Season 2:

Episode 34

January 11, 2022

Carnegie Mellon University Residence & Academic Hub with Paul Lewis of LTL Architects

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In today’s episode, I am joined by Paul Lewis, FIAI, Principal at LTL Architects based in New York City. He shares with us his experience of working on projects for universities across the United States, from NYU to the University of Wyoming. Additionally, we learn more about his project working on the Carnegie Mellon University Residence & Academic Hub Project. Recently, he was awarded the prestigious Rome Prize, the Emerging Voices Award and the Young Architects Award.

As a 265 bed residence hall, the Carnegie Mellon University Residence & Academic Hub Project, aims to improve the quality of student life by providing an open space for social interaction as well as fostering an environment for wellness and play. Paul shares with us his experience working on this project, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To add on to his impressive list of professional experience, he also works with students to develop environmentally sensitive and sustainable projects as the Professor and Associate Dean at Princeton University School of Architecture. In today’s episode, we learn more about Paul’s experience as a designer and educator, how virtual learning and quarantine measures are shaping the design of student dormitories, as well as the challenge of building a university building off-campus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more about Paul Lewis

Paul is a founding partner of the amazing design firm, LTL Architects, and for his work is a winner of the prestigious Rome Prize, the Emerging Voices Award and the Young Architects Award. Besides his work as a designer, he is a professor of architecture at his alma mater, Princeton University, and was recently named an Associate Dean. With the ample free time he has, he also serves as the President of the Architectural League of New York. We will be talking about his Carnegie Mellon University Residence & Academic Hub Project.

[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.

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. Our guest is architect Paul Lewis. Paul was a founding partner of the amazing design firm, LTL architects, and for his work is a winner of the prestigious Rome prize, the emerging voices award and the young architects award. Besides his work as a designer, he is a professor of architecture at his Alma mater Princeton university, and was recently named an associate Dean with the ample free time that he had.

Uh, he also serves as the president of the architectural league of New York. We will be talking about his Carnegie Mellon university residents and academic hub project. More broadly. We will discuss the challenges of building a university building, particularly off campus. Thank you so much for being here with

[00:02:04] Paul Lewis: us, Paul.

It’s my pleasure to be here. Thanks. Thanks for absolutely,

[00:02:07] Atif Qadir: absolutely. So let’s get to. You began your career doing retail interiors. And in fact, we’re recently inducted into the interior design of hall of fame. Congratulations, Paul. Thanks. How does that interior design work relate to your architectural design work?

[00:02:26] Paul Lewis: Yeah, it’s a good question. And I think the way we describe it as that for us there, isn’t a radical difference, which is to say that for us. That’s what we’re interested is the design of space, both interior or exterior. In fact that we can do both that’s even better. And given the amount of time that one spends inside buildings, in some ways they’re more difficult, particularly if there’s a way to try to coordinate the interior with the structure of the building.

So to do it as a sympathetic project as is our approach and like many young architects who aren’t born with. You have to find ways to develop the practice. And for us, we decided consciously to develop the work in a more public arena than residential work. So we didn’t, uh, it’s often common to develop a series of apartment renovations or house projects, but we were more interested in projects that could have.

More direct interface with the public, more engaged with the street. So actually it was, it was restaurants. We got the opportunity to do a restaurant. And the next thing we know we had done, I think, six restaurants and they were, they had certain qualities to them. They were fast right there. Once the lease is signed, you.

They want to get it built as fast as possible. So it was quick turnaround. There was the ability to work on kind of materials and also the way in which those materials would interface with social organization. So the nature of the booth, the table, the interior, et cetera, they were ways for us to kind of do design build.

So in a sense, they were experiments as much as. The turnover rate in restaurants is very high. So there’s actually in a weird way, a greater level of curiosity on the part of restaurants where, because the there’s the willingness to take risks. And so they were a great vehicle for us and to develop a portfolio.

