frenchette Bakery at the Whitney Museum of American Art 2022–

For the redesign of the ground floor café at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which is currently nearing completion, Modellus Novus looked to Renzo Piano’s original focus on transparency. “The building was always intended to have a very public ground floor,” Garnett said. “It’s a generous concept, and we wanted to build on it.” The cafe’s updated design brings warmth and draws people inside through two key design elements: a massive black steel installation by artist Rashid Johnson, with shelves containing plants, books and sculptures, and a new 70-foot-tall light fixture above the bar made of wood and rice paper, which references Garnet is affectionately known as the “Gentle Giant.” “The lantern becomes a beacon, and together with Rashid’s piece they become distinct elements that frame the space.”

Cote Singapore 2023–

In its third design by chef and restaurateur Simon Kim, Modellus Novus continues the thread of theatrical drama that has defined her designs for Kim’s Miami and New York locations. By envisioning each room as a different scene unfolding in space and time, the team envisioned COTE Singapore as the third chapter for the brand. “We wanted to reveal this expanded story of the COTE brand and the things that inspire Simone,” Garnett said. Drawing on Singapore’s tropical surroundings and Kim’s love of plants, the bar is packed with greenery and artistically lit, giving the space the drama of a jungle. Hidden drawers and working elements in the private dining space attract visitors in a tangible way. “At the end of the day, it’s about engagement and the human experience,” Garnett said.

Lauren Gallo is a Seattle-based writer and editor covering art, architecture, and design.

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