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MINI LIVING sat down with Stella Lee, Laura Trevino and Peter Zuspan from Bureau V to talk about how and why migration was the inspiration behind their designs for the Urban Cabin presented at A/D/O New York.
The cabin extensions you designed are inspired by the topic of migration. What’s your personal history with migration?
Stella Lee: My parents emigrated from Korea in the 1970s, and I've been treated as an immigrant in every single country that I've been in - including here. Growing up in the New York area as an Asian American has meant that I've absorbed other peoples’ projections of where I am from. Over the years, I have had to reassert my own identity as someone who belongs, because I am “other”, while coming to terms with the limits of cultural bias and the identity politics that made up my upbringing.
Laura Trevino: My family is Mexican. I was born in the US, as my parents were studying in Texas at the time. However, for much of my childhood I lived in Mexico. About 12 years ago, I finished architecture school in Mexico, and moved back to the US. So my heritage and core upbringing is Mexican and I identify as such, but there is also a part of me that is very much American. I think national identity can be fluid. Influenced as much from culture, values, language, and politics, as it is from simple geography. The great thing about New York City is that so many people here have a similar story.
Stella Lee: The smells and textures. I mean that in a good and bad way—from the smells of evaporating water over rusted steel cellar doors to the aroma of a summer fish market. The city is complex and intricate.
In your eyes, what are, the most prominent characteristics of New York?
Laura Trevino: The broad combination of people, professions and culture is what makes NYC such a unique and interesting place to live.
What are NY’s biggest strengths and weaknesses?
Stella Lee: New York’s strength above all else is the energy that comes from its diversity: cultural, racial, gender, and spirituality—as well as the honest willingness of people to engage with one another, even as strangers, to show kindness. It’s greatest weakness? The rent is too damn high - I’m down with Jimmy McMillan on that one.
Who are the people you created your designs for?
Laura Trevino: We wanted to consider new immigrants in NYC. The ones who haven’t yet been indoctrinated into the NYC life.
Peter Zuspan: And beyond the immigrant resident, the project addresses the conceptual question of what home means right now. It’s a fluid boundary for so many, between what is a home and what is not a home—and this idea of home needs to pulled apart, made fun of, thought about, and ultimately needs to evolve into something more inclusive, flexible, and meaningful.
Stella Lee: We were also interested in finding a way of inspiring a feeling of comfort, of an embrace through the extensions of home. Humor and affection are important portals to the experience of feeling at home, and an appreciation of the idiosyncrasy of that is part of it.
What are the special features of the kitchen and experience room?
Laura Trevino: The kitchen plays with the reflective materials of the classic NYC diner as well as the shape of the typical galley kitchen. We then flip it inside out, cover it in soft, plush fabric, and thus question its status as a rigid typology.
Peter Zuspan: We play with this plushiness in the experience extension as well. Its rigid and imposing exterior, clad in aluminum spikes, is undermined in the interior by soft plush. This inner softness and its bright color pull a sense of defensiveness away from the object, hopefully allowing one to re-contextualize something possibly dangerous as comical, approachable, and maybe even cute.
Stella Lee: We use this formal ambiguity to further reflect on what it means to occupy space in NYC. The form plays with function while evoking a physical sensation through close contact with the materiality of these rooms. You are literally hugged by the kitchen as you pass through its threshold, while the plush surface in the experience extension gives a sense of comfort.
How can your spin on the cabin help to make immigrants feel a sense of ‘home’?
Laura Trevino: Our aim was to add some humor to a stressful experience, while providing a functional and comfortable place to adjust and prepare for what is out there.
Peter Zuspan: We were also thinking of the power of humor—like the brilliant work of Samantha Bee, John Oliver, and the success of humor-based journalism. How can humor be blisteringly critical, yet diffuse tension, creating sympathy and fostering a new sense of community, comfort, and home. We think there is a relatively unexplored potential for humor in architecture. It’s out there for sure, but not enough of it.
Stella Lee: There is also something about introducing some unusual, less purely rational elements into the home environment that we believe can help stretch the mind’s muscles. Our aim is to elevate the mood and make you think a bit, while creating a comfortable space.
The MINI LIVING Urban Cabin is a colorful place of inspiration. What inspires you most about NY?
Peter Zuspan: You can walk down the street looking like a total monster or a complete clown, and most people will not bat an eye. While this experience can be intimidating, with the anonymity you can achieve in a city like New York, it is actually very empowering. New Yorkers are accepting. Our blasé grit can translate into allowing for new weird combinations and meetings of otherwise unrelated people, things, and ideas that are just not acceptable in other places.
Stella Lee: NYC is never the same. Its flexibility and the way it constantly changes has always made it a wonder, even after a lifetime of growing up around and living here. The same can be said about the way in which one experiences solitude. In NYC, it is fleeting and everywhere at the same time; it can be thrilling or meditative depending on the context. It is this that generates an incredible opportunity for creativity.