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Today we will be speaking with Vishaan Chakrabarti, a licensed architect and the founder of the Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU). His professional portfolio is diverse, expanding from creating a master plan for the surrounding area of Michigan Central Station in Detroit to creating a social housing neighborhood in East New York. In this week’s episode, we will be speaking to Vishaan about his latest project for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, originally designed by I.M. Pei. His firm has brought its vision for creating sustainable and equitable designs to this project in order to create more accessible spaces. We will also be discussing how his firm’s design will seamlessly integrate with legendary architect I.M. Pei’s geometric forms and shimmering glass pyramids.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is located on Lake Erie and has been an essential driver for the local economy. It was no surprise that after securing a plot of land that the institution would immediately start looking towards expansion and renovation. From all across the world, twenty-two leading architects submitted their proposals and eventually, eight were shortlisted. Vishaan’s firm was selected as the winning design — a 50,000-square-foot triangular building made of steel. Join us on this week’s episode as we learn more about Vishaan’s journey as well as how his firm is dedicated to crafting a careful balance of the cutting edge and the conservative.
Vishaan Chakrabarti is a licensed architect and the author of two books, A Country of Cities: A Manifesto for an Urban America and NYC 2040: Housing the Next One Million New Yorkers. Previously, he held senior roles at SHoP Architects and New York City Department of City Planning. Vishaan also serves on the board of the Architectural League of New YOrk and the Regional Planning Association. Vishaan lectures internationally and has made several media appearances on CBS, MSNBC and NPR. He holds a Master of Architecture degree from the University of California, Berkeley, a Master of City Planning degree from MIT, and dual bachelor’s degrees in art history and engineering from Cornell University.
[00:00:00] Announcer: What goes into making an iconic building in America? What are the stories and who are the people behind the next generation of architecture? If your work touches the real estate industry in any way or you’re just curious about what goes into one of a kind cities and towns all across our country, join us on the American Building Podcast.
[00:00:23] In season two, we learn about everything from skyscrapers to single family homes. From the famous and soon-to-be famous designers and developers responsible for them. This season focuses particularly on the pandemic and how our buildings will change in response. Our sponsor is the iconic design firm, Michael Graves Architecture & Design. And now your host award-winning architect-turned entrepreneur Atif Qadir, AIA.
[00:00:59] Atif Qadir: This is American building, and I’m your host, Atif Qadir. We are recording from the historic home of world-renowned architect, Michael Graves in Princeton, New Jersey. Check out this amazing space for yourself at the Michael Graves Architecture and Design YouTube channel. Now let’s build something.
[00:01:18] Today our guest is Vishaan Chakrabarti. He is a licensed architect and the founder of the practice for architecture and urbanism, a design studio based in New York city. He appears on CBS, MSNBC, and NPR. Previously he’s held senior roles at a diverse array of organizations from SHoP architects to the New York city department of city planning.
[00:01:41] Uh, he is currently on leave as the Dean of the college of environmental design at the university of California at Berkeley, where he received his master’s degree in architecture. He’s an alum of MIT and spoke at one of my graduation events when I was a senior there. With his ample spare time, he serves on the boards of the architectural league of New York and the regional planning association.
[00:02:05] We’ll be talking about his firm’s renovation of the rock and roll hall of fame, originally designed by I.M. Pei, and more broadly, we’ll talk about how you go about improving the work of the legendary architect.
[00:02:18] So thank you so much for being here with us Vishaan.
[00:02:21] Vishaan Chakrabarti: Thanks for having me.
[00:02:22] Atif Qadir: Absolutely. So let’s get started. Your path to architecture started with art history and engineering at Cornell. How did you go about choosing your majors and what did you take away from that coursework?
[00:02:34] Vishaan Chakrabarti: Well, I always loved architecture and cities. My parents came here with very little money in the 1960s. But my father was a scientist and loved to travel. So whenever he had a kind of lecture gig somewhere, he would like splice and dice the honoraria. And then we’d go on a shoestring budget off to Europe or the Soviet union, or all sorts of really interesting places. And I always loved cities and I loved going to museums. I love looking at the art. I loved anything having to do with like urban culture.
