The Gibbs Spotlight: Esin Pektas

GCA Communications intern Kali Curtis (K) sat down with Esin Pektas (P), the Robert Wesley Teaching Fellow here at Gibbs! We sat down with Esin Pektas to learn about her experiences with technology throughout her career in architecture. She is a registered architect and engineer whose specialty is skyscrapers. Read on for highlights or click the link below to access the full podcast. 

K: Hello everyone. Welcome to the Gibbs Spotlight. My name is Kali Curtis, and I am a communications intern at the Gibbs College of Architecture. Today we are talking to Esin Pektas. Esin Pektas is the Robert Wesley teaching fellow at Gibbs College. She graduated with her Bachelor’s in architecture from Istanbul Yildiz Technical University in 2003. She also attended the City University of New York for civil engineering and Columbia University in the city of New York for masonry restoration. We are so happy to have you here today and it is so great to meet you. So, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?  

P: Sure. I’m the Robert Wesley Fellow, the inaugural Robert Wesley Fellow. This might be the best thing that’s ever happened to me. That’s why I just can’t emphasize this enough that this has been the most rewarding title for me out of anything else because Robert was the first black partner at SOM, maybe the largest, oldest architecture firm in the United States, but also one of the most major firms in the whole world. And Robert Wesley worked in the Chicago office, and he did many buildings that are famous, anywhere from the airport to the music hall, every iconic building project he worked on. I find many things parallel between Robert and I, even though I never met him in person before the fellowship opportunity. He’s like the mentor that was invisible. We have so much in common. We are both detail oriented. We are both builders, not just designers coming here from New York.  

I have been working in New York for 18 years. I have dual licensure as a professional engineer and registered architect. I started architecting at a very, very young age before college. I was in my grandma’s town. It’s a Mediterranean town in southern Turkey, where I worked for the President of the Chamber of architects in that town. I went to him myself, and I asked him how to learn architecture. And that’s how my journey officially started. Since 16, I’ve been making a living out of construction, architecture, and engineering.  

After that I really, really liked it. I mostly liked the site work from that experience, because at the time, being young and restless and curious about everything, the real college interns would let me go to the site and take their photos, measurements, surveys for them. I went to college right after that experience to officially become an architect. 

I studied architecture in Istanbul. I wanted justice, so I wanted women to be in construction, LGBTQ people to be in construction, I wanted everyone to be everywhere equally. After college, I won a green card from the diversity lottery. I didn’t know much about it, a friend of a friend applied for all of us. And then when I got my green card, I didn’t know what it was, but it was permanent residency. I didn’t speak much English, but I went to a travel agency, and I asked for the cheapest flight ticket to America. And I got tickets to Akron, Ohio for some reason.  

Before that, I had my internships in Europe in Paris, Luxemburg, Brussels, and Amsterdam. So, I figured this will be the same because America is much bigger. I would just come to the airport, take a shuttle to downtown and then I will find a hostel and I’ll find a job and… It wasn’t like that. I was at the airport, took a shuttle to the last stop. There was nothing. It was a highway. So, there was just a Burger King across the highway. I went there. 

This was back in 2003. That’s the summer LeBron James actually just finished high school and signed a contract with Nike. I didn’t know at the time, of course, that it was going to be a big deal. I was there for only three, three and a half months. But as I said, it feels like my hometown. I always went back for Christmas, Thanksgiving, vacations, holidays, to be with my friends. I have at least two best friends, still in touch with them all the time.  

And then I found my first job in Baltimore, Maryland as an intern architect. This was a major project. It’s silo point in Inner Harbor, Baltimore. It was an adaptive renovation project. It was a national registry building, a silo building that was in the harbor that we converted into a residential and commercial mixed-use complex. It was a significant project for me to start with, I was very lucky with that. There I learned how to architect so to say, and then coming from Istanbul I had to be in a big, big, big metropolitan. So, I moved to New York immediately.

