The Necropoli of Sicily

Amanda Royale Sengstacken

There’s plenty for an architecture dork to feast on while traveling in Sicily – the island is home to a plethora of ancient Greek and Roman ruins, many in remarkable condition. In fact, the Sicilians seem to simultaneously harbor deep respect and nonchalance towards the antiquities in their midst: you can find yourself standing on a plain-ish portion of 2,500 year-old mosaic while peering over a protective gate at its more elaborate counterpart and feel a bit concerned about damaging the stones under your feet.

Anyway, ruins are all well and good but I was most taken with the necropolises.

I traveled to Sicily with two friends. One with no Italian heritage to speak of yet enough passion for the land and culture that he’s bought a second home there; the other an American whose last name betrays his family’s Sicilian heritage – in which he has no particular interest.

We two non-Sicilians recognized an opportunity for story making, however, and gleefully force-marched our friend on what was for us an emotional tour of his birthright, packing him into a car for several hours to visit his grandparents’ hometown of Floridia and propping him up against various churches and landmarks for photo ops. We even managed to communicate to a kindly local in a few halting words of Italian that our friend, too, had been born of that very earth, eliciting what seemed to be a very positive if long-winded and unintelligible response.

Finally, with lumps in our throats and our poor friend heaving a sigh of relief, we were headed back home to Ragusa Ibla when we drove past a walled-in cemetery and turned to him once more.

“We have to stop and see if your family is in there!”

Maybe he was finally starting to feel the stirrings of his roots, or maybe he’d learned that there was no deterring us, but our captive half-Sicilian agreed.

Cemeteries in Sicily are elaborate cities in their own right. In fact they seem to be laid out to mirror their associated living town, with identical street names. This we garnered from the caretaker who pulled from his wallet something like a social security card, showing us the address on it and gesturing around to indicate that the address of his birth would also one day be the address of his resting place.

But the feeling of walking through a literal city of the dead comes predominantly from the fact that while some in-ground graves of the type we’re most familiar exist, the bulk of the cemetery is composed of, essentially, mini-houses. We strolled through endless rows of elaborately designed shrunken mansions, each bearing a family name and permanently housing as many as a dozen members.


On overview of a typical cemetery; the backs of the family chapels are visible to the left.

The architectural styles vary widely, with sections of intricate Baroque designs grouped next to more Brutalist collections. Whether each structure simply reflects the zeitgeist of the moment it was built or whether it was purely a matter of the clients’ taste is unclear, but the necropolis as a whole provides a rich dose of every imaginable phase of architectural history dating back a few hundred years.

We three found ourselves claiming aspects we liked for our own future perma-homes; “I like the ivy in front for sure, but probably not the sphinxes.”

“This one with the skylight, I like the natural lighting.”

Researching online yields little information about these family chapels, and I’m left wondering what the professional process is like. Are there architects whose practice is devoted entirely to these monuments? Are there firms using modern technology to render their proposals, and BIM to streamline the construction? (In this case a Revit family could, indeed, be an actual family … sorry.) For three awed interlopers it was an unusual and thoughtful exercise to imagine in what style we would wish to represent our families for all eternity.

Walton Rises

Last Fall we happily announced the start of construction on the new 60-unit affordable housing building going up in Mt. Eden, the Bronx, under a partnership between Settlement Housing Fund and The Briarwood Organization. 1561 Walton Avenue has progressed steadily ever since and is now more than halfway through plank installation — project team Daughtry, Kerry, and Andrew are very pleased to share a few shots of the progress below.

The building is visually broken up into 4 planes stepping back from the front property line, which will be further articulated with different shades of brick to create a 4-step gradient across the facade.

The project’s anticipated completion is Fall 2017.

1561 Walton Birds Eye


Movement and Architecture

by Martin Galindez


520 W 28th Street, Zaha Hadid Architects

When we think about “movement” we are usually referencing the physical action of a building structure, construction details, façade systems, or any building material. As we know, movement itself can have many definitions depending on the parameters of our research. As Architects, we know it is not only based on the physical action of elements of a structure or space driven by external or internal forces, but can be given by the idea of its “expression.”


The Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, Ohio, Zaha Hadid Architects

Undoubtedly, Architect Dame Zaha Hadid is a great example to bring in as a discussion for this. Her firm in today’s design has expressed movement in many different ways, typologies and scales. Her multiple projects vary from dynamic interiors vs modular exteriors driven by site restrictions. Dynamic structures called “frozen movement” which can be thought of as elements prepared to take action at any time and gently play within the surrounding landscape. And not only has that – her furniture, painting, and fashion designs express liberty, creating her own language over time.


The Heydar Aliyev Center, Azerbaijan, Zaha Hadid Architects

Essentially, movement can be given through the eye, mind, and imagination of forces to perceive this intention of freedom. On our end, being inspired by her language, it would be interesting to challenge ourselves bringing into consideration an “illusion of movement” hand in hand with time to our projects such as in research of tectonics, common spaces-lobbies, corridor materials and – why not? – lighting.



Happy Earth Day!

Slash A Earth Day

This Earth Day, we’re taking a moment to look back at one of our favorite eco-friendly projects, the Eco Restroom at the Bronx Zoo for the Wildlife Conservation Society. This was a very fun project, and the restrooms far exceeded their initial goal of providing an eco-friendly comfort station to actually become an exhibit and learning opportunity.

The weather is looking great this weekend – it’s a great time to go check out the Bronx Zoo, and learn a bit about sustainable water use while you’re there.

