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Linearscape Puts Together Coincidence and Certainty to Build a Young Firm

This emerging New York City–based firm generates design solutions to issues ranging from communication in the home to food deserts in Harlem

By Leigh Franke

For young firms, finding projects that allow for exploration of their design philosophies can be a challenge. For emerging professionals, in a field where autonomy is not the norm until mid- to late-career, an early interest in a particular design philosophy must often be put on hold. Ting Chin, AIA, and Yan Wang, AIA, however, founders of New York–based Linearscape, discovered how to explore large-scale urban design through competition and research, while connecting these concepts with their smaller-scale residential work. From the movement and dynamism of crowds, in all of their designs the firm distills spaces that encourage connection, interaction, and collaboration between users.

From concept to construction

Chin and Wang discovered their shared design philosophy while working independently on a competition in 2008. While both were at the time employed at a larger firm, the architects were seeking a more direct role in the design process and the freedom to explore the concepts that first drove their interest in the field.

“I had always known that I wanted to start my own firm, because that’s the only way that you can really create what you are inspired by,” says Chin. Collaborating as Linearscape has helped the two architects create a unified framework around which to structure their design philosophy. “’[Linear]’ centers around the notion that spaces should react to the flow of people, as in their direction, density, and speed of movement. ‘Scape’ is derived from the continuation of the landscape, as in the physical characteristics of the landform, topography, site, and context,” say Chin and Wang. “These fields emerge from their context and generate what we call a ‘linearscape,’ celebrating openness, transparency, and connection between people and place.”

Cultivating connections

In July 2012, the firm revealed the potential of “linearscapes” to solve myriad urban planning issues by winning first prize in the Emerging New York Architects (ENYA) competition “The Harlem Edge: Cultivating Connections” with its entry, Sym’bio’pia. The competition was intended to generate ideas for the redevelopment of an abandoned marine transfer station near Harlem’s 135th Street. Chin and Wang’s imaginative design, on display at the AIA New York Center for Architecture last fall, blends multi-modal transport with a variety of food-related community resources, a public park, and an urban farm. The agricultural component of Sym’bio’pia houses hydroponic farms in temperature-controlled towers that grow a larger quantity of produce than would be possible with traditional methods on a horizontal plot, resolving issues of poor distribution of fruits and vegetable throughout the city.

Although it remains unbuilt, Sym’bio’pia has left a mark on both the neighborhood and Linearscape by sparking dialogue among stakeholders and revealing the potential of the area. “It brought people together to discuss the future, and raised public awareness of the site,” says Wang. And although plans to redevelop the site remain distant, the firm continues to explore and research hydroponic farming in dense urban environments for other potential projects. “We have refined our philosophies and ideas about architecture and public space in general through competition,” says Chin. “So now, when we work on the real projects, the whole process is pretty streamlined.”

In all shapes and sizes

Sym’bio’pia’s prize-winning themes have found a place in Linearscape’s residential and smaller projects as well. “In our residential projects, we tell the clients how important it is to create an open space or a trade space so people can come and interact,” says Wang. The designers often incorporate an open floor plan with a central atrium, substituting perforated screen-like partitions that foster communication and exchange for traditional walls. “Bringing people together—that’s the key element we want to bring to any project,” says Wang.

No strangers to the value of these encounters, Chin and Wang were hired for one of their current projects through an unexpected source. “I was taking Mandarin and had to learn how to say ‘I am an architect,” says Chin, “and someone in the class needed a designer.”

The proposed 7,000-square-foot hotel that resulted will serve as a communal space for travelers connecting after a journey. “The hotel is near a tourist attraction, so it is really a gathering place for people who are coming from different paths in life,” says Chin. “It’s designed around people’s movement, coming from different directions and then obviously having spaces where they can gather, along with the private, intimate spaces of the hotel room.” The design of the project follows the tradition of the regional architecture by referencing a Mongolian yurt and leaving minimal impact on the land by incorporating local materials, a priority of Linearscape designs.

Intersections to success

While houses and small projects for family and friends are often the start to a firm’s career, including Linearscape’s, this promising firm has connected with various nonprofits through competitions and community involvement, earning another current project, the Brooklyn Daycare Center. Only two years since Linearscape’s founding, Chin and Wang are already showing quick progress as a small firm. “The benefit of working together is that there are obviously more ideas on the table,” says Chin. “I think we’ve just realized that our design process is so similar that it’s only improved. We inspire each other, but a lot of it is just chemistry.”

Although the path from emerging to seasoned professional can be winding, Linearscape proves that meaningful intersections along the way are one secret to success.


An illustration of the award-winning Sym’bio’pia design by Linearscape. All images courtesy of Linearscape.

A scale model of Sym’bio’pia.

Linearscape’s Brooklyn Daycare Center.

Entrance area of Linearscape’s Brooklyn Daycare Center.


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