Interview with the architect Paul Florian

Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Designer: Florian Architects, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Project: Horton Residence
Project Team: Paul Florian, Robert Sellars, Isaac Eun
Interior Designer: John Mark Horton with Florian Architects
Interior Design Project Team John Mark Horton
Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti
Client: John Mark Horton
Year of Completion: 2006
Impresa di costruzione principale / General Contractor: Fraser Construction, Lyons, Illinois, USA
Documentazione fotografica / Photographs: Michelle Litvin, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Meet the detail and look the building in the eyes

This short interview with the architect Paul Florian, from the “Florian Architects” studio in Chicago, causes us to reflect once again on the centrality of the dual vision (the overall framework of the project on a large scale and its reflection in the detailed scale), which accompanies the architect’s work and also the person who then lives and works inside the designed spaces. Horton Residence is the home of a sophisticated art collector and designer. The project involved simultaneous thought – on a fertile tandem formed of the client-designer and the architect-planner – regarding the spaces, to enable organising a place that becomes a “home” for art and architecture. The interior design has focused on light, redesigning the large windows and creating a communication between the rooms on different levels, playing with solids and spaces, without any exaggerations or exhibitionism though, rather a very refined minimalism and sophisticated atmosphere.

Looking at the list of your projects, do you see that there are any familiar resemblances in them or sequences of concepts that relate to each other?

We believe architecture communicates, thus the emphasis in our work is always on communication through form–enriched by color and materials. Whether we are trying to communicate a lot of information to a few people, or a simple message to a broad audience, the work is always informed by an idea of “what is being said to whom.”
We think of public architecture as embodying cultural principles, commercial work as expressing ideas about services and products to target audiences. We think of our residential work as “portraiture,” a representation of our clients through the filter of an architectural sensibility.


Most of the time “architects” believe to give the clients something they didn’t know they wanted, while “decorators” are there to give them exactly what they want. It might be naive to talk about it, but there is a strong gap between the two approaches. How do you fill that void, that gap?

We strive to give people extraordinary spaces that are suited to their use and their users. We tend to think of them as broad solutions that can be personalized. I think decorators often start by personalizing spaces: an intimate approach based on the character of materials, pattern, texture and color. I think either approach can be visionary, and that it is possible to bridge them if, as an architect, one sets out to create “personalized space.”

This leads to another question: which role have other arts played for you in creating your architecture?
Baroque and Modern painting are intrinsic to my view of form.
Baroque for the sense of space and theatre of living. And I am particularly drawn to Synthetic Cubism as it incorporates all the things I love:Sophisticated color, subtle composition, fragments of media messages, a sense of resonant urbanity.

Steel details in your work, steel details on the frame design for windows and glass façades. The cases of the “Horton Residence”, the “Chait Residence” and the “Lincoln Park Residence”. The new design for steel frames for windows and doors. How is it possible to reinvent these traditional elements, without losing their originally charm?

The enduring works of Albini and Scarpa continue to inspire me. No detail is too small or insignificant to be re-invented for beauty and use. I like using patterns of glass and steel to make designs more specific without becoming decorative. A big window can be much more than an aperture. It filters our perception of the transition of interior to exterior, as well as our relationship to each. I also like using shifts of plane and transparency to vary the depth of the view. Exterior objects can be brought forward and integrated into a two dimensional design.
Metals allow you to introduce a new proportion to a traditional form. Thin sheets of cold rolled steel inserted into a traditional house as window sills create a contrast that heighten awareness of both the historic and the contemporary.
The Horton Residence uses early modern details, including an interior condensation drip, that emphasizes its early Modern character.

How important is the issue of details? An architect must be obsessed for the right detail, because he would never get something right without struggling with details. Is it true also in your approach towards architecture?
Architecture’s power has the power to move us through iteration of design concepts at every scale. It is the literal meaning of “integrity.” The detail is essential to the perception of “wholeness,” “rigor” and what we might call the “truth” of a building. To encounter the detail, is to look a building in the eye.

By Marina Cescon

Marina Cescon
Acciaio Arte Architettura 50