For us, there was never really a split between work on the interior and work with architectural exterior buildings. They were all one in the same experiments with materials forms, how social structures are influenced and influence architecture. Those were all things that we were interested in and it affects the interior as well as the next.

[00:04:39] Atif Qadir: So architects as wide ranging as a Richard Meyer to me have had our parents’ homes be the very first project that we did. So I applaud you for taking on an alternative path.

[00:04:53] Paul Lewis: Yeah. That was never going to happen for us. We also have an older sister who’s an architect and said, arguably, she had chips on the house if that was even an option.

So. So, but we did do a couple of apartments, but I think we, we found a lot more pleasure in the, um, doing the work and in the arenas of restaurants. And then we ended up doing a lot of arts organizations, architectural exhort organizations did a lot of a fair number of exhibitions at storefront because my business partner remark is, uh, samaki is now the president of and as well.

Van Allen and did work for prince at architectural press. And so I think we had worked our way through a number of different kinds of non-profits in the architecture arena and, uh, often employing a kind of visit design built practice to make some of the stuff that we were designing to be able to make sure.

[00:05:50] Atif Qadir: Excellent. So speaking of Princeton, our listeners had the opportunity to learn about a lot about the university from Arthi Krishnamurthy from Deborah Burke partners who is working on two major dormitories for the university. So you’re a professor at the school of architecture. And why do you spend time teaching?

And do you feel it makes you a better.

[00:06:12] Paul Lewis: Oh, yeah. I mean, there’s no question about that. That’s an easy one to answer. Cause they, one of the more difficult things to do. And to do it effectively over an entire afternoon is to be involved in Crips to not just say, you know, I like it. I don’t like it. That’s easy.

What’s harder is actually to bring something to the conversation, to see something in the work that might be overlooked to start to speculate as to what, what, how it might be the advanced. And so it’s super challenging, but, you know, allows you to refine what you believe. So I’ve been teaching now for 25 years.

Thereabouts started very young and have always found that to be a stimulating arena. It’s very tiring. I mean, there’s no question anybody who’s finished the review or a desperate afternoon after about three or four hours that you’re just like, I need another coffee or I need some way to relax. Yeah.

There’s that. So, but I thoroughly enjoy it and you know, I think. Ironically enough, I may do more sketching and an afternoon giving desk grits than I do in the office. Right. So it’s very, it’s a very active process. I mean, that, that goes without question, that it it’s a catalyst for our own design thinking.

So all three of the partners in the practice are involved in teaching and have them for many years. But my brother twin brother David, just, uh, recently this fall taking over, taking on the Dean ship at Parsons school, the constructive.

[00:07:42] Atif Qadir: So, as you mentioned, you work with your twin brother, David and LTL architects, your wife, Kim Yow is also an architect.

And coincidentally was on the podcast earlier this season. How do you separate your work and your personal lives? Like, do you talk about anything other than Narcan? I

[00:08:02] Paul Lewis: actually, yeah, we do. I mean, there’s so many other things to focus on our kids, our cat, you know, we’re like, well, you know, daily, survival, what are we having for dinner?

So there’s plenty of other things that fill our time. In fact, we probably don’t talk enough about what we’re doing, our respective offices in part, because it is a kind of a need to focus on things that are not the office when you’re not in the. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about work in the office, our respective offices, but we do particularly when we travels and a lot of time looking at architecture and seeing shows and going to exhibitions and visiting buildings, going to openings, et cetera.

So that’s really where it’s in our mutual interest of architecture culture in general, that we have a lot more overlap than in our respective competitive pressures.

[00:08:54] Atif Qadir: I think that there’s a particular DNA to architects. So for example, this year I had the opportunity to work from home, but from 12 different places, because I worked from home from everywhere from West Virginia to Texas.

And in each of these places, I was at typically staying at a historic hotel. So I was using this website called historical tells of America. And if someone looks at my Instagram feed, it’s basically all builds. And food. That was like the two things I mix it together, but I think I can definitely appreciate the way that you travel.

