The world-famous architecture author Mark Foster Gage has his name mentioned rather frequently regarding his latest extravagant 102-story tower in Manhattan, better known as “Khaleesi.” Redefining design with technological innovations, Gage will be visiting Yapı-Endüstri Center in Istanbul on March 2nd, as a guest of Geberit. We talked to him about the secrets of his design.
How does this period we live in affect your understanding of architecture and design style?
We are living in the most explosive period for innovation in human history, ever. Period. This makes it such an amazing time to be an architect. This however, is a problem because so many people are so easily enabled to produce architectural ideas—that it’s difficult to stand out. I’ve always been interested in doing innovative work, so my office has to work a little harder to stay ahead of the curve, and to find ways of thinking and doing things that other’s haven’t landed on yet. It means that I have to be very fluent in not only the world of architecture, but fashion, product design, automotive design, film—and many other industries, because innovation happens so quickly and in so many places. We try to surf along the edge of it.
You work interdisciplinary, how do other fields affect your designs?
The needs of the clients and circumstances are very different for each project. This is true even within projects in the same category—so our fashion based projects for HM and for Diesel, despite being both in fashion, are totally different. Our office is more about exploring possibilities with the client and finding out what technologies and human skills are available in any given region- and this includes many disciplines. So, for instance, if we were doing a project in Istanbul, one of the first things we’d do would be to research about what kinds of things we can do with the materials, technologies, and skills in the area. In some areas we use people from the film industry, or the automotive industry, or local artists. We do interdisciplinary work, but it’s always dictated by what skills are available in different places. People usually think “Well I can’t build that, we can’t do that in our city.” It’s almost never true—what may be done by robots in Tokyo can also be done by masons by hand, but maybe in a different way, in Mexico.
We work with availabilities and possibilities, and are not interested in only one way of doing architecture. That’s why we expand our architecture to include skills from many different disciplines…
You use technological advancements and gadgets in your designs a lot. How does technology inspire you and what kind of place does it take in your design process?
Our work is always about the building, not the technology— people often in times think the reverse. We use advanced technologies as ways to accomplish what we want to do— not only to be the first to use the technology. In that sense you need to have an ambition, and understand how any given technology can help fulfill that ambition.
Bizim işimiz her zaman inşa etmekle ilgili, teknoloji ile değil – insanlar genelde bunun tam tersini düşünüyor.
Our work is always about the building, not the technology— people often in times think the reverse.
“…if we were doing a project in Istanbul, one of the first things we’d
do would be to research about what kind of things we can do with the materials, technologies, and skills in the area.”
You have designed skyscrapers as a response to the “virtually free of architectural design” for Manhattan. What do you mean by that?
So many skyscrapers are just tall boxes, occasionally stacked, clad in stock curtain wall products. They are essentially design free—you just need to layout the elevators, fill the zoning envelope and pick a curtain wall. If you look at projects from New York’s historic past you see much more effort being made. Sure, there are stock components, but there is variation. For instance the Chrysler building has a very different base, than top, and they receive different materials and do different things formally. It means that when you see the building up close more is revealed—more detail, more refined smaller scale elements. Our contemporary culture of building glass and metal boxes from products doesn’t allow for that. It’s why everyone in New York City want “pre-war” buildings. Because after the war things became more mechanical, more standardized, more modern. My office is interested in bringing back some of the pre-war sensibilities of architecture but with advanced, absolutely contemporary materials, formal languages and methods. Its’ not nostalgic it’s actually super progressive.
Your design of West 57th Street Tower is called “Khaleesi” and is said to have gothic features on it. Where does the nickname come from and do you think it is a correct name for your design?
It’s not really gothic—people have called it many things, like “Gargoyle Tower”, which is ironic as it doesn’t have a single gargoyle on it. Another person said it looked like “Michelangelo had been brought back to life and designed a skyscraper.” We loved that one… It’s actually made from recycled
digital models found online. The choices of forms were random, more compositional than symbolic. There are not gothic elements in it, but the vertically organization makes it appear that way.
The nickname “The Khaleesi” was just an in-office name. Some of my employees called it that because at the time they were watching Game of Thrones. They thought it looked regal, tall and fair colored—so “The Khaleesi” it became.
It is easier to imagine a building being meaningful to the residents but how would you describe a building that is meaningful to the city, too?
This refers back to my earlier answer about detail. I think a building is meaningful to a city if it offers uniqueness— meaning that you can’t see another version somewhere else. The glass boxes being built in Manhattan are pretty much the same glass boxes they’re building in Frankfurt, or Dallas. If you offer the city something unique I think the city absorbs it better than if you just drop in something generic.
Since the world population is growing in an unstoppable way, it looks like we need more residential places. How do you see the future of architecture in that context?
I know it’s very popular for architects to design refugee housing now. I think the problem is more policy-related than architectural. There’s this belief by architects that architecture can solve every problem. I don’t believe it does and it would be better if architects advocated for the poor rather than proposed unrealistic and fantasy housing that stands no chance of being built.
Most of your designs are for metropolitan cities. Why do you think metropolitans are so special for you? Would you also want to design a place in the country side?
We actually have a project in a gorgeous field in the countryside, for Bard College. Its’ a performance center adjacent to the one that Frank Gehry built. I would love to build more, period, in cities and in the countryside.