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Category ArchiveArchitecture

Under Construction: 315 Park Avenue South Has a New Lobby

When Columbia Property Trust purchased 315 Park Avenue South from Spear Street Capital for $353.9 million in 2015, the new owner wanted to change the lobby even though it wasn’t in disrepair.

“It wasn’t bad,” Nelson Mills, the CEO and president of Columbia Property Trust, told Commercial Observer. “The previous owners had done a nice job. But we just didn’t think it had the quality that we were looking for; the crispness and clean look.”

The old lobby featured concrete floors and gray walls with wooden furniture and subdued lighting, as well as multicolored artwork. And Columbia Property Trust was hoping for something a little simpler and cleaner.

So the landlord, which hired L&L Holding Company to lease and manage the property at the time, tapped Gensler to reimagine the lobby, as well as revitalize the facade and the storefronts in a project that cost just over $10 million.

In addition, since there were multiple elevator banks with nine cabs altogether and two building entrances, Columbia Property Trust saw the opportunity to separate the lobby and make a main entrance to the building on East 24th Street and a smaller private entrance on Park Avenue South. The private one has two elevators for the tenant that took the top floor, London-based investment firm Winton Capital, as CO previously reported.

The renovation has been completed and now features a clean design with white walls, exposed steel beams covered in white intumescent paint, white ceilings and bright lights. The 3,000-square-foot space also has a marble security desk and upgraded elevator cabs and turnstiles.

The a white box lobby will allow artwork in the lobby to “shine and give it some character,” said Joseph Lauro, a Gensler principal and co-managing director of the company’s New York office.  

Columbia Property Trust expects to select paintings to hang on the lobby walls later this year. The revitalization of the facade and storefronts will be finished by the fall.

Much like the lobby, the facade wasn’t in dire need of repair, but Columbia Property Trust felt it should spruce it up a bit. So there will be moderate but not drastic changes to the classic, Beaux-Arts-style exterior.

Spanning 20 stories, the facade is being cleaned, and Gensler added some lighting to brighten it up. The storefronts will be flanked with more efficient glass. Finally, a new canopy had been added to the main entrance on East 24th Street.

“The building’s facade is beautiful in its current form,” Mills said, “but we wanted to sharpen it up.”

Source: commercial

The Plan: Industrious Touts Sophistication in Union Square Expansion

Flexible office provider Industrious—which has attracted companies such as Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Chipotle and Mashable to outsource their workplaces—tries to give a healthy dollop of sophistication to its spaces.

So when the company decided to expand its only Manhattan location on the 12th floor at SL Green Realty Corp.’s 215 Park Avenue South between East 17th and East 18th Streets by taking the 11th floor, Industrious configured the new space with the same simple and elegant designs found on the 12th floor. That also meant no foosball tables, arcade machines or mini-basketball shooting games were added.

“It’s a professional environment. Playfulness is not the priority,” Eivind Karlsen, the head of design at Industrious, told Commercial Observer during a tour of the new space. “It’s about how are you working throughout the day.”

At the front of the 17,500-square-foot 11th floor is the pantry (which was in the back of the 12th floor). That is the first thing members, guests and prospective clients see as they exit the elevator.

“The first impression, whether you are a guest of an Industrious member or a client, is important,” Karlsen said.

And since tenants are more focused on hospitality these days, Industrious designed elements that would make one feel more at home.  

“We designed it more residential,” Karlsen said. “It has that sort of cozy feel. You’ll see more greenery. It feels like an apartment.”

The pantry features marble countertops, wooden cabinets, sleek appliances and a variety of seating options. And the residential vibe can be felt strongly in the lounge space that flanks the pantry, as there are sofas and other kinds of plush seating, carpeting, plants, books and ambient lighting.

The 11th floor, which Industrious has occupied as of January, has room for around 140 people in its 40 offices as the suites can accommodate between one to 10 persons.

In addition, the new space has two conference rooms, two “huddle” meeting rooms, three small rooms for private phone calls and a small glass-less room with one chair and a small table called the “focus room” (for when you want to be left alone). Exposed ceilings and concrete floors grace the expanse and there are audio reduction panels in the common areas.

The offices are furnished with wooden tables that have blackened steel legs. The new internal staircase, which joins the two floors, also features blacked steel framing. It is a reference to Industrious’ Brooklyn roots.

It’s a “metaphor of the Brooklyn Bridge,” Karlsen said. “We are bridging Manhattan to Brooklyn.”

Source: commercial

NYC’s Top 10 Commercial Interior Design Firms of 2018

Although exterior architecture often grabs headlines, it’s the interior design that usually makes or breaks a project. With that in mind, Commercial Observer has ranked New York City’s best and most interesting architecture firms that do commercial interior design work.

For our second annual interior design list, we queried top architecture firms and landlords to see who they trusted to handle the interiors for their top developments. Then we reached out to prominent commercial interior design firms and asked how many square feet they designed last year, the value of their projects and what they consider their noteworthy work from 2017. We tried to look beyond the numbers—which were the basis of our first list, published in October 2016—and consider who was doing the most interesting and exciting work. (Lists like these, especially when considering firms whose work is largely aesthetic, include a number of judgment calls.)

Whether they are designing Uber’s offices, renovating and converting the landmarked Waldorf Astoria hotel, or building out Citigroup’s world headquarters, we tried to include firms working on a diverse roster of projects, big and small.—Rebecca Baird-Remba

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Source: commercial

NYC-Based Restoration Architect Lee Harris Pomeroy Dies at 85

Architect Lee Harris Pomeroy, known for his restoration work on historic structures and designing the 36-story Swiss Bank Tower in Midtown to resemble surrounding landmarks, died recently. He was 85.

Pomeroy led his eponymous firm, which eventually became called LHP Architects, for more than half a century until he died on Feb. 18, according to information provided by a representative at the company. The firm declined to disclose the cause of death and burial information.  

