Stone Discoveries: Breccia Capraia

Breccia Capraia quarry

Breccia Capraia quarry

Breccia Capraia marble, even in its rawest and least finished state, is a complexly beautiful sight to behold. Owing to its unique brecciation–meaning: its being composed of variously shaped and sized fragments, set against a backdrop of an entirely different material of a radically different appearance—owing to this happy accident of geological formation, millions of years old, the raw material invokes in the beholder a wide array of emotions and mnemonic associations.

While one might be reminded by it of the effect of a setting sun, or the impasto of the French impressionists, another might recognize in its meticulous intricate patterns the topography of the arctic tundra; a tableau of the earth disappearing before you as you ascend into the skies on an airplane.

While this variety of dramatic interpretation may be true of any number of breccias, it is the subdued and subtle forms taken by Breccia Capraia that make the stone’s use such an intriguing premise to architects and designers. Depending on its application, the marble may be showy and ostentatious, or a tasteful complement to more pronounced decorative elements. In the latter case, where the material is intentionally not played to its obvious strengths as a facing stone, it provides an ambient backdrop that seems to almost swirl about imperceptibly.

This mobile nature of the stone contrasts with the muted, near transparent effect of its brecciation: hues of purple, red, grey, and green vein about the warm, pale background, almost in a blur of liminal motion, where one seems to bleed into another, and where the angular forms become increasingly amorphous and difficult to trace with the eye.

Schwarzemberg Hotel, Vienna

Schwarzemberg Hotel, Vienna

Significant structures which incorporated Breccia Capraia in their construction include the former Home Savings headquarters in downtown Los Angeles in Los Angeles, and the Schwarzemberg Hotel in Vienna.

The natural stone currently on view at ABC represents only the finest rocks on earth. Procured from 6 continents, ABC has truly moved mountains across oceans to bring the finest stone on earth to the A&D community. We are honored to bring to you Breccia Capraia, quarried on the Tyrrhenian seaside of the Apuan Alps, in Tuscany.


Gensler’s Twisting Shanghai Tower Is Named World’s Best New Skyscraper (from Architectural Digest)

Soaring 2,073 feet in the air, the Gensler-designed Shanghai Tower, the second-tallest building in the world, now lays claim to top honors of another sort: the inaugural 2016 American Architecture Prize (AAP) for Architectural Design of the Year. Completed in January, the 121-story mixed-use building is boldly modern yet strongly connected to its area’s cultural identity, making “an immediate and profound impact on the country’s perceptions of how a skyscraper can contribute to a city, a country, and a culture,” according to the AAP. Nine distinct zones create a vertical city rising through the cylindrical structure, which boasts a second exterior façade that spirals 120 degrees and encases a series of public garden spaces. The transparent double skins provide a visual link between the building’s surroundings and its interior while maximizing natural light. View this article at ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST.

The Women Behind Removable Wallpaper Company, Tempaper (from New York Spaces)

bbh_bars_ba401_thatchersofa_zpsk2sjuqmiWhen twins Jennifer Matthews and Julia Biancella and their aunt Kate Szilagyi recognized the decorating world was missing a unique way for homeowners or renters to infuse their space with fun, high-impact décor, the business community was in the midst of 2008 recession woes and tepid about supporting start-up companies. Despite this, Jennifer, Julia and Kate forged ahead with their idea for a new product that filled the overlooked niche—and Tempaper was born. Tempaper is self-adhesive, removable wallpaper that lets DIYers add bold and beautiful designs to walls, dressers, stair risers, cabinets, bookshelves, drawers and headboards. View this article at NEW YORK SPACES.

ABC Stone attends the 2016 ASLA-NY President’s Dinner Gala

aslany_pd2016_bannerOn Thursday, November 10th, 2016, the New York chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) held its President’s Dinner Gala—and the folks from ABC Stone were delighted to be in attendance!

The President’s Dinner is an annual celebration of landscape architecture in New York, which brings together ASLA-NY members, partner organizations, allied professionals, vendors, and friends of the A+D community, for an evening of dinner, drinks, and revelry.