Esin Pektas after she came to New York

I found my first job in New York. This is when I was 23. I started working with Douglas Lister, who was my first mentor in New York. He taught me how to do building analog facade engineering, roofing and all the science behind facade engineering and how to preserve historic buildings, landmark buildings, National Register buildings, by using new technology. This is back in 2003-2004, we were using thermal infrared camera technology to see water penetration, air infiltration, etc. And many other tools. This is when I first used Revit before it became the normal in the industry. I had a good head start in the industry with all the technological tools, just learned the science behind the architecture first.  

This is one of the major projects we did together with Doug. During that time with Doug’s office, it was 240 Central Park South, it’s where in the original Superman movie from the 50s when Superman lands on Bruce Wayne’s apartment. That apartment is now this apartment, which won the best individual landmark restoration award in New York. And it’s the first modern apartment building in New York. So that was a significant project.  

One of my other significant projects was Parkchester. It was a 171-building complex and we had 12,000 residential units, with 30,000 tenants in them with just as many commercial tenants, banks, restaurants, medical facilities, retail stores. I was the capital projects manager for this building complex. I felt like the mayor for this one, because every time I received the call to go from one side of the complex to the other side would take me 20-30 minutes. But it was just such a large scale that we had our own subway station, so every decision that was made on capital projects had a big powerful impact on all the residents and their daily life quality.  

And it was from 1942 that there was a factory, and people who immigrated from Europe were factory workers, and then all these residential areas were built for them to live in. And we have blueprints, original blueprints from that time, and we didn’t have anything else. So, I brought them to today’s technology to be able to manage this humongous computing complex by having access to every single little piece of information that was ever done to track information.  

So, we put it in BIM design; we put every single unit with every single room, every single existing condition into Revit. We made it in a way that you could just click on whichever building, whichever apartment, or whichever commercial tenant, you could click on whichever room in it to show what maintenance history it had, how much money we paid for it, what was recommended to be done in the next five years, 10 years, 20 years but not done this year, etc., etc., etc.  

And that was one of the significant things that I felt very happy and proud for being young enough to know the new technology but experienced enough to know how preservation was done traditionally, how everything else was by tradition, and how to bring the two worlds together and make them speak with each other and have the best out of it. 

Then I got my architectural license after I had already studied architecture at Istanbul Yildiz Technical University in London. When I came to America, I started working immediately on my internship. I registered with the AIA right away. I started my internship development program. I worked for licensed architects and recorded my internships, then I got my license in 2011. And then I got my LEED certification because everything we did was either targeting too heavy, but with sustainability in mind and trying to use the environmentally conscious design. 

During my architecture days, I started studying engineering because I did have a scientific background from before college, I went to the Science High School. But also, because of the experience I had on all these technical tools I was able to use, I also wanted to pursue engineering to make sure that I’m designing buildings that are not just aesthetically pleasing, but also, they can stand up to forces, lateral forces, vertical forces, gravity forces, and they are smart and complete from the beginning. They are just in harmony with the structural systems and MEP systems. When the engineering systems are introduced to my building, it’s not going to affect my design, because it didn’t ignore all these aspects of it.  

Habitual space module design that inspired Esin’s fellowship project

And then I worked on some fun space architecture. During my engineering studies, I was very much interested in designing habitable space modules. This was back in 2008-2009, it was just having a permanent place habitation space on the moon, so we didn’t have to go back and forth, we could just be there for a certain time. And what could we bring as architects knowing the minimum space for maximum usage? So, I was very much interested in that which also became the inspiration for my fellowship at OU.  

I proposed a project to have a 3d building that is a habitable module, it could be a space module, it could be a module here, it could be a module for any refugee crisis or any environmental crisis that we can build something in three days to provide shelter for at least essential needs of the people that would need access to medicine to anything that needs sheltering.  