“He saw public architecture as one of the profession’s greatest callings and his work reflected this devotion and commitment,” according to a statement from LHP Architects. “One of his proudest achievements was his work on historic preservation, where he helped redefine how we thought about restoring and using public-use spaces.”

Some other LHP Architects restoration projects include working on enclosed masonry warehouse spaces constructed below the Brooklyn Bridge, rehabilitation work on the roof and ornamental copper work at Grand Central Terminal, revitalizing the Bleecker Street subway station in Lower Manhattan and designed public spaces and multi-level hotel suites in The Plaza Hotel. The company offices are currently at 275 Seventh Avenue between West 25th and West 26th Streets.   

LHP Architects has worked on various projects around the globe, including the Bin Hai Convention Center in Tianjin, China along with a 60-story hotel on the site. And LHP Architects has designed six underground subway stations for a new transit line for the Kolkata Metro in India.

Pomeroy, a Brooklyn native, was a professor of architecture at City College of New York for two decades.

He received many awards over the course of his career, including numerous honors from the New York Landmarks Conservancy, the Preservation League of New York State, the Victorian Society New York and the Municipal Art Society of New York. He also received a fellowship from the American Institute of Architects New York and was a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Pomeroy received a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1955 and a master’s in architecture from Yale School of Architecture in 1961.

He is survived by his wife, two children, seven grandchildren and a sister, as The New York Times reported.

Source: commercial

RAL’s Spencer Levine on His Journey From Waldbaum’s to Landscape Architecture

Spencer Levine, the 36-year-old director of landscape architecture and site development at RAL Companies & Affiliates, got his first exposure to the nitty-gritty work of real estate while still a teenager. His father, RAL Founder Robert Levine, was working with the Waldbaum’s supermarket chain and would bring his son on site at every opportunity, a chance for professional insight the teen fully embraced.

“I grew up immersed in the work my father was doing,” said Levine, who will now, among other projects, play a key role in developing the P.C. Richard site near Union Square into a new tech-focused job training facility. “We always spent our weekends going from job to job and seeing what was going on. I spent a lot of time at supermarket openings. I definitely grew up in the industry.”

Today, Levine oversees all the firm’s landscape architecture in addition to project management duties on numerous projects at any one time. Looking at his upbringing, it’s hard to imagine him having gone any other way.

Levine was born in in the Great Neck area of Long Island, N.Y., and was ushered into real estate as a way of life early on.

One of the main missions of RAL is this kind of hands-on approach. It penetrated the family, this idea that we were all part of it, that we were part of facilitating something,” he said.

“Growing up, [real estate] was always the topic of conversation. It was what we did on weekends. On Saturdays, my father used to take me to the latest Waldbaum’s that was being built, and we’d meet with all the tradesmen. It gave me a true appreciation for the process of construction and how to put together a project.”

Levine was so enamored with his father’s working world that he turned his toy trucks into members of the team.

“I was the only kid who had his own landscaping team and his own structural steel team. I used to take the label maker from my dad’s office and label all my trucks, as far as what they did. It was very much a part of me.”

Following in his architect and urban planner father’s footsteps, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in landscape architecture in 2003, then a master’s in the same from Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2005. He began working at RAL part time while still in school, and right after graduation, he became a full-time project manager, finding himself learning a broad cross-section of real estate tasks and skills.

“One of the things about RAL is that we’re a very diverse company,” Levine said. “We started as an architecture firm and still maintain a full architectural firm, including landscape architecture. But we do everything: property acquisitions, design, construction management and administration, property management. In our office, we all wear a lot of different hats, and we all pitch in. It’s very collaborative on projects. While I might have been a project manager, I was certainly drafting at that point, I was doing basic architectural work, and I was probably doing filing and copying. Whatever we have to do to facilitate what needs to be done that day is what we do. It was all part of the job.”

This embrace of so many aspects of his profession is part of what makes him a valuable asset for RAL.

Vince Cangelosi, the firm’s director of design and development, has known Levine since he was a teenager. He said Levine was always inquisitive and eager to learn and that his passion for the business has led him to master so many of its essential elements.

“He’s one of the best multitaskers I’ve ever met. He manages to have 12 to 18 balls in the air and not drop any, which is a pretty difficult skill,” Cangelosi said. “He’s managing projects from all aspects of development. He deals with financing and with scheduling construction—he really has a passion for the construction end of things. He gets really excited when we break ground, and he likes to be in the field, getting his hands dirty.”

Levine’s first projects at RAL full time included handling much of the landscape design for the gut renovation and redesign of the 1960s-era Parkwood Sports Complex in Great Neck (the renovation of which was conceived in 2004 and finished in 2008) and working on project development for Capella Telluride in Telluride, Colo., a $190 million, 450,000-square-foot development with a 100-room hotel and 48 residences that opened in February 2008.

He said that the nature of RAL renders job titles close to irrelevant, as the team ethos finds employees working in various areas in addition to their specialties. He received a crash course in this on the Telluride project, which he worked on for three years.

“That was my first major project out of grad school, and it was intensive. I was working with our director of construction and our head of acquisitions, and I served as the coordinating point person. That was the first post-tension structure built on the western slope in Colorado,” he said of the method for reinforcing concrete.

“Post-tension enables you to do a thinner slab structure on each floor, which gains you height overall. That building had a very regimented set of guidelines of what we could build. I came in during the design phase and started working with the hospitality companies, as at the time we were still choosing our [operator for the hotel]. I worked with the different operators to see how they might fit into the building.”

While immersed in this development education, Levine also learned how business can take a toll on relationships, as he missed the celebration of his six-month anniversary with his wife, Jordana. (They live in the Roslyn area of Long Island with their two children: son Liam, 7, and daughter Zoe, 5.)

“We got married while I was working on the project,” he said. “I spent our six-month anniversary hanging pictures to get the hotel ready for opening in Telluride while she was in New York. I’ll never forget it, and she’ll never let me forget it. We still have the Vermont Teddy Bear I sent her that says ‘Happy Six-Month Anniversary.’ ”

Since then, while landscape architecture is his primary purpose, he has continued working in whichever area he’s needed, from relationship management with his wife to project development with construction companies.

