Look for the rogue person who thinks outside the box in all your dealings with other people
In many large cities in the US, there is a crisis caused by a shortage of affordable housing options. This has led to a host of social challenges. In this series called “How We Are Helping To Make Housing More Affordable” we are talking to successful business leaders, real estate leaders, and builders, who share the initiatives they are undertaking to create more affordable housing options in the US.
As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Gluck.
Peter L. Gluck is founder and principal of GLUCK+ in New York. Named by Fast Company as a top 10 most innovative companies in architecture, the firm is recognized for Architect Led Design Build: single-source responsibility with architects leading the building process. The practice is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of design with real-world expertise to craft bold and conceptually unique architecture. The diverse portfolio of work is consistently recognized through national and international design awards and publications. Notable projects include Bridge, the first LEED Gold high-rise development in Philadelphia; Pilkey Laboratory, a LEED Gold science research facility for Duke University; The Stack, the first prefabricated steel and concrete modular residential development in New York City; and Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning, hailed by The New York Times as “one of the city’s best new works of public architecture.” The firm’s approach has been featured in Architectural Record “The New Master Builders,” The Architects Newspaper “Inside Architecture’s One-Stop Shop, and Architect “Best Practices: Engaging in Architect Led Design Build.”
A frequently invited guest lecturer and keynote speaker on the work of GLUCK+, Peter Gluck also has spoken widely on the responsibility of architects to change the profession. Peter received both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Architecture from Yale University. He has taught at Columbia and Yale schools of architecture and curated exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Milan Triennale. The Modern Impulse: Peter L. Gluck and Partners, the firm’s monograph, was published in 2008.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit of your “personal backstory? What is your background and what eventually brought you to this particular career path?
I didn’t even know what an architect was until I was a sophomore in college and saw the great Vincent Scully lecture in an architectural history course. I then began taking design studio courses in the School of Art and Architecture at Yale from which I graduated in 1965. Scully’s passion for architecture was contagious and extraordinarily compelling. Although everybody lives with architecture, only a few have the advantage of learning more from such a great source. I was immediately hooked. I haven’t stopped since. I essentially started my own office while I was still in school.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Early on in my career I spent two years in Japan working for a large architecture and construction company. As an English speaker, I was sent to accompany a Japanese colleague to represent the firm at a meeting with an overseas company who was interested in potential business. To tout their longevity and experience, the American company said that they had been in business for over 30 years. Thinking that they had impressed us, they then asked, “You fellas, tell us what the history of your Japanese company is…?” I did some spot calculations and replied, “Oh something like 300 some odd years.” It was a funny moment to be in-between the two work cultures.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
That’s not the way I look at things. I don’t think there has been a “tipping point”. You can’t wait for the lightning. My attitude is that you just capitalize on opportunities when they occur, you take them and keep plowing ahead. It’s oftentimes just about being at the right place at the right time. Which means you have to be there.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Making architecture is a collective enterprise. Success is not about a particular individual. I owe a lot to all the collaborators who have joined in the messy process of making along the way.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Travel has had the most impact. Having a deep knowledge of the history of architecture and actually going to experience buildings in-place where they are in the world, and exploring the stuff of architecture in all its forms. Because there is a difference between mediated experience and actually walking through the spaces firsthand.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher said, “Change is the only constant in life.”
It means you constantly have to be learning. You cannot accept past experiences as knowledge. You have to look at everything fresh. Situations are always different. Knowledge can be limiting. It’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom. And wisdom comes through experience.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the shortage of affordable housing. Lack of affordable housing has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities. I know this is a huge topic, but for the benefit of our readers can you briefly explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?
There isn’t a commitment to providing affordable housing. It doesn’t grow on trees. For every unit you build, you need some way of paying for it. The government has to spend more money, whether it’s funding it directly or through tax incentives. In addition, for every single unit of affordable housing, the cost has become more expensive because of codes, standards, land values, and sustainability goals. The fact is that an affordable housing unit does not cost much less than a market-rate unit; in some cases it costs more because of the regulations. At the end of the day, the way to produce more is to allocate more funding. There have been attempts for example, to find solutions through modular and pre-built construction but ultimately this affects the total cost in only a minor way. And all of this is in addition to the reluctance of middle-class neighbors to accept affordable housing in or near their communities.
Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact to address this crisis? Can you share some of the initiatives you are leading to help correct this issue?
All we can do as architects is to take the resources that are allocated to affordable housing and use them in the most efficient and effective way. Since the 1960s, I have been interested in finding ways to design and build cost-effective housing that also considers how to bring a human scale to large buildings, through the use of color or manipulating the design of the structure, and more efficient installation of mechanical systems. Early investigations into offsite (modular) construction have been a reference for later development of this idea for projects on more complicated urban sites.
Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?
The East Harlem School holds a special place. Our design build methodology and focus on cost of construction allowed for construction costs well under budget and a building that seems to remain ‘fresh’ even after 10 years. The building is maintained by those who occupy it because they inherently feel the effort that went into its making. It was clear that it was bespoke. They could recognize the care.
When the head of the school talks about the design of the building as an ongoing factor in the success of the school.
In your opinion, what should other home builders do to further address these problems?
Housing is looked at like a commodity, not as a critical part of the urban context. They should spend more time and effort in the design of the buildings. Invest more intellectual resources.
If you had the power to influence legislation, are there laws which you would like to see introduced that might help you in your work?
Simplify the regulatory processes, both for financing and construction, that have become an added cost to the process. And spend some time analyzing
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Work with only the best –
- Look for the rogue person who thinks outside the box in all your dealings with other people.
- Challenge the way it’s done.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Take responsibility. Don’t accept reasons why it can’t be done. Only seek those answers to how it can be done.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
The winner of the Best Teacher award in the country. Is there a National Best Teacher Award?
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Visit our website, gluckplus.com, to learn more about architects taking responsibility in the building process.