Adam Dayem

Professional in Architecture Design.

About Adam Dayem

Adam Dayem is an architect and educator based in Brooklyn, New York. He is the principal of actual / office, an architecture and design studio founded in 2004. In addition to running his architectural practice, Dayem teaches design studios and drawing courses at Rensselaer Architecture and Pratt Institute. His current research focuses on the nature of representation in contemporary architectural design and its evolving capacities to produce conceptual and formal novelty.

  • Winner of Architecture Design Award.
  • Specialized in Architecture Design.
  • Original Design.
  • Creative, Diligent and Innovative.
  • All Designs
  • Architecture
Sleeve House Single Family Residence

Sleeve House Single Family Residence

Architecture Design


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Interview with Adam Dayem

Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
I’ve always been attracted to form and composition. I knew that from a very early age. Eventually I associated this with the possibility of becoming a designer and then specifically an architect. The thing that has kept me interested in architecture since starting as an undergraduate is its capacity to reach into socio-political realms. Architecture is a manifestation of how design directly affects culture.
Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
actual/office is a small 2-3 person architecture office based in Brooklyn, NY. We purposefully drift between unencumbered speculations and tough realities. We take on a wide variety of work including residential, exhibit design, furniture design and research projects. We have won awards for theoretical research and architectural projects including Second Place in the American Architects 2017 Building of the Year Competition.
What is "design" for you?
Design is the process of bringing the unseen or unimagined into being – a beautiful and mysterious process.
What kinds of works do you like designing most?
There isn’t one type of architectural project I like designing most. I think all different kinds of projects potentially present unique and interesting opportunities.
What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
Bernard Tschumi’s Parc de la Villette. Tschumi won an international competition to build the project against architects like Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas. He used the project to realize ideas about how the stability of architecture interacts with the ephemeral nature of events, which he had introduced in his theoretical work The Manhattan Transcripts. For me, it is the best example of how abstract conceptual ideas have been used to create architecture in a novel way.
What was the first thing you designed for a company?
A library building for a high school in a small central California town. The project was nothing special, designed in a not so great interpretation of California mission style. But I was 23 year old, just out of undergraduate school and excited to be given responsibility for the building. I remember getting obsessed and carried away with bookshelf details the project manager hadn’t approved, and getting in a bit of trouble for that.
What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
I think good architects are indiscriminate in their curiosity and ultimately have to bring so many different specialists together to realize a building project that its better not to pin down a favorite in this regard.
When do you feel the most creative?
I think creativity has more to do with the discipline of how one works than a specific time or place. I try to set up ways of working that systematically produce many variations on an idea, then the challenge is to choose which variation is best and produce more developed or refined variations. In other words, I never depend on a specific time for place for being especially creative, but instead a way of working.
Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
It depends from project to project. In architecture there might be a focus on the exterior skin in one project, and then interior detailing in another project. But generally speaking I’m most interested in and happy to be designing the formal and aesthetic aspects of a building.
What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
When design work is going well for me, I just feel focused. Time and all other distractions disappear.
What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
It’s really satisfying to see a design come to completion, especially because it takes so long for a building to be designed and built.
What makes a design successful?
Good design of course has to fulfill its function, for example a building needs to stand up, keep the weather out and satisfy its occupants desires in a whole host of other ways. But successful design also needs to be novel and to evoke feeling or emotion in those who experience it.
When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
The first things I think are: Have I seen this before? How does it make me feel? Am I attracted to it? As a designer those are the things I think about first and then I consider functionality. I don’t think functionality alone makes good design, so I always consider novelty, emotion and attraction first.
From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
Architects clearly have a big responsibility to society and environment because buildings have a huge impact on both. Contemporary urban individuals spend the vast majority of their lives in buildings, and even if not in buildings, in constructed environments, cities, suburbs, etc. Architects’ role in designing the built world is incredibly important. As far as environment, constructing buildings requires a vast amount of energy - to produce materials, transport them to the site, put them in place - and that’s in addition to energy needed to operate and maintain them. So one of the responsibilities of being an architect is developing an ethic for addressing social and environmental concerns.
How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
The design field is always evolving; design is inherently about evolution and not staying static. Design is a part of culture and is always evolving. As far as the future of design, that is very hard to say. It’s difficult to predict where culture, technology and politics will be in 5, 10 or 15 years. As a designer I don’t try to think about what the future will be as much as try to be relevant in the current time.
Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
My main inspiration comes from abstract geometry, how it can be worked and developed into formal and aesthetic proposals for architecture. Overlaid onto this are all kinds of other constraints that architecture always has to deal with: site, program, budget, structure, environmental sensitivity, socio-political concerns. These constraints help focus and develop specificity in the abstract beginning point.
How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
I don’t really think of needing to fit into a particular style, but try to stay true to the process that I work through and let that take me where its going to go. I think if I tried to stick to a certain style that would limit my ability to innovate and explore.
Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
I live and work in Brooklyn, New York and I think the city is more influential and important in my work than the fact that I’m located in the United States. There are obviously there are a lot of big architecture offices in New York City, many museums, galleries and schools, so the culture of architecture and design is very strong here, particularly the culture of contemporary forward-thinking architecture and design. So I think it’s more about living in a city that has an energy that sustains and pushes me as a designer.
How do you work with companies?
As most architects, I work with different companies in different ways. For the Sleeve House in particular I took a different approach to the standard architect / client relationship, where typically an individual or company hires an architect to design a building to their specifications. In the case of the Sleeve House my company actual/office acted as architect and developer. The idea was to critique conventional architect / client relationship and risk putting a somewhat challenging and refined (in terms of what most people expect) design forward for sale, more in the vein of other design disciplines (product, couture fashion, high-end automotive) where an object of desire is delivered complete.In realizing the Sleeve House actual/office worked with different supplier companies who saw marketing potential in the project. In particular, the supplier of the charred Accoya wood siding provided material at a discount in exchange for using the completed project as part of their marketing. With projects that push the envelope of typical construction methods, one has to work very closely with suppliers to make sure they understand all the parameters of the design so arrangements like this are wonderful because they are opportunities to push design further with support from like-minded partners.
What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
I think companies or clients should come to a designer or architect to challenge their assumptions of what is expected. Design does need to be recognizable, functional and satisfying to those who use it, but it also needs to bring something unexpected in term of the feeling or experience of using it or in the case of architecture, inhabiting it.
Can you talk a little about your design process?
My design process is based on starting with simple ideas and making many, many versions of that idea until it gains clarity. For example the Sleeve House is based on a very simple idea of one box inside another. That idea frames the whole project and all other design decisions flow from it. As you progress in designing a building, there are so many decisions that have to be made. I find it absolutely necessary to have an idea to refer back to so decisions can be make it the context of whether or not they strengthen the idea.
Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
My main advice is to realize design is hard work. Creativity and innovation are hard work, not only in first coming up with an idea, but also in seeing through to final execution. Be prepared for that and don’t get discouraged when projects take a long time or don’t come to fruition.
From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
The positive is mainly that design is inherently the search for something that doesn’t exist yet and that search is exciting. When you’re constantly looking for the next thing, not just redoing something, you’re constantly engaged. In that way being an architect or designer is really satisfying and stays interesting because the problems are always new. The main negative is maybe that it is very time consuming and doesn’t leave as much room in your life for other things as other careers.
What skills are most important for a designer?
The most important skill is to develop a way of thinking and working that allows you to be constantly productive and creative. I think the best architects and designers have developed a processes that allows them to consistently come up with new visions of a building, product, etc.
Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
My main design tools are a sketchbook and 3D modeling software. They complement each other. The sketchbook is for getting ideas into graphic form quickly and easily, the software helps bring complexity and precision to those ideas.
Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
It probably sounds very obvious, but I just make sure to make time for design. There are so many other things that get in the way of design (phone calls, emails, meetings, etc.) it’s easy to get sidetracked by seemly more pressing or pragmatic parts of work. So regardless of whatever else is going on, its important to turn off all distractions, sit down and spend time drawing and designing.
How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
In architecture it usually takes years to design and realize a building. My most recent project, the Sleeve House took about five years from start to finish.
What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
People are always interested about where ideas come from. And my answer is that they come from the process of thinking through a problem rather then from some magical moment of inspiration.
What was your most important job experience?
There have been a couple. First, working for fours years in Bernard Tschumi’s office on projects like the Acropolis Museum in Athens and the BLUE Residential Tower in New York. Seeing how Tschumi approached projects with such a high level of concentration and rigor really showed me what it takes to be one of the most influential architects of a generation. And second, being hired by Evan Douglis to teach my first architectural design studio at Pratt Institute. Since then, teaching has become an integral part of my design practice. I find teaching helps maintain my proficiency as a designer. Making sure I get students on the right track, help them learn to think like designers and realize very complex, innovative projects is really satisfying. It also helps me consider how to approach my own design practice.
What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
Designing small ground-up buildings is what I enjoy most. They could be residential or institutional. I’ve completed one ground-up building and I’d really like to do more.
What are your future plans? What is next for you?
To continue growing my architectural practice and eventually do more ground-up buildings.
Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
I always have people working with me. Initial designs in my office are done in collaboration with the people I’m working with, and as the design proceeds more into the more detailed aspects of creating construction drawings, other people are brought into the team. But certainly designing a building is such a complex task that is always requires a team.
Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
I’m currently working on a house that is a continuation of the theme of the Sleeve House. While the Sleeve House is a smaller box inside a larger box, in this new project called the Hollow House, there is hollowed out void running through a box.

