Research at ARO

We founded our firm with the belief that research is its own form of practice.

Research at ARO is curiosity with a method. This approach gives our work purpose and intention. We explore project-based, funded, and self-generated research, exploring innovations in sustainable design and materials at all scales.

Collaborative Engagement

We firmly believe the best ideas come from a diversity of voices and the success of our projects depends on engaging all who are deeply invested in a place’s social, historical, and architectural context, as well as its growth. We listen and facilitate discussion through intensive workshops and interviews to promote equitable dialogue and to build trust and consensus around a unified vision.

images
  • Team members sit at a large tble during a collaboration session
  • Sticky notes from a virtual engagement activity in Miro
  • Program diagram showing connections between different spaces at Harry's including front of house, back of house, business group, product group, technology group, and shared spaces

Resilience Analysis and Adaptation

ARO’s holistic framework of sustainability encompasses the health of people, communities, and buildings. Our AIA Latrobe Prize work led by Guy Nordenson within New York and New Jersey’s Palisade Bay inspired MoMA’s Rising Currents exhibition. Building off this research, our proposal in the exhibition, A New Urban Ground with DLANDStudio, was a prescient, pre-Sandy effort to safeguard lower Manhattan from the effects of rising sea levels, a precedent for potential sponge streets and ecological infrastructure resonating in cities more than ever.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, new projects and past clients needed to quickly adapt to social distancing and health parameters. Our work with Columbia University GSAPP, New York Quarterly Meeting, and Neighborhoods Now involved developing safe strategies for different clients, scenarios, and scales – from an institution for learning, to gathering and worship spaces, to a community bookstore.

images
  • ARo designer stands with water table mock-up
    Water table studies for On the Water
  • Section showing proposed spongey streets
    A New Urban Ground proposal
  • Map of the New York harbor showing proposed productive park network, freshwater wetlands, and tidal salt marshes.
    Research into rising sea levels in Palisade Bay

Material Innovation

Our inventive use of materials, from construction systems to finishes, is our passion and expertise. At ARO, we elevate materials in our designs to meaningfully respond to each project’s cultural and physical context. Through scale, pattern, and texture, we explore how to enhance existing material properties and frequently engage collaborators outside the office – including fabricators, engineers, landscape architects, and specialists.

images
  • Icons of felt, glass fiber, paper, terra cotta, and timber
    Material Invention
  • - Decades of collaboration on workspaces and showrooms with Knoll have evolved into The ARO Collection, our line of interior acoustic felt products for FilzFelt that reuse post-industrial remnant materials. Our ongoing product line reflects acoustics as a critical component of all of our projects, especially to ensure that dynamic open spaces can be flexible.
    Felt
  • Felt prototype models
    Felt
  • Felt prototype models
    Felt
  • Felt prototype drawing
  • Mock-up of ARO plank in red
    Felt
  • - Continuing our exploration of acoustic applications, we have experimented integrating concrete into acoustically absorbent assemblies. At Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the acoustic custom glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) sanctuary wall includes carefully designed ribbing to calibrate the range of acoustics in the space – from intimate conversations to large concerts and performances. For the renovation of Tate Library at Ethical Culture Fieldston School, we designed custom glass fiber reinforced gypsum (GFRG) ceilings that integrate lighting and air-conditioning, while maximizing the continuity of the space.
    Glass Fiber
  • Drawings for a glass fiber reinforced gypsum ceiling
    Glass Fiber
  • Mold for a glass fiber reinforced gypsum ceiling
    Glass Fiber
  • - Whether investigating large-scale high-performing façade applications of terra cotta through Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop (ACAW) or integrating custom glazed terra cotta at the new Education and Welcome Center at Green-Wood Cemetery, most of our projects embed research through specific solutions.
    Terra Cotta
  • 3Dmodel of a facade made of terra cotta baguettes
    Terra Cotta
  • Detail photo of green glazed terra cotta module
    Terra Cotta
  • Diagrams and photos showing the solar shading effects of a terra cotta brise soleil prototype
    Terra Cotta
  • Photo of several green glazed terra cotta modules lined up
    Terra Cotta
  • We have explored the design opportunities of using mass timber, a low-carbon and renewable alternative to conventional structural materials. Cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels and glulam beams and columns at the new Frederic Church Center in Hudson, NY and UWT’s Milgard Hall in Tacoma, WA not only achieve carbon goals, but also connect to the histories of their cultural and natural landscapes.
    Timber
  • Photo of the mass timber columns, beams, and floor system being constructed for UWT's Milgard Hall
    Timber
  • ARO’s earliest investigations sought to elevate prosaic materials through unexpected design applications. With paper and cardboard as our construction materials, we were able to test myriad schemes for turning two-dimensional machine-cut pieces into three-dimensional modules that, in turn, could comprise a freestanding structure: whether a nine-foot wall or a sculptural lamp. - These early paper explorations resulted in the design of lattice screens milled from fiberboard. In residential applications, the screens are both functional and decorative, dynamically mediating daylight and views in small spaces.
    Paper
  • detail of material study in paper for a paper wall
    Paper
  • Photo of light streaming through designed openings in a cardboard structure
    Paper
  • Detail photo of corrugated cardboard
    Paper
  • Desaturated photo a wall designed from cardboard
    Paper

Prototyping for Sustainable Housing

We have imagined healthier and more affordable ways to live in a range of built and unbuilt prototypes. R-House is a model for ultra-low energy certified Passive House living in Syracuse, NY; Mtn Hive, a co-living workforce housing project in the Vail Valley, CO, features micro-apartments and shared communal spaces to alleviate demand in high-rent resort communities; and, our exercise in reimagining mid-century office buildings as housing for Curbed envisions the radical transformation of underperforming and underutilized infrastructure in New York City as a result of the pandemic.

images
  • Aerial of a neighborhood in Syracuse, NY, showing the site for R-House
  • Diagram representing heat recovery, passive solar, and super-insulated buildings

Assessing and Adapting Design Processes

Research from ARO’s employee-led initiatives like the Materials Working Group and Zero-Waste Team continuously refine the firm’s design process and impact the behavior and policies of our own office. The Materials Working Group identifies critical questions to ask at the outset of a project to maximize health and wellness, while minimizing carbon and energy use.

images
Photo of wood samples in ARO's material library

The Zero-Waste Team overhauled the office waste streams to divert 90% of the waste from landfills and into composting and recycling. We integrate this research on our projects to ensure that we create healthy, inclusive spaces, and to reinforce design as a tool for positive change.

Through clarity of purpose, rigor of process, and elegance of craft, we create architecture with integrity that improves lives and transforms environments.

images
  • Photo of solid waste sorted for a waste audit
  • Photo of solid waste sorted for a waste audit
  • Photo of solid waste sorted for a waste audit
  • Photo of ARO staff sorting solid waste for a waste audit
  • Photo of ARO staff sorting solid waste for a waste audit