This is the first in a series of chats with former winners of MoMA’s Young Architects Program and the New York Architectural League’s Emerging Architects Program.
Although they work and live in Los Angeles, you might say that Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues got their start (well at least a boost to their careers) here in New York. Both are past winners of the New York Architecture League’s Emerging Architects program and MoMA PS1’s Young Architects program. I sat down with Ben to see what he and Gaston are up to now and, more specifically, to ask how these programs, which are known to make rock stars out of emerging talents, have impacted their careers. Why Ball Nogues? In a talk delivered to the School of Visual Arts Design Criticism program last year, Christopher Hawthorne, the Architecture Critic for the Los Angeles Times, said, “Ball Nogues is among the most important young architects working today.” With a validation like that you might say they are emerging no more but rather that they have arrived.
Q. What was the upshot of winning these two prestigious contests? How did it affect your careers?
A. Gaston and I started out in 2004. Our careers have developed very rapidly I’m not sure what if anything we can attribute to winning these awards. But for sure, they are a great honor and they do increase your visibility and cache. We were known within the architecture community beforehand but these awards gave us a solid legitimacy. They change the way people perceive you and brought us to the attention of a segment of the population that didn’t know us.
Q. Did you get more calls from people wanting you to design projects for them as a result of your exposure in New York?
A. I cant say there is a direct connection between people’s interest in us and these programs?
Q. If you can’t attribute winning these awards to getting more project invitations, did they at least lead to more publishing opportunities?
A. Given the reputation of these institutions (The League and MoMA) all the magazines picked up on it, the major architecture magazines, popular publications and The New York Times. So yes. They did get us published in more publications.
Q. How is your shop organized and how do you get work?
A. We work on a film industry model of practice. We have a small studio, which varies from 4-12 employees and we ‘crew-up’ for projects. While Gaston and I are both trained as architects our work is more along the lines of public art and installations so the focus is design and fabrication. Gaston worked at Gehry’s office for ten years as the creative fabricator there, and I spent seven years in the film industry as a designer and production manager. We’ve had an unusual career trajectory and a bit of good luck. We take on projects on a case-by-case basis. In deciding whether to take a project on, we consider our schedule, what kind of people we will be working with, the potential of the venue, and whether the projects are of a scale we can manage. We also care about whether the projects are inspired by the right motivations.
Q. What are you currently up to?
A. We just finished the largest public art installation for Edmonton Airport. We were also commissioned to design an artwork for the Bradley West Terminal at the Los Angeles Airport that is 80 ft. tall by 100 ft long and 30 ft wide.
Q. What haven’t you done that you would like to do in the future?
A. I would like us to do a building from the ground up.
Ball-Nogues Studio is on most everyone’s radar these days and their future looks bright. While Ben can’t attribute the firm’s meteoric rise to its winning the League’s prize or MoMA’s Young Architects Program, let’s just say there is such a thing as “accounting for good taste” and that these august institutions know good work when they see it. It’s up to the winners what happens next.