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The Architectural Design Process: An Interview with Lito Karatsoli-Chanikian of SOMA Architects

By Lito Karatsoli-Chanikian

Tell us a little bit about your company and its foundation.

SOMA is an international architecture firm headquartered in New York, with offices in Lebanon, founded in 2004 by Michel Abboud. We focus on incorporating craft, digital technologies and environmental responsibility. The firm's design and work have attracted acclaim for their boundary pushing nature. Our designs are being built around the world today- in New York, Dubai, Lebanon and other international markets.

We work closely with clients to understand their needs and desires in relationship to external constraints in today's ever changing cycle of occupancy and uses of buildings, providing adaptable planning so buildings evolve with their clients. Rather than imposing a 'parti' onto a given site, we tend to deploy patterns which seemingly self-organize and grow with the site and its intended and un-intended future uses. Innovative projects like Park51 in New York City stand testament to our design philosophy.

What are some important questions to ask the architect before beginning the designing process?

We recommend having a conversation about what is possible on the site first thing. Typically the architect has a good idea of what the constraints are, in regards to what is possible on your site. Through this conversation, you can request for a budget based on what is possible and what the constraints are. This is where it is important to have a relationship with your architect based on trust.

If you could, please list the steps of the general architectural design process:

  • Determine what is possible on the site, and what potential constraints may arise.
  • Sit with the client to determine their needs and desires.
  • Work with the client to establish a design concept that works within the constraints and meets the client's vision.
  • Working closely with the client to execute this vision within a set budget.
  • How do you suggest clients prepare for this process?

    Have a good idea of what you want and set realistic expectations. Having a coherent program and a joint vision among all the parties involved in the home's design is very important. If there are multiple people in the family who are building the home, make sure you determine a joint vision of what each person wants. Lastly, do some research on other types of homes like the one you would like. A bit of research goes a long way when gauging your expectations and budget.

    What are some common issues you face when it comes to designing homes?

    Every project comes with its own set of issues, but it's understandable since building a home is a very personal experience for clients. Since home design involves finessing with every detail, the process can be very lengthy and backtrack multiple times.

    What advice do you have for the homeowner during this strenuous process?

    Invest in a good case of wine, or two.

    What's the best way for people to get in contact with you?

    One can always e-mail us at or call us at 212.966.1200.

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    About The Author

    Lito Karatsoli-Chanikian is the Communications Manager at SOMA Architects.

    Phone: 212-966-1200

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