The Art of Harmonious & Holistic Built Environments

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In this edition of Love Happens’ Design Questionnaire, join us for a peek into the creative mind of Calvin Tsao, co-founder alongside Zach McKown, of the NY-based TsAO & McKOWN Architects. Sharing an avid passion for the state of built environments, Calvin, Zach, and their team have been combining their ever-expanding knowledge and expertise to create unique, well-thought-out structures and spaces. From urban planning, private homes, office complexes, and museums to interiors, furniture, home accessories, and even lipstick, TsAO & McKOWN offer it all, and always with a global vision that is found in even the smallest details.

Meet Calvin Tsao of TsAO & McKOWN Architects

After graduating from UC Berkeley, Calvin Tsao went on to receive his Master of Architecture from Harvard University. Joining forces with fellow Harvard graduate Zach McKown the pair founded TsAO & McKOWN Architects in 1985. During his tenure, Calvin has orchestrated built environments across various scales and locals.

Zach McKown (Left) and Calvin Tsao (Right), Founders of TsAO & McKOWN Architects (Photo by Rebecca Westby)
Zach McKown (Left) and Calvin Tsao (Right), Founders of TsAO & McKOWN Architects (Photo by Rebecca Westby)

From current work reconfiguring the National Palace Museum of Taiwan and developing a residential community in Atlanta to significant past works such as the Sunbrella Headquarters in NC, the Sangha At One Hotel in China, and the renovation of the Jewish Museum in New York, Calvin’s work speaks for itself!

As a self-proclaimed cultural mediator, Calvin envisions his role as one in which he strives to harness global experience and technology to express the essence of local cultures and contexts. Not only at Tsao & McKown but also as a teacher at places such as Harvard GSD, Copper Union, and Parsons School of Design. Calvin is also the Board Chair of The American Academy in Rome, the former VP for Design Excellence at AIA New York, and the President Emeritus and board member of The Architectural League of New York.

The Lh Design Questionnaire with Calvin Tsao of TsAO & McKOWN

calvin tsao founder tsao & mckown architects top nyc architecture firms
Calvin Tsao, Co-founder & Principal Architect, Tsao & McKown

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness is when I can help a group of people find common ground.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I believe and hope that my greatest achievement has been to bridge urban design, architecture, interior architecture, and decorating in our practice, revealing that all these disciplines can and should be interrelated—so as to help foster a holistic and harmonious environment.

taso mckown kitchen dining room living room ny apartment
One United Nations Park in Manhattan (Photo by Sean Hemmerle)

What profession does your alter ego have?

My alter ego would be a music conductor.

The project you will never forget.

My favorite projects have been ones that have achieved a true balance of functionality and timeless aesthetics—an approach I take for all my creative endeavors. But, some of my favorites are as follows: With 7 West 57th Street and One United Nations Park in Manhattan [see image above], we had the opportunity to work alongside the late Mr. Sheldon Solow, who was such an icon in the real estate industry. Both projects are new move-in-ready residential buildings that prioritize wellness and efficiency in design with elevated interiors that anticipate the needs of residents through thoughtful detailing.

7 West 57th Street particularly stood out to me because it is a building that is boutique in scale at 20 stories high and surrounded by some of the tallest residential towers in the world, yet still offers a strong footprint with amazing city skyline views. Another wellness-centric project I’ll never forget is Sangha, an experimental community for 2,000 residents in Suzhou, China, that is a fully-immersive health and spa retreat.

7 West 57th Street kitchen modern design calvin tsao

Your favorite business tool or resource.

My favorite tool oscillates between my iPhone and a pad and pencil.

The most timeless design.

The most timeless design is one which learns from history, understands our current cultural temperament, and links the two to forge a continuity.

One United Nations Park in Manhattan (Photo by Sean Hemmerle)
One United Nations Park in Manhattan (Photo by Sean Hemmerle)

The biggest design faux pas.

The biggest design faux pas is to follow fashion.

Your design motto.

My motto is to listen and give form to our culture.

Our publisher KOKET makes statement décor; if you were to design a room around one KOKET piece, which would it be, and why?

I am crazy about the ‘golden feathers’ wallpaper. I would cover all four walls and ceiling of an intimately scaled room, like a powder room or a dressing room, and then use the pattern of this wallpaper to create a trompe l’oeil carpet. Sometimes inserting pure whimsey into a project when it is least expected can create a sense of wonder and delight, a sensation we need to incorporate into daily life.

Golden Feathers Wallcovering by KOKET
Golden Feathers Wallcovering by KOKET

Love Happens when…

There is compassion.

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