Glenn Rescalvo is the principal in charge of Handel Architects's San Francisco office.

From the day Handel Architects LLP was born in 1994, the firm had a unique approach: work with developers, not against them, and understand their side of the business. That strategy paid off, and today the 90-person firm, which focuses on mixed-use residential projects, has designed more than 20 million square feet of space. Glenn Rescalvo, the principal in charge of the firm’s San Francisco office, talks to gb&d about his youth, Handel’s major projects, and his own journey with the company.

My passion for architecture comes from my father, who was an architect. He had a home office, so I would help him draft and build models. Architecture became part of my life. During the summers I was a carpenter, so I became familiar with the basics of building, such as pouring foundations and framing. The work was small in scale, of course, but it taught me many things I needed to know to dive into architecture.

We founded Handel Architects with a developer orientation. Principal Gary Handel and I were working together at Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, and a developer gave us an incentive to start doing mixed-use, high-rise projects on our own. We sensed immediately that if we could have an understanding of what developers need, we’d have a better chance of getting steady work. We don’t put design aside—we’ve always considered architecture our pride and joy—but we also try to be a good partner. Today, developers come to us because they’ve heard we’ll actually work with them, not against them.

My first job out of school was a great journey. After finishing my degrees at the University of California–Berkeley and Cornell University, I went to work for Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates in New York, which was a highly respected firm. It took me all over the world and was a very exciting period in my life.

The Nove in San Francisco is LEED Platinum certified and features nine residential units. The development is a testament to innovative design for the sustainable lifestyle. Photo: Bruce Damonte.

Up Close and Personal


What was your first job?
I was a carpenter.

If you weren’t an architect, what would you be?
I’d be a veterinarian.

What inspires you?
A lot of it has to do with objects. If I weren’t an architect, I may have gone into industrial design. When I look at things, I don’t look at them as what they are but the form they take on—the quality of the object, the lines. When I’m drawing things, they sometimes take on elements of the objects I’ve seen.

Describe yourself in three words.
Outgoing, creative, and ambitious.

What is your hidden talent?
Winemaking. I have a boutique operation producing 50 cases of well-crafted wine a year. It’s one of my little pleasures in life.

We did our first LEED project 10 years ago, at Battery Park City in New York. At that point we began introducing sustainability into all of our projects. We’re trying to be sustainable through architecture as well as technology. In the 1950s and 1960s, there were many design innovations that were naturally sustainable, such as overhangs and cross ventilation. That all disappeared in the 1970s with the advent of mechanical ways of heating and cooling houses. I think that was a great loss. We’re now trying to implement sustainability through our architecture in the design of details. We might create exterior walls that actually add shade and help prevent heat gains.

One of my favorite projects is Nove on Guerrero Street in San Francisco’s Mission District. It’s a nine-unit LEED Platinum building populated by people who are devoted to sustainable architecture. You get a sense when you visit that the people living there are so happy they’re giving back to society. The execution of this project makes a strong statement that people appreciate good design, not just from an aesthetic standpoint but from a functional and economical standpoint. The building is teaching people how to live, and the residents get it.

I’m energized by one of our newer buildings, 10th and Market, which is about to break ground in San Francisco, because it reflects the up-and-coming energy of the neighborhood, Mid Market. Twitter has moved into the neighborhood, and all the developments going up are geared toward the Generation Y demographic. It’s going to be a high-end building with a hip feel.

My energy comes through my hands. I sketch, which
is a lost skill among younger architects. Mind-to-hand creates a fluid train of thought, and at times [the young architects] can’t express themselves in that way because they rely on everything to be computerized.