“As a licensed landscape architect, I oversee all of our landscape architecture work. I’m actually serving as our landscape architect of record on our Philadelphia project,” he said, referring to a 14-story, 624,575-square-foot mixed-use property the company is developing at 1300 Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia, which will consist of an approximately 471-unit residential rental tower totaling 303,930 square feet, a 287-space parking garage and 58,759 square feet of retail space.

“But I’m also working in site development, which is a broader look at how we’re master-planning properties if they’re land deals, or how we’re developing and putting together proposals for specific properties,” Levine said. “So it’s very much a blended role.”

While on the Telluride project, he was also working on the development of One Brooklyn Bridge Park, which the company says is the largest residential conversion in Brooklyn’s history in addition to being its own largest project to date, involving over 1 million square feet, 438 luxury condominium units and parking space for over 650 cars. The development opened in 2008.

“That was a milestone project for myself and for the company,” he said. “My role on that was as the liaison between construction and the design and project management teams.” He added, “One of the mandates of Brooklyn Bridge Park was that it needed to be financially self-sustaining. We developed a mechanism where we turned the building over to the park and took the ground lease back on it, then they leased it back to us for development. Those ongoing lease payments, along with PILOT payments, which are payments in lieu of taxes, go to sustain the park. We worked very closely on that with state and city officials, along with lots of different legal voices. That was a landmark learning project for me.”

Levine also worked on Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park, a 423,000-square-foot development that included 339 units in two buildings, including luxury condos and both market-rate and affordable rentals. Suffolk Construction was the project’s contractor, and its chairman and CEO, John Fish, said that Levine’s leadership helped make the project flow smoothly for all involved.

“The first time I met him, you could sense immediately that he was extremely intelligent, both in IQ [intelligence quotient] and EQ [emotional quotient], and that he understood the business from the contractor’s perspective,” Fish said.

“A lot of times we work with developers who look at the project from the development perspective and don’t really understand the building side of the equation. Spencer had a tremendous sense of comprehension about what we do and how we as an entity fit into the [development] equation. That really gave me a lot of comfort.”

All of these projects helped prepare Levine for his current significant effort, the development, in conjunction with the city, of a 20-story, 240,000-square-foot training and educational center at 124 East 14th Street near Union Square, home until recently of a P.C. Richard.

“I’m going to be working with the architecture and interior design team on that, to detail and manipulate the landscapes on the roof and by the sidewalk,” Levine said. “But my overall role, I think, will be more project management.”

According to Levine, P.C. Richard, which sat on city-owned land, did not have its lease renewed because the city wanted a facility related to job training and creation on the site as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s New York Works plan, which intends to create 100,000 jobs for New Yorkers.

After submitting a proposal RAL won the rights to a 99-year ground lease on the site in December 2016. It has paired up with tech-focused coworking organization Civic Hall, which will operate a digital skills training center, a coworking space, and an event space available to community groups for reduced or waived rates. In addition, 124 East 14th Street will house temporary and permanent office space and a public food hall on the ground floor.

Construction is expected to begin in late 2018, and the building should be open to the public by late 2020.

Levine said the building will provide a much-needed resource that can be hard to find in the city’s hottest neighborhoods.

“[Programs like this] often can’t find space to operate their training facilities in, or they’re in the outer boroughs, and people that want these skills have to travel,” Levine said. “This is right smack in the middle of Manhattan.”

With a clear benefit for the community RAL’s 14th Street project is part of why Levine has such a passion for the work. But at its most basic, a passion for real estate is ingrained in Levine, making for a perfect match between a man and his career.     

“What I love about the business now is not necessarily real estate development,” Levine said. “I love building projects, seeing how those projects impact communities, and seeing how our work comes together and becomes something. That’s something that was instilled in me from the beginning.”

Source: commercial

Let’s Get Frank: Gehry on New York, LA and the Future of Design

“You wouldn’t want me to retire,” Frank Gehry warned. “I’d turn into a monster.”

This kind of candor is typical of Gehry, age 88, who has plenty more iconic projects on the horizon and no plans to slow down anytime soon—a splint on his hand attesting to a broken finger, notwithstanding.

Dressed neatly in chestnut-colored corduroys, black shirt and white Nike slip-on sneakers, Gehry sat close in one of his self-designed bentwood Cross Check chairs for a frank, freewheeling conversation at his headquarters in Playa Vista on the west side of Los Angeles in early January.

Gehry spoke about the humanity that great architecture can convey and the mistaken belief that such work is fiscally out of reach for commercial projects. Even with the soaring nature of his work, including the upcoming Grand Avenue Project in downtown Los Angeles across from his iconic Disney Concert Hall, which is being done in partnership with Related Companies, he pointed to the practical. He broke down the return on investment of his groundbreaking work on the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, which has generated an estimated 650 million euros for the Basque treasury and 5,000 local jobs since its creation in 1997.

But flip a switch, and he’s on to some of the artists who have played the hall. “I’m interested in classical music and the literature surrounding it,” Gehry said. “And a lot of my life is spent with those people. Gustavo Dudamel, Pierre Boulez, Yo-Yo Ma. I love those people, and when I can, I hang out with them, I go to their concerts. Pierre died, but we made a building in Berlin and named it after him—the Pierre Boulez Saal concert hall.”

One of his long-time colleagues Meaghan Lloyd, a partner in his firm, listened in on the talk. “My wife works here, my son works here, my daughter-in-law works here, so it’s kind of a family operation. Meaghan has become family; that’s why she’s overprotective,” Gehry said. (He might also be alluding to, perhaps, the fact that before an interview could be scheduled, a nondisclosure agreement had to be hashed out, which is apparently standard operating procedure with Gehry.)

Overprotective audience or not, the Pritzker Prize-winning architect, who has lived in Los Angeles since relocating from Toronto in 1947, spoke with Commercial Observer about that and much more.

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The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain. Photo: Getty Images

Commercial Observer: Are there any projects looking back that you would have done differently?

