Today we’re buzzing with Barry Rice, Principal at New York-based Barry Rice Architects. Rice has practiced architecture for 30 years in London, Sydney and New York and has worked on a variety of projects from high-rise residential and commercial buildings to private houses and hotels.
Having worked extensively in areas regulated by historic preservation, his designs carefully craft the dynamic presence of something new while maintaining a harmonious dialogue with the neighboring environment.
One of Rice’s latest project is 1110 Park Avenue by Toll Brothers City Living, a brand new boutique residence on Manhattan’s grand residential boulevard. At 16 stories high, this building houses only nine units and features an impressive 7,000 square foot penthouse that occupies the top three floors.
We chatted with the architect about his inspiration for entering the field, starting his own firm and his experience designing 1110 Park Avenue.
BuzzBuzzHome: What inspired you to become an architect? Was there a specific moment in your early life when you decided that was the career you wanted to pursue?
Barry Rice: I spent most of my adolescent years in Brisbane while spending winter vacations with my grandfather in Melbourne — a very Victorian city in Australia with beautiful gardens. My grandfather, Ellis Stones, was the first popular landscape architect in Australia, and raised his profession to a level of prominence. Once I got my drivers licence, I would drive him around as his chauffeur/guide during the winter holidays. Through that experience I became familiar with the architecture scene of the time, and learned a lot about landscape design, preservation and innovation. All of which was happening in the 60s and 70s in Melbourne and Australia, and I just thought it was so cool. I was completely hooked.
BBH: Where did you go to school? How did that shape your early experiences in the field?
BR: I went to Queensland University in Brisbane to study architecture at the undergraduate level. After completing that, I felt I wanted to spread my wings a bit. I left and went to London to do a graduate degree in architecture in the Polytechnic of Central London — now called the University of Westminster. This was in the late 70s and early 80s during a time of transition where architectural thinking moved from international style modernism to what eventually was called post modernism, or contextualism.
At school in England, it was encouraged to try to look at all the different points of views and we certainly had a teaching faculty that had a diverse range of opinions. So the focus of my education there had very much to do with looking back at history and gauging where we are in time and what influences are changing architectural thinking.
BBH: Can you describe your career trajectory from when you left school to becoming a project architect and associate partner at Robert AM Stern Architects?
BR: I worked for a few years in London after graduating but the climate eventually got the better of me, so I retreated to the warm, subtropical climate of Brisbane. I worked there and taught architecture for a little bit at my alma mater, but eventually moved to Sydney where I joined a larger firm, Edwards Madigan Torzillo and Briggs (EMTB) and gained experience as a project architect on various public and private projects.
Then, for reasons that had nothing to do with career decisions, but had to do with getting married, I came to New York and immediately fell in love with the city and stayed. On arriving from Australia where the education system is a little different — you start studying architecture a bit earlier than one would in the US — I had a little bit more experience than a lot of people here, so I found it was still easy for me to fit in. I applied for a job at Bob Stern’s office and was very lucky to get accepted and stayed with them for about 12 years.
BBH: What motivated you to branch out and start your own firm?
BR: In 1999/2000 I felt that I had enough familiarity with what was going on in New York and enough confidence that the economy was doing well that I would start my own firm providing services for developer clients in New York.
Up to that time, Bob Stern’s office was starting to work with more developers. We would often join forces with other New York-based architecture firms and had very successful collaborations. I felt that if I could provide the full range of services in the city that I got to know best, I could try to fill a niche doing smaller more modest projects than Bob was doing. These were projects that were too small perhaps to have a team of two or three architects doing various aspects. That was the motivation of going out on my own.
BBH: Is there a particular architect that has inspired you?
BR: There are many architects that inspire me and I don’t list them in any priority. It depends on the project and where I’m building. What I learned from Bob Stern’s office is to understand where you’re building before you start planning. So in the research phase of any project, I’ll try to find out as much as I can about the influential architecture of the area, the story behind the architecture and who designed the building.
BBH: You’ve worked on a wide variety of projects including single family homes, schools, office buildings and multi-family residential buildings. Do you approach each type of project differently and would you say you have a signature style?
BR: My architectural style is not self conscious — it evolves out of the approach I take to building. For example, one of the most interesting projects I have done to date is the Brooklyn Trust Company Building on Montague Street. The structure itself was a landmark building with a large interior space that was also individually landmarked, therefore I couldn’t make any changes to it. What I ended up doing was take the old banking offices in the rear annex building and transformed them into townhome apartments integrated into the building.
