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The Wall Street Journal turned to BVA Principal Steve Vanze last week for his take on the growing popularity of glass-enclosed garden and sun rooms, because the firm has done many of them for its luxury residential clients.

“If you’re in an urban environment, it’s a way of capturing outdoor space and still not being in the middle of what could be an unpleasant city environment,” Steve told the paper. “And if you’re in a rural or suburban environment, it’s a way of reaching out from the house into nature and bringing the two together.”

About 20 percent of our residential designs includes a solarium, and they come in many different varieties. Here’s a sampling:

At this property in Bethesda, Maryland, we repurposed an existing glass roof over a defunct interior pool to become a new party/spa room with a fireplace, spa and seating areas:

Unless otherwise noted, photographs are by Anice Hoachlander

Here, we built a solarium wing to a home in Washington, DC, that encloses a kitchen, dining area and TV/sitting area:

We incorporated a glass-peaked solarium into the family room of this new home in Potomac, Maryland:


Here, a classic Tudor in Washington, DC, had a clean, Scandinavian-inspired orangerie addition:

A solarium can also enclose a stair tower like this one in a new home in Washington’s Palisades. It makes the journey between levels a floating, light-filled experience.

Photograph by Maxwell MacKenzie

And in this new DC home, which we designed for a talented builder and interior designer duo, a sunroom extends the foyer axis out into the garden, pulling it into the the home’s central core.

Steve told the Journal he has a home currently under construction that has two solariums, and another project includes one with a second kitchen for use during the summer months. These sunny, whimsical spaces will never go out of style.

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Following a recent trip to Prague for the annual conference of the Leaders of Design Council, BVA co-founder Ankie Barnes reflected on the magic of this ancient city:

“One contributing factor is this city has never really been either air-bombed or destroyed by house-to-house fighting, so there’s a mix of Medieval, Renaissance and 17th, 18th and 19th-century architecture that’s largely intact,” he says. “The best of these older buildings from many different eras were retained because their beauty was appreciated and treasured by all, even by Hitler. This diversity keeps it a notch above many other cities in Europe.”


Old Prague

The conference took advantage of these incredible, centuries-old landmarks, like the Chateau Troja on the outskirts of Prague, where we had dinner in the dramatically painted ballroom:

Conference sessions were held at Municipal House, completed in 1912 for civic use. It’s an Art Nouveau-style show-house of Polish culture that survived German, Communist and Russian occupations and remains a heavily-used, beloved landmark to this day with a concert hall and several restaurants and bars.

Ankie sits on a beautifully preserved leather banquette at Municipal House, which, like 70 percent of its architecture and interiors, is original to the structure.

The closing dinner ball was at the Lobkowicz Palace in Prague Castle, a private palace found among the myriad government and religious buildings on this striking acropolis overlooking the old city.

Prague Castle and Lobkowicz Palace

Here, Ankie and Fran, below middle, celebrate after the dinner with architect Greg Tankersley of the Birmingham-based firm McAlpine Tankersley and his wife, Mary Robin.

Mary Robin Tankersley, Ankie Barnes, Fran Barnes, Greg Tankersley

Prague Castle dominates the hill overlooking the city and contains treasures including the Cathedral and Vladislav Hall—dating from the 1500’s it is the highly creative, ribbed-vaulted coronation hall of the Bohemian Kings.

“Through architecturally-focused travel like this trip to Europe, we’re fortunate to get regular doses of architectural inspiration from all over the world which helps inform our work.” — Ankie Barnes

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We at Barnes Vanze are congratulating BVA Principal Ellen Hatton, who just began a term as Committee Chair of the DC Custom Residential Architects Network (CRAN), a committee within the American Institute of Architects (AIA) that focuses on the custom residential practice. We asked Ellen what her new post entails, and about her work designing custom homes in general:

How long have you been a CRAN member, and how many of you are out there in the tri-state area?
CRAN is basically a peer group for architects who have a custom residential practice, where we can share ideas, gain knowledge, and network together. I attended my first CRAN event at the AIA national convention last June, and was inspired by the energy of the shared experience in the room. I joined my local DC committee, and when the former committee chair announced his departure, I volunteered to fill the vacancy. The committee is fairly small (six of us), but anyone in the AIA can attend a CRAN event, so we’ve had as many as 150 attendees at a single local event.