HONOREES: Senator Gillibrand has been dedicated to improving the lives and environment in New York and a vocal advocate for environmental issues nationally. Specifically, she has been a prime player in improving pollinator health and fighting for bills that help protect the pollinators that we depend on for nearly all of our food sources. As Editor of Landscape Architecture Magazine (LAM), Brad McKee has brought new spirit to our profession’s leading publication for news, information and inspiration. From the updated graphics and layout to the in-depth interviews and firm profiles to the highly educational species and project details, LAM truly delivers a modern ​approach to media and speaks to the future of our profession. Mary Alice Lee is the Director of the Trust for Public Land’s NYC Playground Program, implementing over 186 playgrounds in New York City public schools​, transforming barren asphalt schoolyards into vibrant, green and safe community playgrounds. Melissa Potter-Ix has been a prime partner with the TPL program, teaching students to put on the hat of a landscape architect over their 10-week participatory design sessions and inspiring a new generation of landscape architects.

AIANY Board of Directors Letter to Membership Regarding the 2016 Election


boardNovember 15, 2016

Dear AIANY Members,

The statement made post-election by AIA National on behalf of you, the largest chapter within its network of 89,000 members, pledged your support to an administration that many strongly denounce. The Board of Directors of AIA New York was not consulted by AIA National leadership prior to their decision to support President-Elect Trump’s yet undefined infrastructure agenda, and we do not condone their statement.

The leadership of the New York Chapter would like to reassure our membership and extended community that we reject the violent rhetoric that has pervaded the recent presidential campaign and we oppose any association with it. We believe in inalienable rights, regardless of creed or nation of origin; gender or sexual orientation; language of birth or skin color.

Architects, by training, are fundamentally committed to providing shelter and protecting the safety and wellbeing of all people. Civil dialogue, reciprocal respect, and the protection of human rights are essential to this activity and are vital characteristics of the profession.

These principles are not only our human values; they underpin the practice of our profession. We believe in equity in design and its benefits to all, especially in the critically needed areas of affordable housing, safe schools, and accessibility. We will continue to espouse fair and ethical business practices throughout the building industry. And, we remain committed to mitigating climate change and protecting New Yorkers from its unavoidable consequences.

We are fortunate that the New York Chapter functions in one of the most diverse and inclusive cities in the world. To this end, AIA New York is committing to increasing programming and exhibitions that promote a more inclusive America and address the needs, concerns and principles of you, our members.

We are first and foremost a membership organization, and our members are our strength. As members, your insights will drive our future actions. We want to hear from you. Please email with your suggestions for how this organization can best respond to the challenges you see facing us as a community. We are committed to addressing your concerns.

The Board of Directors
American Institute of Architects New York Chapter

Vishaan Chakrabarti on the Future of Penn Station (from Architectural Record)

1611-perspective-news-newsmaker-vishaan-chakrabarti-02Ever since McKim, Mead & White’s stately Penn Station was demolished in 1964 and replaced by Charles Luckman’s ultrabanal one, which included a doughnut-shaped Madison Square Garden and dreary office buildings, its users have suffered. The aesthetic pain has not been helped by the functional discomfort caused by excessive numbers (650,000 commuters a day). So cheers resounded with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement in late September: the state and developers Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust would put into place a long-touted plan by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan to divert Amtrak—and now the Long Island Rail Road—to a new train hall to be located in the nearby James A. Farley Post Office, also designed by McKim, Mead & White. View this article at ARCHITECTURAL RECORD.

Architectural Record Women in Architecture Forum & Awards 2016 (from Architectural Record)

women-in-architecture-01Architectural Record hosted its third annual Women in Architecture Forum & Awards symposium November 2 at New York City’s CUNY Graduate Center. The program is intended to recognize leading female architects and spark discussion about key issues facing women in the architecture profession.

This year’s event revolved around the theme of diversity in architectural education. Three panelists—all leaders in academia and founders of their own practices—discussed the challenges women architects continue to face, both in school and in the working world, as well as strategies to promote young female architects.

Deborah Berke, the first woman dean of Yale School of Architecture, Donna Robertson, former dean of the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology and one of this year’s award recipients, and Winka Dubbeldam, chair and professor of graduate architecture at PennDesign at the University of Pennsylvania, participated in the conversation, moderated by RECORD editor-in-chief Cathleen McGuigan. View this article at ARCHITECTURAL RECORD.

Stone Discoveries: Pietra Serena

A Medici Chapel at the Basilica of San Lorenzo

A Medici Chapel at the Basilica of San Lorenzo

To get to the Pietra Serena quarry one has to travel through vast, wide Chestnut plantations. I wasn’t until then aware that Chestnuts were even cultivated at such a scale. The closer we drew to the site of excavation, through the gaps in the trees arrayed there I could see the incipient layers of the mountain: it’s perfect and shows a stark contrast of darker and lighter variegations.

