“Wouldn’t it be great to one day be inside that building?” Brandon Haw asked himself when he was 18, on his first visit to New York. He was standing in the plaza on 52nd Street and Park Avenue, just in front of the Seagram Building: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s iconic structure. Having just gone off to architecture school—in fact, having just conditionally decided to pursue architecture—he had read about the building, knew what it was, and that it was built by the man who coined the phrase “less is more.” Forty years later, Haw recounts this to me from inside the same edifice in his studio space, soaring above the plaza where he stood all those years ago.
Within the 40 years since his first encounter with the space in which he now works, Haw’s career has spanned across agencies and oceans: graduate school was across the Hudson river at Princeton, then he returned to Manhattan to work for several years before heading back to his native London. There, he worked in the office of legendary Lord Norman Foster of architectural heavyweight Foster + Partners, eventually becoming a senior partner and watching the firm grow from less than 40 employees to 1,200. It was there that Haw worked on Hearst Tower in New York, the Commerzbank Tower in Frankfurt, and the Faena House in Miami, to name a few.
Haw is working with Faena again, who called on him to design the Faena Mar, another luxury condo building between the 2015 Faena house and the pre-war, Art Deco Versailles Hotel. “You see here the old and the new, a language with the contemporary,” Haw says, gesturing between photographs. “You see here, like the pieces of a chess set. It was very delicately poised, how to marry the different buildings together.” The result? A lineup of buildings in a historic landmarked district ranging in styles, periods and cultural references.
Context clearly matters to Haw. Another project of his, inaugurated in May, is the School of Management of the Universidad de los Andes in Cartagena, Colombia. How do you create contemporary architecture in a hot, humid climate? he wondered. He’d noticed northerly breezes during his previous trips to Cartagena and was inspired by the city’s Spanish colonial architecture, with buildings situated around courtyards and palm trees providing shade from the sun. By orienting his building toward the north, he funneled the city’s breezes over pools of water within a shaded courtyard, creating a cool microclimate with year-round air movement. Each face of the building is also shaded with a combination of horizontal projections and vertical “brises soleils,” protecting it from direct sunlight. In this way, the building is passively cooled, reducing its energy consumption and enhancing the comfort of people in the building and within its courtyard.
Haw’s latest project in New York is for the New York Dermatology Group. Haw designed the interior of the group’s flagship facility, in the process also creating his own furniture range, enabling him to address the exact needs of the space. “We had trouble finding a furniture range for a waiting area that would be elegant and functional, and fit with the design. So, we designed this sofa and chair range and the coffee tables that go with it,” he says. Now, his furniture is to be launched commercially over the course of this year and next. All of the pieces are available in three different metal finishes and 14 different types of leather.
Haw’s focus on functionality harkens back to the beginning of his interest in architecture, before his first trip to New York or his first time gawking at the Seagram Building, in which his office is now located. “I was sitting with my father, about 17 years old, and we were having a glass of wine together,” he remembers. Discussing which art school to go to, his father made the case for pursuing something different. “We can look at that picture on the wall, it may move us intellectually, it may move us emotionally. But if we really just don’t like it, we can turn our backs and look away. With a building, or with a city, or with an object, you can’t do that. It’s your physical reality,” his father said to him. Forty years later, that memory still defines Haw’s work. “We’re very function-based, practically-based,” Haw says. “Out of all of that, comes the philosophy—whether it’s a sensual beauty or a functional beauty.”