Julian King, AIA and Christina Lyons  
Julian King Architect

By Ingrid Spencer

Julian King, AIA, likes to tell stories. Or, rather, he likes the work of his eponymous firm to tell the stories. “Architecture is how I communicate with the world,” says the architect and tennis pro, “and each design relays its own narrative. It’s like creating little poems and dropping them around the planet.” After six years, his firm’s poetry is being appreciated more and more, and time to play tennis comes less and less. At press time, he and his co-principal and wife, Christina Lyons, had just discovered their firm’s design was one of six finalists for the Atlantic City Boardwalk Holocaust Memorial, and an exhibition of their work was on display at the Center for Contemporary Art in Bedminster, New Jersey. With its handful of completed residential projects in and around its New York City home base, and on-the-boards projects that include a residence in Tuscany, Italy, and a library and communications center in the West African town of Akwatia, Ghana, this is an exciting time for the four-person practice. “We are starting to get some traction,” King says.

Greenwich House, Greenwich, Connecticut
Photo courtesy Julian King Architect

Greenwich House, Greenwich, Connecticut, 2008

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It’s a good place for the firm to be after the recession of the past few years, when a large assisted-living facility and a few residential projects were put on hold. Luckily, the projects are coming back to life. “There was a bright side to the slowdown, though,” says King. “It gave us time to enter competitions we probably would not have otherwise, and we did well in them.” Indeed. Those competitions include the Shinkenchiku Residential Design Competition, which King’s firm won in 2009 for its Tuscany Barn project; the juried competition that resulted in its current exhibition; and the competition for the Atlantic City Boardwalk Holocaust Memorial in New Jersey.

King cites the firm’s Tuscany Barn project, with its surreal take on past and present executed with simple materials formed in ways that create startling perspectives, as an example of what his firm does best. But it’s the two memorial designs that really speak to King and Lyons’s ability to use design to create a moment and stretch it into a narrative. For Atlantic City, over 100,000 glass bottles, each representing someone who survived the Nazi death camps, will rise out of the sand as glimmering testament to human resilience. The bottles will be etched with survivors’ images and messages and bound together with a post-tensioned design.

As powerful, and much more in-your-face (quite literally), is the design for the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C., for which the firm was a finalist out of more than 1,800 entrants. A 16-foot-tall glass wall with the words FREE AT LAST embedded in it repels the blast of a fire hose, as if the words alone are keeping visitors from a harsh drenching.

King credits his mentors with helping to develop his love of an architecture of spatial perception. Todd Dalland from FTL Solar (previously FTL Happold), where King once worked, is one standout. “He introduced me to his passion for tensile structures by taking me to climb the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge,” says King. He credits Lyons, whose background is in exhibition and graphic design, with bringing more artistry to the mix. “We complement each other,” he says. “We both have a real reverence for simple, timeless beauty.” King admits that his firm isn’t trying to do anything that his heroes — he cites Louis Kahn — didn’t do. “We’re trying to make architecture that is not so much about what you see, but about what happens to you when you experience it.” 

PRINCIPALS: Julian King, AIA; Christina Lyons
LOCATION: New York City
KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: Tuscany Barn, Tuscany, Italy, 2010; Greenwich House, Greenwich, Conn., 2008; Pottery Studio, New York City, 2008
KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: Chelsea Town House, New York City, 2010; LeJuene Gallery, New York City, 2011; Sorolea Assisted Care Living, Scottsdale, Ariz., 2012; Akwatia Library and Communications Center, Akwatia, Ghana, 2012

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