UN Roundtable on Floating Cities

On April 5, United Nations Human Settlement Programme invited Everard Findlay to a roundtable discussion of leading companies, architects, innovators, explorers, and scientists at UN Headquarters in New York to discuss breakthrough innovations for creating a better urban future and environmentally sustainable human settlements. Attendees included

Attendees included Raj Shah, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, Dr. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist, Bjarke Ingels, Founding Partner of the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), Bry Sarté, Founder and CEO of Sherwood Design Engineers and Ma Huateng, CEO of Tencent.

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The Platform breaks ground on Third and Grand, the first such major development in Detroit’s New Center in decades

DETROIT – The team behind The Platform was joined by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and other local leaders today for the ground-breaking of Third and Grand, a new $53.1 million residential building that is the first development of its kind in New Center in more than 30 years.

The six-story, 231-unit development will be located on the northwest corner of Third Avenue and West Grand Boulevard, within blocks of Henry Ford Hospital, the Fisher Building and Cadillac Place, as well as the Lodge Freeway and the QLine. The 356,000-square-foot development is expected to open in spring 2018.

Third and Grand will be built on the site of what was once a Howard Johnson Motor Lodge. Max M. Fisher, the father-in-law of Platform Principal Peter Cummings, helped break ground on that hotel in 1964. In 1978, the hotel was acquired by Henry Ford Hospital and turned into the New Center Pavilion. It was imploded in 1997, and the site has served as a parking lot ever since.

“My father-in-law attended the ground-breaking on this site half a century ago, and did so much for Detroit. I am proud to be here today, breaking ground again,” Cummings said. “This is the beginning of a new era in New Center, and I am honored to be a part of it.”

Seventy-three percent of the 231 apartments will be studio or one-bedroom residences. The remainder will be two bedrooms, ranging in size from 908 to 1,158 square feet.

Also, honoring the City’s evolving policy on housing, The Platform will set aside 20 percent of the Third and Grand residences for affordable housing, including studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom plans.

Not since the ’80s has New Center seen this kind of development,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “We’ve seen a lot of buildings being built and rehabbed downtown, but now Detroit’s comeback is spreading into more neighborhoods. This great project from The Platform team is another example of how the city is coming back in a way that provides quality housing options for Detroiters of all income levels.” 

In addition to the 231 apartments, the development will feature a 330-space parking structure, as well as 21,000 square feet of commercial space.

“Everyone deserves a great place to live in Detroit,” said Dietrich Knoer, a principal at The Platform.  “The Platform’s mission is to develop well designed urban communities based on the principles of equitable development and inclusiveness in the great neighborhoods of our city.  Everyone deserves to be able to take part in the amazing things happening in Detroit.”

The building was designed by Cline Design Associates PA of Raleigh, N.C., and will be built by Lansing-based Wieland.


The Platform is a real estate development company dedicated to helping rebuild the City of Detroit. This includes revitalizing neighborhoods and mentoring the next generation of developers, in addition to the primary mission of creating high-quality mixed-use residential communities in Detroit’s Midtown, TechTown and New Center areas, specifically on the M-1 Rail (QLine) corridor. The neighborhood focus, based on the partners’ personal interests and relationships, includes Brightmoor, Islandview and the University District. The Platform’s principals are Peter Cummings and Dietrich Knoer, joined by partner and Chief Development Officer Mike Hammon. Everard Findlay is Chief Innovation Officer of The Platform.

For more information, go to www.theplatform.city

Again In A Great City

Detroit—on the other side of the country’s largest municipal bankruptcy—suddenly looks like a good investment. Developer Peter Cummings (OPM 13, 1988) takes us on a tour of the city’s real estate revival
Re: John Rhea (MBA 1992)
by April White; photographed by Brian Kelly

A trip through downtown Detroit with Peter Cummings (OPM 13, 1988) is part urban planning seminar, part zoning board meeting, and part family history. As the 68-year-old real estate developer navigates the central business district, he sketches an idiosyncratic map of the city—almost three decades of knowledge of what each piece of property used to be, what it could have been, what it is now, and what it might become—laid out along an opinionated time line of Detroit’s highs and lows. And there have been a lot of lows.

