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Castles in the Air

Rachel Bachrach

A skyscraper and your dream house all start with the right design

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

gabriel

Gabriel Einhorn is the lead architectural designer for AB Design in Rockland County, New York. He’s been working in the field for almost 20 years. 


What I do… 

I design. Anything from yeshivos and shuls to retail development, office complexes, and shopping malls. Not to mention schools, commercial spaces, industrial facilities, residential developments, and single high-end homes. 

What that means… 

Great architectural design starts with the ability to be a really good investigator and interpreter. You need to be able to read a client’s thoughts, understand their expectations, and interpret their needs. You need to know what technicalities to bear in mind — property size, legal allowances, the number of family members, and, of course, the budget. There are a lot of options: luxurious versus basic, the balabusta’s needs versus the designer’s demands, a large expansive house versus a cozier smaller home, modern versus traditional, contemporary versus eclectic, a complex floor plan versus a simple one, wide-open spaces versus closed-off rooms… the possibilities are endless. What I do is combine functional needs, beauty, and practicality to make my client’s dream-come-true home or project. 

The best part of the job is… 

davening in a shul I designed. But I have to admit, it can make it hard to keep my eyes in the siddur. 

The toughest part of the job is… 

when a husband and wife have totally different design ideas: one wants modern, the other likes traditional, or they have a different concept of the needs and functions of their house, and I need to bridge the gap. I’ve got to admit, I’m not the best at marriage counseling. That’s really the hardest part of the job — the customer service aspect. I remember we once designed an office complex here. New York State building code requires three exits, but the client insisted that two were more than sufficient and a third exit would be a waste of rentable space. I explained that it’s necessary for fire safety, and his response was, “That’s pure nonsense, I never had a fire and I never will.” How do you reason with that? The next week he had a small fire in his building. We kept the third exit. 

The season I never sleep is… 

now. When spring is in the air and the flowers start popping out, out come the developers from their winter slumber. Every job becomes an emergency, especially the summer campuses that need to be completed before the kids show up. 

In the right mindset… 

We recently did a yeshivah. Now, if you design for teenagers, you’ve got to think like a teenager, so it had to be fully teenage-proof: no drop-ceiling to hide stuff, no thermostats at their control, no sheetrock walls — we don’t want holes! — and all the doors have locks with panic bars. 

I know it will be a rough day when… 

I walk through the door into my office and there are three contractors waiting for me. If it’s a particularly rough day, sometimes I’ll take a quick break: I’ll stretch and lean back, close my eyes, and let the imagination of the impossible begin: a twisted skyscraper standing tall on a single column in the middle of a floating island. A few minutes of that always makes me feel refreshed. 

Equipment I always have… 

A camera. I take lots of snapshots. Whenever I see a nice piece of architecture, a funky design, or a unique detail, I’ll grab my camera. Whether I’m in the middle of New York City or on a stopover in Amsterdam, my eyes always wander to the skyline art. 

Work in progress… 

When we started AB Design close to 20 years ago, the exteriors of residential homes were mostly siding. Over the years, we’ve successfully introduced other materials, like stone, brick, stucco, and cedar shake siding — they create eye-pleasing homes and developments. 

As a kid I always wanted to be an… 

artist. And I am; architecture is a form of art. It takes sketches and turns them into beautiful buildings. 

Person I’d like to switch places with… 

Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita. We design structures that, while they outlive us, are destructible, while Rav Chaim’s designs, and the foundations he builds, will live on forever. 

I’m in a good mood when… 

the pencil is in my control and I’m free to design the way I see it best. I’m not sure why people hire architects and then tell them what to do. 

Three people I’d like to be stuck in the elevator with… 

In larger buildings, we always design two elevators, so if one goes out of service the second is available. But if both elevators were to get stuck, I’d want to be with the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright; Donald Trump — the developer, not the president candidate; and the developer of the Dubai skyline. 

Best advice I ever got… 

From my mother: “When you’re crossing the streets in Manhattan, stop staring up at the buildings and look where you’re walking.”

MEMORABLE PROJECTS

Famous: Rockland Kosher, the largest kosher supermarket in the world with over 60,000 square feet of kosher products. Also, The Shoppers Haven Mall — the largest two-story mall in Ramapo, and probably the largest in a North American Jewish community. 

Unusual request: “I’d like to transform my one-story warehouse into a two-story building, and it should be economical.” Our design team came up with an innovative solution: lift the 100,000-square-foot roof 13 feet in the air and insert an entire floor in between. That office complex is now known as the Robert Pitt Professional Plaza. 

Historical: The Toshnad Shul in Monsey. The rabbi showed us pictures of the original shul in Romania, which was burned down by the Nazis. He requested that the design of the new shul look as close as possible to the original. At the grand opening, there were tears of joy on the faces of the members of the older generation, because it allowed them to reflect on the original shul in all its glory. 

Recent: The new Monroe Mikveh with more than 50 rooms and six pools. We also did the new Vizhnitz-Monsey Mikveh — it has the benches and space for 400 seats, and is, to my knowledge, the largest in the world. We worked with Rabbi Chaim Kalman Klein of Monroe and Rabbi Itche Trieger of Brooklyn, both well-known mikveh specialists. 

Personal favorite: Aim B’Yisroel Mother and Baby Resort building in New Square. I still remember when the contractor looked me in the eye and said, “Gabriel, I don’t want to see a single straight line in this structure.” The building is all curved walls, and each floor looks like a separate ribbon blowing in the morning breeze. By using specific colors, materials, lighting, and chutzpah, we designed a building that’s not only aesthetically beautiful but unique and out-of-the-box.

MEMORABLE FEEDBACK

The walls of our office are splashed with numerous plaques and awards we received, ranging from both Grand Rabbis of Satmar to the CEO of Refuah Health Center to the mayor of Kaser Village. The most memorable feedback I ever got was when I was 14. I was at a family simchah, sketching a building design on a napkin. A contractor at another table noticed it, and he came over and said, “I want you as the designer for my next building.” He did use my sketch idea for his project, but I didn’t work with him directly on it because I was too young.

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