It’s a bit similar in way to, it’s a way that I do as well. So the project that we are discussing today is in Pittsburgh, in the Oakland neighborhood. Tell us more about the area and the peculiarities of the site itself.

[00:09:43] Paul Lewis: Yeah, it’s a really interesting project mostly. Well, not mostly. Because of the citing, this was not only the first residence hall that Carnegie Mellon university has built in.

I want to get this right. I think it’s about 20 years, certainly 15. So probably the first one in a generation, if you will. And their decision was to actually locate it, not on campus, but in the neighborhood immediately surrounding campus. And it’s on a major avenue within Pittsburgh, fifth avenue.

Fantastic buildings up and down fifth avenue, probably two buildings away is wrote off Shalom a synagogue by a horn bustle, a fantastic building. That’s a historic building. Yeah. Historic building corn Basile is known as the architect who did, who, who is kind of responsible for building the key buildings and the initial organization of Carnegie Mellon university, Carnegie tech, fantastic architect.

And so it’s quite challenging to be building down the street. So that really put a different kind of pressure on the nature of the building. And it wasn’t on campus per se. It was really in. The city fabric adjacent to campus, but where a number of buildings, apartment buildings, particular have been acquired by CMU.

So it’s in a sense it’s hinges between the campus in terms of who’s going to be in the building, certainly, but it’s really part of the fabric of the nation. So we had to be cognizant about that in terms of how we designed it. Its presence really needed to be a presence on the street, not a presence on a lawn, if you will, not on a campus.

So, and that really put some interesting kind of pressures on the nature of the citing, you know, how do you locate the entry for a building that should have a public entry on fifth, but needs to pull the entry back a little bit? So it’s not. So the students don’t feel like they’re on display to the main avenue.

So how do you balance both of those? So there’s a number of different contradictions that come as a result of the peculiarities of the sighting. Okay.

[00:11:53] Atif Qadir: The project was bid out using a RFQ or a request for qualifications process. What did this particularly entail and how did you structure your winning.

[00:12:07] Paul Lewis: Yeah, it’s a good question. I have to go back and think about what we had done. We had been put on a longer list and put forward our qualifications. And in that process, uh, we joined a partner ship with PWW G architects, who, a local firm in Pittsburgh. Very good. We have really, I think, a good compatibility between the strengths that we brought to the table.

And so that helped frame the RFP submittal. I think there was a short. He’s said it was a pretty standard process in that sense and interview. I remember specifically one of the things that we focused on is really understanding. The typology of residence halls as a whole, what similar institutions were doing?

What is the trajectory of residence halls? This would have been our third residence hall of similar scale that we’ve done. So we were able to draw on that our own history, but also wanted to take stock of where things were both outside of Carnegie Mellon, but also closely analyzing. Every room they have, like, what’s the average size room, what’s the makeup of all their hallways.

Cause one of the things we found is that residence halls exist in a, in a kind of an ecosystem there compared to other residence halls on campus. They either are considered successful within that arena or they’re considered the worst residence. All right. So where do they fit? They’re mostly compared internally.

So we needed to make sure that. Being clear about how this would then elevate all the residence halls by its addition, but also recognizing what constituted a residence hall. What were the numbers in a hallway? What were the qualities? This was going to be an upper class residence hall, mostly juniors and seats.

Um, so how did that fit into the trajectory of residence halls that they may have lived in? So that helped by us, how we presented the work. There was a lot of analysis, a fair amount of data, but making clear through drawings, what was the current state, if you will, of residence hall kind of infrastructure on campus and what, how did that help frame what we would do?

So less design and more analytical prelude to that work. And I think. I must’ve been right. It must’ve been.

[00:14:28] Atif Qadir: So, as you mentioned, you’ve done projects for universities all across the United States, from NYU to the university of Wyoming. So what are some of the lessons that you’ve learned in those projects that informed your design process? For example, you had mentioned the idea of looking at and assessing all the rooms on that particular campus, as part of that process.