Just a few years ago, Cummings was done with Detroit. The municipal government was in disarray, the auto industry was collapsing, the population was plummeting, and business opportunities had vanished. Now he’s back, making big real estate bets that could shape the city’s future. He’s all in on Detroit.

You could say Cummings married into Detroit: His father-in-law was Max Fisher, a pillar of the business and philanthropic communities known as “Mr. Detroit.” Cummings, a Montreal native, and his family moved to the area in 1989 so his children could attend the prestigious Cranbrook schools in the city’s northern suburbs, which his wife, Julie, had also attended.

The Detroit economy was already wavering when the Cummings family arrived. By early 1992, Detroit’s debt rating would be cut to junk bond status. From an investor’s point of view, the city had been a roulette wheel for decades, its fortunes linked tightly to volatile gas prices and the faltering auto industry. From a resident’s point of view, life in a city with inconsistent municipal services and simmering racial tensions could be even more tenuous. While many suburbs prospered, some city neighborhoods were nearly abandoned.

But Cummings still saw opportunity in the struggling city. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, he became a prominent developer, often in partnership with his father-in-law. With Fisher’s encouragement, Cummings developed the ambitious Orchestra Place project, the home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. By 2005, though, Cummings saw the potential of the city dwindling. The change was partially economic—the city’s credit rating, which had improved by the end of the 1990s, slipped again in the 2000s—and partially personal: Cumming’s children had graduated from Cranbrook and his father-in-law, a friend and mentor, passed away. “In everything I had been doing in Detroit, Max was my partner in a literal sense or a spiritual sense, and a lot of the joy of doing stuff here evaporated when he died,” Cummings says, as we tour the city Fisher helped shape.

Cummings was done with Detroit. Then Whole Foods called.

In 2010, the upscale national grocer—at the gentle suggestion of Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow—came to look at properties in central Detroit. One of them was a vacant piece of land that Cummings owned on Mack Avenue in Midtown, next to the first project he had developed in Detroit almost 15 years earlier, a surprisingly elegant parking structure.

It took several years and complicated financing, but on June 5, 2013, Cummings watched as hundreds of Detroiters—black and white, rich and poor—gathered in front of the new grocery store. The city’s leaders gave speeches; there were more than a few tears. A high-school marching band played The Temptations’ “Get Ready,” and Cummings and dozens of others involved in the project broke bread to officially open the store. That moment is one Cummings often talks about as “a religious experience.” The Whole Foods store was the type of development—an investment in improving everyday life in Detroit by a national retailer—that people didn’t believe could happen in the city.

This certainly wasn’t the largest or most profitable project Cummings had ever undertaken, but that morning it became one of the most influential for the developer. In the Whole Foods parking lot, Cummings had seen Detroit pride, which he shares. But he also saw something more, something he hadn’t seen in the city in recent years: business opportunity.

Sure, Detroit had made many comebacks in the past half century. At regular intervals, national headlines had heralded the city’s resurgence against a backdrop of dilapidated houses, images now so clichéd as to be their own banal genre—“ruin porn.” But those comebacks never lasted long enough. This moment is different, Cummings says.

Cummings lists the same five points many developers making investments in the city do, starting with the lowest point in Detroit’s financial history: In July 2013, the city filed for Chapter 9; it was the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in US history. “Uncertainty is a horrible constraint for investment,” says Cummings, of the financial chaos prior to the bankruptcy. But when the city emerged from bankruptcy 17 months later, investors took another look. “Now the uncertainty has been removed.”

Add to that the business-minded political changes: Democratic mayor Mike Duggan came to city hall in 2014 after eight years as CEO of the Detroit Medical Center. Add the renewed growth of the US auto industry, which set all-time sales records in 2015 and helped Detroit’s unemployment rate drop to its lowest in 15 years; add the phenomenon that is Dan Gilbert, the billionaire businessman who made an unprecedented investment in the city when he moved the Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures headquarters from the suburbs to the downtown area in 2010; and add urban-dwelling millennials, who see opportunity in Detroit’s relatively inexpensive real estate. Of some potential foreign investors eyeing real estate in Detroit, Cummings says, “They’ve come to the conclusion that investing in Detroit is like investing in an emerging economy without political and currency risk.”

