Spatial Affairs Bureau is an award-winning architecture, design and landscape firm based in the United States and the United Kingdom led by UK architect Peter Culley.

Projects range across considerable scales and settings, with a consistency in design thinking and an implicit commitment to headline strategy and detailed execution.

We treat each new project as an opportunity for open-minded exploration whilst being committed to completing and building those strands of investigation.

We are capable across disciplines - including lighting and interior architecture - though as projects require it, we like also to collaborate with other specialists.

For more information about our clients, office make-up, and responses to our work, click on the links below.  For more information on how we work, scroll down for themed entries.

 

DESIGN THINKING
Although we have a considerable range of project types and sizes there are common themes relating to the way we approach each project and these are outlined below. For more detail, click on the headings of each section.


Strategic Thinking Across Scales and Typologies

We are regularly asked what type of architecture we specialise in. Whilst we don’t have an obvious reply for that question we do have a series of responses.

All our projects are critically demanding in their own ways and we are provoked by the combination of client, site, motivating reason for the project and projected final use. We tend to apply a similar set of strategic questions for each project, but because the inputting variables are so broad, no projects come out the same way. We do recognize, however there are themes, techniques and systems that reoccur within the work.

At Crosstown Concourse we created the original ideas study for the 1.5 million sq ft ruined Sears building, led the 50 000 sq ft Crosstown Arts project in the historic 1927 building, developed the ground floor food hall strategy plan, designed the interior of the 450 seat auditorium and provided the design for Curb Market. The building reopened to the public in 2017

Click here for more information on how we work across scales and project types or click on the links below to go directly to types of project.

Civic
Commercial
Cultural
Domestic
Educational

Products

Experiments

 

Performance and Limitation


The guard and storage building at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, built on Central Park land balances existing architectures, vegetation and stringent planning conditions with its own responding identity of form and materiality

We are motivated by the limits and conditions we inherit with every new scenario. Constraints - economic, cultural, historical, physical, political - give us the resistance we need to hone our responses; finite boundaries provide welcome parameters in a territory often characterized by shifting rules.

In architectural terms, we seek a balance between formal emphasis and spatial introversion. We have found that a sparing approach, respectful of unique characteristics that are outside our control, regularly leads to incisive moments of power and drama in spatial and material resolution.

The same mentality carries through to technology… Click here to read more

 

Process and Representation

montage ideas for BridgePark

Many clients are new to the journey of designing a building, landscape or product. Although there is a generally understood approach - discussion, concept, developed designs, tender or bidding for contractor or fabricator pricing, and construction - each project can require flexibility. Depending on the clients needs, a fast-track to construction is often balanced with contemplative periods to make sure the correct tone for the project is found. We are open to both sensibilities, or a blend of the two.

For architects and designers, the experience of a project, in time terms at least, is predominantly ‘on paper’ - be it sketches, drawings or construction documentation. The completion of a project on site is typically towards the end of the design team’s role, so just as the client is preparing for the start of a building’s life, the team is reaching a conclusion. As a result, representation - the way that thoughts, forms, materiality and future use are depicted through drawings, models, renders and narratives – becomes not just a stop-gap to the actual built condition, but a parallel existence, where imagination and fantasy conspire into a creation of their own. Much of the client’s relationship with the architect and wider team is then also in this mode… Click here to see how we work through the various stages of a project and the tools we use

 

Site Response

landscape and buildings in a constructed composition at Round Hill Farm

Every project comes with a series of inherent guides directly from the setting planned for it. There is really never a ‘blank canvas’ condition. The site may be a piece of land, an existing building, a street or even a body of water. Whichever, both technical and poetic prompts arise from existing factors: materiality, building structure, topography, water and waste paths, sun and wind direction, soil types and perhaps above all cultural legacies. The site in material, geographic and cultural ways provides inherent resistance to help shape a developing series of ideas for new or adjusted conditions. We believe in learning about the site, and then listening to what we’ve learnt as a way of bringing efficiency of process and richness of resolution.

In formal ways, often the building needs to learn from its landscape setting and so in new-build conditions we create careful compositions where the landscape spaces inform the building configurations. In several schemes, we have used multiple buildings or structures to create external spaces in between. We believe that buildings, designed appropriately, create landscape definition, and are not in themselves a detriment to exterior space. We are continually testing the balance between the weights of building form and landscape context.’’ Click here for more information on how we approach site for different scales of project

 

Finding Light

Natural daylight is one of the most important components of a carefully constructed interior space. The building’s exterior components can be seen as a moderator between unfettered natural light and interior conditions. We like to think very carefully about apertures, the openings in the envelope, to determine interior performance. Too large of an unobstructed opening can create problems of glare and heat transfer - solar heat gain, or thermal losses - and so we tend to design with smaller expanses of glass placed at pertinent geometries to catch the sun where it will have greatest positive effects, such as winter warming and cooler morning sun, and limiting the less desirable ones.

