ABQ Uptown Construction

In the March-April 2005 issue of Architecture:Boston, engineer Michael Mulhern discussed architectural issues with other designers.

Michael Mulhern: We work with people who are really pushing the limits. And that push is a lot less magical than it seems; it’s all founded on good engineering. Typically, there are some people out there who have a deep knowledge of a specific material. For example, we do some glass projects that scare people who don’t work in glass every day.We just finished a circular stair in Osaka for Apple stores, which is all glass — the balustrade glass is hung with small, highstrength stainless steel pieces, the treads are glass, and they’re joined to the balustrade glass by titanium pucks and hardware. It’s the result of an evolutionary process, and that’s what is lost when it shows up on the cover of Architectural Record — you don’t know that we had already done a similar one in New York that’s straight and an earlier one with a more traditional steel frame instead of the glass balustrade. When it’s published, it looks like it’s on the cutting edge, when it’s really part of a progression.

Mark Kalin: Are we saying then that it’s OK to trust you to find the right material?

Michael Mulhern: Well, no.We have an informed discussion about what the right material is, and that discussion is not technical alone. It’s technical, it’s financial, it’s aesthetic. And each one of us around the table has a different voice in that discussion, none of which can be discounted or the owner in the end will simply say, “No, I don’t want to do it.” That’s been my experience, anyway. The decision process needs to be evolutionary, too, and needs to include a great deal of trust.

Michael Mulhern: We see very different approaches between our institutional clients and commercial customers. Institutional clients, for example, are often ahead of the curve in green building, because they know they’re going to own this building cradle-to-grave. The economic life cycle of a commercial building is probably closer to five years. That has a profound impact on the way owners look at sustainability issues and on the way they assess risk-reward issues.

Michael Mulhern is an engineer and vice president of TriPyramid Structures in Westford (Mass.). The company designs and fabricates the exotic hardware that holds together the glass staircases and glass cube that are trademarks of Apple's flagship stores.

Mark Kalin FAIA, FCSI is a principal of Kalin Associates, specifications consultants in Newton (Mass.), and also participated in the magazine's discussion.