Were there other things that you utilize.

[00:14:52] Paul Lewis: Yeah. I mean, certainly one of the things that we believed in which came about as a result of, you know, at that point would have been about 10 or 15 years of working in residence hall with residence halls is that there were certain sizes. Of a hallway that just worked better.

Like if you got to be too large, you, it became a more to anonymous and you know, you started to lose the social kind of glue that constituted your life on the hall. On the other hand, if it became too small, you felt isolated. There was no one around what’s going on. You always sense that you were not in the right place.

So then also the other key issue we’ve come to realize. That is on the architectural design is really framing a series of nested relationships that go from the bed to the room, to the room, to the hall, from the hall to the lounge, et cetera. And so all of those sequences, those kind of ways in which you can develop a kind of sense.

Privacy, but also be connected to a collective, have to constantly be refined and looking for as much overlap within there as possible. So the argument that the, the life should occur in the hallway is absolutely true. Hallways need to have a certain width. They shouldn’t be just a transition to get to someplace else.

They need to foster that kind of casual conversations that take outs take place outside the room. And the more that. Spill into a kind of lounge. So you don’t have to commit to going to the lounge, but you just kind of end up there. But each space needs to, even though that needs to have a kind of an overlap and a linkage, they need to have a kind of clear identity.

So how do you do both? How do you both set up the overlaps and the differences? And so that really started to inform a lot more how we would relate people to roommates, the hallmates, to the entire building and the conscious of those different nesting, uh, So,

[00:16:52] Atif Qadir: uh, tell us about this particular project by the numbers, like the square footage, the number of beds, et cetera.


[00:16:58] Paul Lewis: the project is super close to being about a hundred thousand square feet. I think it’s around 98,000 square feet. It’s a six story residence hall and it holds about 264 beds in different configurations from singles to doubles, to double suites, to single suites. The. Ground floor contains a large series of lounges kitchens, collective spaces, as well as the building in effect is two buildings.

There is what’s called the university commons, which is a roughly 5,006,000 square feet. Really a meeting space, a space that, and genders greater kind of social life among the entire community. So not just students, but staff, faculty, and et cetera. It’s a separate building, even though they’re connected in the sense that one has to, they have separate entrance.

They are not connected from the inside. Yes, they share the courtyard. They share the street frontage. They’re in the same structure, but they’re consciously designed as two separate programs. So the ground floor is definitely, uh, a hub of activity with the, the lounge specifically for the residence hall.

Occupants on one side and then the university neighborhood comments adjacent, um, both are kind of positioned on fifth avenue. And so one of the challenges was designing a building that would have a sense of a synthetic link, but also a sense of difference between these two entries. And so the, the geometry of the ground floor awnings and landscape are meant to both tie these together, but also make it clear that the.

Kind of two different programs. So

[00:18:37] Atif Qadir: on that note, describe for our listeners what they would see as they walk through this project as completed from the outside, say perhaps the interiors up to where a student would go to their rooms.

[00:18:50] Paul Lewis: Sure. And I’m trying to not get into too much detail cause there’s a lot of thought given to the specifics of how.

The geometry of the building both form the corner, but then also formed a setback off of that corner. So we’re trying to hold the corner of fifth, but then also have what essentially is a C shaped building and plan the entered from the middle. And that middle is actually not on fifth, but, but midway back in the site from fifth avenue, so that stretches the entry.

Basically it gets stretched. So that’s where your early, your first experience you see the entrance from. And most people, most of the students will be coming from that direction. Cause campus, it points in the direction of campus, but you would walk up this gently sloping ramp, bringing you into the entryway and immediately you would turn.

And what would be open in front of you to your left is a large lounge series of different tables, meeting areas, a small kind of sunken area with large television really meant as a kind of a collective building lounge. And then on each side, The floor with these, again are C shaped in terms of their plan.

