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Louisville architecture workshop wins annual Academy of Arts and Letters award

 Phillip Minton (left), Ross Primmer (center) and Roberto de Leon (right) stand in a workshop. In front of them on a table is a wire cube, which will event become a nest for hummingbirds.
Breya Jones
Ross Primmer and Roberto de Leon's architecture workshop is a place to design and create pieces they hope will fit naturally into the spaces they occupy.

Louisville architects Roberto de Leon and Ross Primmer won the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ annual architecture award for the “strong personal direction” found in their designs.

“The award has been really meaningful for us because the selection jury is really from highly regarded architectural peers,” de Leon said. “It’s also nice to represent Louisville and our region.”

While the award recognizes the work of de Leon and Primmer Architecture Workshop on a national level, a lot of their work happens locally.

They worked on an event pavilion at Locust Grove, the expansion and renovation at the Filson Historical Society and several projects at the Yew Dell Botanical Gardens.

Designs for nonprofit organizations, specifically cultural ones, make up a large portion of de Leon and Primmer Architecture Workshop’s portfolio.

By working mainly with culturally focused nonprofits, de Leon and Primmer said their designs are more accessible.

“There's a lot of people that are able to enjoy, partake, interact, and discover architecture in this other way, in a much more sort of broader way,” de Leon said.

Primmer said that poses its own set of challenges, including board membership that can change several times throughout a project, in addition to funding.

“We've kind of exercised our muscles in ways to help get the most bang for your buck from that amount of money in ways that are innovative and meaningful in a kind of artistic or cultural realm,” Primmer said.

Part of the way de Leon and Primmer work to keep costs down by making their projects “low tech.”

“They're put together by local tradesmen from materials that are from Kentucky, there's nothing kind of extravagant or high tech about them, but we try to do that low tech, fabrication or assembly of the building in an unexpectedly elegant way,” Primmer said.

It helps keep their project lower-cost and sustainable and aids in Primmer and de Leon’s goal of ensuring their designs are made for the specific spaces in mind.

“We typically always start with the site or the context and those are found or existing. And so then the project does become inherently rooted in its place,” de Leon said. “It's always grounded in the sites, whether it's through materials or patterns or textures found on the site or the scale of the site.”

When Primmer and de Leon design something, they try not to bring their own preconceived notions or aesthetics to the design. They don’t want people to be able to point to buildings or structures as theirs.

“It should be that the project looks like it just grew up from the site with its own hand and not necessarily as a kind of voice or aesthetic of the architect,” Primmer said.

For both Primmer and de Leon, buildings are much more than structures to hold things or people. They are clear representations of the space where they are located, how that space is used and the people who use it.

“For us, I think our work is really about the pursuit of ideas, or the exploration of ideas and buildings that happen to result from that. But it's really about exploring ideas,” de Leon said.

While Primmer and de Leon hope that through the Arts and Letter award recognition, they can continue to highlight the architecture found in Louisville and bring more discussion.

“I think finding a way for Louisville to have a discussion about its urban fabric is important and we'd be interested in it. I don't know how to make that happen on a more forceful level,” Primmer said.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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