How Many Architects Does it Take to Build a Bank?

DealBook asked a pointed question yesterday, riffing off a WSJ article:

How many investment banks does it take to run an initial public offering?

Apparently it’s not only the mega-IPOs, like Visa, which are suffering from too-many-cooks syndrome: even tiny MAKO Surgical’s $51 million float had two joint book runners and four “managing underwriters”.

That’s nothing, however, compared to the number of architects working on the new Goldman Sachs headquarters:

Pei Cobb Freed and Adamson are working with Preston Scott Cohen, SHoP Architects, Ken Smith Landscape Architect, Piet Oudolf, Office dA, Architecture Research Office, Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects, Gensler, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, each of which has charge of some facet of the building.

The stated rationale for the long list is a little weird, to say the least:

“The premise is that each of these diverse talents will cause the other to do their best work,” said Timur Galen, the head of corporate services and real estate for Goldman Sachs, who is an architect himself.

I’d love to hear this argument in a bit more detail, because it makes no sense to me as it stands. Great architecture generally involves a unified vision: I can’t, off the top of my head, think of this a la carte approach ever being particularly successful in the past. And how, in practice, do you even get ten different architectural shops to work together seamlessly and respond intelligently to each others’ work? For that matter, how do you even divide an architectural commission into ten parts to begin with? The number of meetings involved must have been absolutely staggering.

I can’t help but wonder whether there’s a security issue here. This building will house billions of dollars’ worth of financial information, and access to certain areas will be very tightly controlled. Far from requiring all the different architects to share everything with all the others, maybe there were large chunks of the project operated on a need-to-know basis, with no one architect (except, one assumes, Galen himself) ever being in possession of all the information.

Of course, I’m speculating wildly, and chances are Galen just wanted to give commissions to a lot of different people. But mandating ten different shops does seem a little excessive.

This entry was posted in architecture. Bookmark the permalink.