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New Beginnings: Interview with Bernhard Karpf, FAIA, Managing Principal, Richard Meier & Partners Architects

RMP's leadership is working to restore the firm's reputation, managing ongoing projects, and the team's plans going forward.

By Kristen Richards, Hon. AIA, Hon. ASLA
January 17, 2019


Bernhard Karpf, FAIA, has been with Richard Meier & Partners Architects (RMP) since 1988, and was named managing principal last October. He, along with Vivian Lee, AIA, LEED AP, Reynolds Logan, FAIA, and Dukho Yeon, AIA, as newly named principals, is now leading the 56-year-old firm. Richard Meier, FAIA, has stepped back from managing the firm in light of harassment allegations. There has been some discussion of a name change for the firm, but for now, the name remains.

 

I sat down with Karpf in early January to talk about how RMP’s leadership is working to restore the firm’s reputation, managing ongoing projects, and planning for the future. (Edited for brevity and clarity.)

 

 

What is RMP doing to assure current and prospective staff and clients that the firm has mechanisms in place to guarantee a safe work environment?

 

This is very important to us. We want to maintain a safe work environment, so that our staff can focus on doing the great work that is the hallmark of our practice.

 

We started by reviewing and revising our employee manual. It is critically important that all of our employees are fully protected against verbal and physical attacks in the office, including through online platforms. We have a solid anti-harassment protocol in place. If an employee feels he or she is being harassed, and that person is not comfortable speaking to the Benefits Director or a principal of the firm, we have set up a confidential reporting hotline and website so s/he can report any concerns. We have an independent counsel who will investigate the claim, when necessary. We will promptly eliminate any offensive conduct and take disciplinary action. The firm will also provide therapy or other support services for staff, if needed.

 

How many women work at the firm?

 

We have always had a very diverse workforce – women, minorities from different backgrounds, different countries – it’s been a key to our success. Right now, 30% of the staff and 30% of senior leaders are women. Though statistics don’t mean that much – we hire the best people for the job.

 

While a few people have left, there’s a core group that has been with the firm for an average of about 12 years, which is notable in a profession where people frequently move around – we each practically know what the other is thinking. This gives me great confidence moving forward.

 

What other steps has the firm taken to support the staff?

 

Giving employees time away from the office is important to our culture. We now offer leaves of absence to our employees for childbirth or adoption, caregiving, and other personal issues. In the last 10 years, we’ve attracted people who want to stay with the firm, who see it as a good place to work – and who have a family life.

 

What is RMP doing – and what can other firms do – to empower people to speak up/out?

 

We are proud to have an environment where everyone is accessible. It is important to make sure you don't create hierarchies. You want to make sure that everyone can talk to each other. We have learned that the more everyone communicates openly, the more you can deal with issues before they have a chance to fester.

 

What is the new principals’ agenda?

 

We have a very clear identity, with a 55-plus-year history of exceptional buildings and service. We are committed to building on that legacy. At the same time, we recognize that the world is constantly changing. The issues of 20 years ago are different from the issues of today and tomorrow. Issues like work/life culture, technology, and sustainability have become increasingly important.

 

We’re known for designing beautiful buildings in white. We would like to broaden that perception. We also don't want to be fenced in by a reputation of only designing luxury housing. Our studio is designing multi-functional buildings that are technologically advanced and very conscious of resources and materials. We are deeply committed to having a meaningful impact on social, environmental, and urban issues, and we are seeking out opportunities to design more civic and publicly-oriented projects.

 

Where do you see the firm going next?

 

In the immediate term: We want to get the message out that we are alive and well, with good ideas, and lots of things to communicate. We are a firm that is diverse in terms of staff and projects. Long-term: The next generation is already stepping up, and we want to continue to think of ourselves as a firm, as an architectural office, as a studio – and everything that implies. It’s a team effort now, and it always has been. Believing in and communicating that idea is important to us.

 

What is the office currently working on?

 

We have the two projects nearing completion here in New York – 685 First Avenue and 1 Waterline Square – but we have also been working on some interesting new projects. We are working on the Son Ginard Hotel, a boutique hotel in Spain, which includes the conversion of an existing pig barn on a 50-acre (20-hectare) site. That has been a fun project. We also completed a few big projects in the last year – a 27-story office tower in Mexico City, and a 416-foot (127-meter) residential tower in Taiwan, to name a few.



(click on pictures to enlarge)

Richard Meier & Partners

Xin-Yi Residential Tower, Taipei, Taiwan

Richard Meier & Partners

Xin-Yi Residential Tower, Taipei, Taiwan

Richard Meier & Partners

Son Ginard Hotel, Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Richard Meier & Partners

Son Ginard Hotel, Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Richard Meier & Partners

685 First Avenue, New York, NY

Richard Meier & Partners

685 First Avenue, New York, NY

Richard Meier & Partners

Torre Cuarzo on Reforma, Mexico City, Mexico

Richard Meier & Partners

Torre Cuarzo on Reforma, Mexico City, Mexico

Richard Meier & Partners

JEI Commercial Building, Gangnam, Seoul, South Korea

Richard Meier & Partners

JEI Commercial Building, Gangnam, Seoul, South Korea

Richard Meier & Partners

Vitrvm, Bogata, Colombia

Richard Meier & Partners

Vitrvm, Bogata, Colombia

Richard Meier & Partners

Parkview Office Building, Prague, Czech Republic

Richard Meier & Partners

Parkview Office Building, Prague, Czech Republic

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