The online contact page of uxo architects, a Los Angeles-based company, makes the following provocative statement: “Progressive architecture is preceded by progressive practice!” It was this conviction that prompted Ashton Hamm to create the design office in 2016 as a cooperative of architects, one of the few to be dispersed in the United States. (Others include South Mountain Company, CoEverything, Oxbow Design Build, and Warrenstreet Architects.)
Although led by worker-owner Hamm with Matthew Ridgeway, a long-time member currently on the ownership path, uxo architects gives its members equal governance and financial stakes in the business. In addition, for each of its projects, the firm partners with other cooperatives, in particular cooperative entrepreneurs, cooperative and community enterprises and community land trusts. Shortly after the establishment of uxo’s first office in Oakland, Calif., Hamm established ties with other anti-business groups in the Bay Area, including various cannabis growers, the youth organization LGTBQQ + LYRIC (Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center) and Arizmendi Construction CoopÃ©rative. Uxo has forged a particularly productive relationship with East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative, which creates low-cost, community-controlled land and housing by removing these resources from the speculative market and is currently working with a community land trust run by a northern tribe. from California. on housing solutions.
The team saw early success in 2016 with a home improvement in the Cleveland Heights neighborhood of Oakland, which they completed with design studio Special Topics. With a limited budget, the project made significant changes to a tiny house to maximize the efficiency of its compact footprint. âThe challenge was to rework the spaces inside as much as possible,â said Hamm, referring to the bathroom, which was reconfigured to allow two people to use it at the same time. There was also the kitchen, redesigned so that at one end large stackable sliding glass doors connect to an outdoor patio; on the other uxo installed custom cabinetry and a mercury-hued hex tile accent wall from Stone Source.
A larger order then followed for a couple – a graphic designer and a chemist – seeking an addition and interior renovation to their two-story bungalow in the Lakeshore Hills. The renovation, designed by uxo with former owner-worker James Heard, resolved the house’s low ceilings and awkward divisions by adding a new entrance and foyer and replacing the original two staircases with a cubic staircase that goes beyond the square footprint of the house. (Hence the project’s impassive nickname: âhouse + square.â) The details of the addition tastefully reveal structural elements such as wooden beams, a slab, and a plank-shaped concrete rod wall. “A lot of it was on-site customization,” said Hamm, “made possible by working with a contractor who could do the poured concrete and framing details we were looking for on-site.” Flooded with natural light from double-height windows across two exhibits, interiors resemble the living room at Lovell Health House in Los Angeles by Richard Neutra, another California architect who forged bold new paths for the profession.
Hamm’s interest in establishing an architectural cooperative began in an undergraduate professional practice class at Virginia Tech and continued through active membership in the Architecture Lobby, a decentralized network of architects. and architecture students united in an effort to improve working practices. Through this work, Hamm began to prepare a publication, still in development, which would describe the history of co-operatives within the profession and, most importantly, provide resources for architects seeking to found their own co-operatives. âIn the United States, there is a rich history of co-operatives and economic cooperation since before the Civil War,â explained Hamm. “However, business success has come at the cost of many [other] cooperatives. Currently, there is little government support for cooperatives
outside of the agriculture industry, and a lot of people don’t know the business entity exists.
Following organizational changes during the COVID-19 pandemic, uxo moved from Oakland to Los Angeles. In adapting his practice method to a new city, he encountered more bureaucratic red tape and fewer local partners, with co-ops being a rarer breed in Southern California. The economic contractions of the past year have also hampered uxo’s growth plans, Hamm admits, although she remains optimistic. “The movement here is fortunately growing,” she said, adding that the company is continuing its work in the north. “We will always have a foot in both places.”