My First Bermuda Design Project Remembered…
Ann Eisenhower, grand-daughter of the 34th U.S. President, received a copy of my portfolio in 1993 while seeking to hire a designer for the office building her husband’s was planning to build in Bermuda.
A major player in world financial circles, her husband, Dr. Wolfgang Flöttl, had entered into a partnership with the then Premier of Bermuda, real estate developer Sir John Swan, to construct a state-of-the-art financial headquarters and bank in Hamilton..
Seeing how suitable my designs would be in Bermuda, Ann asked the architect in charge to contact me
and have me fl y to the island for an interview.
Intrigued by the possibilities, I took the next day’s flight to meet the team.
After landing and going through immigration, my driver, who soon became my good friend on the island, quickly took me from the airport to the luxurious Waterloo House Hotel at the centre of the Hamilton waterfront. Taking only a few minutes to change my clothes, I left the hotel and walked eastward along Front Street to meet the team. The meeting was brief but most definitely successful. After little more than an hour of smooth conversation, it was clear that I was the man they were looking for. The rest of the afternoon, that night and the next day were left free to explore Bermuda and socialize.
On my way back to Waterloo House (again on foot), I stopped at Archie Brown and Son, purveyors of fine British clothing. The cashmere sweaters were the best I had seen in years and it was impossible not to purchase a couple of the six ply cardigans with stag’s horn buttons.
After a martini at the hotel’s waterside bar, I took a short nap and a swim, then dressed for dinner and waited for my driver to take me to Café Lido at Elbow Beach. At Lido, I was met by several other members of the design team. We enjoyed a long, ocean-side dinner that was made all the more pleasant with several bottles of first class white Burgundy. Closing the evening with a barefoot stroll on the beach, copious goodbyes and a shot of espresso I returned to Waterloo House.
The next morning, my host arranged for me to be taken to the Coral Beach and Tennis Club for breakfast. I found that gazing at the waves with a coffee in hand was as pleasant as dinner at Elbow Beach had been the night before.
Breakfast made me realize that I wanted to begin working on this assignment as soon as possible.
Three and a half months later, I was knee-deep in work.
I had been meeting regularly with Sir John, the Premier, and was busy accommodating the Dr. Flöttl’s chief of security, the former head of the Secret Service in Manhattan for Bill Clinton.
The security chief was concerned that a waterside building such as we were planning would be vulnerable to a terrorist attack by boat. To provide security, I was charged with adding bomb resistant rooms with hardened escape routes. This was an aspect of design I was not particularly well acquainted with. But, as one usually does when they must, I was a quick study. Soon, I became an expert on heavy gauge steel doors and blow-out walls designed to give way before the structural integrity of the building could be compromised.
Together with the former Secret Serviceman, I traveled to the U.S. almost two or three times each
month to meet with contractors specializing in military approved security hardware. Closer to my
own area of expertise, I saw to it that these would look attractive and fit in with the scheme I was
Being the early ‘Nineties, I had little experience with computer assisted 3-D drafting until I started
working on this project. With the help of Toronto architect, Claudio Cellucci, I learned how to render
all of the interior spaces with a unique French software program called Architrion, using what would
now be a laughably underpowered Macintosh workstation.
Claudio and I spent many nights working against the clock creating beautiful, black and sepia coloured
drawings that showed how the interiors of the building would look.
I was amazed to see how, what a few weeks earlier were just ideas in my head now convincingly
presented themselves in realistically detail. The rich wood grains inherent in the walnut French
doors, forged bronze grilles and rusticated limestone walls now leaped from the page for all to see.
Especially Sir John Swan. It was Sir John, sitting beside me at an early morning meeting, who couldn’t take his eyes off the large drawings I had set in front of him on the conference table. Seeing the intricate details of the drawings crisply rendered totally mesmerized him. A me, as a neophyte of CAD. as well.
I worked for another year on Dr. Flöttl’s building.
During this time, much had been accomplished. For a small team of only ten, the level of detail we had resolved was astounding. As elevate my understanding of international finance, I had travelled to New York City, London and Hong Kong to see firsthand trading operations at Dr. Flötll’s international offices, and figured out how they could be made to work better through more integrative design.
While several other members of the design team concentrated on detailing base building solutions – such as the raised flooring for the computer rooms – I went on to design some of the more exciting areas of the building: including the underground athletic complex that consisted of two swimming pools, steam baths and saunas and a complete health and wellness centre beneath a glass enclosed three story atrium (that would be shielded from excess sunlight by a network of delicately balanced steel louvers).
Unfortunately, after all the sweat and blood our team had poured into the design, the building was never to be constructed.
Advances in technology, especially the internet, made it unnecessary to combine all of Dr. Flötll’s trading groups together in one location.
Sir John Swan bet against public opinion and resigned when a referendum he initiated on independence from the United Kingdom failed to garner more than a twenty-five per cent favourable response from the electorate. With Sir John out of office, he was unable to shepherd legislation through the assembly that would ensure a positive outcome for my client’s banking ambitions on the island.
But no work is ever a total waste. Much that I learned from the project could be applied to other work on Bermuda, much of it for Wolfgang Flöttl as well: such as the renovation of approximately ten thousand square feet of office space on the top two floors of the Bank of Butterfield Building in Hamilton.
While similarly rich wood panelled walls and marble, limestone and Venetian plaster as were Dr. Flöttl’s “standard” interior finishes, far more advanced communication systems were now the norm for this new location. (The photo on the top of this page shows the private elevator lobby that I designed for Dr. Flöttl in the Bank of Butterfield Building on Reid Street in Hamilton.)
I spent almost a year and a half designing and having made suites of custom executive furniture for Dr. Flöttl’s Bank of Butterfield offices b y Klaus Nienkamper in Toronto. I also had Nienkamper make other more specific transactional furnishings for the trading rooms and settlement offices.
During the height of renovation work on this project, I seemed to be travelling constantly: almost every two weeks I was on board some aircraft or another from Bermuda to New York City, Toronto or Boston to purchase either some kind of materials, fixtures or furnishings that were urgently needed.
On no less than four occasions, I travelled to the Herman Miller Co. in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to develop a new type of wheeled, autonomous trading desk that could easily be transported to distant locations and ganged in multiples for rapidly changing circumstances in world financial markets.
For several, absolutely exciting months I met almost every other week with my good friend and master furniture builder Ian Alexander of Copacetic Woodwork in Toronto to create a suite of deep green bird’s eye maple furnishings for Wolfgang Flöttl’s private executive suite, including a five by nine foot desk supported on four Doric columns and all of the mahogany furniture you see in the photo of the private elevator lobby on the front page of this blog.
In another article I’ll describe how I put together another roof top trading room for the executives who invest exclusively for George Soros’ Bermuda based hedge fund.