Man on Mission Critical
Most buildings are meant to be seen, used and shut
down at the end of the day. Jan Gross, AIA, LEED AP, principal and
manager of the Mission Critical facilities practice at Gensler, New
York City, creates buildings that can withstand disasters and stay
running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Mission
critical facilities stand at the epicenters of organizations that
function as data centers for people such as academic researchers,
medical practitioners and financial experts. Gross gives the
example of stock exchanges, trading floors and credit card
transactions that rely on data centers and places of
A Special State for a Specialized Architect
In 1975, Gross graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New
York and went on to work for a mechanical engineering firm where he
learned the ins and outs of mechanical engineering, construction
and architecture. As a result, he was given the chance to work on
the infrastructure of the New York Stock Exchange. Working on the
infrastructure of a major financial center introduced him to the
world of mission critical architecture.
In the 1980s, Gross moved to Gensler in part because the firm
gives him the ability to focus on mission critical facilities while
working with likeminded architects. Gensler contains 19 different
practice areas made up of groups of designers and architects
focusing on a specific client type. The work is shared across
multiple offices with the work specifics, financials and staff all
coming together as one cohesive unit rather than working separately
or varying depending on region.
In addition to the ability to work with like-minded architects,
Gross relishes the design opportunities Gensler has given him.
Gross enjoys working with collaborative clients such as IBM where
he works to produce data centers around the globe, impact a culture
and support technology. Gross' attitude toward his work is both
passionate and lighthearted. Gross explains: "Architects don't have
as much fun as they could have. I work on something new every day;
we go out and attack our vision reminding ourselves, [at Gensler],
that it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission." Mission
critical projects that Gensler has completed include the Dubai
Mercantile Exchange in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Fannie Mae Data
Center in Urbana, Md.; and New York Board of Trade in New York
The Fannie Mae project is the first LEED certified data center
in the country. "We set the bar for which we can take mission
critical into sustainable design," explains Gross. The LEED
certification and sustainable nature of the Fannie Mae project
displays the sustainability potential of buildings that require
constant energy to remain functioning at all times.
Gross draws a great deal of inspiration from the work of John A.
Roebling, in particular the Brooklyn Bridge that Gross calls a
"game changer." The Brooklyn Bridge is a beautifully designed, yet
essential structure that people use every day. Similarly to the
bridge, the structures Gross designs have to be aesthetically
pleasing yet simple in their upkeep and maintenance so that various
mission critical data centers and facilities can drive the
day-to-day operations of institutions such as Princeton University
in Princeton, N.J. "The facilities are driven by electrical
[features], supported by mechanical [components] and wrapped in
architecture," says Gross. A simple, robust facility, therefore,
involves elements that spread across multiple disciplines from
architecture to engineering. The Brooklyn Bridge and mission
critical facilities are frequently used, but often overlooked by
the users. According to Gross, individuals such as the researchers
at Princeton may not be aware of the data center that powers the
entire organization. As Gross explains: "We make a difference that
touches many people …[We work on] the heart of this organization.
The more difficult the project makes it more fun."
Metal in Mission Critical
In many facilities, metal is in the forefront. The use of
insulated metal panels at Princeton University show Gross has taken
advantage of the efficacy of metal in mission critical projects.
"In the case of Princeton we had insulated metal panels as part of
the building," he says.
Gross appreciates the weathertightness and aesthetics insulated
metal panels provide. The Princeton facility is a contrast between
precast metals and glass. Gross personally likes the aesthetics of
stainless steel, as it's "clean and crisp, with a darker finish
that works well as an exterior or as a screen wall."
What Lies Ahead
Working on mission critical projects such as data centers and
their cutting-edge technology forces Gross to contemplate the
future of design. "We've been stacking bricks for centuries, and
what we need to worry about now with different cultures is the
failing infrastructure that occurs every day.
Now we are in the technology age and [commonly] look at
infrastructure in terms of five years, [we need to focus on
facilities and] on infrastructure that will be in place for 100