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Architecture People Profiles

Alexander Gorlin: Architecture Is An Intimate Dance

Following the architect's process from sketches to sky lounges.

Alexander Gorlin

Left: Gorlin with Pharrell Williams at an event in the Hamptons.
Right: A sketch for a project in Miami Beach.

I visit the site because architecture is a site-specific performance art. It must respond, complement and interact with the site, whether it is a landscape in the countryside, an urban setting or the interior of an apartment. Simultaneously, I meet the client because the whole design process involves an intimate dance with the client, to listen to their desires, their needs and dreams, and—of course—their neuroses.

I begin with old school hand sketches and small models, then my team draws up the ideas digitally in plan and 3-D. The goal is to maintain the concept, the feeling, the spark of the creative idea from beginning to the completed project, not an easy task, but when it happens, it is phenomenally rewarding.

After four years of frightening political turmoil and a year of deadly pandemic, the trend away from flashy excess is welcomed and should be encouraged. Restraint, concern about the environment and commitment to all economic levels of society are urgent and necessary directions—not just trends, but historical paradigm shifts.

I look for quality and service. Top of the line in the A&D is Studium, where David Meitus presides over a gorgeously curated collection of tile, stone and other beautiful materials. Then of course, there’s Holly Hunt, B&B Italia, Poliform, Miele, Fantini and so many more.

Film has always inspired my work, since film is movement through space and how people interact with space and form through time—exactly like architecture! The surreal spaces in the work of Stanley Kubrick, the de Chirico-esque like spaces of Antonioni, light and shadow in Ingmar Bergman, and reflections in Tarkovsky have all provided inspiration for my architecture.

Louis Kahn for his use of materials and light, Le Corbusier for his sculptural form, and Carlo Scarpa for his details.

Alexander Gorlin

Left: Gorlin’s New York City apartment.
Right: A design for supportive public housing in Boston.

I like modern with a sense of humor. I don’t like anyone who takes themselves too seriously, so in my own personal space I like a clean, eclectic style with touches of personal interests and collections. Fortunately, I have been able to design three of my own spaces: a ground up modern town house in Seaside, Florida, where I had a spiral stairway to the sky atop the roof deck—a kind of “stairway to heaven.” In Miami Beach, my apartment is in a tower I designed that the developer named after myself, “The Gorlin,” with all kinds of quirky furniture design and art. Recently in New York, my apartment is a “lounge in the sky” with my collection of miniature buildings, robots, and an 18-foot canvas printed version of a 17th-century Dutch painting from the Rijksmuseum with 31 soldiers.

The range of our work is enormous, from Park Avenue apartments to homeless housing in the Bronx; renovation of the Admiral’s House in Governors Island; residential and office buildings in Elkhart, Indiana; towers in Jacksonville, Florida; and more houses in the Hamptons.

My favorite project is always my next! Other than that: a house in Nairobi, Kenya for a “ménage à trois”; a house on a granite cliff overlooking the Atlantic in Nova Scotia; and my homeless housing in the Bronx—because architecture must help better the lives of everyone.