December 20, 2021
From Epstein's Noel Abbott:
I was saddened to hear the news that one of the architectural world’s giants, Richard Rogers, passed away this weekend. I had the pleasure of working with Rogers’ firm from 2003-2004 while pursuing the bid to renovate and expand the I.M. Pei-designed Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in NYC. In the spring of 2004, our team, which was comprised of the UK-based Richard Rogers Partnership, NYC’s FXCollaborative and Epstein, was shortlisted for this major assignment and subsequently scheduled for an interview with the client –the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC)– in their Manhattan office on a date that Richard Rogers would not be able to attend in person, but would, in a pre-Zoom world, participate via telephone.
Many days were spent planning, scripting and practicing our presentation, all done without Rogers’ direct involvement. Therefore, on the day of the presentation, the team responsible for putting together or speaking during the presentation was incredibly nervous. This was not only a nearly billion-dollar assignment, but also because none of us had any idea whether or not the telephone call with Rogers, who I would learn was in his villa in Venice, would work or actually be effective in the minds of the ESDC.
The first hurdle -getting Rogers connected- was cleared when Mr. Rogers was able to dial-in to the conference room and could actually be heard. Now, we just needed to see if he’d be able to remotely communicate complex design concepts in a manner that the client would find intriguing, inspiring and well-conceived. So after 15 minutes of introductions, team roles, key personnel, and program overview, the time arrived for Mr. Rogers to take over. At that moment, I looked around the room at the faces of all of our team members and everyone had basically stopped breathing. No one actually knew what Rogers would say and how he would say it. There was a brief pause before Rogers began speaking, but once he did, I had the unique pleasure of witnessing a master class in presenting. Rogers was incredibly charming and confident. He was funny, without being silly, he was knowledgeable, without being a know-it-all, and he was masterful in weaving a meaningful design narrative. I could see the faces of a handful of the representatives of the ESDC and they were equally as mesmerized listening to a man speak about diagrams from halfway across the globe. It was truly one of those moments in life that I look back upon with reverence.
After Rogers finished his presentation, he proceeded to answer a handful of questions from the ESDC. All handled with aplomb. After 10-15 minutes of this, and before the official end of our presentation, Mr. Rogers lets the ESDC and our team know that he’ll have to get off the phone for a guest, an Englishman named Tony, who was visiting his villa to discuss an important project in the UK. The ESDC, and us too, were a little taken aback with Rogers' sudden departure. But he had already won over the client.
Needless to say, the rest of the presentation was anti-climactic, but Rogers had done what superstars are called upon to do and delivered a masterful performance; one that eventually wins our team this assignment. The best part of this story is Tony, the man that interrupted our presentation, was none other than the UK’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who paid Rogers a visit as part of the UK’s bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
A few months after we were awarded the project, Mr. Rogers visited Epstein’s Chicago offices with our then-CEO, Mickey Kupperman. Mickey gave Mr. Rogers a tour of our space and made a point of stopping by my office to introduce me to Mr. Rogers. Alas, on that day, I was at a photoshoot and not in my office, but when I got back the next day, there was a piece of yellow copier paper with a note in red ink...
Rest in peace, Richard Rogers, and thank you for that all too rare moment of awe.