Architecture is inherently tied to building and construction. When these processes are aligned, great structures take shape. For architecture, construction and development firm GLUCK+, design and building go hand-in-hand. From designer and builder to owner and developer, the practice has taken on diverse roles to bring innovative projects to life. Looking to the future, Principal Thomas Gluck explores how the firm is creating work in New York City and across the United States.
Thomas Gluck joined the firm as Associate Principal in 2005. Mr. Gluck has overseen the design and construction of numerous projects, including a LEED Gold mixed-use residential development in Philadelphia, the first prefabricated steel and concrete multifamily development completed in New York City, and the firm's iconic Tower House. Prior to joining GLUCK+, Mr. Gluck worked with Herzog and de Meuron as the onsite project manager for the design and construction of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. In the following interview, Thomas outlines his early inspirations, as well as what it means to design and building for the future.
Why did you choose to study architecture?
Design and construction have always been passions of mine since spending a summer as an apprentice to a master craftsman in Japan during high school. In college, I focused primarily on set design and construction. What I loved about that medium is that the complete process from concept through design to realization can be as short as a month, then it’s painted black, back to a clean slate. This allows for so many cycles of the feedback loop that it was a great way to practice the craft of design. The downside, of course, is that everything is temporary and an illusion. You are never making a truly spatial environment. At the end of college in my thesis project, I began to meld the two by creating an original performance piece where space played the main protagonist. From there I started to transition into more traditional explorations of space and environment in the form of architecture.
Can you tell us about your history with GLUCK+, your role, and how your work has evolved over time?
I guess you could say I have been around the practice of architecture since birth. I remember my father, Peter Gluck, building models in the living room long into the night. When I finally joined the firm in 2006 after working for Herzog and de Meuron, the practice was just beginning to expand the design-build model into larger buildings. Five of us now lead the firm as a team. Over the last few decades, what started as a pragmatic way to deliver our designs at the highest level, evolved into a new paradigm for creating architecture. By integrating the making of a building with the thinking of an architect, and by bringing the perspective of the thinker to the day-to-day of the maker, we now approach every project philosophically differently. The making of a building is now integrated into our design DNA. Our deep involvement with construction allows the complete process from concept to completion to be a continuous series of enhancements instead of a series of compromises.
You’ve designed projects across the United States. How does local context shape your work?
There are lots of generators for any project but context is very often primary. We are lucky in having work that is varied in its nature, so context can mean anything from a wooded grove on a hilltop to the urban environment of the inner city. Clearly from our built work, we are committed to the most current contemporary design and techniques of our times, but when building in the city, the context is very often an amalgamation of building over several centuries. One of the most exciting aspects of an urban project is that it will not only be an environment for living, working or teaching, but also a space maker of the city itself. For this reason, almost all our work relates to its context through the most elemental aspects—material, texture, and scale, rather than style. These are all fundamental aspects of any design, and it is part of our goal to use these elements to sensitively build on the existing urban environment in a way that is appropriate to our current times.
What are some recent projects Gluck+ has been working on?
Much of the recent work expands our working approach to projects larger in scale and complexity. This reflects our growth and development of deepening our design-build knowledge to apply this approach to more public architecture. We feel fortunate to have such a varied collection of opportunities to create special places together with thoughtful clients. They range from:
- a high-rise condominium on Central Park North with the opportunity to contribute to the street wall of one of the most iconic urban park spaces in the world.
- to a 130 unit affordable housing project spanning the intersection of New Lots Avenue and Van Sinderen Avenue to create a gateway to the East New York neighborhood from the elevated train station.
- to the adaptive reuse of a 1900s turn of the century brewery complex into office space—8 new stories were added on top of 3 cast iron and brick warehouses requiring some heroic structural solutions in order to preserve the old and expand with the new.
- to a world-class international pro tournament venue and community center for tennis and learning inside the largest public park in the Bronx that has served over 75,000 local kids with afterschool programing.
- to a 146 unit high-rise rental development in Old City Philadelphia that transforms a difficult site into a civic opportunity for public space
With changes to climate, technology, and construction, how do you think architects and designers will adapt ways of practicing to change the profession?
We feel very strongly that the profession is in dire straits, and we all need to do everything possible to restore the reputation of the profession. Too often architecture has become synonymous with indulgence, expense and dysfunction. As architects, we have shied away from liability and have given up more and more responsibility, creating a spiral that only reinforces these trends. We at GLUCK+ acknowledge there are lots of ways of reversing this, but the one we have embraced is to take full responsibility for the delivery of our projects from conception to occupancy. We stand behind our visions by guaranteeing their construction. This appears risky and bold, and in some ways it is, but on the other hand, we have had great success with this model and have found it to be liberating in our ability to push the envelope and explore new and exciting design solutions.
How did you begin working with the Architect Led Design Build process? What have you learned along the way?
It was born out of necessity as a defensive strategy to save a project. We were doing an addition to a Mies van der Rohe house, and the responsibility of working on such an iconic building—demanding precise execution of modern details—forced us to provide full-time supervision on site to support a builder who needed help. What we learned was that we were as equipped, if not more so, to manage the day-to-day site as any contractor. Over time we realized that instead of doing it as an additional service to supplement construction we could provide the entire package. It evolved from single family houses to larger urban and institutional projects. What is critical is that this process is architect-led and driven. Cost and schedule are just as important as on any project, but instead of these pressures usurping the architectural vision, they are applied in concert.
What we have found is that the entire process, including construction, can allow for greater creative opportunities at lower price points and faster timelines. What we find most exhilarating is that through these benefits we can now bring design to programs and clients who often don’t have access to it. It can be argued that programs like affordable housing and small not-for-profits in underserved communities benefit even more that larger institutions and clients. And it can be done sustainably so that these types of projects are not at the mercy of pro-bono work or private benefactors. This is our ultimate goal; to allow the power of design to affect all aspects of our built environment and affect all people.
As you look to the future, are there any ideas you think should be front and center in the minds of architects and designers?
Be bold. Take risks, but do it responsibly. Let’s show the world that it is better off with well-conceived creative solutions to everyday problems of living, working, learning and recreating.