Anthony Fieldman amassed 20 years and 35 awards at SOM and Perkins+Will before founding RAF|T in 2013. Most recently, RAF|T was honored with a 2014 eVolo Skyscraper Award for the Blossom Tower in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We spoke to Fieldman about how being an architect, technologist, and world traveler affects his newly launched practice.
gb&d: You’ve worked in leadership roles at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Perkins+Will for a long time. Why establish your own office now?
Anthony Fieldman: I have more than 20 years of experience traveling extensively to work in other countries, and I have a deep interest in other cultures. They’re rich fodder to create unique architecture. I wanted to bring value to clients by understanding how their culture is different from other cultures and then using those differences to define their projects. I cofounded RAF|T Architects [with Majed Harasani] in New York in May 2013. We built our office to over 12 people within the first year, and we even outgrew our space.
gb&d: RAF|T is currently working on many projects in the Middle East. Are you going to continue to target this regional market?
Fieldman: We are a New York practice with deep connections in the city. We’re heavily involved in the local design community, its intellectual and professional issues. I feel that the world’s most intelligent design talent works here—our feet are firmly rooted here. Many of our projects are starting to take off here. We see ourselves growing here, primarily.
gb&d: You’ve said that “sustainability starts with human sustainability.” How have you organized RAF|T so that this idea underpins the firm’s work?
Fieldman: One of the reasons I left the big firms was directly linked to my desire to really understand how architecture is comprehensive in value. I wanted to explore the value proposition, business, design, and implementation phases. That being said, we wholly resist siloing in our office. Everybody has inherent strengths, so investing in those strengths and providing further education is to everybody’s benefit. We’re a comprehensive, full-service firm that does everything from planning to construction, and it helps us make truly sustainable designs because we can focus on human wellbeing.
gb&d: When you’re developing a project, how do you balance sustainability, which is often driven by metrics, with something so fluid as human wellbeing?
Fieldman: We always design with an open mind. RAF|T’s work doesn’t have a signature. We don’t tally LEED points, and we prefer it that way. So, for us, the value proposition is the process of working with our clients, getting to know their specific needs, and designing for those needs. We actively resist preconceptions of what projects are supposed to look like. The performative goals are just a framework for the materials.
gb&d: Is human wellbeing defined differently in the Middle East, where you’re currently doing a great deal of work?
Fieldman: The opportunities in the Middle East are unique because their appetite for risk-taking is robust. The hot desert climate also demands attention if you’re designing responsibly. There, we’re really learning about indigenous technologies and realigning and adapting them to the modern world.
gb&d: Tell us about your Kuwait K–12 Teaching School, one of the new firm’s first projects.
Fieldman: The project started with a simple idea. I wanted to teach kids, who have grown up in an area that used be the Fertile Crescent but is now almost exclusively a desert, how to grow flowers. We’ve designed the school to have over 350,000 square feet of roof gardens. They’ll be supported by advanced environmental technologies that work in this climate—like nano-clays, TSE-fed irrigation, and shelterbelts—but they’ll also have goats and bees that help with the ecosystem, which the kids will be familiar with. It’s a very innovative, place-specific project.
gb&d: After you complete the school, what’s next?
Fieldman: We’re working on a one million-square-foot, net-zero campus. It’s completely off the grid, which is unheard of, and we’re really proud and excited to work on it. That’s what we want to do with our work: we look to lead by example. We’re always going to look to create compelling architecture that enhances our clients’ value propositions. But beyond that, we’re creating sustainable architecture by focusing on a dialogue of human health and delight.