Monika Häfelfinger describes herself as
a rational-minded architect. Her partner, Austin Kelly, says he
is the opposite of rational. Our backgrounds are Minimal versus
Expressionist, states Kelly. Häfelfinger, born in Switzerland,
worked for Herzog & de Meuron; American-born Kelly has worked
with Frank Gehry and Eric Owen Moss. After spending time in Europe,
though, Kellys approach to architecture shifted. Originally,
my concept of architecture was all about expressionistic forms of
the building and how it related to the city, he explains.
But now Monika and I are like-minded architects in that we
look at projects from all points of view. In 2000, this pair
created XTEN Architects in Los Angeles.
The first project on which Häfelfinger
and Kelly collaborated was a residence in the Los Angeles area.
The owner held a minicompetition for young local architects,
says Kelly, and we won with our design, Polyhouse. Located
on the edge of the Venice, California, canals, the house is sheathed
mainly in polycarbonate panels and glass to take advantage of the
adjoining canal and park. At different times of the day, the changing
light gives the panels varying levels of translucency.
The Polyhouse is an example of an overriding
theme in XTENs concept of design. Synthetic is a word
we find ourselves using a lot, Kelly points out. It
comes from synthesis, from resolving the multiple constraints and
requirements of a project through differentiated uses of one specific
material and one highly articulated form. So while the Polyhouses
main building material is polycarbonate, another project, the vhouse,
utilizes redwood throughout the exterior and interior, and their
mhouses double-height studios main element is ribbed
aluminum. This single massing and material strategy sets XTENs
architecture apart from that of other young firms, which tend to
use what Kelly calls a collage approach.
In 2002, XTEN established an associate office
in Switzerland to more easily coordinate projects and competitions
the team is involved with in the Basel area. One of these projects
is himmelrain, a residential program that includes apartment buildings,
courtyards, and walkways. The number of units required by the developers
could easily have interfered with the scenic surroundings. XTEN
was short-listed by these developers when they presented a plan
that, instead of tall buildings, consisted of nine separate low-rise
structures. Häfelfinger explains how they took into account
European ways of living during the planning stage. It was
necessary to integrate handicap accessibility into the design because
its not unusual for many generations to live together in Europe.
An elder generations needs are a factor. And, unlike gated
communities commonly found in the States, the grounds are open,
and nonresidents can pass through easily. The patio doors of the
ground-level apartments open up onto communal space and walkways.
There arent any fences involved.
With himmelrain soon breaking ground and 90
percent of the units already sold, XTEN is looking forward to working
on other large-scale projects that will explore experimental work.
These ventures include a 60,000-square-foot boutique hotel and the
renovation of a 1960s-era bank building, both in the Los Angeles
area. Kelly adds, Like many of our projects, XTEN is very
much a work in progress.