The joke is that between the three of them, they make one good principal. Adam Rolston, Gabriel Benroth, and Drew Stewart, the three partners who make up New York-based design and architecture studio Incorporated and who spent seven years together at Tsao & McKown Architects before breaking off in 2006, describe themselves, respectively, as the cheerleader, the technologist, and the craftsman. “We each have specific talents and interests that we bring to the table,” Rolston says.
Together as Incorporated, a multidisciplinary studio that has executed everything from furniture to New York’s new 1 Hotel, their strength, according to Rolston, lies in a central mission: “the integration of design disciplines and working across scales.”
“Our emphasis is that we are a design studio not married to a particular program or scale,” Rolston says. “We have this phrase we use: ‘from curtains to curtain walls.’ That’s the moment when the architect and interior designer literally have to speak to each other, to get along. When we’re just the interior designer, we’re able to speak to the architect. When we’re just the architects, we’re able to speak to the interior designer. And better yet, when we do both, we can create a kind of seamless experience across that dividing point.”
Part of Toll Brothers’ Pierhouse development at the edge of Brooklyn Bridge Park, the 190-room hotel for Starwood Hotels, for which Incorporated is serving as interior designer, has a green mission communicated through its “100% Natural” tagline. “The hotel is set to achieve LEED Silver,” says Rolston, “[but its green mission] is a holistic one, not just a technical one.” At the Line Hotel, a Sydell Group property in Washington, DC, that Incorporated is working on simultaneously, LEED certification also is on the table. “The marketplace in terms of equipment, supplies, and materials has caught up with green design and building,” Rolston says. “It’s becoming kind of requisite now in the marketplace and even being driven by code and compliance. Although green is definitely not the mission of [the Line Hotel], it too is taking it very seriously.”
Despite its booming popularity, however, Rolston knows sustainable design is nothing new. “It’s thousands of years old,” he says. “I think some of the simpler, intuitive things that make cost-effective green design possible—it isn’t rooted in technology or new materials. It’s just these age-old traditions that have been around forever that we kind of forgot on some levels.”
As an example, Rolston cites Incorporated’s Sixteen Doors House—his personal residence and the first in their Endless House series, which also includes the Texas Hill House and the Confluence House. “There is this tradition,” he says, “you see it in the Midwest. Picture a typical family farm, the great plains and trees planted all around the outside of the house, specifically deciduous trees,” he says. “The trees provide shade for the entire building, along with wind protection, in spring and summer, and then the leaves are off in winter and you get heat gain.” Rolston borrowed from this tradition with Sixteen Doors and is reaping the benefits. “I didn’t have to install air-conditioning, and I’m totally comfortable all summer long. And then in winter I get heat gain so my heating bills are incredibly low.”
With all of its projects, Incorporated sees portraiture as a metaphor for how it works. What inspires the designers is figuring out the “particular DNA” of each project. “Most of that particularness comes from the desires of the client—how they see their lives, their selves, their world view,” Rolston says. “What we think is beautiful is to create a portrait of that. We then extend that to our commercial work, [creating a portrait] of a particular subset of society [that the enterprise is trying to appeal to].”
The best portraits provide a glimpse into the subject’s life and how he or she lives it. “Almost all of our work you can see through the lens of living,” Rolston says. “Whether it’s a condo in a commercial context, a private residential interior, or a house in the country, it’s all about how we live—‘home’—and I think that’s where we are at our best.”