Name: Tonja Adair

Firm: Splice Design Architecture, DPC


Practicing City: New York


Type of Work: Architecture & Urban Design


Featured Project: The Cecil Restaurant

Location: Harlem, New York

Completion Date: 2013

Your Role: Architect of Record

Project Description: Inspired by the travels, exploration and study of the African Diaspora of the executive chef Alexander Smalls, the Cecil is a study in contrasts. Working with design architect Sarah Garcia, two distinct settings are created through the inspiration of global adventures by Chef Smalls. The tastes and flavors of the cuisine provide the basis for a lyrical sophistication, blending the existing setting of Harlem with bold, contemporary styling. The main restaurant envelops guests in warm earth tones, enhancing the aromas of the cuisine, while the bar and lounge mixes 1940′s noir with a sampling of modern patterns and textures. Art is central to setting the mood, including a lounge highlight, “A Kiss…” wire mesh sculptures by Eric Boyer [www.boyermesh.com], and a custom Portrait in the main dining area by Jerome Lagarrigue.

The Cecil is located in NYC at 210 West 118th Street and is part of almost 8,000sf of commercial space comprised of two lively restaurants, and a large central kitchen on the cellar level. The spaces work in harmony to bring jazz, global cuisine and community together in Harlem.


                                                                                                               Photo Credit: Lucy Schaefer

Q & A


How did you first learn about architecture and when did you decide that it was an area of interest for you?

I decided to be an architect when I was eight. That year, my father, an artist and teacher, used an old fire station in downtown Atlanta for his studio during the summer. I spent my days taking mid-day downtown walking tours with him and building model houses and city scapes with scrap materials. My mother and aunt also travelled to Italy that summer, bringing back fantastic tales of cathedrals, palazzi, and beautiful landscapes. With my interest in art, science and math, my parents introduced me to the term architecture. At that point, I was determined to learn Italian and travel to Italy to study architecture. It has been an exploration since then.


What do you do?

I am an architect and urban designer. I draw, explore, dream, analyze and help my clients communicate design in a variety of ways in a practice I co-founded with my business partner in 2010.


What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy dreaming with my clients and helping them bring their stories to life through their physical environment.


What excites you in the work you do?

Every project presents a different challenge or puzzle to solve. The excitement in the process of Architecture is the exploration based on the unique circumstances of each project. Everything remains new, and that is exciting.


Who or what inspires you professionally?

Art, travel, literature and music are major influences for me. It is inspirational to explore and experience the world through these lenses. Architecture is as much about the materials used as it is how light or the landscape surrounding the space changes the experience of inhabiting the place. Walking through other places around the world helps to refocus and engage the imagination when presented with a fresh design challenge.


What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement (related to architecture)?

My proudest moment was becoming licensed. After declaring my interest at the age of eight, it was a singular goal that shaped my experiences through many levels of school and my early professional career. I am also fortunate to have worked on many interesting projects with fantastic colleagues and clients, as well as still be in the creative process of building a practice.


How long have you been involved with nycoba NOMA?

I was involved with NOMAS while in the graduate program at the College of Architecture at Georgia Tech and attended my first NOMA conference in LA (and I am ready to return this year!) After moving to NYC, I attended an AIA convention in San Francisco in 2009. While there, I was fortunate to meet Bob Coles, FAIA, who directed me to attend a nycoba meeting when I returned to the city. I was elected to the board the following year and have had the opportunity to serve as both vice-president and president. I remain active by helping to facilitate the great programming created by the board.


Why are you a nycoba NOMA member?

I enjoy the fellowship with my colleagues. While I also keep a membership with AIA, nycoba NOMA offers a means to clearly raise the visibility of minorities in the profession, and create a collective and strong voice. This is a profession where minorities (race, ethnicity and gender) are underrepresented. As a NOMA member we create the conversations needed around identity; showing that our voices matter.


What do you value most about your nycoba NOMA membership?

Membership is an opportunity to be involved in a larger conversation.  Mentoring, advocating, networking and sharing experiences with peers provides an opportunity to create a common vision with many voices.


Visit www.splice-design.com for additional information.