• 1-800-123-789
  • info@webriti.com

Category ArchiveArchitecture

The Plan: Inside World Economic Forum’s New Energy Efficient Offices

The World Economic Forum is trying to lead by example.

The organization, which was founded in 1971 and is tasked with resolving international conflicts and improving the world through meetings with political and business leaders (like its annual summit in Davos), supports sustainable development practices.  

So when designing its new offices at RFR Realty’s 350 Madison Avenue between East 44th and East 45th Streets, it worked with CodeGreen Solutions—a sustainable building consultant—to make its location platinum-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certified, the highest level awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council.

“Our new New York City office design by Montroy Andersen DeMarco will support our mission and provide a comfortable work environment for our employees,” Stephan Ruiz, the forum’s head of finance and operations, said in a prepared statement. “It also reflects our organization’s strong commitment to sustainable development and operations.”

The office has energy efficient LED lights throughout, it uses less water in washrooms than typical offices and about 90 percent of the appliances are Energy Star certified, meaning they were built specifically to consume less power. Also, more than 80 percent of the waste from demolition of the space was recycled.

Architecture firm Montroy Andersen designed the 39,000-square-foot office on the entire 10th and 11th floors to fit the Swiss organization’s 150 New York-based employees, as well as their guests, for meetings and events.

The 10th floor has executive suites and 109 workstations, all with adjustable-height desks. And there is a 425-square-foot foyer with four seating pods and a pantry with seating for 30 people. Montroy Andersen redesigned an existing internal staircase and added stainless-steel handrails.

And the 11th floor features 29 workstations, offices for the finance and human resources departments and a studio where the organization can make promotional videos.

On this floor there are seven conference rooms, all with high-level audio and video-conferencing equipment. Also, a pantry and a 950-square-foot event space, which can sit up to 160 people, was designed for when the office needs to host large meetings.

Guests to the office will be greeted by a 1,300-square-foot reception area on the 11th floor. The welcome space features a residential aesthetic with wood flooring and walls and a custom receptionist’s desk with a glass front. A nearby seating area has high-end European furniture, LED lights and carpeting.

“The overall look and feel for the entire space is light, warm and contemporary, with an understated European aesthetic that is a nod to the visual language of the Geneva headquarters,” said Mariana Panova, a designer at Montroy Andersen. “The team wanted to create a high-end, more sophisticated reception area on the 11th floor, where guests, speakers and leaders will be greeted.”

Source: commercial

Does 270 Park Avenue Deserve to Be Saved?

When J.P. Morgan Chase announced last month that it would demolish its 52-story headquarters at 270 Park Avenue in Midtown, preservationists and architecture fans were up in arms. The bank said it would tear down the 1961 modernist skyscraper to build a new 70-story headquarters that would house 15,000 employees and 2.3 million square feet of office space.

Architecture writers were quick to point out that 270 Park Avenue—also known as the Union Carbide Building—was an important example of mid-century corporate architecture. More importantly, it was perhaps the first high-rise designed by a woman, according to Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange. Natalie de Blois helped lead the team of architects at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) that designed Union Carbide, under the supervision of Gordon Bunshaft, partner at SOM. De Bois, one of a handful of high-profile female architects at the time, also played a pivotal role in designing two other corporate icons of the 1950s and ‘60s: the Pepsi-Cola Building and Lever House (both of which are now landmarked).

Since de Blois and Bunshaft’s other well-known Midtown East works have landmark protection, critics argue that 270 Park should be designated a landmark, too.

“The point is not that she did it solo, but she was part of the team that designed this building and was instrumental in the design,” Lange said. “And she wasn’t talked about enough in her lifetime.” She added that the building was unique because in its early years, Union Carbide left the lobby open to the public and organized exhibits on art and finance there.

On Curbed, Lange explained that the building’s gridded exterior was “coated in one of Union Carbide’s latest products and thus, like Lever House’s window-washing apparatus, became a showcase for the company’s chemistry.” (Union Carbide has produced a slew of chemicals and household products since its founding in 1917, including antifreeze, Glad bags and plastic wraps, Energizer batteries, rocket fuel and asbestos. It occupied 270 Park until 1983, when it moved its operations to Danbury, Conn.)  