Frank Gehry: Yes, every one of them [laughs]. I’m always self-critical. It’s a self-critical process that you go through as you design and that continues. I see things I should have, would have wanted to do differently or better. I would like to make the windows [differently] or some shit like that.

But I am disciplined, so I stop. I know if you open that can of worms, you’ll never get anywhere.

I read an interview in which you said that every time you start a project it’s like starting over in your life.

Yeah, especially for a commercial project. Projects like a museum are a little more ephemeral. They don’t have that same kind of [objective]. They have to be some place you’d be proud to hang your art in.

What do you think of the all-glass skyscraper designs?

They were inevitable, but the way they are being built makes you wonder. They’re kind of banal; why do they have to be that? Most people would say, “Well, it costs money to make architecture.” Well, it doesn’t. Architects can build a building that qualifies as architecture with the same budget as a commercial project.

So, things don’t have to be so cookie-cutter.

They don’t. If you look at our building in Australia for the business school [The Dr Chau Chak Wing facility for UTS Business School in Sydney], which is a brick facade, it’s wiggly brick. You would not think it would be possible in a school building, but we did it for a reasonable, rational budget.

What other buildings have inspired or continue to inspire you, either now or in the past?

The Parthenon [laughs]. No, contemporary, certainly the Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp by Le Corbusier. The tower is a bit more difficult. The Einstein Tower in Berlin is one of my favorites. It’s sculptural. It has a humanity to it, a clarity. It’s sited beautifully. The architect who sited it knew how to capture the relationship with the other buildings. I tried to do that with the Beekman Tower [at] 8 Spruce [Street in Lower Manhattan] having the exterior skin talk to the Woolworth Building and the Brooklyn Bridge, so it becomes an ensemble. It creates a visual neighborhood that’s very successful there. You see it, and you feel it when you’re there.

What was your thinking behind the design of 8 Spruce?

Well, the Woolworth Building has a terra-cotta exterior skin and windows that are designed in a vertical. It has stair steps so the tower goes up a certain way, and then it steps back, and then it goes up. On top is a little triangle cap, so we made the Spruce building have stair steps. I didn’t put a top on it out of respect for the Woolworth Building. If we had put a top, we would have been like “look at me, too,” whereas if you don’t, you accrue the value of the Woolworth Building to your space. It becomes part of you.

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8 Spruce Street in the Financial District. Photo: Getty Images

You were working on Pacific Park [formerly Atlantic Yards] in Brooklyn originally, but that didn’t go forward. They switched gears.

That didn’t go [forward] because it hit the recession. That’s a complication that has nothing to do with architecture. I don’t know what the economics of having a basketball team, basketball stadium are and the difficulty of building over the tracks, but the difficulties of that became exacerbated by the economic drop. They had to punt, as it were, and look for a different way. They were very polite to me. They were fair and gentlemanly about it. They brought in some local guys.

What do you think about the project as it stands?

I haven’t seen it. I can’t do it because I loved that project so much. I’m sorry [laughs]. I’m happy that they did it, but…

In terms of projects, you recently taught a course at Yale University on prison architecture.

Well, there is a group, the Open Society [Foundation], and it’s run by George Soros. They asked us to look at what would we do when designing prisons and jails as they stand with the idea that we’re going to try to lower the incarceration rate and keep an eye on recidivism. What would you do, how would you deal with it? What I decided to do was give it as a project to the university and work with the kids, so instead of one example, we’d have 10. We did it at SCI-Arc [The Southern California Institute of Architecture]. We gave them the jail downtown to do. It’s a beautiful site. They visited jails in L.A. and did research on it. And they came up with 10 or so solutions. They were more like campuses. Some of them were beautiful ideas so they’re going into some sort of book they are using. I teach at Yale every other year. The term just ended two weeks ago, and they were given the Cheshire [Correctional Institution] prison in [Cheshire] Connecticut and some of the same problems.

Was that emotional for you working on a project like this?

Yeah. It was sad to be involved in it. I had a hard time myself. The facilities are terrible. A lot of my time is now spent on philanthropy. We’re very involved with the [Los Angeles River].

Can you tell me about that project, where it stands, what’s needed? [Gehry was brought on board by L.A. River, the nonprofit group that was founded in 2009 by the city of Los Angeles to coordinate policy on the river.]

Living in L.A. all these years, I was not interested in the L.A. River. I knew it flooded. I knew people died. I knew people were trying to make it a recreation space, a habitat space. I met some of those people who were very committed to that. I felt that was a nice thing they were doing. It just wasn’t my thing, so I didn’t get into it. I was called by some of [Mayor Eric Garcetti’s] friends and supporters from the movie industry who came to my office.

When was that?

Four years ago. And they said you know New York just built a High Line and it’s really successful. We have 51 miles of river. Could you take a look at it and see if you could turn it into something like the High Line? And I looked at them and said I thought the High Line was a relic, rusting railroad bridge. It was left over from a former era that was not being used and nobody wanted to tear it down so there it was.

What do you think of the High Line?

I thought it was interesting, but…it’s not a lasting thing. The thing that’s different about the L.A. River than the High Line is that the L.A. River is a flood-control project. That meant that water is coming from the hills and gathering. Then somebody had the brilliance to build a concrete channel to take care of it, so it didn’t flood. Then they sold all the land right up to the edge of it. So now what do you do? The [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers were studying habitat and recreational studies and planning biking and swimming and hiking and kayaking.

We studied the river for three years and created an index for it, which is online and very thorough. It analyzes the health problems, the economics, the dangers, the pluses and minuses of it. We could not see in our study a way to use it for recreation, but since the Corps of Engineers were working on a plan for recreation, who were we to dismiss it?

They were saying it only flooded 2 percent of the time, so therefore it’s not a big deal. The reality is that the channel is designed for that flood. Even though 98 percent of the time it is empty, 2 percent of the time I call it Godzilla, [and it] comes and reams your butt. It’s dangerous, and when that happens, it takes out people all along the river. You have to stay with the original idea from the Corps of Engineers.

