Catalan architect makes it big in the Big Apple
Figueras moved to New York for school and soon found himself working at the internationally acclaimed firm nARCHITECTS
This is a sweet moment for Catalan architecture. A Catalan studio, RCR Arquitectes, won this year’s Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the Nobel Prize in the field. Their success is a prime example of the amazing international recognition that established Catalan architects around the world are getting. But even young architects from Catalonia are offering their remarkable work in world-leading studios. That is the case of Albert Figueras, a Catalan architect living and working in New York, a city which has long been synonymous for quality and innovation. In an interview with CNA, he explains what it means to work at the forefront of architectural practice in the US.
Figueras moved to New York for school and soon found himself working at the internationally acclaimed firm nARCHITECTS. After only 5 years at the firm, he has led projects all over the world, including New York, Boston, Chicago, Sao Paulo, Milan, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Not only does the Big Apple have some of the most recognizable and famous buildings in the world, it has also become the global headquarters for some of the most prestigious architectural firms worldwide. It is the place to be for a young architect that aspires, like fellow Catalans RCR Arquitectes, to do great things.
Originally from Barcelona, Figueras studied Architecture at the Escola Tècnica Superior d’Arquitectura de Barcelona (ETSAB-UPC). “ETSAB was tough. Many of my peers did not complete the course of study. The program was very technical and demanding, but it prepared me for the rigor required for professional practice,” Figueras explained. After going through a highly competitive selection process, he got a grant to become an affiliate student at the City College of New York (SSA, CCNY). “I didn’t know I would be staying in the United States at the time, but the opportunities that the architecture studios in New York were offering were unparalleled. The chance to work at the forefront of architectural practice convinced me to stay and pursue a career here,” said Figueras. This decision has paid off.
He accepted a position at the Dumbo-based firm nARCHITECTS. “It was a life changing decision. nARCHITECTS was an internationally acclaimed practice, but a relatively young studio that could provide opportunities for exploration and professional growth. I also knew it would take intense focus, dedication, and very long hours if I wanted to make a significant contribution,” explained Figueras. He quickly climbed the ranks within the firm from an entry-level architect to an Associate, working directly with Eric Bunge and Mimi Hoang, co-principals at the firm and professors at Columbia University. “We saw something special in him. The mix of his highly technical Spanish education and the conceptual nature of the American schools made him an extraordinary addition to the firm. He quickly proved to not only have an outstanding portfolio, but to be a brilliant designer,” said Hoang. Since joining the firm, Figueras has led many award-winning projects, both international and domestic, including a few that began as architectural design competitions.
Some of the office’s most exciting work has been well published and has garnered a lot of attention from the media in recent years. Figueras’ portfolio includes Carmel Place, the award-winning modular micro-unit apartment building in Manhattan, as well as the re-shaping of Chicago’s Navy Pier—a collaboration with JCFO, the landscape architects behind the High Line in NY. Last year he completed a Pavilion for the XXI Triennale di Milano, for which nARCHITECTS was selected along with only 13 other international firms, including Pritzker Prize Winner Wang Shu. Currently, Figueras is leading a project for a 30-storey tower in Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong. “Working in NY comes with a price. This is a tough city that consumes your energy like no other, but it can be very rewarding. For me it has been a professional springboard, allowing me to bring my design vision to a wider audience. It can be addictive!” said Figueras.
Figueras’ plans are not taking him back to his native Barcelona just yet. “I am not sure what the future holds for me, but I see myself relocating to Barcelona in the long run. New York is a great city, but Barcelona is Barcelona,” he added. One thing seemed clear: no matter when he decides to cross the pond again, he will be returning having built a remarkable career in New York City.