Joe and Gwen Kelly of Hive Architects are taking the Rosemary District by storm. With a passion for art, the pair has taken their love of natural science and combined it with their affinity for math to create space. By focusing on the relationship between space and emotion and never foregoing function, the young firm is creating innovative architectural solutions for residential and commercial projects. We caught up with the couple to hear about how they’ve collaborated to create some of the most talked about spaces here in Sarasota.
Are you from Sarasota? If not, what brought you here?
G: Joe is from nearby Saint Petersburg, but I’m originally from France. I came here when I was nineteen to learn how to speak English. I enrolled in an ESL program and when I finished it I decided that I didn’t want to leave. I fell in love with Florida. I decided to stay in school and enroll in the pre-veterinary program. That’s where Joe and I met. He was there studying pre-med and we ended up in the same chemistry class as lab partners.
J: What brought us to Sarasota was the history of the architecture in this community. The architects in the Sarasota School that came before us are very inspiring. The simplicity of their search to understand how materials and the environment can impact the buildings that surround us is inspiring. That was the main thing that drew us here initially. Now we’ve grown to love the community, Sarasota, and the Rosemary District specifically because of the young vibrant community that’s growing here.
What inspired you both to leave your programs and pursue architecture?
G: We came to the realization there that we both hated chemistry and that’s when we decided to enroll at UF in the School of Architecture. I always liked art and I was very good at drawing in high school. We had a very limited conversation about architecture, I had no idea what it was about but Joe was more familiar with it.
J: I have a good friend whose father was an architect. It was very influential in my thinking. I grew up with art in my background, my father is a graphic designer. As a kid, I would always go to work with my father during summers and watch him work. After we lost our focus on medicine, we took a course that looked at our personalities. We found that we both were very good at math, we really liked art and that we both enjoyed science, but knew it wasn’t what we wanted to focus on. We took an aptitude test and found that we had received the same results. Architecture was at the very top for recommended career paths, which kind of confirmed our intuitive thoughts of wanting to explore architecture a little bit more.
After enrolling in the architecture program how did you know it was what you wanted to do?
J: Architecture is something where if you’re not confronted with it head on, you can go through life and just think things are the way they are because that’s what you’re expecting. You don’t have the eye to pick up the details that create the spaces that we all inhabit in our everyday lives. So it’s very eye-opening when you go to college and you learn how to see. It’s a lot about the emotions and creating a space that makes you feel a certain way. When we went to college we didn’t move back at all, we stayed a full 6 years in our same apartment. We missed a lot of holidays, but we were dedicated to working hard in our profession.
G: The first day of class, the teacher looked at all 40 of us students and told us to look around at our neighbors, because halfway through this semester half of us would drop out. He also said, “Can you hear that off in the distance. That’s the roar of the UF football game in the stadium. You’re never going to go to one of those games.” It was true, halfway through the semester only 20 of us were left because it was so hard. I wasn’t expecting that. Those first classes are really hardcore in pushing your mind into a new way of thinking which is shocking to a lot of people. You think architecture is about style and how buildings are built but it’s mostly about space. It’s about spaces and how you feel and function in them. Some people don’t have that concept of architecture, that it’s related to all your senses.
Who are your biggest influences when it comes to your aesthetic style?
G: We took a seminar class together. It was a study of the Mid-Century Modern Movement in California, called the Case Study Houses. There were famous architects like Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler, and Raphael Soriano who were commissioned to do Mid-Century Modern houses that had to do with the environment. At that time air conditioning was just coming on the market. These architects focused a lot on how to have breezes come through the house and on how to provide a circulation of air. After the war, this movement was created to help develop low-cost houses that were efficient to build and economical when using the materials. They also took into account the surroundings and weather conditions.
J: That was the first influence for us, it’s simple and honest. It’s more about exposing the structure rather than hiding the beams and materials. Last year we got to design our first house together called LS1. We took all of those principals from the movement and applied them to the way we live today. We had to adapt, but we used the exposed materials just like they had used in that movement.
Over the years, how have you both transformed and grown as architects?
G: I believe our way of thinking and our approach has grown. It’s about being flexible and adapting. Even though there are principals that you like and want to apply to a building, you have to adapt to the program and what the space is being used for. It’s our job to find that middle ground. That middle ground allows us to use the concepts that we like and fit it for the function of the building, but also take into consideration who our clients are and what they’re looking for.
J: There’s a lot of analysis that goes into beginning a project. We really want to understand our clients. We want to know what they enjoy and how their daily routine goes. Knowing that will influence how we think about the space we’re creating. Ultimately we want our clients to have an emotional response that makes them feel uplifted and happy when they’re in the space.
Tell us about some of your projects. Are there any particular projects you’re proud of?
