THE PRESIDENT’S CORNER – OCTOBER, 2012

THE VALUE OF THE ARCHITECT TO AMERICAN PROGRESSION:  IMAGES, REFLECTIONS, AND SHADOWS

The current state of the economy has a harmful effect on all Americans.  Our field of architecture is directly dependent upon an upward economy.  However, there is a reciprocal effect that architecture has on the economy.  Active architecture and construction indicate positive momentum in our country and our economy. As architects, our continuing work drives progression in America by inspiring people.  It lets people know that we are moving forward.  We can fuel this progression by grabbing the reigns of our profession and working together to bring in new business.

 Let me explain how I have come to these conclusions.

 As some of you may know, my office is located on the West Bank of the Hudson River in the city of North Bergen. I established my office at this location in 1980 solely because I love having a view of the water and of New York City. Picking a location based on a view is not necessarily the best business strategy, but I did it because I liked it. As artists, we need to be around what inspires us most.

Over the years I have witnessed some incredible things from my location on the Hudson River.  With wall to wall windows opening to a beautiful full view, I have always loved looking across into Manhattan and viewing the buildings along the river just above the 79th Street boat basin. I’ve seen the most incredible sunrises and the most beautiful sunsets with the golden sunlight reflecting into the water from the building fenestration. This has always been an inspiration to me.

I did all of my architectural education in New York and after finishing school I chose to practice in the New York City area. I didn’t want to be in the city: I wanted to be able to see the horizon and the entire City. In the three plus decades of working at this location I have seen a lot of beauty and tragedy. I recall the event of 9/11 as being the worst experience of all.  While the current recession is nowhere near as drastic as 9/11, it is still a tragedy nonetheless.

We have all be in the throes of this serious recession for years. I’ve experienced other recessions, but this is by far the worst.  When times were bad in the late 80’s, I would pray to God to inspire Alan Greenspan to lower the interest rates. My hopes being that this would allow construction to commence. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with him! Didn’t he realize this would fix everything for us architects? Had I known he was a professional jazz saxophone player, I would have tried to appeal to him as a fellow musician/artist to cut the rates to prevent our business from going under. However, even today as our interest rates are the lowest they’ve been ever, we are still in the economic doldrums.

My experience has taught me that the best economist in the world cannot predict where the economy is going, what was wrong with it, or how to fix it.  And even if they could, they cannot predict how the economy will affect architects.  Economics and economists remind me of the weatherman; the certainty of their outcomes is always limited.

Due to their consistent inconsistency, I began to rely on my own indicators to forecast the economy.  I do this based on how things appear on the horizon, literally. Looking out my window I can see as far north as the Riverside Church and far south into lower Manhattan.   I urge you to remember this:  construction cranes are an indicator of good things to come.  Therefore, I look forward to the presence of more cranes on the horizon.  The business in my office corresponds with my horizon, and more work comes in as more cranes go up.

9/11 shook everything in September 2001. The world as we knew it stopped. The eerie quiet of a clear sky with no air traffic was a deafening silence. There we were, all bunched up collecting in our sorrows and praying for the ones we lost in this tragedy. At that time, I took offense to the rapid, and popular, suggestion that we should quickly rebuild the World Trade Center. It seemed to me that it was too soon; I felt we were going to taunt the offenders with a new target for them to knock down again.  I didn’t think it was the right thing to do.

As it turns out, the rebuilding wasn’t so rapidly accomplished. It seems to me that the time it has taken was necessary for an American evolution.  We, as a people, had to be ready.  Now here we are, eleven years later, and the evolution of the Freedom Tower is glistening in the skyline; nearly three quarters finished. I see this very beautiful sleek and undulating tower every day on my way to my office and it is amazing.

I believe with all my heart that this is exactly what we, as a country, needed: something to energize our patriotic stimuli and engage us in that indefinable, intangible thrust to take us out of this economic slump. This will help hurl us into a new time in our lives, a time of encouragement and vitality.  I believe that it is the unique power of Architecture and Design: the ability for architects and designers to inspire and bring pulsating rhythm back to this country and to us all.  Architecture is our profession.  Let’s work together to keep it strong and let’s keep it ours.

Laurence E. Parisi, AIA

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