What are your thoughts about the wave of commercial development that’s been happening in downtown L.A.?

It looks like practically every other city in the world.

What’s missing?

It’s crappy. I don’t recognize it as L.A. anymore.

What happened? What made it more “L.A.” before?

City Hall had more power. The buildings seemed to speak more to the city. A few of the towers were O.K., but that barrage of new stuff that’s being done now, it’s mostly with foreign investors that have no real L.A. commitment. They’re just coming in. They don’t want to talk to people like me. When you are a big foreign developer or even the L.A. ones [they think] there is something mystical that I’m going to do that’s going to cost more. It doesn’t, but they’d rather work with people who sort of work with everybody so they all look the same. You can’t really pick out much that is unique in downtown L.A. Harry Cobb’s building, the Library Tower [renamed the U.S. Bank Tower in 2003], that was kind of special, and Cesar Pelli did a building [777 Tower] that’s kind of white, around Eighth or Ninth Street, that’s still there. It’s very simple, very to the point, very beautiful. It has a nice humanity about it.

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The IAC Building at 555 West 18th Street in Chelsea. Photo: Getty Images

I wanted to ask you about the IAC building at 555 West 18th Street, your first freestanding structure in New York City. Didn’t Barry Diller want glass versus the metal you originally planned to use?

Barry Diller was not deeply involved with me on the design in the beginning. Marshall Rose was the partner in charge. Marshall worked with us to develop the design. We met with Barry intermittently, and because Barry is Barry, he had things to say which we accommodated. He was very outspoken about what he didn’t like and what he did like. And, by accident, the first models were made with a white plastic, and he loved that, and he said, “I want a white building.”

Do you find it different working in New York, L.A. and internationally?

I had a good time working in Spain, in Bilbao. The Basques are incredibly precise people. They live up to their promises, and even without a contract, you can count on them. It was great. I consider it almost a second home, a second family, and I go there all the time for the people more than the building.

The Disney Concert Hall is so different than the image many may have of traditional Disney. What was the reaction initially?

Well, Lillian [Disney] was one of the benefactors. I spent time with her, and she was crazy nice, a wonderful lady, fun to be with. She told me stories about Walt [Disney] all the time. Her taste level was not…she liked little cottages of brick and stuff. She even sent me a picture once of a little brick cottage.

Oh, is that the direction she wanted you to go in?

She said, “Could you go more in this direction?” And we had a little bit of a misfire for a while. She loved the interior. The exterior she had trouble with.

What brought her around? Obviously, what you created was very different from a little brick cottage.

I was not shoving it down her throat. I wasn’t giving her a hard time, but I said, “I’m not going to go with a little thatched roof cottage. That’s just not going to happen.” Her daughters, Diane and [Sharon] called me and said, “Mom said we should take over on the building because we love what you’re doing and she trusts us.”

Diane saved it. Diane Disney Miller saved the building on all counts and supported me through thick and thin. I barely knew her. I did not spend time trying to convince her. I asked her why. She said she remembered her father coming home from the studio being beaten up aesthetically over his designs, and she said this felt so much like that and she wanted to cut through that to give me a wide berth. Everybody now on the Philharmonic board credits her with having had the strength of character to see this through and make sure it was architecturally in every way consistent.

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The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Photo: Kurt Krieger/Corbis via Getty Images

Are there any architects working today that you admire?

Yeah. There are a lot of them. It’s hard to pick one out, and then the other ones will be pissed off [laughs]. I like Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid, who passed away. There’s a guy Greg Lynn, who I love dearly. He’s not doing the kind of architecture that we’re talking about. He’s doing industrial design.

I know you developed technology for your designs that weren’t possible before.

O.K., now you’re opening the box. Thirty years ago, sitting in that seat right here was the CEO of Dassault Systemes. We had used his software in CATIA [a software suite for computer-aided design] to build the Fish in Barcelona and then to build the Guggenheim in Bilbao. It enabled us to build it on budget and save money. It was precise. We then used that software to do a building for another architect in Hong Kong. Our tech team that we used in-house, we sent them there to work on this building and saved 18 percent of the building cost. And then at Beekman Tower at 8 Spruce, we did the exterior skin with no change orders on the skin, which is a wiggly surface, which is complicated.

So, I had the guy sitting here, and I said your software is too expensive for our industry. It’s a great big industry, can you get involved? That was 25 years ago, and he’s slowly getting involved, but he did not embrace it like he needed to. Dassault developed this thing called Revit, and they sold it because it was an inferior system. Now, that’s the system that’s being sold by Autodesk as the reigning system for tech for the construction industry, and it’s very flawed. It sucks in fact, and you can quote me. But it’s the only one that’s out there that’s usable. We created something called Digital Project, which is an add-on to CATIA, but still the software from the French is expensive.

So, there needs to be a solution.

There are solutions. I don’t know why nobody is going there. I had a separate tech company [Gehry Technologies] doing only that, and I just couldn’t run it and my practice. So, we sold it to Trimble [in 2014], and they’re continuing to develop it. It’s going to take a couple of years the way they’re going. We’re trying to help them.

You know they build airplanes paperless. That software exists, and a building is a lot simpler than a freakin’ airplane. We should be able to build buildings paperless which means, if you do it right, you should be able to go through the building department in a few days instead of six months.

What do you think of this tendency to make architects into stars?

Oh, starchitect. I hate that word. The press, you should write this, the press invented the word “starchitect,” and then they call us that, and they demean us for being one in their minds. It’s nasty stuff.

Let’s go into tributes. The Simpsons 2013 episode you were featured on, how did that come about? [The screensaver on Gehry’s smartphone is of his Simpsons doppelganger]

I was at a TED conference, and I met Matt Groening [creator of The Simpsons]. He’s a nice guy, and he asked me to be on The Simpsons, so I did. He now happens to be my neighbor. He lives two doors from me in Santa Monica.