And I worked as an engineer for many years, and I got my engineering license. This required a ton of studying. I always make jokes because my cat was around so much. I studied so much for my engineering exam that I felt like my cat could pass the exam after studying so much. During all my architecture and engineering experiences, I was at the site. I was always at the construction site; it was always hands on. I always had the best satisfaction from building what I’m thinking or building what someone else is, like another architect’s design, gave me the full satisfaction because you could see on a daily basis that you are building something and it’s working and its proper, and it’s how the design intent was. It’s to compliment the design coming to life.  

During this time, I learned other skills just to have full control of my project. I learned how to sail to be able to go around the island, to be able to record the construction process, to take photos, make videos, etc., etc. But just to have the freedom of how far, how close I can go, or wherever I want to go. I said okay, I’m just going to learn how to sail around the island. So, I will do that. And then I started building skyscrapers, which is my specialty is building skyscrapers. So, once I did that, I had to go up high. So, I learned how to fly to be able to record my projects from above, not only from inside.  

Even though it’s our job, just architecture or buildings or construction, engineering, all of it, I can’t even separate them really. But it has become the lifestyle for me that whenever I want, my job became my home. So, I never feel foreign, or I never feel like a refugee. Or if I’m a refugee, I just become home right away because I know what to do when I have the skillset and the tools and the materials. I will learn the language. I will do this. I will do that. I will do the paperwork, but I will know how to work and so on. 

This is back in 2017 in Rome at the American Academy. I had an apprenticeship with Peter Rockwell. He’s Norman Rockwell’s son. He was a sculptor. He managed the Trevi Fountain restoration. He was just a fantastic, fantastic stone sculptor. I didn’t become a sculptor, obviously. I’m not a talented artist, but I learned how to work with all types of stone, granite, Carrara marble, anything. Not even just stone, terracotta, wax, he taught me how to approach the material, what are the properties of different materials, how do you work with them, depending on the climate, etc.  

Another fun thing I did is before that, I worked in China for two years, which was fantastic, fantastic experience that not only learning about new culture, a new language, of new skills. What our professors told us when we were in school is that architecture gives you wings, and if you want to fly, you can fly wherever. And I am living proof of that, that I could go anywhere. I prefer architecture, because it is one of the oldest professions in the world architecture, and construction itself. So, people will always need shelter, people will always need space to be designed either outside or indoors. We just try to bring safety and pleasantness to people’s lives. 

I did some humanitarian projects. One of them was a refugee center near Syrian borders when the war first started. A Call to Life was an organization that was helping refugees by giving them clothes, food, shelter, etc. We needed a center, so we teamed up with the refugees themselves, volunteered and started working there and made this project into a real-life project that is still happening there. Maybe 400, 500 people a day coming there learning how to survive the next days of their lives, how to do it with grace and dignity, how to do what they know already, like they learn how to apply their own jobs in these new environments they have become refugees, instead of just being thrown some food or clothes or things that doesn’t feel that dignifying.  

We use shipping containers for a project that just became a center that connects the locals and the refugees together and just blends them together. And as I said, these refugees themselves take over and volunteer to have their own people. So, it’s become a living thing. Not a project anymore. 

This was another project that I teamed up with. This is an organization that tried to help a group of women in eastern Turkey, where they are local refugees. They were beekeepers, and Carpet Makers. So, the idea was to build a center for these women where they could sell their honey and their carpets. I said, why are we having men build a building to help these women to save them, to have them sell honey and carpets? Versus, they are brave enough to be surrounded by bees to make honey, they are smart enough to make these extremely complicated motives. They are smart and brave enough to do buildings. So that was the idea. We asked them to give us a carpet design that they did. I put it in AutoCAD. We projected the carpet onto a concrete wall where they could just put mosaics that match the color. 

And after that, I was in New York. I obtained all the women in business certifications from New York state, New York City, and Port Authority. So now I am bidding on JFK and LaGuardia projects to be able to work on aviation construction. 

I just want to say that another example of just not just doing construction with high tech, or new technology that helped us but even recording your project with a drone has just made a huge difference in showing what you did or inspecting what you did. 

