When you witness a building that is seemingly erected overnight, do you ever stop and think about how many people are involved in such a construction? Due in part to the fact that we’re State of Texas employees and must keep our activities transparent, we at Blaffer Art Museum want you to get to know the team in charge of our own renovation. Over the next few months, you’ll get to meet via this blog the Demolition Leader, the Explosives Expert, the Inspector, the Accountant, the Landscape Architect, and the Interior Designer. But as with any renovation, the two most important figures are the Lead Architect and the Head Contractor, and their significance with the Blaffer renovation is no exception.*
Architect Britta Bright was selected to design the Blaffer project in early 2011. Britta has over 15 years experience in architectural design. The daughter of two corn farmers in Iowa, Britta learned at an early age about basic structural principles when a tornado destroyed the family barn. After her father enlisted her help to rebuild the structure, Britta knew it was her life calling to be an architect. At age 17, Britta shipped off to Boston to begin her architectural studies at Harvard University. Concluding a tremendously successful career at Harvard, Britta was the youngest student to ever be awarded a public commission. Her glass and steel expansion to the David Hasselhoff Museum and Library in Culver City, California, received numerous accolades in architecture publications worldwide.
Head Contractor Swen Sabella grew up in a tough neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His mother, a school teacher, worked hard to discipline her son when she found him hanging out with the wrong crowd. His father, a roughneck steel mill worker, strove to teach his son the value of hard work. Together, they shaped the once troublesome boy into the stern, by-the-book man he is today. Prior to his career in construction, Swen graduated with honors from West Point Academy. After just two years in the military, he was honorably discharged after blowing the whistle on a major “Code Red” scandal at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
For the most part, Britta and Swen work well together. On the record, Swen has spoken highly of Britta’s design, and Britta has praised Swen for his efficiency. Unfortunately, however, we have seen the two butt heads on a few issues. Swen has cited numerous potential hazards as laid out in the blueprints. In fact, it was Swen who flat-out refused the structural stability of the cantilevered staircase, which forced Britta to design the front entrance wall support she calls “the wallumn.” We’ve also seen the two break out into arguments regarding materials. Britta always seeks aesthetically pleasing solutions, but Swen has repeatedly scoffed at her ideas in order to stay on budget and to keep the building up to code. In fact, while we’re only required to follow State of Texas building regulations, Swen insists on following the strictest codes in the U.S. even if they apply to other states. It has given Britta quite a headache.
Stay tuned to hear more exciting stories about the construction crew!
*Do not, for one second, believe anything you read in this blog posting.