Extended Interview with Adam Dayem

Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?
I’ve always been attracted to form and composition. I knew that from a very early age. Eventually I associated this with the possibility of becoming a designer and then specifically an architect. The thing that has kept me interested in architecture since starting as an undergraduate is its capacity to reach into socio-political realms. Architecture is a manifestation of how design directly affects culture.
What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?
actual/office is a small 2-3 person architecture office based in Brooklyn, NY. We purposefully drift between unencumbered speculations and tough realities. We take on a wide variety of work including residential, exhibit design, furniture design and research projects. We have won awards for theoretical research and architectural projects including Second Place in the American Architects 2017 Building of the Year Competition.
Did you choose to become a designer, or you were forced to become one?
Design is the process of bringing the unseen or unimagined into being – a beautiful and mysterious process.
What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?
There isn’t one type of architectural project I like designing most. I think all different kinds of projects potentially present unique and interesting opportunities.
What should young designers do to become a design legend like you?
Bernard Tschumi’s Parc de la Villette. Tschumi won an international competition to build the project against architects like Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas. He used the project to realize ideas about how the stability of architecture interacts with the ephemeral nature of events, which he had introduced in his theoretical work The Manhattan Transcripts. For me, it is the best example of how abstract conceptual ideas have been used to create architecture in a novel way.
What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?
A library building for a high school in a small central California town. The project was nothing special, designed in a not so great interpretation of California mission style. But I was 23 year old, just out of undergraduate school and excited to be given responsibility for the building. I remember getting obsessed and carried away with bookshelf details the project manager hadn’t approved, and getting in a bit of trouble for that.
What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?
I think good architects are indiscriminate in their curiosity and ultimately have to bring so many different specialists together to realize a building project that its better not to pin down a favorite in this regard.
What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?
I think creativity has more to do with the discipline of how one works than a specific time or place. I try to set up ways of working that systematically produce many variations on an idea, then the challenge is to choose which variation is best and produce more developed or refined variations. In other words, I never depend on a specific time for place for being especially creative, but instead a way of working.
What would you design and who would you design for if you had the time?
It depends from project to project. In architecture there might be a focus on the exterior skin in one project, and then interior detailing in another project. But generally speaking I’m most interested in and happy to be designing the formal and aesthetic aspects of a building.
What is the dream project you haven’t yet had time to realize?
When design work is going well for me, I just feel focused. Time and all other distractions disappear.
What is your secret recipe of success in design, what is your secret ingredient?
It’s really satisfying to see a design come to completion, especially because it takes so long for a building to be designed and built.
Who are some other design masters and legends you get inspired from?
Good design of course has to fulfill its function, for example a building needs to stand up, keep the weather out and satisfy its occupants desires in a whole host of other ways. But successful design also needs to be novel and to evoke feeling or emotion in those who experience it.
What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?
The first things I think are: Have I seen this before? How does it make me feel? Am I attracted to it? As a designer those are the things I think about first and then I consider functionality. I don’t think functionality alone makes good design, so I always consider novelty, emotion and attraction first.
What is your greatest design, which aspects of that design makes you think it is great?
Architects clearly have a big responsibility to society and environment because buildings have a huge impact on both. Contemporary urban individuals spend the vast majority of their lives in buildings, and even if not in buildings, in constructed environments, cities, suburbs, etc. Architects’ role in designing the built world is incredibly important. As far as environment, constructing buildings requires a vast amount of energy - to produce materials, transport them to the site, put them in place - and that’s in addition to energy needed to operate and maintain them. So one of the responsibilities of being an architect is developing an ethic for addressing social and environmental concerns.
How could people improve themselves to be better designers, what did you do?
The design field is always evolving; design is inherently about evolution and not staying static. Design is a part of culture and is always evolving. As far as the future of design, that is very hard to say. It’s difficult to predict where culture, technology and politics will be in 5, 10 or 15 years. As a designer I don’t try to think about what the future will be as much as try to be relevant in the current time.
How do you define design, what is design for you?
My main inspiration comes from abstract geometry, how it can be worked and developed into formal and aesthetic proposals for architecture. Overlaid onto this are all kinds of other constraints that architecture always has to deal with: site, program, budget, structure, environmental sensitivity, socio-political concerns. These constraints help focus and develop specificity in the abstract beginning point.
Who helped you to reach these heights, who was your biggest supporter?
I don’t really think of needing to fit into a particular style, but try to stay true to the process that I work through and let that take me where its going to go. I think if I tried to stick to a certain style that would limit my ability to innovate and explore.
What helped you to become a great designer?
I live and work in Brooklyn, New York and I think the city is more influential and important in my work than the fact that I’m located in the United States. There are obviously there are a lot of big architecture offices in New York City, many museums, galleries and schools, so the culture of architecture and design is very strong here, particularly the culture of contemporary forward-thinking architecture and design. So I think it’s more about living in a city that has an energy that sustains and pushes me as a designer.