And each of them has at the kind of joint of the sea. If you will, a double height study lounge. And the intent there is so that every floor has. Is in a sense split into two wings, two ELLs, and they’re joined then at the, the elevator. But as you were walked down the hall, you would encounter this central, uh, study lounge and each study lounge, then either links up or links down being a double height.

So in effect you can walk up the entire building, just using the stairs within the study lounges as a means to connect through the building. And that was important to us because we wanted to find a way that each. Would have an identity, but be connected. And we wanted to find a way that, that connection, wasn’t just say between floor four and five, but now between five and six.

Five and four, four and three. And so that there’s the ability to kind of mix throughout the entirety of the building. It also allowed us to distribute kitchenette. So there’s always a, a kitchen ad on every floor, and there’s always a main kind of lounge with a television on every floor. And it also relates from side this.

So there’s a way of introducing section into a building type that often kind of resists on the vertical circulation. And mostly because, you know, the, the circulation, the means of circulation are often constrained by fire code, right? So, but we are by the distance, we are able to space them. We were able to make it work within the limits of the fire code, regular.

[00:21:24] Atif Qadir: So Alvar Aalto and is designed for a baker house. So a dormitory at MIT used an external staircase for the, a very similar regard, which was connecting, uh, studies in lounges from Florida, Florida floor. And talk to him and talk to us more about the material choices that you chose in and around the staircase.

The floor, is that the stairs themselves, as well as the surround in order to encourage this connection. Yeah.

[00:21:49] Paul Lewis: And again, these are really communicating stairs. And so they were designed so that they would be visible at the end of the hallway, so that, and they were also always framed by double height glass so that each of those lounges has one wall as basically a glass.

And then the other will have punch windows and sometimes it staggers. And the point for that is. Each the view down every hallway ends in a window. So you don’t get an occluded dark hallway and certain views actually look at the staircase that then ascends up to the next level. And, but we designed the risers is open, open risers.

So you can see through to the window and get a glimpse of what’s going on. And most of the materials in the. We’re uh, we were working with bamboo for the stair treads as well as black iron and the black iron defines a railing. That gives the sense that the, that the stair is kind of suspended from the floor above, as it extends the handrail up the double height space down to help structure the staircase.

The. Point to note about the lounges is that the, the lounge is on there on the outside of the sea. If you will, if the geometry of the sea is like this, they’re on the outside, on the inside, there’s a very small kind of study kind of built in booth a mind and felt and bamboo that allows you to just kind of sit there.

In the kind of moment of transition through the corridor. You’re part of a lounge, but you’re also pulled away a little bit. You’re part of the hallway, but you’re also pulled away again, this kind of nesting smaller scale spaces within the sequences of conventional forms in a residence hall, lounge corridor.

[00:23:34] Atif Qadir: So I’m going to pause here to let our listeners know that architect Arthur Krishnamurthy a partner at Deborah Berke partners, uh, will be on the show this season as well. She’ll be talking about another spectacular dormitory project. I mentioned earlier, uh, that one for Princeton university

So you don’t miss any of the awesome guests that we have lined up for you this season. So let’s take a bigger picture. Look at a building for university, but outside of the university’s footprint. So town and gown is an expression that’s used to describe the relationship between a university and the surrounding municipality.

What are some common town and gown issues that you’ve seen on projects and what are good ways do you think that those issues can be mitigated by.

[00:24:24] Paul Lewis: Yeah, it’s a really good question. I think that, uh, one of the, probably if there is a defining characteristic, is that it’s impossible to predict. Like it’s hard, there’s hard to generalize, right?

It becomes very specific to whatever friction point or particular. Kind of whether it’s organizational or sight line or flow of traffic, et cetera. And it’s very hard to kind of say that there’s a kind of general strategy for this. I know that Carnegie Mellon was incredibly good about maintaining contact with the neighborhood, letting them them, you know, it was going on.

