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Going [back to] Dutch: Architecture branded by culture, an interview with Piet Boon

You have been called one of the most relevant and iconic designers of our time. What would you say is the magic behind your mark?

At Piet Boon Studio we feel very privileged to be able to do the work that we do and are humbled that we are given the opportunity to demonstrate our expertise: balancing functionality, aesthetics and individuality.

‘Our magic touch? We see, we feel, we listen, and we create.’

We’re always in search of the perfect fusion of ingredients that together form an extraordinary design. Our signature design experiences are informed by keen technical insight, never compromising on quality and perpetually paying attention to outstanding detail.

‘We design projects to last, striving to create designs that both stand the test of time and increase in value.’

You have become a personal brand for interior design in Holland. How does that brand extend into the Piet Boon Studio?

The foundation of Studio Piet Boon was laid over thirty years ago when I decided to start my own design practice. For reasons of convenience I named the practice after myself, turning myself into a personal brand. In a sense, the person and the brand are therefore one and the same.

That small design practice, founded in 1983, has now grown into a global operating design company. We have gone from the person Piet Boon to the brand Studio Piet Boon. That shift was inevitable considering the growth of the company and my own mortality. Nowadays I act as the spokesperson for the brand.

The way I brand myself extends into The Studio and is inextricably linked to how we approach our craft.

In everything we do, our decisions come down to the same three things: functionality, aesthetics and individuality. Creating balance and the timeless comfortable design that stems from it.

Where does branding meet architecture in Studio Piet Boon projects?

Using branding and brands as a means of identification has become increasingly important in development.

Branding adds a level of quality to a project, but it also creates trust, adds worth and provides homeowners the opportunity to associate themselves with a certain lifestyle.

Our approach to the intersection of exterior and interior design and branding in our work varies from project to project, but one always influences the other. When the client has already defined a strong brand vision for a project, we use that vision as a framework in which we integrate the Studio Piet Boon design philosophy.

What are the main reasons Studio Piet Boon is commissioned?

Never failing to inspire. Our background in construction allows us to speak the language of realization as well as the language of design. True to our values, we seek out the ultimate match between our beliefs and those of our clients. This leads to a unique set of themes that form the creative building blocks of a concept. This is why clients choose to work with Studio Piet Boon. That, and because we have a great sense of humor.

What impact has the inclusion of branding made on your projects?

Over the years we have managed to build a global proven track record in branded residential development based on our philosophy of balancing functionality, aesthetics, and individuality into one-of-a-kind design experiences. Successful in Europe, Asia, Americas and the Middle East, we’ve seen our blend of unique architecture, design and brand marketing add substantial value to a residential property, thereby creating a competitive advantage and sales velocity. In order for the branding to be strong, our underlying project must be as well. This is where our philosophy and emphasis on designing distinguishing interiors matters a great deal.

We create projects that stand out, compete at the highest level, and boast a unique identity that clients can identify with.

Your Huys penthouses in NoMad district have been called the vanguard of a Dutch renaissance in New York City – you turned a historic loft building at 404 Park Avenue South into condominiums with a distinctive Dutch twist. How did you incorporate Dutch design as an element of the project’s brand and express it throughout the building?

A Dutch design theme for the Huys penthouses was more or less a given, since the Dutch developer, Kroonenberg Groep, deliberately chose to work with an all-Dutch team on this project. To not brand Huys as Dutch would have been a missed opportunity.

However, our design is not your stereotypical “Dutch design.” We have our own distinctive style. Our interpretation of the theme was to complement our designs by bringing in, amongst others, Dutch artist Frederik Molenschot to design the bronze apartment numbers that adorn every residence and entrance, as well as Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf for the rooftop garden.

Oosten is another iconic project where you were tasked with bringing to life a Dutch-inspired brand vision. How did having a set branding vision affect your work?

We always emphasize a strong connection to the client’s wishes and needs. After all, these are the expectations that we need to meet and try to exceed with our designs.

The Seventh Art created a strong and clearly defined brand vision for Oosten, and this gave us a strong framework for integrating our unique design identity.

A key objective for Oosten was to design community and living spaces that would enrich the lives of Williamsburg’s residents. In what ways does Oosten’s design bring people and communities together?

Since diversity has informed the Williamsburg community for centuries, the goal of our design was to facilitate and enrich the existing synergy. We wanted the community spaces to encourage social interaction. That’s why Oosten has a large common area at the entrance, a shared roof deck, and many other spaces that foster interaction and create a community within the building; this includes a library, fitness center, steam and sauna rooms, juice and coffee bar, and a children’s playroom.

The macro design of the project continued these priorities. Oosten is unique in its varied typology of units, with 216 high-end homes, from luxurious studios to extraordinary townhouses. Each unit combines to form not only a greater building but also the fabric of a neighborhood.

In both the naming of the project and bringing in an iconic Dutch designer, Oosten drew from a specific culture.

How did you determine which aspects of the Dutch tradition to include?

The nice thing about Brooklyn, and New York for that matter, is that it is inextricably linked to Dutch heritage. Three-hundred and-fifty years ago, Dutch settlers founded the small town of “Breuckelen,” so in a way the location for Oosten was Dutch in its history.