This coming March, I have a talk at New York builds, about skyscrapers and high-rise buildings, skyscrapers featured in New York City, and what’s waiting for us to change our design approach. And that’s about it.  

Esin Pektas posing on a lift above the skyline

K: It’s so amazing to hear your journey that you started off whenever you came to America to Ohio, and you went to the last bus stop and you’re at a highway, all the way until now you have your like skyscraper recorded with drones. And like, it’s just a really impressive journey that you’ve had. And also really liked that you emphasize that you’re a builder, not just a designer. So how have the design methods and practices changed in architecture since the beginning of your career? 

P: I went to school in late 90s. Even AutoCAD was fairly new. All my student time I only used hand drawings, ink drawings, or tape measures. Even just that, at the site, we would always have these rolls and rolls of paper with blueprints, we could just try to figure out where we are. The changes we make would take such a long time to reflect it on the drawings.  

Versus now, we use our iPads at the site. And then we just zoom in, make the change, share it with everybody. There are platforms that we use, that has everyone on the team in it. The design team is in there, architects, engineers, their consultants, the owner is there. And their consultants. General Contractors, all subcontractors are there, manufacturers are there, specs are there. If we are looking for any information, we have so much faster access to any type of information about our own project and it’s always a holistic approach.  

I have a 3D Max certificate from Autodesk from 2003. And that was a big new thing that we couldn’t even comprehend how it was going to change our lives that when we first learned how to do 3D drafting, we would do Jurassic Park. We couldn’t even comprehend that it was going to be buildings, it was going to be our projects. Now it’s a matter of layers that you can turn on and turn off, the mechanical systems, electrical systems, plumbing systems, and your model matches. Building Information Model matches exactly what we are building at the site. And we couldn’t have done it without technology.  

We could not have done such complex buildings in such a short time. This skyscraper four years ago, we were 45 feet below ground. After four years people moved in. And to me, it’s just mind-blowing how technology has changed just the way we are drawing things, measuring things, scanning things, printing things, everything just changed in the last 10 to 20 years so much that it changed the tradition. It’s just becoming its own tradition that now we have very skillful workers who know how to use technology. We have surveyors who are fantastic because they know how to use computerized technology, they come to the site, and they could just make everything perfect just by knowing how to do 3D scanning just even for pouring concrete. 

 If you use 3D scanning and computerized technology and building information modeling, it just makes the final product so much more high quality for the user, the end-user, to enjoy. Just by increasing the quality of work we are doing, we are saving more money that the owner could have spent on trial errors. But also, we are more conscious about sustainability. We know how to use a limited amount of sources within our, say, per lead 500 Miles area and how to how to make it work just by having the technology tell us before we even start construction, before we even start demolition. 

 It tells us how much things are going to cost, how much material we will use, where can we get it from, and how we can make it work, answers to the response to the design intent of the architect. You don’t have to go to the other side of the world to bring something or you don’t have to try things and just hope that it works.  

We are more precise about the results before we even start to work. And it helps the environment, it helps to gain time, it helps the owner to be prepared on time. And it helps us to just move on with a good reputation. 

Just by the conditions changing, these traditions changing, and this computerizing helping us to be able to build more sophisticated buildings that we couldn’t have before, say, like taller buildings. I was talking to my students about this yesterday. For example, before, we didn’t have buildings as tall as these, and then while we were building them, we realize that when you go really high up, you start feeling the lateral force effects that your building starts having oscillations that we didn’t have before because we never went that high. And then this brought the tuned mass damper technology, which is a system custom-designed in a laboratory imitating the seismic and wind forces and finding a solution to respond to those forces by being in motion and putting the building to the other side.  

Even just the maintenance of building that, after we build the team out with the BMU technology after we build the building. After we move out, the contractor moves up. After the user moves in, you have the system up there that is custom designed for that building, which can have a scaffold installed on it that has its own tracks on the building that’s already built with them. So, whenever you need maintenance, cleaning, anything that the building requires, you will make sure that no one is going to damage your building. No one needs to figure out where to install their scaffold to clean your building or replace its curtain, wall, glass, etc., etc.  

