On October 3rd, 2013, Inhabitat kicked off NY’s Archotober with a fantastic panel discussion and live webcast at New York’s Center For Architecture, to talk about resilient design and the intersection of building and automotive design. This provocative discussion brought together builders from across NYC with a prominent automotive designer and the head of AIANY to create a panel that spoke about how we can create designs that are sensitive to environment, beautiful, functional, and able to stand the test of time. The Design With a Purpose panel included Erik Churchill, project manager at SHoP Construction; Steven Colletta, Vice President of Sciame Construction Company; Ford’s group vice president of design J Mays; and moderator Rick Bell, the executive director of the AIANY. Check out what was said after the break or watch our video above!
DESIGN WITH A PURPOSE WEBCAST LIVEBLOG (As reported October 3rd at 12:30PM EST)
We’re reporting live from the AIA Center For Architecture in New York City as luminaries from the worlds of automotive design and architecture prepare to discus the topic of resilient design. The panelists have taken their places, and it’s time to begin!
Today’s moderator is AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, and he’s introducing today’s panelists. Erik Churchill is the project manager at SHoP Construction, Steven Colletta is the Vice President of Sciame Construction Company, and J Mays is Ford’s group vice president of design and chief creative officer. Today’s discussion will explore some of the things that architects and designers can learn from each other as technology changes.
Rick Bell: What is the single most exciting project you are working on right now?
Erik Churchill: We’re going into construction on the B2, the world’s tallest modular building at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn. It integrates design and fabrication in a cutting-edge way.
Steven Colletta: The Culture Shed at Hudson Yards is a 200,000 sq ft cultural building. Its main feature is a deployable shed with 1,500 tons of architectural steel, glass, moveable walls, and HVAC. It pulls out over a 20,000 sq ft plaza to create a performance space and nests back in.
J Mays: For me, it’s the next generation of the vehicle you saw outside – the next generation Ford F-Series.
Rick Bell: We were talking about process and how things get built. Process has been revolutionized for mass production. What can we say now that we see the automotive industry and the construction industry have something in common?
J Mays: We were just discussing the simplicity and efficiency of the Model T. One of the best visuals that I have of the Model T is that the floorboard of the Model T was made of the materials it was shipped in. So that was Henry Ford thinking about not wasting materials.
Steven Colletta: In contrast, when we’re talking about efficiency in construction, the thing that really bothers us is the amount of waste that goes into building a building. With concept cars, millions goes into fabrication and development, and at the end of the day it goes to an assembly line and yields very little waste. We need to optimize efficiencies to get the construction industry in line with minimizing waste.
Erik Churchill: I think a lot of that efficiency is developed in the process of how we’re designing and communicating from initial concept to final fabrication. We have a lot to learn in the construction industry from the automotive industry. . . so that we can limit waste and use nesting software to optimize the technology and process.
Rick Bell is now asking the room how many people would identify as an architect or designer – about 50% raise their hands.
Rick Bell: I’m curious about handoffs. If you look at the construction process there are a series of steps that need to be taken to complete a project, a lot of handoffs. What can you talk about in terms of process and the changes that we are seeing on the construction site?
Erik Churchill: We didn’t try and count how many lists there are in a traditional design/build bid process (for instance, how many doors are listed in a project). But there were upwards of 15 to 20 different lists listing the same thing. We’re trying to figure out how to streamline that by connecting the right people together and building relationships so we can move past just copying the same lists so we can meet our contractual duties.
Steven Colletta: One truth is that the less time spent on a job the more dollars saved. Look at efficiency and tech – there was a time when to coordinate a job we’d gather around a table, layer sepia sheets and everyone’s hands would get dirty. Now it’s silent – everyone’s at their laptops. It’s an eerie feeling. But it’s leading us to a point where we can get smarter, we can prefab elements and we can lower costs. it’s overly optimistic to think we’ll get to a point where we’ll prefab everything, but we can use technology to cut down labor costs and increase efficiency. Right now construction costs way too much – the only way we can lower that cost and make homes affordable for the average person … is really by focusing in on things we can take, prefabricate, and bring to the job. It’s not so much “prefab” as it is “partfab”
J Mays: We use the customers’ money more wisely so we get more appealing vehicles and it also gets passed on to us. It’s not modularity – there is component reuse. But all of that is under the skin. The customer doesn’t experience it.
Erik Churchill: We need to figure out how to do more with less instead of less with less. We’re able to deliver the excitement of that building without value-engineering it down. It starts with understanding how people are going to use a building.