Photos by David Sundberg for Esto Photography

Architects in Action

One of the many joys of architecting is getting into the field. Here are a few of our favorite Architects-In-Action shots …

Happy International Women’s Day!

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day, and the UN’s theme for 2016 is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.”

At ESKW/A, we are 12 women and 8 men.The strength of women in this practice traces back to the firm’s inception in 1960, when Judith Edelman was one of 3 founding partners. Her ‘firebrand’ legacy (see NYTimes article here) as a pioneer for her gender in this field has influenced ESKW/A in all of its iterations since. Click here to read an interview with Judy for this blog in 2012.

The upcoming Women’s Day along with the recent publication of the (rather disheartening) 2016 Women in Architecture Survey generated a fair amount of discussion among us. Below, we share some of our team’s reflections on the topic of gender in our field.

Do you think that men and women have different experiences in the workplace/field?

“It has happened that I’ve had to correct people that I’m not on the job to only pick colors; that I’ve detailed the project, coordinated the MEP and Structure, and am eagle-eye watching the waterproofing.”  Kimberly

hardhat“My field experience has been great. Only once was there a cat-call from a construction worker as I approached the site. I just smiled and put on my hard hat so that he understood my role and there were no cat-calls thereafter.”  Fialka

“I think there are still differences but they are thankfully becoming fewer. It is, however, still pretty standard to be the only female in meetings.”  Andrea

driven“Yes many differences. I think the field is still driven in the bigger picture by men. BUT women when practicing the practicalities of the profession are much more detail-oriented and organized than men.”  Francisco

“I think that clients, consultants, and contractors recognize that women should be respected in the workplace but they’re a little bit unsure of how to walk the line between camaraderie and professionalism when they’re faced with women of authority. I feel like I can see them being more careful of this line than if they are speaking to a male architect.”  Marcella

worthy“Absolutely. In the field, or in interactions with people in related trades, I feel that females start the relationship with a deficit. I think that we have to work harder to prove ourselves worthy.”  Amanda

“In my experience (limited to this firm) males and females are treated with exceptional quality with no division between the two. Everyone here is treated with mutual respect.”   Justin

Was there a female role model who particularly influenced your education or career?

“I have seen [my mother] do everything as the head of a house. No limits, no regrets from her; that is why I consider myself well-educated by a woman. I’ve learned not to see any difference between what males and females can do in their profession, both are capable. Especially with my female professors, my coworkers and supervisors today–all have something to share and learn from.”

conseq“I’ve been inspired by a handful of female architects but I think the most influential female figure is Marta Gutman, my architectural history professor in grad school. She would always stress the social context of the time and how design played a role in it. For me, she made it clear that as architects and designers we do have a choice in the type of work we take part in and should acknowledge its consequences, both good and bad. Looking back I’m pretty sure she planted the seed that led me to want to work at a firm like ours.”  Mike

“I’ve been continuously inspired by some of our outstanding female clients who are doing amazing work and have been for decades. Specifically Sister Tesa Fitzgerald of Hour Children, Inc. and Carol Lamberg of Settlement Housing Fund. They are geniuses in their fields and build consensus in their teams with grace and respect that I’m very inspired by.”  Kimberly

“All but one or two of my studio professors have been women in addition to other courses so I have many stories to choose from.  From Laura Kurgan’s housing studio at GSAPP I learned methods to extract design intelligence from geographical and statistical sources.  Yoshiko Sato, in her space studio, had us designing space in low earth orbit, a completely different physical reality. Dana Buntrock’s construction materials and methods course at Berkeley CED is an institution unto itself and one of the most valuable courses I took.  Janet Delaney’s photography course at Berkeley was formative both for understanding light and composition and the process of creating art.”  Michael

mom“In the cheesiest answer possible, my mom influenced my education and career. She was the only child out of a family of six children to go to college. She worked extremely hard to make it to the US and took a huge risk in leaving Hong Kong to try a start a better life for herself here. Growing up, she’s always taught me that there are no limitations to what I want to achieve. It’s hard to explain how significant that is, but it made a huge difference in how I responded to and embraced my education and career.”  Marcella

“Yes, Andrea Swartz was the second studio professor I had in architecture school. I visited NYC with her and a peer as she gave the two of us a personal and swift highlight of the city’s architecture. I remember distinctly her critiques and strong encouragement that helped push me through her studio and onward. She inspired the architect within me and her words have stuck with me as I continue the internship here in NY.”  Justin

What would be your advice for young women seeking to enter this field?

voices“COME!! Join the forces! We need more females and minorities. Our voices and contributions are critical and make our work more relevant. Overall, I would strongly encourage them to go for it. I would also give them an honest disclaimer that you have to really love it for it to be worth it.”  Annie 

“My general attitude is that if your intuition tells you to do it, then do it. The biggest obstacle is going to be yourself. I feel like this is probably applicable to most young women as women can be more self-critical than men. This is a very big obstacle to overcome.”  Marcella

society“The profession benefits from diversity. Young women should not be deterred from entering this field. Society is changing and we should be taking advantage of the new opportunities.”  Andrea

“You can do it all! We all have strengths and weaknesses that will only reveal themselves after years of practice, but you CAN be a renaissance architect and learn it all.”  Kimberly

“If you’re passionate about Architecture then go for it … however, if top financial compensation is your priority, beware. Of all the professions, ours is among the least compensated given hours put in and education.”  Fialka

“I’d like to believe that male or female, as long as you are respectful, capable, and confident you’ll be able to succeed–idealistic, I know.”    Mike