K: So that’s really mind boggling that at the beginning of your career, you started off with papers and pencils, and using measuring tapes. And then now it’s BIM technology, 3D scanning, drone videos, it’s just a lot of change. And you basically got to experience that in your lifetime and are still experiencing it. So, all these changes in technology, how has that affected methods of design in architecture?  

P: Oh, it just gave us even bigger wings, larger wings to fly. Now, our creativity and imagination have almost no limits. I mean, we are designing for space, like we are designing for Mars. The last couple of years ago, NASA had this design contest for 3D printers, which was the inspiration behind our project here at CML (Creating Making Lab). This is 3D printing, just to see a smaller scale of the project, you just write the code and the computer sends it to a 3D printer without touching things – remote construction. 

Okay, so this is a 3D clip printing test until we figure out how this will turn into a large-scale, full scale. Because at the end of the fellowship, my goal is to have six axes that can just print the entire building, you can just move in once it’s done. And hopefully, that will take only as I said, three days and it will have enough- it will be strong enough and it will be waterproof enough. And it will be predictive and strong enough for someone to move in. And we will see if it will be also comfortable enough.  

This is a small-scale printing, just writing the code to see if we can make regular shapes, just like a circular shape would be the easiest. This is just the beginning. So hopefully, at the end of this and the fellowship, we will be able to do this with a printer that’s using either concrete or some other material to see if we can achieve that. But I think this is something that everyone in the world is trying to test the options. There’s a professor at Beijing University that I’m planning to work with. There are affordable housing units; that house became the first 3d affordable housing in European Union. I’m hoping to see cement in the Netherlands and there was a project in Mexico.  

I believe that the use for affordable housing is a building complex so it’s becoming the new normal slowly that it’s giving us options. It’s again, much more affordable, faster open to everybody, then I make the joke that when I proposed this, I just want to be the Oprah giving away houses. You get a house, you get a house, you get a house, because it’s no big deal. It’s like, look under your seat, there’s a house and it’s yours, just three days, you can do it, it’s no big deal. So, we don’t have this homelessness, or the issue of having a shelter is being the most fundamental human need, and being not within reach by everybody is just absurd, and unacceptable. So, I am hoping that this could help somehow. 

K: With the advances in technology, you know, the research you’re doing, it will make it to where we can get to that point where housing is more affordable. So how have the changes in the use of technology and methods of design affected your own career? 

Esin Pektas at the construction site

P: Because of having access to technology, earlier than the average architect, I guess, I was very lucky, my mentor was very much interested in new technology. When we started building taller, we started using curtain wall glass. And when it was just in the beginning, my mentor, Doug was flying from New York to Bath, England, to get a master’s degree in facade engineering with curtain walls.  

So, him being so much interested in new technology, or me being his mentee, because this was also during the economic crisis of 2007-2008, I was the only one who wasn’t let go because I was just so young and I could do everything if I was asked to or if I was taught to. I didn’t require that much payment, I just wanted to have the experience. I was willing to work for free even if I had to because I just want to have more experiences, I just want to learn more things.  

And it was a very pleasant mentor-mentee relationship that Doug would teach me everything, he would just encourage me to do, take responsibility, work on something, learn something, explain it, do it together. So, I was able to design details of curtain walls, make it waterproof, make it airproof, calculate how the wind forces work, calculate how the seismic forces work, just do the engineering and architecture science behind the buildings.  

Then we have infrared technology. This is even before bird flu, when they started measuring people’s temperature at the airports with infrared technology. I already knew what it was. And right now, you can even download an app on your phone or just buy an infrared camera for very little money. When I learned how to use one, we had a $25,000 infrared camera that we would just measure the walls, where the leaks might be, the ceilings.  

