The Starchitect

He answered to fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, when he redid the organization’s offices, and he’s currently renovating Paul McCartney’s penthouse. Meet New York’s rising star architecture: Koray Duman.

“The worst thing you can get, for me, is a dream client wanting a dream house on a dream site,” Koray Duman says. Not all architects would agree. But some friction here, an obstacle there—the founder of New York’s Buro Koray Duman says he needs it. “The more constraints that come out of a challenge, the more creative you get.”

While working on the midtown Manhattan flagship for Design Within Reach, one of eight concept-driven stores that Duman created for the furniture retailer between 2011 and 2014, he had a considerable problem to solve. A tiny foyer at ground level led to two floors above. How to entice customers up? Duman’s answer was to put a big red box above the entrance, which draws the eye up to a residential-style interior kitted out in impeccably modern fashion. “Looking into other’s people’s apartments—it’s such a New York experience, so we played with that,” he recalls.

Duman’s own Chinatown living space, however, is mostly immune to peeping. A top-floor apartment in a six-floor walkup, it overlooks a narrow stretch of downtown park. Having bought the apartment next door, Duman and his partner (Simon Preston, who owns an art gallery around the corner) have just knocked down some walls and expanded their shared dwelling by 750 square feet.

The starting point for the new layout, Duman explains, is a “beautiful long rectangle” of living space, bookended by two cutouts. One is a kitchen alcove clad entirely in stainless steel. The other is a set of horizontal floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, painted a citrus shade of green and piled neatly with tomes by the likes of Foucault, Derrida, Sontag, Orhan Pamuk, and Francis Bacon. Duman sometimes reads on a pair of L-shaped couches that he designed himself. But mostly he prefers his gigantic kitchen table. It’s nine-by-five feet, made of birch plywood, and where he prefers to do everything from socializing to off-hours laptop work. “I hate sofas and I hate desks,” he says.

Afternoon sunlight bounces off walls of whitewashed brick as Duman explains how he associates sofas not with relaxation but with parlor-style socializing, with its unfriendly distances and awkward angles. They conjure childhood memories of “acting properly.” Dinner-table conversations, by contrast, he finds much more natural. The inspiration for a bigger space with a giant, multi-purpose table at the center of it came from a visit to the Judd Foundation—as in Donald, the Minimalism pioneer—in Soho. Duman thinks of his work as an “idea-based practice,” he says. “I have a drive for things to be very functional, but also struggle against becoming just a background. So, what’s the twist you can add to define that functionality in a different way?” After enough looking and deep thinking, one might decide it is, for example, an unconventionally scaled table.

Duman specializes in spaces for artists and designers. He answered to Diane von Furstenberg, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, when he redid the organization’s offices, and he’s currently renovating Paul McCartney’s penthouse. Working with such self-assured creative types has its ups and downs. “They know what they want, and they don’t really explain why, even if you come to understand that later. That’s the difficult part sometimes,” Duman says. “What is rewarding, on the other hand, is when you get obsessed with something, they understand it—how such a small thing can have so much importance—whereas other clients often don’t.” Richard Prince, for example, let Duman complicate the construction of the artist’s Harlem art studio in order to realize an inspiration in stainless steel.

Turkish by birth, Duman has lived in the States since moving there for graduate school in 1998. He learned from such luminaries as Thom Mayne, Toyo Ito, and Zaha Hadid at UCLA, and his influences include from the Bauhaus he studied as an undergrad in Turkey to the anti-capitalist ‘Situationist’ thinking of the sixties.

Intellectual considerations aside, Duman stresses that for most people personalizing a living space is what really matters. “Home, not real estate, is the most important thing, and your home should reflect something about you,” he says. He wishes more New Yorkers of means would refuse to be generic—would, at the very least, throw up some wallpaper, o a color that says something, even if the means of obtaining it are old-fashioned. “I’m tired of paint,” Duman admits. “But I use it too.”

Koray Duman’s Favorite Works of Architecture

Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art; Ohio. Architect: SANAA. “One initial concept created an amazing building. It’s a museum for glass pieces, and the whole museum is glass cubes. There’s no wall, so it’s like these glass rooms next to each other. Beautiful.”

41 Cooper Square; New York. Architect: Thom Mayne. “The metal skirt on the façade, with light dancing on it. It’s right next to the old Cooper Union building, and that contrast looks beautiful.”

Fondation Beyeler; Basel, Switzerland. Architect: Renzo Piano. “Light is very much a theme here, and scale.”

Kimbell Art Museum; Forth Worth, Texas. Architect: Louis Khan. building in Fort Worth. “A beautiful vaulted ceiling, very modular and very open-plan, with beautiful materials.”

Fondazione Prada; Milan. Architect: Rem Koolhaas. “I’ve only seen the images, but it looks beautiful—the old buildings and new buildings, and the tension between them and the spaces it creates. It looks really playful but elegant at the same time.”

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