Rather than perpetuating the stereotypical ideas of Dutch culture— like windmills and wooden clogs—our design for Oosten was informed by the Dutch way of designing efficient and comfortable living spaces in urban environments of all sizes. We have the luxury of designing standalone villas but we also love the challenge of designing in urban city centers, whether that includes four hundred-year-old Amsterdam canal houses or urban Brooklyn apartments.

How do you think the Oosten’s Dutch inspiration and references impact the building’s residents?

Dutch culture is inherent in the subtleties of our design identity. In Oosten owners find not only beautiful interiors that function well and provide a home for living but also amenities and features that are connected to the bigger identity of Oosten within the Williamsburg community and neighborhood.

We design from the inside out, with the details of daily life carefully considered in the design of a vibrant connection to the exterior world. This is a case of Dutch design accompanied by a Dutch manner of living.


*This is an excerpt from the upcoming book by The Seventh Art’s founder, Michel Mein: “Branded by design: Construction at the Intersection of Architecture and Branding”

Constructing history in New York City, an interview with William L. Zeckendorf

When you approach the intersection of branding and architecture in your projects, which comes first?

Architecture. We start with architecture and then the brand follows. This is mainly because, from our perspective, the brand is primarily based on the specific in-unit finishes, exteriors, public spaces, and interior architecture.

The brand is like a translator of the building’s architecture.

If the architecture is great, why bother branding a building?

There’s also a social reason to brand a building. I think that’s where respect of local architectural themes comes to the forefront. If you don’t respect the neighborhood and its architectural themes or history, the building will be jarring and inconsistent. Of course, there are exceptions to this philosophy and commercial areas offer a little more leeway in terms of sticking out, but residential areas are really not a place to experiment with drastically different architectural styles. Being respectful and not drawing attention to yourself by jarring onlookers then becomes a pillar of how the building is perceived and hence an aspect of that building’s brand in the eyes of onlookers.

A great brand can amplify the architectural themes, making them more pronounced or increasing the public’s awareness of them.

At what point do you bring branding experts into a project?

We start with the architects, then go through all the zoning and legal work, and then we bring in the branders about midway through the development process. We’ll show them the architecture we’ve decided on and let the branders work their craft from there.

You and your family have changed New York City real estate — and not just the city’s façade. How would you summarize your legacy?

My brother, Arthur, and I are lifelong New Yorkers, so we always try to respect the city’s history.

We see respecting the city’s architecture as a means of demonstrating that respect.

We try hard to always work with the finest architects who share those values, and carefully and thoughtfully incorporate the unique architectural aspects of every location and its neighborhood into the plans for a given project. Even if it’s trendy or in-demand, we never want to build a shiny glass tower in a traditional, granite-dominated neighborhood, for example. After we’ve done our research and explored all aspects, we meet with different architects to determine if they have a vision that is consistent with it.

What distinguishes the Zeckendorf approach?

One thing that sets us apart is that we don’t typically work with distinct interior designers and exterior architects. Instead, we prefer to have one architect who designs both the interiors and exteriors. This way, the themes are consistent throughout the entire building.

You’re known for placing strong emphasis on thematic consistency in the architecture of your buildings. What does that look like in practice?

We focus on thematic consistency in two ways. First, architectural consistency between the interior design and exterior architecture of the building. Second, architectural consistency between the building and its neighborhood.

For example, at 520 Park Avenue the limestone façade was consistent with the architecture of the East Side.

Further, the 50 United Nations Plaza in New York, designed by Foster + Partners, is in an area strongly imprinted by the architecture of the 1950s and 1960s. The building is very modernist, true to the Norman Foster school of architecture and the United Nations headquarters – conceived by my maternal grandfather, whereas my paternal grandfather owned the land.

You made two major decisions for 520 Park Avenue in Manhattan. First, you purchased the address from the church nearby. Second, you chose to name the building after its address, as opposed to giving it a personal or non-location-based title. Were these decisions a demonstration of how powerful you believe an address is to a property’s brand?

Yes. Park Avenue as an address is a well-known and respected brand in itself. Our building benefits from that address because it drives demand. Our residents enjoy the name recognition of their new home address and it’s easier to locate the building geographically.

Your project, 15 Central Park West, is a very successful condominium development. What contributed to the project’s success?

Right building, right time.

We hit the condominium boom at the right time and provided the best of the “pre-war concepts in post-war architecture” theme. Architect Robert A.M. Stern connected the building to Central Park West in a respectful way, with the light color palette and the limestone, which really set the building apart. Also, we provided an amenity package that was without equal.

What would you say to the developers of tomorrow?

As a developer, what you build will last generations. Take your time and think through your architectural choices and selection.

It’s true that cost pressure is brutal in this business, but good architecture will benefit your bottom line and reputation—which is your personal brand—in the long run.


*This is an excerpt from the upcoming book by The Seventh Art’s founder, Michel Mein: “Branded by design: Construction at the Intersection of Architecture and Branding”