The Master Builder

Jonathan Segal is famous among architects for not only designing but also constructing and owning buildings. He teaches a popular course on the subject and has, over time, consolidated his work so that he alone controls the process (design, financial analysis, construction management, and property management) from start to finish. That allows him, he explains, to control every detail of the architectural design, not having to cede those decisions to an outside developer.

In this very engaging chat, we discuss the idea of a “master builder,” how it all but disappeared, and how he’s working to re-popularize the notion through his own work. In a short breakout conversation, we discuss his strategy for building a new building — from conception to completion — every 18 months. Hope you enjoy this chat with Jonathan Segal as much as I did!

It Pays to Be Historical

David Schwarz is a prolific architect based in Washington, DC. He has tackled challenges like the Dallas Mavericks basketball arena, a major children’s hospital, and a downtown maximum-security jail. All the while he has leaned heavily on historical traditions in architecture to make those places visually rich. He currently serves as Chairman of the Yale School of Architecture Dean’s Council. He is a recent recipient of the Driehaus Prize for Classical Architecture.

Having been schooled in the modernist architectural approach, he later became convinced that that approach lacked emotional insight. In our chat we discuss what those reasons were and what effect they have had on his career and designs. Along the way, we pick up the thread of several discussions I’ve had in previous interviews. This was a fantastic conversation about classical architecture and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!


Making It Pop

Jim Baney is a principal at SchulerShook, one of the world’s leading lighting designers, and once the sun is down, the work he and his colleagues have done will determine much of the way you see a city. They were recently hired as Theatre Planner for the renovation of the Sydney Opera House’s largest venue, the Concert Hall, and that’s only the latest in a run of incredibly successful and significant projects, including Millennium Park in Chicago.

In our chat on lighting design, we discuss basic lighting theory, his very interesting work in “daylighting”, and the way that he is involved in both new construction projects and creative reuses. At the risk of understatement, Jim shed a lot of light on a subject which fascinated me but which I had never understood before. Hope you enjoy our chat on lighting design as much as I did!

There Is No Theory

So you’re a real estate developer, but you want your work to be informed by the best that architecture has to offer. How do you do that? That’s what I wanted to know from Dr. Witold Rybczynski (pronounced “vee-told rib-chin-ski”). During his time as professor at the University of Pennsylvania school of architecture, he taught design to students at Penn’s Wharton School of Business. We dug deep into all he’d learned from 20 years of teaching that course, starting with a one-minute tour of how architecture has been taught over the years.

After we finished our main conversation, Dr. Rybczynski and I spent some time talking about the specifics of his design course for real estate students (other schools take note) and about the future of building materials and eco-sensitivity. I’ve posted those conversations separately in the links above to keep the main interview shorter, but these breakout conversations were fantastic as well.

Dr. Rybczynski is the author of 19 books and has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, New York Review of Books, Architect Magazine, and many others. In addition, he served as Slate’s official architecture critic for several years and continues to blog regularly on his website. I read the past 5 years worth of posts on his fantastic blog and especially enjoyed his posts on architectural curricula, learning design, and the architectural theory behind height limits.  Our interview wasn’t very biographical, but here’s a link to a great interview with him about his own life from another podcast (interview starts at about minute four). Hope you enjoy our chat!


Architect or Developer?

In Episode 6, I caught up with Brandon Donnelly of the very popular blog Architect This City. Brandon has degrees in both architecture and real estate development and as such has a unique perspective on the two disciplines. In this episode, I was interested to hear about the rationale behind his decision to pursue development over architecture, his definition of “real estate developer,” and his suggestions for pursuing the kind of work in real estate development which he does (currently in Toronto). It was a great conversation and confirmed for me a lot of things I’d learned through reading his fantastic blog.

Later on in our chat, we did a little “lightning round” of very short conversations about zoning in San Francisco, land speculation in Detroit, wood-framed mid-rises, the future of crowd-funding in real estate, tearing down urban highways, etc, all stuff I knew Brandon had written about and which I found very interesting. I had some Skype connection problems in that section and it differed from the content we talked about for the first 11 minutes, so I’m just going to post that link here. Hope you all have a great Christmas and New Year.

Building Cities to Suit

In Episode 4, I chat with Andrés Duany, father of the New Urbanist movement and architect-planner for many huge developments. Duany has helped design and develop entire towns like Seaside, FL, and most recently Alyce Beach, FL (see video), as well as many other great “smaller” projects. But because his work and general views have been so well explored in his lectures, which are available online, I took this chance to get off the beaten path a bit.

The original interview was over an hour, but in this edited version, we start off talking about gentrification and 19th century Europe’s accidental solution to that issue, his decision to focus exclusively on innovative affordable housing now, then move on to talk about his views of Big Box Retailers (a subject which people think can’t be reconciled with New Urbanism), how to build large communities that look aesthetically diverse, and his view of real estate developers. There’s a lot of good stuff in there and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Here, briefly, are a few resources which would provide helpful background to Duany. Part 1 of this lecture (and subsequent parts also posted online) is a great introduction to his general mission. A recent article from The Atlantic’s CityLab publication discusses “lean urbanism”, his campaign to make regulations surrounding development less cumbersome. Here’s a recent lecture on the same topic.  Here’s a bit on his hobby, a four-volume architectural treatise called Heterodoxia Architectonia. Finally, the article linked on this page considers many critiques of the New Urbanist movement he started.


Our Dream is to Leave

In Episode 2, we catch up with architect Philip Engelbrecht, a friend from Berlin who played a pivotal role in helping me sort out my thoughts about a career shift. In one of our last chats before my move back, Philip mentioned an article in which the architects of Marzahn, a gigantic post-war public housing development in Berlin, were being interviewed. Their designs were very homogenous “block housing.” As a result, tens of thousands of the apartments are now vacant in such buildings. I’ve seen similar results in huge public housing developments here.

So in our chat, we talked about how one goes about designing something on such a large scale without drifting into the kind of homogenous design which leads to fiscal disaster (thousands of empty apartments…). Along the way, we discuss German construction techniques, which I have always found superior, and also some of the industry’s current dilemmas. Apologies for the occasional freezes and low resolution. We had a poor connection that day. Hope you enjoy it!