Tall Buildings in the City

August, 2004

Moshe Safdie and Associates with Mitch Joachim

Following twelve years of teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Moshe Safdie has formed, within his Boston office, a Research Fellowship program to conduct advanced investigations of particular design topics.  This practice oriented Fellowship has been developed under the premise that research into and development of speculative proposals, outside normal practice constraints, are crucial in developing unique and fresh solutions to the commissioned works of the office.  As the office has always been engaged informally in project related research efforts the Fellowship program was seen as a means to formalize and extend these types of efforts into a more structured format. By including the Fellowship within the office, it dissolves the line between academia and practice.  Within this context, the Fellows, along with the office staff, enjoy a unique opportunity to engage in explorations not typically available within the university or normal day-to-day practice.

Each year, Moshe Safdie targets a general theme that will occupy the concerns of the Fellows.  The Fellows then work with Mr. Safdie to develop a specific research plan based on their combined interests.

Tall Buildings in the City

The office has always been active in developing and investigating new typologies for high-rise buildings.  The Habitat I and II residential projects for New York City (1967-1968) adapted the amenities of Habitat ’67 to the major density constraints of Manhattan.  The project for Columbus Center, on the south-west corner of Central Park (1985-1987), explored the potential for a mixed-use tower, incorporating residential, hotel and office set above a commercial base, to address the same concerns as the Habitat projects.  In the month following the attacks on the World Trade Center, Moshe Safdie published an essay in the journal ‘The New Republic’ where he outlined his thoughts for a new type of urban complex, where there were not one or two towers, “but probably four or five.  They should not be 100 + stories, … but instead be a cluster of towers that measure 50 to 60 stories, [containing a vast array of programs] that should not be isolated from each other, but should be connected at several levels.”  Moshe felt strongly that this was an extremely important, pressing issue that needed a vigorous analytical effort to understand the logics and implications of such a complex.  This essay eventually became the ‘pre-text’ for the first year of the Fellowship program, whose charge became to understand, from first principles, this urban typology.  A major difference between this research effort, and past efforts concerned with an investigation into the typology of the tall building, is that this effort is an investigation of MULTIPLE tall buildings IN THE CITY.

A poster that outlined the prospectus for the program and the theme for the first year was sent to all of the accredited schools of architecture in the United States and a large selection of international schools.  The information was also sent to several architectural institutions and organizations, and the array of engineering consultants that the office typically collaborates with.  The Fellowship program received slightly over 100 applications, from 15 different countries, for the 2 available positions.  A panel of 3 architects and 1 engineer reviewed the applications and narrowed it to 12 candidates.  Moshe Safdie personally reviewed those 12 applications and short-listed them to 4, all of which were brought to the Boston for an interview where they were asked to present their portfolios and discuss their interest in the theme of ‘tall buildings in the city’.

The Research Fellows selected to investigate the theme of ‘tall buildings in the city’ are Mitchell Joachim and Andrew Watkins.

The research program was organized into a series of stages where the Fellows would constantly be shifting back and forth between extensive research and exploratory design phases.

The office has developed a strong relationship with some of the discipline’s leading engineers who have agreed to collaborate intensely with the Fellowship program.  During this first year, the New York office of Ove Arup and Parnters have been participating in weekly discussions with the Fellows regarding their investigations, and the renowned structural engineer, William LeMessurier, has been involved in a series of design reviews.

Periodically the Fellows present their work to the office, and regularly compile their efforts into small chapter size ‘research and design pamphlets’ for distribution and review.  At the close of their appointment, the fellows will have the opportunity to prepare their work for publication and exhibition.  The program is currently in the process of applying for a few multi-year grants, most notably from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, to support the compilation and publication of the material produced by the Research Fellows on a yearly basis.