21 Questions with Architect Deborah Burke

Photo Illustration: Curb; Photo: Winnie O

New York“21 Questions” is back with a focus on creative New Yorkers. Deborah Burke is the founder of Deborah Burke Partnersthe architecture firm behind 40 East End StreetThe 21C Museum . HotelsThe Yale School of the Artsand interior decorations in 432 Park Avenue. She has been Dean of the Yale School of Architecture since 2016 and is the first woman to hold this position.

Noun: Deborah Burke
age: 68
Neighborhood: Yorkville
Job: architecture

What’s hanging over your sofa?

There are windows above my sofa, and I live on a ground floor with two floors, so people and dogs walk past it.

What was your first job in New York?

In the past, the National Endowment for the Arts had a program called Artists and Schools. It would pay young architects, designers, and artists of all kinds — poets, dancers, choreographers — to go to public schools and teach. After architecture school, I taught Architectural Principles to young children in Flatlands, Brooklyn.

What color have you always been attracted to?

I love the aquamarine blue imaginable. I have a thing about water, not so much the color of the water as the color of the light on the surface of the water. In the most discerning of sunsets, the color on the horizon is actually not pink or blue – it’s a pale aquamarine with a mysterious, beautiful hint of green.

What art or artifact surprised you the most?

When I was a very young child, we lived in a house in Flushing, Queens, that was built by a man who was a plaster craftsman who made the decorative motifs you might see in the Plaza Hotel – garlands, corlecos, 3D musical instruments all made of plaster and placed on the walls. The basement of the house was filled with boxes of ornamental plaster. I kept some pieces when we went out. I had a wreath two inches wide and 16 inches long and very fragile. If you know my architecture, there is nothing ornate in it at all, which is why this is so unusual for me.

Which New Yorker would you like to hang out with?

Laurie Anderson – She’s absolutely gorgeous, inspiring, and endlessly creative. I want to know how she lives her life.

What is the last thing you made with your own hands?

My mother passed away last year at the age of 99 and has lived in the same house for 60 years. saved everything. I found an architectural model I made at school in the attic. It is an eccentric dome made of wood. It was broken, so I glued it together again. Now, we’re 3D printing the components and putting them together, and I’m not really into that anymore. Model repair was so much fun I told my husband I needed a studio not for architecture but just for making things.

Is there one thing you own multiple copies of?

I own a lot of glassware. I inherited some from my mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother. I buy yard glassware – delicate Finnish stuff and colorful Italian pieces. I can throw a party and everyone will have a different cup.

What is the New York City Museum you always come back to?

I come back again and again to the Museum of the City of New York. It’s always, in a way, about New York, but you’re constantly learning something, whether it’s about pre-colonial Manhatta, jazz, hip-hop, or dollhouses. It’s a very focused look at very broad things.

What do you always have next to your computer?

Three things: coffee, a piece of cloth, and a pencil. I find written responses to emails very unsatisfactory. The only satisfying thing about an email is to delete it. So I always write notes for myself or sketch an idea. I need a pencil in one hand to balance the screen.

What is the best view of the city?

There is a certain flight pattern when you’re usually coming from somewhere in the rest of the United States descending down the Hudson River and you’re flying parallel to the roads. If you’re sitting on the east side of the plane, take a look at the streets of Crosstown. Love this view of New York. I have endless pictures in my phone, just staring out the window like this.

What building or object do you want to redesign every time you see it?

Do I have only one answer?! There are a lot of abandoned power plants around New York. Some of them, unfortunately, were demolished. But there is one on the south side of 31st Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. Maybe it had something to do with Ben’s station. I don’t want to redesign it. I just want to come up with something fun, quirky, and fun for people to do before they get on the train or after they get off the train. It would be a shame not to do something cool in that building.

What is one thing you would change in your field of work?

Anyone who wants to be an architect must be able to become an engineer. I think there are many obstacles on this path. One of them is the cost of an architectural education and what it takes to get into the field. So what I would change in my field is to make it more accessible. There will be a much more diverse group of people who practice architecture and think about architecture and the built environment. If people had a greater ability to understand the formation and formation of the built environment, they would not feel powerless or have no voice. They can be makers and creators, or they can be eloquent critics and participants.

If you could live anywhere in New York City, where would it be?

At the 79th Street Boat Dock, I was going to design a boat.

What will you save if it stops production?

Blacking pens, for sure. The eraser is a rectangle even though the pencil is round. The exterior has a glossy black finish and the lead is the perfect smoothness.

What do you do to get out of a creative rut?

Walk by the water.

Where was your first apartment in New York City, and how much was the rent?

I grew up in New York, but my first apartment on my own was on Spring Street between Mott and Mulberry, in what was then Little Italy. It was a small three-story brick house built in the 1820s. I rented the top floor, which was literally inside the rooftop. It was awesome. It had wooden beams, small dormer windows, and a roof in the back. I paid $300. It was owned by an older woman who was an artist. The building was demolished some time ago.

In which city do you go to be alone?

Well, if I lived on a boat at the 79th Street Boat Dock and wanted to be alone, I would sail the river and I would be Is that true lonliness. Since my boat isn’t at the boat dock yet, I walk along the East River. I’m not alone, but if I look at the water, I can be alone in my thoughts.

What’s the worst advice you got in your career?

“Wear a skirt.” It was from an elderly relative who said, “You always have to look good when you go to work.” It was offered as professional advice, but it was biased on gender and assumption.

What have you given someone that you wish you could get back?

I gave my father’s little golden pill box to a not-so-good man who was my friend at the time. It’s not like I need a box of pills, but it would be nice to have a little something my dad had that I could hold on to for physical contact.

What’s your favorite New York City restaurant and regular ordering?

There is an Italian place in the neighborhood not far from my apartment called Nica Trattoria. It will probably have six tables inside and maybe four outside since COVID. It is small, and the man who owns it has a large personality. It’s a classic New York experience. Every time I go there I get cauliflower as a starter.

What descriptive phrase would you like in your obituary title?


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