Reimagining Architecture in DC
Architects Mark Lawrence and Elizabeth Emerson of E/L Studio take us through their design studio, Mark’s home, and the Lincoln Street House, another one of their innovative projects in Washington, DC. The two designers taught us about architecture, partnership, and what it takes to create contemporary buildings within the traditional walls of the Capitol on a recent leg of our Hello, Again tour.Your standard independent architecture studio runs like so: The principal architects lead teams of junior designers, each taking on different projects and working on them for years at a time, separately. The process of designing one is often quiet – and solitary.
But we’ve never been interested in the status quo, and for business partners Elizabeth Emerson and Mark Lawrence, solitary work – and quiet work – are not an option.
Emerson and Lawrence have known each other since they were 18 years old. As students, they respected each other’s work and vowed to work together in the future. Amid moves to different cities and obtaining graduate degrees from different schools, Lawrence and Emerson came back together in 2006 to create E/L Studio, a firm that not only designs beautiful homes and projects, but creates solutions to the ever-changing architectural landscape challenges of Washington, DC.
“In our partnership, it’s important that Mark test the ideas that intrigue him and I think he recognizes that it’s important that I test the ideas that intrigue me,” says Emerson. “There’s got to be room for both parties to do that. We try to give each other enough space to do the things that are intriguing to us.”
Being in their presence, it’s easy to see the two speak a common language about innovation, inspiration, and the reimagining of a city they both love.
Emerson runs a separate studio in New York City and travels to E/L in DC once a week. The two architects insist that their most valuable work is done sitting at a table across from one another in each other’s presence – a practice that is virtually unheard of in the digital age. The two designers perform each “charette” together, solving the problems of the architectural work at hand.
By intention, the aesthetics and signature designs of E/L Studio cannot be pinned down. The two designers value working with a site as the site requires, and that often means responding with unique design solutions for each project.
“Oftentimes the inspiration for the project comes from the project itself, ” says Emerson. “For the Lincoln Street project (shown in the film above), we wanted to enhance and amplify the qualities to make it a better version of what was already there. The chevron paneling, the skylights and the roof tints were all elements that we capitalized on.”
As contemporary architects, Emerson and Lawrence are faced with the daunting task of preserving age-old American houses and buildings while still providing a modern update that is both relevant and innovative.
“As our cities grow, we have to be more inventive about what and how we add on to these conditions that we’re given and to remove the things that are no longer pertinent, while still identifying the value,” says Lawrence. “What do you highlight, what do you destroy? What do you build on top of? That’s always an interesting exercise.”
E/L Studio was a featured business of the Hello, Again Tour of DC. For more about the Hello, Again Tour and the journey to rediscover cities around the country, visit www.HelloAgainTour.com.