[00:03:04] By the time college rolled around, it was time to go to college. I, of course, you know, I don’t know if you have any similar stuff in your background, but as a good Indian boy, I had the choice of either being an engineer or a doctor, or, you know, maybe a lawyer, like if I was totally in third position, absolutely like it’s way down there.
[00:03:25] And in fact doctor was about engineer, of course. And so I became an engineering student at Cornell and I was a horrendous engineering student. I mean, I really, I was like, it was like being in the wrong line. It’s a bank. But I stuck it through, but every single elective I had, I would take either a fine art class or an art history class.
[00:03:44] And I realized in my fourth year that if I stayed an additional year, I could get both my engineering degree and an art history degree because I had taken enough along the way that I’d built up the credits and my parents kind of freaked out, but then sent me the student loan forms and I stayed an extra year and just immerse myself in art history which was great.
[00:04:05] And did a lot of studio art. You know, it’s funny, I found journals that said that I was interested in architecture back in sophomore year in college, but I think my parents would have none of it. The funny thing is now people look at that background, art history engineering. Oh, what a great background.
[00:04:22] There was no strategy whatsoever. There was less than no strategy. And then I studied city planning at MIT and then ultimately architecture at Berkeley. So it’s a very roundabout way. To get it from my wife knew she wanted to be an architect when she was five. And did a BR get like, like, so, you know, there’s a lot of different paths in this profession, I guess, is the lesson.
[00:04:43] Atif Qadir: I think what you’re describing is so wildly similar to my own because I stayed five years. So I did two undergraduate degrees in architecture. And the one that I stayed later on for was the urban planning degree, which was the, the extra one after the technically appropriate one for being busy. And my parents a little bit more generous with what was.
[00:05:03] Vishaan Chakrabarti: They were okay with you getting an architecture degree. Yeah.
[00:05:06] Atif Qadir: So I stayed on for a fifth year as well, and eventually did get a master’s degree. I did an MBA. And when you look at it, in retrospect, like, oh, that’s the perfect collection of stuff to be a developer, then you’re in retrospect, that’s not what 18 year old Atif was thinking about.
[00:05:24] Vishaan Chakrabarti: Exactly. Exactly. I know it all works out in the end somehow. You know, I always encourage students to not focus on two linear a path. Sometimes those little highways and byways, you travel down, you know, that are kind of a, it turned out to be incredibly important. Art history, art history has served me very, very well in my career because what is it? It’s this way of talking about visual things through the written word and language and as architects, we have to do a great deal of that. We’re presenting to lay people, to communities, to, you know, and we have to explain visual ideas through words and art history is actually great training.
[00:06:11] Atif Qadir: I think, uh, in particular, so this year I’ve been working from home, so it’s easy to travel and I’ve been doing road trips every month to different parts of the country from Chicago to North Carolina, to Maine, and particularly have spent a lot of time in West Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, which were the heart of the revolutionary war and the civil war.
[00:06:33] And I think particularly looking through these preserved cities from like Gettysburg, I was in a couple of weeks ago to Alexandria at Arlington to Fredericksburg, you see this really beautiful set of preserved architecture and you realize that understanding the progression of American architecture is really important to recognizing what it is that an architect does is in the context of other things, particularly when you work in cities like New York city.
[00:06:57] Vishaan Chakrabarti: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Starting with Jefferson. Yeah, absolutely.
[00:07:02] Atif Qadir: So your interest in a wide sweep of things continued on beyond college education to work as well. So you have had the opportunity to work in the public sector and the private sector. You’ve worked for a development company and a design firm for others and for yourself. So this is very. Awesome. And I think very inspiring. And could you talk about the work path that you took and what organization or order there may or may not, and that part of your life as well?
[00:07:31] Vishaan Chakrabarti: A couple of things here, one was you have to be somewhat opportunistic and I I’ve had a tendency to be fairly open about different. Career trajectories with the notion of, you know, architecture is one of the few old person’s games left in the world. I mean, we live in a society where people want to be well, when I was growing up, people wanted to be like wealthy wall Streeters when they were 28 and now people want to be wealthy tech entrepreneurs when they’re 28.