Carefully designed apertures in the roof help embrace certain sun angles and shade from others. We design the ceiling splays (cuts in ceiling plane up to the skylights) in such a way as to maximize the effects of light, which in turn lead to interesting sculptural effects in the interior space… Click here for more examples of how we work with light in our projects

 

Creating Light

Uncle John’s where new dimmable ambient lighting combined with a graduated gray colour scheme and a dramatic neon brand-sign work for both daytime diner and dramatic evening seafood boil menu

On many of our projects we generate our own lighting solutions, including fixture specification, and work with an electrical engineer to ensure emergency and code required conditions are met.

Eleni Savvidou is our lighting specialist and has had major experience in museum (Momi, NYC; VMFA Richmond VA, Lincoln Center) retail (Vitra, NYC; Channel, Beverly Hills) and hospitality (Harbourfront Mall, Singapore; Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Lounge, JFK) sectors. Click here to find out more about Eleni.

We like to provide flexibility of light ‘type’ - ambient, accent, task - in a single space, and allow a mixing between them with separately switched and dimmable circuits. Typically where emergency lighting is required we incorporate our general lighting on the emergency circuit to avoid distracting fixtures.

Generally, we prefer to experience the effect of the fixtures than the hardware itself, though there are exceptions where a physical statement makes sense… Click here to see more examples of artificial lighting in our projects

 

Constructing with Colour

At Crosstown Concourse in Memphis, a 30’ diameter steel winding stair was painted in specially-mixed bright fluorescent coral dayglow as a dominant interior landmark within this massive footprint building and also an identifier for founding tenant Crosstown Arts within the larger building.

Spatial Affairs has become known for the ability to construct space with careful use of colour. Typically, across a chromatic range, developed strategically for the particular project and client, strong but relatively retreating base colors are used in combination with limited assertive gestures.

In this kitchen, a series of ‘off-blacks’ provide a subtle backdrop for one primary statement - the lone yellow cupboard. The approach helps to emphasize the kitchen ‘cut-out’ as part of the larger room, which remains consistently warm white to emphasize the sculptural qualities of the interior.

Click here to see more examples of ways we use colour, materials and patterns in our projects

 

Resources Awareness and Passivhaus / Passive House: A highly efficient machine

This project in Los Angeles’ Echo Park has new south facing rooflights that are shaded from summer sun but allow valuable winter solar rays to warm the house in winter

Whilst we include a variety of initiatives to minimize energy and water resource waste, including responsible product sourcing, gray water recycling and renewable energy considerations, the Passivhaus movement is of particular interest to us since its focus is objectively ‘performance’ based - it looks at the building in terms of an efficient and stable envelope in a way we may be more used to thinking of refrigerators, washing machines and cars as efficient machines. It is the world’s most stringent energy consumption standard for buildings, now becoming widely adopted in Europe and more and more prevalent in the US.

The overriding principle is that a building’s envelope is a filter between interior and exterior (ambient) environments that designed in the right way can limit thermal transfer between inside and out and harness the sun’s energy in colder months. The emphasis as a first priority is to limit energy demand, and second to investigate the most appropriate forms of provision - an inefficient machine that runs from a ‘friendly’ power source is still an inefficient machine.

Once the building performs with minimal energy input and resultant waste, consideration can be given to the most suitable forms of energy input and we place an emphasis on renewable forms such as photovoltaics, solar hot water, ground heat source and wind. Passive House provides a very effective route towards net zero conditions.

Peter Culley has full Passive House training (the north American passivhaus equivalent) and is a member of PHIUS (Passive House Institute United States). The initiative has been successfully applied to larger scale institutional buildings as well as individual homes and, with our 16-storey Pear Street research project, Spatial Affairs has demonstrated that multi-family residential buildings can also meet the standard… Click here to read more about our approach to energy efficient design and specification

 

A connection to education

site climate analysis drawing by Woodbury University first year MArch student Eryanne Edgerley

While we try to approach each studio project with open minds and as a form of ongoing research, the world of formal education - liberated from the realities of practice while constrained by the rigor of investigation and experiment - provides an essential context of reflection and questioning.

We actively seek connections between our practice and design schools with the aim of finding mutual interests and inspirations. Peter Culley has taught in both architecture and landscape programs in the US and UK, and is a regular participant on design reviews. The practice also actively engages with high school age students to help expose younger minds to the design aspects of the decision making processes that shape their environments…. Click here for more about the importance we place on architecture in education