Meet the Team

ESKW/A has added several new team members over the last year or so. Get to know them in a series of meet-and-greet interviews.


Ruth Dresdner, AIA, LEED AP 

Ruth headshot.jpg

Ruth lunching in Florence

ESKW/A: Where did you grow up?

Ruth: I was born in the Bronx, but my parents are Israeli. I went there at age 3. I returned after my first degree and studied architecture here.

 

ESKW/A: What led you to us?

Ruth: I was aware of Judy [Edelman]’s work on behalf of women and admired it from a distance. I also knew about the New Settlement Campus in Mt. Eden in the Bronx. I’d spent several years in healthcare design and I wanted to do something different and new. Always I try to do work with redeeming social value for the public.

 

ESKW/A: What NYC buildings or spaces inspire you?

Ruth: There are so many places in New York I love. Just picking from the slides in my head, one of them is the FDR Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island. It’s an incredibly crystallized, modern architectural design. It does everything right. The memorial is also outside, with no ceiling, so it creates these outdoor rooms, if you will. The official designer is Louis Kahn, a very important American architect—however ,the original concept came from his mistress, a landscape architect. Just another in the long list of uncredited women!

 

ESKW/A: What is your favorite place you’ve visited?

Ruth: It is very difficult to pick a favorite. I travel a lot, and I’ve never been to a place that I haven’t been interested in. My next planned big trip is to Siberia, but who knows what will happen now with Putin?

 

ESKW/A: What makes you laugh? Or alternatively, gasp or shriek (in fear or disgust)?

Ruth: Trump! That’s the all-purpose answer.

 

ESKW/A: Which celebrity or historical figure, alive or dead, would you want to have dinner with?

Ruth: That’s also difficult to pick only one. Someone I always admired is Susan Sontag, a writer. I wanted to learn more from her, but sadly she’s gone.

 

ESKW/A: What do you do on weekends?

Ruth: I do what everyone does. I do my laundry! But no, that’s not a hobby. Of course, I also do some shopping, cooking, reading, meeting friends, going out.

 

Ruth has been an architect at ESKW/A for almost a year and has taken on two of our largest new housing construction projects. She is project manager on both 2865 Creston Avenue for Project Renewal which is under construction, and the School Street Residences in Yonkers for St. Joseph’s Community Medical Centers.


Michael Kowalchuk 

MK headshot

Michael traveling in Vicenza

ESKW/A: Where did you grow up?

Michael: Manchester, New Hampshire.

 

ESKW/A: What led you to us?

Michael: I always wanted to end up in New York. I started working at a small firm in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and one of my bosses there worked at ESKW/A prior to starting their own firm.  I’ve also always been interested in affordable housing, so it was a match made in heaven.

 

ESKW/A: What building or spaces in New York inspire you?

Michael: There are two spaces, both by Renzo Piano. The New York Times Building because of its atrium with the birch trees. It’s a very surreal juxtaposition of environments right in the middle of Manhattan. And the Whitney. It has so many vantage points for viewing the city, and it kind of makes you feel more like you’re a part of it all. I was also an English double-major in college, which informs my approach to architecture pretty significantly.

 

ESKW/A: What is your favorite place you’ve visited?

Michael: Havana, Cuba. It’s a really bizarre mixture of old-world architecture in the middle of the Caribbean, and there’s the political history too. It’s like no place I’ve ever been before.

 

ESKW/A: What makes you laugh, or shriek?

Michael: McMansions for both! Also I just saw The Little Hours, and it was really funny.

 

ESKW/A: What famous person, architect or not, and alive or dead, would you like to have dinner with?

Michael: My architect answer is Oscar Niemeyer. He lived through so much—most notably the military dictatorship in Brazil—and was instrumental in adapting Modernism to a regional/national context at a time when the “International Style” was being crudely exported to the Global South. My non-architect answer is Simone de Beauvoir, because she did so much for 20th century politics and feminism, and she’s kind of overlooked here [in the United States]. She’d certainly be an interesting dinner date.

 

ESKW/A: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? (Credit: James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio)

Michael: I think God (or St. Peter—he guards the pearly gates, right?) would say, “A for effort.”

