I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really fantastic architects and contractors so far in my career. When I shadowed a civil engineer that day in high school, I had no idea I’d eventually end up falling so in love with building things! Carefully planned capital projects are a cornerstone of good institutional health. Combined with my strategic planning and leadership skills, each project I’ve worked on has given me a new insight into what it takes to create a beautiful and functional space that strengthens institutions instead of weighing them down.
The Morbid Anatomy Museum Store under construction (photo by Robert Kirkbride)
The first time I realized that I could build a wall, I was really shocked. Later, when I was running the Coney Island Museum, it was really a one-man show for a while, which meant that I was learning everything I could about code compliance and professional construction methods. Up on the ladder, I did everything I could legally accomplish by myself. Eventually, we were able to hire professionals, but that experience helped me understand construction trades in a visceral way, which has helped my PM skills immensely.
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The Morbid Anatomy Museum, Gowanus
(Illustration by Chris Muller Design)
In 2013, I’d been working with visionary makers via groups like Proteus Gowanus, Observatory, NYC Resistor, and Atlas Obscura for many years. When Proteus closed, right in the middle of a growing enthusiasm for adult learning, it became clear that Brooklyn was lacking a dynamic and exciting institution in which to explore the curious and the odd.
With New York’s venerable history of dime museums in mind, Tracy Hurley Martin, Joanna Ebenstein, Colin Dickey, Tonya Hurley and I decided to found a new museum. We wanted to reveal objects that had never been been seen in public and explore the culturally forgotten, the misplaced, and the curiously configured for an intellectually interested public.
The Morbid Anatomy Cafe and Store
Between summer 2013 and summer 2014, I worked with them to organize a nonprofit corporation, raise funds, develop a board, find a space, hire an architect, and build a new institution with a library, exhibition space, bookstore and lecture hall. The pace was unbelievable and the work was incredibly rewarding. It was one of the few projects I’ve worked on that required almost all of my skills.
A former nightclub. Who needs windows? – The Morbid Anatomy Museum
Stenciling on the lift – The Morbid Anatomy Museum
While planning the structure of the board and staff and solidifying the programmatic and collection management roadmap were essential tasks, in terms of physical space, the MAM project was daunting. Finding a space was one of the most difficult parts. It took a while and there were a lot of false starts. But once we’d identified our dream building (a former nightclub in Gowanus), we were finally off and running. I designed an RFP for architects, we interviewed candidates, and quickly found a clear winner.
What would have happened if Robert Kirkbride and Tony Cohn hadn’t responded to our call? It’s hard to imagine an architect better suited to this project than Robert. We were proposing something that matched his passions precisely. And he took the ball and ran with it, producing really amazing results.
The Morbid Anatomy Cafe and Store
he Morbid Anatomy Museum – CAD work
Robert and I interviewed the contractors, and I oversaw the work on the build-out. I did the sourcing of furniture, fixtures, and equipment (FF&E) and vendor communications, negotiated with the glazers and the steel fabricator, and kept the project roadmap on schedule.
Finally, when it came to pour the champagne, I got to sit back and watch!
The Morbid Anatomy Museum
The Morbid Anatomy Museum – Millwork (Design by Robert Kirkbride and Anthony Cohn)
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The Freak Bar, Coney Island
When Coney Island purchased the building they’d been renting for 10 years, they shared the building with an Army recruiting station and a reader|advisor. With those tenants gone, they were finally able to create an important hub for programming, uniting their various spaces within the building. The capital construction portion of the project was undertaken with the assistance of Denham Wolf Real Estate Services, Arts Action Research, Fink and Platt architects, and Philip Tusa, architect.
Later, in coordination with the NYC department of Design and Construction and the Department of Cultural Affairs, Coney Island USA installed an HVAC system in a 1917 building that had never had it. This necessitated a long funding process and design work through the DDC which, as you might imagine, requires a lot of patience.
The historic Child’s Restaurant building (Rendering by Fink and Platt, Architects)
I believe strongly in using architecture as a strategic asset for programmatic development and organizational strength. Planning for this project required an architectural master plan that included circulation studies, programmatic accounting and a lengthy process of board interviews and input. Following that work, I oversaw the RFP for architects and contractors, worked with the various consultants to align the construction plan to the programming season, and managed the project roadmap. When it came time to do the construction, I managed the contractors, the daily standups, and the FF&E purchase and vendor information.
The Freak Bar, Coney Island (photo by Paul Warchol)
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Other Planning and Capital Projects
The Coney Island Museum as I found it
The Coney Island Museum as I left it
Assembly documentation – Mark 0 Handwriting Robot, Bond
I’ve done a number of other, smaller projects involving construction management, 3D modeling, and interior spaces. These have included
- Designing and building, over the course of several years, the exhibition space at the Coney Island Museum.
- Evaluating the design needs for an IoT prototyping lab for Newell XO and creating a design schema.
- Designing floorpans for a mailing fulfillment center for Bond for their new space in Sunset Park.
- Creating a large set of assembly drawings for the robotics hardware team at Bond.
- Designing and building a curatorial | collection storage area for the Coney Island Museum.
- Assisting in design and evaluation of the archival space at Robert Wilson’s Water Mill Center.
Wayfinding at Newell XO