Cummings has formed a new company to manage his Detroit projects: The Platform. The name has many meanings for him. A “plat” is a map, and a “platform” can refer to one’s policies, but most importantly, a platform is something you can build on.

Any tour of Detroit’s future begins along Woodward Avenue in the central business district—“Dan Gilbert’s duchy,” Cummings says, as he navigates the city behind the wheel of a silver Chrysler minivan, his Detroit-made Shinola watch glinting in the sun. Gilbert controls more than 80 commercial properties in the neighborhood, and it is his employees—more than 12,500 of them at Quicken Loans alone—who flood the streets at lunchtime, use the new bike share program, live in the renovated lofts, and anxiously await the completion of the light-rail through the city.

As we head toward the waterfront, we circle the small Campus Martius Park. The city’s mile road system originates here; 8 Mile is eight miles away. In the 1990s, when the park was first conceived, it was a signal of a future for the neighborhood; Cummings sat on the board that designed it. Suddenly, the Renaissance Center pops into view, a self-contained city of seven gleaming skyscrapers built in the 1970s. A relic of a time when the Ford family shaped the city, it was once home to the Ford Motor Company. The tallest of the buildings is now topped with the iconic blue GM symbol.

We’re on our way to see something else entirely: a nearby parking lot. From this vacant piece of pavement, Cummings can see one piece of his father-in-law’s legacy and a hint of Detroit’s future development. Max Fisher and his partner Al Taubman were the first to build apartment towers along the Detroit River, an effort to turn the city’s industrial waterfront into a residential attraction. Today, the popular Detroit RiverWalk reaches along the shoreline, and more residential development is under way. Cummings bought the Riverfront Towers complex from Fisher and Taubman; he and his wife lived there for several years before selling the complex. He still owns this adjacent parking lot, which he hopes will be part of a redevelopment project when the nearby Joe Louis Arena, where the Detroit Red Wings hockey team plays, is demolished. “This is an area that eventually is going to get developed. It will be largely residential and hospitality, with entertainment-oriented retail,” Cummings says. He dispenses this optimistic wisdom in a low rumble and cranes his neck to see the top of each building, as if still impressed by the heights they’ve reached.

Now it’s on to “Ilitch country,” as Cummings calls it, downtown’s sports and entertainment district. The Ilitch family, the founders of Little Caesars pizza chain, owns the Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers baseball team. The Tigers stadium is in Ilitch country, more commonly known as Foxtown, and the new Red Wings arena is planned for the area. The family also has the Fox Theatre, a casino, and numerous other real estate investments in the area.

That’s an important quirk of the city’s tumultuous economic history. Detroit was long a company town, and then, when there was no one else—not even the city—investing in Detroit, those who did became the new kings and queens of their neighborhoods. Henry Ford II shaped the Renaissance Center. Max Fisher transformed the waterfront. Now developers like Gilbert and the Ilitches have an outsized impact on the way their particular neighborhoods develop, as do local philanthropic foundations, which have stepped into the void left by the municipal government. The responsibility that comes with such power is something that Cummings will be forced to consider with his biggest investment in Detroit to date: the Fisher Building. (No relation to Max Fisher.) In New Center, three miles northwest on Woodward Avenue from where our tour started, the 28-story structure rises from among low-slung concrete buildings. Will this become “Cummings land”?

The Fisher Building has been an icon of the Detroit skyline for almost 90 years. The massive building, spanning a city block, is clad in marble, some 325,000 square feet of it. More than 40 types of the stone were imported from around the world for the facade and the building’s vaulted three-story lobby. The windows—1,800 of them—are rimmed in bronze. Its roof was once leafed in gold; the nickname “The Golden Tower” lingers, though it has been covered in green terra-cotta since the end of World War II.

The cost to construct the building in 1928 was $10 million, $135 million in today’s dollars. Last June Cummings and his partners—including former NYC Housing Authority chairman and Detroit native John Rhea (MBA 1992), managing partner of New York–based RHEAL Capital Management—purchased the building, plus the nearby Albert Kahn Building and 2,000 parking spaces, for just $12.2 million at auction. Rhea’s interest in Detroit and the New Center neighborhood is mainly residential, but when the Fisher Building came on the market, he shared Cummings’s vision: “If Fisher is not managed right, and the redevelopment of it isn’t thoughtful, it will actually cause the rest of the redevelopment of New Center to under perform,” he says. The team considers themselves stewards of the neighborhood’s redevelopment, starting with the Fisher.

