Back to the Drawing Board
An innate sense of spatial balance and a love for sketching
have made this architect a success
When interns start at his architectural firm, Maziar Behrooz,
AIA, gives them a blank sketch book and tells them, "you need to
fill this up by the time you leave here and you need to keep
getting new sketch books." Behrooz is a firm believer in the
systemized link between hand and eye and mind, emphasizing this
advanced system can produce things that computers can't come close
"One thing I always tell my interns is anybody
can make a beautiful computer rendering, but not everyone can make
a beautiful sketch," he says. "It allows you to explore ideas in
different ways." Maximizing this mindset, for the past 25 years
Behrooz's ideas have produced beautiful sketches, which have
evolved into dynamic designs and successful structures.
He has thought this way early on. "I've always known I've wanted
to be an architect and I can't do anything else," he says. "And I'm
very happy about that because my mind works like an architect's
mind. As a kid it's the only thing I could imagine myself being,
and I've always been good at drawing and geometry. I've always been
able to think very spatially."
After growing up in Tehran and graduating from high school in
Massachusetts, he went to New Orleans to study at Tulane
University, where he earned both a bachelor's and master's degree
in architecture in the 1980s. Graduate level studies for two years
happened at the Cornell Architecture School in Ithaca, N.Y. It was
at the Tulane School of Architecture where he interned at an office
geared to New Orleans projects, which was run by the Dean of
Architecture Ron Filson. "It was interesting to switch from
theoretical and hypothetical projects in class, to real projects
that were to be built in New Orleans," he says.
Extended Vienna vacation
In the late 1980s, he traveled to Europe for what was originally
only supposed to be a one-week stay in Vienna, Austria, but wound
up staying longer when he landed his first real job as an architect
there. "After a week of wandering around and seeing the town, I
thought it was such a beautiful place for an architect, that I
thought about working there," he says. "I looked up architect
offices and listings. I had my portfolio, found a job with a firm
that needed an extra body and my one-week trip became a oneyear-
"I think in Europe, metal, steel and aluminum and other
non-lumber-based products are used more in commercial and
residential buildings than they are here in the United States," he
adds. "There isn't as much wood in Germany and Austria, and the use
of steel and wrought iron in Europe goes back centuries. In the
Vienna office, metal work was commonly worked into the designs
throughout the buildings. I saw more aluminum and steel windows
than wood ones in some of the cities I visited in Germany and
Architect on his own
After working as a junior architect at a few firms, Behrooz
struck out on his own to expand the scope of his projects. Maziar Behrooz
Architecture was founded in the 1990s in Manhattan and
established an office in East Hampton in 1996. His firm has created
a variety of projects and buildings from sustainably designed
single-family homes, to affordable housing and community-based
projects. His firm's designs have won three AIA Peconic Awards and
a Green Building Council Award, among others. But this success
wasn't easy at first.
"I had no idea what it would take to have your own business," he
says. "I had worked in different offices and I thought opening up
your own office would continue to be like that. But running a
business is a very different thing besides just being an architect.
I was absolutely unprepared for it; I dove into it really. If I had
known all of the issues, problems, risks and roadblocks you hit
when you are running a business, I might have hesitated. But not
knowing what the problems are allowed me to go out on my own and
put up a shingle and start getting my own work. Of course, the
first few years were a little harder, but eventually things
One thing that has helped Behrooz successfully facilitate
projects is his understanding of his clients and their needs. "One
thing that my clients have told me that they really like is that I
draw by hand," he says. "Of course, we do use computers too.
Clients really enjoy seeing me and other people in my office sketch
ideas as we discuss projects on notepads or on a board. They really
get engaged with the product, with us and our work. It may seem
like a minor thing, but in this day and age, when everyone talks
about computer renderings, 3-D modeling and BIM, which we do use to
a great extent, it's good to hear that people react to that very
basic architectural tool of drawing with a pencil on paper."
Migrating to metal
Behrooz has witnessed a considerable shift to more metal
projects in both the industry and at his firm. "I'm using much more
metal in my buildings as a replacement for wood," he says. "I find
wood problematic for many reasons, not just because we are
depleting our wood resources. Wood is problematic as a material
over time and becomes an absorber of moisture and humidity. So I
have decided to let go of the use of wood as much as I can, and now
use it as an interior finish material."
Behrooz believes a wooden house has
some inherent energy issues that need to be resolved. Wooden houses
require further repair, modifications and maintenance, which is not
efficient. Using steel in that sense is an inspiration. "It's not
just about metal," he insists. "It's about looking at alternative
materials and being open to other materials than wood, and once you
do that you realize metal is one of the most outstanding structural
elements that I love to use. Structurally, it gives me the ability
to create cantilevers very easily. Making a steel frame is easy to
do with far less deflection. Metal gives us a wider palette with
more choices and options."
One metal-based project that brought Behrooz national attention,
in addition to a Metal Construction News award for Best Metal
Roofing in its Annual Building and Roofing Awards, is his Arc House
in East Hampton, N.Y. Fashioned after a Quonset Hut, this
custom-designed home has an arching corrugated metal roof with no
weight-bearing columns. Both post-consumer and post-industrial
recycled steel help provide its clear span design.
Cool container concept
One unique Behrooz project in progress is an all-steel system
consisting of prefabricated shipping container pods retrofitted
with computer work stations for a nonprofit New Orleans
organization. These pods will be installed in various low-income
neighborhoods for youths to have access to computers when they
normally do not. This educational facility will be connected to the
New Orleans public library system and is supported by them.
"These shipping containers are very secure," he says. "Over
these containers we have a very elaborate and beautiful canopy
system because New Orleans is obviously a very hot and humid
environment. We want to create as much shade as we can. The
canopies are made of steel C-channels. They are curved and have
loops. Between the loops is steel wiring and cable that become a
surface for plants to grow and eventually cover the roof system to
create shade. These projects will be installed all over New
Orleans. We hope other cities will follow the model and we can
introduce them to other places."
Behrooz is working with a manufacturer who is introducing a line
of shipping container-designed buildings. The manufacturer buys
shipping containers from different yards, brings them into its
factory and retrofits them to Behrooz's specifications to create a
"I think that is my biggest metal-related success as an
architect. Being open to metal has brought other opportunities in,"
he says. "My New Orleans project only happened because I had
already worked with metal. Otherwise, our clients would not have
called us. They contacted us because they had seen and heard about
my work with metal and shipping containers. "Once you're open to
this, other opportunities open up. The building market is seeing
increasing use of metal and when you have experience with metal it
opens you up to new opportunities.
One inspiration for working with metal is that AIA has a
mandate for all architects to reduce energy usage of buildings by
50 percent by the year 2030. This is a big mandate. We have to be
careful about the ways we have traditionally thought about
buildings, the materials we use and how to design."
What's on your iPod while you work?
Online sites that I log into, which is the background music of
What do you do on weekends?
Traveling outdoors, hiking, going to beautiful beaches, website
What is your favorite book?
It changes. Different books at different times in my life have
affected me. "Cradle to Cradle" by William McDonough definitely
What's your favorite app on your phone or iPad?
Squarespace. I can use it to access and update my website. I
check what it's doing, add photos and manage comments.
Where is your favorite place to vacation?
New Orleans. It has great music, food and architecture.
What historical figure would you most like to have dinner
with and why?
I'd like to have dinner with Frank Lloyd Wright.