Since 1977, New-York based Robert AM Stern Architects has given the world iconic designs ranging from the neoclassical and postmodern to “modern traditionalist”—a term that has been used lately to describe its work. The 72-year-old diminutive architect and founder, Robert Stern, has set the tone for the urban landscape with striking projects such as 15 Central Park West in New York, Comcast Center in Philadelphia, Torre del Angel in Mexico City and 50 Connaught Road Central in Hong Kong.
And now, we’ll see a Stern design in Gurgaon. In collaboration with international real estate firm Hines and DLF Ltd, Stern Architects’ first high-rise in India, One Horizon Center, is currently under construction there. Located in the heart of DLF City, it is scheduled for completion in 2013.
On a visit to India last month, the American architect and dean of Yale School of Architecture spoke about architecture and its future. Edited excerpts:
The One Horizon Center has a full glass façade. Can a building with a glass façade be environmentally friendly? To what extent does ‘green’ figure on the architect’s mind?
The technology of glass has changed dramatically in the last 10-15 years. And architects as well as architecture students are very interested in sustainable issues. A majority of office buildings in the world today have glass sheathing. The One Horizon Center is intended to appeal to international companies, which are moving personnel all around the world. So we needed to have a standard here that’s comparable to standards in London or New York. It’s also an aesthetic choice. The site overlooks a golf course, so we wanted to make something strong, clear and reflective. Also, in the Gurgaon property, the glass façade is facing north, so you don’t get a lot of sun. It’s double-glazed and reflective. The long and short of it is that glass can work efficiently.
Robert AM Stern. Prabhas Roy
In a lifetime of designing buildings, what is your inclination, traditionalist or modern?
My inclination is to make a decision on regards to that on each and every project. So if I were building in Connaught Place, I would have proposed a very different design, something that would fit in its surroundings differently. If it’s a residential high-rise building and an office building, they should express different things. A residential building would have balconies, different scale of windows, individual units of living, and so forth. An office building is a much more neutral space, flexible on the inside. So while trends, designs, technology are ever-changing, my methodology is to see the context and design, what fits best in there.
You’ve been in this business for over 45 years. How has it changed?
The computer and various design softwares have changed the way things work. It not only speeds up the process of representing design, it also generates new forms of buildings. But I personally feel they do not have a good way of relating to the street, which is very important. Computers have changed the way younger architects design. I still like to draw and look around and see how a building will fit in its surroundings. Even in architecture schools, while students are open-minded and try different things, the big struggle is to keep them drawing by hand. The computer is such a seductive tool, but with hand-drawing you connect better.
You also teach architecture. What would be your most important message to students and future architects?
The most important thing for young architects to know today is to have a flexible point of view. The problem, as all of us go forward, is that we operate in a very global way. When I was an architecture student, building something in the US had almost no transnational practice. Today it’s a perfectly standard practice to do global designs. When teaching at Yale, we emphasize a global reality and try to think about how much should be global in quality and how much local. That balance is crucial.
Where is architecture headed?
In terms of architecture and design in the future, global practice is very important. The US has many architects building around the world, and foreign architects are constantly building in the US. So designing with a standard, global point of view is important. Add to that sustainability. I think that centre cities as hubs of human civilization will go on. There will be increased density in cities, which will make greater demands on the infrastructure. But that’s the beauty of this concept. A dense city can be more sustainable. When more people are living in a smaller area, you design, build and use resources to benefit a lot more people. For instance, I don’t think individual cars are sustainable. Public transport is. And lastly, it’s perfectly clear that buildings will be taller. The skyscraper is a very potent symbol of economic as well as political power, and it’s only going to get higher.