J: LS1 was our first house we got to work on together since starting our own firm. It’s a project that is near and dear to us because it’s located in the Lido Shores neighborhood, where a lot of mid-century homes are located. The house is very simple with bare bones exposing the raw materials, imbued with the characteristics that really embody the Sarasota School of Architecture. We were very clear with our use of materials and the expression of the structures. We used cross ventilation, open windows with a strong connection to the outdoors and an open, flowing floor plan. Even though the house is quite small, it feels large, almost like an open-air pavilion. Through those aspects and strategic planning, we were able to meet the demands of the client while creating a smaller house than they originally planned on.
G: To make the space feel larger, we eliminated the corridors. Think about a corridor, it’s square footage that you only really use for circulation. If you integrate circulation into the rooms, you gain that space in your living area or kitchen. For the LS1 house, it really gives you this feeling of the space beyond.
What makes your architectural projects unique to others here in Sarasota?
G: We’re a couple. We can identify both with women and men. I worked at another firm before we started our own practice. It was mostly men in the environment. We had a female client who described her bedroom as her sanctuary and a place she would retreat to. The male architect I was working with didn’t understand where she was coming from, whereas I felt the same as she did when thinking about my bedroom. It’s very important to understand your clients
J: We always take every project as an opportunity to explore something new. We’re not just trying to repeat something over and over again or have some preconceived idea of what it could be. We study up and work together to create concepts. It’s about understanding the client, their needs, what materials are involved in a project and how they’ll influence the architecture. We always like to have some big idea for a project that is a thread which ties together all of the different ideas in a project.
What made you both decide to open your own architectural firm?
G: From our first day of college, it was kind of like an unspoken thing. We always knew we wanted to have our own practice. We fell in love with creating space, but we wanted to create our own. We had to go through the processes of internships and working for other people after graduation. He found a job working with Guy Peterson and I found one working at Sweet-Sparkman. We were in those positions for 10 years. Although we both enjoyed our time working for those firms, we talked about it and decided it was time for us to go out on our own.
Where did you two come up with the name Hive Architects?
G: Hive came from two concepts. First, if you look at nature there’s a natural building block called a hexagon. Quartz, a snowflake, a molecule, they’re all natural hexagons. Hexagons are so common in nature because they are such stable structures. They’re also efficient. As a hexagon interlocks with other hexagons, there’s no wasted space. All of the space is optimized. That’s why bees use it when developing their own hives. Secondly, there’s a concept called hive-mind, which has to do with working together. It’s about communication, compromise and coming to a consensus together. Those two concepts came together and created the name Hive Architects.
How did you decide on the Rosemary District and BOTA for your new office?
J: We’ve always had our eye on this area, not necessarily this building though. When we first started our firm we were working from home and we had the idea that we wanted to be in the Rosemary District. We had our eye on a specific office that currently has a tenant. It’s an old building, we always enjoyed its exposed structure and characteristics. There was a delay in the move-out and the space became unavailable to us. We had been working on BOTA for a while and one day we were there looking at the building and realized that it was the place for us.
G: Years ago we would drive by this building. Back then it was abandoned and boarded up. Even so, we would always admire the mid-century characteristics of it and think about what it would be like to have an office there. Now years later we’re here working on this project and it’s come full circle. It’s almost like it’s meant to be, with the timing of not being able to get into the other space. It’s like the stars aligned.
How do you feel about the transformation happening in the Rosemary District?
G: There’s a huge difference between when I used to work down the street and working here now. If it was in the middle of winter and dark at 5:00, I wouldn’t walk to the car by myself. Now there are people walking around the neighborhood and it’s so different.
J: For years there were abandoned buildings and vacant spaces. Now all of those buildings are under construction and the abandoned lots are being built up. There’s so many young firms moving in which is bringing this young dynamic energy to the district. Through this process, we’ve gotten to know all of the BOTA tenants as well as the surrounding tenants. The people here were the deciding factor. We’re surrounded by all of these great people and want to be a part of the community here in the Rosemary District.
What does the future look like for Hive Architects?
G: Once we have a space we’re hoping to hire people and grow. We definitely want to diversify our firm. Having both residential projects and commercial projects is very important to us. We don’t want to be known for one or the other, we want to be known for both. We have different backgrounds when it comes to architecture so we really want to take advantage of that. We want to grow but not too big, we work better as a tight group. Sometimes when you have too many people, it becomes hard to get in touch with everyone. Our way of working is almost a reflection of our practice name, Hive. We want to be able to have a firm where everyone is connected and works together.
J: The other thing is that a lot of principal architects sort of disconnect from the production and development side of their projects. There’s a lot that can be lost in translation from the vision that you originally had. We think it’s important that the principal architects still work on the projects and communicate with clients, otherwise, you then start to lose your craft and become disconnected from the reality that it takes to build a project.