1625 SITS DOWN WITH Alan Berman, Principal of Archetype design studio
Archetype is a full-service architecture and interior design firm based in the Upper West Side of New York City. All projects carry with them certain challenges and new experiences. We are committed to quality design that reflects the needs of our clients and these challenges.
1625: Alan I know that earlier in your life you were into other artistic media including oil painting, how would you say your creative interests outside of architecture have influenced your practice? Do you think that these other interests give you an advantage?
BERMAN: Other media have influenced me to a profound degree, particularly acting. For example, the ability to read people and improvise on the fly has really enhanced my client management skill set.
1625: How did you get into acting, was that something that you investigated alongside architecture, simultaneously?
BERMAN: I did a movie here, in NYC a few years ago, but it really started in College as a sub-major and then I lived in LA for eight and a half years where I did some work in TV, film, and theatre there as well. I actually miss it a great deal and hope to take on new roles in the coming years.
1625: Early in your career you worked on a lot of big hotel projects. How would you say that your work in the hospitality sector has informed your work at present? What are the pros and cons? Would you ever consider dipping your toes back in that niche?
BERMAN: Yes, when I was starting out, I got a lot of experience in hospitality, commercial office projects, and retail. My big takeaway from those years was realizing that the corporate environment just wasn’t for me. I’m far too expressive and have far too deep an emotional connection to spaces and my work to operate optimally in that kind of super structured environment, where commercial and organizational needs can sometimes surpass the needs of the client or the needs of the built environment for that matter.
1625: What intrigues you most about pre-war restoration types of renovation projects? What might be some common misconceptions about "pre-war" architecture?
BERMAN: I love the process of exploration, of opening up spaces to find aesthetic elements that may have been covered up over time, it’s a bit like archeology in that sense. Obviously the opportunities and challenges that emerge are more intriguing than more contemporary spaces, but really I just have tremendous respect for the details and craftsmanship of that era. I feel like my job is usually to emphasize and bring forth those elements, I’m usually eager to try to explain the benefits of leaving those pre-existing features alone or restore them as opposed to making a “pre-war” space into something arbitrarily more contemporary.
1625: What's your favorite part of the process?
BERMAN: Watching the transformation.
1625: If you could practice architecture in any other city what city would it be and why?
BERMAN: Philadelphia. I love the area, it’s where I’m form and there’s just tremendous opportunity there, just an enormous stock of great buildings that can be procured fairly inexpensively.
1625: What's one of your favorite environments in NYC manmade or otherwise and why?
BERMAN: Grand Central station, Radio City Music hall, I love places with history, the Hearst Building. I feel less connected to modern architecture in NYC. I feel like everything ends up designed by committee and it just comes off as stale. But when it comes to historic buildings in this city, you can walk down almost any street and there’ll be fascinating structures. Sometimes people ask me “don’t you get tired of looking at NYC apartments?” and I say “no”, because there’re just so many beautiful buildings in this city, you never know what you’ll find just around the corner.
1625: What period of architecture in NYC excites you?
BERMAN: Edwardian and Victorian really captivate me, the level of detail can be mind blowing, also Deco of course. But the turn of the century stuff is so exciting, finding old storage spaces and extra rooms occasionally, in my home there was a speakeasy in the cellar and a cold storage area that was built before refrigeration to keep meat and poultry, I mean, this is all very unique material to deal with, it may be out of fashion to a certain degree these days, but I feel a kind of affinity for these sometimes darker quirkier environments.
1625: Who's work has been most formative to your thinking, architecturally or otherwise?
BERMAN: McKim, Mead & White. Their sense of grandeur was astonishing, the original Penn station and the Brooklyn Museum being just two fantastic examples.
1625: What technologies or new approaches to your craft would have been unimaginable while you were in school? What technologies impress you the most? What technologies seem to be more of a hassle than its worth?
BERMAN: We’re finding that particularly in the larger townhouse renovations that it’s helpful to have a “brain” to centralize all HVAC, A/V and security features, which was something that was definitely not on our radar as recently as fifteen years ago. Today, everything from soundscapes to thematic lighting to automated shades can all be programmed to flow with the rhythm of the lifestyle choices of the client. Even smaller homes these days need at least a closet in which to bundle data and other hardware necessary for basic communication features of the average apartment.
1625: What do you do when you're not running Archetype?
BERMAN: Building my house, acting and walking my dog Henry.