Member Spotlight: Gran Kriegel

We sat down with  David Kriegel–– Architect, saxophonist, bread baker, and wooden boat racer about growing up in the era of progressive education, peers who carried around quotes from Chairman Mao, restoring Andrew Carniegie’s house (the now Cooper Hewitt Design Museum) and never ending projects. 

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David and his team have worked on countless projects in support of the public good. These include architecture, design, and renovation work for supportive housing and specialty facilities. Over the decades his firm has specialized in integrating form and function into new and old buildings. GranKriegel + Associates have extensive experience working within the parameters of non-profit and city/statewide agencies on strict deadlines.

What is your favorite thing about being an architect?

The characters along the way. A good client can make anything, no matter how mundane, interesting. And a bad client can make anything no matter how exciting, a nightmare. 

The best client relationship I have ever had was with the Coast Guard. We renovated an air traffic control tower, essentially a military base and having them look to me to solve their problems was an honor. It’s really different working on a design decision for a client like Search and Rescue, where their noble mission of aiding people in distress resonates throughout their entire operating model. 

David in his office

You originally thought you were going to be a naval architect but mostly work in restoration and public housing. What was your first big restoration project? 

Well, being a naval architect is about as feasible as being a Jazz musician. Preserving the glories of earlier architecture has been a specialty of the firm since its inception.

The first big restoration project was the conversion of nine Civil War era landmark warehouses in Troy, NY right on the Hudson. We were brought into restore the original storefronts and convert the interior into 80 residential units. Any additions to the building had to be essentially indistinguishable. The rear of the buildings were made of fieldstone, and in such bad condition that we removed the stones entirely, numbered each one  and reassembled exactly the same due to the building’s landmark status with the national register of historical places. 

Right now we are working on the conservatory at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum which was Andrew Carniege’s greenhouse–– I picture him smoking cigars in his slippers tending to his plants.

The interior of the conservatory that David and his team are working on at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum

Can you tell us more about your boat, the Easterly?

Wooden boats are the perfect synthesis of art and technology, a truly beautiful functioning object. All the architects I know are attracted to boats 50-100 years old but are designing these ultra modern buildings. Nobody’s heart ever leapt from the sight of a plastic boat… There is something to be said about a handmade boat than something that is mass produced. 

My favorite thing to do each year is varnish that acre of wood.

The Easterly, built in 1961

What are your favorite things happening in architecture right now? 

It is an interesting frontier in architecture as is most things are in digital fabrication, you’re able to build forms that you hadn’t been able to do as easily.

“It’s interesting to see how modern tools influence the design and build-out of today’s infrastructure.”

You look at Baroque buildings in Rome with spiral curved pieces of marble and stone and wonder how on earth they did it. It is interesting to see how the tools of the designer influence the design and process. Then, Borromini, who did a lot of these incredible buildings was in the first generation of architects to draw with a graphite pencil. Before they were using a quill, or a steel pen.

What made you fall in love with architecture? Who are your influences?

Well, from an early age I loved Frank Lloyd Wright because we had a lot of his books sitting around the house. I still go see his buildings and they’re still amazing. 

I was really influenced by and continue to admire the generation of Italian architects from the 1930’s-1970’s and 80’s. Carlo Scarpa and Luigi Morettireally understood how to build and use materials. When you look at their buildings (many are concrete) there’s no separation between the structure and the architecture, there’s always a sense of how to treat materials beautifully. As opposed to it being buried behind the walls, and I always admired that.

PS 233 is the first school specifically for severely handicapped children to be built in New York City. Its bright colors and familiar shapes are reminiscent of the De Stijl movement.

What is one thing you do before 10AM every morning?

I’ve been up since 6AM. By 10AM it’s the middle of the day. I get up, take a shower, and get on a Citi Bike to Camp David. Sometimes I ride to the river, that funny little park where the baseball fields are, and take ten minutes to look at the water. 

Do you dream every night?

Not usually. Just replaying the horrors of the day before.

Will you live in New York forever?

I drove across the country in July to Yellowstone, there’s a passage in Mark Twain’s “Roughing It”–– Of course he goes out west by a horse-drawn stage coach, but he gets to the Great Plains and is looking out at the vista realizing that the years spent slaving and toiling in the hot city had been wasted and thrown away. 

And that’s kinda how I feel when I’m out on the boat or just in Maine. Maine is so beautiful. I mean the reality is I have to be here because I have work to do and my being on a boat in Maine isn’t helping anyone. 

What was the best advice you ever received?

While I was in architecture school, I ran into a family friend who used to run the office of Marcel Breuer (very well known, post Gropius architect) and I was with my mother and she said “oh, my son’s in architecture school” and he looked at me and said, “why?”. 

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Catch David playing Jazz in our Work Lounge on occasional Thursday evenings for Happy Hour.


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