This week’s ‘Five Minutes With’ series features Colin Koop, Design Partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, whose project – Cornell Tech Campus – is a 2019 Awards Finalist for Excellence in Institutional Development.
Who has had the greatest influence on your career and what was the best advice he or she gave you?
I’ve been lucky to have learned from a great many exemplary educators and architects over my career, but one that stands out is my friend and teacher Hashim Sarkis. I took his studio focused on social housing during graduate school, and learned from his incredible ability to find the poetic within the practical. He always encouraged each of us to not lose sight of the human experience as central to the creation of new architecture and to aspire to realize great architecture in any situation, regardless of the budget.
What qualities do you think are essential to be an effective leader?
Vision and culture are the two things I spend my day thinking about the most. I think having a clear vision for the work, communicating the idea to the team, and then encouraging them to take risks and experiment are all essential qualities of leadership. In addition, I think it’s a leader’s responsibility to cultivate an exemplary culture within the studio – one that promotes open dialogue, inclusiveness, and teamwork. The goal is always to create truly great architecture while also giving people a sense of purpose in their working lives.
I think the way that Cornell Tech knits the surrounding island context together to make something greater than the sum of its parts is remarkable. There is an almost effortless sense of flow from the streets of Roosevelt Island into the long walks of the campus. Most universities try to create a threshold between themselves and their surroundings – I think of the wrought iron gates and arched porticos of traditional campuses – but Cornell Tech is different. It’s integrated. It feels like an extension of the city itself in that the experience of the campus is about pedestrians, greenspace, and natural light. The architecture frames the open spaces, instead of dominating it.