Though they don’t remember much about their initial meeting, Shelton and Mindel do recall that they met as undergraduates at Penn—specifically, in a studio taught by landscape painter Neil Welliver. “The period when we were there was so spectacular, and we didn’t even realize it,” recalls Mindel, a former liberal- and fine-arts major, of a time when the faculty included the likes of Louis Kahn Ar’24 Hon’71, Mario Romanach, Robert Engman, and Frank Kawasaki. “The fact that Peter and I both went to Penn has played a very big role in our lives. The best people in the world were in Philadelphia then.”

Both went on to different architecture schools—Mindel to Harvard, Shelton to Pratt. Several years later, by coincidence, they found themselves co-workers at the New York firm Edward Durell Stone. The job market at the time was bleak, however, and there seemed little opportunity for advancement or self-expression within the large firm. Eventually, the two young architects—each inspired by the other’s creativity, drive, and originality—began a freelance collaboration.

A near-disaster brought the fledgling partnership its first client. “I was on an airplane that had been grounded—in Philadelphia, of all places—because of bad weather,” recalls Shelton. “Finally, they said it was clear to go on to New York, and as we started to take off, there was this huge explosion. The whole plane shook, and then slowed down; it seemed to be veering to the left, then the right. I saw one of the stewardesses standing with her hand on the emergency door, and this young woman sitting next to me started getting really upset.”

Once the plane was safely airborne, Shelton struck up a conversation with his frazzled neighbor. “She said she had an apartment on Fifth Avenue, and wanted to do some things with it, so we got together,” he recalls. “Then it turned out that her neighbor was the movie director Brian DePalma, and we ended up getting his place. So the practice really became what person you fell across next.”

Their renown has grown along with their client roster: Prominent shelter magazines frequently publish their residential projects, and it would be difficult to find a book on influential contemporary interiors that doesn’t mention their work. Their contract projects include ocean liners, the world’s largest disco, and corporate headquarters for Fila and Ralph Lauren. They’ve designed lighting for Nessen and elegantly minimal plumbing fixtures for WaterWorks. But regardless of the scale or nature of a project, they approach each one with the same discipline and insight, combining to achieve their trademark synthesis of architecture and design—or, as Mindel puts it, “creating space, not just filling it.”

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2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 04/27/04

Creating Space
By David Perelli

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