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Privacy & Cookies Policy
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Danielle Rago & Honora Shea

November 20 / 2020

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THIS X THAT, an agency representing progressive architects who challenge the status quo, was founded by Danielle Rago and Honora Shea in 2016. Dedicated to bringing architecture and design to broader audiences, the agency endeavours to initiate, develop, and realise publicly accessible projects at the intersection of architecture, art, and culture.

For those looking for design talent, Rago and Shea help to find the right architect, at scales ranging from site-specific installations and public art to interior architecture to ground-up buildings. For architects, the duo offers business development, PR and communications, and advisory services, with an eye towards helping emerging practices identify and connect with the right partners.

 

THIS X THAT — Danielle Rago & Honora Shea. Photo by Injinash Unshin

 

Q >As an agency that represents unique and progressive voices in architecture, how do you curate the practices you collaborate with?

DR >   We work with a select group of architects and designers, each of whom occupy distinct positions within the field but also have inherent overlaps and similarities. We are quite selective in the clients we take on, and beyond mere aesthetics (which is very important) we look at the critical conversation the work is part of, how it contributes to a larger narrative surrounding contemporary building practice and its relationship to the larger group itself. It’s also important for us to admire the work and genuinely be excited about the project.

HS >   We are interested in practitioners using architecture to challenge the status quo, which usually requires a commitment to experimentation, whether that’s material, formal, or conceptual, or simply a willingness to integrate social practices like advocacy into an architectural project.

Q >Describe your ideal client.

DR >   We endeavour to represent architects with a unique point of view who have both a conceptual as well as a building practice. Our ideal client can clearly articulate their position, objectives and goals; and are invested in their work in both a professional as well as personal capacity. They also produce compelling and thoughtful work that has the potential to change how we (as a society) think about ourselves and our relationship to the world. 

HS >   Ideally our relationships with our clients are long-term, and are predicated on the basis of mutual exchange and discovery, and a sense of intellectual enrichment on both ends. One of the best parts of this job is meeting and working with so many practitioners who have truly unique and constructive ideas about how to change the world.

Q >In a space as competitive as architecture, describe the kinds of efforts and initiatives that are helping THIS X THAT to amplify the work of small and provocative practices?

DR >   We’re advocates for good design. As an agency, we offer both business development and press services to the architects we represent. Oftentimes we work holistically with architects, developing office profiles and portfolios, project narratives and press campaigns with targeted goals in mind to obtain future commissions and unique press placements. Our success in both is defined by our ability to articulate certain narratives or themes in our clients work and present them to a potential client, collaborator and/or editor in a concise and articulate manner. Timing also plays an important part too!

HS >   We see a window of opportunity to bring truly progressive design to the general public, who sometimes only have access to the starchitecture that the media overwhelmingly tends to cover, or the developer-driven “service” architecture that they might see on the streets of their city. We want to make inquiry and experimentation visible, and show people that architecture has the ability to solve problems when it’s not stagnant, or driven solely by power or money.

Q >Environmental and social shifts: what key factors are influencing and challenging architecture practices today and how do you see the sector evolving going forward?

DR >   Both environmental and social shifts are not only impacting the discipline but are shaping the way architects think about how individuals live, work, socialise and inherently influence the work they’re doing in both the private and public sectors. In just this past year, many of our clients, such as the NYC-based collaborative Design Advocates, have initiated pro bono work in underprivileged communities and on behalf of  individuals, nonprofits and small businesses in need. 

Other clients have adapted projects to current COVID compliance and are rethinking elements of daily life that have been affected by the pandemic and how to use architecture as a tool to implement change in the way we interact with ourselves and with each other. It’s been incredible seeing the community and in particular, many of our clients, come together to use design to enact positive changes for the greater good.

Q >Which developments or phenomena in architecture do you feel are currently breaking new ground or ushering in change?

HS >   We have an escalating global climate crisis on our hands, and architecture that responds to that at all scales feels utterly urgent. Our client Jennifer Bonner/MALL is exploring the architecture, structural and aesthetic capabilities of mass timber construction in collaboration with Hanif Kara, a structural engineer, on the basis that the material and building process may be much more energy efficient, less wasteful, and more fire-resistant than traditional construction methods. Our clients New Affiliates are exploring how to disrupt streams of waste in the architecture and are currently re-using discarded “mock-ups” from developers to build community garden sheds in New York City. These types of efforts are necessarily engaging the existing relationships between architect and engineer, or architect and developer, in new and dynamic ways.

Q >Hybrid collaborations and critical practices: how important is the relation between architecture and other disciplines? Are there any examples of inter-disciplinary symbioses that stand out for you?

