Updated: Jul 2
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN DE MODE JUL-AUG-SEP 2021 (Vol IV, Issue XXII) ARCHITECTURE & INTERIORS
Article Published on: 12TH JAN 2023 | www.demodemagazine.com
Saurabh Goenka has more than a decade of experience crafting multifaceted, award-winning projects in some of the world’s most fast-paced urban environments. He has worked on a range of scales over the years, from designs of luxurious single-family homes in Asia to more recently developing mixed-use residential skyscrapers and urban masterplans in New York and the rest of the United States.
Saurabh graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, USA with a master's in urban design and completed his bachelor's in architecture from the School of Planning and Architecture, India. He is an AIA (American Institute of Architects) licensed Architect and a LEED (Leadership in energy and environmental design) accredited professional.
He is just as adept at fashioning minuscule details as he is at exhibiting broader gestures. His skill set as an architect is governed by the outlook that buildings are not just objects in space, but rather a part of their contextual urban fabric and must be designed to seamlessly integrate with the city and its local culture.
Instrumental in the design and completion of some of New York’s landmark projects, Saurabh’s passion for architecture is driven by the fact that it is tangible, influences millions of lives, and strives to make them better through the process of creativity. A big advocate of affordable housing, several of his projects in New York such as One East Harlem and Hunters Point accommodate some low-income apartment units. Saurabh’s work is sensitive to the human scale and the urban context, as is evident from some recent projects such as 566 Broome Street and Neptune/ Sixth where the contextual references have been extrapolated onto the buildings at both micro and macro scales. In the public realm, Saurabh’s work on the New York Wheel development is a testament to how socially conscientious public spaces can be envisioned, so they interact both with the observer as well as the user.
As a senior associate, Saurabh is also an expert in advanced design techniques and a digital technology leader at S9 Architecture. He has leveraged the power of technology not only to create aesthetically pleasing buildings but also to ensure efficient construction, operations and management.
S9 Architecture (S9) is an award-winning architecture firm based in New York, USA, and consists of a team of designers dedicated to giving form to the client’s pragmatic needs, with a unique design approach rooted in “modern contextualism” and inspired by urban narratives. Rejecting pre-conceived ideas and stylistic preoccupations, each design solution is informed by programmatic, physical, environmental, economic, and contextual forces. Their projects are part of a larger whole, acting as a glue that helps bind and enhance the context for human experiences.
S9’s design narratives include projects of all sizes, programs, and complexities. Each project is unique to its context and its environment. By collaborating with clients to understand their vision and goals, S9 utilizes its design approach to achieve authenticity through buildings and places that strengthen and improve the urban and human experience.
The New York Wheel, New York
566 Broome Street, New York
Neptune/Sixth, Brooklyn, New York
SAURABH GOENKA'S EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH DE MODE
Q: What kind of works in your portfolio are you most proud of and why?
A: Projects, where the built form and nature create symbiotic relationships, are particularly close to my heart. Being able to skillfully blur the boundaries between buildings, which is an expression of the architect’s creativity, and its surrounding landscape is key to successful design. The more they communicate, the more they can uplift each other toward creating a stronger sense of identity.
Q: What kind of work do you usually prefer?
A: Designers often tend to prioritize isolated ideas to create stand-alone objects with iconic characteristics, whereas, to me, a more inspiring expression comes from architecture that fosters interaction within itself and with the whole. In that regard, I am also drawn towards intellectually stimulating work that solves problems related not only to the building but to the surrounding community at large.
Q: On which projects have you worked as a lead architect in the United States?
A: Some of my projects at S9 Architecture in recent years include: 566 Broome Street residential high-rise tower in downtown Manhattan, The New York Wheel, Neptune/Sixth mixed-use development in Brooklyn, and One East Harlem in upper Manhattan.
Q: In your formative years, did you always want to become an architect?
A: My earliest memory of creatively assembling objects was the endless hours I would spend with my Legos. Growing up, I had an artistic urge and strong gravitation toward spatial awareness. I would often be curious about the spaces we visited. With time, as I became more exposed to the nuanced possibilities that lay before me, architecture was a natural choice.
Q: Explain one of your works that required the most technical expertise.
