Through careful observation and engineering, Stephanie Davidson and Georg Rafailidis elevate renovations to something special. “We’re interested in exploring spatial types that are not defined by use,” Davidson told A-that is, not through the program. For Rafailidis this translates into defending values of ‘spatial character, definition and specificity’.
The couple met while studying at the Architectural Association in London. Both were influenced by their time in Berlin, where they lived afterwards. Rafailidis studied the socialist-classical facades of Karl-Marx-Allee for a dissertation completed under the late Mark Cousins, while Davidson worked under Judith Haase at the boutique studio Gonzalez Haase. In 2010, the couple left for Buffalo, New York, for academic appointments; Davidson now teaches at Toronto Metropolitan University, while Rafailidis works at SUNY Buffalo. They formalized their collaboration in 2012 after winning a design competition organized by the Storefront for Art and Architecture.
Once in the Bison City, they befriended a local micro-developer, which led to several assignments. Faced with the predicament of Rust Belt America, they began to come up with creative ways to use the scrap heap of available buildings around them. (A similar pile of imaginative documentation can be seen on their website, designed by Berlin graphic design studio Fuchs Borst.) “The buildings we ended up working with went through crazy chapters,” Davidson said. “We’ve held onto that history and instead of trying to suppress it, we learn from it and let it tell us how we operate. We want our interventions to ensure further unpredictability.”
Adaptive reuse interests the couple because “there’s a building that talks to you,” Rafailidis said. “If we look at the built environment, it is often used differently than expected. Buildings develop a life of their own and it gives them the robustness to stand the test of time.”
He, She and It, 2016
A spiky addition behind an existing Buffalo home exaggerates the mundane requirements to great effect. Three simple volumes, each with its own function (a greenhouse and studios for a painter and a ceramist), intersect to create an intricate section. On the ground floor, folding walls reinforce the connectivity – or separation – between the spaces. According to Davidson, she and Rafailidis wanted to avoid an overly neat solution. “Instead of merging and negotiating the different spatial requirements into one volume, we ‘personalized’ and merged three mono-pitch sheds of similar size,” she said.
Big space Small space, 2018
This 1920s brick back building once housed a taxi repair shop. Davidson Rafailidis has reused it as a home for a smaller couple who want a living-work space. Counter-intuitively, the designers kept an existing partition and squeezed the essential pieces of living space into a small zone. They kept the exposed concrete floor, interrupted by drainage grates and stained wooden trusses. They also cut round skylights in the ceiling and perforated a weathered security hatch at the entrance with small circles; At night, the fixture is “a glowing moon,” Rafailidis offered. “The goal,” added Davidson, “was to respond to the idiosyncrasy of [our clients]without making it too imposing for the next owner.”
Together Apart, 2020
The name of this Buffalo cat cafe refers to the spatial layout of the plan. Building codes require food prep and cat areas to be completely separate, but instead of setting up a clear binary, Davidson Rafailidis installed a zigzagging brick and glass partition. The solution created a captivating middle ground filled with details that blur zones, such as when terrazzo floors pile up in baseboards that turn into countertops. Even more curious is the courtyard, which “reads like an unfinished building,” Davidson said. “It is structurally overdesigned so that it invites a roof, but that is not part of the current design. It’s a very abstract trigger for what we hope to continue building on that deep plot.
Signing as advocacy, 2022–
An ongoing research project with Mary Vaccaro, a PhD student in the School of Social Work at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Drawing as Advocacy focuses on the long-term needs of homeless women and gender-diverse individuals. The renderings and drawings (created with Roxana Cordon-Ibanez) work from existing buildings and depict simple interiors decorated with household objects. Davidson said the initiative explores the idea of ”space matchmaking.” “We wanted to link the stories of these people to existing spaces and draw them with the objects and devices they desire, which are incredibly modest: a hob, a bed with a telephone or a door with a good lock,” she said.
page displayed at May 16, 2022, 8:04 PM America/New_York