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During this year's NYCxDesign The Festival, Elliot March and Wright Harvey discussed 450 Washington, one of MAWD and Sugarlift Gallery's recent residential projects. An abridged version of their conversation appears below.

Elliot, would you introduce yourself?

Elliot March: I'm Elliot March, I'm the Co-Founder here at MAWD. We're an international design practice that works across sectors from hospitality to multifamily, residential, fascinating commercial spaces, and even superyachts.

Something I believe that makes MAWD unique is our ability to work across sectors while applying deep learning to projects that need an extra level of design expertise and attention to detail.

Wright, tell us about yourself and Sugarlift Gallery?

Wright Harvey: My name is Wright Harvey, I'm the Founder of Sugarlift. We're a contemporary art gallery that specializes in building art programs for world class properties. What differentiates our gallery is that we're technology-enabled, work directly with a diverse community of artists, and find ways to create demand to support our community. Since our founding in 2014, the purpose of our business has been to create opportunities and sustainable careers for the artists we work with.

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450 Washington Interior. Photo: Colin Miller. Courtesy of MAWD.

Elliot, can you describe MAWD’s design process. How does the studio set the tone for a building that layers in both authenticity and audience appeal?

EM: We start each project from a macro perspective. Primarily, we begin by asking a simple question: Who will be living here? For 450 Washington, we had a uniquely positioned project. We not only had access to the waterfront and the Financial District, we had TriBeCa—and this anchors the whole project. Having lived in the area, I am familiar with the neighborhood's cultural fabric. We drew on this creativity, as we believe our target buyer maintains an interest in the arts, and values cultural authenticity.

So that was our starting point. We wanted the project to be as interesting and dynamic as possible. With TriBeCa having some fantastic galleries and local artists, we wanted to draw this creative energy into the space. We worked to ensure the project facilitated a dialogue between the neighborhood and the building's interiors. Our collaboration with Sugarlift made this possible.

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450 Washington. Artwork: Vicky Barranguet, "Oxido Diptych." Photo: Colin Miller. Courtesy of MAWD.

So Wright, how does Sugarlift approach a new project? What is your process?

WH: I think one of the most compelling and interesting things about art and design is that they're almost infinitely complex. There’s no way to write an algorithm to design a space or curate art. There are examples throughout history where art serves as the foundation of a spiritual experience, whether you are walking through the Sistine Chapel looking at Michelangelo’s frescoes, or time traveling through the Lascaux caves. Art can also serve as a source of power, if you think about walking through the JP Morgan Library or the MoMA.

When it comes to residential projects, like 450 Washington, I think Elliot is spot on. It’s not only about selecting the right artwork, or even placing it correctly. It’s about the complexity of all the ingredients working together in order to achieve a feeling.

The feeling that we spoke about with Elliot and MAWD for 450 Washington was authenticity. New York City is still the capital of the art world, and has been since the post-war period. We wanted to select art that created an energy in the space that aligned with the project. Here in the Lobby, you can see the works of Vicky Barranguet. She's a New York based, Uruguayan painter who's inspired by the Abstract Expressionist movement, which was born here in New York. It’s a very New York aesthetic, it captures a lot of movement and energy. In Vicky’s case, she collaborated with a dancer for this piece, which is visible in her painterly strokes.

When it comes to residential projects, like 450 Washington, I think Elliot is spot on. It’s not only about selecting the right artwork, or even placing it correctly. It’s about the complexity of all the ingredients working together in order to achieve a feeling.”
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450 Washington. Artwork: Kenny Nguyen, "Monochrome Memoir No.5." Photo: Colin Miller. Courtesy of MAWD.

Elliot, how can artwork and design be used as a wayfinding mechanism? How can it help to lead individuals through a particular space, or sequence?

EM: From an interior design perspective, there’s a movement to how we position the artwork in most of our projects. Do we want someone to stop and take in the artwork? Or, do we want to use the work as an aide to help move individuals from one space to another? Looking at the interior journey, art and design are uniquely linked in terms of flow. Artwork can be placed above a couch to signify "stop and sit here." Artwork can also be placed along a corridor wall to motion "keep walking ahead."

Wright, this specific work by Kenny Nguyen creates a moment where residents can stop and reflect. Are you able to share some insights behind the piece?

WH: Kenny Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American artist. While it’s hard to tell in the photograph, this is a high relief work, which can almost be classified as a wall sculpture since the work protrudes almost six inches off the plane. Nguyen’s process and materials are interesting. He uses painted silk, which is reminiscent of growing up in Vietnam. A luxurious material, Kenny will cut the silk into pieces, reapply it to the canvas, and then sculpt canvas as an object itself.

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450 Washington. Artwork: Thomas Hammer, "Qilin Whiz." Photo: Colin Miller. Courtesy of MAWD.

Wright, what is your experience of procuring works for private collectors? How is this different from curating works for multifamily residences, such as 450 Washington?

WH: When we have a collector looking at a painting, it's my belief that it should never be a knee jerk reaction. It's not bad to have love at first sight, but you shouldn't run off to Vegas and get married on day two. I think the best work is art that grows on you over time. When an artwork grows on you, it's not just because of the aesthetic. Art can remind you of a personal life experience, it can transport you back to a particular place or time. When you have an intellectual or emotional experience with a work, a relationship has been created. This is how value is built over time.

Selecting works for programs such as 450 Washington is a little bit easier in some respects, because we have these incredible settings designed by MAWD. However, it can also be more challenging because your audience is not just one person with a particular taste. In a sense, we look for works that can reach audiences, not just for an initial impression, but for a lasting engagement.

Elliot, as a designer, how do you reach this balance in a multi-family space?

EM: That's the challenge, right? When we design interiors for private clients, everything is built around one individual. When we design living spaces for a development, we look more to audience values.

For 450 Washington, we created a space that would speak to our residents. Not only in terms of aesthetics, which in this case were driven by the project’s location, but also in terms of amenity choices and programming. Taking our resident's professional lives into consideration, we designed private conference rooms for Zoom meetings. To support their personal lives, we curated an expansive rooftop, communal lounge areas, and private dining room for hosting friends and family.

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