Building a Community of Young International Architects in New York City

Architectural Practice Talk was born in 2014 in what started as a house party largely attended by young architects and designers working in Lower Manhattan.

Chlo̩ Vadot Chlo̩ Vadot

践谈APT (Architectural Practice Talk) was born in 2014 in what started as a house party largely attended by young architects and designers working in Lower Manhattan. Together, these young practitioners — belonging to some of the city’s most prominent firms, including SOM and BIG — discussed their work, digging into unresolved issues and technical challenges they had encountered in particular projects. Sharing tips and knowledge with one another, they became inspired to grow the community into a more structured and accessible network. For the first two years, the organization grew organically, hosting casual events in each other’s living rooms.

“A pair of co-presenters, on an Apple TV,” remembers Nicky Chang, an architect at SOM who has been with 践谈APT since its inception and is now in charge of community partnerships, speaker lineups and program direction. Members of the group were notified of happenings through the popular Chinese conversing app WeChat and met with no set agenda to share news of ongoing projects as well as simple tales of recent travels.

Lower Manhattan revealed itself as a major hub for young architects, as many large firms hold their offices downtown, and the popularity of these meetings grew. The group held its first official talk with principals in July 2015 featuring Tod Williams and Billie Tsien of TWBTA. In a seminar setting, 30 members gathered at the duo’s studio to listen to them share notions of their office culture and current work.

As events became more structured, the collective started scouting for venues around the city to hold talks and workshops in while able to welcome greater crowds. In December 2015, they were at 1stdibs with Michelle Ma, founding partner, manager and designer of Doka Square, who talked about the process of design for the restaurant industry.

At the beginning of 2016, the collective met at the Microsoft store on Fifth Avenue, which has a dedicated space for events above the retail floor. There, Columbia-trained architect Huang Wei shared stories of his work on the Harbin Chinese Wood Sculpture Museum, Harbin Opera House and Pingtan Museum, projects he was involved with while practicing at MAD Architects in Beijing.

Continuing to cold-call venues around the city, 践谈APT finally came upon the recently opened New York Public Library on 53rd. They inaugurated their presence in the space in February 2017 by holding a talk with Andrea Steele, the New York principal of TEN Arquitectos — the firm behind the NYPL’s design.

The WeChat group soon reached the maximum 500-people limit, and so the 践谈APT founding members had to create a second one, which has now reached close to another 200 people.

After holding a survey among the group, 践谈APT concluded that their members were principally between 20 and 30 years of age, that 51 percent of their constituents were women and that 84 percent of the total group came from Asia. They also realized that current members lived farther than New York City, some chiming in from Chicago and Los Angeles. These findings inspired them to continue their work, mentioning the potential of developing ways of recording their events to be streamed after the fact.

The group’s purpose as stated by the founders — Junfeng Wang, Nicky Chang, Kai Wu, Zhonghan Huang, Xuhui Zhang and Zunheng Lai — aims to “provide an equal and open platform” for anyone from graduating architects to established practitioners through a diverse program of talks, screenings or office or site tours.

Through personal networking and volunteer work, 践谈APT was most recently able to welcome this year’s A+Awards Emerging Firm of the Year, Büro Koray Duman. The lecture took place at the NYPL on 53rd Street and brought together close to 120 attendees.

践谈APT does not yet have any formal sponsorship channel in place but have tirelessly archived their programs through a media site, where talks are recorded with images and text in both English and Chinese.

A group like 践谈APT demonstrates the strength of the young, foreign architecture community and the benefits of bringing together those who are new to the practice with those who have endured through many years of work with some of the most demanding firms in the world, working on extremely complex projects. As the demography of the architecture profession evolves, communities like 践谈APT serve to align the industry with the collaborative nature of working in the age of technology.

Photographs by Kai Wu, courtesy of 践谈APT

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