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Emerging Voices 2011: De Leon & Primmer
Yew Dell Botanical Gardens, Crestwood, Kentucky
Courtesy D&PAW

De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop

Louisville, Kentucky

Roberto de Leon and Ross Primmer aren’t radicals. Rather, they prefer a more reasoned and contextual architecture rooted in community involvement. “We’re not really looking to play outside the box,” explained De Leon. “We’re more interested in collaborating and learning to work within the existing rules to create something new.”

This approach has helped guide the duo behind De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop in Louisville, Kentucky. After earning their masters in architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1993, Primmer, a Midwesterner, and De Leon, a San Franciscan, looked around for an evolving post-industrial city, eventually landing in Louisville.

Finding the right city was important. “Our peers were settling outside the country—in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Rotterdam—but we were interested in getting to work on real projects right out of grad school,” De Leon said. Louisville’s untapped potential represented an opportunity to utilize their skills while being actively involved in the community.

Guthrie Transportation Museum, Guthrie, Kentucky.
[Click to enlarge.]

It turned out, De Leon recalls, that being local had its own hurdles. After winning a competition, for example, his firm was later rejected for lack of national name recognition. “We simply weren’t an out-of-town firm,” De Leon said. “We were always competing against outsiders, which is a little ironic considering the rise of sustainability and the localism that supports it.”

Those local roots, however, have informed such projects as the Mason Lane Farm Operations Facility, where De Leon & Primmer used locally-harvested bamboo and simple construction methods from the surrounding agricultural region to create an elegant lattice structure with an adjacent corrugated metal barn that are distinctly modern with a rural flavor.

Clockwise from top: Filson Historical Society, Louisville, Kentucky; Auditorium, Filson Historical Society; Visitors Center, Yew Dell Botanical Gardens, Crestwood, Kentucky.
[Click to enlarge.]

Now, De Leon & Primmer is collaborating on a sprawling high-adventure base camp for the Boy Scouts of America situated on a reclaimed coal strip mine in West Virginia. The site seems tailor-made for De Leon & Primmer, who are collaborating with Lake Flato, BNIM, Mithun, and Fernau+Hartmen to create a series of villages focused on the site’s varied landscapes including wetlands and exposed coal seams.


“We were interested in architecture that impacts the landscape at an infrastructural level,” De Leon said. He and Primmer are designing ten structures at the scout camp, from an interactive merit badge pavilion to restrooms and cisterns.

Mason Lane Farm Operations Facility, Goshen, Kentucky
[Click to enlarge.]

The basic necessities of the program do not diminish their enthusiasm. “It’s about what these mundane little buildings can become,” said De Leon. “Everyone has to use the restroom; these buildings are part of any site’s pervasive experience. We’re interested in the in-between spaces that connect buildings—the front stoops—where happenstance moments occur, where interpersonal connections take place.”

Branden Klayko


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