Skip to main content

Complexity Disguised in Minimalism: Messana O'Rorke's Design Ethos

The benefits of using Vectorworks realized by Messana O’Rorke can be summarized in one word: efficiency.

Complexity Disguised in Minimalism: Messana O'Rorke's Design Ethos


New York City, USA

Nemetschek Group Brands


Technology used

Vectorworks Architect

The term “design philosophy” can be difficult to define.

When we spoke with the members of Messana O’Rorke, an architecture studio with roots in New York City, one thing was clear: “design philosophy” means something very specific to co-founder Brian Messana:

“For us, aesthetics is incredibly important, but the way that it works is more important,” he said. “We call ourselves poetic pragmatists. We’re very practical and yet we’re poetic in the way we design.”

This philosophy is apparent in the firm’s work portfolio, where you can find dozens of visually captivating spaces that represent the firm’s own form of minimalism. Their work focuses on the fundamentals of architecture — and, as Messana says, architectural fundamentals will always outlast aesthetic design trends. Last year, Rizzoli published the firm's first monograph, "Messana O’RorkeBuilding Blocks."

An Apropos Minimalism – Balancing Form & Function​​​​

The firm relies on the fundamentals of architecture to develop their projects. It’s about working with the client to discover their goals for the site, then planning the space to be the most useful for its occupants.

One example is their Jewel Box project. At only 420 square feet, there’s no denying that the space is small. But Messana reports that the careful and intentional planning of the space makes it function as if it’s a whole lot more than it is.

The bed is enshrouded in what appears to be a giant brass box. And that’s mostly what it is — upon entering the apartment, you’re immediately dwarfed by the unlacquered brass structure. The box opens on three sides to reveal what is the dwelling’s bedroom.

“When we were thinking about the best way to lay out such a small space, the bed was the biggest concern,” Messana said. Ultimately, they wanted to avoid having the bed occupy a large portion of the apartment’s visible space, which would make it feel like a “dorm room.”

“We treated this as a solution rather than a problem,” Messana said. “The studio used to only have two moments: when you enter the front door and when you enter the bathroom. Now, there’s an entrance, a hallway, the bathroom, the living space, and the bedroom, making it feel much bigger than 420 square feet.”

How Messana O’Rorke Leverages a Small Firm Size

With a core team of four, Messana O’Rorke is a tight-knit, intimate firm. Team members are in constant collaboration. Messana said that this smaller size works to the firm’s advantage because they’re able to be more in tune with each other’s work and how it all fits together in terms of an overall project.

“It’s easier to work with less people but to do it more efficiently,” Messana said. “We get a lot of work done with just four people. We’re very efficient.”

Perhaps a larger staff would be needed for larger-scale projects, but Messana O’Rorke is selective with the projects they commit to, allowing them to tailor their workforce effectively for the project at hand.

“For us, it doesn’t matter what the size is, what the project type is, or what the budget is,” Messana said. “The number one reason we take on a project is the client. For residential work, working with a client is like dating and getting married. It’s very intimate and personal — you’re designing someone’s home, after all.”

How Does Vectorworks Fit In?

The benefits of using Vectorworks realized by Messana O’Rorke can be summarized in one word: efficiency.

“When I talk about efficiency, I don’t mean it in the sense of reducing a project timeline from, say, six months down to three months,” Messana said. “The project will still take six months. We just get to spend the time we’re saving using Vectorworks on making better design decisions.”

The fact that Vectorworks is a hybrid 2D/3D software spares the firm from having to use separate programs for modeling and producing drawings. Smart objects that contain pertinent project information can be leveraged to generate near-automatic reports and schedules.

“We’re able to produce images quickly that express what we’re trying to convey to clients, vendors, consultants, and contractors. It’s amazing,” Messana said. “We’re not an assembly line pumping out thousands of cars. We’re creating something unique, something one-of-a-kind. To be able to convey that uniqueness to clients with Vectorworks is really special to me.”

Embracing 3D and BIM

Members of Messana O’Rorke have been using Vectorworks software since the very beginnings of the firm’s tenure. Partner Toby O’Rorke said that they used Vectorworks back when it was called MiniCAD as essentially a digital pencil and paper. Now, as technology has evolved, the firm is exploring the workflow benefits of 3D and building information modeling (BIM).

This decision is in line with the firm’s emphasis on small-firm, tight-knit efficiency — rather than having 3D models disconnected from 2D documentation as would be the case using other design solutions, designers at Messana O’Rorke are able to see the impacts of their decisions throughout the entirety of their design files.

The interconnectedness of 3D models and 2D drawings in Vectorworks grants the team enormous time savings, and Designer Viktor Nassli said that using Vectorworks software is like “riding a bike — once you really understand the tools, it becomes second nature.”

Designer Hanna Buja feels similarly. She reveled in the challenge of learning new software and, after some practice, is now using Vectorworks for every design phase. “It’s great that when you modify something in the design, all you have to do is update your viewport and ta-da, you’re done,” she said, praising that “everything is connected.”

Further References