In his write-up on the demise of 270 Park, New York magazine’s Justin Davidson argued, “The Union Carbide Building deserves to continue existing, not because it was in the vanguard of a movement with a dubious urban legacy, but because it’s among the finest of its kind. The clear glass membrane, stainless steel fins, and slender bones combine to give it a texture and personality that so many imitators lack.”

And 270 Park is one of several architecturally significant structures in the neighborhood that deserve historic protection, preservationists argue. As the city was gearing up to rezone Midtown East in 2016, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) assembled a collection of properties that could merit designation. Although a dozen buildings were ultimately landmarked, advocates said there are several more properties that should have been seriously considered. Union Carbide topped the list, as well as the Universal Pictures Building at 445 Park Avenue (Kahn & Jacobs, 1946-47), the former Girl Scouts of America headquarters at 830 Third Avenue (SOM, 1957), the MetLife Building at 200 Park Avenue (Emery Roth & Sons, 1963), the National Distillers Building at 99 Park Avenue (Emery Roth & Sons, 1953) and the Lipstick Building at 885 Third Avenue (Philip Johnson, 1986). The landmark commission put another Johnson-designed office tower at 550 Madison Avenue on its calendar last fall after its owners threatened to dramatically renovate the building, but it hasn’t been officially voted on yet.  

“Further consideration of [270 Park] as a landmark is not among the commission’s priorities at this time,” an LPC spokeswoman said in a statement. “As part of the interagency East Midtown rezoning initiative, the commission evaluated buildings in the area, including this one. As a result, we prioritized and designated 12 iconic buildings that represented the key periods of development in the area as individual landmarks, but the J.P. Morgan Chase building at 270 Park Avenue was not among them.”

Not everyone believes that 270 Park is worthy of being saved. Matt Shaw of Architects Newspaper contended that the tower “represents the worst of midcentury American corporate architecture, something that at the time was totalizing, banal, repetitive and dogmatic.” Shaw added that Union Carbide should be remembered as the company responsible for the worst industrial accident in history, the Bhopal disaster in India, a toxic gas leak that killed 16,000 and exposed hundreds of thousands to a lethal gas in 1984. He asked in his publication: “Why not just let 270 Park die a natural death at the hands of the 21st century equivalent of Union Carbide: a multi-national bank? It’s really a beautiful story if you think about it correctly.”  

The disassembly of buildings like Union Carbide is exactly what the city intended when it dramatically upzoned Midtown East in August 2017. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration hoped that the new zoning would encourage the redevelopment of the area’s century-old office stock, which has been eclipsed by newer buildings in hipper parts of Manhattan. When J.P. Morgan Chase made its announcement about a new headquarters, the mayor crowed in a press release: “This is our plan for East Midtown in action. Good jobs, modern buildings and concrete investments that will make East Midtown stronger for the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who work here.” The development is expected to generate $40 million in improvements for streets and subway stations, which was one of the primary aims of the rezoning.

Still, preservationists were shocked to hear that 270 Park would meet the wrecking ball. “270 Park was not even identified as a development site” because the building already took up much of the site’s potential floor area, said Simeon Bankoff, the president of the Historic Districts Council. “Honestly it took everyone I know by surprise. The rezoning really changed the rules for development in East Midtown.”

When Union Carbide bites the dust early next year, the 1.3-million-square-foot structure—which occupies a full block between Park and Madison Avenues and East 47th and 48th Streets—will be the world’s largest voluntary demolition. It will take that title from the Singer Building, the 47-story, 612-foot tall skyscraper at 149 Broadway that was constructed in 1908 and torn down in 1967 to make room for One Liberty Plaza.

Chase will have to invest considerable time and money in knocking down 270 Park. And the decision to redevelop it comes only six years after America’s largest bank pumped tens of millions into renovating the building, adding eco-friendly features and bringing it up to LEED platinum status. Critics charge that the development will be a big waste of cash, especially since the financial institution already spent untold millions on the renovation in 2012.

“Above and beyond the landmark preservation process being kind of bent for this to happen, this strikes me as a deeply conspicuous consumption and something I find shocking on that level,” Bankoff said.

