Q&A: Ivanka Trump

Q&A: Ivanka Trump

At 92 stories, with condominiums and a hotel, the SOM–designed Trump Chicago tower is the tallest building in the city since Sears. Recently, Joe Valerio, principal of Valerio Dewalt Train and designer of the tower’s restaurant, Sixteen, chatted with Ivanka Trump about Chicago, design, and the future of the Trump brand.


Joe Valerio: What were your expectations of Chicago, what surprised you?

Ivanka Trump: It exceeded my expectations. I had an image of Chicago, but until I became involved in this project, I didn’t really understand what it was about. I was blown away by the quality of buildings from an aesthetic standpoint, the really beautiful architecture in a very clean city. One of the things that makes our project, particularly the restaurant, so unique is that there is a great play on the tops of these beautiful towers. You see the gothic architecture of the Tribune Building, the Wrigley Building and then you see out to the lake, so it’s an unobstructed view decorated by these world-renowned buildings.

Describe this new building.

Well, if you look at Trump Tower NYC, it’s emblematic of the Trump brand but still relevant today. We still achieve the highest numbers on the saleable real estate and attract the best retail tenants. We’re in a phenomenal location. As we speak, I’m sitting in my office on 57th and 5th. It was built in the early ‘80s, but continues to be very relevant today. We hope that will be true of Trump Chicago.

Of course, Trump Chicago is a very different building. It’s a unique, mixed-use building, but the early accolades have been a validation of our collective vision.

Would you like to comment on where design is going right now?

You know better than I do! I’m a student through observation, and have had the great fortune of working with some of the best architects and interior designers, but I think that the exciting thing about design is its constant reinvention. Right now we’re at a point of great upheaval, and that’s going to make its mark on architecture and interior design, so you never really know what direction it’s going, but instinctively, you hopefully choose the right one, and so far, we’ve done that.

What do you like most about the restaurant?

No knock on you, Joe, but I think it’s the view. That’s one thing that you can’t own, but you did try to frame it.

The whole design intent was to maximize the space as opposed to dominate it with something overly complicated. From an interior design standpoint, I think that the wood paneling is top-notch. The sense of entrance, with the incredible wine gallery on either side, is sophisticated and in line with the building itself. One of my favorite aspects is the lighting, both in the deconstructed chandelier in the casual dining area and the formal chandelier in the main dining room.

My interview with your father was rough. The question I never had the nerve to ask is, why did I get the job after that interview with your dad?

One of the things we look for in all the people we work with, not just relating to architecture and design, but everyone: We like to collaborate with people who can innovate—meaning, they can define a fabulous vision that is buildable. At the end of the day, if what you designed was fantastic but could never come to fruition or be built by a person of sound mind, you wouldn’t be doing your job. The design has to be commercially reasonable, while incredibly luxurious.

You were the first person we met with in Chicago that got it and that allowed us to contribute to the thought process and own the design with you, while simultaneously having great conviction in what you thought needed to be created.

Was the role of the client discussed when you were at the Wharton School of Business at Penn?

That’s an interesting point that hadn’t occurred to me before, but it was definitely not something contemplated at Wharton. There was a general idea that those who have great privilege bear a great responsibility, but not that particular responsibility; the line wasn’t drawn to the aesthetics of the environment around us.

You may have already touched on the next question, but the architects reading this would probably enjoy your expanding on the qualities that you look for in a design professional.

I think one of the other things I look for is somebody I can work with on subsequent occasions. Though, we work with many different designers. Each property has its own unique sense of place.

You need to find somebody who is able to reinvent himself or herself, and who isn’t so wedded to one product type or one approach and who has the willingness to respond to our issues with their own creativity.

Obviously, you look at yourself as a businesswoman, but do you view yourself as a builder?

My grandfather was a great builder. That’s how he referred to himself. I think if my father could choose to have one thing remembered about him, it wouldn’t be his financial prowess. It wouldn’t be his strength in the entertainment industry. It would be his ability to build the finest quality product in an efficient, professional way. He really is a great builder and that’s something I’ve always been drawn to as well, and that’s something that’s a skill that you don’t improve and you don’t hone overnight. You learn through trial and error. So as the next generation of developer, that’s something that is very important to me.