Concrete Thinking Think Concrete
Thinkers > Dan Kaplan  
Dan KaplanWith a childhood surrounded by t-squares and creativity, it’s no surprise that Dan Kaplan, AIA senior principal at FXFOWLE ARCHITECTS, took to architecture like a moth to a flame. 

Kaplan’s mother trained in Industrial Design at The Art Institute of Chicago and spent a summer with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West.  Kaplan credits her with opening his eyes to the beauty and utility of creative pursuits. She also encouraged him to pursue his vision, first at Cornell University and later in Europe. There, Kaplan observed structural ingenuity in urban spaces, leading the way for him to establish himself as one of the foremost champions for the sustainable development movement.

Kaplan focuses almost exclusively on urban projects.  His work continually demonstrates that sustainable building projects can be massive in scope and still reap environmental benefits. 

“I am continually intrigued and inspired by the thrill of urban life.  There is an energy that comes from the vibrant concentration of people, activities, and buildings in cities.  High-rises are an expression of that,”
says Kaplan.

Among the “green” high-rise buildings to his credit are:

  • The Conde Nast Building at Four Times Square, New York’s first “green” office tower;
  • The recently completed Helena, a mixed-use development on Manhattan’s West side; and
  • The Mosaic, another mixed-use development that will reclaim a former industrial area for a 677,000 square feet complex combining residential, retail and cultural space.

Kaplan continues to make his mark with designs that “reduce horizontal entropy” by providing individuals with appealing and convenient spaces to live, work and be entertained.  He and his partners cherish their work in dense urban areas because they believe that city living limits the environmental toll of commuting to work and transportation for other activities. 

The Conde Nast Building is a tremendous example of urban living benefiting the environment.  The structure is built above Midtown Manhattan’s transportation hub, Times Square, making it accessible to 11 train lines; 85 percent of the people that work in the building use public transportation to get to work.  If the same building were located outside of the city in the suburbs, it might use the same amount of energy, but when factoring in the energy impact of transportation to and from the building, in the absence of adequate public transportation, the Conde Nast Building leaves a much smaller footprint on the environment. 

Sustainable Design Made Possible with Concrete

Currently under construction on Manhattan’s far West Side, The Mosaic demonstrates Kaplan’s commitment to both urban spaces and sustainable development. 

To reclaim one of the few underdeveloped swaths in Manhattan, the complex will incorporate a concrete structural system to bridge over old infrastructure including railroad tracks and industrial space. Kaplan believes that this “could not have been accomplished with any other material but concrete,” and that The Mosaic will be an example of how “sustainable development can regenerate our neighborhoods to bring people together.”  

Scheduled for completion in 2007, the development will incorporate theater, retail, housing, and parkland.  The complex will utilize the strength of concrete to “repair the urban fabric” and provide New Yorkers with a more attractive choice of density and cultural facilities to the sprawling suburbs. 

Influences on Kaplan’s Work

During Kaplan’s journey to become one of the leaders in urban green building, he was strongly influenced by his experiences as a student at Cornell University.  He drew from the environmental awareness on campus and relished the academic challenges of its urban architectural program. 

Some of his strongest influences also came from abroad.  Kaplan studied under European professors at Cornell and leveraged those connections into work opportunities in Europe.  European models of density and efficient usage of space had a particular influence on his development.  It was in Stockholm, Sweden, where he first was exposed to the sustainable benefits and convenience of mixed-used developments that would eventually become one of his specialties.  “I never had the traditional work experience with residential or suburban architectural practices,” Kaplan says.    

Kaplan continued to pursue his passion for urban design during his professional career.  He swiftly moved through the ranks at FXFOWLE ARCHITECTS in New York City, starting at the firm as an intern and becoming a principal in 1996 and senior principal in 2003.  He rose to national prominence by combining innovative sustainable development principles with clever urban design. 

FXFOWLE won the 2001 National Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects for The Conde Nast Building at Four Times Square.  The honor demonstrated that a sustainable design could fit seamlessly into a fast-paced urban environment. “As architects, we need to create compelling models of density, and dense development that creates a more environmentally sustainable model as opposed to horizontal sprawls,” says Kaplan.

Kaplan is optimistic that the sustainable development movement will continue to gain momentum, noting that more public sensitivity about global warming will likely drive green construction. 

However, he feels those in the sustainable development community need to promote environmentally friendly construction.  To continue to popularize the sustainable development movement Kaplan states, “Architects need to develop buildings that look sustainable, that advertise architecture and communities achieve sustainability, and that have lower energy costs.”

Thinking Big

The sustainable development movement continues to revolutionize the building and design communities by recognizing the importance of conserving vital natural resources. 

While this philosophy has become popular over the past decade, Kaplan acknowledges that developers may have the perception that the decision to adhere to sustainable design principles is not always aligned with business objectives.  Through his work on large scale projects, Kaplan aims to show that in the end, everyone benefits from sustainable design.

Kaplan advises aspiring Concrete Thinkers to “keep your eyes open – the world is getting smaller, understand the outside influences.” 

As an individual who carefully integrates influences from surrounding areas into his designs, he encourages architects to broaden their focus when designing a building.

“I often like to paraphrase Eliel Saarinen who directed architects to always consider the next bigger scale.  When you design a chair – look at the room, when you design a room – look at the building, when you design a building – look at the city, when you design a city – consider the planet...”

By integrating green building into the architectural fabric of New York City, Dan Kaplan takes a look at its impact on the world, and helps to make sustainable design part of the bigger scale.

FXFOWLE Architects