This is, it’s a big building, but it’s honest. The demands, big buildings. I mean, the street should have big buildings. It’s a big building street, if you will. So

[00:25:07] Atif Qadir: by big in this Oakland neighborhood, that w what kind of stories are you talking about?

[00:25:11] Paul Lewis: Oh, we’re talking, ours was six stories. Most of the other buildings are six minimum, generally speaking, but they’re also in terms of their size.

They’re substantial. I mean, it’s not a series of small scale. Residential builds. Uh, there’s a number of churches along the street, a number of very large apartment buildings, some dating back a hundred years more. It’s a significant street where the architecture has a presence that is more at the collective scale in terms of it’s.

It’s not at the individual ownership. That being said immediately back from the side, if you will, there are much smaller homes and apartments and townhouses. There was definitely a kind of question of how do we kind of blend between the two, but we felt that the scale and we looked at different nursing strategies that would bring down the scale, but in some way, Given everything around that, it made more sense that the building hold its hold its own and at six stories, it was by no it’s by no means the tallest building around.

And I actually think that in comparison to what was there, which was the parking lot and, or it was a very small building and then was moved for a parking lot. It was, uh, we inherited it as a parking lot site. I think it, it urbanistically is, uh, a strong addition to the street. And I should also mention that we were.

Merritt chase the landscape architects to develop that kind of rethinking of the sidewalk so that there would be a kind of greater space for prominent something more along the lines of what fifth avenue should have. And three line space of safety away from the cars so that you can walk on the sidewalk and not feel like you’re butted right up against the, uh, the relatively high amount of traffic.

Going back to the early part of your question, the idiosyncrasy that I can point to specifically the town gown had to do with the, with sight lines and what could be seen from, from where I think a kind of question about both privacy. Uh, maintained for the students and also the other way around that the residents, and one of the things about getting windows higher up is that you do get further sideline.

So we had worked on the south side of the building a way of articulating the bricks to basically sculpt them into sun shading devices, basically go by core bling, the bricks, whereas on. More residential side of the building. We actually develop the bricks as a kind of vertical mover, if you will, or basically a blind.

So it, the bricks actually extend out on the neighborhood side of the windows, just enough to provide a little bit more occlusion of the sight lines between the certain townhouses and interior to the residence. Rooms themselves. So it kind of an interesting case where the south side of the building was kind of informed by solar angles.

And then the, uh, east side of the building was more informed by sidelines with town and gown really.

[00:28:10] Atif Qadir: I find that particularly entertaining because of this idea that if you’re living in a city, whether it’s a dormitory or another apartment building, that’s such a norm, but if that’s an issue for someone, I’m sure that that’s on, that needs to be addressed.

[00:28:24] Paul Lewis: And it worked for us because one of the important things about. Projects to go back to this paradox of how do you hold the corner with a C shape that has two corners that needs to be entered in the middle for the efficiency, the efficacy of the residence hall itself. Right? So we have to have the elevator in the middle.

How do you get people back there? So a lot of the work went into the subtlety of that corner. So not only do you get the two of the three. Windows that actually kind of interlock with projecting bricks and that projecting brick is, is, are then detailed as recess bricks that kind of fade back as, uh, reach the corner.

But we also want to have the shading devices to echo towards the corner. So. The shading devices on the south side, actually Korbel up on the side of the window, away from you as you’re walking into the corner and the opposite, um, east side of the building. So in a sense, both sets of eyebrows, if you will kind of look to the corner.

So there’s that sense and, and this is super subtle, right? It may or may not even be noticed, but we thought it was really important that there was a, a sculpting to the geometry of the details of the oven brick work that was done that reiterated the overall massing. So there was an affinity between part and whole at the largest and the smallest scale.

[00:29:45] Atif Qadir: Could you explain for our listeners? They may not know what.

[00:29:48] Paul Lewis: Korbel is the ability to Lego’s Korbel really well, which is you can achieve a kind of a cantilever by offsetting one brick on top of the next. So it slowly projects out the line of force then works as well on an angle. So in effect you get an oblique, but it’s the ability for each one to stack up just slightly out from the.

