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An Interview with Architect Marc Kushner

  • Marc Kushner at TED2014

    Marc Kushner at TED2014, Photo: James Duncan Davidson

  • The Standard High Line

    Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve

  • The Standard High Line

    Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve

  • Hotel Montefiore

    Hotel Montefiore

  • Cavallo Point Lodge

    Cavallo Point Lodge

Plus member since 2010

MARC KUSHNER, AIA, is cofounder of award-winning architecture firm HollwichKushner (HWKN) and CEO of Architizer.com – the largest platform for architecture online. Both as a practicing architect, and in his role at Architizer, Marc is focused on making architecture more relevant and accessible.

Prior to cofounding HWKN and Architizer, Marc graduated from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and spent time working at J Mayer H Architects in Berlin and Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis. Marc has taught architecture at Columbia University and Parsons and is a frequent lecturer on social media and architecture. Most recently he was invited to present the last 30 years of architecture at TED. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Interior Design, New York and many other publications. He and his partner Matthias Hollwich are the recipients of the 2012 MoMA PS1 Young Architect Program.

June, 2015

“MarcMarc Kushner, practicing architect and CEO of Architizer, is one of the architecture world’s great popularizers, constantly working to connect the public with this most practical of everyday art forms. His 2014 TED talk recently evolved into a book, The Future of Architecture in 100 Buildings, published by Simon & Schuster and TED Books. He’s also a longtime friend of Tablet, and we knew he’d have plenty to say about his new book, his ongoing project, and what he loves about the unique way we engage with architecture in hotels.

What’s the story behind this book? How does it relate to your personal mission, as well as that of Architizer?

What I’m really interested in is reminding people that architecture is basic. That it’s everywhere. That I’m sitting in it right now and you’re sitting in it right now, and everyone you know is probably inside of architecture right now, or walking past it in our cities, or looking at it on social media. It’s everywhere and it forms pretty much every moment of our life. Architects have done a not-so-great job of reminding people of that in the past. We use big words and complicated ways to describe everyday places. So in thinking about the future of architecture I just wanted to make it as simple as possible to let people be surprised, be wowed by the potential of buildings. So I made a list of 100 buildings that I thought were amazing examples of rethinking of traditional solutions.

And each building comes with a question, because I wanted people to look at buildings, and not just look at them but engage with them. To ask why? Can it do more? Can it be better? Can the places where I spend my time be more perfectly tailored to me, or challenge me in some way?

As an architect I know you’re interested in hotels. What can a hotel do to engage with visitors, to have an emotional impact on guests and locals?

I think there are multiple levels on which a hotel can emotionally impact a person. The very first one, and one of the most joyful ones, is the visual impact. Usually if you’re staying at a hotel, you’re going somewhere new, or some place different than where you’re from. Social media reminds us that we want architecture to be different in different places. There’s no fun, and there’s no joy, in traveling across the world to stay in a building that looks exactly like the buildings in your hometown. Then, you’ve also got no evidence — if you take a selfie at a hotel that looks exactly like it’s a hotel in your hometown. That it’s like you’ve gone nowhere. Your evidence isn’t there. I think people think that’s not a big thing, that selfies are just a minor, cute cultural asset that we’ve picked up, but this is major. This is a documentation of your life’s experiences. And the backdrop for those experiences is architecture.

So hotels, and the way they look, the way visually they’re represented, become incredible visual markers for where you’ve been over time. I think the opportunity for a hotel is to be local, is to be uniquely designed to the place where it is. So that a hotel in, let’s say, the Dominican Republic is much different than a hotel in Arizona. Or frankly, it’s even much different than a hotel in Puerto Rico. These are not just places with different building materials, they’re places with different cultures, different languages, different experiences of visiting these places, and architecture can encapsulate and be designed to those inputs.

(9 Hotels With Awe-Inspiring Architecture)

Are there any hotels that, in your opinion, really embody what you’re talking about?

One that I love is Dorado Beach, in Puerto Rico. I’m a fan of modernism. It was built at the height of, I think, ’60s modernism, so you get these beautifully stripped-down bungalows, sitting ridiculously close to the water. No one would build them that close today, for various environmental reasons, for liability reasons, but because they weren’t concerned about that then, you have this opportunity to be in this amazingly bare, minimalist space, that was really defined by the nature, by the water lapping up right next to the hotel room. I thought it was so magnificent. It was just sort of anonymously modernist, I don’t think that it was a very specific Southern modernism or anything, but somehow it just kind of worked.