Florence (in Italian: Firenze) and the region it calls home, Tuscany (Toscana) are widely known as the birthplaces of the Italian Renaissance and are, accordingly, noted for the ornately decorated structures which were constructed there in this period. From the middle ages, a predominating building material of preference in the region has been a grey sandstone known as Pietra Serena.

Also known as Macigno stone, and, alternately, as la pietra color del cielo (“sky blue stone”) Pietra Serena most famously adorns Michelangelo’s Medici Chapels, at the Basilica of San Lorenzo, in Florence, and was used by Filippo Brunelleschi in the construction of pilasters and entablatures for the Pazzi Chapel, located at the Basilica di Santa Croce, in the same city.

Even before the veritable explosion of innovations in the decorative arts brought about in the Renaissance period, Pietra Serena sandstone was used for the Etruscan Walls of neighboring Perugia, constructed between the sixth and third centuries BC, to fortify the region and establish a border between the domains of the Etruscans and the Umbrians.

Pietra Serena is characterized by its homogenous uniformity of color: that being, a deep bluish-grey; the material itself is finely grained and compact, so as to create an effect of near transparency of texture. The unveiling to me of the quarry as the vegetation in the Chestnut orchard began to thin out, gave rise to a near indescribable sense of visual disorientation: this, owing to the Zebra-like quality of the quarry faces, the lines running at degrees oblique to the surface upon which I stood, there was a sense of being in the Tilted House of some amusement park of natural wonders.

quarry2shrunkenedAfter making the rounds, from a safe distance I watched a tiny figure in orange prep a large block of the stone for dynamiting. While other quarries I’ve encountered employ saw or water cutting, combustion appears to be the preferred method here.

For its homogeneity of texture Pierta Serena has endured in popularity—and therefore demand—into the modern era, and is ideal as a complement to a wide variety of materials of different colors, designs and textures. It is a highly workable material, due to its low cohesion and clayey matrix, and highly durable (more so than usual for a sandstone) so much so that it can even be used, and has been historically, as road paving.

As popular in interior applications, for its aesthetic versatility, as it is in exteriors, for its resistance to cold, rain, sunlight, and inclement weather conditions, it is one of the most sought after building materials in the continent of its origin, and the world over.

The natural stone currently on view at ABC represents only the finest rocks on earth. Procured from 6 continents, ABC has truly moved mountains across oceans to bring the finest stone on earth to the A&D community. We are honored to bring to you Pietra Serena, from Florence, a stone of immense popularity throughout history and into the present day.


Designer Spotlight: Michael Simon

Living Room, Los Altos Hills Home

Living Room, Los Altos Hills Home

Michael Simon is in a state of deep focus. We’ve been sitting in a cozy Italian bistro a couple of blocks from his office on the fringes of NYC’s theatre district for just 10 minutes and we’ve already touched on technology-driven information overload, God, and the importance of divining a life’s purpose for oneself. And now he needs to figure out what he’ll eat for lunch.

He is a man with a solid sense of value in both the spiritual and physical realms, and he makes reference to his desire to continue moving toward the light. “The light” he speaks of is “not about God in the traditional sense,” he says. “It’s about action that stems from reflection. I just want more time to reflect and less time to react. I think so much of today’s ‘instant’ culture is about reactivity. When you can watch a war being fought live, in real time, how in the world do you process that? Everyone wants a response and the complexities of the situation are just enormous. I think people who are moving toward the light aren’t afraid to take the time, step away from the phone or computer, and reflect on a situation. To realize that your words and actions really do have an effect on the world around you is hugely important. We all have a responsibility and that’s why I’m always lobbying for greater reflectivity and less reactivity.”

In a career where beauty is ephemeral and good taste and style is no longer represented by a period of years or even seasons, how does a traditionalist ensure that he will be able to honor his meticulously honed sensibilities, while still giving a client the type of space that will feel organic to them? “I tell my clients up front… when I’m doing work for you, I want that work to be classic. Which doesn’t mean that it’s antique… that’s not what it’s about. It’s that it will last on some level, and so in order for something to be classic, to me it means that it’s got to have soul and in order for something to have soul it must refer to something before this instant in time, because we are part of a continuum and we’re always recycling energy and spirit. Antecedents matter greatly.”