Ellen, third from left, at a recent CRAN planning meeting 

What are your priorities for programming and events in 2019?
At our recent kick-off meeting for 2019, the steering committee discussed focusing on building and zoning codes—“Confusion and Compliance.” With recent changes to the DC Zoning Ordinance, and ongoing complexities with the building code (including interacting with DCRA), it’s something that we feel our members would be interested in and learn from. We’re exploring some panel discussions and case studies that use real-life examples to illustrate the challenges of the current regulatory environment.

What are the biggest issues facing residential architects that may not be relevant in the commercial space?
I think the personal nature of our projects is both the biggest challenge and biggest reward of residential work. Decisions that have such an intimate and daily impact on someone’s life can sometimes lead to a less linear and more iterative and drawn-out process; there can be second-guessing and backtracking (on everyone’s part!) but when it all comes together in the end, there’s such an emotional payoff for both client and architect.

As a residential architect, what brings you the greatest joy in designing homes?
I enjoy when the process really becomes a partnership with the client, and the satisfaction of providing a result that’s beautiful, comfortable, and purposeful. I also get a kick out of the design freedom of residential work, in that many clients are willing to let us “play” a little bit to really explore how we can get to the best solution for them.

Do you have a favorite architectural style for homes in this region?
Although we haven’t done a lot of it here, my favorite architectural style in general is Arts and Crafts; I find the detailing and craftsmanship to be really inviting.

Ellen helped design this Arts-and-Crafts inspired home in DC

What kind of jobs are you working on right now?
On my desk right now is a spectacular new house that is just starting construction here in DC, as well as a small kitchen addition for a repeat client whom I first worked with about a dozen years ago, and an out-of-town project on a waterfront compound up in Maine that has been a really fun adventure!

Ellen’s sketch of a cottage renovation in Maine, overlaid on a current photograph as it exists now

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By Ankie Barnes

At the tender age of 26, Michelangelo took on the daunting challenge of carving the “David” statue from a massive block of Carrara marble that had been selected and quarried by others. It had lain on its side, exposed to the elements in Florence’s Opera del Duomo, for 25 years after two other sculptors had tried and failed to execute the commission due to the presence of too many “taroli,” or imperfections, which could have threatened the stability of such a huge statue.

Some are surprised that he agreed to take over the job and use this stone at all. Marble gets more brittle the longer it’s exposed. It was also an irregular block and very narrow at one end, having been quarried for another figure altogether. Furthermore, despite its elegant white color, it was “inferior” marble, filled with small fissures. Today, these flaws in the heavily stressed right ankle are reportedly only one earthquake away from collapse. Michelangelo knew marble so well that he would have realized all these challenges. Yet he created what many regard at the most “perfect” sculpture ever carved. He accepted and embraced the challenges, aimed high, worked incredibly hard, in a temporary shed for three years, and the final result is magnificent.

Embed from Getty Images

We have recently been lucky enough to be working with the same stone from the same Carrara quarries in Tuscany for a project currently under construction. While recently visiting the quarry workshop to see the almost-complete project, I was struck by the humbling realities working with this beautiful but fickle material brings to our work.

Solid marble blocks can be whittled away to create beautiful, sculptural shapes, but it’s fraught with challenges. Control is critical; one can of course only remove—not add—material to craft these shapes. Unlike slab-marble work where decorative inclusions and veining can be a prized quality, sculptural shapes carved from monolithic blocks look their best when the marble’s characteristics are subtle and do not detract from natural light’s ability to reveal the sculpted form. And because it’s inherently brittle, the paradox of marble’s solidity and vulnerability make the resulting pieces all the more beautiful.

Block-selection when planning monolithic projects is a real skill, and the quarry masters will help look for purer veins in the quarry, less marred by too much “character.”