(10 Mid-Century Modernist Hotels)

Do you usually try to stay at different hotels when you travel to the same destination?

Yeah, it’s like a tasting menu or a pu-pu platter of architecture. You get to try out all these different kinds of places. I was just in Tel Aviv, and when I’d been there before I’d stayed at the Hilton, which is this very big modernist Bauhaus building on the beach on the north side of Tel Aviv. This last time that I went, I stayed at the Montefiore, which is exactly the opposite — a tiny, tiny little building in the Bauhaus area of Tel Aviv. I think it has maybe six or seven rooms, with an amazing restaurant downstairs. But it has almost a colonial-era feel to it, versus the large-scale Bauhaus modernist piece. That side of traveling is great — you get to sample multiple feelings in the same place.

(The Art of Hotel Architecture)

You mention this in the book, and it’s something we’re interested in when it comes to hotels as well — we spend a lot of our time inside. It’s one thing to consider external impact but what can hotels do, architecturally, with their interiors?

Maybe I’m weird, but I like to be challenged a little bit when I stay in a hotel. I have a house. I’m very comfortable in my house. I don’t want a hotel to be my house. I want a hotel to question things that I take for granted in my house. I think a lot of hotels are doing it very successfully by questioning how the bathroom works in such a small space. At home, I like having my shower separate. In a hotel, I like playing games with the shower. Maybe the shower’s part of the room, or maybe the bathroom is in the bedroom. It’s an opportunity to say what if, and to dream a little bit. It might not be for every day, it might be even slightly inconvenient, but there’s something beautiful to that experimentation, and that’s something that I look forward to when I stay in a place — trying to see if I like that, to see how I respond.

I think the stakes are very low, because you’re only going to stay at a hotel for maybe five or six nights. So you didn’t really like the shower. There are worse things in the world than being disappointed by that, especially if you knew that the designers or the hotelier was trying something exciting. I look for those opportunities.

Going to a hotel is like a first date where you go all the way. It’s a very intimate thing to stay in a hotel, to sleep in someone else’s bed, and you can never really know what it’s going to be like from photographs or from people’s reviews. So it’s always a bit of a leap of faith, and then you’re kind of stuck. And I love that. It’s exciting to have that sort of vulnerability with architecture.

(11 Extraordinary Hotel Bathrooms)

Do you travel outside of business?

I travel a little bit for leisure. A travel a lot for business and only recently have I started enjoying business travel — realizing that if I’m just going to be there for a short time, then I do want to make sure that I stay somewhere uniquely of that place, versus an anonymous business hotel. We’ve been going to San Francisco for various reasons, and somehow we found out about Cavallo Point Lodge.

It’s not the most convenient place to stay if you’re having meetings in downtown San Francisco, but it’s so beautiful, and it’s so worthwhile. That minor inconvenience of staying there [on the far side of the Golden Gate Bridge] is part of that kind of voyeurism of travel, opening yourself up. I wouldn’t want to do that commute every day from Cavallo Point to San Francisco, but the three days I’m there, it’s totally worth it because of that view, seeing the fog roll in, staying in this old military ground — it’s just spectacular.

One last question. You’ve been based in New York for a long time — if you had to make one recommendation for someone who’s really interested in architecture, where would you suggest they go?

Oh, that’s a really good question. Let’s assume that they already did all the obvious things, the Guggenheim and the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and all of that. My favorite building in New York is on White Street. It’s called the Synagogue for the Arts. It’s this incredible little macaroon of a building in the middle of a block in New York, and it is so surprising. So surreal. And when you look at it, you think “why didn’t everybody think this way?” It’s an absolute revelation. You have to see it to believe it. The architect just passed away, and he was such a stubborn guy — he never let them change it, so it’s still there for us to love it.

Plus member since 2010

MARC KUSHNER, AIA, is cofounder of award-winning architecture firm HollwichKushner (HWKN) and CEO of Architizer.com – the largest platform for architecture online. Both as a practicing architect, and in his role at Architizer, Marc is focused on making architecture more relevant and accessible.

Prior to cofounding HWKN and Architizer, Marc graduated from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and spent time working at J Mayer H Architects in Berlin and Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis. Marc has taught architecture at Columbia University and Parsons and is a frequent lecturer on social media and architecture. Most recently he was invited to present the last 30 years of architecture at TED. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Interior Design, New York and many other publications. He and his partner Matthias Hollwich are the recipients of the 2012 MoMA PS1 Young Architect Program.

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