Mike Latham ’97: Wheeling and Dealing in Architecture
Mike Latham ’97,
with some of the components that go into the high-tech furniture
Photo: Andrew Bordwin
The typical young Columbia College graduate likes to wheel and
deal, but Mike Latham ’97 has made a living
out of it — especially the wheeling.
Latham, a Williamsburg, Brooklyn-based architect, challenges the
most mundane of interior design principles — that furniture
must be stationary. In Latham’s vision of a living space,
nothing is committed to its piece of the floor: It’s all on
wheels, even the guest room.
The 27-year-old, who was profiled in the Spring 2002 Home Design
issue of The New York Times Magazine, runs his own company, the
Arts Corporation, which seeks to link architecture with art and
technology. He applies this cross–pollination of ideas on
scales ranging from individual rooms to big buildings and even creates
what he calls “high-tech furniture,” which, Latham explains,
is a traditional piece of furniture such as a bed, desk or table,
but one with electronic intelligence embedded in it, allowing it
to perform nontraditional functions. “It’s smarter than
your average furniture,” he says.
Latham is not the type to leave his work at the office. His 1,900-square-foot
Kent Avenue loft in Williamsburg, one of the first living spaces
he developed, is the embodiment of his work. A guest bedroom can
be wheeled around easily with handles. Movable glass shelves filled
with books make up the walls to rooms. Cupboards don’t have
to stay in the kitchen.
Latham’s design vision doesn’t stop at designing apartments.
Arts Corporation, founded in 1999, undertakes design projects that
include two basic themes, according to Latham: technology and intelligence.
Current projects include four prefabricated, wind-and-solar powered
homes in Pennsylvania with remote control heating and surveillance
systems. He also is working on a bar in Washington, D.C., that will
feature “kinetic furniture:” multifunctional, moving
Arts Corporation’s clients come from the public and private
sectors and include individuals and institutions alike, Latham says.
He reaches his clients, which have included a United Nations consulting
office and record producer David Walis, through “hard-won
personal connections” and “hard-won publicity relating
to finished work.”Most of his clients meet Latham after they
have had a chance encounter with one of his creations and are impressed.
Latham says his projects are a product of the information age
— an age that he thinks the world of architecture could stand
to invest in. “Everything in our lives is getting smaller
and more intelligent. Things are multifunctional. I wonder why furniture
and architecture remain lame and quiet,” he says. “I
don’t see why they shouldn’t have the same kind of intelligence
that other objects in our lives have.”
Arts Corporation, which deals in architecture, sculptures and
robotics, employs three full-time employees and a handful of consultants.
Many of the firm’s projects are in the prototyping phase right
now, which makes them more expensive, but Latham says his goal is
to make his designs affordable to the average buyer.
While traditional “high art” is expensive, Latham
says mass production will help make Arts Corporation’s creations
more economically viable. This means mass producing Arts Corporation
innovations such as “home robotics” and “intelligent
furniture” — items that do more than just sit and perform
their traditional functions. Latham says there’s no reason
why your basic coffee table can’t also function as an Internet
Latham, who’s from Miami, majored in architecture at the
College and received his master’s in architecture from the
School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation in 2000.
Latham credits the College’s tradition of encouraging students
to challenge established principles helped lead him in the direction
he took with his work. “That sort of spirit of openness and
questioning permeates the undergraduate architecture department,”
he says. “It was a good place to start turning over normal