Friday, April 8, 2011

Q+A: Architect PETER GLUCK - His Modernist Philosophy | Respect for Land... + REAL TIME SEARCH RESULTS


Nestled in a deep valley surrounded by rugged mountains, this large family home in Aspen, Colorado, was designed with its site in mind. Unlike the homes nearby, this one is situated perpendicular to the valley—resembling a bar laying across the floor—to take advantage of the stunning views and southern exposure. Photo: ©Paul Warchol Photography

Palatial houses can be surprisingly modest. At least, that’s the philosophy of Peter Gluck, an acclaimed modernist who has spent the past 38 years creating extraordinary residences that make as little impact on the land as possible. One is featured in the April issue of Architectural Digest: A glass-walled house Peter Gluck and Partners, Architects designed for clients in Illinois, complete with a basketball court, spa, garage, and service quarters—though most of these amenities are inventively submerged into the sloped terrain so they are out of sight. This and other Gluck works star in A Modern Impulse (ORO Editions, 2008), a 680-page career compendium so heavy, the architect says, “you can press flowers with it.”


“I built the house in the land, not on it. The land isn’t passive; it acts on the design,” says Gluck of an innovative tri-level residence he built near Austin, Texas. The home appears to float above the landscape, with a subterranean first floor, a glass pavilion at ground level, and a top floor—wrapped in a red mahogany veneer—set among a grove of live oak trees.  Photo: ©Paul Warchol Photography

AD Special Projects Editor Mitchell Owens recently sat down with the award-winning architect at his busy Harlem office—Gluck’s sun-drenched renovation of a 19th-century brewery—to talk about his respect for the land, his dislike of “gross display[s] of wealth,” and why an architect should take responsibility for every aspect of a building, not just the drawings.

ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST: Many architects design a building and then leave its construction to contractors. You, however, run a design-build office; the other half of your business is ARCS Construction Services. Why?

PETER GLUCK: The sad truth is that few architects do what we do—see a project through from start to finish, in our own office. Contractor-designers did the great vernacular architecture of the past; what they designed, they built. But in the 19th century architects wanted to legitimize themselves so they created professional organizations, which abstracted them from the actual work of building. In my opinion, it’s all been downhill since then.


Through his design for an urban family’s country retreat in Olive Bridge, New York, Gluck reimagined—in form and function—the traditional vacation home. The unpredictable and playful layout consists of three distinct structures that are each stylistically different but physically joined together. Bridge House is appropriately named: Bridges are a recurring theme, not just connecting the roof terrace to the nearby cliffs but also connecting the contrasting architectural styles and, more conceptually, the gaps betwee

Through his design for an urban family’s country retreat in Olive Bridge, New York, Gluck reimagined—in form and function—the traditional vacation home. The unpredictable and playful layout consists of three distinct structures that are each stylistically different but physically joined together. Bridge House is appropriately named: Bridges are a recurring theme, not just connecting the roof terrace to the nearby cliffs but also connecting the contrasting architectural styles and, more conceptually, the gaps between the several generations that may inhabit the house at a given time. Photo: Erik Freeland

AD: Does taking on the contractor responsibilities make your work more difficult?

PG: Yes, but it makes what we can do fantastic. An architect-led design-build office allows you to eliminate waste and deal with subcontractors and suppliers early in the process. At the East Harlem School, for example, we were able to redesign the façade and make it more interesting, with translucent acid-etched glass and higher quality, maintenance-free color panels that were costlier than we’d initially selected. We couldn’t have done that if we hadn’t been overseeing every aspect of the job and known where we could save and reallocate money along the way.


Acting as both the architect and construction manager, Peter Gluck and Partners, Architects demonstrated an efficient use of limited resources when completing the East Harlem School, an independent year-round middle school in New York that recruits children from low-income families. Although the finished product looks like a modern masterpiece, the primary design goal was to create an intimate and safe educational environment that promotes tranquillity and creativity. Photo: Erik Freeland

: Modernists, from the beginning, believed they could improve the way we live. Does modern architecture still have that same sense of hope?

PG: We are very much involved in trying to make architecture make sense socially. That’s why we do a lot of not-for-profit work—schools, health clinics, affordable housing—to balance out the work we do for private clients, which, let’s say, are less than socially relevant.


In New Canaan, Connecticut, a suburb legendary for modernist houses built from the late 1940s through the ’60s, Gluck created a playfully sophisticated house of two seemingly separate yet connected units: a clean-lined, two-story rectangular building and a round three-story tower sheathed in corrugated metal. Throughout both volumes, doors open directly onto the grounds, establishing an experiential plan that pinwheels the interiors toward all views and yards. Photo: ©Paul Warchol Photography

AD: Your residential projects always have daring components, such as burying parts of buildings underground to preserve the landscape.

PG: If you want to do things that are out of the ordinary, you have to get the people you are working with to understand. Most architects are afraid to push back against a client’s preconceptions because they’re afraid they’ll lose the job. But if you challenge a client’s ideas, they are often surprised and interested.


Situated on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, this spacious house in a North Shore suburb of Chicago consists of two structures: one curved around the courtyard (resembling a Greek amphitheater) and the other (a modernist box) facing the lake and beach below. Gluck varied the exterior materials and hues of the house by section but generally kept the interior consistent and unified. His design acknowledges both the quiet landscape in the front and the wild, windblown environment at the rear. Photo: Courtesy Peter Gluck and Partners, Architects

AD: Do you make formal presentations?

PG: We hardly ever use our conference room. Clients come to the office and see all the models. We engage them in the process. The ultimate is when they feel they designed the house with our help, so they feel like they have full ownership of the project. Thanks to individuals like Frank Lloyd Wright, people think most architects have incredible arrogance and make pronouncements; we don’t play that game.

AD: The houses you design can be tens of thousands of square feet in size and incorporate pools and courtyards, but their effect on the landscape is actually quite modest.

PG: All our houses are correctives to the megahouse—the gross display of wealth, all those pitched roofs and turrets. It’s all about the landscape for me; I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up. Most of our clients have fantastic sites, and they want to preserve them. Sometimes we “mine” the building into the ground, so very little of it is showing. We just dig and dig and dig, so all you see is this simple glass box, if that. The result is sort of a nonbuilding—but with amazing views. For a project on Lake George in upstate New York, we made giant rectangles out of two-by-fours and moved them around with a backhoe to see what the best views would be.AD: What are your thoughts on the new technologies that can help a house have less environmental impact?


Gluck radically redesigned a Manhattan townhouse, reorganizing the layout to give the space a loftlike feel that is open and airy but also private. Conceived with this idea in mind, the front façade is made of two narrow, vertical glass shafts flanking a wall fronted by an aluminum rain screen. The rear façade, on the other hand, is all glass, allowing for a steady stream of natural light. Photo: Erik Freeland


PG: It’s incredibly difficult because the systems don’t work with each other. The control systems are so complicated, with six different computer programs trying to talk to each other. That’s an added responsibility, and we spend months teaching the people who use the building how to operate it, and even then, it isn’t seamless. All of which results in constant information coming back to the office, which is hugely valuable.

AD: Which brings us back to your design-build philosophy.

PG: We wouldn’t be able to accumulate that knowledge if we weren’t a design-build office. It’s about taking complete responsibility for the building—from talking to the clients to constructing the building at a reasonable cost to staying with the building until the clients know how to use it. Some people say that theory is what drives great architecture; my sense is that practicality is what makes great architecture.



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