Even when we didn’t have something to do that would pay us, besides the experience, we would still work on them and try to figure out how to use them in our daily lives for our work. As I say I was very lucky to have a mentor who was open minded and who was willing to discover what’s out there. And then being the sort of younger architect to just go run around and apply everything the mastermind was thinking, and then just come back with the results and the feedback.  

So, I had this first hands-on experience, after having all this experience once the economy was back to normal. And I knew I already had skills that other people were just starting to learn about that I already mastered them. It made me have the opportunity to become a young executive in my field. I was the vice president of the nine-state engineering company. And I was the head of the New York office and my office had more income than eight states total because I had so much experience and I knew how to use the technology to come up with the results much faster than anybody else with my office than any other company. 

So that helped me to just up, up, up in my career to go from one place to another and bringing all this new information with me and introduce the technology, and sort of one step ahead of the time, every time. Which hopefully with the 3D printer, I want to master it before it even starts becoming part of people’s lives that I want to be able to build it, get building permits for it, know how to do MEP systems will work in it, how can we incorporate everything together? That it actually makes sense? If it’s feasible, if it’s pleasant enough to live in? I don’t know the answers yet. I don’t know if it will ever happen. But I would love to try it first.  

K: That is just really great. Thank you. So, what thoughts did you have about the field when you first joined? And how did those thoughts differ from reality?  

P: I don’t know. I mean, because I was so young, I kind of started doing it before I could think about it. So, I didn’t really have expectations, I just wanted to know how to do it. And I learned how to do it, and I grew up just experiencing it. So, it just became a big part of me that I sometimes wonder if I’m that person that people criticize that, like your work shouldn’t define yourself. It shouldn’t define your character, it shouldn’t define your personality, it shouldn’t define you as a person. But I cannot imagine myself without construction or architecture, I can’t even think about anything else. Because it gives me so much pleasure and fondness and satisfaction in life that I can separate my being from what I do.  

For example, even when I’m teaching structural engineering, or structural systems to my students, I don’t even have to try that I always bring some personality to it. At the end of my structure lecture, we have to go back to why we chose what we chose. What is it that we are taking responsibility for? This work is not writing a novel, which is also important for people’s happiness. We are responsible for so many things, just by being architects.  

The most important thing in my design studio is to have universal design idea in mind. Yyou can’t just focus on how aesthetically pleasing your project is. If your project is causing discrimination against people who have disabilities, who cannot access your design, who cannot access your beautiful building, they can’t even park somewhere to get to your building entrance, they don’t have a ramp to go up to your building, they don’t have a bar to hold on, to they don’t have the railing height to have.  

So, if you’re going to do this, you always have to this ethical, “I am responsible for the public health and happiness.” And no matter what I use, no matter what skills I have, I will always focus on this the most or I will have this core value. I am approaching all my designs with these core values. Even if I’m teaching structural, I can’t pull myself out of the humanity parts of it or personality parts of what we are doing.  

K: Pretty much accessibility is like at the forefront of your design thinking no matter what it is that you’re doing. 

P: Correct. Accessibility, equality, justice in daily life, non-discrimination, providing shelter to everybody without discriminating, welcoming everybody.  

K: What have you found is most unique about the culture here at Gibbs college? 

P: This is my first time ever in academia. First time ever in this part of the country. First time ever, in so many ways. The very first thing that I was so excited about it, besides having the Robert Wesley fellowship, first ever fellow being me for the rest of my life, being part of history by being related to someone who made history was a big, big deal for me that it shows that Oklahoma was aware even though he didn’t stay here, his bachelor’s degree. But in the 60s, he was the only black student in his class and he was just welcomed and just accepted as is here that Robert Wesley became a successful architect who was the principal of this biggest company ever. 

 It already shows the ethics of Gibbs culture and I’ve never seen so much nice people in one place being from New York. I always mention it. I just can’t believe how nice everybody is. So just everyone being so pleasant and being in a very pleasant environment was so much shocking. And besides that, I think that they are so open minded.  