When the design’s outline is being planned, inclusions and veins are reviewed and “mapped” to the extent possible, and the designer or architect tries to draw the shapes among them, accepting some inclusions and avoiding others. The results of this never-perfect art highlight the beauty of working with the material: it can never be “perfect”—that would be boring.

Michelangelo worked through the challenges: He crafted an off-center body posture for David that could be carved from the block’s narrow shape. Some gray veining appears in the surface of the marble in various (possibly inconvenient) locations; under the right eyebrow and on the right leg and hand for example, yet they don’t detract. On the contrary, the veins remind us of the solidity of the block they’ve so carefully been carved from, and reinforce their tension with the stone’s surface. Michelangelo works around these imperfections by introducing elegant, nearby distractions like the intense gaze of the eyes:

Embed from Getty Images

and the raised vein on the right hand:

By Rabe! (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The final David can’t be called a compromise—far from it, it’s a triumph of artistic endeavor with all its beautiful “imperfections.”

Like many architects, I’ve long considered perfection in design as the ideal to achieve on behalf of our clients. Yet seeing what Michelangelo achieved with the David despite the challenges he faced makes me now think that this approach is a seductive but unattainable trap. Rather, we can reach an extraordinary level of finesse and beauty in design by navigating the imperfections —avoiding some, embracing some — while relentlessly pursuing the core direction of the desired result.

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The property had everything going for our clients, who were looking for a home where they wouldn’t have to board their horses at someone else’s farm: It already had a barn, an arena, and acres of pastures for their horses to graze. “It had a vibe of opportunity to it, like it was saying, ‘What are you going to do with me?’ My wheels started turning,” the owner says.

Once the barn was repaired, a new riding track was built and the arena was repaired and repainted, the owners set their sights on the house—a Colonial-style structure that was built in the 1980s. The first floor was chopped up into several rooms, and the family wanted the whole thing opened up into one, free-flowing space centered around a large stone hearth in the middle.

Here’s what it looked like before, with a dark foyer:

And a succession of choppy rooms:

“We don’t like lots of little rooms. We wanted to open everything up so you can breathe,” the owner says, noting that she also wanted to bring the farm’s expansive pastoral views inside. “We wanted to bring nature in. We were bringing our lifestyle in.”

Working with interior designer Victoria Sanchez, BVA Principal Michael Patrick and architect Stefan Hurray orchestrated a new design that would open up the floor with architectural elements and materials that spoke to the home’s surroundings.

Here’s a visual description of what they did, starting with a new front door that looks out to the pastures and the long, tree-lined drive:

All photography © Anice Hoachlander

We kept the original stair, but what you see upon entering is now completely different:

We recreated the fireplace to give it historic patina with a stone hearth and a mantel whose design is based on a 18th-century farmhouse we renovated several years ago in Virginia. It’s quite an improvement from what was there before:

We transformed the space on the other side of this new hearth into a generous kitchen and sitting room. Like the front of the main floor, it was chopped up, with busy detailing like stone floors and brick walls.

These two spaces:

Became this:

The hearth anchors a 16-foot, walnut-topped servery, which accommodates the owners’ love of casual entertaining.

And whereas a row of storage closets:

blocked all the sun in this breakfast corner:

The newly opened corner is cheerful and bright, lightened with natural-finish reclaimed beams, wide-plank reclaimed heartwood-pine floors, and painted cabinetry.

Now, with enlarged windows and bright white walls and trim, the farm’s panorama and its natural light floods into the main floor from all sides.

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As an expert on classical architecture and trustee of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, BVA’s Ankie Barnes joined a panel on November 20 to discuss the relationship between traditional and modern architecture and art. His fellow panelists were Melissa Chui, director of the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Gardens, and Dani Levinas, chairman of the board of trustees of the Phillips Collection. The moderator was Heather Zumaragga.

l-r: Heather Zumaragga; Dani Levinas; Melissa Chui; Ankie Barnes

The setting was Anderson House, one of DC’s best-known Beaux Arts mansions and home to The Society of the Cincinnati. The question at hand was what is the influence of classical art and architecture on today’s contemporary arts ands culture.

