Guy Geier Alumni Lunch Lecture: Eight Architectural Lessons
Speaking in Campbell Hall at U.Va. on Thursday, guest lecturer and U.Va. alum Guy Geier made a presentation on some of his former and present projects, all of which held great relevance to the types of spaces the students of the Vortex are currently designing.
As the principal and managing partner of FXFOWLE architects in New York, Geier has acquired a great deal of experience in large-scale, multi-purpose designs; as such, his insight was not only inspiring, but pragmatically applicable.
What can students of the Vortex take away from this lecture?
1. In Guy Geier’s words: “Design is the meeting point between urbanism, sustainability, and technical innovation.” Living and planning within this trifecta must be an incredibly effective way to create designs that are both beautiful and purposeful.
2. Anticipate the reality of how people will use your space. When FXFOWLE entered into a competition for the revitalization of the current SAP Headquarters in Pennsylvania, Geier knew in which direction to head: “We asked ourselves, ‘How can we densify this space so it can best be used by the staff?’” After some geometry that looked simple (but was surely the product of countless hours of work), Geier and his team arrived at a design that was not only highly functional, but understood the true use of its space: “The stairs became places of gathering, and the openness of the corridors has the power to change how people work.”
3. Challenges are inherent to the architectural process; and you will be on each side of the conflict at least once. Geier humorously recounted a scene - recalling his days as a student sitting in that very same lecture hall – in which he and some fellow students hurled accusatory questions at architect IM Pei about his apparent engineering failure of a project in New York, the Jacob Javits Center. Little did Geier know that years later he and FXFOWLE would have the opportunity to renovate that very same building complex. Repairing the leaking roof, realizing a lighter, more open vision for the interior, and using technologies not available in Freed’s time, FXFOWLE succeeded in building that upholds the largest green roof east of the Mississippi River. This is a far cry from the polite, question-answering days of IM Pei’s guest lecture at U.Va. Chuckling, Geier admitted: “Now that I’ve been in practice for forty years, I know exactly where he is coming from.”
4. Both the past and the future must inform your decision-making process. Entering a competition to design the new building for the Columbia University Nursing School, Geier understood that their prompt was asking them to leave room for a future building. Rather than using the entirety of the allocated foundational space, and leave room for future floors to be built on top of their design, FXFOWLE designed a finished, taller building that took up only half the potential groundspace. This not only demonstrated their consideration for the future needs of the university, but also clearly delineated an identity for the building.
5. You don’t have to know the intricacies of every single factor of your project before you start designing. When devising a museum in Saudi Arabia dedicated to the “history of the built environment,” Geier and FXFOWLE made design decisions before there was an existing collection, or even a curator. The project is still considered extremely successful, because it addresses every aspect that its context required (including linking itself with surrounding buildings by way of a vernacular connection called a wadi). Details are vital, but getting caught up in them is detrimental to the entire architectural process. Sometimes, it is best to simply design for what you know, and make sure to leave room for what you don’t.
6. “Green” is not just a buzzword, it is a framework for a way of life. Before being environmentally-efficient was required by law, and even before it was trendy, Geier and FXFOWLE were building structures that forged new territory into what it means to be “platinum.” Green roofs, radiant heating and cooling, triple glazing, natural ventilation, photovoltaic panels – you name it, they’ve used it. “We – as a profession – are not doing a very good job of educating our clients and the public about the importance and the real cost of ‘green,’” Geier said. He also made the point that, though sometimes initially environmentally-beneficial decisions can be more expensive, “Once you change the conversation from money to long-term benefits, people start to listen.”
7. Technology will change; it is up to you to change with it. In response to the audience member question, “How do you stay up to speed with constant technical innovation?” Geier made the point that hiring someone specifically for the job of research and development does wonders for the progress of any group. Staying current can sometimes feel like an uphill battle, but by keeping in mind the intention of the technology, and using it to further ideas based in human needs (not just technology for technology’s sake), you avoid technological pitfalls. And sometimes - as epitomized by the difficulties of the un-renovated Javits Center - you have to wait for technology to catch up to you. By thinking in the moment, but with an eye towards the future, you’ll surely stay
8. Considering your context is everything. From the ESPN Marketing Headquarters on West 66th in New York, to an Islamic School in Nairobi, Kenya, understanding the needs and desires of your client, your space, and your building itself is the only way to any successful project. No two projects ever require exactly the same type of attention, and no one approach is the only way to design.
Architectural insight, from a total professional and a former 'Hoo. Just some pearls of wisdom as you continue on your Vortex journey. Keep on keepin' on, everyone, you've got this!
by Sam Manock, 3rd Year BArch