Uh, you then have to tie it back at the top, but, and that’s what we do with our precast headers, but it allows you to use bricks in a way that bricks work, if that makes any sense. So, so using a brick technique to produce effects rather than sticking a window shade on top of a building, could we actually produce the shading effects from the very material used to make the buildings.

So we try to avoid clipping and adding more things to systems if we can do, if we can avoid it. So

[00:30:45] Atif Qadir: the idea being that it’s those joints being the places where a facade will typically fail right. More than

[00:30:51] Paul Lewis: just, I’d rather find a way to have multi valence performance. Right. So one thing does multiple things.

So rather than. You know, we need shading. Okay. Clip on the aluminum shades. Okay. Now we need this, oh, clip this on. So you ended up with us multiple. I mean, in fact, some of my least favorite buildings are buildings that are an all glass facade, and then they realize, wait, we got too much glass. So they have to slip on all a bunch of louvers to shade the glass and wait, now the louvers are going to get dirty.

So now they’re going to yet to be things that keep dirt from falling on the louvers and the, and the pigeons are going to be on the spikes on top of you. You know, it’s just these, like, rather than figuring out I kind of sent that. Way to do multiple things with one detail or one material. And this, this approach that says we can just keep adding and then that accumulation of stuff, then somehow becomes an aesthetic of expressing the performance of the building.

I was like, well, you just spent a lot of money to express something that could have been done in a much more subtle way.

[00:31:51] Atif Qadir: I think you’re also describing American consumption, crass, consumerism as well. This idea that yes. Simulation and

[00:31:58] Paul Lewis: stuff, there may be that too. Yeah. So there’s a, yeah, it’s definitely, there’s a way in which we tend to.

Kitchen appliances are like that. You really need the level of specificity for every single one, when it really is just about accumulating more things. So they don’t do it any better. So

[00:32:18] Atif Qadir: I think, especially, even though I enjoy cooking, I probably use the same steak knife to do pretty much everything. So I am a heathen, but it gets

[00:32:25] Paul Lewis: the job done.

Yeah. So

[00:32:29] Atif Qadir: we talked about the size and the shape of the building, which is massing. And that can have big impacts, not only on views, which you mentioned, but also enlightened shadow. And talk to us about how you approach those issues and the design of this project.

[00:32:42] Paul Lewis: Yeah. Well, one of the, I think one of the things that we were, we spent a lot of time modeling and working with Emmy engineers on is trying to figure out a way that we could get as much light into the courtyard and not have the courtyard be too big, but also not have it be too.

We, so we shifted to where the exterior kind of public face of the building has done. And this recycled glass, uh, bricks, this porcelain gray, Brexit’s one of the few ways to get great and true gray, not brown. True gray bricks is to in the United States. Paying for the expensive Peterson, bricks and other very expensive and poured your bricks, which are beautiful, but that wasn’t going to be in our budget as a contrast to those bricks.

The courtyard is zinc and we like zinc because it gave a kind of earth quality, but also there was a. And it reflected light and in a way, and actually the light levels in the courtyard, we’re very pleased with. So that was one of our concerns is the courtyard given the six story building, given the site constraints, we wanted to make sure that courtyard felt like it wasn’t, it was the right size, but also broad enough light in.

And I think we’re very pleased with.

[00:33:53] Atif Qadir: And the idea being that you wouldn’t want that courtyard to be dark or shadows because then no one would.

[00:33:59] Paul Lewis: Right. Right. And we also, you know, we have kind of green roofs and some of the lower the commons extend out into the courtyard. And so those portions, wherever there’s an extension, there’s a green roof on it.

So we wanted to make sure there was enough light feeding to those, those plants as well. So,

[00:34:17] Atif Qadir: so what would you say is the approach that you took to design. The ground floor. So you mentioned the idea of connecting the sidewalk and the idea of this. And, uh, in terms of materiality, it’s a dominantly glass on that ground floor that uses on the first floor.