DR >   For us and for our clients, interdisciplinary pursuits are very important and in fact integral to many building practices. Many of the architects we work with are engaged in academia and their research and theoretical pursuits often play themselves out in building projects at various scales and in different ways. Whether it’s looking at how we can expand housing norms to accommodate more peoples’ needs (Architensions’ social housing proposals)  and expand standard building practices (The LADG’s House in Los Angeles series) or exploring new materials (Jennifer Bonner / MALL’s Harvard GSD Mass Timber Studio) and architectural waste (New Affiliates’ Test Beds); our clients interest in fields and disciplines outside of architecture contribute immensely to the discourse and in our opinion genuinely enhance a project.

HS >   Architecture itself is an intrinsically hybrid discipline, encompassing art, science, and society — it can’t really exist without the knowledge about how we live that has been culled from other fields, so I see symbiosis as essential to the practice, and what makes it so generative. On another level, it’s also interesting to think about how an architectural project can become a support structure or home for work in a different discipline — like Michael K. Chen’s collaboration with the artist Sarah Oppenheimer, who created a site-specific physical artwork in his Upper East Side Townhouse project, or how French 2D’s design of a co-housing community becomes the umbrella for social work, in this case a participatory design process and a practice of collectivity.

Q >How can architecture help activate alternative discourses through space? As part of your answer, perhaps unpack an unconventional project you’ve been involved in.

DR >   Architecture in itself is a very powerful thing. It has the ability to dictate how we act, think and feel. The more successful architectural projects ask us to reconsider our environment and relationship to others and ourselves. We’ve been fortunate to be  involved in various projects over the years that question traditional tropes, roles and conventional norms. For example, French 2D’s Co-housing project and ideas around collectivity extend beyond new modalities of housing and home ownership to examine the ways people gather, live and socialise. We worked with the studio on a program centred around a shared dining experience and dialogue, the second in their Place Setting series, prior to the start of the pandemic. The dinner event and accompanying installation used textile in the form of a tablecloth to actively knit people together and instigate conversations and dialogue across a diverse group of women. While our program has been indefinitely postponed, the ideas that French 2D began to explore here are being worked out in other studio projects and initiatives.

Q >How can architecture become a more diverse and inclusive sector? What needs to happen for this to be achieved?

DR >   Architecture like any other discipline, trade or profession is impacted by outside social and economic factors. That said, there’s much that can be done within the discipline of architecture aside from the work that needs to be done at a larger societal level. We, as a company, for instance, have been engaged in the pro bono efforts of our clients who are actively working towards creating equitable spaces and supporting communities, organisations and small businesses that are in need. We’ve also initiated free consulting sessions for emerging BIPOC practitioners who don’t have the same support and resources that have historically been afforded to others. We are doing our small part but also encourage others in similar positions to do the same to create more diversity in the discipline.

HS >   Remove structural barriers to access, start valuing architecture at all scales and for everyone (not just those with money and power), and challenge established spheres of influence within and surrounding the industry.

Q >What do you like and dislike about the architecture world? 

DR >   I’ve always disliked the insularity of the profession, and part of the reason we started THIS X THAT was to bring architecture to wider public and to engage with new audiences outside of those within the discourse. Since much of our built environment is determined by people other than architects themselves we find it extremely necessary to bring these conversations and work that is happening within the discipline to broader audiences.

HS >   I also dislike the insularity of the architecture world, and the intellectual elitism and isolation that occurs as a result, not to mention the broader power dynamics and inherent gender and racial inequity it shares with all other industries. But I love that architecture affects us all — it provides us with shelter and the infrastructure of our lives; it can serve as art, as environmental or social remedy, and as a conduit for progress. It is collaborative at heart, and the emerging practitioners that make up today’s architecture world seem to be working in that spirit more than ever.

 

Danielle Rago was previously an architecture and design curator and writer. She has worked with the A+D Museum in Los Angeles and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Her writing has been published in Abitare, Architect Magazine, The Architect’s Newspaper, Architectural Record, CLOG, Domus, LOG, PIN-UP, TANK, and WIRED, among others. Rago holds a Master’s degree in Architecture History and Critical Thinking from the Architectural Association, London.

Honora Shea was previously a writer and creative producer in the fields of contemporary art and architecture. She has worked in the offices of Steven Holl Architects in New York and at Vitamin Creative Space gallery in Beijing, and has produced and managed projects in the studios of artists Cao Fei in Beijing and Sharon Lockhart Los Angeles. Her writing on art and architecture has appeared online in Architectural Record, Artforum, Interview, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and Wallpaper.

Architensions — Childrens Playspace. Photo by Cameron Blaylock

Design Advocates Kopitiam — Restaurant. Photo by Alan Tansey

FreelandBuck — Stack House. Photo by Eric Staudenmaier

French 2D — Cozy Wall. Photo by Anita Kan

MALL — HausGables. Photo by NAARO

MKCA — Clinton Hill Townhouse. Photo by Alan Tansey

New Affiliates and Sam Stewart Halevy — Testbeds. Rendering Courtesy Testbeds

SCHAUM SHIEH — Transart. Photo by Peter Molick

The LADG — House 1 in Los Angeles. Photo by Injinash Unshin

The LADG — House 1 in Los Angeles. Photo by Saam Gabbay