One on One: KUBE Architecture

by Shilpi Paul

One on One: KUBE Architecture: Figure 1
Janet Bloomberg and Richard Loosle-Ortega

In One on One, UrbanTurf sits down with all types of folks who have their fingers in some aspect of the DC residential real estate world to learn a little bit more about what they do. Today, we interview Richard Loosle-Ortega and Janet Bloomberg, principals at KUBE Architecture, a DC firm that is notable for its colorful, modern designs. (If you have been inside the frozen yogurt store, TangySweet, then you know their work). We met at their office, which is filled with materials like Virock and a translucent, amber-like screen, and talked to them about their designs, current projects, and working modern architecture into historic DC buildings.

When did you start KUBE?

Richard Loosle-Ortega: I was teaching at Catholic University full-time, and Janet was teaching part-time and doing her own architecture. We had the same sort of aesthetic, and decided we could work together, so we formed KUBE in 2005. We do 85 percent residential, and the rest is commercial: spas, restaurants and boutique retail.

Can you tell us about your aesthetic?

RL: I used to tell clients – if you want something traditional, like a colonial house, I’ll draw that as long as you dress in colonial dresses and ride a horse and buggy. Come on, its 2012! Why does architecture have to look old and everything else look new?

So, we have a warm, modern aesthetic. Janet has traveled a lot to India and I have my Latin heritage, so we love color and texture. We also both used to work in commercial, and a lot of the materials we used there—exposed steel, aluminum, ceramic tile—are part of modern architecture. So we bring those in and wed them with color and other elements like wood.

Janet Bloomberg: In India, I was very influenced by the saturated color. I never used color – at architecture school it was all white. A lot of modern architects are very afraid of color, but we believe strongly that it helps give warmth and character.

One on One: KUBE Architecture: Figure 2

Besides TangySweet, have you designed anything else readers might recognize?

RL: The Red Velvet Cupcake locations in Chinatown and Reston.

What are some interesting projects that you are working on?

RL: Janet is busy right now with a guy who is converting an Irving Street row house into a 4-unit condo building. He’s a young guy who is developing it on his own.

JB: It’s his first project. He selected us because he thinks our work is not DC, but looks more like New York or Europe.

One on One: KUBE Architecture: Figure 3
A Foggy Bottom row house

Where do you see DC going, architecturally?

RL: DC has a lot of historic buildings, but people don’t live like that anymore (that is, in closed, dark rooms). All our clients want their homes to be open and bright, but they don’t want to move to the suburbs. So, there has been this shift toward a more modern aesthetic. When Janet and I started five years ago, there wasn’t a lot of competition among modern architects. Now, there are more clients who want it.

What are the limitations of modern design in DC?

RL: The obvious limitation is the width, with very narrow spaces in DC row houses. To open up the space more, you need to bring in light from above, so we use a lot of translucent panels to offer privacy but let light through. We frequently use solar tubes in the ceiling, which are very small and affordable and exaggerate the sunlight.

One on One: KUBE Architecture: Figure 4

A lot of people are under the impression that a modern looking home is more expensive than a more traditional home. Is that true?

RL: Not necessarily. The problem is that contractors don’t understand how to work with modern details. The materials aren’t more expensive, but the craft and labor has to be better. For example, in a modern home, you have a floor meeting the walls, and you don’t want to hide the seam with a bunch of molding. You have to lay the floor nice and tight and clean. Crown molding is a great way to hide stuff – with modern architecture you have to be much more careful, and a lot of contractors are not used to that.

Do you try to include energy efficient design?

RL: We use low VOC paint and materials like recycled rubber, bamboo and cork. Sometimes it costs more to be green and it’s not worth the tradeoff. I was looking at a counter top material that was a composite of different wood and was very green, but shipping it from Washington state was more expensive than the material itself, and it used energy just to ship it, so I gave up on it.

You mentioned in our article last year about how homes will look in the future that the city moves slowly, architecturally. Why is that, and is it changing?

RL: It’s nice to have the mixture of old and new, but a lot of DC is just old. It’s not like California and New York, where people aren’t caught up in having history around them. Here, somehow, if you look historic, you’re more important. There are a lot of people in DC who can’t move away from the heavy wood and traditional stuff. But with so many people coming in from Europe and other places, that is gradually changing.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/one_on_one_kube_architecture/5043


  1. DV said at 4:40 pm on Friday February 3, 2012:
    Beautiful stuff! Happy to see modern architecture is becoming more accepted in the region.
  1. xmal said at 4:59 am on Tuesday February 7, 2012:
    Although I personally love the look of the interiors shown, I worry that the horse-and-buggy argument won't win KUBE any customers. I would think people want traditional construction in houses and not in bonnets because they expect houses to stay current when they try to sell them or pass them on to their children. Pretty much everything that costs a fortune and lasts a lifetime is slow to change in appearance (Porsches, engagement rings, watches---before electronics made them cheap). We have already had a wave of architecture that rejected the traditional and we got L'Enfant Plaza: how will KUBE ensure that their designs retain their appeal (not to mention the function of the novel materials) 50 years hence?
  1. Deborah Magano said at 8:02 am on Friday August 31, 2012:
    Dear Xmal, For someone who say's he prefers the modern "look" of interiors that's great but the modern design is just more than what it "looks like". If you really think about progress or follow any of the movement into the "future". Society as I see it has finally embraced alternative energy benefits, with this comes "modern materials". If you look at Germany, London, and Japan, you will see not only the progress of contemporary designs (that have been there for decades), but the positive environmental impact on their country as well as setting a precedence for future generations. If one thinks about the generations who built "traditional" structures and interiors "50" years ago, they were built in an age where lighting, space and aesthetics were not the primary concern as it is today. I bet my money on KUBE any day. Forget 50 years from now look around you people actually live, work, and entertain every day in their homes. They want the structure/interior to reflect who they are and what they believe in. Most of that being how they "feel"and "function" in the space. Just to name a few, interior lighting, usually "natural light" flow and space (openness), and color which evokes emotion. The use of renewable materials as much as possible, which shows a conviction of preserving the planet for the next (100 years). You cannot accomplish that goal by clearing rain forests for "old wood" or save energy with (historical) single pane glass, or heavy dark velvet curtains, not to mention dark and depressing living spaces. Most of the friends, clients and relatives I know are more interested in saving the environment by using eco friendly materials whenever and whenever possible. That is what modern is to me! I do not think KUBE will have or presently have too much trouble attracting customers.... I have not seen many "new" buildings built today in DC or any other large metropolis that reflect life from 50 years ago, but of modern sleek energy efficient spaces. Modern design is just not about what something "looks" like it is a way of being in the world. So the choices we make today help ensure there is a 50 years from now. Rock on KUBE your work is amazing! DMI

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