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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Peter Pennoyer, Architect, Scholar and Author

Peter Pennoyer

This Mover and Shaker interview is sponsored by Cosmopolitan Dental, official dentist of Whom You Know!  Dr. Garo Nazarian is responsible for Peachy's pearly whites: 

Peter Pennoyer is a renowned architect, scholar, and author who has devoted himself to championing classical architecture through his practice and through education. Principal of Peter Pennoyer Architects, the Manhattan-based design firm he founded in 1991, Pennoyer is recognized as a leading force in traditional and classical styles.  His work for residential, commercial, and institutional commissions – often involving significant historic buildings across the country – has won numerous awards and has been widely published in newspapers, books, and periodicals; he is acclaimed for balancing history and context with modern tastes and needs and for reinterpreting the classical language into timeless designs.  The New York Times recently called him “one of New York’s premier classical architects.”  Whom You Know highly recommended his book:

Born and raised on East 65th Street, Pennoyer is an alumnus of St. Bernard’s School and was shaped by New York City’s colorful culture and eclectic streetscapes early on. As a teenager his curiosity in architecture was able to take flight through his father, an active board member of several cultural institutions, including the New York City Art Commission (now called the Public Design Commission), an organization responsible for overseeing all construction, renovation, and restoration of art, architecture, and landscape design on public land. Following St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, Pennoyer interned at the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission; thus he began a long involvement with this agency and a lifelong passion for preservation.

As an undergraduate at Columbia University, Pennoyer studied French Literature and planned to start architectural studies in graduate school.  A memorable M4 bus ride with Robert A. M. Stern to 116th Street and Broadway inaugurated his architectural future. Stern, then a professor at Columbia and running his own young practice, convinced Pennoyer to join his undergraduate design studio before attending Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation – and he did just that.

Working in Bob Stern’s firm was grueling, but Pennoyer got a first-rate education and was exposed to cutting edge current events in the world of architecture. Stern was an inspiring, demanding mentor, who educated and challenged Pennoyer and his co-workers to take on huge projects, such as the Venice Biennale 1982 Pavilion, Forum Design Linz (1982), and International House. Under Stern, Pennoyer also forged valuable connections, and his introduction to Gregory Gilmartin has resulted in the most prolific creative collaboration of his career. Gilmartin, now the Director of Design at Peter Pennoyer Architects, has worked with Pennoyer since 1986 and is considered by his peers as one of today’s most brilliant designers in the classical idiom. 

Significantly, his time spent at Stern’s during the 1970s and early 1980s laid the foundations for Pennoyer’s serious commitment to advocating the relevance of traditional forms for current practice.  During the late 1970s, the architecture world was stirring with conflicting doctrines: the Postmodernists who believed in historicism and adapting from the past clashed with the Modernists who repudiated regression and the resurrection of historical styles. While the Postmodernist philosophy allowed for classical elements to appear in new designs, they were exaggerated and manipulated. Ultimately, Pennoyer and many of his colleagues were unfulfilled by these opposing camps, and set out to bring the past back to present day architecture through context, pure, unironic ornament, and architectural history. As they began their own practices in the mid-1980s, they, along with pioneering forerunners like Robert A. M. Stern, ushered in a new movement in architecture, which over the last twenty years has grown into what Stern calls Modern Traditionalism.

In 1984, Pennoyer left Stern, who remains to this day his greatest mentor and inspiration, and partnered with classmate Peter Moore to form Pennoyer & Moore – the first of two firms he established before launching PPA.  His first independent commission was a loft in Tribeca for Isabella Rossellini, followed by several other small-scale apartment renovations for artists, models, and actors.  Even as a devoted student of classicism, Pennoyer did dabble and experiment with extreme minimalism in his early career. For the fashion designer Zoran, he designed an ultra-minimalist, almost monastic space: all that existed in the all-white loft was a lone showerhead. Designs and renovations to Keith Haring’s Pop Shop on Lafayette Street and Haring’s loft studio were other unique and exciting commissions, and as one way to compensate him, Haring covered Pennoyer’s car with his trademark graffiti.

Pennoyer Turino Architects, with partner James Turino followed in the late 1980s. Gregory Gilmartin (co-author with Robert A. M. Stern of New York 1900 and New York 1930 and author of Shaping the City: New York and the Municipal Art Society) and Thomas Nugent, both students with Pennoyer at Columbia, joined the team then, and their work reflected qualities, such as acute attention to detail and craftsmanship, that distinguish the firm today.  The celebrated renovation of the Mark Hotel in 1990 was their biggest project, and with its exquisite new classical interiors, the firm demonstrated its skill at maintaining the soul of an old building, while nevertheless subjecting it to a full-blown modernization.

Pennoyer founded Peter Pennoyer Architects in 1990 and since then, the thirty-five-member firm has become a powerhouse in the world of new classical architecture with significant institutional and residential commissions all over the county. Its institutional clients have included the Colony Club, the Metropolitan Opera Club, the Knickerbocker Club, the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society, and Historic Hudson Valley. Pennoyer’s first LEED-certified project was for The Hotchkiss School, where he rallied to preserve an historic Delano & Aldrich building on the campus, and then re-worked its interiors into the new Paul Nitze Center for Global Understanding and Independent Thinking.  In addition, the firm’s stylistic versatility and deep understanding of diverse contexts and vernaculars has resulted in magnificent residential projects in urban and country settings. His projects are especially known for their vaulted ceilings, perfectly executed staircases, ingenious floor plans, and unique ornamental details. Working in regions that range from Maine to New Mexico, Long Island to California, and Massachusetts to Virginia, all designs are specific to the client’s individual needs, are characterized by beautiful details, and all are appropriate to their contexts. Over the course of his career, Peter Pennoyer has built a myriad of friendships with many of the most preeminent interior decorators, landscape architects, artists, and craftspeople in the world. He is respected for his emphasis on collaboration, and his success in engaging the most ingenious and talented creative allies produces projects that stand out for exceptional design standards across-the-board.

