In 1985, UC Berkeley and Harvard University graduate Calvin Tsao founded New York-based firm TsAO & McKown with his partner, the equally talented Zack McKown. The duo’s backgrounds, interests, and idiosyncrasies come together in the studio where big and small projects across various locales are brought to fruition through their gaze.
Calvin approaches each project as a chance to put his own global experiences into play, focusing on a distinct way of thinking rather than a signature style of design. Recognized as a leading voice in contemporary architecture, his work draws from a variety of art forms, existential questions, and observations. Calvin envisions his role as a cultural mediator, striving to harness these global experiences and technology to express local cultures and contexts. The last project informs the next, creating a domino effect that leads to a larger pool of knowledge to draw from in the future.
Current projects include the reconfiguration of the National Palace Museum of Taiwan – plus additions. And in Atlanta the studio is working with a university and a private partner to develop a community of 3,000 residences, half of which are designated to be affordable.
Calvin has taught at the Harvard GSD, Cooper Union, Syracuse University and Parsons School of Design. He’s board Chair of The American Academy in Rome, former Vice President for Design Excellence at AIA New York | Center for Architecture, and President Emeritus and board member of The Architectural League of New York. The studio received the 2022 AIANY Medal of Honor and in 2012 was a recipient of the National Design Award from the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, as well as the Legacy Award from the Museum of the Chinese in America.
Today, Calvin Tsao joins us for Friday Five!
1. Sunrise in the City
Waking up early in our home off Central Park, the sensation of seeing the city bask in that early morning glow gives me energy for a new day.
2. Sunset in the Country
Watching the sun slowly set over our orchard upstate always fills me with gratitude and humility for the infinite beauty and power of nature.
3. Great Shops With a Personal Vision
I love discovering how a person’s character gets expressed in the shops they create, such as Pidgin in upstate New York, Egg in London, and Quaner22 in Shanghai, revealing their world view through the environments they make and things they’ve chosen, offering up beauty in inimitable ways.
4. American Academy in Rome
The American Academy in Rome is a center for advanced studies in the Arts and Humanities. My experiences there as a resident two decades ago opened up new perspectives, helping me to better know my purpose and mission.
Photo: Richard Bryant / arcaidimages.com
Meditation stills the mind and soul, and helps to bring clarity.
Work by Calvin Tsao:
Pound Ridge Residence, Pound Ridge, New York \\\ Inspired by Japanese architecture, the house is drenched in light. Skylights in the form of lanterns facing north bring more light throughout the day, and as there are windows on all four sides, the building is transparent enough to blend into the landscape. The house also contains two freestanding fireplaces in the living room and the bedroom. \\\ Photo: Simon Upton
AtOne Hotel, Suzhou, China \\\ Suzhou, China was a center of learning and hometown to generations of scholars. The scholars had a tradition of harvesting stones that had been washed underwater for centuries. They were beautiful sculptural forms used to meditate about nature. We scaled up this meditative element to architectural proportions as a gesture of welcome for visitors of the hotel. \\\ Photo: Seth Powers
7 West 57th, New York City \\\ A slatted wooden volume contains the guest closet, powder room, and the kitchen. It also helps define a foyer before the apartment opens onto the living and dining spaces that both feel intimate, and at the same time, enjoy the sweeping city views. \\\ Photo: Sean Hemmerle