An iconic architect & a builder of stories
“I believe that Architecture should tell a story the way a musical symphony might,” says Randolph Gerner, architect, principal and co-founder of Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel Architects. Gerner and his team have meticulously restored the historic Temple Court Building in lower Manhattan, and, transformed it into New York’s newest and most sophisticated hotel: The Beekman.
“I had first seen the wonders of the Temple Court Building from the top of the Woolworth Building more than twenty years ago. No other building had displayed such a wonderful skylight. I knew at that point that something fabulous was housed beneath it,” adds Gerner. Now, every guest can rediscover The Beekman in its restored glory for themselves. Be sure to look out for the dragons in the atrium that date back to the 1880s.
Here, Gerner reveals his favorite buildings in NYC and the world, why he has an all-access library card to the Vatican Library, and more insider architectural insights.
Do you remember the first building that made a big impact on you?
Yes, it was photographs of a small church in Ronchamp, France, which later in life I was able to visit. Its name is Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp. It was delicately constructed of concrete. It is one of the most serene environments I have ever experienced.
What are the founding principles of your firm Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel, Architects?
I try and define my work as “symphonic” which is loosely defined as a composition of different elements. I believe that architecture should tell a story the way a musical symphony might. The components that make architecture: the glass, the concrete, the steel, and even the mechanical systems should be orchestrated to cause emotion.
What kinds of projects are you and your firm drawn to?
We continually seek diversity in our work. Those projects that give us the opportunity to explore new realms are always most satisfying.
Where does your interest in historical manuscripts and writing come from? Where you drawn to them as a child?
I am a firm believer that we can see our future by understanding our past and I am fascinated by “origins.” History, when told through stories, written accounts or myth, highlights the miracle of an idea’s inception and evolution. By understanding this, we, as beings, are able to build new ideas on solid footings of the past. This belief has peeked my interest in historical manuscripts.
How did you gain permanent access to the Vatican Library’s Scholar Program? Is there a specific project that you are working on there?
Several years ago, our firm was invited to assist in the restoration of the Brooklyn Cathedral. I shared my interests of the history of Architecture with the Monsignor of the Diocese and asked if he could arrange a visit to the Vatican Library. When in Rome, I was interviewed by a priest whose focus was on Canon Law and reported to the Cardinal responsible for the Vatican Library. After a successful interview I was invited to use the library. I was given a Library Card. I inquired about how long the card was valid. The response was: “It is good for eternity.”
I have a passion for concrete. The purpose of my research was to uncover its origins and development over the last two millennia.
What challenges did you face in the building process of The Beekman? Did any of these challenges provide an opportunity to learn something new?
My biggest challenge was to find a way to turn the Beekman into a modern building in terms of operation and comfort while maintaining the aesthetic essence of the historic structure. Our solution was to allow the new 600-foot tall structure to act as the machine and computer that runs the complex, but at the same time is hidden within the structure of the historic building.
When we walk inside the building, what special features should we look out for?
Though the historic building is very decorative in nature, the gilding on the building was used to “celebrate” the invention of the new building techniques and structural elements that were employed by the Architects in the 1880’s. This can be seen throughout the building and is what makes it take such a special place in the history of New York Architecture.
One great example is the “dragon brackets” that support all of the floors surrounding the atrium. These cast iron metal members are beautifully detailed to resemble a dragon but are actually “beams” that hold up the floors.
The celebration of structure is key to my work as well and is quite evident in the new tower.
What are your three favorite buildings in NYC and why?
The Empire State Building, because of its bold expression as New York’s tallest Building for so many decades. The Chrysler Building, because of it playfulness and its significance on the New York Skyline. The Lever House, because of its innovation as being one of the world’s first and most influential glass buildings.
Can you share three of your favorite places in New York where you go for creative inspiration or downtime?
I love the Monkey Bar on East 54th Street. It is a small oasis within all the mayhem of midtown.
Always drawn to sailboats, I find Central Park’s Conservatory Water and Boat House a peaceful place. The model sailboats so delicately convert wind into movement.
Though this may soon change forever, dining beside the Four Seasons Restaurant’s pool is fabulous.