[00:08:01] And, you know, as an architect, you’re not a wealthy anything when you’re 28, you’re an apprentice basically. And. You know, so it’s an old person’s game. It’s something because it just there’s so much to know that it just takes decades to really gain all that experience and understand the full breadth and width of what you need to understand.
[00:08:26] Especially if you’re practicing in an urban context, in a community context, things that are just really, really complicated. So I feel like I spent the first, you know, 50 years of my life, kind of walking the planet, doing lots of different things and gaining lots of different perspectives and learning lots of different languages.
[00:08:49] And I don’t mean, you know, English and Bengali. I mean, you know, the logic of development, the logic of. Urban planning and urbanism. And of course the logic of design and how all these things intersect. And the thing is, is it’s nice to hear you say that it’s inspirational, but I think it’s, you know, there’s two things about it for architects.
[00:09:13] It’s deeply violative of the way they tend to think about the world. That architecture is a kind of monastic practice. And you start at a sort of young age and, you know, the intensity of understanding how a piece of wood gets detailed against a piece of glass, the act of drawing and building, and all of that is something that, you know, doesn’t leave room to go stray and do all these other things.
[00:09:42] And so for the architectural community, it still takes a while. To really accept this kind of more nomadic career trajectory. The other thing is I find, and it’s interesting. I know we’re going to talk about pay later. You know, if you’re not a white male in the architecture profession, being a nomad is somewhat thrust upon you because the linear monastic path is sort of reserved for a certain demographic.
[00:10:14] You find that you often have to comment the profession from its flanks? You know, I was told point blank when I was a fairly senior person at som about how much my advancement was restricted by my race. And so, you know, you have to learn how to navigate. The dominance that exists in the profession. And I know a lot of women go through this and have to figure it out and hunt and pack as well. And so it has been a good journey and I I’m really glad I ended up doing all of those things, but some of it is out of exploration and some of it was out of necessity.
[00:10:55] Atif Qadir: I think that’s, it’s very similar from my experience, which I think was quite a bit less time in designing quickly into development or construction and development is at least the way that you advance as if you are Barnett’s son or a son-in-law the most normal way to do it.
[00:11:13] All of his daughters are married at that point. So I think my hope was pretty much I think with. That there are skills that you have, and not until you’re able to identify those as doors and not something that only matter when someone else identifies them for you. That that switch ended up happening for me. And I think for others, where I realized that, you know what, I can do it, I could go out and do it on my own. And I think that, uh, sometimes necessity is the greatest inspiration to start your own.
[00:11:45] Vishaan Chakrabarti: Absolutely.
[00:11:46] Atif Qadir: Speaking of when you say that idea to a larger context, I think when you talk about the way. America has been built and has not been built there’s intention and reason for certain things and oftentimes their a circumstance for a lot more.
[00:12:01] So your first book, a country of cities, that’s a manifestor for urban America, came out in 2013 for MetroPlus books. And was the basis of a class that you taught at Columbia? One that I actually was in and tell us what you want readers to take away from this first book that you spent so much time and effort putting together. It is so beautifully produced.
[00:12:19] Vishaan Chakrabarti: Thanks. You know, it’s so funny. I reflect on that book a lot, because as you say, it’s, I mean it’s eight years old at this point. And you know, the way that book came about is I was writing for urban omnibus at the artificial peak. And I had written a 10 part series called the countries. And Roseland Everett who’s the executive director of the league said, you know, this is, this really has the makings of a book.
[00:12:45] And, you know, you should talk to metropolis. And we put that book together, pedigree Graham did the graphic design. And you know what I didn’t realize when I wrote that book is that I was stumbling into the culture war of our era. That if you think about guns, abortion, I mean, Homosexuality a little less the cultural war today that it was when I was growing up, although certainly with transgender people, but cities urban as them and especially the car has become way more than a policy matter and way more than a design matter.
