My love for architecture started in college while studying fashion and looking into structures as a form of inspiration in the context of angles and curves. It was at the Strand Bookstore where I stumbled upon a book on Kohn Pedersen Fox. Reading and observing the designs of William Pedersen, Founding Partner and Designer of KPF, I was inspired by how he worked with the geometry of towers, structures slender and strong yet quiet at the same time.
I continued loving the work of Bill Pedersen but also reviewing the work of his counterparts, SOM and Foster + Partners. All three were paving the way in becoming respected architectural firms in the international arena at that time. Though, I always looked again to Kohn Pedersen Fox and his use of glass and curves, creating the most indicative structure in America that represents these two key elements are alive at 333 Wacker Drive.
Recently, I had the honor of sitting with Mr. Pedersen at his office across from Bryant Park on rare warm, sunny day in April to discuss his love for these elements; how he applies them to his designs and to the masterpiece we all await and watch as it rises, The Hudson Yards.
IT’S ABOUT GLASS
The change in architecture over the past 50 years has seen the traditional masonry constructed buildings built out of various stones fade into glass. This was the choice in materials by architects and developers alike. A pivotal point to this is that glass technology has improved in the last 20 years and the material is being used now in the energy perspective because it is much more efficient. “There is a great desire from the real estate community to provide particularly in the office buildings as much light and view as possibly can,” Pedersen states. “It’s almost impossible not to build in all glass because of the demand in complete visibility.” As glass entered the market, we saw some pretty bad buildings, not because developers want to build badly but because glass requires sophistication where the techniques were still not acquired. Whereas the traditional masonry has a history, the techniques of construction and composition of elements have hundreds of years in history and this tradition is what architects can fall back on. “In traditional masonry, buildings develop elements that touch the ground successfully, touch the sky successfully, surround the window in a way that made the window feel purposefully placed in the wall where modern architecture came in and became a question of what’s a conceptual attitude towards a building,” says Pedersen.
When reviewing the works of Pedersen throughout the years, we see shapes. Refer back to his award winning structures of 333 Wacker Drive, the iconic residences of One Jackson Square with the wave of curves that has graced our city, DZ Bank in Frankfurt and the Shanghai World Financial Center. His buildings speak to us and within Pedersen there is a conversation, a dialogue or a gesture the building wants to give to us. What inspires Pedersen to design through shapes? “Inspiration comes from specific context: the place where the building is located,” Pedersen responds. “It is a response either to existing buildings or general context of the city itself; these inspire gestures. I look at it more as a conversation between structures; buildings tend to want to talk to each other. In a city there has to be a gestural capacity. Buildings are contingent upon so many other conditions; upon the relationships and if you don’t think of the building as being dependent upon where it is located then it tends to become isolated, it doesn’t have any urban life giving characteristics and that has been a large problem in the design of tall buildings. They tend by nature of their proportional characteristics and finding ways for tall buildings to gesture is more difficult than shorter buildings.”
These beautiful curves that we see in his structures were introduced by Pedersen to create a greater energy. He refers to Brancusi’s Birds in Space as his natural visual sensibility leads him to like form that is dynamic almost in motion. He also refers to the symbol of Japanese archery where the arms fully expand, where all the muscles are working efficiently, everything in balance just before the release of the arrow. “For me that is a dramatic dynamic moment,” Pedersen explains. “Introduction of a curve gives a greater sense of movement but at the same time has to be countered by other opposing geometries which give it attention.” The best example of this specific fundamental balance is 333 Wacker Drive where the curve of the building is generated in response to the curve of the Chicago River but the curve would not have been successful had it not been countered on top of the building with a dagger line sliced across it which created the energy of the building.
The International Move
After a wave of nationally acclaimed structures in the United States, KPF made a move on international territory winning the competition for the DZ Bank in Frankfurt. This was a very important project to Pedersen; it came at a point in time where he has been using strategies that have been somewhat derived from classicism and found himself frustrated with it because he couldn’t achieve at a larger scale an authentic quality that classical buildings achieved at a smaller scale.
The Frankfurt building was the first structure where Pedersen started thinking of the building as a series of interrelated parts. “I called it the three part building,” Pedersen reveals, “Where one part is stabilized at the core with two others; one curved and one rectangular.” How a building gestures to the context has encouraged Pedersen to make the buildings more outwardly responsive rather than inwardly pure and with DZ Bank Pedersen, he made one tower gesture to the commercial and the other making a gesture to the residential. This utilized the strategy of the three-part composition and started the international reputation where KPF was invited to Japan, which led to the relationship of the Mori family in the largest urban redevelopment project, Roppongi Hills.
A Developer’s Vision
In designing a building, Pedersen has what he calls a comparative process when meeting with his client. “We don’t just show them our vision; we show them a number of possibilities,” Pedersen explains. In a world where architectural standards of aesthetic beauty are in the demand of excellence, a developer recognizes the success in marketing when you build an efficient but a handsome building. The clients have aspirations and through the comparative process, these clients see how Pedersen is working with their vision and the relationship changes entirely to a respectful dialogue. When speaking about the Hudson Yards, we are seeing a bigger picture of a New City, a dynamic mix where retail is brought together with commercial, hospitality, and residential along with a cultural center and a massive public space and in all paying respect to the Highline, a major component of making the Hudson Yards possible. Pedersen’s view on this: “The Hudson Yards has been focused on very high quality. Cities are becoming enjoyable and Steven Ross is totally focused on this for Hudson Yards.”
The original conception of the Hudson Yards was three towers but “Steven wasn’t happy with the imagery and geometries of the buildings,” Pedersen continues. “He wanted something more dynamic so we went to two towers.” The relationship of how two buildings relate is a different challenge on how three buildings relate and keeping the towers extremely efficient in the point of view for lease-ability was one of Ross’ visions. Pedersen looked at the nature of each of the individual buildings. Very tall buildings have a series of elevators and the elevators as they stop is called a “dropping off,” so the actual core of the building gets smaller and smaller the reason of the buildings sloping which also follows the response. “So how do you put two buildings together in such a way where they can talk to each other?” Pedersen asks and responds. “One faces the city and one faces the river and as a result the buildings have a relationship to each other.” 10 Hudson Yards and 30 Hudson Yards are towers we have not seen in NYC EVER. The headquarters of prolific companies will be housed in these highly desirable addresses. Our senses are stimulated and awaken when we think of Hudson Yards and what Pedersen has mentioned a few times throughout the conversation “visual sensibility” his overriding inspiration.
Bill Pedersen has taken this visual sensibility to the highest of standards in design. He has given us more than towers to look at but towers that speak to us. In the past five years, he has been passionately working on something we use every single day in our homes, chairs. Pedersen taking the visual sensibility in developing something out of desire what he feels most comfortable with. Bill Pedersen will be showcasing his designs at the upcoming ICFF show taking place May 17-20th at the Javits Center.
Maria Hadjidemetriou has been a passionate Downtown resident for more than 14 years. She enjoys life as a mom to her five-year-old daughter and being a Real Estate Sales Agent for the Leonard Steinberg and LuxuryLoft Team; she also contributes monthly to Downtown Mom TM. Maria has been an active Board Member for the Cooley’s Anemia Foundation (Thalassemia Organization) since 1998 and on the Executive Committee since 2013.
You can follow Maria on Twitter @downtownmomnyc