September/October 2017


Walking a Tightrope

As architects, engineers and consultants you may oftentimes walk a tightrope--working your way forward to project completion almost effortlessly on relatively still days, and teetering along with a strong wind blowing at your face on others. As a journalist serving you, I navigate the tightrope, too.

But no matter the weather on a given day or the climate of a particular job, the end goal remains the same: find a way to make it work to the satisfaction of your client or employer. And that may mean giving up creative freedom in the process. The irony is, sometimes doing your job may mean not doing your best work.

Sometimes. But not always.

Our feature story this issue, “Joining Buildings and Centuries," takes an in-depth look at Xavier High School’s expansion in the Manhattan borough of New York City. It almost sounds like an improbability. Can you really expand in the heart of Manhattan?

Xavier High administrators and their architectural designers, Beyer Blinder Belle, were realistic in their approach to expansion. They knew they had to work together to walk the tightrope. So first, they identified and agreed upon a goal for the project: They didn’t want to expand to include a greater number of students, but instead to deliver a better learning environment for the school’s existing 1,100 students. So when the building adjacent to the school went up for sale, administrators used their ownership of air rights in that building as a leveraging tool with a real estate developer of condominiums. Then, when that developer completed the sale of the property, they allowed Xavier to put its 33,000-square-foot, six-floor addition (Fernandez-Duminuco Hall) within the adjacent building’s 25-floor condominium.

All the while, during negotiations, Xavier administrators had Beyer Blinder Belle working on a master plan for the school’s addition. The project exemplifies persistence in the face of potential adversity. It showcases the ability to look ahead and prepare for opportunity. And somehow, despite the obstacles, the new addition came to be, standing and functioning beautifully alongside its historic counterpart.

Sometimes, getting to the other side of the tightrope requires more patience and flexibility than you think you possess. Although I can only surmise the intricacies of the client (employer) and architectural designer relationship, I know that communication, give-and-take, and surely solid teamwork must have existed.

At times it feels as though the odds of achieving an outstanding design or finished project are daunting and remote. Yet no matter the journey to completion, one realization holds true for each and every project. And that is, in the end, it’s all a balancing act.


Carol Badaracco Padgett

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