That was an interesting one because they show me crumbling these papers and saying, “Frank Gehry, you’re a genius.” Everybody thinks that I crumble paper to make buildings. People will come up to me since that episode, kids would come to me with a crumbled piece of paper and ask me to sign it. So then since it’s so much in the air, I made a crumbled paper bear. Do you see it there? We have one full-sized at my house.

Do you ever think of retiring?

No. Don’t say that! I’m only 88 for god’s sake.

Source: commercial

Mancini Duffy’s Christian Giordano on Architecture’s Tech Revolution

Five years ago, Christian Giordano was a young architect who had worked his way up to the role of director of architectural design at HLW International when a friend and former colleague rang him up about a career opportunity.

“He called me and said, ‘Hey, I have a good friend, he’s looking for a young guy to come and kind of revitalize his firm—could you come and meet him?’ ” Giordano recalled. “I asked who, and he said, ‘I’m not going to tell you; we want to keep this kind of quiet. Why don’t we just meet for breakfast?’ So I went and I met Ralph Mancini.”

Giordano and the Mancini Duffy founder, who passed away in 2015, “hit it off” at that breakfast, their conversations leading to Giordano’s joining the architecture and interior design firm as a principal and director of architecture in 2013. A year later, he was elevated to the role of president and is now Mancini Duffy’s majority owner—the person most responsible for guiding the 80-person firm into the future.

And that’s exactly what Giordano has set about doing. Taking a cue from the young, innovative tech- and creative-class companies that form a good chunk of Mancini Duffy’s client roster, Giordano has gone about recalibrating the firm’s approach—emphasizing technology’s potential to transform the way architects and designers work and setting ambitious long-term goals.

Mancini Duffy recently launched its Design Lab, a self-described “in-house incubator” dedicated to researching technologies like 3-D printing; among the firm’s loftier goals is developing the technology enabling the 3-D printing of houses “on a mass production scale” within 30 years, Giordano said. Simultaneously, he is also pushing the traditionally interior design-focused firm to pursue more structural, base building projects, with Mancini Duffy now helming the redevelopment of the historic Palace Theatre, at 1568 Broadway in Times Square, into the TSX Broadway hotel, retail and entertainment complex.

The 44-year-old New Jersey native, who lives in Middletown Township, N.J., with his wife and their two daughters, recently sat down with Commercial Observer at Mancini Duffy’s offices at 275 Seventh Avenue in Chelsea to discuss his career to date, how technology is at the forefront of the firm’s plans for the future and his unique, design-oriented culinary hobby.

Commercial Observer: What drove you to pursue architecture as a career?

Christian Giordano: I credit my mom because she was very into design. She was always renovating our house, constantly. I took a liking to watching the contractors work, and for whatever reason, I’ve wanted to be an architect ever since I was a little kid.

So I applied to the University of Miami—one of my cousins went there, and they had a great architecture school. It was a very traditional program; you did a lot of hand-drawing and hand-drafting. Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk was the dean at the time, and new urbanism was a new concept, so there was a lot of master planning that we did with really large-scale, big-picture thought processes behind it.

The internet was new at the time I went to college. We didn’t have email, and CAD [computer-aided design] was new, and toward the end of that education I was really into the computer and what the computer could do for the world of architecture. And that’s what led me to go to UCLA [for a master’s degree] because they were really at the forefront of computer-aided design. They had a tremendous program where we were even doing early 3-D printing 20 years ago—I still have some of those early prints. It was a departure from the Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, more-traditional architecture school; Frank Gehry was there, Thom Mayne was there, and I really admired those guys and wanted to work with them.

When I was in Miami, I did an internship for Swanke Hayden Connell Architects, and [Principal] Richard Carlson always said to me, “Hey, if you ever move back to New York, let me know and I can get you a job there.” I don’t know if he was serious or not, but I called him out of the blue, and that’s where I started my career. Within the first six months there, I met my wife. She’s an interior designer by trade but eventually moved over to furniture sales—the design industry was not for her.

I spent probably five years [at Swanke Hayden Connell] and worked on a bunch of projects. And then, the design director went to HLW, and I followed him over there. I worked my way up there, ultimately running a studio; a lot of those studio people at HLW are here [at Mancini Duffy] now. We worked on projects with Google and did a lot of work in China.

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Christian Giordano. Photo: Sasha Maslov/for Commercial Observer

After joining Mancini Duffy, you were quickly elevated to the role of president and eventually became majority owner. How did that come about?

It was always the deal that I would be president within a year. Coming from HLW, I thought, “Oh, that’s cool, I’ll be the president.” I had no idea what that really meant, and when I got here, it wasn’t quite what I expected. There were probably about 35 people, and I was under the impression that Mancini was this enormous organization—I had just known the name and the history. And it really was a rebuilding process.

I quickly realized that there weren’t a lot of people at Mancini out there doing business development. So I started getting out there; I used to do it a lot at HLW but not to the level that I do it now. I really thought that being president of the firm was more about mentoring people and doing design critiques and keeping the design direction, and what I realized was that it was really about the responsibility of bringing work in and keeping everybody busy.

It was a little bit of a struggle in the beginning because I’m from a design background—it’s hard to let go when you’re used to being the one who controls every aspect of your design—but the more and more work I started to bring in, the more and more I absolutely loved it. Look, I’m an architect; I don’t pretend that I’m a businessman, whatever that means. And I think that actually is an advantage in the architecture world. A lot of architects like to pretend they know everything, and I fully admit that I don’t.

Tell me about your broader vision for Mancini Duffy—particularly when it comes to the potential that various technologies hold for the future of design.

Mancini’s always been traditionally known for very sophisticated, tried-and-true corporate interiors for financial institutions and law firms. New York has changed a lot, and while clearly much of that still exists, there is a technology boom here. Those are the kinds of clients that I think get a lot of people here jazzed up, especially the younger generation [of designers] that we have here.

With that, the culture of those firms has really permeated here. We’ve been quite inspired by some of the companies we’ve worked with to focus on the technologies that are going to move the architecture world forward and how we can change our business model.

