Morris Adjmi, founder and principal of Morris Adjmi Architects, has found the sweet spot between traditional and contemporary architecture that delights both forward-thinking developers and history-minded preservationists. What Morris is best at is revitalizing post-industrial neighborhoods and historic districts with architecture that bridges the past and the present. MA specializes in interpreting the forces that shape cities to create buildings that may not feel like they’ve always been there, but like they should have always been.
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Morris’s passion for historic and industrial architecture was formed by the cast-iron French Quarter balconies and Creole cottages in his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana. “Growing up, I spent countless hours drawing the buildings, balconies, and ornate ironwork of the French Quarter,” he reminisced. “However, when I started my formal studies at Tulane, I came to understand that the city’s diverse and distinct buildings, as much as I loved them, belonged to a specific moment in time and were part of the city’s history.”
It was a pivotal realization that directed Morris’s philosophy moving forward. “I decided I didn’t want to imitate the buildings that I loved, but it felt essential to learn from them. So, I dedicated my thesis to investigating vernacular housing in New Orleans – Creole cottages, shotguns, townhouses – in order to find a deeper understanding of the type that went beyond historicism or style and could be used to develop an architecture that belonged to my moment in time; not just an architecture that resonated with me personally, but with twentieth-century New Orleans.”
Morris’s style was further refined in New York and Milan during a 13-year collaboration with Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Aldo Rossi. “Of all the architects I had studied up to that point, it seemed that Rossi’s sensibilities were closest to my own. When I met him I was certain of it,” Morris stated. “In 1980, I enrolled in the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York, specifically to take an advanced design workshop with Aldo. I had the good fortune to not only study with him that year, but to work with him soon after on a competition project in Milan. The job was supposed to last a few weeks, but a few weeks turned into a few years, and a few years turned into a professional partnership that lasted more than a decade.”
Morris Adjmi Architects was opened in 1997, built on a foundational experience wherein Morris updated a European approach into one more fit for the modern American city. Today, his work is known for its thoughtful historical engagement, interpretation of industrial forms, and creative expression of materials. MA’s integration of tradition and innovation has created a body of work that is sometimes subtle, often bold, and always deeply imbued with a sense of place and purpose.
The architect’s love of process and personal experience have also pushed him towards art. Morris has developed a series of small sculptures over the past few years, objects shaped in clay that are then cast in bronze. “It’s a fun project that allows me use my mind and hands in a different way,” he shared.
“There’s always stimulation in art and I love to draw on that in my design process. Our office is full of Rossi’s artwork and early prototypes, as well as more contemporary pieces from my personal collection,” Morris said. “To keep our space fresh and dynamic, MA’s Manhattan office has served as a space for rotating art exhibitions for the past 10 years or so, showcasing the work of painters, photographers, sculptors, and other artists whose ideas resonate with the firm’s values. These exhibitions not only enrich our practice, but also create a platform for connecting clients, artists, and others to inspire collaboration and build community.”
The exhibition program evolved naturally into an established in-house Art Services department in 2019, developing and delivering art programs that respond directly to the firm’s architecture and interior designs. It’s been catching on, and MA recently delivered significant art programs for two large multifamily projects: Front & York in Dumbo, Brooklyn and The Asher in Tampa [Florida]. There’s also something in the works for The Huron in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Today, Morris Adjmi joins us for Friday Five!
1. Shaker Design
In a fast-paced world driven by excess and instant gratification, Shaker design reminds me of the value of restraint and mindful consumption. Their furniture, architecture, and products showcase simplicity, economy, proportion, and honesty, blending both modern and traditional elements while remaining durable and timeless. Despite their minimalistic approach, Shaker pieces exude warmth and depth, telling a story and inviting us to appreciate the beauty of simple, thoughtful design. The design is minimal yet imbued with love and soul, reflecting qualities we should strive to create and live with.
My fondest memories as a teenager are sitting in my room listening to music and reading an encyclopedia. My appreciation for reading books has only grown. I love all kinds of books – fresh books that smell like ink and transport us to another world. Or the musty ones found at a neighborhood shop that are filled with picture plates tipped in. Books provide an escape but also a way to connect to others. A favorite of mine will always be The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Music has the ability to transport us to a different time through memories of past listens or place/space through the music itself. For me, listening can be passive or active but it’s always therapeutic. I appreciate a wide range of music from ambient to punk to R&B to opera. An album that’s never left the rotation is The Velvet Underground & Nico.
Art is a constant inspiration for my architecture and a stimulus for thought and research. What I love about art is that it’s immediate and reflects who we are now and provides a way to connect us. Art is more and more reflecting our social consciousness, which is a good thing but in the end it’s still about beauty. Our office is filled with art, including pieces from my personal collection, such as the Marlon Mullen and C.J. Chueca works shown here.
5. Industrial Landscapes
Industrial landscapes always excite me – whether in a Becher photograph or seen from a window, like this factory I captured through a train window while passing through Perth Amboy, New Jersey. I love the history; the forms inspired by production and engineered for efficiency. I also love that these landscapes have transcended their original purpose. Sometimes active and sometimes fallow with nature reclaiming her space, I find them to be beautiful, nostalgic, and poetic.
Work by Morris Adjmi Architects:
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