Pennoyer’s desire to both continuously educate himself and also to teach others has established him as a respected public intellectual within his field, and in 1999 he became a lifetime member of the Society of Architectural Historians.  His curiosity and love of history led him to co-author three monographs on traditional architects of the Twentieth Century: The Architecture of Delano & Aldrich (2003), The Architecture of Warren & Wetmore (2006), and The Architecture of Grosvenor Atterbury (2009). Pennoyer has also written numerous articles in periodicals, including Architectural DigestPerspectives on ArchitecturePeriod Homes, and The New-York Journal of American History.

In addition to his scholarship, Pennoyer contributes to the architecture world through his public service and is involved with several leading cultural institutions and foundations.  He is the chairman of the board of The Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America, the revered national organization devoted to advancing the practice and appreciation of classical architecture, and is a member of the board of the Morgan Library & Museum, the world-famous collection of artistic, literary, and musical works originally assembled by his relative, Pierpont Morgan. Pennoyer is also a member of the board of the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, which supports the humanities and creative writing, serves on the Delano & Aldrich Fellowship Committee, and on the National Advisory Council of the Redwood Library & Athenaeum. He has served on the Landmark Preservation Commission Advisory Committee, the board of the Sir John Soane’s Museum Foundation, and the Preservation Committee of the Municipal Art Society.  In addition, he has been on the board of Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, and in 2007 was named an Ambassador to the Upper East Side by that organization. Last, Pennoyer was the president of the board of the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in New York City (1994-1998).

In October 2010, The Vendome Press published a monograph on the firm that features twenty of its projects from over the years. Praised for the staggering body of work it illustrates, the book is no doubt the first of many on the firm. Right now, Pennoyer is teaching a class at New York University, designing an exhibition on the Colonial Revival for the Museum of the City of New York, researching for a new book on the twentieth century firm Cross & Cross, and traveling extensively to lecture on traditional architecture in today’s world.  We are so pleased to present Peter Pennoyer as our latest Mover and Shaker!

Peachy Deegan interviewed Peter Pennoyer for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: How were you influenced by design and architecture as you were growing up? 
Peter Pennoyer: I saw architecture and design as representing optimism in the future of New York City, which, during my childhood was a graying place.

What architecturally important historical forces "shape" your philosophy? 
The most important historical force for me was the post Civil War period which has been called the Metropolitan Age, when great wealth and great talents combined forces to build American cities. An emblem of that age is Grand Central Terminal and the vast development of hotels, office buildings and apartments around it. This was an era when urban challenges were met with energy, vision and a sense of the civic potential of great esthetic achievement.

What is the difference between something aesthetically pleasing and its opposite? 
Much I see is in-between. The pleasing delights the eye and spirit; the opposite causes actual physical discomfort.

What projects are you the proudest of and why? 
I am very proud of Drumlin Hall, a house in Dutchess County. I believe that this house is a successful essay in classicism, appropriate to the site, the client and true to its own spirit. I am also proud of my renovations of a Grosvenor Atterbury designed house on the Upper East Side because I think Mr. Atterbury would be pleased by the results.

What projects have been the easiest? 
Keith Haring’s Pop Shop was the easiest project ever because he supplied all of the decoration for the walls, floor and ceiling with a paint brush and a few cans of black paint.

What project have been the most challenging? 
A gravely ill client asked me to design his mausoleum.

We love St. Bernard's because of the contributions there of Louis Tambini-did you know him? 
I did not know Mr. Tambini.

How did your years in prep school influence you and are you glad you attended? [We are pro-prep and Peachy not only graduated from Farmington as a four-year senior, but she also started serving on the Alumnae Board at age 27.] 
I started St. Paul’s too late (Fifth Form) and it never really took. But I made a great friend there, Louis Grant, who left when I graduated and went to Columbia as Associate Dean of Students where he assigned himself as my faculty advisor.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence? 
Robert A. M. Stern.

What are you proudest of and why? 
I am proudest of my collaborations with Anne Walker on books and with Gregory Gilmartin on architecture.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do? 
I would like to design a part of a town.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession? 
I am a National Peer in the Excellence in Architecture Program of the General Services Administration. Others are listed above.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? 
My parents’ apartment on Christmas Eve.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? 
The Old Print Shop on Lexington Avenue.

What is your favorite drink? 
The Peachy Deegan.
[Peachy: applause!]

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? 

What is your favorite Manhattan book? 
New York Mosaic by Isabel Bolton. This is a book of three novels: Do I Wake or Sleep, The Christmas Tree, and, Many Mansions.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why? 
A drink at Swifty’s. If Peachy can have one why can’t I?

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? 
The Classical Walking Tour – from Wall Street to Audubon Terrace.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else? 

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience? 
Recently, Mark Morris L ‘Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world? 
I teach, I contribute my time and money to various cultural groups and I support young people of talent.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here? 
Underrated: old hotel bars (are there any left?) Overrated: New Hotel bars.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it? 
Quotable Peachy is great. Very funny and unusual quotes.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you? 
I loathe bad grammar.
[Peachy: more applause!]

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?

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