27 June 2018
27 June 2018
Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, New York: Hands-on, Collaborative, Focused.
The Culture of Practice
Pei Cobb Freed & Partners conducts its global practice from a single design studio, combining large-firm capacity with small-firm character. “Our studio culture is best characterised by the back-and-forth between exceptionally experienced and knowledgeable senior professionals who are passionate about putting buildings together and junior staff who bring their own perspective and new ‘tricks’ to the table. Everybody is interested in what the other has to offer. It is a two-way street: everybody is teaching and everybody is learning,” says Partner Jay Berman, who joined the practice in 1998.
While the firm consists of a staff of 100 people and has work in progress on five continents, the practice operates more like a small firm, meaning that teams remain on projects from “beginning to end; it’s not an assembly line.” And it enjoys the privilege of being located in a building designed by one of its former partners, James Ingo Freed. Everything is wide open to encourage individuals and teams to know what others are doing and to promote social life, while floor-to-ceiling windows give a sense of connection to what is happening on the streets around the office. “We kept the design simple, rigorous, and functional,” says Berman.
An ‘intense hush’ can sometimes describe the internal world of the firm when engaged in deep concentration on a project, “like a university library before finals,” says Berman. But communication and conversation play an essential role in the collaborative studio environment. Spontaneous events like ‘Beer and Dogs’ pepper the work schedule, sprouting up organically.
Since its formation as I.M. Pei & Associates in 1955, the landscape for practice and the workplace has evolved hugely. With its 60-plus year history, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners is flexible and nimble while still remaining true to Pritzker-winning Pei’s belief in the redemptive power of architecture. One place the firm is evolving most rapidly is in using digital technologies in its design process. “In the past few years, we have been continuously deploying the latest VR hardware, AR applications, visualisation techniques, energy modeling plug-ins, and parametric tools in the studio. It is an exciting time,” says Berman.
Author: Sung Yoon, Marketing Assistant, Bespoke Careers