With real estate prices skyrocketing throughout New York City, manufacturing and the large spaces it requires have all but disappeared its urban center. It’s a surprise then to find Caliper Studio has not only found a light-industrial niche—what Stephen Lynch, one of the studio’s founders, likes to call “micro urban manufacturing”—but flourished in it. Founded in 2003 by Lynch, fellow architect Jonathan Taylor, and sculptor Michael Conlon, Caliper Studio is the result of the trio’s combined experience with and passion for architecture and metal fabrication. Now located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, the firm consists of 15 full time employees and runs a 7,000-square-foot workshop next door.
While Caliper started out with small building component commissions, such as staircases, sliding doors, and metal canopies, it has recently designed a number of impressive ground-up construction projects, such as a condominium tower in Manhattan’s swanky Highline district, as well as a movie theater and condo complex just down the street in Williamsburg.
Each of the studio’s projects features clever metal accents. For the Brooklyn Kinetoscope, a backlit metal panel facade recalls the bright, flashing lights of old cinemas. The 1,296 metal panels on the Manhattan condominium facade are configured according to a complex algorithm.
The added intricacy of Caliper’s projects means balancing the time in the shop with hours using BIM and parametric modeling. “We’re getting into scripting, and involving more complex design in our drawings, ”Lynch says. “But the product can always be achieved with simple tools,” notes Jean-Cedric de Foy, one of the firm’s architects.
This initiative to match new design technology with age-old metal fabrication techniques is one of the firm’s signatures. For example, Caliper designed a 2,400-square-foot atrium in Bridgeport, Connecticut, using 3D modeling, but assembled parts for the atrium’s huge trusses with vintage equipment. Lynch and Taylor agree that this process not only saves the architects’ time, but also the clients’ money. And being able to quote lower prices has allowed Caliper to work with clients, such as public entities, who have limited budgets. Indeed, while residential work has been the firm’s bread and butter in the past, Caliper looks forward to working on more public projects in the future.
One other major advantage of having a shop right next to the studio is the ability to make test models—while most architects use their drawings to describe their intentions, Caliper frequently exercises its ability to work on concepts and materials with physical samples. Standing among the many models made in the workshop that now line office tables, Taylor explains that this unique situation has made all the difference in the work that the firm does, “We couldn’t be the kind of designers we are now without our fabrication background.” Caliper seems less like the last survivor of a dying breed than the cutting edge of architectural practice.
Caliper Studio’s reflective tiled sculpture is a wall made of polished stainless steel folded panels that have been inserted into a brick wall niche. Each panel is based on the same rectangular template, but with different leg dimensions so that the surfaces are angled differently. The challenge was to incorporate the individual panels into a whole that fit the site, and this was made possible by using a depth first search algorithm that tested the panels and built up the sequence.