A: On 566 Broome Street in Manhattan, the undulating exterior façade panels were designed as modules made of precast concrete, prefabricated off-site, and then assembled on-site. Coordinating the anchoring systems, dimensional accuracy, and thermal performance while maintaining the overall aesthetic and design intent was quite challenging.
Q: What are all the factors you prioritize during a project?
A: There are a few elements common to most projects – client goals, context, economics, and timelines. Once these are thoroughly analyzed, one can begin to formulate a vision. The objectives can be determined by investigating the 4 ‘W’s - what, where, who, and why. There is no set formula: it’s not about how to design, but rather how to respond to the need.
Q: What do you think is the most effective way of presenting a project?
A: Projects are frequently presented as isolated compilations of drawings and renderings. It is equally important for the project to be expressed as a story that engages its audience. A skillfully woven narrative highlighting salient aspects of the project draws the listener’s attention, especially ones with non-architectural backgrounds.
Q: Which aspect attracts you most in a design? Appeal or practicality?
A: I believe that a more holistic design approach is to establish an unbiased communication wherein a mediation ensues between the two, each interdependently guiding the design to produce an outcome that is experiential yet convenient, and therefore timeless. A constant negotiation between the two allows for an all-inclusive development that is aesthetically pleasing as well as functionally thorough.
Q: If a client asks you to design a structure that is visually pleasing and non-practical, how would you react and what would you do?
A: I would first try to understand the thought process behind this preference by having an open dialogue. In my experience, clients certainly want beautiful buildings but would sacrifice practical comfort if they think they cannot have both. I would solve the dilemma by giving them the confidence that they can have a building that is iconic, yet efficient.
Q: Tell us about the time when you got the opportunity to work on 'The New York Wheel'. How did it feel? How has it made an impact on your architectural career?
A: I consider working on 'The New York Wheel' as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The overall scale of the project, the plethora of design specialists and stakeholders involved, and the unique nature of the site and the program were all very inspiring. Going through the highly complex design process has helped me grow immensely as an architect.
Q: Are there any instances in your work life that you have been behind a schedule? How did you overcome the situation?
A: There are always such instances, but over the years, I have learned that a well-organized design process is critical. Creativity is indispensable, but it is equally important to be resourceful in fast-paced circumstances with uncompromising schedules. One way efficiency can be achieved is by streamlining design philosophies and establishing a system of standardizing the recurring elements.
Q: Do you read design and architecture magazines?
A: Absolutely. Architects and designers around the world are doing some very interesting work today, and I believe it is extremely important to keep oneself updated with current developments in the industry. The innovation and creative works featured in magazines are a great source of inspiration to push the boundaries of the profession.
Q: What are your thoughts on the importance of renders in architecture today?
A: Architectural renderings are incredibly effective in communicating with clients and the general public. In addition to being a successful marketing tool, they provide superior visual analysis and allow evaluation of multiple options. In today’s global world, renderings are especially effective in reaching a wider audience without any language barriers.
Q: What are all the details one should have with themselves during their first meeting with an architect?
A: A thorough design brief is vital to the overall design process not only for the architect but for the client, consultants and other stakeholders. The more decisions we make in the beginning, the more effective our overall problem-solving, the process is. Building typology, site location and adjacencies, size, projected demographics, and programmatic requirements are some items that must be prioritized.
Q: What is a weakness you’ve noticed some architects have and that you don’t have?
A: Architects pride themselves in making rational, evidence-based decisions. But doing so while ignoring the emotional needs of the user or client can sometimes cloud our judgment. I believe that a full understanding of human nature and sentiment unique to a particular project is as important as performing a research-based analysis, and I give this aspect of design great importance.
Q: How easy is it for a client to meet you (virtually or physically) & discuss their project?
A: Seamless communication is key to any successful project or business and making myself available to clients and hearing them out is of utmost importance. I am always available to meet with clients directly or virtually, usually with prior appointments. I am very accessible through emails and can be reached via a direct phone line for pressing situations.
Q: How do you feel about your feature in DE MODE?
A: DE MODE is rightfully lauded as one of the premier design magazines in the world with a far outreach, and one that has enthused me many times in the past due to its highly selective content and the range of topics it covers. To be published in DE MODE is an honor and I am grateful to the entire team.