Winning the Lynn S. Beedle Lifetime Achievement Award is quite a tall (pun intended) feat. Annually bestowed by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), the award this year was given to William Pedersen, FAIA, FAAR, principal and founding design partner for Kohn Pedersen Fox Architects, for his influential work on skyscraper projects and lifetime dedication to advancing tall buildings. Pedersen will accept his award in October at the CTBUH 9th Annual Awards Dinner & Ceremony in Chicago.
In anticipation of his upcoming recognition, Contract magazine caught up with Pedersen to find out more about Pedersen’s work, feelings on design, and how tall buildings are an integral part of our society’s development.
Congratulations on receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from CTBUH! How do you feel about this win and its reflection on your work?
The CTBUH has done a great deal of work to raise awareness of the importance of tall buildings within their urban environment. Over the past 35 years, my primary focus has been to make the tall building a social participant within the modern city, so as to encourage connection between buildings rather than standing as isolated objects.
What first sparked your interest in design? And how did your attraction to tall building design develop?
My family was involved in building and construction for several generations, so my interest came naturally. At the University of Minnesota, I did my thesis on a high-rise hospital, which was my first involvement with the design of a tall building. Subsequently I conceived the Polaroid Office and Manufacturing Complex in Cambridge, Mass., while at I.M. Pei and Partners, and the Brooklyn Criminal Courthouse while at John Carl Warnecke and Associates. Through these experiences, I began to realize the importance of thinking about tall buildings as a connected piece of the urban fabric rather than as an isolated one.
How do you perceive the role of the tall buildings in the community and the modern city? What design elements do you use to achieve that role?
The tall building has been the dominant component of the modern city for almost 100 years. By its nature, it tends to be insular and autonomous. My goal has been to find ways for the tall building to relate to the urban street wall and to be a participant in its context. Our buildings aim to transform by acknowledging the pressures of surrounding context, and in a way, attempting to summarize the specific characteristics of that context.
What is a challenge you have faced in your work? How did you overcome it?
One of the greatest challenges we’re faced with is developing a commitment on the part of our clients for design that uniquely represents their interests and aspirations. To do this, we always work through a comparative process. By comparing the attributes of various possible solutions, they are able to understand and often contribute to the architectural solution.
Do you have a favorite structure you've designed? What and why?
As with most architects, the answer is always the next building. We’re currently working on a super tall tower in Asia, which has enabled me to explore more completely the biological component of tall building’s organizational structure in addition to its contextual relationships.
Do you have anything in the works at the moment? What are your plans for the future?
A recently completed building that is very important to me is the Science Teaching and Student Services Center at the University of Minnesota (shown above). The building forms a gateway pair at the entrance, with Frank Gehry’s Weisman Art Museum. It was very rewarding to return to my alma mater at this point in my career.
What is your overall definition of design?
Timeless architecture must be uniquely representative of specific social and cultural conditions. It must also be very well made. Achieving the former is our aspiration; achieving the latter is our responsibility.
What is one piece of advice you would give to other architects and designers?
Being an architect is more like running a marathon than a sprint. One practices architecture for a long time. The objective is to be more enthusiastic at the end of one’s career than at the beginning.