Spotlight: Adede Amenyah

A budding architectural designer finds the chance to work on two New York City icons.

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Photo courtesy Adede Amenyah

Since joining SOM’s New York office just over two years ago, Adede Amenyah has worked on the design and renovation of two of the city’s most iconic and storied buildings — the historic Farley Post Office (soon to open as Moynihan Train Hall) and the reimagined Waldorf Astoria. That’s just the beginning of her ongoing architectural education. In the next profile in our Spotlight series, Adede tells us why every day on the job offers a new chance to learn.

In my last year of architecture school, I took a studio course called “Super-Tall” led by Nicole Dosso, who at the time was a director at SOM. Most of my studies up until then were very conceptual and abstract — Nicole’s studio was very much grounded in the real world. She brought in consultants who talked us through everything you need to consider when designing super-tall buildings, from facades and structural engineering to wind performance studies. It was the first opportunity I had to do technical design work, to understand the entire process of how you go from an initial concept to a physical structure.

Nicole later encouraged me to apply for the inaugural Year One program at SOM. It turned out to be a perfect fit for me. At my interview, I not only presented some of the conceptual work in my portfolio, but also brought in the first construction drawing set I had created. My interviewers really appreciated that — being able to highlight my technical abilities was a big plus.

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Adede presents her work for the Year One Research Initiative in 2018. Photo: Lucas Blair Simpson © SOM.

Right when I started at SOM, I was assigned to the team for one of the most complex projects in the office at the time: the renovation and adaptive reuse of the historic Farley Post Office [on track to open as the new Moynihan Train Hall, part of the expanded Penn Station complex, by the end of this year]. I remember going out to the site during my first week for what seemed at the time to be a grueling field survey. It turned out to be an incredible learning experience. Right away, I was given a lot of responsibility. I ended up getting to actually design some of the back-of-house spaces, and I got to present my work and interact directly with the client.

Sectional view of the future Moynihan Train Hall. Image © Empire State Development, courtesy SOM | Methanoia

What’s so exciting about working on projects like Moynihan Train Hall and Penn Station is that these are spaces that will serve everyone. You’re getting to influence how people are going to experience the city, how they use transit in a world-class city like New York. These are historic projects, the kind that might come once in a lifetime — they’re not typical projects you do every day.

The next project I worked on was even more challenging, and just as iconic — the renovation and adaptive reuse of the Waldorf Astoria. The landmark building is being beautifully restored and converted into a new hotel and residences, with amazing new amenities.

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The Waldorf Astoria, a New York City icon reimagined. Image © Noe Associates | Boundary

I had the opportunity to work on various portions of the Waldorf — I’ve been able to touch nearly every part of the building. I started working on the exterior, documenting the new porte-cochères, then joined a team working on the hotel portion, and finally had the chance to work on residential amenities. Everywhere it involved very high-end, fine detailing work. It wasn’t simple — no two spaces in the building are alike, and every single one had to be configured individually. Doing this work within the context of a historic building posed an additional challenge. The original building is extremely complex — every time you look under the surface, you discover something new behind it. We had a great team, which gave me a support system throughout the process.

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Future porte-cochères at the Waldorf Astoria. Image © Noe Associates | Boundary

In addition to my project work, I had to carve out some time for the research component of the Year One program. You could pick a research topic based on your interests. I chose “Facade Fundamentals” — studying all of the building systems that go into putting together a facade. We were encouraged to seek out experts throughout the office to answer our questions, people you might not otherwise necessarily interact with. Structural engineers, technical designers, urban planners — we all collaborated. The research program helped us bridge these disciplines. It was an incredible way to meet new people and expand my perspective.

Every day offers a new opportunity to solve problems, and to do so as a team.

SOM has been an ideal place to continue my architectural education. Every day offers a new opportunity to solve problems, and to do so as a team. There’s always so much more to learn and discover, so it keeps us on our toes. Although the process from design to construction might appear to be long and arduous, our day-to-day work is very fast-paced. We work through many rapid iterations of a design; it can be a challenge to keep up.

The teams I have been a part of tend to create a safe space where you can ask all the questions you may have without fear of reproach. Supervisors ensure you are involved in the process as much as possible, and they empower you to make decisions that you can present with confidence. There has always been a spirit of support and doing what it takes to make sure the team as a whole succeeds at the task at hand.

My advice for recent graduates seeking their first opportunity: relationships are a crucial part of the process. Make good use of platforms such as LinkedIn to reach out, ask questions, introduce yourself — this type of communication is more important now than ever. Whenever you are given a chance, put your best foot forward. And, always, be kind!

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We are a collective of architects, designers, engineers, and planners building a better future. To learn more, visit www.som.com.

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