[00:13:25] It is, you know, there’s that famous Charlton Heston line about guns, you know, out of my cold dead hands, will you privates gum from me? And it’s sort of like out of my cold dead hands, will you pry this a Chevy suburban from me and my son and I just drove cross country. And I was really struck by how much also fuel and large cars animate this country.
[00:13:50] And I say this because. We drove. We pulled an Airstream across country. And so I, with utility vehicles that do things like pulling trailers across the country, I have a problem with utility vehicles being driven from some suburban locations into the hearts of downtown or even worse in downtown. People they’re chubby little kids in utility vehicle.
[00:14:16] When there are many other modes of transit available to them. And so the book, I don’t know, I mean, many people were writing ed Glazer’s book came out around that time. Obviously there was all the creative class stuff that came out before that was from Richard Florida.
[00:14:31] Atif Qadir: His book, the triumph of the city. Right. Ed Glazer.
[00:14:34] Vishaan Chakrabarti: The triumph of the city. Yes. Yes. And each of these looked at it through a very different lens. I mean, it’s an economy. Hmm, right. Mine was more of an urban policy book. The book I’m writing now for Princeton university press, which is near to where you’re sitting is called the architecture of urbanity. And in many ways it is a retort to the first book because the first book where I think it fell short.
[00:15:00] It made this kind of really hard to argue with presentation about why things like transit oriented density makes sense. Given climate change, given the economic data we have given even the racial struggles we have and the ability for cities to adopt more progressive policies and so forth. The question that it didn’t answer, I felt was a design question.
[00:15:26] Which is the fact that most transit oriented density is absolutely mind-numbingly soul crushing way bad and is not any place that anyone wants to be. And that’s not true of every single place, but it’s true of most of them and that design and density. And are heavily linked in terms of the fact that, you know, the dense places we’re building around the world are largely banal.
[00:15:51] And I’ve been giving Ted talks about this. And now I think it’s a really big climate issue because if people reject density, then we’re lost as a planet. And yet there are real issues. There’s issues with the development community there’s issues. A lot of the architecture community is not interested in working at that scale and with those kinds of players.
[00:16:13] And I can understand why it’s a rough and tough design proposition with very little attitude. But so what I’m trying to work through is, you know, a lot of people do believe that we should build more and bigger and better cities. What are the experience of those cities? You know, how are they more equitable?
[00:16:34] How are they more ecological? How are they more joyous? Those are still big questions that are out there. And so I feel like I owe the reader a kind of, it’s not a sequel, but a kind of response to the questions raised by the first book.
[00:16:51] Atif Qadir: I think in particular what the acceleration of this gap between the wealthy and the nod and this vast polarization of our country makes it feel like I can say after lived and been to, by this point, over a hundred different cities in this triangle that I’ve been traveling in is this idea that the city is the inevitable way that we’re going to live and be structured, may not necessarily be the case. And I think particularly this dispersion of population out means there’s many variations of what city actually means.
[00:17:23] Vishaan Chakrabarti: Right. And that’s exactly what I was going to say too. But the, the word city is problematic because it instantly triggers New York, LA, London, very dance. Yeah. And the thing is, is that a lot of villages have some of the same characteristics that cities do. They’re mixed use they’re walkable, they’re communal, and we haven’t put enough time money thought into how do we do a better job designing our small towns and I’m all for that.
[00:17:57] And I include city in that big kind of Catholic sense of the word, of like what urban life could be, even at a much smaller scale. I agree with you that that is something that is very off putting in a time of bros, economic inequity, and the fact that our big cities have become so unaffordable.
[00:18:16] And in fact, with COVID, we have data that people are moving from our bigger cities, not into suburbia necessarily, but into small cities because people still wanted urban life. Um, urban life they can afford. And one that feels more comfortable for them. And that’s something that we should encourage. And, you know, one of the big problems has been that you take a country like India.
[00:18:41] You know, one of the places India has really struggled is that most of the population growth and most of the population growth that’s coming in the coming decades is in the global south. Most of the population growth has happened into four or five major metropolitan areas. And they really haven’t done what China’s done, which is really try to encourage the growth of small cities and small villages and understand those kinds of rural economies and so forth.