 

Michael joined ESKW/A in September 2016. He has been a team member on 2865 Creston Avenue for Project Renewal, 3500 Park Avenue for the Bridge, and has managed several projects for Clinton Housing Development Company. Michael is an inaugural member of the ESKW/A’s book club and frequently lends his second degree in English to promotional efforts for the office.


Gary McGaha 

Gary

Gary at a wedding in Virginia

ESKW/A: Where did you grow up?

Gary: Frankfurt, Kentucky—I was born there and went to high school there. Then I went to undergrad in Georgia at Southern Polytechnic State, and did grad school here at Columbia.

 

ESKW/A: What led you to us?

Gary: There was a building on my street that I passed by pretty frequently (892 Bergen Street in Crown Heights), and I thought it was fascinating. My girlfriend did some consulting for ESKW/A on 233 Landing Road, and she was the one that told me the building was theirs. She connected me with the firm.

 

ESKW/A: What building or spaces in New York inspire you?

Gary: In New York, spatially and from an urban standpoint, I’d have to say Four Freedoms Park and the High Line, but there are so many. The High Line is so unique and there’s not a prototype for that type of project. It takes elements of a dense urban condition and stitches them together to create moments that wouldn’t exist otherwise. The scenic factors augment these spontaneous activities and adventures.

 

ESKW/A: What is your favorite place you’ve visited?

Gary: I think it’d be between Paris and Vienna. There are so many layers between the contemporary and the medieval. And there are lots of monuments, boulevards, and the same kinds of opportunities for social interaction and surprise.

 

ESKW/A: What do you do on weekends?

Gary: Well, when I’m not busy with home repairs, a lot of biking around Prospect Park where I live, or we’ll go to events and exhibits that are opening. And there’s the occasional travel upstate or to a close city like Philly—a little weekend train getaway.

 

ESKW/A: What makes you shriek or gasp in fear or disgust?

Gary: Kind of like a pet peeve? Cars that get in the bike lane.

 

ESKW/A: What famous person, alive or dead, would you like to have dinner with?

Gary: I might have to do a dinner party. Nina Simone, Martin Luther King Jr., Le Corbusier. That’s a good balance—or combination—of genius, visionaries, and just the greatest citizens or examples of humanity.

 

ESKW/A: What superpower do you want?

Gary: Teleportation. There are lots of moments where the biggest constraint on reality is time and space. And in New York, so much time is taken just getting from point A to point B. So if you could skip that, you’d have more time for everything else. Also I probably wouldn’t need a passport or a hotel reservation.

 

ESKW/A: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? (Credit: James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio)

Gary: “Neat or on the rocks?” Or maybe it’d have to be “How do you take your coffee?”

 

Gary has been an architectural designer with ESKW/A since August 2017. Bringing a mix of experience with both institutional and smaller scale interior work, Gary is project manager for the Lucile Palmaro Clubhouse renovation for the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club and an affordable housing renovation at 1772 Second Avenue. Gary also embraced the Revit challenge by being a team member on the School Street Residences in Yonkers for St. Joseph’s Community Medical Centers.


Jon Mark Bagnall, RA 

Jon Mark Bagnall

Jon Mark at the Sailors Ball, which raises money for a kids sailing program in New York Harbor

ESKW/A: Where did you grow up?

Jon Mark: We moved around a lot, because my dad was a minister. So I was born in the South Bronx but moved to Long Island, then New Jersey, and so on. My mother was a social worker as well, so we’d go where the need was greatest. That’s where I found my motivation to work with nonprofits, institutions, and people who need someone to look out for their interests.

 

ESKW/A: So is that what led you to us?

Jon Mark: It’s kind of a small world so I was aware of firms doing this type of work. When you look at what we do, it’s exactly in my wheelhouse. I’ve ventured outside—I’ve done hospitality, even a casino!—but these often have specific design formulas, and I wasn’t feeling challenged. Here, I care about the work we do, and you can’t put a price on that.

 

ESKW/A: What motivates you creatively, in general?