Michael Simon is as traditional as he is evolved. He believes in proper spelling and punctuation, especially in text messages, and is resolute in his desire to thoroughly craft spaces, down to the smallest details that others might consider unseen minutiae. He meets the demands of the world around him with the storied gentleman’s grace of a time before now. He is transparent with his thoughts and intentions and still remains something of an enigma. He is someone with whom you can spend two hours dining and talking and still feel as though you’ve just barely scratched the surface… he is utterly fascinating.

Read on for Michael’s views on philosophy, the reinterpretation of classicism, and his life-long love affair with the decorative arts of the Ancien Régime.

ABC Stone: After studying classical music at Carnegie Mellon and the Manhattan School of Music, you moved into interior design. Can you talk about how your background in music influences your decorative aesthetic and creative process?

Michael Simon: Yes! Composers have to create a “language” or sound universe that is comprehensible to the average listener. “Leitmotifs” serve as markers for the composer and guide posts for the listener. These motives are manipulated in numerous ways to shepherd the audience through a wide-ranging experience of emotion for the duration of the piece. I like to call these leitmotifs “cells.” As a designer, I limit myself to a handful of ideas, or cells, that are systematically engineered to realize a décor where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. My manipulations occur in two and three dimensions where the cells are exploded, augmented, inverted, made linear or horizontal, and so on. In order to create this cosmos, textiles, carpets, furnishings and myriad other decorative elements must be made custom.

ABC: Are you able to say what, specifically, prompted the change in your artistic medium of preference from music to design? Was it a single moment or more of a series of shifts?

MS: It was a matter of practicality. My music was well respected but it was difficult to make a living by it. I was always attracted to architecture, design and decorating from an early age and it seemed if I applied the skills I learned as a composer to the designing it would allow me to create residences filtered through a somewhat unique lens.

ABC: You’ve said that you are a “composer” of rooms. Can you elaborate on this idea a bit? What does it mean to you?

MS: There are a set of established forms in music: symphonies, concerti, operas, chamber music, solo music and so on. In most forms of music there is an “arc” to the composition. My projects also have an arc as ideas are mapped out and planned that reflect each client’s sensibility. These musical forms almost always inform the sweep of a project.

ABC: Your design philosophy seems to be one of dialoguing with the past, and designing for the future—in other words, creating work that withstands the test of time, but also acknowledges the aesthetic achievements of lost time: what are some ways in which you achieve this?

MS: I’m interested in creating work that is classic and stands the test of time. In order for something to be classic it must, by design, have a soul. In order for something to have a soul it must in some way refer to the past since we are part of a vast, never-ending continuum. That doesn’t mean it’s old-fashioned, but an antecedent, or reference to the past, is required to ensure permanence, meaning and substance. I am invested in the promotion of savoir faire since each hand-made creation is endowed with spirit.

ABC: To what extent and in what manner does research play a role in your creative process?

MS: Research plays a significant role in our projects. Depending upon the nature of a project I can go down a deep rabbit hole in search of details that inspire our present needs. As an example, we created a master suite for American clients in Minneapolis, descended from Swedes. We settled on a Gustavian aerie for the aesthetic. The design featured twelve custom-made textiles that formed a boiserie of fabrics for the walls. We researched flowers from the period and drawings of them to establish a “hand” that would convey the sense of the history without being enslaved to the past. These flowers formed the basis of the design in printed, woven and embroidered textiles.

ABC: What sorts of decorative artifacts interest you most as a collector?

MS: I have always been drawn to seating furniture and chandeliers. The seating is most like a human, with arms, legs, back and seat. Chandeliers are illuminators, so both seating and lighting have a spiritual essence to them.

ABC: How do antiques and art objects figure into your interiors?

MS: These are project-specific since they have to communicate with the “backgrounds” and furnishings I typically create. I tend to select antiques and art that stand the test of time – often Antiquities or Asian artifacts/art – as they are not subject to the mores and swings of taste. Remember, fashion is designed to make people feel insecure. I don’t subscribe to fashion at all. I think one must ultimately seek what speaks to each of us.

ABC: Would you describe yourself as a “curator,” in addition to being a designer of interiors?

MS: Absolutely. I’m somewhat academic and have a significant library on architecture and the decorative arts. That said, there are little-to-no “random” decisions made on our projects. Hopefully they feel inevitable and not overworked or overthought.

ABC: What was the germination of your so-to-speak “love affair” with the decorative arts of the Ancien Régime, the influence of which undeniably pervades your work?

