Season 1:

Episode 1

August 7, 2020

American Building Podcast: Matthias Hollwich | Hosted by Michael Graves Architecture

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The first guest in the American Building series is Matthias Hollwich, Founder and Partner of the architecture firm HWKN (“Hawk-in”). This episode takes a deep dive into 25 Kent, HWKN’s recently completed commercial building on the Williamsburg waterfront in Brooklyn. Totaling 500,000 square feet, the development is divided among office, light manufacturing, and retail. It includes 1.8 acres of open space and, for grateful dog owners, a pop-up puppy spa and camp. The owners of the project are Heritage Equity Partners and Rubenstein Partners.

Atif Qadir: Interview Questions

1:30 – What was going through your mind, and your heart, in deciding to make the leap to start your own studio after working for Rem Koolhaas?

2:55 – HWKN is “a collection of design, construction and communication specialists led by an architect and tech entrepreneur – HWKN is a new kind of architecture firm.” Why did you choose those words?

4:08 – How did your relationship with developer Toby Moskovitz of Heritage Equity Partners begin?

7:00 – Besides the warehouse aesthetic of Williamsburg were there any other points, for example the beautiful views of the Manhattan skyline or oddly dressed hipsters, that inspired you? What themes did you find while there?

8:07 – How did you get to your eventual design of an 8 story, 2-wing building with 15-foot ceiling heights, shaped like a pyramid, ziggurat-style, and with a ground floor pedestrian avenue? What concepts did you consider but pass on?

9:30 – This site was zoned for a Floor Area Ratio or FAR of 2. That defined how many square feet your building could have as a multiple of the lot area. It was built with a FAR of 5. How did that happen, what was that process like?

11:30 – Would it be correct to say that it wasn’t just about the thoughtfulness of the design, it was also about a smart strategy to get the design executed in a public environment?

12:55 – The end result of 25 Kent was able to deliver on the public amenities promised in the original design. What were some of the original public responses and pushback?

13:30 – Besides the physical connectivity to the outdoors, you emphasized visual connectivity. You chose to include curtain wall on the east-west facades facing the water and Williamsburg and punched windows on the north-south facades. Could you talk about how you developed the design strategy for the facade?

15:28 – Would you say that some of the design decisions that you made help inform the intent of the building for the marketing perspective? For example, words like “share,” “cross-pollinate,” “trading ideas,” “breakthroughs,” and “aha moments” all appear. Do you feel that the design helps support all of those ideas?

16:36 – This sounds like a departure from the way that office buildings are traditionally conceived. Do you imagine there would be any hesitation or confusion on the part of office workers that would occupy this environment?

19:44 – The design timeline for 25 Kent was almost 10 years. Two of the core aspects you described in your design strategy are open plan office floors and shared co-working spaces. How do you respond to an avalanche of negative opinions recently about open offices and co-working? What are your thoughts on open office and coworking?

22:17 – Your team for 25 Kent included Robert May, Brad Engelsman, Andrew McBride, Adam Hostetler, Valentina Mele, Gregory Nakata, Matthew Hoffman and many more. How did you organize your team?

A major criticism of our industry is the “lone wolf” dynamic that singles out principals for the work done by teams. What do you think about that and can you talk about the values you follow in leading your team?

27:18 – Besides your own internal team, there was a co-designer, Gensler. How did that relationship work?

27:48 – Did the integrity of your original design remain?

30:18 – When I recently spoke to MaryAnne Gilmartin about Brooklyn, she explained how difficult it is to get an office tenant in Manhattan to cross the bridge. Besides 25 Kent, there is Dock72 by Boston Properties and Rudin nearby. Who do you think is going to tenant outer-borough office buildings and where are they coming from, if not Manhattan?

32:46 – The goal of 25 Kent is to have studios based in the building with shops on the ground level, where tenants can sell products that have been made upstairs. That has influenced tenanting for this project. Do you feel that this will become increasingly common as opposed to the current service relationship between office tenant above and retail tenant below?

36:02 – About non-traditional uses, Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg started as tenants at 25 Kent just a few days ago. Could you explain what they are and how they fit it to 25 Kent?

37:34 – 25 Kent is “a next generation workplace for the next generation of leaders” and “a social campus for innovators, start-up founders, and tech leaders.” How will you measure whether it has lived up to those ideals?

40:02 – What does 25 Kent mean to you personally as the architect who originally imagined it?

Where does the building fit into the progression of your career?

Audience Questions

42:26 – Do you think that the development of the Domino site helped catalyze the market in Brooklyn and perhaps helped your project?

44:10 – When you are evaluating a project what are your criteria to take it on?

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