Coalescing Architecture


Story By
Katy Niner
Photos By
Vera Iconica Architecture + Longhi Architects
When space, emotion and environment coalesce, architecture becomes art, and the affect is limitless—as felt by the people who experience such inspired spaces. This concept was truly vanguard when Mexican architect Luis Barragán so astutely articulated it decades ago—and remains so today.

“Architecture is an art when one consciously or unconsciously creates aesthetic emotion in the atmosphere and when this environment produces well-being.” -Luis Barragán

Art as architecture as wellness: This is the core dynamic driving the new partnership between aesthetic visionaries Jackson, Wyoming-based Veronica Schreibeis Smith and Lima, Peru-based Luis Longhi, who have joined continental forces; Longhi is the inaugural guest resident at Vera Iconica Architecture. Together, the two talents are trailblazing an international movement toward mindful design: mindful of people, of nature, of cultural heritage and of material integrity. Intuition anchors their design process—the insight based on instinct, experience and creativity. When layered with the practical and the rational, says Schreibeis Smith, the result is “functional, smart spaces that have soul.”

Case in point, the architects’ inaugural collaboration: Pachacamac, a ridgeline refuge built for a Peruvian philosopher. True to the philosopher’s intellect, the residence grows from his library, starting with a central courtyard carved into the hillside, open to the sky. On either side, the library’s wings stretch east and west, spanning the sun’s daily arc, in deference to Peru’s vibrant mythology, symbolic of earthen knowledge extending out to eternity. The house unfolds from this intimate library into more social spaces. “As the program of the house involves more people, it becomes light and more open, culminating in a glass-cube living room to gather guests,” says Longhi.

At Vera Iconica, listening is paramount to the proprietary Intuitive Design Process. The firm considers how architecture impacts people, purpose and planet, using materiality and one-of-a-kind elements to affect clients’ sense of their world and their place within it. Such an approach manifests in masterful details, whether the precise siting of an outdoor hot tub or custom mapping of kitchen cabinetry. “Not only do we listen deeply to our clients, we also read their body language, and ask thought- and emotion-provoking questions,” says Veronica Schreibeis Smith.

“We believe that every person should live in a masterpiece,” the architects say in their vision statement. “And beyond that, we believe that every person deserves to have a home that is not only beautiful, but one that enhances their well-being and quality of life on a daily basis. We define a masterpiece as something that moves our clients, inspires them and elevates them—a work of art, a piece of music, a shared conversation. Essentially, we design experiences. Architecture just happens to be our medium.”

Their work is closely tied to the landscape and epitomizes the aesthetic shared by the two internationally recognized architects, as seen in the conceptual design by Longhi Architects for the premier destination resort Valle Sagrado

Schreibeis Smith and Longhi draw daily inspiration from the nature that surrounds them—she in the Tetons and he on the Altiplano Plateau. “In these places of soaring beauty, we find not only architectural inspiration, but also inspiration on what it means for a life to be lived well,” Schreibeis Smith explains. “To us, that means homes that are designed for wellness and to communicate with the surrounding landscape, designed with local materials, and always in respect for the environment.”

Vera Iconica wants its clients to feel as elevated as their surroundings, attuned to nature and their true natures. Ultimately, the firm’s goal is “to design spaces where our clients derive joy and experience a life of meaning, in beauty”—a benchmark that circles back once again to Barragán and his profound eloquence: “Beauty is the oracle that speaks to us all.”

Veronica Schreibeis Smith and Luis Longhi started working together in 2006 in Peru and in 2015 began discussing ways to align their synergistic visions as architects.