To watch Claire Weisz in action at a community board meeting is to see an architect slice through the arch speak and level with the locals. This is no small feat in a city where talking local in Inwood differs from talking local on the Upper West Side, Hunts Point, or Battery Park City, all places where Weisz’s WXY firm has projects pending or built. For WXY, urban design equals urban collaboration. She started the firm with her husband Mark Yoes in 1998; partner Layng Pew joined the team in 2006. Together the three have developed an ethos of collaboration—amongst themselves, within communities, and within the profession.
“Our work involves a lot of other disciplines,” said Weisz. “It’s community broadly defined and assumes that other designers and engineers are a part of the process.” From a sanitation garage to a firehouse, a charter school, concession stands, and several parks, bridges and plazas, the firm’s work has subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, shaped New York landscape. “We do believe in a certain amount of excess,” she said. “Making everything even doesn’t make it interesting. Sometimes, the answer is counter intuitive. Sometimes ‘too much’ is good. That’s how you get a flower district or a garment district.”
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Weisz said that for the past ten years the firm grew alongside technology, which fed her own interests and designs, such as the widely praised NYC Information Center completed in 2009. With its touch screen maps and whimsical design, the lab-like space operates like a 3-D iPad. “The tools have made it more interesting,” she said. She credits the firm’s comfort level in communicating digitally as key to collaborating with a diverse range of disciplines. “It really expanded the way we work,” she said.
The firm recently designed a double spanned redbrick pedestrian bridge that braids its way across the Nanhe River, in Xinjin, China. It is scheduled to open later this year. The firm, however, remains essentially regionalist. “New York City has been our laboratory. It’s a good lab, but a tough one,” Weisz said.
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The partners also spend a good deal of time studying the work of visual artists. “We take a lot of inspiration, but no obvious visual references, from post-minimalist artists like Richard Tuttle and Al Taylor,” said Mark Yoes. “We especially like the way these artists create visual conundrums with such simple means.”
Indeed, the zipper bench at Peter Minuit Plaza in lower Manhattan could easily pass for sculpture. But here too, the essence of the design boils down to cooperation. “The zipper bench started out as an urban design problem, because there were a lot of private development plans that might have caused the developer to look at the esplanade as their own front yard,” said Weisz. The bench starts as two benches facing in opposite directions before melding into one surface. The public has a choice of two views: the bustle of development or the calm of the park.