I mean, I thought it would be difficult for me to explain why I wanted to do a 3D printing project. I just thought I would have to really, really explain and find backup for this idea not being crazy. But it wasn’t like that. I didn’t have to explain anything, I was just welcomed right away., I was just given all the space, the funding the help, whatever I could ask for it was already ready because they are so open minded and also ready for innovation.  

The CML is an amazing facility, the Creating Making Lab is just full of all these amazing things that I’ve been enjoying, to build what you’re thinking on spot right away, and all the software, all the BIM access, everything that’s there is just to support the innovations and new technology and welcome ideas, new ideas. So, I think it’s very encouraging to have such access to it.  

And the other thing was, I was very fascinated by how there are 39 Native American nations living here. I actually made the start of a project that I teamed up with the Cherokee instructor at OU that she is going to speak the language, that she will be the words to what I’m performing. And I will be just designing from starting from straight line to how we do how we design buildings. So, to say, how we look at our environment, how do we become architects? How does an architect look at things? How does an architect see things? 

But because I learned how to do it in my mother tongue, that is Turkish, and how I grew up with it. I don’t struggle wherever I go because my mind and my hand work together. And it just creates it. And so, with the Cherokee instructor, it will be my hands just working, doing line doing triangles, doing design, doing perspectives, two-point perspectives, buildings, and she will be the face and the lips and the voice of what’s going on teaching Cherokee kids in their mother tongue.  

How do you start seeing things in your environment? And how do you turn it into a design? Unless they know how to do it, it becomes just an automatic feeling of architecture. And then they can do it in English, they can do it in any other language they want to, they will have that core skill or feeling of architecture, which I’m excited about that. 

K: I’m so glad that you just feel so welcomed at Gibbs, that you’ve got the opportunity to do your 3D printing research that you’re doing right now. That’s really cool. Now, how do you use your professional experience to influence your students? 

P: I always show my students real life scenarios because I’m not from academia. Because I’m from the construction site, I show them how things are done in real life. For example, when we do the universal design, if I show them physical obstacles, if they miss something, or if they don’t pay attention to universal design, if they miss a rail, or if they don’t pay attention, or if they forget or if they don’t approach from the beginning to their design with the universal design in mind; if I showed them not only how physically it will be impossible to get a permit, how it will fail the inspections, but also how much it will cost to the client, how the contractor has to have a subcontractor who has to have a manufacturer who has to do these installations of new things that would cost how much for per linear foot.  

When they see the real effects in dollar value or time value or the physical effects of what they are thinking or designing, I feel like they are feeling more closer to their work now because they are fourth-year students. They are about to become architects which that’s what I call them. I call them my colleagues; I don’t call them my students. I don’t call them each other’s classmates. I call them all colleagues. And I think what’s giving them the inspiration they are about to become this. And they are about to think that way.  

Or, for example, the structural lectures for structural design for their projects, because I walk from home to campus and on the way, I take photos of the construction site. I started doing it for my personal curiosity because I’ve never seen the materials that are used in this climate. I’ve never seen a tornado before I had two alert experiences.  

Then I decided hey, I’m experiencing how fast this construction is going or how different this material is to be used at the site. So, I thought to myself, why don’t we bring our students and let them see what’s going on in real life, how it is being built, how other architects designs are being built in the environment they live in, in the city they live in? 

So, we had a four hour walk through from site to site to different construction sites, we will have another one next Wednesday. And so, we just go there, I showed them, this is how you do this, this is what this space is probably for, because it has more structural support or reinforcement in here. If they have pipes. This might be a kitchen space, because they have floor drains, etc., etc. or shear walls, like the fire egress stairs, or this might be the elevator shaft, etc. And it makes them just feel how close they are to the outside world and becoming relaxed and having effective impact on society and nature and just I think it excites them. I feel excitement.  

K: Thank you. Yeah, that sounds really great. So, it sounds like they’re able to just get more experienced by actively seeing it, which allows them to have more real life like scenarios. So once they graduate, they’ll have more of an idea once they’re in the real world actually doing a job. 

