When the designers at XOOMlab finish up their workday, Aksel Coruh is busy in a transatlantic web-call with his team. Aksel is a senior associate at Snow Kreilich Architects, a Minneapolis-based architecture studio that has operated for over twenty-five years in the U.S. Thanks to Aksel, globalization has also reached XOOMlab.
I was born in Turkey but grew up in the UK and Netherlands. Having roots that spanned this east-west axis afforded me childhood trips across Europe which left a deep impression on me. I recall cities with dense but intensely quiet spaces when I visited projects like deSingel or Barbican on Sunday mornings with my parents. These experiences of being with architecture stuck with me.
I studied at the Technical University of Delft in the late nineties / early 2000s, a period where the influence of van Eyck’s and Hertzberger’s structuralism had waned. I was drawn to Koolhaas’s revaluation of program and the agency of narrative, to the writings of Sanford Kwinter and Patrick Healy, and to architects interested in the craft of building through restrained tectonics such as Zumthor, Studio Mumbai, and Chipperfield.
After registering as an architect, I worked at Claus & Kaan in Rotterdam, which opened my eyes to the challenges of daily practice, where I learned to balance a design attitude with pragmatic rigor. In 2011 I moved to Shanghai, where I joined neri&hu and spent four intense years learning a great deal from the studio’s multidisciplinary approach encompassing not only architecture but interior, furniture, lighting, and graphic design.
In 2015 I joined Snow Kreilich Architects in Minneapolis and in 2021 I moved back to The Netherlands where I’m now exploring new opportunities on this side of the Atlantic for the studio.
What kind of projects do Snow Kreilich Architects take on?
We have designed bus shelters to sport stadiums and will consider taking on any kind of project in-between. A deep-rooted value in our practice is a curiosity to engage with new project scales and types, to which we bring our toolkit of experience and research. Over the past twenty-five years, the studio has delivered a broad range of work for public and private buildings, infrastructure, workplace, single-/multi-family housing, and cultural and educational projects.
Another value that informs our work is a drive to continually underpin our process with clarity of intent. There is no Snow Kreilich style, only a Snow Kreilich attitude. We aim to be a partner in the building process alongside clients, stakeholders, design consultants, and contractors. We recognize that our design process can support both the pragmatic and intangible aspirations of our clients. At the same time, we share a common belief that architecture’s capacity to elevate everyday use through inspired moments often is best achieved by stripping back the ‘noise’ of a building’s design.
I’m fond of a reference Julie Snow and Matt Kreilich make to the work of Robert Irwin, documented in Lawrence Weschler’s ‘Seeing Is Forgetting The Name Of The Thing One Sees’, where Irwin asks:
“How do I paint a painting that does not begin and end at an edge but rather starts to take in and become involved with the space or environment around it?”
I think our work is informed by a similar fascination. Beyond ensuring our buildings meet performance briefs, can we endow them with a multiplicity that leaves space for surrounding environments and communities to adapt and share them?
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on The West Hotel, a project in Minneapolis which adaptively re-uses a pair of existing buildings connected to a new addition comprising guestrooms above a retail plinth. The historic buildings are located in the city’s former warehouse district, which was an important hub in the trans-American railroad industry at an
intersection with the Mississippi River. The new building infills the spaces between the historic structures to create an ensemble that respects their scale while respectfully blurring the old and new, redefining the site.
The exterior pays homage to local brick traditions, employing deep shaped piers and soldier-coursed spandrels, while the interiors are a collaboration with neri&hu, who bring their deep experience of hospitality design to the team. The West’s lobby transforms an existing metal foundry warehouse into what the client envisions as a ‘new epicenter of the neighborhood’. It is a complex project – one of the historic properties had to be lifted off-site during underground parking construction, to later be placed back as if it had never moved. This leveraging of new design to reanimate the historic is rewarding. Our design both minimizes carbon waste and supports a client’s commitment to long-term ownership.
How does architectural practice in the Netherlands differ from the US or China?
Having practiced on three continents with different languages and economies, I feel that architectural practice and design attitudes are deeply intertwined with regional cultures and regulations. At the same time, working across different spheres of legislation informing architectural practice has made me more aware of where common elements exist, irrespective of a project’s unique location.
Building projects are typically constrained by regional construction methods and national planning guidelines. On one level, there are regulations that differ in how they prescribe design aspects such as building codes. On another level, countries emphasize different issues of building design: the U.S. has a strong framework for
integrating accessible design through ADA legislation, while in the Netherlands a daylight requirement for interior spaces is critical. Each country could learn from the other’s values.
Beyond regulatory variations, there are common elements that inform the DNA of any good building, such as how tectonics hold together structure and space, how the site or client’s mission can frame a project’s narrative, or how a selection of materials can support a building’s contextual or functional goals. Focusing on these common elements in our design process enables us to operate abroad despite local specificities.
What does XOOMlab mean for you and for Snow Kreilich Architects?
XOOMlab provides us with a plaJorm to not only showcase our work but also explore and learn from other designers in the Netherlands. XOOMlab’s collaboraKve space allows me to reconnect with Dutch design and building practices. A lot has happened here since I left over a decade ago. Most crucially, having the
opportunity to see how other designers find opportunities to engage with the Dutch built environment and planning initiatives allows our studio to reflect on how Snow Kreilich’s voice could contribute here.