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Q & A with Gregg Pasquarelli of SHoP Architects

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Q & A with Gregg Pasquarelli of SHoP Architects - ArtLife Magazine

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New York - SHoP Architects is a leading architecture firm, in Lower Manhattan, that has built countless innovative New York buildings including the Porter House, A-Wall, Garden Street Lofts and Me &Ro, and have built internationally as well. Shop was established in 1996 by five principals: Christopher Sharples, Coren Sharples, William Sharples, Kimberly Holden, and Gregg Pasquarelli. Artlife Magazine met up with Gregg Pasquarelli, one of the founding members and partners of SHoP to discuss how the firm established itself, and some of their current projects underway in New York.

Artlife Magazine : How did SHoP originally create a presence for itself within the art/design industry in New York?

Greg Pasquarelli : The five of us, the founding members of SHoP, did all sorts of different things: we freelanced, did as-built drawings for our professors, did competitions, built models for people, wrote chapters in architectural books for people. We really did whatever we could just to get by and have time to think about what kind of practice we wanted to have. We began entering a lot of competitions to test what it was like to work together, what the buildings might be like because we really had no preconceived notion of style. In fact our practice was founded in kind of an anti-stylistic pedagogy. Then, in our competitions we started placing- getting some thirds, and some seconds- then we started winning.

ALM : I know that SHoP has also done some international architectural project like the Hangil Book House in Seoul and the San LiTun building in Beijing; how did you establish a global presence?

GP : We started getting published a lot, we started winning competitions, we started getting stuff built and people would come to New York and see it and we would just get phone calls like ďa Japanese magazine wants to come see youĒ. Interestingly, weíve never had a PR agent and weíve had over 300 articles published about us, and weíve never tried to get published ever. So that started, and honestly a lot of the network came through acquaintances that we had met.

Weíve all donated time to different not for profits, traveled, taught, done lectures at universities, been involved in political organizations (I am part of the National Committee of US-China Relations). I have been traveling to China for ten years, in this kind of exchange program and never tried to get a project in all of those years we were there. But eventually people started asking us ďwhy arenít you working in China?Ē Then, it became a question of Ė ďwell, why arenít we?Ē And suddenly we had projects in China.

ALM : So everything sort of fell into place for SHoP globally?

GP : We were opportunistic, and we didnít make the fatal flaw that a lot of architects do which is only hang out with other architects. We loved to share our work and exchange ideas with artists, politicians, and financiers. Inevitably that just led to a larger network where people just started asking us to do stuff.

ALM : How does SHoP receive projects do clients approach the company or does the company approach potential clients?

GP : Itís different every time. I would say a good portion of the time what happens is someone calls us and says, ďWeíre putting together a list of architects for this project; or I saw you speak; or Iíve known you for five years; or I went to this building, loved it and would like you to submit.Ē So then often, we might submit a portfolio, and they cut it to a short-list. Since itís a paid competition, you work for maybe a couple of months with three or four architects. Then you go present the ideas and hopefully you win. Thatís probably how we receive half of our projects. The other half is mostly repeat clients.

ALM : How much creative freedom does SHoP have with their projects?

GP : Itís hard to say. The biggest difference between art and architecture is in art you pay for your materials and therefore you can do whatever you want. In architecture, we have to convince someone else to pay for our materials and itís an imperfect art. To me, thatís what makes architecture most interesting: itís the confluence of a spatial idea, how that idea has to respond to the political, financial, urbanistic influences around it. How well you deal with all those constraints is what makes a good architect, and thatís the difference between art and architecture. Weíve had times where weíve had complete design freedom, then times where itís brutal to get even a sixteenth of an inch of what we want, and you have to deal with both of those.

ALM : On average, how many SHoP employees are required for each project? Does it require simply an architect, designer/ fine arts, and engineer?

GP : No, itís very fluid here. A lot of firms are arranged so that thereís the partners, project architects, project managers, designers, interns- the conventional pyramid. But, we donít work like that at SHoP. All of the partners work on every project in some form and the client has one partner sometimes two that they know to talk to- a primary, and secondary- so that when some people are traveling there is always some at SHoP. But inside the office itís very fluid and non-hierarchical. Itís very much like a studio system where everyone participates on projects. In some cases, itís an intern six months out of school that Iím working with directly and in other cases; itís three project managers with fifteen years experience, depending on what weíre doing.

ALM : Can you describe the evolving-computer aided design technologies that SHoP uses? How does it help the design stage of a project?

GP : It helps in lots of ways. First and foremost, it allows us to version lots of things quickly so you can create thirty to fifty ideas at a much greater speed than you typically could. When we think about what a building wants to do we diagram the relationships and then we use the computer to help us develop certain forms around those diagrams while absorbing those external influences. On the design side of a project, it helps us in modeling systems and keep the rigor of the building while itís getting pressed up against itís pressures.