[00:19:09] And so I agree with you that that is also part of the problem. And in fact, this title of the architecture of urbanity, I go through the. Painstaking thing in the introduction to define or vanity as a part from big cities, because there are plenty of cities that are not very urbane. Actually. There’s a lot of examples around the world.
[00:19:31] And if I start stating them, I’m going to start getting hate mail from each of those cities have signed it in for you. Yes, you can get the hate mail, but there are plenty of big cities that are urbane and there are small villages that are being, so I’m trying to figure out a terminology. That is an academic jargon, but at the same time is something that feels a little different than all of this focus on large metropolitan areas that I think is just overwrought and kind of getting uninteresting.
[00:19:59] Atif Qadir: I think particularly what I’ve used as my metric is when I go to the smallest of cities in the largest of towns on these trips is how many New Jersey and New York license plates I see in that area. And that’s a measure of this out migration to all these other unusual places. And I think New York’s loss of this estimation of three or four or five percent is a permanent loss of population is absolutely New Haven’s gain. Its Montclair’s gain, its Princeton’s gain, Philadelphia’s gain. I think there’s something positive to come from all of that.
[00:20:29] Vishaan Chakrabarti: You know, it’s interesting because we got the last census back in new York’s at 8.8 million people. So now that obviously grabs a time period. Well, before COVID and we did a population loss in the city, but I both agree with you that that is a very good thing for the surrounding region at the same time what’s interesting is I think new York’s ongoing resilience in the face of huge disasters like COVID and 11 is really important, Sandy, and is extraordinary important to all of those regional centers. Because it’s an ecosystem. I’m much more worried. Cause I just lived there for 18 months about the bay area ecosystem and the long-term health of San Francisco.
[00:21:08] I’m extremely worried about the longterm health of San Francisco. And it has to do with a kind of civic infrastructure that exists in New York city that I find lacking in San Francisco. The tech companies in particular, I don’t think have a lot of geographic loyalty now I’m making a big generalization, but I think a number of them would pick up and leave for Texas or Florida or wherever the taxes happened to be lower and disband their office space and so forth.
[00:21:35] Not all of them, but a lot of them. Whereas I think the New York business community is. You know, bending over backwards to figure out how to keep the New York economy thriving, what it means to have a, at least in part hybrid remote workforce and how that can good for the city and so forth. Very different kind of tone and conversation going on here than there.
[00:22:02] Atif Qadir: So New York. So Eric Adams is officially in the major elect. Given your sweep of professional experience, what advice would you have for this next mayor of New York?
[00:22:13] Vishaan Chakrabarti: The same advice I give to any mayor, jobs, justice, and joy. So mayors used to run almost exclusively on this thing about jobs, jobs, jobs, right? And you earn it like it was a mantra and that’s because people cared about the economy and people still do care about the economy and everything we’ll have to care about the economy.
[00:22:32] But we now live in a world where people workers have a lot more room to understand where they want to live because of remote work. And so the pandemic accelerated certain trends. And one of them is this notion that all cities. Are in competition for what’s known as human capital for people, right? For great people who come and do things.
[00:22:55] Young people, old people, people who start companies, people who employ people, people who just think about the city differently or activists and so forth. You want all of those people coming to your city. How do you attract them?
[00:23:06] Atif Qadir: Financial incentives.
[00:23:09] Vishaan Chakrabarti: Actually it is not just jobs and that’s is the issue with the old sort of corporate welfare model of financial incentives. It is jobs, justice, and joy. So yes, you still need to attract companies, but you need to explain how you are an economically and environmentally justice. Hmm, right. How is it that parks and your poor part of the city are treated versus the richer parts of your city?
[00:23:36] How is the school system? The healthcare system, the transit system, the garbage pickup system, all of those things working towards both equity and ecology. And I think people with. Go to places that they feel are measurably more just, and then joy, which is something that I don’t think we talk enough about.
