Interior Decisions: Alan Gaynor & Co.'s Michele Boddewyn Looks Back on 2011
Daniel Edward Rosen Dec. 20, 2011, noon
Earlier this year, Alan Gaynor & Co. president Michele Boddewyn played an instrumental role in winning a Women’s Business Enterprise designation for the 36-year-old architectural firm. While that coveted badge has lured new business to the company, Ms. Boddewyn, a member of the American Institute of Architects, has not turned away from the vast assortment of clients who have kept the company busy since it was founded nearly four decades ago. Earlier this month, the architect spoke to The Commercial Observer about that new designation, eco-friendly build-outs and a flood of work from the health care and medical industries that is keeping her active.
The Commercial Observer: Recently, Alan Gaynor & Co. became a Women’s Business Enterprise. How does that benefit the company and its ability to attract new clients?
Ms Boddewyn: A lot of people don’t know what it stands for. It benefits you in two ways. A lot of the larger corporations, like the Goldman Sachs, are looking to show diversity in their spending and have diversity directors and diversity departments. Since they have a large spending budget for everything from paper towels to professional services, they’re being encouraged to show diversity in how they’re spending, that not everything goes to big business, but that a decent amount goes to small business and sometimes even to reflect their buyer base. So if you’re a Hispanic-based company, say something like Goya Foods, you want to show that you’re funneling money back into the community that your consumers are coming from. A lot of these companies, I don’t think there’s any true goodwill. It’s more looking good, like the Goldman Sachs of this world. I don’t think they really give a hoot about diversity, but they want to look good as part of their public relations.
If I understand correctly, the company has also been active in the medical field?
As my father’s fond of saying, we’re all getting older, and we all need doctors. The most recent project … was for a group of orthopedic surgeons whose practice has grown, and they’re just really taxed where they currently are. Everyone’s been bumping into everyone else, so they’re about tripling their space in terms of the number of exam rooms, and they’re doubling their X-ray equipment, more rooms to staff, the billing, the scheduling, all the parts and pieces that go with running a group medical practice. In the past three years we’ve done more in that area. I also get the sense that landlords haven’t always been friendly towards medical practices because they’re high-volume traffic, so some people have done things like create a medical arts building where it’s the same all the way through. You’re not disturbing residential tenants with dental patients who are coming every half hour or something.
How is that sector changing from an architectural point of view? Or is it?It’s funny. Design-wise, I see it as sort of a—what’s the term? Work life? I see the design going that way of it’s more liv
ing room in terms of sort of the patient areas, in terms of—who was it who made the analogy that American cars are the automotive version of your living room in terms of comfortable seats and the sound systems and so forth? I feel that all the doctors’ offices I’ve been to of late that are new, plus this one we’re designing, it’s again sort of this living-room concept, a feeling that it’s more almost residential in terms of the carpets and plants and the lighting and so forth, where I think before medical was much more about being hygienic, and that sterile was a good thing. Now, I definitely see a shift over to more of a living room or—Starbucks is too strong, but that sort of sense of it’s a public place, but you’re meant to be put at ease. There is a coffee machine there, and the furniture looks more like what you would have, maybe not quite in your living room, but it’s approaching that in terms of comfort and a residential feel.
Besides other work keeping you busy, are there also opportunities for conversions?
We’ve definitely been involved in building conversions. We did an interesting project in sort of a depressed New Jersey town where the developer in question bought up some small office buildings—really small-scale suburban, not New York City office building by any stretch, but four or five stories. Because they were well situated in relation to public transit and other services, they had us redesign them as multifamily condominiums. That’s a good example of building conversion.
Right now, it’s not definite, but we’re working with an owner who sold some buildings and is looking to reinvest in others and has his eye on a waterfront building in Brooklyn that would be more industrial, warehouse, but now would like to upgrade and market it more as office showroom space. That comes up a fair amount.
With the economy still recovering, are the assignments less challenging?
I would say that projects have been smaller than in good times, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of activity we’re seeing and in all different places. We just got word yesterday about relocating a Japanese printing company.
And I imagine you’re seeing more this year than, say, in 2009 or 2010?
No, 2009 wasn’t that bad for us. It was slower in 2010. I think in 2009 there was enough backlog work that carried us through 2009. Definitely 2010 was the quieter year.
With new technology unfurling at a lightning pace, do you advise clients to do away with back-office storage rooms where, say, filing cabinets once thrived?
Oh, definitely. Definitely. One insurance company we deal with really shocked us when they said, “We’ve had everything scanned, and we’ve got 25 file cabinets to get rid of.” Certainly when a client is preparing to move, we say to them, “Take a hard look at what you’ve got, what you’re keeping.” It’s not unusual to open up a file cabinet and there’s a canceled check from 1989 or whatever. It’s the “nature abhors a vacuum” kind of thing. People will keep stuff until they run out of room.
I imagine for every tech-savvy office tenant there are four others who abhor change?
I’ve certainly seen resistance. We did an ob-gyn whose space was so tight. There was just no room to swing a cat. She insisted on keeping her file room. She just wasn’t comfortable going digital. But from speaking to somebody in the scanning business, I’ve heard from her that the medical profession as a whole has embraced that, in part because of the HIPAA recommendations. I’m sure you’ve been to enough doctors’ offices to know that there’s file cabinets everywhere, especially in New York City, where they’re in tight space, and they’re in some sort of ground-floor apartment of an apartment building, but they’re using it as an office.
Are you also doing a lot of prebuilt spaces?
Yes. One of our clients is 14 Penn Plaza, which is the building opposite 1 Penn Plaza. When they acquired the building about five years ago, there was a fair amount of vacant space. Anyway, it’s a rather large commercial building on 34th between Seventh and Eighth and it’s nowhere near a new building. It was probably done in the ’30s or something. There was also a very random distribution of the vacant spaces so the leasing people worked with us to strategically relocate some of its smaller tenants to create larger pockets of space, and then take … we had leftover spaces, maybe a tenant downsizes, takes some of the vacant space or leftover space and redesign them as a prebuilt for sort of what I call the plug and play—you buy a phone system, you do your network, and you move in.
The firm has done its share of environmentally friendly build-outs. In your own opinion, just how effective are such practices with regard to true sustainability?
People talk about sustainability and selecting green products. I still think there’s a long way to go on that one. Without being crass, a lot of it’s a token gesture. I mean, I feel like if people cared about energy consumption, they’d turn off Times Square.