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Talk of the Townhouse:
Architect Ulises Liceaga

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After seven years, principal architect Ulises Liceaga is shedding Fractal Construction and moving forward as Uli and Associates, complete with a new office.

“We would like to grow a little bit,” Liceaga explains, going on to admit that sometimes image does matter. And it is time to buff that image a bit.

Liceaga started Fractal Construction in 2006 as a means to the end of shepherding projects from its design beginning through its permitting and construction processes. Liceaga says it all happened so fast, and it was successful, but now it’s time to focus in on the design process.

“The next few projects were much more complicated. We’re going to shed the construction,” Liceaga says, adding it wasn’t uncommon for some to mistake his architecture firm as a straightforward construction business. The new branding comes complete with new office space on the Upper East Side, an improvement on the former space, lovingly referred to as the dungeon.

A relative unknown seven years ago, Liceaga forged collaborations with more well-known designers to boost his name recognition, seen to impressive effect in his most celebrated space to date, a remodeled family townhouse in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of New York.

The townhouse definitely impresses. The collaboration with lighting designer Ingo Mauer, the utilization of raw materials in striking ways and its marriage of 21st century technologies within the regal, classic bones of a Manhattan townhouse comes together beautifully. Of his working with Mauer, Liceaga cannot be more effusive.

“His work is so graceful,” Liceaga says. “I’m lucky he said yes. He is such a lighting genius.”

Mauer’s work can be seen throughout the house, specifically in the dining room, where a chandelier sculpture designed of broken porcelain hangs, meant to invoke food fights. In the lofted sitting area on the second floor, Mauer’s artful slits in the ceiling, cocooning the light, create movement.

Stainless steel is found throughout the house, used as doors, bathroom fixtures and trims. In the kitchen, Valcucine forged glass into an indestructible counter top, even enduring a stress test involving a steel ball to ultimately put Liceaga’s fears to rest regarding its durability in a family home. Finally, Indian slate tile is used in the bathroom, chosen by Liceaga to invoke the feeling of a specific spa. It is all very primal, almost cave-like.

The biggest take away from the home is the back of the house, composed of all glass and sprinkled with LED lights. It is as if Liceaga created his family’s (and, this being the close quarters of New York City, his neighbor’s) personal constellation system. At the time of construction, LED was cutting-edge, and in fact continues to be a technology he enjoys employing. Liceaga sees working with the newest technologies as just part of his job.

“I see the architect as this moderator of this conversation,” Liceaga explains. “Context is an actor, the client is another actor…the law, the culture aesthetic, the materials; translate all of that into a livable structure that has a social value. Not just to service the owner, but to part of the urban context…to design for the city’s common good. I don’t believe in virtuoso architecture, pure form over function. I don’t believe in that being better. Architecture projects have a form. The architect’s job is to find the form.”

Before striking out on his own, Liceaga worked with Robert A.M. Stern, working on luxury high rises, being built around the world.

“It was very exciting. He has a lot of respect for history, which I tried to learn,” Liceaga says. “Before working for him, I was quick to dismiss, but I learned to respect traditional architecture.”

Liceaga’s family no longer lives in the Gramercy Park townhouse. They are currently waiting out the renovation Liceaga is working on of a townhouse further uptown, slated to be completed by the summer. Other projects in the works include an 87 acre horse farm in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, that will ultimately include an indoor horse arena and three homes on the compound. That particular project is in its early, schematic design phase.

Moving forward, Liceaga would like to work on larger projects and hopes this new rebranding will reflect this.

“I would like to see myself, maybe in ten years, doing much larger projects. Now, I’m doing five to seven stories, of seven or nine thousand square feet. I would like to do twice that much. The day I design an airport, I’ll be happy.”



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Kelly Wearstler




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