Seth McDowell and Rychiee Espinosa founded mcdowellespinosa architects in 2012 with the goal of transforming waste, excess, and the ordinary into new spatial and material realities. As an experimental architectural practice, our work bridges the speculative and the real—focusing on material and construction procedures as the genesis for the design of buildings, objects and cities. At the core of our design philosophy is the desire for architecture to embrace exceptions and celebrate atypical methods for building. As the effects of globalization yield an increasingly homogenous world, we believe architecture plays a critical role in maintaining diversity by offering expressive spatial distinction and variation. This philosophy motivates our design methodologies for transforming the common into the uncommon; the generic into the unique; the routine into the anomaly. Our objective is to challenge assumptions of inferiority, transiency, and utility by transforming conditions of waste, excess and ubiquity into distinctive environments. This approach encourages architecture dedicated to flexibility, adaptability and improvisation—critical topics for the built environment to engage as uncertainty and rapid change defines the future of this planet.
We often function more like an artist atelier than a professional office as we like to touch and make most everything we design. From self-built shacks made from reclaimed agrarian structures to objects made with chewing gum or human hair, our methodology is very tactile, very hands-on, and very DIY.
We seek out projects that encourage material and spatial experimentation. Much of our built work is constructed by us—allowing design and construction to inform each other. This includes a series of rural structures in South Carolina where McDowell acted as designer and builder, allowing much of the design to emerge directly from the materials at hand. If we cannot build the projects ourselves, we deploy Building Information Modeling to construct precise, virtual buildings prior to construction in effort to minimize uncertainty.
While small buildings and objects are the core component of our work, mcdowellespinosa started with an urban design project called Water Fuel: The Plan for a Self-Sustaining New York. Initially a research project at Columbia University, Water Fuel earned first place in the Self-Sufficient City competition sponsored by the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia. We continue to develop speculative visions for future cities in projects like City of Blubber and Drift City. Our work continously examines material transformations at all scales from object to building to city.
Rychiee Espinosa is an educator and licensed architect in the State of New York. She has practiced architecture since 2004 in New York City, Los Angeles and Detroit within the offices of Steven Holl Architects, Bernard Tschumi Architects, MOrphosis Architects, and S3 Architecture. Espinosa is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Pratt Institute School of Architecture. She has previously taught at the Cornell University College of Architecture, Art and Planning.
Espinosa received a Master of Architecture degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in 2009, a Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture from Lawrence Technological University in 2006, and a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a focus in Kinesiology and Psychology from Indiana University in 2001. At GSAPP, she was awarded the New York Society of Architects' Matthew del Gaudio Award for Excellence in Total Design and the Lucille Smyser Lowenfish Memorial Prize. Prior to teaching, Espinosa was an Associate Architect at Steven Holl Architects as the Project Architect for the Glassell School of Art at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston in Houston, Texas and the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History's Visual Arts Building in Iowa City, Iowa.
Espinosa's research resides in material exploration, particularly through the reuse of ordinary materials via unconventional processes and techniques. The spatial outcomes are unexpected, challenging pre-existing notions of space. Her interest seeks to explore the sensorial and perceptual contexts and exploits the synthesis of traditional architectural systems and tools with emergent digital technologies.
Seth McDowell works as an experimental architect focusing on novel techniques for the visualization and construction of architecture. His designs, visualizations, exhibitions and writings focus on topics of misuse and adaptation in architecture.
McDowell’s work is concentrated on three interrelated areas of study: 1—Material misuse and the transformation of waste 2—Building Information Modeling (BIM) for abnormal buildings 3—Urban Dystopias
Seth McDowell has practiced architecture in Charleston, SC, and New York, NY within the offices of WORK Architecture Company, Huff+Gooden Architects, Leroy Street Studio, and LOT-EK. He is a co-founding partner of mcdowellespinosa.
McDowell is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of Virginia. He has also taught at Columbia University and Louisiana State University. He received a Master of Architecture from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation and a Bachelor of Science in Design from Clemson University. At Columbia, he was awarded the American Institute of Architects Certificate of Merit, the Lucille Smyser Lowenfish Memorial Prize, and the Avery 6 Award for work that holds the most promise to advance the discipline of architecture.
McDowell’s writing on material and object re-contextualization in art and architecture has been published in STUDIO Architecture and Urbanism Magazine, Pataphysics Then & Now (forthcoming), New Architecture Assembly Magazine, ArchDaily, and presented at various national conferences. His letter for the book competition Dear Architecture was awarded honorable mention and is published in the book. McDowell is editor of the book Water Index: Design Strategies for Drought, Flooding and Contamination, an ACTAR / UVA publication, to be released in 2017.
McDowell is a licensed architect in the state of New York and serves on the Scottsville, Virginia Architectural Review Board.