A Word from Alex Mustonen

I never thought I’d work in Manhattan again. That was my feeling in 2008 when Daniel and I started Snarkitecture from a raw warehouse space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I thought the same thing in 2015 when we moved our studio into a bigger, “nicer” warehouse space on the waterfront in Long Island City. And in 2020, after Snarkitecture left our studio with no set idea of when or where we might return to a space dedicated to working, I remained certain Manhattan wouldn’t be our next destination. We managed the shift to remote work surprisingly seamlessly, and returning to the studio full time seemed low on everyone’s list of priorities. However, we recognized that a space, some kind of space, is important to Snarkitecture. It gave some definition to how we work, how we connect, how we communicate, and, ultimately, where we store our objects. In 2022, we knew it was time to find another collaborative space, so we set up shop in SoHo as a short-term residency. After a few fully remote years, it felt exciting and promising to be in a shared space again, but there was a limited timeframe as we essentially designed ourselves out of the space with the project we were working on.

At that point, we were exploring our options, considering a wide range of spaces, neighborhoods, and workspace models. Like many small business owners (especially creative small businesses) we knew two things to be true: 1. We weren’t convinced we needed to, or even should go back to a previous version of our studio; and 2. We weren’t thrilled about the idea of signing a long-term lease on a space that locked us into the same type of workspace we had pre-pandemic. 

During a pivotal week when decisions needed to be made, I had a synchronous moment with Vivek. He brought up a new space Jayaram was exploring in New York, and asked if I was interested in seeing it. I’ve always known Vivek to be passionate, collaborative, and generous, all of which contributed to his offer to have Snarkitecture to move in and get involved with the project. Serendipitously, the decision to embark on a joint experiment emerged – coalescing a law practice and a design practice, under one roof. The concept developed organically – we’d operate both practices from the same studio, collaborating closely. As discussions unfolded with Vivek and his team, and within our own studio, several questions surfaced:

­What would it look like for a law office and a design studio to share a workspace for collaboration? 

What were each oganization’s specific needs?

How could we design a space that accommodates diverse programming and gatherings while maintaining functionality for day-to-day creative and professional work?

For a few years, it seemed every company was trying to crack the code of how to get their employees to return to offices, how to balance hybrid work, how to go fully remote, or even how to create a new workspace that addressed the contemporary landscape of work. All of those organizations faced a version of the same question: “What is an office in 2024?”

Each person and organization would answer differently, but everyone was asking big-picture questions around what the office of today – and the next several years – should be. What should it look and feel like? What resources and amenities should it offer people? How can workplaces communicate the culture and purpose of an organization? 

We spent the past few years considering these questions from a range of viewpoints – including those of real estate developer, a non-profit organization, co-working areas connected to hospitality projects, and finally, our own studio and shared space with Jayaram. Each of these clients had their own goals, and Snarkitecture created concepts and design solutions to meet their visions but there were some commonalities across the projects. My feeling is that spaces for working should:

Be nicer than your home office.

Do more than be “just” an office.

Connect to the origin, purpose and culture of the  organization.

Invite people to explore and create moments of discovery.

Foster moments for connection.

Our solution for the Jayaram x Snarkitecture shared space is our answer to these criteria. Upon entering through the front door, you’re greeted by the Record Room. This intentionally transporting space is a small, quiet oasis that functions as a showroom, an archive, and listening room complete with an extensive collection of vinyl records.

The space opens into a shared workspace with flexible workstations. Along one wall is a wellness room, a series of private offices for calls and meetings, a large conference room, and finally Snarkitecture’s materials library. Throughout the space are a range of new custom tables and chairs, designed by Snarkitecture and produced in collaboration with Finnish furniture company Made By Choice. The architectural lighting has been completely reconfigured by Italian lighting manufacturer Viabizzuno. Also prominently featured are Snarkitecture’s collaborations with Italian radical design brand Gufram (Broken Series) and the New York-based Calico Wallpaper (Topographies).

Jayaram is on one side of the space and Snarkitecture is on the other. Between them is an area referred to as the Commons. The geographic center of the space, it acts as a meeting place, a crossover space, and a “common” area that can be easily converted into an intimate venue for talks or other programming. In an otherwise “hard” space, the Commons is a soft space made up of upholstered elements, framed by freestanding millwork pieces, and sitting beneath an overhead ceiling installation.

I believe that we are all seeking connection with others (including in our work), and while some of that connection can happen on calls, virtual meetings, and in written form, most of us will always want a shared physical presence and collective experience with others. 

Every person and every organization has their own approach and preferences to the “return to office” question, but I never saw the logic in the “all or nothing” approach. Snarkitecture is fortunate in that the nature of our work allows for a certain degree of remote flexibility. I’ve seen the benefit to this personally as well – it’s been invaluable as a new dad to have more time at home with Finn and to be more engaged than I would be if I were in the studio for 40 hours a week. The feedback I’ve received from our team is also overwhelmingly positive, with people feeling more flexibility and ownership over their schedules.

That said, I still find immense value in a sense of place. That’s true for my own working space at home – having a dedicated area with specific items dedicated to performance or inspiration – but especially true for doing collaborative work with a team. For a creative practice, while not required, there is value in communicating and sharing what you do and how you do it through the medium of architectural space and the things within that environment. Being able to point out a physical prototype or furniture piece during a studio visit is a tangible experience that’s much more memorable than looking at a digital deck or image online.

Really, that feeling of having a tangible, shared experience with others is what I channel in projects with Snarkitecture – we invite others to connect, explore, and discover within the architectural environments we create, including our own creative space. 

Now, in 2024, I find myself, to my surprise, working in Manhattan (at least for one day a week) and enjoying it. What I appreciate about being in the space, and, more generally, my work, is getting to connect with, learn from, and collaborate with others to create inspired work. In addition to working with our own team, there is a symbiotic crossover that happens when co-working in an ongoing way. I’ve also enjoyed inviting others – friends, colleagues, clients – to visit, see, and discuss Snarkitecture’s work in a space that reflects our history, our design approach.

I’m excited to see what possibilities and opportunities I discover as Snarkitecture continues to create, design, connect, and work from the space we share with Jayaram. I also want to thank Vivek and the team at Jayaram Law for inviting us to be on this journey with them and to create this beautiful space together. I hope that you’re able to visit us and attend one of the many programs and events that both of our practices look forward to hosting here in the future.

From the studio,
– Alex