Jon Mark: I think the reason I’m an architect and not an artist is that I need a client [laughs]. I mean I find that the client inspires and challenges me. I like to solve problems. When you have very specific needs—working with the elderly, or those with mental health issues or specific physical needs, or even sharks—and at the same time limited budgets, those provide a framework. Rules make it easier, because you can move around within them. They’re a starting point. It’s a creative problem that needs solving.

 

ESKW/A: Are there any specific buildings or spaces in New York that inspire you?

Jon Mark: For me, New York is less about specific buildings and more the overall texture of a city—going from neighborhood to neighborhood and experiencing the different patterns and scales.

 

ESKW/A: Do you have a favorite place you’ve visited?

Jon Mark: The Yucatan really stood out for a couple reasons. We drove south through the jungle to Calakmul, a temple site which was still being uncovered. The largest pyramid of the Mayan period is there, and climbing to the top, you look out over the trees and see these little hills, and you realize that each hill is another temple that has yet to be uncovered. A landscape architect once told me that if everybody left New York, in a decade the city would be overrun with plants, and that’s exactly what happened to these sites.

Another thing is that the Yucatan peninsula is all limestone, very porous and soft, and it sits on top of the Gulf of Mexico, which flows around and under it. So you come across these huge sinkholes, or cenotes, where you can climb down to what looks like a little island in a shallow pond. You put on snorkeling gear and look down into the water, expecting it to only be a few feet deep. But it actually goes down 100 feet or more! I got vertigo as if I was looking down from the top of a skyscraper.

 

ESKW/A: What do you do on weekends?

Jon Mark: I enjoy sailing in the little sloop I’ve fixed up. My favorite sound in the world is the whoosh of air I hear after the hubbub of the outboard motor is silenced. I also like building things on a smaller scale. I built a small weekend house on Long Island without any drawings—intentionally! I just stood at different locations on the site, and again later in the rough framing of the house, and said, “I’m going to put this here and that there.” I also can’t help making suggestions to anyone who invites me to dinner and risks asking my opinion on their kitchen. I love seeing how other people live and finding out how they want to live. Maybe I’ll have a good idea. Then, of course, they want me to build it!

 

ESKW/A: What superpower or special ability would you want?

Jon Mark: To go back in time and just stand anywhere and see what a landscape or a city looked like 100 years—2,000 years ago… because we live on top of all these layers—of other people, their lives, what they felt, and what they built. It’s incredible.

 

Jon Mark joined ESKW/A in September 2016 and brings many years of new construction experience with him. As the project architect for the office’s largest housing development, he is a critical part of the Archer Green team for Omni New York LLC. He is also the enthusiastic leader of the office’s Building Codes Working Group and makes keeping up with codes a ton of fun.

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It’s National Poetry Month and Throwback Thursday!

WhitneyAtHerDeskCirca2009

Whitney at her desk, 2009

In 1996, the Academy of American Poets designated April National Poetry Month to increase awareness and appreciation of the art form. In keeping with that spirit—and in honor of #throwbackthursday—we’re sharing the poetic, aesthetic stylings of our former office manager Whitney Merritt. She dedicated a poem to the office on her 25th anniversary and even abridged it for her retirement 16 years later. It appears below.

Whitney was the glue in this office for many years. She was truly an ESKW original, having joined the team at age 20 in 1965. She retired in 2011 after 40 years keeping this place together. She loved her family and treated each of us like one of her own. Whitney passed away in August 2013 but will always be a part of our legacy.

 

 

 

TO THE OFFICE 

(abridgements italicized)

ESKW/A Office Photo 2008

25 years! Has it been that long?

Remember how I drove you crazy with the old Sinatra song?

After 41 years, most of you have never heard that old Sinatra song (“Strangers in the Night”).

 

In the beginning the copier was in the closet, sitting on a shelf,

And all the typos errors had to be erased—in triplicate—by myself.

Specifications were written with the usual zealous haste,

Then in would come the corrections—I was the queen of cut and paste.

Now the computer prints out the specs and the copier does the collating,

The telephone is much improved, and the fax keeps no man waiting.

25 years! Has it been that long?

After 41 years—and I say this with love:

There is an app for all of the above.