[00:23:57] And this is where design comes in the design of our public spaces, the design of our buildings, the mix of preservation of our historic building stock with new and exciting architecture, the ability of the city streets to be a stage for Sarah. These are the things that bring people joy, right? The notion that you’re walking around your city, you experience things that are a surprise to you.
[00:24:23] You run into a friend at a sidewalk or a subway station. These things are phenomenally important and are part of the design of our city and everything from zoning to building codes, to especially how we design and think about our streets, which are the most important piece of infrastructure we have right now.
[00:24:42] Both cities are 30% road bed. How we designed that road? You know why it’s given over to all these private vehicles in our cities, as opposed to express bus lanes, more bike lanes, more pedestrian space cities for people. These are all things that to me could fall under the umbrella of jobs, justice, and joy.
[00:25:03] And so I have a lot of hope for the Adams administration, not just the Adams administration, but the fact that we have a new mayor and a new governor at the same time in a period where we we’ve historically had very calcified relations between the state. And it’s extremely important given this infrastructure bill that just passed in Congress, we need to build the gateway tunnels.
[00:25:27] You know, Sandy, you mentioned Sandy really damaged the existing trans huts or tunnels for our trains. We need to rebuild Penn station and move Madison square garden. We need to really rethink our higher street network and how we provide better transit. These things are all partnerships between the city and the state.
[00:25:47] And so I really hope that. Designers really engage these conversations. And just going back to your earlier question about having a really expansive background, I was just my wife and I were just in Madrid with Norman foster and his wife where they formed the foster foundation. And when I think about. I think about the whole architect, someone who can design, how a piece of glass intersects the piece of metal, but also is they give at the city and the world, and really broad strokes who has advised the mayor of London and mayors all over the world. That’s I think a role that architects need to do more of.
[00:26:29] Atif Qadir: Yeah, I think being able to go beyond that previous generational idea that an architect or designer has responsibility ends with design step and not with the welfare of the people building the building or the welfare of the people living in the building. And I think that there are many, many more people that are speaking like you then perhaps an older generation of architects did.
[00:26:50] Vishaan Chakrabarti: Yeah, well, you know, we had this unfortunate interregnum after the eighties when you know that you’re in Reagan. So one like part of how the one in the architecture industry is this idea of specialization.
[00:27:04] And so if you were a building architect, You weren’t an urbanist or vice versa, you know, in the eighties and the nineties. And I often get this question like, does pal, my firm, are you guys architects or urban planners? And I say, it doesn’t matter. This happened. When did this horrible, horrible thing happen, this notion that you’re not a great designer, if you’re thinking about these broad urban things, and you’re not a great urbanist, if you’re thinking about design.
[00:27:36] We’re going to talk about the rock hall later, that building is a building. But it has enormous, enormous urban and regional impacts across Cleveland, Northeast, Ohio, and for the entire country in terms of this incredibly unique genre of rock and roll. And so to imagine that that’s only a piece of architecture is just it’s shooting ourselves.
[00:28:04] It’s just, it’s extraordinary. But that is the mill you under, which like I grew up that’s that was the generation of like the object building on the hill. Where you really only have to worry about the photographs of that object building day one. And then after that, how it related to its environment or what it meant for the people who built it live in it, who work in it, who visited.
[00:28:30] It’s just extraordinary to me. And I think you’re right. I think our generation is now changing things. I had breakfast with Jeannie gang the other day, and I know, I know she thinks this way, Tatiana, Bilbao, Asha. I just think a lot of people have rejected that paradigm and are thinking much more broadly about their work.
[00:28:49] Atif Qadir: I think it’s particularly an American notion to imagine our perspective is the worldview and two guests earlier than season on American Building, Galia Solomonoff and Camila Crazut both of them did their undergraduates in South America, and then their graduate degrees in architecture here in New York, and both had exact same thing to say. They said they never realized this notion that design was split as you described until they came to New York. That’s just not the way it’s taught or thought of in Latin America.
[00:29:20] Vishaan Chakrabarti: Yeah. And I think, you know, one of the main ways in which we’re seeing that shift now manifest back into that more international understanding of what design is, is with the Pritzker committee and who we see now, winning the Pritzker.