Are they for example, lounges or study spaces? Well, what’s happening

[00:34:38] Paul Lewis: down there. Yeah. So in the residence hall, the ground floor, particularly on the street is. More active group activities. So there’s a kind of sunken area, maybe three or four steps down that it’s configured around the large-scale television.

It’s kind of conversation pit. It’s a kind of gathering place for the, as many residents as want to gather that extends to an upper lounge, which both works for smaller seating groups. But those can also be all gathered around if say there’s somebody giving a talk or there’s a particular sporting event where they want to.

Got a lot of people around it, television, whatever it might be, that kind of focal point. There are a series of also large scale built in kind of bamboo tables that we design and that’s to allow people to kind of gather in, you know, say one or two people, but if a friend shows up, another person can sit there trying to avoid the, you know, four Cedar, six Cedar eight Cedar, which feels empty when you only have two people on it.

And then it can’t hold their 15. So we wanted to have a table. You feel comfortable if you’re one or two people, but if 14 people show up great, everyone can fit. Trying to work with different geometry. So that that’s really the life of, of the ground floor. That’s visible from the sidewalk and that’s in the residence hall.

The neighborhood commons has very specific programmatic rooms that align with fifth avenue. So there’s a dance room with a sprung floor. There’s a music room. And then there’s a kind of multi-purpose larger scale. Room that can either be used for say a kind of demonstration arts and crafts or a lecture it’s, it’s set up for a variety of configurations.

Those are all visible, particularly the dance and the music room, or have a lot of visibility to the. And that was intentional. We wanted there to the activity of the neighborhood comments to be visible where possible, whereas the more kind of smaller scale gathering and the neighborhood comments is pulled more towards the courtyard.

There’s a hearth with a fireplace and that’s set up as. He zone and that’s immediately adjacent to the courtyard. So making connections between the courtyard and the interior of the comments in the less public side of the building. And then

[00:36:58] Atif Qadir: between virtual learning and quarantine, there’ve been many issues for university students during the pandemic in terms of the residential context.

So could you share with us some of the conversations that are happening at your firm about how dormitories will look in the future?

[00:37:15] Paul Lewis: So good question. And I would argue that. The current pandemic, which we all hope will at some point end, isn’t a great model to use as the basis for envisioning future social structures, meaning it tends to require the very things that we don’t encourage.

Right. You know, it’s decreasing chance encounter. Putting kind of pressure on large groups to dissipate all the things that are not what will you want within the architecture should foster greater exchange, greater connection, et cetera. It’s a good question. And certainly we discussed it with CMU and I think our argument was that the way the building’s set up, it enables smaller groups to gather in a labels, you to have control over your room coming and going has a certain again kind of control and knowledge.

If you will. I would say that the way, the more jubilant moments within a residence hall are maybe calmed a little bit now. For necessity. And I’m hoping that that’s not something we, we start designing for. I’d rather design for the more euphoric, celebratory, social and reasons why we all exist in a society.


[00:38:32] Atif Qadir: It certainly sounds like a more fun. And I’m not sure if you happen to know this, but Pittsburgh was rated by Buzzfeed as the number one place that Brooklyn hipsters are moving because of climate crisis. So there may be an entire influx of new students, new people that we’ll all be able to enjoy this wonderful streetscape and building that that’s not.

So, uh, thank you so much for joining us today on the American building podcast.

[00:39:00] Paul Lewis: Paul, my pleasure. Thank you for that. Absolutely. So

[00:39:04] Atif Qadir: listeners, if you want to hear the behind the scenes stories of how iconic buildings in our country were designed and built subscribe to this podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Google, or wherever you like to listen, we all know real estate is a tough industry to.

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Finally, we live in the richest country, in the history of humankind. 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. All in, I have made donations to the architectural league. Which engages the public with good design.

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