The panelists discussed what defines classical and contemporary art, and what marks the difference between works that are lasting and those that are ephemeral. From an architectural standpoint,

Ankie went back to the Classical architecture, art and principals developed by the Greeks. They saw man as a central figure in their world. These were joined by heroic and capricious Gods on earth, who they depicted as largely having human form. Classical architecture was used to build temples and public buildings forming the core of their culture.

Temple of Concordia, Agrigento, Sicily 5th c. BC. This spectacular unrestored Greek Doric temple has withstood 2,500 years of weather, wars and earthquakes.

… and the Romans, who used visages of their emperors on statues that portrayed the perfect human form. In both cases, man was placed at the center of the natural order.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vetruvian Man c 1490, depicts man at the center of perfect geometric forms: the circle and the square. Greek God depicted as human athlete on ancient vase.

Surviving examples of Classical forms of architecture were built of strong but heavy stone and made to last, using techniques and forms that resolve gravity’s pull, like the Egyptian pyramids (formed using the simple angle of repose), the Greek column and beamed temples and the Romans’ arched aqueducts and vaulted rooms. These enduring forms and techniques live on in countless modern buildings.

The Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza, Egypt circa 2560 BC. The Pont du Gard, Nike’s France, circa 60 AD, part of a 50-kilometer-long aqueduct bringing water to the city of Nimes.

To the question posed to the panel: In fundamental ways, Ankie said, modern architecture is a reaction to rather than a continuation of classical principles. For example, whereas stone lintels and were required to create an opening in a wall or between columns to create covered, open space for thousands of years, during the industrial revolution, the invention of structural steel and reinforced concrete changed all this. Wide spans and big openings were now possible. Larger spans, horizontal openings and stacked floors of columns and slabs became useful and desired (not to mention that the afforded endless expanses of modern glass), allowing buildings to seemingly defy gravity. In that respect, the horizontality of modern architecture can be seen as a reaction against the verticality of traditional heavy masonry buildings, which were confined by gravity. The giddy pace of invention, starting with the Industrial Revolution, lead to an “out with the old, in with the new” attitude that still pervades much of modern culture today.

Port Authority Building Bruges, 2016, by Zaha Hadid. Some contemporary architecture is all about “Out with the old in with the new.” East Gallery, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 1978 by I.M.Pei respects the scale and materials of the buildings lining the National Mall.

The progression of art can be seen in a similar light, Melissa Chui said, with a modern reaction to classical traditions in art also occurring with the Industrial Revolution. The invention and evolution of photography relieved painters and sculptors of representational requirements, she said. “Artists were no longer burdened by needing to record and represent what they saw and what happened. They were free to explore art in more abstract ways to engage and satisfy the mind, not necessarily the eye.” She pointed to Marcel Duchamp and his “non-retinal art” and Readymade works, which illustrate his notion that art doesn’t have to be beautiful – that an ordinary object can be elevated to art if the artist deems it so.

Marcel Duchamp and his Bicycle Wheel sculpture of 1913.

The panelists discussed contemporary culture’s fascination with art and architecture being similar in ways, and needing to reflect current times. Yet art and architecture are different and have different roles, Ankie said. “Even if it’s fascinating as an idea, you have an obligation to consider what a building contributes and owes to its site, be it a city or a landscape. As architects, we have an enormous number of responsibilities to satisfy. The buildings must work well for the program; work well in its context; must not leak; meet code; be within budget; must be built well to last and be easy to maintain,” he said. “And if all goes well, they will also be beautiful—and only then can they be considered ‘art.’” The panelists talked then of famous “hero” art galleries by “Starchitects” that often compete with or limit the kind of art displayed inside them.

The Guggenheim Museum New York 1959, by Frank Lloyd Wright. The sculptural form of this public cultural building plays beautifully against the ordered buildings of Manhattan, but its spiraling floors limit art-display options. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao 1997, by Frank Gehry dramatically dominates this Basque city, but again, its strong architecture competes with and limits the appreciation of and types of art that can be displayed within.

