New York architects Jordan Rogove and Wayne Norbeck launched DXA Studio in 2011, riding a wave of accolades out from their respective gigs at name-brand firms. In the dozen years since, their sustainability-driven practice has built a robust portfolio of coveted residential projects, commercial builds, and institutional structures, along with humanitarian designs that strive to help solve global housing equity challenges.
We talked with DXA’s founding principals about their journey to date, the mindset that guides them, and their recent work on Parish House, the game-changing new rental development in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood.
You knew each other from school, but we’ve heard your partnership started after a chance run-in by Union Square, back when you both worked individually at big-ticket firms. What in the New York how? Walk us through the timeline from that very moment until you decided to quit your respective day jobs.
JR: It’s funny how New York City can feel like such a small place sometimes; it certainly did when Wayne and I ran into each other in 2006. We knew from our time in school that we worked well together, so we started collaborating on design competitions shortly after that run-in. Winning the competition in 2021, for Health and Housing Design in Haiti, was what pushed us to start DXA Studio. At the time, we had also been developing relationships with clients at our respective firms who wanted to work directly with us, so we took this opportunity to start our own company.
DXA is the architect of record for Parish House, which sits beside and on the grounds of historic St. Mary’s church. How did you spark a relationship between an 1858 brownstone chapel and a modern 17-story edifice that’s significantly taller than anything else on the block?
WN: We spent a lot of time thinking about two aspects of the relationship. One was the massing of Parish House and its location on the site relative to the church. Because of its imposing size, we angled the building to maximize unit layouts while minimizing its otherwise imposing appearance. Also, the connector piece between the existing sanctuary and the new building speaks to the congregation’s procession between their historic church and new facilities.
Another aspect is the envelope. The colors of the masonry and metals [at Parish House] are directly drawn from the church’s materials. When we were designing the façade, a lot of the original masonry from the church was sitting on the site — unused. There was quite a collection of brown and umber stones, so we kept bringing brick samples to the site to compare them until we found the right one for the new construction.
Your team is also responsible for some of the building’s amenities, specifically the residents-only park and sunset lounge. Tell us how these came together and how they complement the overall resident lifestyle.
JR: There were a number of zoning considerations that were necessary in order to maximize the building’s floor area. Creating a sizable garden and third-floor amenity terrace allowed us to meet the open space requirements needed to build a tower. We distributed these open spaces in order to optimize the location and proportion of each amenity. We also worked with horticultural designer Patrick Cullina to really curate spaces that change with each season. In turn, having a higher building height allowed for the sunset lounge to have spectacular views of the city.
Sustainable construction, and the technology that empowers it, feels at the forefront of your ethos. Are there tactics, systems, or materials you find yourselves turning to repeatedly? What uphill battles (if any) do you face going against the grain of business as usual?
WN: Building systems tend to be the most energy-consuming in any project, so we've been using more and more heat pump systems, as they're more efficient than boilers and older tower heating and cooling systems. To further maximize this equipment, we design robust, insulated facade systems — high-performance envelope systems with a focus on air tightness and newer envelope technologies. We also like to work with passive systems.
We do our best to future-proof our work with regards to NYC’s upcoming 2030 and 2050 energy policies, which aim to reduce carbon footprints. Luckily, clients have become increasingly receptive to our sustainability goals as these government policies are beginning to unfurl.
Beyond the New York real estate grind, what projects in your portfolio were most fulfilling and impactful to work on?
JR: The list of pivotal projects at DXA Studio is an ever-growing one. Our first main ground-up project was 280 Saint Marks Avenue, while the recently completed Maverick Chelsea is our biggest one. We have quite a few historical renovation and reuse projects, such as the SoHo Lofts and the Mount Pleasant Church Conversion, that have really elevated our take on interior architecture. Also, we have entered design competitions over the years that push us to advance the office’s design values and process — one of the most successful being the Midtown Viaduct, which won the Grand Prize at the Metals in Construction Magazine 2019 Design Challenge.
WN: In the past few years, and especially since COVID-19, we have also aimed to expand beyond our NYC client base. For instance, our involvement with Liv-Connected has led us to design modular, inexpensive, rapidly built houses, so that anyone can access higher design without the long lead times or high price tags that typically come with home ownership. Also, as Jordan mentioned earlier, DXA Studio was started after winning the Housing and Health Competition in Haiti. Since then, finding simple design solutions to world-wide problems is part of our company’s mission. For instance, we were fortunate enough to work with the Clinton Health Access Initiative in Namibia, where we helped reduce malaria cases by creating an easy-to-follow manual for residents to mosquito-proof their homes. Making design accessible to all is a really fundamental part of DXA.