We’re a service provider, and what that means is the more people we have producing and billing hours, the more revenue the firm generates. That’s a terrible business model; you’re selling hours. We want to be able to improve our clients’ experience by getting them better design, more economical design, designing within whatever their constraints are and doing it more efficiently on our side. So we’re trying to use technology to better ourselves in that way—how can technology move us forward and get us away from selling hours? Can the computer actually do some of the design work for us?

We’re really trying to experiment with this idea of generative design: that we can enter parameters of how the client wants certain things designed and let the computer do some of the work or generate some of the ideas—sort of the artificial intelligence of design. There’s always going to be a human input to it because design is emotional and there’s an emotional attachment to it, but how can we push that forward?

So 3-D printing—but not 3-D printing to print cute little models of what we’ve done. We’ve been engaged by Chaminade High School [in Mineola, N.Y.], where we’re actually physically printing a 3-D wall. We’re going to have 12 printers set up in the building as it’s under construction, and for a month straight we’re going to be physically printing a donor wall—all the names of the people who have given money for this new building—that will ultimately be assembled and put up on site.

It’s that kind of, How do we take the technology and actually use it to not only design, not only represent but actually move the profession forward and move the construction process forward? One of our 30-year goals is to actually 3-D print houses on a mass production scale. That’s what we call our B.H.A.G.: our big, hairy, audacious goal.

Of the firm’s current projects, which are you most excited about?

We’re known, obviously, as a corporate interiors firm. I think what’s not as known is that we also do new buildings. 1568 Broadway is our largest project to date; it’s about a 300,000-square-foot building in Times Square with L&L Holding. Awesome project—there are about 15 people here working on it. It’s the old Palace Theatre; the theater is being elevated about 30 feet to create valuable retail space at the bottom. There’s a superstructure being built around it; the old [DoubleTree] hotel is being essentially demolished, but 40 percent of the structure is remaining so that they can keep a certain amount of zoning FAR [floor area ratio] there, and we’re rebuilding that hotel.

We’re the executive architect for the entire thing, and it’s a good example of working little by little with the client and showing them that we actually had the chops to do this. We hired a technical director from Norman Foster’s office who has that kind of experience to lead the team. It’s really going to put us on the map as far as New York City buildings and base building work—we’ve got a Times Square, New York City tower.

We’re also on our third executive airport lounge for American Airlines; we’re starting an airport division here. We’re not going to do airports like an HOK—we’re not going to actually build the terminals or anything like that—but we’re not more aggressively looking to do the interiors of them since we’ve got a few under our belt now.

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Giordano with one of his custom-designed cakes. Photo: Christian Giordano

I hear you have a pretty sophisticated culinary hobby: You design and bake really ornate, decorated cakes. How did you find that as a passion?

Again, I’m from a design background—I’m a design guy. When my first daughter was born, now 10 years ago, those [baking] shows were really popular—Ace of Cakes, Cake Boss. So I was watching them like, “This is just clay architecture model-making; I could totally do this, this is a joke.” My mother-in-law is super into baking, so she would bake, and I’d be like, “This is easy, I’ll make the kid’s first birthday cake.” And it was horrible—way harder than I ever realized.

I watched baking shows a lot. Those two shows were more about the drama, but other competition shows you could actually learn a lot from. So I’d sit at night watching this stuff, determined to get better.

The whole idea was that I’d eventually be able to do it with the kids, and that’s really how it’s turned out. The younger one, she just wants to mess around and loses interest, but the older one actually is now helping, which is pretty cool—we create two simultaneous cakes as we go.

And man, it just took off—all of a sudden I was doing groomsman’s cakes for people in the industry, I was doing kids’ birthday parties. I will not do a wedding cake—that’s way too much pressure. And I’ve probably done, at this point, 50-plus cakes where they’ve just gotten bigger and better. I’ve bought remote control cars and taken them apart so I could get the motors to turn cakes. I’ve had voice recordings in some of them. It’s very time consuming; of course, I have to do it at night. A lot of times I’ll end up having to take a Friday off and focus solely on the cake because the birthday party is on Saturday morning.

So do you expect to continue doing this as just a hobby, or is a side career in baking perhaps in the works?

No, I would never take money for it. People will give me gift cards or something, but it’s just for friends and family. I actually got to meet the Cake Boss, and embarrassingly I told him I could do what he does.

Source: commercial

The Plan: Inside Winton Capital’s Offices at 315 Park Avenue South

How does one create a sophisticated office while eschewing convention?

That was the dilemma that employees at architecture firm MKDA had when designing Winton Capital’s 35,000-square-foot duplex at the top of 315 Park Avenue South, where the 19th floor has 14-foot ceiling heights and the 20th floor comes with dizzying 19-foot ceilings.

“They made it clear they weren’t looking to be this outlandish financial company,” Wendy Nuñez-Formickella, a senior interior designer and studio director at MKDA, told Commercial Observer. “To have these beautiful open office spaces is great, but you still need to personalize it. We wanted to create this intimacy for the office, especially for guests. We didn’t want it to be cold.”

Winton Capital is a London-based investment firm (accordingly, it’s not like they needed a trendy tech firm-style), so MKDA created an elegant space using simple solid colors. The design is enhanced by a massive skylight—referred to as the spine—that runs down the center of the office and floods the space with natural light.

But to make the space feel personal and not bland, MKDA dropped in a few standout elements, such as copper globe-shaped lighting, artwork and red or white plant holders with green plants that have red flowers.

“It’s bringing color to that [space] without being over the top,” Nuñez-Formickella said.

The firm wanted its New York location to have that quintessential Big Apple office appearance with exposed beams and ceilings and polished concrete floors. MKDA further darkened the concrete floors through a steaming process. Winton Capital moved into the space last July.

The 20th floor is the main office and has a reception area, conference rooms, 50 workstations in an open plan and two private offices. The offices and other rooms have glass fronts with grid-pattern black metal frames, paying homage to gritty New York buildings.

The same blackened metal can be found on the internal staircase connecting the two floors.