Melissa and Dani Levinas then weaved art and architecture together, noting that early modern art was often displayed in neutral, white spaces. However, many modern art exhibitions are now exceptionally well displayed in older classical and industrial buildings. “It really works well if there is enough time separating the creation of the building and that of the artwork. It creates a mutually beneficial juxtaposition,” Melissa said. The mutually successful pairing, Ankie noted, shows classical buildings appreciated and at work in real time.

Modern art hung in a Renaissance-era church in France. Modern sculpture dramatically at home in a Beaux Arts mansion.

Melissa noted that new works, movements and ideas are appearing constantly in the huge global art world. As a result, collectors and curators are looking for modern art that will endure. Which has qualities that transcend trends and fads? Which will be interesting and worthy of appreciation in the future?

To this Ankie added that whether a building—or a painting—falls into a modern or traditional category, was recently created or hundreds of years old, they can all be termed “classical” if they endure and are somehow expressed in a language that is commonly understood and has meaning to many over time.

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We are thrilled to be among 23 designers and florists who are creating holiday displays for Light Up the Season, an annual fundraiser at the Four Seasons Hotel whose proceeds support Children’s National Health System.

We each worked with a patient at Children’s National to inspire themes for holiday trees, mantelpieces, wreaths, menorahs and artwork, which will all be for sale to benefit the hospital.

Our “patient artist” is a young lady who loves flowers and butterflies. It was no surprise, then, that she immediately gravitated toward the huge fluffy roses and whimsically colored butterflies that float across Osborne & Little’s Butterfly Garden wallpaper—one of several images we showed her for inspiration. Her delightful reaction, in turn, inspired us to create our own butterfly garden with a holiday twist.

For this iteration, the butterflies would be gold, flying upward toward a crown of poinsettia-like blooms and holiday trimmings atop a ribbon-wrapped Maypole. Our patient painted several butterflies in a tie-dye rainbow of colors, which we scattered among the golden wings like the pops of color you see in the wallpaper. Finally, we mounted the display over more crimson flowers that lie on a soft bed of moss—a truly enchanted holiday butterfly garden.

Here’s our rendering for what it will look like:

The displays will be up for public viewing starting Dec. 7, and the family-friendly fundraising event takes place on Sunday, Dec. 16 from 12-4pm. It will feature dance, song and magic shows; cookie decorating; ornament making; and visits from Santa and Children’s National’s mascot, Dr. Bear.

Our heartfelt thanks goes to this young lady for her ideas and inspiration:

l-r: Miriam Dillon, the young artist, and Hannah Bock. Photo courtesy of Light Up the Season

More information about the event and ticket purchasing is right here. Thanks to our designers Miriam Dillon and Hannah Bock, and architect Matthew Fiehn for bringing our Holiday Butterfly Garden to life for this special event!

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When architects and interior designers—or any creative professional, really—works on a design for many months or even years, there are certain elements that we remember or revere in our portfolios—but that’s not to say others prize the same details.

For that reason, we’re always taken with what draws attention in the press and on social media. In the past two weeks, we were flattered to have our work called out four times for features on Dering Hall and Elle Décor.

Here’s why we think the editors might have noticed these spaces in their reviews on home gallery walls; picture windows and skylights; clever hallway seating; and marble bathrooms.

23 Baths With Decadent Marble Tubs
By Elle Décor

“Transform your bathroom into an in-home spa.”

See more photos of this home here.   All photography by Anice Hoachlander

“Wall paneling adds texture to this bathroom with a marble-decked tub,” the feature states, and we couldn’t agree more. Marble is used most often in highly formal spaces, but it can also carry a soft, old-fashioned look as it does here in this shingle-style house in DC. The paneling, greenery, and the soft, beveled-edge detailing on the washstand and tub deck could easily relate to homes built at the beginning of the last century. And while most marbles have cool gray veins, the soft, warm cocoa hue of the veins in this thick Calacatta Gold marble give it a casual and unpretentious air.

30 Stylish Home Galleries
by Dering Hall

“Home galleries can both enhance an aesthetic and add a personalized touch to a home like no other.”

See more photos of this home here.