However, Robert Knakal, the chairman of New York investment sales at Cushman & Wakefield, pointed out that once the bank considered the cost of land in Midtown, it was cheaper to demolish and rebuild at 270 Park than to buy another site and try to develop it.  

“If that was a vacant lot today, the land value would be arguably approaching $1,000 a square foot,” he said. “So by the time they demolish the building, their land basis is going to be less than that. And that’s a heck of a lot less than it would be today.” (Land basis equals what you paid for the property, plus the cost of capital improvements and construction.)

The proposed demolition of Union Carbide also ignited a wave of fear, among preservationists and architecture enthusiasts, that the rezoning would inspire other landlords to knock down large, unique office properties in Midtown East. Knakal argued that probably wouldn’t happen for decades, given how challenging it can be to vacate big commercial buildings and cobble together development sites in Manhattan.

“A number of people have called me and asked, ‘Bob, is this a wave of this happening?’ Of the 16 sites the city projected to take advantage of the Midtown East rezoning, many have seven and eight owners, so it will take a decade to assemble those sites. And then you have to deal with the tenants. There might be 30, 40, 60 tenants. You can’t just say I want to knock the building down, please leave. Unless owners have a very particular set of circumstances with their tenants, it likely isn’t going to happen.”

J.P. Morgan Chase hasn’t released any details on the architects, contractors or developers involved in either the demolition of its old headquarters or construction of the new building, which is expected to be complete in 2025.

Construction experts predict that it will take at least a year to demolish the 700-foot-tall property, which will have to be torn apart mostly by hand.

First, in order to prevent dust and debris from affecting neighboring buildings or people walking by, the project’s contractor will shroud the building in scaffolding or netting. Then workers will have to remove any harmful materials, like asbestos and lead paint, and use hand tools to remove windows, fixtures and doors. The deconstructing of the building comes next. Metal facade panels would be carefully removed by hand. Excavators—like BobCats—and smaller tools would likely be used to break apart the concrete slabs of each floor, although some projects have deployed demolition robots to accomplish the task. In the final steps of the demolition, workers would take acetylene torches to the steel beams and superstructure, cutting the steel into smaller pieces floor by floor.

Ken Colao, of CNY Construction, explained the demolition of such a large building offers an opportunity to think about more efficient ways to take apart skyscrapers. “New regulations need to be developed with the building department to address the demolition of large-scale developments,” he said. “The current method—to enclose it with scaffolding and dismantle it by hand with small equipment—would be too time consuming.”

The contractors on 270 Park could use cranes to remove large pieces of the building. And disassembling the steel frame could be faster if workers cut through pieces of steel, and then a crane lifted the steel onto a truck, he said.

Developers in other countries have used even more unconventional methods: In 2013, a Japanese construction firm demolished a building by jacking up the steel columns with a hydraulic lift, cutting each column with a torch simultaneously, roughly two feet at a time, and then chopping up each floor of a 35-story tower.

Besides the usual worries about dust and noise, construction firms working on 270 Park will have to avoid cutting off the building’s standpipes. If a fire breaks out, firefighters connect hoses to the pipes, which link each floor of a building to the city water system. During the demolition of the 41-story Deutsche Bank Building at 130 Liberty Street—the second-largest building to ever be taken apart in New York—two firefighters died battling a 2007 blaze because they couldn’t reach a working standpipe. The building was heavily contaminated and damaged by the Sept. 11 attacks. Then the fire, sparked by a worker’s dropped cigarette, halted its decade-long, $160 million demolition. The incident forced the Department of Buildings to institute several rule changes, including prohibitions against smoking on worksites and regular inspections to make sure standpipes are maintained.

“When the fireman tried to hook up their hose to the standpipe, there was no water because the standpipe had been cut,” explained Richard Lambeck, chair of the construction management program at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate. “The building department was supposed to inspect the building but they didn’t do it in the periodic way they were supposed to.”

There are also concerns about tearing out the building’s foundation, because it sits atop the Metro North tracks along Park Avenue and could contain asbestos, like many buildings from the 1960s. Colao suggested that the old foundation could be kept, at least partially, and then decked over with a new foundation to support the weight of the new, larger building.