Cummings surveys the lobby of the Fisher, as a rush of well-dressed Detroiters head into a matinee at the 2000-seat Fisher Theatre. “It’s really absolutely extraordinary,” he says of the building. And from here, it is. The lobby looks like a museum piece, its pendant lights bright and its bronze polished to a shine. But the rest of the structure is not as well maintained. Cummings and his partners expect to spend as much as $100 million to rehabilitate the Fisher and the Kahn.

On this day, it’s been six months since the auction, and though the pieces are still coming together, Cummings has a clear vision for New Center: a combination of mid-level local and national retail and residential properties, a type of high-density development rarely seen outside the city’s central business district. This neighborhood looked like that in the 1920s—and it’s also what new urban living looks like, with a twist. General Motors once anchored New Center. Now, with the development of the light-rail just blocks away, there’s a possible future where even Detroit could become less dependent on cars.

National retailers are buying into Cummings’s vision: a leading home-furnishing retailer is eyeing a ground-floor space in the Fisher and various operators are considering a boutique hotel in one wing of the building. Cummings and his partners were considering luxury condos in the upper reaches of the building, but they worry that Detroit may not yet be ready for the prices such prime real estate would command. For the Kahn Building, Cummings is working on a deal with another leading home-furnishing retailer, for a space on the first floor, and he also plans 165 residential units on the upper floors.

Cummings drives around the New Center and nearby Tech Town neighborhoods, pointing out projects he’s working on. At 3rd and Grand, he gestures to a parking lot. In his mind’s eye, he sees a new mixed-use building, with 230 residential units atop 20,000 square feet of retail space; the $50 million project is expected to break ground later this year. And the best part is, he’s not the only one here: Wayne State University, the Henry Ford Health System, and the State of Michigan all have properties in the neighborhood. That’s one of the big attractions for Cummings. His vision for New Center and for Detroit is “a more granular, more organic, more diverse source of development visions and capital.”

Cummings made another purchase about the same time that he and his partners bought the Fisher Building. Comparatively, it was a small investment—just $80,000—but it is in some ways a riskier one. Cummings wants to show me the property, but first he has to set his GPS. It’s the only time he’s needed to use one, and even with the guidance, there’s a moment we almost end up in Canada.
We’re headed to Brightmoor, a neighborhood on the northwest edge of the city. It is also known as “Blight More.” Although it is not quite seven miles straight from Campus Martius Park, it is a world untouched by the development reshaping the center of the city. As we near our destination, Cummings notes that by car Brightmoor’s distance from the revitalization in Detroit’s business district is just about the same as the distance from downtown St. Louis to Ferguson, in that forgotten ring between a city’s center and its wealthy suburbs.

Brightmoor looks the way outsiders have come to imagine Detroit: both empty and overrun, with heartbreaking glimmers of hope. Even residential streets that appear predominantly abandoned have at least one house with a well-maintained garden or lovingly hung holiday decorations. Here, at the corner of Grand River and Lahser, Cummings purchased five commercial properties: a restaurant, a parking lot, and a vacant storefront among them. Like the Fisher Building, these properties have both history and potential, but it is hard to see that through the vacant building’s grayed plywood.

Cummings doesn’t have a clear vision for these properties yet. He’s aware that this investment could look like an outsider trying to make a buck on the back of poverty or trying to dictate the development of a neighborhood he can barely find, but Cummings has come to community leaders with some pedigree: His wife’s family foundation has been active in offering social services in the neighborhood for almost a decade. He has contributed the properties to a foundation and has engaged community leaders in creating a vision for their redevelopment.

What Cummings does know for sure is that something needs to be done in neighborhoods like Brightmoor, that the city can’t thrive without that. That’s the biggest question that comes with renewed interest in Detroit real estate: Will development dollars revitalize the city for the many or for the few? “There’s so much attention and so many resources that want to come in to the city, you’ve just got to make sure that some of that attention gets directed to the places where people tend to get forgotten.”

