When we visited New York’s incredible 432 Park Lane on Monday, we were nothing short of evangelical about Deborah Berke – the project’s architect and primary interior designer – and her vision. A literal tall order, the building – which cost a massive $1.25 billion – topped out in October 2014 making it the highest residential building in the world. (Actually, its rooftop is higher than the Freedom Tower – New York’s tallest building – without its spire) Construction completed in December 2015 and, when we visited, the interior spaces were well on their way to completion as well with fabulous Lasvit chandeliers already in place in the future cocktail lounge.
In advance of the landmark skyscraper’s final completion and following an exciting appointment to the Dean of Yale’s School of Architecture (as well as to Architectural Digest’s AD100), we spoke to Deborah about her new position and what she thinks of 432 Park Avenue.
Q: Deborah, you’re preparing to take over as Dean of the School of Architecture at Yale University in July – how are you feeling?
I am so honoured and excited to be serving as Dean of the Yale School of Architecture. I’ve taught at the school for almost 30 years, and teaching has always been a central part of my professional life, so it is very gratifying to take on this new role at the school.
Image Credit: Deborah Berke Partners/Photo: Catherine Tighe
Q: What will your new role entail?
Yale is a mid-sized architecture school, so the Dean tends to be very hands-on in terms of all aspects of the management and direction of the place. I’m a very collaborative person, so I think there are opportunities for faculty and students to be involved in new ways.
Q: And 432 Park Avenue – the tallest residential building in the western hemisphere – is officially in business! Are you pleased with the outcome?
Yes, we are very pleased with the results. This is a very special property with unparalleled views, so for us it was immediately clear that that was what we needed to underscore. I love the materials we selected, which are rich and durable, and we used them in ways that speak to both modernist and classicist traditions. The floor plans are elegant and logical and reinforce the clarity and rigour of the architecture.
Image Credit: Deborah Berke Partners/Photo: Eduard Hueber
Q: It’s been 34 years since you first founded your firm – how would you describe your journey to where you are today?
Architecture has certainly changed a lot since I started my firm. The diversity of the field is finally beginning to change in meaningful and material ways. But we still have a lot of work to do before we reach anything close to parity in the profession. In my own work, it’s been extremely gratifying to work on a broad range of building types that I personally enjoy, including educational and cultural projects, houses, and boutique hotels. We’re currently designing a ground-up office building with a new urban park; it’s exciting to work on that scale and the scale of a private residence at once.
Q: What are the firm’s most memorable highlights so far?
One thing that’s happened, almost by chance, is that we’ve been asked to work on a number of existing buildings by great architects of the 19th and 20th centuries, including HH Richardson, McKim Mead & White, Albert Kahn, Louis Kahn, IM Pei, and Shreve Lamb & Harmon, the architects of the Empire State Building. I love transforming old buildings for contemporary life, and it’s been an intriguing challenge to work with these buildings by great architects of the past to really understand their thinking from the inside out.
Q: In what way does being involved with the architecture and the interiors aid the development of a project?
Well, many firms see architecture and interior design as discreet professions and they tend to specialise in one of the other. I see architecture and interior design as integrated, with one informing the other. We particularly enjoy being able to do both the architecture and interiors for a project because we believe it creates more unified and authentic places.
Q: Commercial, residential, institutional, interiors, architecture – you do it all. Do you have a personal favourite?
All the sectors of our practice have grown over time because they reflect who we are, what our interests are, who we like to work with, and, most importantly, the interests of our clients. So no, I don’t have a personal favourite between them.
Q: “We believe we become better designers by always trying new things, which allows us to bring a fresh eye to everything we do.” What new things does Deborah Berke Partners have planned for this year?
Well, we have a lot of projects that have been in the office for a long time that will be completed this year, particularly institutional and commercial projects. So I’m excited about those buildings being put to use. I think a lot of these projects will be transformational for the people that use them and for the communities where they are located. The satisfaction of that never gets old.
We are also publishing two books this year: House Rules will be published by Rizzoli and Working will be published by Artifice Books.
Read the full feature on Deborah’s finished 432 Park Avenue apartment design here.