Dec 2, 201305:37 PMPoint of View

Q&A: Craig Schwitter

Q&A: Craig Schwitter

Under Schwitter's direction, the engineering firm Buro Happold has in the last decade participated in some of New York's most iconic projects, like the High Line.

Courtesy Buro Happold

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If you think New York is crowded now, just wait. The city is expected to grow by one million residents by 2040, and finding housing for them all will pose quite a big problem. New York’s housing infrastructure is already strained as it is; in no way will the existing cityscape be able to accommodate the next generation of the city’s denizens. The Living Cities Competition is asking architects and designs to envision the kind of bold, large-scale ideas that will be needed to catapult New York into the 21st Century.

A mandate of this order, of course, will have to incorporate sustainable design and building practices. So I thought I might have a chat with an industry veteran who knows a thing or two about building large and sustainably. Craig Schwitter heads the North American office of Buro Happold Engineers, which has outposts sprinkled throughout the country’s largest cities. Schwitter has overseen several high-profile engineering projects, such as the Moshe Safdie-designed Crystal Bridges and the High Line, while also helping to found several sustainable and adaptive building initiatives.

Susan S. Szenasy: As the founder of the first North American office of Buro Happold Engineers in 1999, you have overseen a steady evolution of new skills added to the firm’s suite of expertise. How important has sustainability consulting become in the last five years? And how important will it be in the next five years?

Craig Schwitter: Sustainability consulting is very much a core of our engineering approach.  However, the business of sustainability is rapidly changing. Its evolution from strategy and more generic solutions, to specific, measurable delivery based on real-time data is creating change in the industry. We see a sustainability approach being defined increasingly by computational methods coupled with systematic behavioral change in the end user market. It is an exciting time.

SSS: Let’s talk curtain walls and sustainability. We’ve seen a change in residential buildings to floor-to-ceiling glass at a time when energy conservation is on the forefront of all discussions. How are these two desires made compatible?

CS: Transparency is not a bad thing per se. Who wants to live in a dark apartment or work in a dark office? Balancing light, comfort and thermal performance is the job of a good design team – architect/engineer/owner. We do need to understand where transparency and glass is most effective and ensure that targeted moves are used for greatest effect, rather than blanket solutions for entire enclosures.

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