Cut and paste is on the menu while the fax is considered old school,

Because email, Twitter, and Facebook, now the airwaves rule.

 

The office staff used the go fishing, well off to Montauk I sped,

But I didn’t have any sea legs, so my day was spent in the head.

There are some things though in which I am quite steady,

The first that comes to mind— “Anything for Ever Ready” …

I’ve tried to keep up with the times, but often I could scream,

Because I find it disconcerting talking to machines.

Our clients use us repeatedly, that’s what our bid will say,

And I like to think I’ve played a part in making it that way.

25 years! Has it been that long?

After 41 years, I’ve stayed on land and added FedEx as my evening call,

Though sometimes I think nobody hears me at all.

Electronic conversations are still not my best zone,

But some of our clients are glad to hear I’m still manning the phone.

 

We’ve sat around this table, a hundred times or more,

When things were on the up and up, or the wolf was at the door.

We’ve shared our lives in many ways—our hopes, our joys, our sorrows,

So now I’ll just propose a toast to many more tomorrows.

After 41 years these sentiments still ring true,

And even though I’ll miss you all, I’m looking forward to something new.

I’m leaving you my contact info; I’m sure email will be your choice,

But truth be told, I would rather hear your voice.

ESKWA Whitney Randy Andrew 2012

Whitney with Randy and Andrew

Her heartfelt words meant the world to those who worked with her. Though perhaps less poetic, here are some of our own about her:

  • “I was amazed that someone who had been working at the same company for so many years would take such care to do everything perfectly. Besides being someone we could all rely on, she was a great entertainer. Whoever sat at the desk next to her could count on some fun. Once she told us that on her day off she would spend time at Orchard Beach in the Bronx and do some people-watching. She had us in stitches telling stories of people she had seen and doing some imitations.” (Lucille, bookkeeper)
  • “When I was hired as the new office manager, it did not take me long to realize that Whitney was a treasure and that I would have very big shoes to fill. She knew everything about the company, and she played an integral part in making it the successful firm it is today. Whitney had a love of life and even though she was strongly opposed to “modern machinery” her curiosity and interest in everything around her made her a wonderful person to spend time with. As she sang and laughed her way through her day at ESKW/A, she imparted knowledge and wisdom that helped me transition into my new role.” (Lauretta, office manager)
  • “With her high spirit and strength, Whitney had a way of making me feel closer to home although I was thousands of miles away from my family. I loved her old-fashioned way of doing everything, from typing on her electronic type writer placed in front of her computer, ordering items from JCP catalog, and calling internet the intraweb. She always had a needle and thread to patch something and anti-static spray for skirts! She was truly a special lady.” (Tatjana, former project manager)
  • “I feel like she will always be nearby.” (Daughtry, senior architect)
ESKWA Halloween Whitney

Whitney at Halloween

Happy New Year From ESKW/A!

From all of us at Edelman Sultan Knox Wood / Architects, we wish you a wonderful 2018!!

2017 was a very full year here at ESKW/A.

We’ve grown our staff by 1/3rd, renovated and expanded our offices, and celebrated Kimberly Murphy’s transition from Associate to Partner.  We’re also wrapping up several projects of which we are very proud — and of course our team is already hard at work on the exciting projects set to debut in 2018.

The Necropoli of Sicily

Amanda Royale Sengstacken

There’s plenty for an architecture dork to feast on while traveling in Sicily – the island is home to a plethora of ancient Greek and Roman ruins, many in remarkable condition. In fact, the Sicilians seem to simultaneously harbor deep respect and nonchalance towards the antiquities in their midst: you can find yourself standing on a plain-ish portion of 2,500 year-old mosaic while peering over a protective gate at its more elaborate counterpart and feel a bit concerned about damaging the stones under your feet.

Anyway, ruins are all well and good but I was most taken with the necropolises.

I traveled to Sicily with two friends. One with no Italian heritage to speak of yet enough passion for the land and culture that he’s bought a second home there; the other an American whose last name betrays his family’s Sicilian heritage – in which he has no particular interest.