BVA interior designer Miriam Dillon covered this DC den in a rich, high-gloss peacock blue. Bold color and sleek walls go a long way toward making the client’s artwork pop here, she says. She further highlighted the pictures by pulling their colors into the upholstery and accent pillows. The room reminds BVA Principal Ankie Barnes of a Vermeer painting, with a clear light source coming from the side of the composition. The high-gloss walls then help to bounce the light around the room, he says. He also notes that the saturated color makes the room read as a photo negative, “so the lighter-color moments of calm are the pictures on the wall,” the opposite of a more typical home gallery where the artwork provides all the color and energy.

Picture Windows & Skylights
By Dering Hall

“Picture windows and skylights are often used by architects and designers as a tool to let natural light flow into a home because it makes an interior feel more spacious and expansive.”

See more photos of this home here.

This family room is part of an addition built onto an older home. The owner is a photographer, so he requested abundant natural light to suffuse the new space. That’s why large windows and transoms punctuate the walls, while a skylight frees this new first-floor space from the weight of the older home’s upper floors. And while it feels like you’re floating over the home’s lush backyard and pool, the double fireplace and dark floors nonetheless ground it within all that light.

Clever Hallway Seating Ideas
By Dering Hall

“Seating in the hall is a great way to create special areas in your home to relax, and to maximize on unused space.”

See more photos of this home here.

This gallery design is one of our favorites. The lanterns mark an axis between French doors in the foreground and the lovely window at the home’s entry, which is to the left of the chaise. “Walking along a well-recognized axis is a very comfortable way to move in any built environment,” Ankie says, adding: “People love to walk toward the light.” Adding the chaise and small table at the end makes a satisfying destination in itself, while the table placement provides a subtle deflection toward the front door.

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It’s that time of year! Barnes Vanze is once again participating in CANstruction, a nationwide program in the architecture and design community to raise awareness about hunger.  In the local competition organized by the Washington Architectural Foundation and the Capital Area Food Bank, local architects, builders and suppliers compete to build structures with canned food and other non-perishable packages—all of which are donated to the food bank after Thanksgiving.

This year’s theme is music to our ears: CAN’t Stop the Beet!

Fantasia—or, shall we say, CAN-tasia—is our entry, and the Wizard’s Hat that Mickey Mouse stole, only the suffer the consequences, is our muse. Starkist Tuna, naturally, is our method.

And here’s our punny submission to go with it, courtesy of BVA’s Hannah Myers:

We can’t think of anything more magical than ending hunger in our community. That’s why this year our “CAN’t Stop the Beet!” sculpture features everyone’s favorite magical musical, Fantasia, or, Can-tasia! Gaze upon Mickey’s Starkist wizard cap and imagine with us a gang of autonomous mops wiping hunger out – to the tuna the beat! Mickey lentils an ear to help compose our melodic meal in-can-tation. Bean-eath the brim of his hat, he is imagining a savory symphony! And it’s not just a can-tasy – you too can play a part in the percussion section of the orchestra: every time a donation is dropped into the box it produces the most scrumptious staccato sound! Lettuce join in a crescendo of cans and together drown out the din of hunger.

The competition starts Sunday, Nov. 18, at the National Building Museum, and the displays stay up through Sunday, Nov. 25. The public is invited to vote on their favorite designs on Black Friday, Nov. 23.

As we gather our groceries to plan and build our display, we would love some help! If you are able to assist us in the fight against hunger, please visit our fundraising page, right here.

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In preparation of Barnes Vanze’s 30th anniversary next year, founders Anthony “Ankie” Barnes and Steve Vanze are pleased to announce an expansion of the leadership to sustain the culture of the firm through the 21st century.

Senior associates Wayne Adams, Melanie Giordano, Ellen Hatton and Michael Patrick have been named PRINCIPALS of Barnes Vanze Architects, Inc.

l-r: Steve Vanze, Ellen Hatton, Michael Patrick, Melanie Giordano, Wayne Adams, and Ankie Barnes

We invite our industry peers, current and past clients and friends to wish these talented architects a warm congratulations.

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