Cummings doesn’t see the same business opportunity here in Brightmoor that he sees in Midtown, but he sees a developer’s responsibility to invest in Detroit’s future: “I’m a real estate developer: Every problem has a real estate solution.”

Suriname: Land of El Dorado

As part of a broader project linking artists, innovators and scientists with global issues, I devised the Suriname Designer Collaboration Project, inviting Phoebe and Annette Stephens of Anndra Neen, Pamela Love and Yelena Noah to uncover the richness of Surinamese culture, to experience new ways of approaching their craft and to examine ethical ways of sourcing fine metals. The project aims to celebrate the rich multicultural dynamic in Suriname and to re-forge the historical connection between the city of Manhattan and Suriname while raising awareness of the importance of clean gold mining and rainforest preservation.

I was originally inspired by the historical link between New York and Suriname established in the 1667 Treaty of Breda, in which the Dutch retained control of sugar plantations and control of the nutmeg trade in Suriname in exchange for the island of “New Netherland” or Manhattan. This project, taking place over the past two years, has served as a cultural exchange and celebration of the incredible, peaceful coexistence of Suriname’s wildly varied people (Suriname may be the only place on earth where a World Heritage Mosque and a World Heritage Synagogue happily share a parking lot), and as a “get to know you”, introducing Suriname to a community of New York tastemakers and vice versa.

Suriname, formerly Dutch Guyana, has 90 per cent rainforest coverage. In order to enter Suriname’s primary Amazon rainforest interior, one must first fly to Paramaribo, at which point transportation options are either a small plane, a helicopter, a dugout canoe or just plain feet. Once there, if luck smiles upon you, you can meet the indigenous Graman (Shaman) and travel overland to Maroon villages and independent gold mines, meeting artisans and mystics along the way. I decided to bring the four New York-based jewelry designers on this wild journey to meet and make friends with indigenous, Maroon and Hindustani Surinamese people.

I invited Pamela Love to meet with indigenous Amazon indians in the heart of the rainforest and to examine the inner workings of the gold-mining industry, visiting independent gold mines and learning about mercury- and cyanide-free gold mining techniques.

Phoebe and Annette Stephens of Anndra Neen focused on the Javanese and Hindustani cultures in Suriname and met with local musicians, artists and artisans. “We’ve traveled all over the world, but have never seen so many cultures living together harmoniously as in Suriname,” they said.

Yelena Noah delved deep into Maroon culture, meeting with the descendants of escaped African slaves who, centuries ago, had established strongholds of their own in the jungle – and, through collaboration with the indigenous people there, were able to survive and thrive to the modern day.

The Designer Collaboration Project established the framework for an ongoing collaboration between New York and Suriname’s art and design communities. A conversation has begun about the vital importance of maintaining and preserving the rainforest and appreciating the biodiversity and cultural richness in Suriname, a small country which holds many keys to our world’s future survival.

Art Matters: Taking Back the Steel Drum



On Tuesday and Wednesday, Findlay hosted “7 Drums 7 Artists,” a cross-disciplinary tribute to the steel pan at NeueHouse.

At the heart of the project were seven artworks, created by artists (including Rita Ackerman and Olaf Breuning), musicians and scientists, each of which incorporated a steel drum. But “7 Drums 7 Artists” was also partly a tribute to Dr. Elliot Mannette, the 82-year-old Trinidadian inventor of numerous game-changing steel-drum innovations (many with impressive-sounding names like Invader Lead, Quad-duet, Six Bass). On Wednesday, he chatted on stage with the Swedish electronic musician Olof Dreijer, who played the audience eerie electronic soundscapes built from steel-drum samples. The day before, Mannette had appeared in conversation with Brian Greene, a physicist at Columbia and the author of popular science books on string theory.

Brian Greene, Stephon Alexander and Elliot Mannette

Will Smith and Elliot Mannette

Brian Greene, Elliot Mannette, Everard Findlay, Stephon Alexander

Peter Doig and Elliot Mannette

A Discussion with Everard Findlay

“My daughter, my five year old, said this amazing thing. She looked at me and said ‘Daddy and I butt heads sometimes because we are a lot alike but we love each other’,” Brooklyn-based branding consultant and philanthropist Everard Findlay tells me as we discuss balancing work and family at Soho House in lower Manhattan, his informal office for the day. Soft-spoken, disarmingly polite, and impeccably if effortlessly stylish, it is hard for me to imagine anyone butting heads with him, much less his own daughter.