We two non-Sicilians recognized an opportunity for story making, however, and gleefully force-marched our friend on what was for us an emotional tour of his birthright, packing him into a car for several hours to visit his grandparents’ hometown of Floridia and propping him up against various churches and landmarks for photo ops. We even managed to communicate to a kindly local in a few halting words of Italian that our friend, too, had been born of that very earth, eliciting what seemed to be a very positive if long-winded and unintelligible response.

Finally, with lumps in our throats and our poor friend heaving a sigh of relief, we were headed back home to Ragusa Ibla when we drove past a walled-in cemetery and turned to him once more.

“We have to stop and see if your family is in there!”

Maybe he was finally starting to feel the stirrings of his roots, or maybe he’d learned that there was no deterring us, but our captive half-Sicilian agreed.

Cemeteries in Sicily are elaborate cities in their own right. In fact they seem to be laid out to mirror their associated living town, with identical street names. This we garnered from the caretaker who pulled from his wallet something like a social security card, showing us the address on it and gesturing around to indicate that the address of his birth would also one day be the address of his resting place.

But the feeling of walking through a literal city of the dead comes predominantly from the fact that while some in-ground graves of the type we’re most familiar exist, the bulk of the cemetery is composed of, essentially, mini-houses. We strolled through endless rows of elaborately designed shrunken mansions, each bearing a family name and permanently housing as many as a dozen members.

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On overview of a typical cemetery; the backs of the family chapels are visible to the left.

The architectural styles vary widely, with sections of intricate Baroque designs grouped next to more Brutalist collections. Whether each structure simply reflects the zeitgeist of the moment it was built or whether it was purely a matter of the clients’ taste is unclear, but the necropolis as a whole provides a rich dose of every imaginable phase of architectural history dating back a few hundred years.

We three found ourselves claiming aspects we liked for our own future perma-homes; “I like the ivy in front for sure, but probably not the sphinxes.”

“This one with the skylight, I like the natural lighting.”

Researching online yields little information about these family chapels, and I’m left wondering what the professional process is like. Are there architects whose practice is devoted entirely to these monuments? Are there firms using modern technology to render their proposals, and BIM to streamline the construction? (In this case a Revit family could, indeed, be an actual family … sorry.) For three awed interlopers it was an unusual and thoughtful exercise to imagine in what style we would wish to represent our families for all eternity.

Architects in Action

One of the many joys of architecting is getting into the field. Here are a few of our favorite Architects-In-Action shots …

Happy International Women’s Day!

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day, and the UN’s theme for 2016 is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.”

At ESKW/A, we are 12 women and 8 men.The strength of women in this practice traces back to the firm’s inception in 1960, when Judith Edelman was one of 3 founding partners. Her ‘firebrand’ legacy (see NYTimes article here) as a pioneer for her gender in this field has influenced ESKW/A in all of its iterations since. Click here to read an interview with Judy for this blog in 2012.

The upcoming Women’s Day along with the recent publication of the (rather disheartening) 2016 Women in Architecture Survey generated a fair amount of discussion among us. Below, we share some of our team’s reflections on the topic of gender in our field.


Do you think that men and women have different experiences in the workplace/field?

“It has happened that I’ve had to correct people that I’m not on the job to only pick colors; that I’ve detailed the project, coordinated the MEP and Structure, and am eagle-eye watching the waterproofing.”  Kimberly

hardhat“My field experience has been great. Only once was there a cat-call from a construction worker as I approached the site. I just smiled and put on my hard hat so that he understood my role and there were no cat-calls thereafter.”  Fialka

“I think there are still differences but they are thankfully becoming fewer. It is, however, still pretty standard to be the only female in meetings.”  Andrea

driven“Yes many differences. I think the field is still driven in the bigger picture by men. BUT women when practicing the practicalities of the profession are much more detail-oriented and organized than men.”  Francisco

“I think that clients, consultants, and contractors recognize that women should be respected in the workplace but they’re a little bit unsure of how to walk the line between camaraderie and professionalism when they’re faced with women of authority. I feel like I can see them being more careful of this line than if they are speaking to a male architect.”  Marcella

worthy“Absolutely. In the field, or in interactions with people in related trades, I feel that females start the relationship with a deficit. I think that we have to work harder to prove ourselves worthy.”  Amanda

“In my experience (limited to this firm) males and females are treated with exceptional quality with no division between the two. Everyone here is treated with mutual respect.”   Justin

Was there a female role model who particularly influenced your education or career?