And in a stark contrast from the 20th floor, the 19th floor is a social space with a café, with a vintage neon sign as a focal point, and breakout areas for meetings.

There is also a wellness room for medical uses, such as nursing. And, although Winton Capital wanted an office with minimal features, it did elect to bring in a little fun (besides the vintage neon sign)—like a tech firm would—by putting in four old arcade machines and a putting green.

“It’s not a place where people would go and play for six hours,” Nuñez-Formickella said, “but it’s a place where you can break away from your desk [for a little while].”

Source: commercial

The Plan: The Federal Home Loan Bank of New York’s New Digs at 101 Park Avenue

When you think about the design of a bank, a cozy walnut is probably the last thing that comes to mind.

But when the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York moved from its 41,000-square-foot, fifth-floor office at 101 Park Avenue to half of the sixth floor and the entire seventh floor in the Manhattan building, in an expansion to 64,200 square feet, it called on the Spector Group to create an openness and warmth that belied staid tradition.

“The existing conditions were very private office heavy and very enclosed, and they were looking to provide connectivity between the managing committee and the rest of the employees,” said Jessica Mann-Amato, a design director at Spector. “So you’re not only providing a visual connection but drawing people together within communal spaces.”

Given a budget of $175 to $190 per rentable square foot (or $11.2 million to $12.2 million), Spector, in a six-month construction process that took place from winter 2016 to last spring, installed an open-office plan that brought the trading floor to the front, used specific lighting changes to delineate formal from informal spaces and employed warmer materials and open designs to imbue the space with a lighter feeling.

“We needed to evoke a sense of warmth and welcomeness so that people felt more open to collaborating,” Mann-Amato said.

The firm found that the warmth of walnut, used in the ceilings and the furniture, was a perfect way to convey this sense of openness.

“We used the walnut in combination with brushed bronze. There are still warm colors, but there’s a lot of white as well,” said firm principal Scott Spector. “There’s a real blending of warmth and technology, and it meets right in the middle.”

Part of the challenge was channeling that warmth and openness while not losing the sense that this was a place of business and a company that was forward-thinking in its use of technology.

To that end, the firm designed a special circular pop-up for video monitors, which drops from the ceiling above the trading area.

“The monitors wrap around the whole perimeter above the trading area,” said David Beauchamp, this project’s architect for Spector. “They have their ticker board with the stocks they’re trading [there as well]. And we incorporated a lighting component within the ceiling that changes colors. It’s an LED picture, and when they bring a client in, they can refine that color for clients to showcase that they’re thinking about their client as they enter the space.”

The end result is a bank that feels friendlier than a traditional bank and a space that conveys the feel of an innovative company without leaving tradition too far in the dust.

“There’s a warmth to the space that is far above your typical banking client,” Spector said. “It’s not heavy white marble; it’s not repetitive work stations all over the place. They’re a bank with technology driving them, but it’s not your typical tech firm with exposed ceilings and startup guts. This is more refined. It’s a fine line that hits all the positives the bank was looking for and creates the environment they wanted.”

Source: commercial

Under Construction: Wooden Office Buildings in Williamsburg

When developer Flank purchased two industrial properties in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the firm’s partners decided they wanted to plunge into the North Brooklyn office market with a concept that hadn’t been seen in New York City in nearly a century: newly constructed wooden buildings.

Creative office tenants want brick-and-beam buildings—meaning brick walls and timber framing—that resemble old warehouses and lofts constructed around the turn of the last century. In neighborhoods like Williamsburg and NoMad in Manhattan, tenants are willing to pay higher rents for former industrial spaces than for typical office space, Ken Copeland, a partner at Flank, told Commercial Observer during a property tour.

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Another look at 320 Wythe Avenue. Photo: Flank

So Copeland and his partners decided to mesh the authenticity of New York’s manufacturing past with the benefits of new construction. They are developing two new wooden buildings at 320 and 360 Wythe Avenue, rising three and five stories respectively. The projects are being fashioned out of nail-laminated timber, a specially engineered and chemically treated kind of wood that’s both dense and fire-resistant. The timber is mostly made of Canadian black spruce trees and comes from a small town in Quebec called Chibougamau. Montreal-based Nordic Structures manufactured the wood pieces based on Flank’s architectural plans and shipped them down to Brooklyn.

And wood is just as cost-effective as more traditional construction materials.

“It’s pretty much equivalent [to concrete],” Copeland explained. “Obviously the price of concrete has gone up over the course of this building cycle. And [compared to] steel, it’s also pretty equivalent. What we weren’t sure about was how efficient it would be and how fast it would be. But what ended up happening was what we’d hoped. [The laminated wood] actually goes up faster than steel…because everything is prefabricated and fits together.”

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An exterior rendering of the brick facade at 360 Wythe Avenue.

Recently, the smaller of the two buildings, 320 Wythe, topped out its timber. The 15,000-square-foot structure will have 11,000 square feet of office space and 4,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, which may be filled by a boutique store or a restaurant. Work is expected to finish in June, and asking rents for the office space will be in the $70s per square foot, Copeland said.

Two blocks south, workers are laying the foundation for 360 Wythe, which will hold 46,000 square feet of office space, 18,000 square feet of retail and 27 apartments. Here, too, the asking rent will be in the $70s per square foot.

Flank is not the first firm to take a stab at timber building in New York City over the past few years. In 2015, SHoP Architects unveiled the design for a 10-story wooden condominium at 475 West 18th Street in Chelsea. But last year, developer Sy Ghassemi axed the project, blaming a downturn in the luxury condo market and city regulations that cap wooden buildings at six stories.

But wooden construction has taken off in other American cities. Hines finished a seven-story, 220,000-square-foot timber office project, known as T3, in Minneapolis last year. It’s currently the tallest wooden building in the U.S., but T3 will soon be surpassed by a 12-story, 90,000-square-foot mixed-use timber building dubbed “Framework” in Portland.

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Asking rents for office space at 320 Wythe will be in the $70s per square foot. Rendering: Flank

Source: commercial