This to me was as interesting a project as say the Mondrian Hotel on Lafayette Street that I worked on, which is a very prominent new building. The challenge of making a place comfortable to live in, with a nice entrance, using materials appropriate to the building with a look and a feel that’s appropriate to the neighborhood — these are the interesting parts of architecture to me. The challenge is there in preserving or re-adapting a structure like Montague Street as much as building a brand new, out-of-the-ground building that you can see on all four sides.
BBH: 1110 Park Avenue is one of your latest works. Can you speak more about the genesis of the project, and how you became involved?
BR: I noticed that Toll Brothers started to become active in the city several years ago, prior to 1110 Park Avenue. I introduced myself to the Toll Brothers City Living Group in New York and approached them with a couple potential projects that I wanted to work on with them.
Going through that process they understood what I did and thankfully David Von Spreckelsen of Toll Brothers City Living has a talent of matching architects to specific projects in the city. He has a detailed knowledge and appreciation for how people want to live in different neighborhoods in New York which is a key part of my interest too.
Having done 823 Park Avenue along with other buildings on the Upper East Side, David saw that I had the experience to work on these beautiful 1920s apartment buildings that line Park Avenue. So when Toll Brothers bid on the properties at 1110 Park, David gave me a call.
BR: Park Avenue is a very sought after address but also has a very coherent reading as a street wall because the heights of the buildings are limited, and setbacks are required at certain heights.
When I started at 1110 Park Avenue, I had worked on many projects that involved New York City landmarks and learned to use the resources and expertise of the preservationists and the advice of the commissioners as a guide when doing buildings in this area. While this site is not part of the landmark district, I used the same approach of understanding the neighborhood and using the appropriate materials, scale of building, and detailing.
The effort was made to balance two objectives. Create a building that on one hand sits comfortably with its neighbors, but also provides a distinctive presence on the block. In the case of 1110 Park Avenue, we used balconies to define certain portions of the facade, as well as deep cornices and stepbacks for windows to create shadows that would enliven the facade. Additionally, to contrast with our neighbors, which are very horizontal buildings, we used groupings of three windows to add verticality to the building.
The exterior consists of Indiana limestone. There are very few limestone buildings on Park Avenue so I was a little nervous about doing an all limestone building, and in fact, I initially proposed doing a building that had limestone elements with an otherwise brick facade. But the decision was made to go all limestone and having made that decision, the challenge was to do it in a way that was respectful to the brick and stone detailing of the neighbors, but also represented and fulfilled the opportunities that having a limestone building provides such as strong shadow lines and a facade that reflects light very well.
We also worked closely with VOA Architects and the limestone fabricators to develop the details of the facade. That was a new experience for me seeing these beautiful pieces of stone being carved to create these cornices from solid blocks of stone and immaculately erected. The quality of workmanship, the craft, and the carving of the stone is absolutely first rate on this building. I’m very proud of it.
BBH: You also worked on 823 Park Avenue Condos. How does this project compare in terms of your inspiration and design process?
BR: That was a similarly scaled building to 1110 Park Avenue, but a totally different exercise. In the case of 823 Park, we were given an envelope that we had to work. We realized that the best use for the building was to essentially demolish the entire interior of the building, reconfigure a column or two, and to relocate elevators in order to provide large rooms facing Park Avenue. This was an inside out job, and we were restoring and preserving the exterior of a 1911 brick building. It was a different process than 1110 Park, but we still had to respect the historic district that we were in.
BBH: The boutique condominium houses only nine residences, including a 7,000 square foot triplex that occupies the top three floors. Can you tell us a little bit more about this space, and what makes it unique compared to other luxury penthouses in the area?
BR: The penthouse occupies the top three floors and is essentially divided into three types of spaces. The 16th floor is the living floor and has a large room divided by a fireplace. One side is a dining room, the other side is a living room. Then there’s the kitchen, a stairway that goes up to the rooftop amenities, and a staircase that goes down to the 15th floor that is principally a large master bedroom suite. It includes a bathroom walk-in closet, and a small library which could be used as another bedroom. The floor below that houses the other bedrooms can be thought of as the kids floor.
The rooftop terrace has a seating area with a fireplace for entertaining. The other end of the terrace houses a pergola for sun protection and privacy, and an outdoor swimming pool with water jets that create a tide. It’s also surrounded by glass which gives a rather spectacular way of viewing the city. And since you’re way above the rooftops of the surrounding buildings views are quite stunning. I’m not sure if there are any other rooftop swimming pools like this in the area. They’re not common up here.
Thanks for buzzing with us, Barry!