[00:29:34] When you look at lack of autonomous, all our vena Doshi, what you’re seeing. Over and over is them saying we aren’t going to premium rate design that has that broad sensibility. I mean, she’s promising projects as much as his architecture, same with our Aveena, same with lack of time. So it just, that to me is something that, but it’s a huge fight in the American system, right. Because the American system rewards specialization.
[00:30:08] Atif Qadir: Whether it’s design or the healthcare professions everywhere. It’s specialization.
[00:30:12] Vishaan Chakrabarti: Everywhere. Absolutely. I mean, you know, if you talk to a doctor, it’s a certain area. Like if you look at us like high-trust versus a therapist, so it’s like high trust as an MD, it’s like, Hydrus barely do therapy anymore.
[00:30:25] They just prescribe drugs. Cause it’s incredibly renumerative for them to see patients at a 15, 20 minute clip and just write prescriptions instead of actually understanding their patient. And so this world of specialization we live in it’s really, really unhealthy. And it’s also by the way, the worst paradigm to solve things like climate change, which requires interdisciplinarity and a very broad view, an interconnected view of things.
[00:30:56] Atif Qadir: I a hundred percent agree. And I think this might be good time to pivot to the rock and roll hall of fame. So Cleveland, very handsome city on a lake, not necessarily the most dense in comparison, a city near a city, but the building itself is on lake Erie and a few blocks in the heart of downtown. What would you say in your first visits to the site or your observations that you were struck by.
[00:31:18] Vishaan Chakrabarti: Well, first you have to zoom out a little bit. We’ve been working in Detroit for some time for Ford motor company, which owns Michigan central station. We’ll be doing a big map for them around Detroit, right around the time we won the rock hall competition. We won this competition to design a bridge in Indianapolis.
[00:31:37] We were also doing a master plan for the city of Niagara falls for the state of New York. And as I mentioned, all of these in one breath is because suddenly we’re doing all this work in. And this also goes back to your thing about not just focusing on the big cities, working day to day, visiting all of these places. And they’re all different from one another. They’re very, very different from one another,
[00:32:02] Atif Qadir: You can’t just do one of these and lump them all together.
[00:32:05] Vishaan Chakrabarti: But there is a certain through line and the through-line of courses de-industrialization coupled with racial segregate. What these cities and what especially black communities have been through these cities is just, it’s appalling. It’s an, you know, when African American communities talk about how they are the most patriotic of all Americans, because they’ve stuck through some of the shit that they’ve had to, I’m not talking about slavery and Jim Crow.
[00:32:33] We can talk about that all night long, but I mean, the stuff that happened in the sixties and the second. With urban renewal and redlining, but you know what happened in so many of these towns, including New York actually is that as, as cities de-industrialized and lost white population and black and brown communities kind of word of the fabric of the city and held it together.
[00:32:57] And then the whole economy changes. Uh, policing changes often for the worse, and then suddenly you have gentrification and those same communities that have these places together are now being forced out. And so this is, this is not talking about history from 150 years ago. This is about what’s happened in our lifetimes.
[00:33:20] And so. Working to understand how acts of architecture and urban planning are acupuncture in those environments, working with those communities in Detroit, in, you know, just south of the station is Mexican town and like working with that community or, you know, with the rock hall. To me. What’s so fascinating is the rock has worked really hard on this is that, you know, the rock and roll hall of fame is in Cleveland, in large measure because of extraordinary group of people fought to get it in Cleveland.
[00:33:54] But also because there was a disc jockey named Alan freed who coined the term rock and roll and, you know, Cleveland is a place where a lot of the history of race in America literally plays out in terms of music. And so the fact that rock and roll is a uniquely American genre. Of course, you know, you have the British invasion and you have, now Rauf being an international music form, but like jazz and the blues, it really has its seeds here.
[00:34:29] And of course it has. Uh, completely with the African-American population rules, you know, what would rock and roll be without Chuck Berry and little Richard. And so, and then of course, the reason Franklin, like you just can’t get there. Without those folks. And so the rock hall as a building has this extraordinary responsibility.