P: Absolutely.  

K: Do you have an example of a past or current project that you’d like to talk about for a little bit? 

P: It’s the United Nations building right across First Avenue. And our building is on 46th and first. It went all of the way up from the 245 feet below ground to 600 feet above ground, day and night, through COVID. It was just an exciting experience for me. And it allowed me to use all my skills because this was my first general contractor experience. And I use all my architecture engineering skills to make the connection or communication between the architect engineer design team and the builder team.  

I understood now I have much more empathy for the building team. Because when you are only an architect, you don’t really understand or you have prejudices about the other team. When you are a general contractor, then you have prejudices or less empathy about the design team. But coming from design area but being in the builder team, I felt like I had a good opportunity to be the bridge between these two teams that would make things, problems to be solved faster, or find solutions to anything that came up.  

But also, just being in the center of New York, the heart of the city. This was such a fascinating experience, not just the views, but there’s the United Nations that is high security, I work with Secret Service, because of like certain time of the year that we would have to have you on general assembly right across or during COVID times we had- because it’s on a very central location for this sixth street and First Avenue- parking problems for our concrete trucks.  

Per floor, we had proximately 64 tracks of concrete poured into each slab. So, you will have all these concrete tracks on First Avenue, trying to organize how to make things work. And somehow when COVID hit even though it was devastating for the planet and we also struggled with it, we also had the opportunity to just work in only vacancy where we could actually work much faster, much easier, no traffic, no problems to find parking for our trucks, with materials, etc. So, it was a big experience for me, I think.  

And also, some materials were from overseas, I was able to use my connections with China, Italy, Turkey, United States, my regular day would start with because of the time difference it will start early in speaking with China. And then the time difference, like it was 12 hours and then it will be eight, seven hours with Italy, speak with Italy. It was eight hours with Turkey, speak with Turkey, speak with the states and the two sides of the states West Coast to East Coast, trying to organize everything. Yes, I’m doing all these in their own languages, by the way, so. 

It was very, very satisfying for me that anything I have learned in the world, I have used that skill on this project. So, I think it will be very monumental plus my project will be always there to show like I did this. So, I think that that’s been the best experience. For a builder it was [inaudible] design but I felt very happy to build it to a level that they were happy with it. 

K: Really amazing.  

P: Yeah.  

K: And that’s really awesome that you got to experience from both sides. So, you started off as the designer seeing it from that perspective. But now you also see it from like the building perspective too. 

P: Right, and I can’t wait to go visit the users and I will have coffee with everybody in the building just to see how they are experiencing it.  

K: Thank you. Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share? 

P: I really hope this inspires everyone to just try it. If you’re curious about something, just try it. It’s never too late. If you’re curious enough, you will find a way to experience it. If it doesn’t work out. It’s fine. I mean, I told you 10 success stories, I have 1000 failure stories, I have 1000s of ridiculous trials and errors. It’s okay. In the end, if you are ethical and if you are true to yourself, do not worry about financial worries, we will always be needed.  

Just have your skills, just improve your skills all the time and be not just to have skills, but have interest in them have a genuine interest in what you do. And once you have that, be curious. And whatever you’re curious about, go ahead and try wherever once of course, hopefully the COVID is behind us go try elsewhere in the world to go to Europe, go to Asia, go to wherever, go to Africa just to try things. I think we do have a very special profession that allows us to make the world so global and accessible and, in our hands, just by the nature of it. And use it for good.  

K: Thank you so much for that. That was really inspiring. Thank you so much for meeting with me today. It’s been so enjoyable to listen to your whole journey and get to see all your cool skyscrapers and projects that you’ve done.  

P: Thank you for reaching out. I’m so happy and humbled to be wanted for this.  

K: Thanks again for listening to Gibbs Spotlight. Tune in next time to hear more stories from the Gibbs College of Architecture. 

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.