Nov 4, 201303:11 PMPoint of View

Q&A: Kai-Uwe Bergmann

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W 57th St Residences by BIG

Courtesy BIG

SSS: What are the advantages to using steel construction in high-rise residential buildings, especially in cities like New York where new structures are wedged into densely built neighborhoods?

KUB: Steel is an enormously flexible material and is perfect for a project like ours the West 57th Residences as the shape can easily be made by building it in steel. Ever since my first days with an erector set, I have been bolting together beams and columns to create any shape that my imagination could contrive. The many bridges connecting Manhattan to the outer boroughs are fine examples as to how steel can take any shape or form that you can dream up. These bridges have left a legacy of engineering and construction know-how that still can be experienced.

SSS: BIG is working on a large project in New York City, and this puts you on the front lines of New York City construction practice. What is different about this city's processes as opposed to places like Central Asia, where BIG is working on a carbon neutral master plan?

KUB: We have several ongoing projects in Asia, including our first high-rise, a 220-meter tall office building in Shenzhen that will serve as the headquarters for the city’s main energy company. I feel that much of Asia is experiencing the same type of unregulated building boom that characterized Manhattan during the 1920's through 1960's when most of Midtown and Downtown were built.

Building in New York now requires one to understand the regulatory environment and to make sure that daylight finds its way onto the sidewalks, that the life safety and well being of the residents and users are considered, and that the adjacent buildings and neighbors to the project are also considered and heard. All of these reviews and regulations ensure that the experience and legacy of our forefathers are considered when adding to the richness of Manhattan . . . whereas in Asia, they are still busy creating their own skylines in many cities.

SSS: You teach at IE University in Madrid and New School of Architecture in San Diego. What can youthful energy, fresh out of design schools bring to the profession?  What's your best hope for them and the contributions they can make to bring our built environment in tune with the natural environment?

KUB: When I teach I always emphasize two things to all my students: Know your history and travel as much as you can. It is important to understand that the work we do is an evolution of what has come before; that there are already a lot of great ideas that have been put forth and that we can add to or enhance. In order to see this treasure trove of what has come before, it is important to travel and witness it firsthand . . . and not be content on seeing it only in books or presented in darkened rooms during a lecture. I see great promise in the students I have taught. They are curious and not content with what they know but hungry to learn and experience more. 


Metropolis, the Steel Institute of New York, and the Ornamental Metal Institute of New York invite visionary ideas for  the residential high-rise of tomorrow. To help balance out NYC's building materials preference, enter the Living Cities Design Competition.

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