[00:34:53] It is at once international because of, I mean, I was just at the induction ceremonies and your license LL. Cool. J and Tina Turner was this year to Tina Turner and the foo fighters. And, you know, there’s this whole history that kind of famous surprise guests. Taylor swift introduces Carole king, Dave Chappelle, Jay Z, Paul McCartney, the foo fighters.
[00:35:18] It just, the list goes on and on and it’s just sport. So it’s got this huge international. Presence that what you realize is there thousands, if not tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of art, museums and concert halls around the world, there’s only one rock and roll hall of fame. And so it’s centered in Cleveland for a lot of good reasons.
[00:35:40] And then of course they did this thing of hiring pay and pay was arguably the most established architect of the late 1980s. And of course, There was all sorts of questions about, you know, how does this Asian American man really Asian man, right. Understand rock and roll. And of course, as soon as they announced the competition, I started getting those same messages on LinkedIn.
[00:36:06] Like, dude, what do you understand about rock and roll? It’s like, you know, so, you know, all of that stuff is omnipresent. The other thing is, as a language, PE was really. Manifesting late stage. I am pay postmodernism via Louis Kahn in this building of a series of platonic solids meant to look like a record player from the hair that results in this building.
[00:36:35] It’s incredibly iconic, but not very functional. So they did this big invited competition in January of 2020, right before the pandemic, we were invited with a list of, I think 24, 25 players, a number of Pritzker winners. Who’s who, and I sat around with my senior people in our office in New York. And I said, well, guys, we’re never going to win this.
[00:36:59] We have to make a good showing. We were at the same time, invited to compete for a similarly, amongst a similarly Augusta crowd of architecture, luminaries for building a Princeton and this bridge in Indianapolis. And we ended up winning all three, which was wild because I didn’t think would win any of them.
[00:37:19] But the rock hall in particular went from 25 to 14 to nine to Ford. And we had a couple of ideas from the start that I think held us in good stead one. We’re really going to get to know this place. So we flew to Cleveland soon after we got invited, we really want to see the site wanting to understand what is this place?
[00:37:41] The next thing was. We felt very strongly that the building should be an addition that attaches itself to the PE building. And like rock itself is both irreverent, dead reverence that, you know, in the sense that it had to. Not just how touted the pay bills and not just respect its elders, but also understand that you are adding to an I.M. Pei building.
[00:38:09] And you know, one of the things that really helped us is we say, What would pay, do, you know, pay, did these extraordinary additions to the national gallery and to the loop? So we looked at what he did and he kind of did the same thing. He did something that was absolutely of our era, but responded to the formal language.
[00:38:32] In the case of the Louvre it’s an incredibly kind of Bozart’s proposition that pyramid and felt we should engage the pay pyramid. And what was interesting. Every one of our competitors schemes decided to try to design an object next to the paved building. So it was like object in the field object in the field.
[00:38:52] Atif Qadir: It’s like adding another face to Mount Rushmore, basically.
[00:38:55] Vishaan Chakrabarti: Yeah, exactly, exactly. And we felt strongly that we should not do that.
[00:39:04] Atif Qadir: So, thank you so much for joining us today on the American Building podcast. If you want to hear the behind the scenes stories of how buildings in our country were designed and built subscribe to this podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Google, or wherever you like to listen.
[00:39:23] We all know real estate is a tough industry to make it. So how can professionals stand out and make a name for themselves in today’s world? Hear for me, the team at Michael Graves and many of our spectacular guests, like Vishaan on what we did to make it where we are. Grab our exclusive guide Seven Tips on How to Stand Out in Your Field at americanbuildingpodcast.com.
[00:39:47] Finally, we live in the richest country in the history of humankind, and we must reach out beyond the boundaries that we see and the boundaries that we create in order to help build homes and communities. Today, Vishaan and I have made donations to the architectural league of New York, which advocates for architecture as a profession.
[00:40:06] I encourage you our listeners to support their worthwhile work as well. My name is Atif Qadir, and this has been American Building by Michael Graves.
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