Rick Bell: How do you bring passion and emotion into architecture and automotive design?
Erik Churchill: I think it starts with understanding how people are going to use the building . . . understanding the performative aspects of what’s going to happen in a place.
J Mays: We released the new ford fusion and it’s been doing extremely well and everyone writes about how the hybrid gets 47 miles per gallon but not many people would buy that car if it wasn’t drop dead gorgeous. People want an emotional connection and the payoff is that great gas mileage.
Rick Bell: Steven, can you tell us about the moving building that you’re working on with Culture Shed?
Steven Colletta: First and foremost, with a job as ambitious as that, the key is to not be afraid of it – to not have that fear factor when you try and price it and work out the details. At the end of the day, there is technology out there and good subcontractors that can take each component of the building and make it workable within an owner’s budget.
Rick Bell: Talking about economics. I know that when my son would small we’d go to the car show. We’d always gravitate to the concept cars — there’s something very exciting about seeing something new and dramatically different. But the costs of producing a concept or a custom house can be exorbitant. How can a “kit-of-parts” point of view produce something that is useful? Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian homes never got as much press as his custom-built homes, yet their replicability and utility made them very durable. How do the economics and design all tie together?
J Mays: It’s a double edged sword – if you get the design of the vehicle right, then you see it replicated hundreds of thousands of times and you see a lot of happy customers. People are happy with the way we designed the F150 because we put the money where they wanted it.
J Mays: Over the years – 31 years – I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum. When I was at Audi I was designing exclusive vehicles for a rather rich clientele. Today I’m working for a company that is inclusive. Ford wants to get as many people on wheels as they can.
Erik Churchill: As we look at the utility of modular/prefab/kit-of-part housing, we’re interested in the idea of mass customization and understanding what pieces of a building replicate. A bathroom is a great example of what can be replicated in a high-rise luxury apartment building.
Steven Colletta: A lot has to do with scale – we can line up F150s from NY to CA because there’s a market and a production line that can produce them . . . The problem we have is the cost of developing the model, and then creating the demand against local stick built construction, and then putting the investment in place to set up the mechanism for producing it and delivering it.
Steven Colletta: There is not enough modular construction in New York City. I was just at a modular construction site. It went up in 1/8th the time, and there was only 6 guys there. There wasn’t all the waste you normally see on a construction site. There wasn’t the guy napping in the corner, the guys sitting around watching other guys, the guy who has too much to drink the night before and making mistakes.
Erik Churchill: You just touched on an important point which is to bring in the intelligence of the builder into the design process. We want to build buildings that are going to last, and too often we lose sight of those connections in the design process.
Rick Bell: Speaking of modular . . . It was a “Dymaxion Dream” to use Detroit’s production facilities for [prefab] housing after WW2. Why New York now – why are we going for modular sooner than other markets in the States?
Erik Churchill: There are two very strong forces: one is the very high cost of building in NY, which is higher than the national average. On the delivery side, what makes it feasible besides the curiosity is the technology. We need to preplan and design and deliver in a different way that is enabled by technology that was previously a challenge to a production level to a factory.
Rick Bell: J, are we seeing truck sales as any kind of indicator of an up-tick in the economy?
J Mays: If we look at the economy in the last 50 years, when you see when the uptick in building starts happening, you also see an uptick in truck sales. So we’re seeing a huge upswing in truck sales at the moment. There’s got to be a correlation somewhere. Someone should do a study on that.
Rick Bell: When we were talking about the Fusion last year, a lot of the discussion was about sustainability and efficiency, but it was also about the envelope – how everything tied together.
Steven Colletta: It’s an emotional thing, buying a car or buying a house. It all has to work, and can’t limit its availability by being too expensive. If we built cars like we built homes, very few people could afford a car.
J Mays: You just touched on sustainability and efficiency – we were having a conversation earlier and people said “Trucks, really? Efficient? Let me put that in context. The truck you see outside is essentially seen as a work truck. They’re used for construction. Same thing as emergency vehicles. All of these are workhorses. When you start to increase the fuel efficiency on these vehicles with an Ecoboost engine and you multiply that by the number of trucks on the road, you see a significant boost in environmental benefit.
Erik Churchill: There’s a great lesson for architecture and urban planning. As we look at post-sandy, it’s not just building a seawall but building waterfront parks. How can we can we continue to do multiple things at once to increase efficiency and build better future for cars and urban cities.
Rick Bell: Here’s a question from someone online. Are you exploring any directions of advanced manufacturing or product development to increase the efficiency of the process?