Even with the issues surrounding the demolition of the Park Avenue tower, its replacement will have much more energy-efficient facade panels, windows and building systems.

“These curtain walls have a useful life, they don’t last forever,” said Richard Wood, the head of Plaza Construction, which handled the building’s renovation. “And no one would go back to the 60s era of single-pane glass [windows].”

And protecting buildings like 270 Park may simply be holding the neighborhood back, preventing it from competing with more modern office developments Downtown and on the West Side.

“There’s nothing beautiful about these 1960s buildings,” Wood continued. “[Preservation efforts] are just a way to stop growth and development. I would argue that maybe you would save the facade if it’s an old stone building with hand carving that’s hard to recreate, but I’m sure what they put there will be a lot more beautiful than what’s there now.”

Source: commercial

Williamsburg’s Dime Savings Bank Gets Landmarked

The Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburgh—which will soon be redeveloped as part of a 22-story residential and commercial complex—is now a landmark.

The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted today to designate the Neo-Classical bank at 209 Havemeyer Street a landmark, according to a press release from the agency. The building was constructed as the bank’s headquarters between 1906 and 1908, during a period of growth in Williamsburg that followed the completion of the Williamsburg Bridge. Helmle & Huberty designed the 16,700-square-foot structure, which was constructed out of Indiana limestone and features Corinthian columns, modillions (elaborate brackets that support the cornice) and a clock.

In a statement, LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan called the property “a testament to the elegance and grandeur of the City Beautiful Movement.”

Charney Construction and Tavros Capital Partners purchased the building from Dime Community Bancshares for $12.3 million last November, after paying $80 million for the adjacent site and air rights in March 2016. Late last year, the bank relocated across the street to recently completed rental building at 282 South 5th Street.

Charney and Tavros plan to transform the two sites into a 340,000-square-foot mixed-use project called “The Dime.” With the help of architecture firm Fogarty Finger, the developers plan to build 100,000 square feet of office space, 50,000 square feet of retail and 177 rental apartments. Sam Charney, the principal at Charney Construction, told Commercial Observer that construction recently began on the new building, and workers just put in foundations. The former bank building will be renovated into either office or retail, depending on what kind of commercial tenant signs on for the space.

“This is a fitting tribute to the building’s architecture and its long history as a pillar of the historic financial center that was South Williamsburg,” Charney said in a statement. “The Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburgh has served as a local source of pride and community centerpiece for the past century, and is a true reflection of the socioeconomic diversity that has historically made this neighborhood and Brooklyn so special.”

Source: commercial

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

squarespace pro photos page 14 NYCs Top 10 Commercial Interior Design Firms of 2018
main lobby and stairway NYCs Top 10 Commercial Interior Design Firms of 2018
456638 NYCs Top 10 Commercial Interior Design Firms of 2018
linkedin nyc 2017 232 NYCs Top 10 Commercial Interior Design Firms of 2018
mkda hodgson russdw2i7020 NYCs Top 10 Commercial Interior Design Firms of 2018
gancsos sg fhlbny 11 NYCs Top 10 Commercial Interior Design Firms of 2018
2017 03 27 view 02 peacock alley NYCs Top 10 Commercial Interior Design Firms of 2018
13710 00 n3 fulljpg NYCs Top 10 Commercial Interior Design Firms of 2018
cf058307 NYCs Top 10 Commercial Interior Design Firms of 2018
associatedpress pho 060 src NYCs Top 10 Commercial Interior Design Firms of 2018
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.

gettyimages 146367902 Lets Get Frank: Gehry on New York, LA and the Future of Design
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.

gettyimages 513620645 Lets Get Frank: Gehry on New York, LA and the Future of Design
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.

gettyimages 530367530 Lets Get Frank: Gehry on New York, LA and the Future of Design
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.

gettyimages 836394140 Lets Get Frank: Gehry on New York, LA and the Future of Design
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.

20180208 christian giordano 129 Mancini Duffys Christian Giordano on Architectures Tech Revolution
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.

mr cake Mancini Duffys Christian Giordano on Architectures Tech Revolution
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