“I have seen [my mother] do everything as the head of a house. No limits, no regrets from her; that is why I consider myself well-educated by a woman. I’ve learned not to see any difference between what males and females can do in their profession, both are capable. Especially with my female professors, my coworkers and supervisors today–all have something to share and learn from.”

conseq“I’ve been inspired by a handful of female architects but I think the most influential female figure is Marta Gutman, my architectural history professor in grad school. She would always stress the social context of the time and how design played a role in it. For me, she made it clear that as architects and designers we do have a choice in the type of work we take part in and should acknowledge its consequences, both good and bad. Looking back I’m pretty sure she planted the seed that led me to want to work at a firm like ours.”  Mike

“I’ve been continuously inspired by some of our outstanding female clients who are doing amazing work and have been for decades. Specifically Sister Tesa Fitzgerald of Hour Children, Inc. and Carol Lamberg of Settlement Housing Fund. They are geniuses in their fields and build consensus in their teams with grace and respect that I’m very inspired by.”  Kimberly

“All but one or two of my studio professors have been women in addition to other courses so I have many stories to choose from.  From Laura Kurgan’s housing studio at GSAPP I learned methods to extract design intelligence from geographical and statistical sources.  Yoshiko Sato, in her space studio, had us designing space in low earth orbit, a completely different physical reality. Dana Buntrock’s construction materials and methods course at Berkeley CED is an institution unto itself and one of the most valuable courses I took.  Janet Delaney’s photography course at Berkeley was formative both for understanding light and composition and the process of creating art.”  Michael

mom“In the cheesiest answer possible, my mom influenced my education and career. She was the only child out of a family of six children to go to college. She worked extremely hard to make it to the US and took a huge risk in leaving Hong Kong to try a start a better life for herself here. Growing up, she’s always taught me that there are no limitations to what I want to achieve. It’s hard to explain how significant that is, but it made a huge difference in how I responded to and embraced my education and career.”  Marcella

“Yes, Andrea Swartz was the second studio professor I had in architecture school. I visited NYC with her and a peer as she gave the two of us a personal and swift highlight of the city’s architecture. I remember distinctly her critiques and strong encouragement that helped push me through her studio and onward. She inspired the architect within me and her words have stuck with me as I continue the internship here in NY.”  Justin

What would be your advice for young women seeking to enter this field?

voices“COME!! Join the forces! We need more females and minorities. Our voices and contributions are critical and make our work more relevant. Overall, I would strongly encourage them to go for it. I would also give them an honest disclaimer that you have to really love it for it to be worth it.”  Annie 

“My general attitude is that if your intuition tells you to do it, then do it. The biggest obstacle is going to be yourself. I feel like this is probably applicable to most young women as women can be more self-critical than men. This is a very big obstacle to overcome.”  Marcella

society“The profession benefits from diversity. Young women should not be deterred from entering this field. Society is changing and we should be taking advantage of the new opportunities.”  Andrea

“You can do it all! We all have strengths and weaknesses that will only reveal themselves after years of practice, but you CAN be a renaissance architect and learn it all.”  Kimberly

“If you’re passionate about Architecture then go for it … however, if top financial compensation is your priority, beware. Of all the professions, ours is among the least compensated given hours put in and education.”  Fialka

“I’d like to believe that male or female, as long as you are respectful, capable, and confident you’ll be able to succeed–idealistic, I know.”    Mike

Percent-chart

Our Holiday Party

As the weather is finally catching up to the season this week, we’re looking back fondly at what was a relatively balmy holiday celebration here in NYC.

Our office took some time out to share a meal together at Pepolino Restaurant, where we enjoyed a hard-earned break and engaged in some cut-throat holiday gift trading.

The good food, drink, and laughs revived us in time to hit the ground running in 2016, for what promises to be another busy year, with plenty of laughs to temper our hard work.

Many thanks to Marcella and Francisco for the photography work.