MS: I’ve always been drawn to France and Russia in both music and design. This attraction began when I was a youngster and has prevailed ever since. I can’t intellectualize it because it is essentially visceral.

ABC: Can you say why the decorative arts of the Ancien Régime are of such interest to you?

MS: By the end of the 18th century there were degrees of perfection that had never been realized previously and have never been replicated since the fall of the Ancien Régime. I’ve concluded that the decorative arts couldn’t possibly have reached any further refinement because the inspiration was exhausted and revolution was inescapable. Enlightenment morphed toward industrialization. Once the human hand was replaced the precision and flawlessness was no longer possible.

ABC: What are some examples of you “drawing inspiration from [your] patrons”?

MS: Each client has a different awareness and sense of values. These traits and characteristics telegraph themselves to me in an instant and suggest different aesthetic approaches to each project. Though the aesthetic is filtered through the same lens (mine) the outcome is always different.

ABC: Can you talk a little about different kinds of obstacles you encounter in your work?

MS: There are two big obstacles; the first is time. People want everything delivered overnight which is not possible when the lion’s share of the elements are created specifically for the project. The second obstacle is communicating the design elements. A great deal of sampling is required to explain the myriad elements of the interiors. That takes care, time and confidence for all parties.

“The Arizona project represents everything I want to do going forward, if possible.” —Michael Simon

ABC: Is it very important to you that no two of your interiors are alike? And would you say that, as an artist, you try to avoid any kind of “signature” upon your work?

MS: I’m very easily bored. If I’m not being intellectually stimulated I’m not happy. Once I’ve done something, I want a new and different challenge. Happily, since no two clients are alike this gives us the opportunity to create new environments without replication.

ABC: You’ve also said that your mission is to reinterpret classicism for the 21st century: what particular areas of the classical history of decorative arts inspire and fascinate you the most?

MS: I’d have to say the backgrounds or envelopes of the rooms. I have a greedy eye and the more detailed the backgrounds, the more I like the connection with the contents. We are not bound by classical materials, geometries or profiles – only the sense of creating a scale in which humans can play out their lives.

ABC: Why, in your opinion, is it important for interior designers to engage with the past?

MS: There isn’t a new idea under the sun — only recycling. In order to make something of substance, you have to reach into the past to create something worthwhile for the present. It’s the continuum idea I referenced before.

ABC: What are some of your favorite “interior design cities”?

MS: Paris, St. Petersburg, Lisbon and Kyoto.

ABC: Are you inspired, in your interior design aesthetic, by other aspects of 18th century French visual culture, such as painting, drawing, statuary, or architecture?

MS: Yes! All of it! I cannot separate any of the arts from one another – most particularly music and design. If you step away from any period and compare the arts – music, poetry, painting, sculpture, dance, cuisine, even politics – they are inextricably linked. You can make the connections between the arts because they are all in reaction to a shared moment in history.

ABC: Anthracite grey has been described as your “signature color.” Is there a reason for this; does it have any historical resonances that inspire, intrigue you?

MS: I often look to nature for inspiration in color. My fascination with anthracite grey began with pigeons. The juxtaposition of grey with the shades of plum and green around the necks of some pigeons cannot be improved upon. The chromatic scale in music is the same as it is in design. One note has no meaning until you put it next to another. In the same vein, one color has no meaning until you put it next to another. Every color is beautiful. They only have significance when they are coupled and it is the vibration of chroma that makes a color scheme sing or look like mud.

ABC: Can you talk a little bit about Michael Simon Signature collections? At what stage is your company in the development of this venture?

MS: I thoroughly enjoy creating a small design universe. We have designed textiles and rugs that have been exclusive to our client’s residences. I also get great satisfaction from designing furniture and we are working on a series of models that I would like to supply beyond my business.

ABC: Complete the sentence, a well-designed home has to__________.

MS: …serve as a suitable backdrop for the homeowners. They are the stars and the interiors should quietly and uniquely create an ambience that reflects their world view.

ABC: Who/what are some of your “design muses”?

MS: Some are in music and some are in design. From the music column, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Ravel, Poulenc, Barber and Copeland. From the design column, Robert Adam, Claude Nicolas Ledoux, Jean-Michel Frank, Josep Maria Sert, Renzo Mongiardino and François-Joseph Graff.

ABC: Who/what is inspiring you right now?

MS: All of the above!

ABC: Do you have any parting words of wisdom?

MS: To thine own self be true. Never follow fads. React less and reflect more!