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In most cities, including New York, it's not unusual to have diverse design professionals sharing the same studio space. Record Vanguard architects from 2000 Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis (LTL) were doing just that in a building in downtown Manhattan until the need arose to find their own space.

"We had been subletting some cubicle space on a floor with some other firms, many of them actually friends of ours," explains Paul Lewis. "But we never saw each other. It's the nature of the cubicle that you don't just walk in and interrupt someone while they're working, so passing conversation didn't happen."

Photo coutersy LTL

LTL first came upon its current offices on Manhattan's Lower East Side when the team needed a space to store their tools. "We had been kicked out of our shop, and knew this building had a shop in the basement," David Lewis says. A few months later, the space above, a 2,000-square-foot former vintage-clothing store, became available.

After four frantic weeks of building, Essex Street Studios opened in January 2001. The storefront space features a large conference area as you walk in, with two continuous rows of desks lining the walls, and a mezzanine above. According to David, "We decided that rather than profiting or cutting our own rent, we would divide the rent evenly by the number of desks." The space features a total of 27 desks. Each tenant pays for the desk they occupy and shares overhead expenses, including plotters, copiers, fax machines, and cleaning services, as well as the library.

Finding tenants came easily—mostly by word of mouth, and mostly young architects just out of school or just starting their own practice, but all doing interesting work. Several of the tenants have won the Young Architects Award from the Architectural League of New York.

"We approached LTL to rent some space here," says Makram El-Kadi of L.E.FT Architecture, who was working on a project with LTL when the studio was opening. Eric Bunge of nARCHITECTS, another original tenant, concurs, "It's fantastic to be able to share not only physical resources, but also the talents of everyone around. Many of us also teach, so we rely on each other when it comes time for studio reviews."

Ten small firms, mostly 3-7 people in size—including BriggsKnowles Architecture + Design, Normal Group for Architecture, and several individual architects and graphic designers—currently occupy the studios, though the number frequently fluctuates as temporary tenants sometimes rent for short periods at a time. "Another advantage of sharing this space, besides it being just more social," Paul says, "is a certain degree of job security. It's happened that as one firm's workload slows down, another firm in need of an extra person would hire from within. It's a beneficial situation across the board."

By Josephine Minutillo

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