Nailing It

Do you have a favorite architect?

It’s a tough question. I learned early on that I wasn’t going to be the next Frank Lloyd Wright. I was intimidated by the creativity of the students in my class. It was amazing because we were in school learning about Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright, and then 35 years later, to be working with the Mies van der Rohes or Frank Lloyd Wrights of the day is really an extraordinary experience. I don’t have favorites, but I can tell you that most of the great architects are great people-interesting, visionary, fun to be with and just deserving of the greatness.

 

You did the Guggenheim Museum restorations recently. Was that a challenge?

That was a very unique, challenging project in terms of its restoration. It was really, ‘How do we bring this back to the way it was when it was built?’ And I think, at the end of the day, someone had commented that it’s not only as good, but probably a little better than it was when it was first built. But it was really an experiment in finding out what different layers of paint were put on, what were the original colors, and then looking at new mechanical systems and how to get them into the building without disrupting the historic, landmarked facades. It was just a good challenge, and we did it while the museum was in operation.

 

As recently as two years ago, you were hearing a lot of people from outside the real estate and construction industries complain about ‘overdevelopment.’ What comes to mind when you hear that turn of phrase?

Usually, they talk about overdevelopment when it’s blocking their view. I think that in certain instances, there are legitimate concerns that should be addressed, and I think the city has a great public-hearing process. I was chairman of the Landmarks Conservancy for a number of years, so we were involved with a lot of these hearings. And, there, it was always my goal and intent to try to really be objective.

 

Not hearing so many people complain about overdevelopment now, though, right?

No! The world has changed. Look, I knew that the market was on fire. We were reluctant to develop projects where we were depending on higher costs per square foot than we were being paid at the time. We didn’t want to chase the market, but I don’t think anybody anticipated a 30 or 40 percent correction, and that’s what we’ve had.

 

F.J. Sciame Construction Co. has been around since 1975. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the past 35 years?

The biggest change is that we were brought up as lump-sum builders, where you would bid the jobs and you’d have to use all the contractors that were out there, and it was very difficult to control the quality and put in a good competitive lump-sum bid. We lost a lot of projects because I refused to use subcontractors that were second tier in terms of quality because I knew at the end of the day, it would bring down our level of quality. That was a real frustration. As the construction management came to be-which is something that’s really changed in the past 20 years, in particular-it has allowed us to pick the right subs for the right job and really represent the owner as their agent, or their contractor, eventually.

 

Did you come across the mob element that we hear about so often?

Fortunately, not me. And even that has been, I think, much less than it was 35 years ago, when I started. Perhaps at the subcontractor level things like that were going on, but, you know, we were always straight as an arrow. No way to do it other than the right way. Our core values-honesty, integrity-never changed. So we didn’t see it. Now, that’s not to say that it may not have existed. But fortunately … And then as you grow, it’s certainly much less of a risk, if there ever was one.

jsederstrom@observer.com

Nailing It