J Mays: We spend a lot of time with our cave where we have our virtual reality glasses on and we’re looking at how things fit together for better quality. It’s strange to think that we’re sitting in a room in a vehicle that doesn’t exist but it’s a far more cost efficient way to design instead of actually building models and designing that way.
Erik Churchill: In design we’re doing rapid prototyping, using 3D printing extensively. . . You can go through iteration after iteration to get very accurate, useful data back from that to inform the design process moving forward.
Steven Colletta: When you start looking at the construction process, and using the automotive industry as a guide, we’re trying to make sure that by the time you get to the field the mistakes are limited . . . we have to focus in on the gaps between handoffs between designers, contractors, subcontractors and those in the field – once the designs get out to the field there’s another level of quality control that comes into play.
Audience question: When I was a kid we would love to see the new car models – kind of like when new Apple products are revealed now. One doesn’t have that kind of excitement anymore except maybe with the Tesla – with a focus on amazing innovative design and sustainability. Why hasn’t Ford been able to do that lately?
J Mays: Tesla is a small company. We produce millions of cars and the sheer scale is very different from Tesla.
Rick Bell: Here’s a question from a viewer online. Where do you find your purpose when sitting down to design? Where do you find your reason to get up in the morning? How do you ‘Design Like You Give A Damn,’ as Architect For Humanity says?
Erik Churchill: “I love that saying ‘Design Like You Give A Damn’ – I think when a designer actually thinks about and gets the gravity of what they are doing, they can really design with passion. . . design as if you want it to be a beautiful functioning piece of art in a hundred years.
Steven Colletta: I’m not an architect, I’m a builder – I get the best of it, I get to see the buildings go up. What gets me going is trying to figure out how to do it – a budget is not an enemy but a challenge. When you can give people what they want – an amazing building – and be out on the production line and see that creation come up that sometimes you’re involved in from a napkin sketch.
J Mays: J Mays: When I was at school in the late 70s, my instructor said you’re gonna design the same car over and over and over again and he was right. We get a huge thrill in trying to improve one’s quality of life. It’s the little things. Seeing a smile on a customer’s face when they’re happy with the product.
Rick Bell: I want to come back to the word ‘durability’. What does durability mean? Does it mean a car can last for 100 years?
Erik Churchill: You look at the embodied energy that goes into building a car and then you look at how long people take care of beautiful cars built in the 60s. Thats another car that doesn’t need to be made. That’s durability.
Steven Colletta: Durability speaks to a building’s ability to be reused. In NYC we have warehouse buildings that are multimillion dollar apartments, and that comes down to good design and good bones. It goes directly to quality of construction and materials used. In other parts of the world, a prewar building in Korea has a different meaning to a prewar building here.
J Mays: Im not a fan of fashionable architecture any more than I am of fashionable auto design. We’re trying to design for the customer in the most durable way.
Rick Bell: J Mays, I have one more question for you. If your path had taken a slightly different turn and you had become an architect, what kind of buildings do you think you would be designing?
J Mays: Most of the architects I love are dead. I love the Seagram building. I love mid-century modern. I think also there’s the focus on architecture has shifted a lot. We were talking earlier and I’m a pretty big fan of Morphosis and Thom Mayne. I’m fascinated with what’s going to happen on Roosevelt Island with the Cornell campus.
Architecture and automotive design share many of the same characteristics; both are human-informed creative process, and both strive to create comfortable, efficient, and safe spaces for their users to spend time in. Architects and automotive designers face many of the same challenges when it comes to fusing function with a design that can also appeal to a person’s emotions and aspirations—both disciplines need to find that perfect balance of art and science, and form and function.
Our Design with a Purpose panel focuses on the following topics:
- Durability & Resilience – designed to last: Buildings and vehicles are designed to stand the test of time. They can’t fall apart. They have to be able to take whatever pounding their users deliver and face whatever weather conditions may arise. Advancements in research and technology provide new opportunities and redefine what materials epitomize toughness and what design cues best communicate visual toughness.
- Functionality – designed to deliver: Buildings and vehicles need to deliver the functionality, safety, and reliability their occupants expect. Designing a successful building or a successful car starts with a clear understanding of the functional and physical requirements. For both industries, this means understanding the customer.
- Efficiency – designed to make a difference: Buildings and trucks don’t only serve those they are designed for, they have a wide reaching impact both environmentally and socially in the community.
