Tsao & McKown Architects

Tsao & McKown Architects
New York City

Founded by Calvin Tsao and Zack McKown, Tsao & McKown Architects pursues a range of projects, from lipstick cases for Shu Uemura and repurposed buildings in Beijing’s Forbidden City to master plans, hotels, schools and exhibition designs. The firm’s residential work is an equally expansive portfolio of apartments, houses and residential towers as well as, most recently, a retirement community for Buddhist monks in Bhutan. The firm's distinctions include the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award.

Approach to Residential Design
In their view, no other project type is as complex and sensitive as residential design, the best laboratory for careful examinations of ways of life. If a client’s needs are to be addressed truly and thoroughly, the firm believes that the design process must begin with a holistic focus on the environmental, psychological, historical and economic aspects of a particular set of lives.

Distinguishing Characteristics
What most interests the partners are the points of intimate engagement between individuals and their surroundings. With the additional realization that there are no natural discontinuities between inside and out, Tsao & McKown delights in exterior forms emerging from within, and interior spaces forming externally. The architects also research the social and economic vitality of projects, and are recognized for developing capital campaigns, marketing initiatives and program feasibility studies.

Work Influences
"Our sources of inspiration are vast and varied, but I am particularly moved by the beauty of a great many utilitarian, anonymous objects designed long ago and still in use every day," says McKown.

“I am influenced by plays, notably ancient Greek tragedies, Roman comedies, and Shakespeare. These stories are case studies and cautionary tales that display the conditions of human life and behavior," explains Tsao. "Like these texts, I hope to design in a way that makes life legible and sacred.”


Year founded: 1985
Number of employees: 37
Services: Master planning; project feasibility and program development; project identity; architecture; interior architecture & design; furniture and product design


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