His affable nature recalls a story a friend once told me: While serving as curator at a major museum, he unintentionally found himself with a rather ingenious way to help decipher the character of visiting artists or professionals — his partner also worked at the museum in an administrative capacity. While visitors always ingratiated themselves to him, a discrepancy all too often came up when he heard how they were with his partner. I am fairly certain this knowledge didn’t inform his judgment, at least not consciously, but it points to the ways in which our conduct is unfortunately contingent upon context.

As I accompany Everard Findlay from meeting to meeting — there are a lot of meetings — it becomes clear that he would pass this informal, if dubious, assessment quite comfortably. Whether speaking to a barista or representative from the Obama administration—he was meeting with the latter when I arrived—he responds with the same affable, warm demeanor. As he gives the taxi driver directions to our next destination — meeting with the artist Sanford Biggers for an upcoming collaboration — he casually calls him by his first name, having read it on the identification card in front of him. Delivered in his soft-spoken tone, he manages to do this without the subtle Eddie Haskell hint of condescension that most of us couldn’t avoid if we did such a thing.

This may seem insignificant, after all shouldn’t we expect such behavior from one another? But the more time I spent with him — discussing everything from his childhood in Trinidad to being a father of two young girls to working with multi-national corporations on a global scale — this psychological ‘god is in the details’ assessment becomes more and more intertwined with every aspect of his life. He never lets the reach and significance of his career eclipse his basic drive to treat everyone with dignity; a quality more often than not lost on his peers.

Everard Findlay frequently takes on the role of curator — but taken broadly the term is perhaps the best way to understand the multi-faceted work of his eponymous firm, Everard Findlay LLC. While the list of services he provides is extensive — art direction, brand management, photography, film production, and environmental and social development to name but a few — they collectively fail to fully communicate the unique nexus of fine art, design, global commerce, and philanthropy that Findlay has carved out for himself. He has previously used the term “generalist” to describe the way he moves between various disciplines and social circles. It has been said that an expert is merely someone who has dug him or herself into a really deep hole, in one way or another cut off from other individuals and bodies of knowledge. Given his dedication to make connections among different communities, the generalist moniker only makes sense. As he told me, “How do you look at the solution that is beneficial to everyone? That is how I like to start projects.”

Before moving to New York City in 1991, Findlay grew up in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. His childhood there comes up repeatedly as we discuss his career, his marriage to wife —stylist Molly Findlay — and his relationship with his two young girls Isadora or Isa, age 5, and Eleanor, age 2. His father, an engineer “had a very analytical mind, because he worked in the safety and environmental sectors with refineries and all their intricate parts, so if he made a mistake a lot of things would blow up (laughs).” As we talk about his parents it becomes clear that his work is a direct extension of his upbringing. If his father instilled the analytic exploration of science and infrastructure in the developing world found throughout his work, his mother influenced his dedication to philanthropy. An accountant, she “was really a giver. From a young age she always said ‘don’t complain about something just make it better.’ Change it or don’t say anything.”

As we head uptown in the back of a taxi, he recalls weekends spent volunteering with his mother. This generally consisted of handing out food to the less fortunate. A typically shortsighted teenager, age 15 or 16, who would rather be playing soccer, he often couldn’t help wanting to get the chore over with as quickly as possible. One day he watched as his mother disappeared into a large crowd. He would later find out that she had been running after a woman outside their immediate field of vision that she knew needed their help. As he recalls this vivid memory, he speaks in an increasingly reverent tone, noting how this was a hugely transformative moment for him. He understood the importance of “walking with the crowd.” Of course given the scale of Findlay’s endeavors, this concept is more metaphorical than literal; about actions as opposed to outlooks, “that is where I get having a bigger view of things. I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by amazing people.”