What were the obstacles you faced before becoming a design master?
As most architects, I work with different companies in different ways. For the Sleeve House in particular I took a different approach to the standard architect / client relationship, where typically an individual or company hires an architect to design a building to their specifications. In the case of the Sleeve House my company actual/office acted as architect and developer. The idea was to critique conventional architect / client relationship and risk putting a somewhat challenging and refined (in terms of what most people expect) design forward for sale, more in the vein of other design disciplines (product, couture fashion, high-end automotive) where an object of desire is delivered complete.In realizing the Sleeve House actual/office worked with different supplier companies who saw marketing potential in the project. In particular, the supplier of the charred Accoya wood siding provided material at a discount in exchange for using the completed project as part of their marketing. With projects that push the envelope of typical construction methods, one has to work very closely with suppliers to make sure they understand all the parameters of the design so arrangements like this are wonderful because they are opportunities to push design further with support from like-minded partners.
How do you think designers should present their work?
I think companies or clients should come to a designer or architect to challenge their assumptions of what is expected. Design does need to be recognizable, functional and satisfying to those who use it, but it also needs to bring something unexpected in term of the feeling or experience of using it or in the case of architecture, inhabiting it.
What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?
My design process is based on starting with simple ideas and making many, many versions of that idea until it gains clarity. For example the Sleeve House is based on a very simple idea of one box inside another. That idea frames the whole project and all other design decisions flow from it. As you progress in designing a building, there are so many decisions that have to be made. I find it absolutely necessary to have an idea to refer back to so decisions can be make it the context of whether or not they strengthen the idea.
How does design help create a better society?
My main advice is to realize design is hard work. Creativity and innovation are hard work, not only in first coming up with an idea, but also in seeing through to final execution. Be prepared for that and don’t get discouraged when projects take a long time or don’t come to fruition.
What are you currently working on that you are especially excited about?
The positive is mainly that design is inherently the search for something that doesn’t exist yet and that search is exciting. When you’re constantly looking for the next thing, not just redoing something, you’re constantly engaged. In that way being an architect or designer is really satisfying and stays interesting because the problems are always new. The main negative is maybe that it is very time consuming and doesn’t leave as much room in your life for other things as other careers.
What would you like to see changed in design industry in the coming years?
The most important skill is to develop a way of thinking and working that allows you to be constantly productive and creative. I think the best architects and designers have developed a processes that allows them to consistently come up with new visions of a building, product, etc.
Where do you think the design field is headed next?
My main design tools are a sketchbook and 3D modeling software. They complement each other. The sketchbook is for getting ideas into graphic form quickly and easily, the software helps bring complexity and precision to those ideas.
How long does it take you to finalize a design project?
It probably sounds very obvious, but I just make sure to make time for design. There are so many other things that get in the way of design (phone calls, emails, meetings, etc.) it’s easy to get sidetracked by seemly more pressing or pragmatic parts of work. So regardless of whatever else is going on, its important to turn off all distractions, sit down and spend time drawing and designing.
When you have a new design project, where do you start?
In architecture it usually takes years to design and realize a building. My most recent project, the Sleeve House took about five years from start to finish.
What is your life motto as a designer?
People are always interested about where ideas come from. And my answer is that they come from the process of thinking through a problem rather then from some magical moment of inspiration.
Do you think design sets the trends or trends set the designs?
There have been a couple. First, working for fours years in Bernard Tschumi’s office on projects like the Acropolis Museum in Athens and the BLUE Residential Tower in New York. Seeing how Tschumi approached projects with such a high level of concentration and rigor really showed me what it takes to be one of the most influential architects of a generation. And second, being hired by Evan Douglis to teach my first architectural design studio at Pratt Institute. Since then, teaching has become an integral part of my design practice. I find teaching helps maintain my proficiency as a designer. Making sure I get students on the right track, help them learn to think like designers and realize very complex, innovative projects is really satisfying. It also helps me consider how to approach my own design practice.
What kind of design software and equipment do you use in your work?
Designing small ground-up buildings is what I enjoy most. They could be residential or institutional. I’ve completed one ground-up building and I’d really like to do more.
What is the role of the color, materials and ambient in design?
To continue growing my architectural practice and eventually do more ground-up buildings.
What do you wish people to ask about your design?
I always have people working with me. Initial designs in my office are done in collaboration with the people I’m working with, and as the design proceeds more into the more detailed aspects of creating construction drawings, other people are brought into the team. But certainly designing a building is such a complex task that is always requires a team.
When you see a new great design or product what comes into your mind?
I’m currently working on a house that is a continuation of the theme of the Sleeve House. While the Sleeve House is a smaller box inside a larger box, in this new project called the Hollow House, there is hollowed out void running through a box.

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