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March 20, 2013
by Maxinne Rhea Leighton Assoc. AIA
Jill N. Lerner, FAIA, 2013 AIANY President, speaks during the Oculus Book Talk on 03.11.13 that featured Marvin Mass' "The Invisible Architect." (l-r) Alan Ritchie, AIA; Nancy Ruddy, Assoc. AIA; Hugh Hardy, FAIA; Marvin Mass, PE; Douglas Mass, PE; and Jill N. Lerner, FAIAJulie Trebault
(l-r) Douglas Mass, PE; Jill N. Lerner, FAIA; and Marvin Mass, PEJulie Trebault

The Invisible Architect
Marvin Mass, PE with Janet Adams Strong, Ph.D
Piloti Press for Cosentini Associates, a TetraTech Company, 2012

In 1989, when Marvin Mass, PE, received the Franklin Institute’s Frank P. Brown Medal that honors “innovation and leadership in meritorious improvement in the building and allied industries,” Mass stated: “A building has more than a skin and bones; it also has a heart, veins, and nerves. They must all function together.”

This concept is at the heart of The Invisible Architect, a book that gives an intimate look at the dance between architecture and engineering in some of our country’s most notable buildings.

From Mies, Weese, Kahn, and Stone, to Saarinen, Johnson, and Gehry, Mass was more than a consultant – he was a partner, seeing every project for its uniqueness and using his skill and creativity in tackling those distinct challenges and opportunities. While some of his solutions, as in the case of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, were visible; most were not. This hidden yet critical world behind the walls and under the floors provides a fascinating lens with which to look at New York’s Time Warner Center, AT&T Building, and TWA Terminal, and the United States Holocaust Museum, Washington, DC.

“I had my doubts about a major design element even before construction started,” Mass wrote when discussing Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. “The plans called for a huge window behind the stage, which I had never seen before… I doubted that external noise could be blocked, but a specially-engineered multilayer glass laminate made it possible.” This and other projects are illustrated in the slim volume with images and photographs.

The storytelling is a wonderful balance between the personal and the professional. The Invisible Architect is a good read, with a wealth of rich and timeless insights that remind us that when the entire design team is fully engaged at the outset of a project, building systems can become as integral to the process as architectural vision and intent.

Maxinne Rhea Leighton, Assoc. AIA, is a member of the AIANY Oculus Committee and in charge of NE Region Business Development/Marketing at Parsons Brinckerhoff.

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