Trinidad continues to inform his projects in creative ways. During his meeting with Sanford Biggers, he lights up when discussing an exhibition he is organizing, 7 Drums / 7 Artists, a tribute to the Steel drum or Pan drum, the now fairly ubiquitous instrument originally created in Trinidad and Tobago from used industrial oil drums. Findlay has invited seven artists — including Chris Ofili, Olaf Bruening, Peter Doig, and Rita Ackermann — to create works using the instrument. Always seeking to build new networks and communities, the steel drum innovator and musician Elliot (Ellie) Mannette, now in his eighties, will also be involved. The project will raise capital for SFOTE (Special Friends of the Earth), a philanthropic initiative that Findlay founded — which recently built sustainable transportation in Lavantille, Trinidad so that children would have a means to get to and from a school. Taking the steel drum — an invention born out of the detritus of industrial shipping — and curating it into the context of contemporary visual culture to help fund SFOTE is quite emblematic of his work as a whole; mixes historic detail, geo-politics, fine art, and pragmatic activism. Like many of Findlay’s projects, it sits at the interstices of contemporary art, philanthropy, and branding.

As he transverses these disciplines as well as the myriad of meetings, travel, and mental energy his schedule demands, I keep wondering how he balances fatherhood into the equation: “It is tough with travel,” he tells me, “but we try to create that balance. Skype is a heaven sent. When they can travel with me, we travel together.” While he can’t have everything and work creates sacrifices, Findlay is quick to note that his children’s impact is present in any given project, “my kids inform everything I do, hands down. Everything for me has been engulfed by fatherhood. Some of my work deals with government, helping to create this discussion between industrial sectors and non-industrial sectors. How do you create balance? You go about doing things in a different way because you want to serve and to provide.”

As we further discuss Isa and Eleanor and how they have transformed him and how he approaches work, I realize in his exuberance for this children, he often focuses on what they have taught him as opposed to the other way around — the default most men enact. This can perhaps be attributed to being one of four rambunctious boys growing up — Findlay was the second oldest — who is now raising two girls. “When I had the first girl I was scared, when I had the second girl I was terrified (laughs) because I grew up in a house of boys, I felt like what am I going to do? What am I going to teach them? But now they’ve taught me so many things, as females they teach me more about my own masculinity, and they are more powerful than I could ever imagine.

As fathers, we often want to protect our kids by keeping their world calm and not too overwhelming. At some point I ask him about the scale of his “world” and how it relates to his children: how does he rectify the imbalance between his projects — which sometimes involve planning a whole city — with the small world his daughter’s live in, one that is quickly getting bigger and bigger. As he somewhat brushes away this concept — “Our world is getting so much bigger, a lot of my work is based internationally and I feel fortunate to take my kids to see these places” — I realize being the same regardless of the context keeps the world much more manageable than all the compartmentalizing parents are inclined to do; Findlay’s seemingly unflappable grace is his way of keeping his family’s world — even when they are in the rainforests of Suriname — stable, small, and always relatable.

Under 40 and Saving the World

As the head of his eponymous consulting firm, Everard Findlay rebrands corporations, designs glamourous ad campaigns, and curates art exhibitions. But perhaps his greatest achievement is founding Special Friends of the Earth, a global outreach mission that began with a project in the impoverished city of Laventille, in his native Trinidad, where the stressed and expensive public transportation system has hindered children’s ability to get to school.

After several trips to the area, in 2007 Findlay decided the solution was private bus lines. He enlisted Al Gore’s onetime economic adviser Eric Hansen to help him raise money, and the Laventille Bus Project was born.

Findlay is now turning his attention to uncultivated land surrounding New York’s public schools. “I have my sights on P.S. 84. The engaged community makes it a perfect candidate for a garden,” he says. That collaborative approach is the thread that runs through all of Findlay’s efforts. “I am fortunate to know a wide range of amazing people,” he says, “and I look for the potential for mutual edification.”

Blue Man Group

Everard Findlay, alongside five other respective men of their fields, including artists Doug & Mike Starn, opera singer Simon Keenlyside and Harvard scholar Noah Feldman, where photographed by Barnaby Roper for this WSJ feature article.

“I work with Louis Silverman [founder of New York real-estate investment firm G4] on community-based projects. I’m involved with GrowNYC, doing green initiatives around the city. And I’m creating a residency program on Trinidad’s Gaspar Grande Island to bring artists, innovators and scientists together to work in tandem toward solutions for different problems.”

“When Kofi Annan is wearing one, there’s such a dignity in the way that he carries himself.”

Everard Findlay