October 1, 2014
by jchristie
Clifford Pearson, Deputy Editor of Architectural Record moderated the evening's program.Credit: Eve Rosen
A full house at the Center for Architecture's "Global | Local" program, organized by the AIANY Global Dialogues Committee.Credit: Eve Rosen
Speakers of "Global | Local," organized by the AIANY Global Dialogues Committee.

On 09.15. 14, lead partners and principals of four diverse firms, Jamie von Klemperer, FAIA, of Kohn Pedersen Fox/KPF; Sunil Bald of Studio SUMO; Craig Dykers, AIA, MNAL, FRIBA, FRSA, LEED AP, and Elaine Molinar, AIA, MNAL, LEED AP, of Snøhetta; and Kai-Uwe Bergmann, AIA, of BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group, gathered to talk about the influences of global and (or, vs.) local in their architecture practices. Moderator, Clifford Pearson, Architectural Record deputy editor, started the program with a reference to Ancient Rome – a point that resurfaced at various points during the evening: while the tools are new and the speed and local engagement is greater, global architecture has been present for millennia.

Many of the speakers began with an interpretation of what it means to be local today. Dykers presented a diagram of his own various nationalities. Although he is German, his parents have relatives from all over Europe, he has lived the longest in Denmark, his first name is Scottish, and his last name, Dutch. He argued that when you look closely (or when you pull back, looking at the globe at large), specificity becomes difficult to identify. This multinationality extends to Snøhetta itself, an office made of 16 different nationalities, with two primary offices in Oslo and New York and a few small offices across the globe. For an international firm such as KPF, with offices in six countries and with largely international projects over the last 10 to 25 years, what is simply local or simply foreign is also difficult to identify. Are KPF architects who live and work in Seoul local, foreign, international, or global architects? Global capitalism blurs these lines. For example, in New York, Michael Kors has offices two floors above KPF, while there is a Michael Kors store down the street from KPF’s temporary Kerry Centre office in Jing An, Shanghai.

The small firm Studio SUMO is based exclusively in New York, but strives to immerse itself in the place of a given project, working with local consultants and construction companies, as well as spending a significant amount of time on site. While designing and building the Josai School of Management in Sakado, Japan, Bald spent 311 of the 862 days of the project in Japan. He drew inspiration for his design from his experience in the Japanese urban landscape, seeking to bridge what he saw as the opposing forces of the informality of street life and the formality of its institutions. His design included a “street” that ran from underneath the building from front to back. The project itself had its origin in global exchange: the client was the daughter of a Japanese finance minister who studied in the U.S., and upon her return, she sought to make the university, founded by her father, more social, entrepreneurial, and Western. (The Japanese education system itself has been highly molded by Western influence; during the occupation period following WW II, the U.S. required Japan to reform parts of its educational system.)

For BIG, working internationally became a necessity after the global fiscal crisis. Before 2008, 90% of BIG’s projects were within 100 kilometers of Copenhagen. To maintain its staff, the firm started entering international competitions. Bergmann said that working abroad has enabled BIG to formulate its own vision of sustainability, an amalgamation of different cultural approaches. In the U.S., we judge sustainability by a commodity-driven certification system, in Austria or Germany, by the precise calculation of energy, and in Denmark, by a woolly sweater and a bike. Similarly, the firm takes inspiration from the different expectations of countries. In the U.S., engineers design infrastructural facilities. In Denmark, the government asked that Copenhagen’s new waste-to-energy plant be a “gift to the city.” In response, BIG is creating a facility that doubles as a ski slope and emits smoke rings as a signal to the public every time a ton of carbon is emitted.

Dykers said that he also created his own set of best practices through working abroad. When Snøhetta built the Biblioteca Alexandrina, there were no building codes in Egypt. Dykers researched codes from all over the world to compile his own list. In the process, he discovered that in the U.S., handrails are built according to the height of the 95th percentile of white men. This critical practice opens up ways to design according to what connects, rather than segregates, us. Dykers also mentioned times of disagreement, such as when Snøhetta had a female project manager in Saudi Arabia, despite objection, or when Egyptian workers refused to wear helmets, even after a monetary incentive was offered.

Bergmann had the last word, asking Dykers and Molinar if they thought the Biblioteca Alexandrina was a seed in the Arab Spring. Dykers responded that no building can be a seed for a political movement, but that the library has been a place for the movement to coalesce. The library is still a place of dialogue, and the Egyptians have put their bodies on the line to protect it. Still, the question of the power of influence through design is pertinent, harkening back to the precedent of Ancient Rome. A number of the panelists agreed that there are certain privileges as a foreign architect, and you are allowed to push limits that local architects could not. With this in mind, it is important to bear in mind how not only global influences, but also how particularly Western and capitalist influences, affect local communities, suppressing or nurturing local desires.

Event: Global | Local
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.15.14
Speakers: Kai-Uwe Bergmann, AIA, Partner, BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group; Craig Dykers, AIA, MNAL, FRIBA, FRSA, LEED AP, Founding Partner, Snøhetta; Elaine Molinar, AIA, MNAL, LEED AP, Managing Director and Partner, Snøhetta; Yolande Daniels, Principal, Studio SUMO; Sunil Bald, Principal, Studio SUMO; Jamie von Klemperer, FAIA, Principal, KPF; and Clifford Pearson, Deputy Editor, Architectural Record (moderator)
Organizers: AIANY Global Dialogues Committee
Sponsors: Langan Engineering and Environmental Services, PPG Industries, and Murray’s Cheese (Food Sponsor)

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