New York-based studio Soft-Firm and its Generation House in Brooklyn have made it into the Wallpaper* Architects’ Directory 2022, our annual list of exciting emerging practices from across the globe, thanks to directors Lexi Tsien and Talitha Liu’s sense of experimentation and multidisciplinary approach.

Who: Soft-Firm

Lexi Tsien and Talitha Liu form the New York-based interdisciplinary studio Soft-Firm. Founded in 2018, the practice works across speculative research, art installations, exhibitions, and residential and commercial projects. As its playful name suggests, Soft-Firm does not consider itself a traditional practice but a platform ‘to expand hunches, glitches and inside jokes into architectural ideas’.

The studio’s design process is an open-ended exchange between themselves, their clients and the surrounding context. Liu describes their role as ‘provid[ing] an infrastructure or toolkit for our clients to use and adapt’. Tsien adds: ‘We want them to take over the spaces, for the design to be of service to them.’ 

‘We do not view our installations as objects, but tools to empower the community,’ they explain. This is evident in the Drive Thru project, an installation of two rotating screens at an intersection in New York City, commissioned by the Van Alen Institute. The community’s response to the installation surpassed the architects’ expectations – it was used to host dances and the local mosque held an iftar meal there – becoming ‘larger than what we originally imagined’. This strong ethos of collaboration, equity and experimentation can be seen in other projects, such as Generation House (pictured) and Love Letter, an installation in Times Square that invites the public to leave their own love letters to the city. 

interior at at generation house in new york, a Brooklyn brownstone transformed by Soft-Firm architects

What: Generation House

Generation House has been designed to not only weather the passage of time but embrace it. The remodelling of the four-storey brownstone house in Brooklyn began as a project between Lexi Tsien and her mother. The house has been transformed from a single-family dwelling to accommodate three co-living spaces that can be adapted to accommodate various family structures. 

Already, in the one year since its construction, the use of the building has shifted and grown to support a group of women of colour who are engaged in creative labour and activism. This transformation is aided by the configuration of the space, which cultivates flexibility and adaptability. At the core of the parlour level, there are movable grey armoires on casters made from Valchromat to offer storage, and pink linen-silk curtains on a curvilinear track are used to provide privacy for the bedroom. ‘We are living in our own experiment,’ says Tsien.

The building is characterised by a sensitivity to history and sustainability. The grand wooden cupboard has been repurposed into doors for the parlour; leftover Italian acetate has been reused for the kitchen cabinet pulls; and salvaged metal wired grids were used to create the coffee table. The choice of materials echoes Soft-Firm’s collaborative, lo-fi approach. ‘We hope that the house will continue to change, transform and surprise us,’ the team says.

exterior of generation house in new york, a Brookylin brownstone transformed by Soft-Firm architects

Why: Wallpaper* Architects’ Directory 2022

Conceived in 2000 as an international index of emerging architectural talent, the Wallpaper* Architects’ Directory is our annual listing of promising practices from across the globe. While always championing the best and most promising young studios, over the years, the project has showcased inspiring work with an emphasis on the residential realm. Now including more than 500 alumni, the Architects’ Directory is back for its 22nd edition. Join us as we launch this year’s survey – 20 young studios from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, China, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, France, Greece, India, Indonesia, Japan, Nigeria, Paraguay, Thailand, the UAE, the UK, the USA, and Vietnam with plenty of promise, ideas and exciting architecture. §

bathroom at generation house in new york by Soft-Firm architects
colours at generation house in new york