Pierre-Henri Hoppenot grew up with absolute certainty about his future vocation — by the time he was 12, he knew he wanted to be an architect. He took introductory architecture classes in high school and never wavered from that path. “My brain was made to work with space,” he said.
As a child, he spent a lot of time enjoying French and American comic books. Hoppenot would read and draw comics, noticing that in the background of each frame, there were often views of a city’s architecture. “I’d dive into these mythical drawn worlds,” he said “I think that’s what jumpstarted me towards an architectural path.”
When it came time to study architecture at the college and graduate school level, Hoppenot chose WashU. “Twelve-year-old Pierre really wanted to put his head down, be alone, and have the chance to draw and think,” he said. “WashU, my friends, the studios, and study abroad have been a huge part of me growing up and getting beyond this head-down mentality.” His decision to return for graduate school was organic, happening through conversations with professors he had kept in touch with. “Part of the beauty of WashU was that it felt like going back to family. You’re nurtured, but at the same time you have opportunities to go abroad and get different points of view,” he said. Graduate school provided time and space to formalize what he wanted his projects to be about.
“One of the things I deeply care about is the quality of the light as it moves throughout the day, over different textures and materials,” he said. In addition to light, his firm, Studio PHH Architects, spends a lot of time considering negative space. “The place that we actually inhabit is not built,” he said, “that is space what I call light.” This is evident in projects like the La Clairiere house, where two masses sit on either side of a negative space while the landscape runs through the center.
Hoppenot aims to build a portfolio that is evenly split between residential and commercial projects. “I feel strongly that architecture is for people,” he said, noting that public-facing projects offer the challenge of input from multiple sources. La Référence de Ganthier, a school in Haiti, is one of his best-known public-facing projects and won the 2019 IstructE Sustainability Award.
Haiti was always part of his family’s story — they support a foundation that provides education for children who are underserved. Hoppenot grew up with a Haitian pen-pal, writing to him well into his college years. When he realized that a school was going to be built, but there was a “decision-making vacuum,” he offered his and his firm’s time to make sure that it would be a safe place for children. “It’s about giving children a place where they can learn and feel safe and have opportunities to grow,” he said. “Architecturally speaking, we did that in the simplest way possible: with local labor practices and only locally available materials. From there, we asked, ‘how can we make this a place that they are proud to go to school each day?’” With the second phase completed in 2020, the school now serves hundreds of students from Pre-K to 12th grade in an earthquake-proof structure.
With many more projects on the horizon, Hoppenot is clear about what good architecture means to him. “There’s too much noise in the world. Being in a space and feeling calm is so important,” he said. “A successful project is one where someone would be perfectly happy to sit and be present.”
La Reference de Ganthier, Haiti, 2020
Photo by Nadia Todres.
La Clairiere, New Jersey, 2020
Photo by Tom Grimes.
Pierre-Henri Hoppenot is the principal/owner and founder of Studio PHH Architects based in Brooklyn, New York. Pierre was born in Paris, France, and grew up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He completed his undergraduate education and earned his master of architecture at Washington University. He won the AIA Medal in 2012 for his graduate work.
After working at Rafael Vinoly Architects and Weiss/Manfredi architecture, landscape, and urbanism, Hoppenot founded Studio PHH Architects in 2016. The core values embedded in the studio’s work are an obsession with using light as a primary building material, a deferential approach towards the site and local context, and a deep respect for local craft, materials and the culture of a place.
The studio was established with a focus on creating highly crafted, site sensitive places. The architecture produced is not shy, but lives well in its surroundings. Hoppenot believes that through careful observation and generosity, any project can achieve the timeless, functional and artistic spaces people yearn to inhabit. Use of natural and tactile materials, simple lines, and a careful emphasis on light as a primary building material combine to provide poetic spaces in which the users become the primary beneficiaries.
The firm’s work emerges from studio collaboration and a creative approach, always seeking to discover something new from the overlaps between architecture, landscape, interior, and product design.
Studio PHH Architects won an AIA New York Honor Award in 2022 for La Reference de Ganthier, a K-12 school in Haiti. Their projects have also been recognized and won awards from AZ Design Awards (2023), AIA New York Honor Award (2022), IStructE (2019), and have been published on Dezeen, Arch Daily, Architect Magazine, and others.