Director of Space Planning at BIG (GSAPP, MSAAD ’99)
Florencia Kratsman, ASID, LEED AP, is currently the Director of Space Planning at Bjarke Ingels Groups (BIG). Prior to BIG, she also worked at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), STUDIOS Architecture and for Maya Lin. She was also the sole proprietor of her own firm for five years.
Ms. Kratsman graduated from Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) in 1999. Prior to attending GSAPP, she studied at Pratt Institute and the Universidad de Puerto Rico.
Could you speak about your career trajectory? How did you go from being a graduate of GSAPP to the Director of Space Planning at BIG?
I am originally from Argentina, and my parents moved to Puerto Rico when I was 17. I first attended Pratt Institute as an undergrad: once I finished my studies, I remember wanting to work for Steven Holl. One of my professors worked for him and was eventually able to introduce me to someone from Steven Holl’s firm. Although they weren’t hiring, my resume was then forwarded to Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, and then to Maya Lin.
I was eventually fortunate enough to work for Maya Lin as her assistant for two years. This was my first job and an interesting experience. I hadn’t worked during my summers in school, so I did everything from administrative tasks to architecture. My work included interior projects for the New York Times and apartments for Peter Norton. I also did a lot of landscape and artwork as well. We worked at a small scale, studying our tactile experience of architecture. Even now at my current job, when I work on large-scale projects, I still start of by think what the experience of the person is, on a small scale. I worked here for two years, and I went to Columbia afterwards.
I attended when Bernard Tschumi was Dean, and studied under people like Michael Speaks who taught theory, Manuel Delanda and Jeffrey Kipnis between others. It was an interesting time to be there, and it opened my mind to what architecture could be. The schools I attended before were much more practical. Columbia, on the other hand, pushed the boundaries of what “Architecture” could be. I enjoyed my time there so much that I thought I would be an academic. I finished my studies in 1991, after which I started looking for jobs.
When I started interviewing, many tech companies were starting up in New York. Many of these companies were purchasing properties, since they had the money to do so. As a result, I ended up opening my own office, with two years of work experience. I am the type of person who learns from throwing myself into my work. Just like when I was working for Maya, I again did everything in the office, from architecture to housekeeping.
After having my own office for five years, I started looking for openings in other architecture firms. I eventually began to work for STUDIOS Architecture. At the time, they specialized in corporate work and design. Most of my work before that was residential, and I did a little bit of work for Deutsche Bank. The change in scale was interesting; the work I did in STUDIOS impacted the lives of many more people. Although STUDIOS was a corporate office, it was not hierarchical. For example, they were not afraid to have juniors interact directly with clients. I worked there for five years, until 2009.
Afterwards, I worked for TPG for 2 years, and then for SOM. These offices had different cultures than STUDIOS. Being in SOM ultimately shaped me. Before SOM I spent seven years doing different large scale corporate interior layouts. These were not “dream jobs:” it was a lot of drafting, but I ultimately became an expert in “space planning,” which is what I do now.
When I joined SOM, they asked me if I wanted to do architecture or interiors. Although I had always done interiors, SOM realized that they could use my knowledge to shape buildings from the inside-out. So, I started spending half of my time working for interiors, and the other half working for architecture. Unlike STUDIOS, SOM was a hierarchical office, divided into studios under different partners. I was working for multiple partners, which was an interesting and informative experience. I could work on multiple typologies at the same time, using this “inside-out” experience.
About five years later, Doug Alligood, a coworker from SOM that had joined BIG, reached out to see if I would be interested in joining their practice. At the time BIG had two Google Campuses in California and Two World Trade Center, which for me were dream, once-in-a-lifetime projects.
Coming to BIG was very nice; the vibe was positive and the people were open. I was hired as a senior project manager, and I became the Director of Space Planning after a year and a half. This was particularly exciting; this role did not exist before. Globally, I am also the only person who is doing this job. As a result, I get to work with many offices simultaneously. Currently, I do not have a department. Instead, I assist a team whenever I am needed and act as a “center of knowledge.”
COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on the economy in general, including architecture. Having lived through previous recessions, what are your suggestions for students and recent graduates who have been impacted by the virus?
It is good to be thankful and open-minded to work that you might receive. Have a good attitude and say yes to everything, and it will lead to something good. People always remember those who they enjoyed working with.
How do you think this virus will shape the future of this industry, in the short, medium or the long term?
I personally think the virus will have a long-lasting effect. Not in terms of the economy, but on how we think about our relationship to work, life and the city. We have discovered we can work from home, and we can potentially be at the beach instead of the office. We are going to be doing things differently, which can also be positive. Companies will have to rethink and adjust to this new reality, which can be exciting.