Novedge: Tell us about yourself and what you do
Glenn Rescalvo: My name is Glenn Rescalvo and I am the partner in charge of Handel Architects’ San Francisco office. I started this office about 18 years ago, and I feel very fortunate for its success, and for where my career in architecture has taken me. I have had the opportunity to design and build projects throughout the world, including my hometown of San Francisco, and that has been very rewarding.
It gives me great pride to be able to contribute to the physical growth and urban landscape of this amazing city. I love my role as an architect, designer and partner of our firm, and I hope to remain devoted to the field for many years. Each day, I have the opportunity to work with talented designers, meet with interesting clients and develop new opportunities for our firm. I am very committed and involved with the organizations surrounding the field of architecture, and I enjoy participating in discussion panels, presenting projects and lecturing when possible.
My other life passion, aside from skiing and biking, is spending time with my amazing family. My wife, Maria, has been my greatest supporter and fan. She is my day-to-day soundboard, and, without her, I definitely would not be where I am today. My daughters, Bianca and Chiara, have also been a great driving force in what I've achieved. They admire the work I do and they’re always intrigued by my projects, and that gives me great pleasure.
Novedge: What matters most to you in design?
Glenn Rescalvo: Like most architects, I hope to create practical and innovative designs. Our firm is driven by the opportunity to think outside the box, and create new and unique spaces for people to experience and explore. The most important consideration in our work is how the designs affect people, how they experience them and react to them. We want our work to provoke people's senses, hopefully always in a positive and enlightening way.
Novedge: How does your commitment to sustainability inform your practice?
Glenn Rescalvo: I would like to believe that all aspects of our work encompass a basic, practical level of sustainability. From the planning and building orientation, to the design of the exterior walls, we try to be cognizant of basic sustainable concepts in our design. The influence and incorporation of LEED has definitely made architects increasingly dedicated to designing buildings that respond to the environment and to our global energy crisis. I also believe that the implementation of programs such as LEED and Green Point indicates that, over the years, architects have lost the art of designing projects that utilize the influences of a site’s natural characteristics. Given the world’s present energy crisis and high fuel demands, we need to be accountable for how we design projects. I believe it starts with a strong, basic concept of project orientation, materials of choice and the influences of the natural environment.
Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?
Glenn Rescalvo: We recently completed an amazing project in Abu Dhabi--the Rosewood Hotel and Residences. The project began as an invitational competition by Mubadala Real Estate group, which we successfully won in 2008. After 5 years of planning, design and construction supervision, the project recently opened for business.
The project is located in Abu Dhabi’s prestigious new Al Maryah Island financial district, between the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange and the Cleveland Clinic. Rosewood Abu Dhabi is a 1.1 million sq. ft. (102,000 m²) luxury, mixed-use development. The complex includes a 189-room five-star Rosewood hotel, 139 serviced apartments, banquet facilities, meeting facilities, a spa, a fitness center, retail space, restaurants and parking.
The inspiration for the design was derived from the falcon and the art of falconry, which has a long history in the Middle East, and remains an important part of Arab heritage and culture. The forms, lines and textures of the falcon’s body and feathers were the inspiration that initiated the early ideas for the form and expression of the tower. One of the key visions was the way in which the falcon’s wings overlap its body, which inspired the exterior massing and the overlapping textures of the exterior wall. This idea is most apparent in the “tail” of the tower as it swoops toward the sky, and the textures of the juxtaposed walls collide together. The intent was to create a design that wasn’t a literal translation of an idea, but one that simply reflected the falcon’s beauty, elegance and precision. It provided a strong form that is inherent in the nature of the region, and is culturally praised as an art form.
The building acts as a central “mixer” for the area. The hotel, residences, retail, meeting & banquet spaces and fitness center create a building that is truly active 24/7. It’s a hybrid offering many uses, with building functions that support and nourish each other, as well as themselves. Visitors--whether short-term or long-term--may use more than one function in the complex. The building was actively designed to take advantage of spontaneous desires, such as shopping after attending a meeting, as well as planned arrangements, such as fine-dining after the fitness club, or a drink after work at one of the nearby office buildings. The economic value of the project is further enhanced by the mutual relationship of complimentary functions.
Additionally, the building’s position as the “gateway” to Al Maryah Island gives it a particular importance that the architecture embraces. The surrounding buildings, all new construction as well, are much more rectilinear in form. The curvilinear, “fluid” form of the Rosewood ties the architecture of the surrounding buildings together and balances out the adjacent straight-lined forms. Reflective glass was chosen for its daytime shimmer and its nighttime luminescence.
Novedge: What software do you use?
Glenn Rescalvo: Our firm utilizes several types of software, depending on the task at hand. For production, our teams either work in AutoCAD or Revit. Over the past few years, we have been moving more towards Revit for various reasons. For renderings, illustrations and graphics we use a combination of V-Ray, Rhino, SketchUp, Illustrator and Photoshop.
Novedge: Your practice is based in San Francisco, but you have also worked internationally, in Moscow and Taipei, for example. What were the main differences and similarities between working at home and abroad?
Glenn Rescalvo: Our firm is and has been involved in many projects throughout the world and it is true--most projects abroad bring a unique and sometimes challenging set of conditions. The majority of international projects that I’ve worked on have been in Santiago, Chile and in Abu Dhabi. Santiago is unique in that its geological makeup is similar to San Francisco. It lies within a very active seismic zone, which requires buildings to be structurally designed, similar to the standards of buildings in California. On the business and construction side, we’ve seen many similarities with how projects are developed, constructed and executed here in the US.
On the flip side, in areas of the world such as Abu Dhabi, where high-rise development is relatively new, planning and development and construction are executed very differently than in the United States. The rules of development are negotiated, and the building codes are constantly changing, but clearly for the better. One very unique difference in areas such as Asia and the UAE is that labor costs are extremely low, and it is not unusual for there to be 3 or 4 times as many laborers and construction workers on a site. This creates a variety of challenging conditions which are completely out of the architect’s control, and, at times, can be detrimental to the final outcome of the project. Having the ability to fill a job site with workers allows projects to be erected faster, but not always necessarily better. Workmanship, detailing and product quality can sometimes be at risk. Fortunately, we are seeing more and more Western and European construction firms expanding into these markets of the world, and developing higher standards of construction.
Novedge: Handel Architects prides itself on its ability to work with developers. What are some of the things you've learned that make for a beneficial working relationship?
Glenn Rescalvo: We have been very fortunate to work with many distinguished and unique developers over the past 20 years, and I've learned that no two are alike. They all enjoy building projects, and, more importantly, they like their developments to be successful.
I admire developers for the simple reason that it is a very creative field with a tremendous amount of risk. And, hopefully, great rewards. No different, really, than the field of architecture. As architects, we create and design with great passion, in hopes that someone will say, “It looks great. I love it. Let’s build it!” We have been very fortunate to work with a lot of developers who share a similar mindset to ours, in that we are all striving to improve the growth of cities and the public realm through the development of great projects. The world of “development” has exposed our practice to many aspects of the growth of cities throughout the world. Working closely with developers, city planners, political officials and neighborhood groups, we have come to appreciate what it takes to have the vision, compassion and drive to develop a great portfolio of work that can have a positive influence on cities.
Novedge: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Glenn Rescalvo: “Be a better listener”. Time and time again, I tell myself to listen harder and longer, even if it’s painful. I always learn something new.
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