Erik Churchill, Project Manager SHoP Construction
As a Project Manager with SHoP Construction Erik utilizes his background in construction, architecture, and business to manage projects that push the boundaries of design, sustainability, and traditional AEC practice. He recently managed the BIM/VDC integration of the B2 Bklyn Modular project for Forest City Ratner Companies during design and prototype production.
Currently Erik is developing SHoP Construction’s design/build services for pre-fabricated projects. He has experience with pre-construction services, estimating, design coordination, and managing architectural design. As an author Churchill has written on the changing roles of architects, publishing “Re-Negotiating Architects’ Relevancy – A U.S. Perspective of IPD and BIM”.
Previous to SHoP Construction, as a project manager Erik managed the design and build of single family homes including two of the first in the LEED-H pilot program. As a consultant he has worked with Clif Bar on sustainable packaging initiatives, Gerding Edlen Developers in Portland, OR on financing Living Building Challenge projects, and with Gehry Technologies in Paris on technology development. At the University of Oregon he developed the community design-build program, designBridge, into a nationally recognized program.
J Mays, Group Vice President and Chief Creative Officer, Design, Ford Motor Company
J Mays is group vice president, Design, and chief creative officer, Ford Motor Company. He is responsible for shaping the global design direction of Ford Motor Company’s Ford and Lincoln brands. During his career at Ford, Mays has managed and developed the design language of multiple vehicle brands, successfully leading the effort to develop the single, global Ford design language that now applies to most vehicles the company produces around the world. Mays joined Ford Motor Company in 1997 as vice president, Design, and was named group vice president in 2003. In 2005, he took on the expanded role of group vice president and chief creative officer. At Ford, he continues to make his mark. The all-new Fusion is a culmination of the design edict that Mays brought with him when he started at the company. Mays believes that customers develop an emotional bond with their vehicle; the design needs to inspire that. “To me, the most important reason people buy a car is the way it looks. You don’t want customers to justify a car based on logic; you want them to justify the purchase based on emotion. It’s a bit like falling in love with a spouse. You don’t fall in love for practical reasons. You fall in love for emotional reasons. The practical things have to be there – but that’s just establishing trust, the price of entry. Ultimately, you need the emotional side to come through, just as it does in a relationship.”
Over the years, Mays has received numerous professional awards and recognition for his designs. Mays’ design philosophy and a cross-section of his vehicles were the subject of an exhibition called Retrofuturism: The Car Design of J Mays at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2002. Mays received the Harvard Design School annual Excellence in Design Award in February 2002. In September 2002, he received the Don Kubly Professional Attainment Award from the Art Center.
Steven Colletta, Vice President, Sciame Construction Company
Steven Colletta is Vice President of F. J. Sciame Construction Co., Inc., a New York City based construction firm known for the building of highly designed and technically sophisticated projects. Since joining Sciame in 1997, Steve has completed many prominent projects in the Tri State area including NY’s first LEED Platinum Laboratory building for the Cooper Union with Pritzker Prize winning architect Thom Mayne’s firm Morphosis. His eye toward client satisfaction has resulted in many successful projects for Fortune 100 firms including fast track projects for General Electric Company. Currently, Steve is responsible for overseeing multiple projects including the construction of the Culture Shed, a Diller Scofidio + Renfro/Rockwell Group designed 200,000 square-foot visual and performing arts facility located at New York’s Hudson Yards; a Fumihiko Maki designed, 400,000 square foot commercial office building for Edward J. Minskoff Equities and a new 100,000 square foot medical simulation laboratory building for Columbia University Medical Center, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro/Gensler.
Sciame’s completed projects include the expansion and restoration of The Morgan Library and the restoration of Central Synagogue on Lexington Avenue, the oldest synagogue in Manhattan. Steve has lectured at various institutions including Columbia University, The Cooper Union and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Mr. Colletta is also a board member of the Center For Architecture Foundation.
Rick Bell, FAIA, Executive Director, AIANY
Rick Bell, FAIA, serves as Executive Director of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects where he was instrumental in the creation of the New York New Visions design and planning coalition, which has helped to catalyze and critique the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan.
Since starting at the AIA in 2001, Rick has raised the profile and involvement of the architectural community on policy issues, including accessibility, active design, affordable housing, sustainable design and waterfront use. The AIA’s storefront Center for Architecture on LaGuardia Place in Greenwich Village marks the shifting of priorities to a greater engagement with the public.
Previously, Rick worked in the public sector as Chief Architect and Assistant Commissioner of Architecture & Engineering at New York City’s public works agency, the Department of Design & Construction.