Westport resident honored for dedication to New York architecture

WESTPORT — Gilbert C. Maurer always has a stack of watercolor paper tucked into his canvas Hearst Magazines bag. It’s the perfect companion for his travel watercolor kit — complete with water tank, palette and 12 paint colors — and his three modified brushes that have been sawed down to make it easier to carry.

His paintings capture the sights, especially the architecture, he sees around New York City and his trips abroad. The subject and medium, much like watercolors themselves, are a nice blend of two of his passions: art and architecture.

“Other people take pictures and I would make drawings,” said Maurer, a longtime Westport resident, as well as a member of Hearst’s board of directors, a trustee of the Will and Trust of William Randolph Hearst and director of Hearst Foundations. He also served eight years as Hearst’s chief operating officer and prior to that spent 14 years as president of Hearst Magazines.

He is one of six to be celebrated as this year’s Living Landmarks honorees by The New York Landmarks Conservancy. This year’s celebration is Nov. 3 at The Plaza and the 28th annual tribute.

“We inaugurated the Living Landmarks Celebration to recognize extraordinary New Yorkers who give back so much to the city we love,” said Peg Breen, president of The New York Landmarks Conservancy. “This year is no exception with another outstanding class of honorees.”

The New York Landmarks Conservancy is a private, non-profit organization that has led the effort to preserve and protect New York City’s architectural legacy for nearly 50 years.

Maurer said he’s proud to receive the award, adding it’s important to preserve New York’s buildings because each brick tells a piece of the city’s history.

“Many are worth keeping, reminding us of where we came from and pointing us in a new direction of where we’re going,” he said.

Maurer believes the award stems from his work on Hearst Tower, the company’s award-winning headquarters located on 57th Street and Eighth Avenue, though he also is very active in the city’s art and museum scene. His partner on the project, Frank A. Bennack Jr., former Hearst CEO and current executive vice chairman of Hearst, received the distinction several years ago.

“When we link arms, you have two Living Landmarks supporting each other,” Maurer said. “We both treasure this city.”

Maurer said he was born with a love for art and architecture, having come from a family of artists. His eye and dedication to both art and architecture led the board to task him in 1999 with finding the architect to construct the new Hearst headquarters. When 9/11 happened, Hearst committed to remaining in New York and continued with the project. [Hearst Newspapers, which publishes this newspaper, is part of Hearst.]

“The challenge was to find someone who was going to be an expert at adaptive architecture,” he said. “That takes a special talent.”

They selected Norman Foster, a renowned architect and student of Yale, who already carried out this cohesion of blending the old and new with the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany and the British Museum in London, England.

Maurer said it was vital to preserve the original six-story Hearst building, which was designated a New York City landmark in 1988, and blend it with a design that will still resonate for at least another 75 or 100 years.

The result is a geodesic glass tower of interlocking triangles on top of the original art deco building. Inside, the large atrium features escalators going up to the third floor, diagonally passing rows of steps and a waterfall. It took two to three engineering firms to figure out how to make that feat possible.

Not only did the design stand out, but its construction and dedication to green technology also set the tone for future real estate development in New York City, Maurer said, adding it also reinvigorated the energy of the cityscape.

The building uses recycled glass and the waterfall pulls from water collected in cisterns on the roof. The waterfall also helps heat and cool the atrium in a more energy efficient way. He said the air circulation as part of the ecological design has also helped during the pandemic.

Hearst Tower, which officially opened in September 2006, won the International Highrise Award in 2008 and was the first building in New York to receive a Gold LEED-certified rating. In 2012, it earned a Platinum LEED Rating for existing buildings, becoming the first building to receive both Gold and Platinum certifications, according to a press release.

Maurer is also responsible for the art inside the tower too. He currently has an exhibition of his watercolors in the building’s gallery.

His first foray into painting was with oils and acrylics, but he soon discovered watercolors was his preferred medium. It started because he and his late wife, Ann, would travel a great deal and it was faster and easier to capture the scene on paper with watercolors. It required little cleanup and was less of an inconvenience on his travel companions.

“The more I used it, the more I liked it,” he said. “The more I saw its possibilities.”

He follows the 10,000 hour rule — which says it takes that long for the craft to become second nature.

Maurer’s dedication to art and architecture extends outside of the Big Apple, including to Connecticut where he is member of the Dean’s Council at the Yale School of Architecture — a school his granddaughter now attends.

“That’s something I love dearly,” he said, adding he strives to visit the art gallery whenever on campus and explore the works of one of his painting heroes: John Singer Sargent.

“It plays on a religious experience,” he said.