On the other side, where I think we have been very successful, is that weíve used it as a kind of technique to extract that information from the digital realm and already understand how itís going to get built. So, a lot of designers will just make a beautiful object and hand it off to an engineer, fabricator or contractor and say, ďmake it.Ē SHoP doesnít necessarily believe in that, we want to have more control and our hands in the process all of the way through. The digital technology allows us at the start of project to consider materiality, fabrication, assembly, delivery, construction; and it allows us to keep more control over the projects over their lifespan. It also means that none of SHoPís projects are value-engineered which keeps the designís integrity intact.

ALM : Currently, some of the ongoing projects SHoP is working on is the Barclays Center and the B2 Atlantic Yards residential building, which are both located in Brooklyn. I read that for the residential building of B2, SHoP had to address certain design requirements of the Design Guideline enacted by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC). Did SHoP have to drastically alter the original designs for B2 to fulfill these design requirements?

GP : Oh, the whole thing. Thatís a very tough project. For the arena we had lots of design freedom with what we could do with it. But basically because of the ESDC and the city agreeing to sign off on the Gehry design there were highly prescriptive design parameters that were in place. Between the design guidelines and the extremely limited budget while trying to integrate it with the Barclays Center AND invent a new technology for construction it was and continues to be quite a challenge.

ALM : So then with the Barclays Center, the new basketball arena, located in Brooklyn- what inspired the design for it, because itís very unique.

GP : It was a lot of things, and was about breaking down the building horizontally because we felt that in a neighborhood that is mostly five-storey brownstones, and this is the equivalent of a twelve-storey building it was about making datum-levels of the building. So first, you have the size of the person on the street so that to us was one datum level, then the brownstones height was the second datum level. So the idea was that the concourses where people walk to go into the stands we wanted to have complete transparency and equivalency to the sidewalk. Usually when youíre looking at a stadium from street level youíre looking at a dead wall so by having this transparency there is a kind of interaction. Then on the upper level, the second datum level, we wanted to make it so people were able to look out and see the skyline of the city. The design, we modeled after what was going on inside of the arena, and we ended up with a sort of curving-wrapped around faÁade. The folds were about texture, giving light and density to the shadows while the transparent areas were meant to open the structure up. For us, this is like Richard Serra meets a Chanel handbag.

And itís a very different arena compared to Madison Square Garden. I am a born and raised Knicks fan and Iíve been going to the Garden for like forty-something years and I love it but the playing field, the court, is on the fifth floor and people donít realize in the stands you travel about fifty feet upwards, so there is never any kind of interaction, its very internal. The Barclays Center emphasizes this interaction by connecting the bowl of the court with the seating, to allow a unique experience as opposed to going to the Garden. We really wanted to play up those spatial opportunities in a way that relates to the arenaís function and also the city.

ALM : What is the projectís expected completion date?

GP : The first concert is September 28th, which is very exciting.

ALM : Another ongoing project is the Seaport at Pier 17: can you discuss the inspiration behind the design since it is quite a unique reinterpretation of the mall. What is the projectís expected completion date?

GP : We were thinking about the pier about waterfront buildings and I was thinking as a New Yorker why donít I ever go there. The key thing that I came up with was I donít like the fact that youíre forced in one way and you have to come back out the same way. New Yorkers are used to being on the grid and they move, as they want. So the first idea was this version of making an open streetscape and de-mall the mall, if you will. There was this idea of making blocks and a street pattern and this kind of neighborhood you could get lost in that would extend out onto the pier. At the same time, we needed somehow anchor the building so then the idea turned into inverting the building so the anchors would be on top as opposed to the bottom. So we flipped it and put the anchors on top so the open village is below. So the anchor stores are on the top, so the idea was to make this open street-grid inside that would be open to the air. On the exterior of the faÁade there are giant glass pier doors that drop down during cold weather.

Our main aim with this design was to create an outdoor retail environment that would allow a view of the Brooklyn Bridge. And the cuts through the buildings, and the arrangement of the street-grid actually allow a view of the Brooklyn Bridge. On top of the anchor stores is a public roof with a music venue and restaurant, almost like another Bryant Park, where you can sit out, listen to music and see the Brooklyn Bridge.

ALM : Lastly, what would be your advice to a young-budding architect who wanted to get into the architecture industry and be successful?

GP : Just experience as many different things first because architecture is truly an art of bringing disparate things together. The more varied your background and experiences are, the more effective you can be in understanding how to make space. I would also say, as mentioned earlier, donít just hang out with architects. Also, donít be afraid to take risks! I think a lot of people believe that if they touch all of that dirty stuff they are ruining the art or putting the purity of the art at risk and I would make the exact opposite argument. In fact the more you engage with it, the more you can push the agenda and the art follows. So, the keys things are to engage and immerse.

Archi & Design - Q&A
by Laura Stewart | Thursday, 12 July 2012


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