Search results for "whitney"

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Pictorial> Here's your first glimpse inside Renzo Piano's new Whitney Museum
On May 1, the southern terminus of the High Line will have a true anchor tenant. Renzo Piano's towering new Whitney Museum for American Art will throw open its glass doors—or at least unlock the revolving ones—as tourists and eager New Yorkers alike throng in for a look around the highly anticipated gallery spaces. Until then, here's a peek at the the museum, inside and out, from a press junket on Thursday. Inside, a lobby space clad on three sides in a crystal-clear glass curtain wall fills the museum with natural light. The museum's restaurant, Untitled, and its gift store flow seamlessly through the space. Elevators whisk visitors to the galleries above. At the top, a series of skylights diffuse light into gallery spaces and a large outdoor terrace extends from another cafe. A series of highly detailed catwalks provides views of the High Line, New York's skyline, and the museum itself. The overlapping outdoor spaces connected by stairways will surely be a highlight of many high-design soirees in years to come. Moving through the galleries, the museum's white walls and grey metal grids are contrasted with a light natural wood floor. An internal stairway featuring a waterfall of cascading light bulbs guides visitors down through the museum. Take a look at the gallery below for a look of AN's tour through the Whitney on Thursday. Watch for your next print issue of The Architect's Newspaper, where we'll publish our full critique of the museum and delve into its history. [All images by Branden Klayko / AN.]
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New Narratives
Courtesy MET

Six months after the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) opened the revamped OLIN-designed Fifth Avenue Plaza (David H. Koch Plaza), the institution announced its decision to hire British architect David Chipperfield to redesign its Southwest Wing for modern and contemporary art. Renderings have yet to be released, but the larger scope of the project includes increasing gallery space for the collection, doubling the size of the Roof Garden, adding on-site storage, and improving wayfinding and accessibility to and from Central Park. The renovation may also extend to the adjacent galleries for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. This project, along with the Fifth Avenue Plaza, marks the first phase of a larger plan, dubbed “Building the MET of the Future,” developed with Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners.

“The goal in our work with David and his team is to take a giant leap forward in the presentation of modern and contemporary art at the Met within the broader context of our collections across different cultures and more than 5,000 years of history, and to be able to better tell the multiple narratives of the art of our time,” said Thomas P. Campbell, MET director and CEO, in a statement.

Chipperfield was chosen following a yearlong selection process. The architect is known for his impressive museum work, which includes the rehabilitation of the Neues Museum in Berlin and the new Museo Jumex in Mexico City, housing the largest private art collection in Latin America.

“David Chipperfield’s global architectural experience and sensibility, along with his commitment to the collaborative aspect of creating architecture, make him a perfect partner on this milestone project,” added Campbell.

The project buoys the MET’s greater mission to broaden its contemporary art programming. In February, a substantial gift from donors established two new curatorships in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, to support the museum’s expansion into the now vacant and former home of the Whitney at 945 Madison Avenue. (Beatrice Galilee assumed the new Daniel Bordsky Associate Curator of Architecture and Design last year.) Its residency at the landmarked Marcel Breuer-designed building will commence in 2016 with a show called Unfinished.

Planning for the Southwest Wing is already underway, but will first have to undergo an extensive review process with the city and community and obtain approvals before breaking ground.

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Taking the Reins
Dion Crannitch / Flickr

Since The Architect’s Newspaper began publishing in November 2003, three people have helmed the executive editor position, each of them extraordinary in their own way. Cathy Lang Ho, our first executive editor, was, and is, an indomitable creative force who brought her energy and drive to bear on forging the paper from the seed of an idea. The format and editorial direction that she—along with editor-in-chief William Menking, publisher Diana Darling, art director Martin Perrin, and more—put in motion is still alive and evident in every issue we produce today.

 
Aaron Seward.
Whitney Cox
 

Julie Iovine succeeded Lang Ho in March 2007. Iovine brought a heightened level of professionalism and prestige to what has always been a scrappy, whether-you-like-us-or-not endeavor. Her critical eye and deep knowledge of architecture and design burnished the paper’s image and elevated its status from that of an alternative voice for the profession to a real contender in the same arena with the old-guard, corporate-backed architecture magazines.

With Iovine’s departure in August 2012, Alan G. Brake assumed control. Brake expanded the paper’s coverage of the important fields of landscape architecture and planning, engaging us more fully in the ripe and evolving discussion about the future of urban development in the 21st century. Brake’s intelligence, fairness, and composure permeated every issue he oversaw and went a long way toward cementing AN’s standing as the one architecture periodical everyone must read from cover to cover.

Now the leaf has turned again. On March 16, Aaron Seward (that’s me) accepted the job of the fourth executive editor of AN. I will leave it to my successor to characterize what I bring to the publication, but a few words on my background may be of interest to readers.

My involvement with AN began in 2005 when it was still being published out of the Tribeca loft apartment of the publisher and editor-in-chief. As such, I have had the sincere pleasure of working under all of the previous executive editors—as a freelance writer, a special projects editor, an associate editor, and finally as managing editor during Mr. Brake’s regime—and have been a part of the paper’s growth from its genesis as a New York–region insiders journal to a national media company that publishes print editions in four regions (more than 40 issues per year) as well as produces a daily website and blog, reaches out to the public via social media, hosts design competitions, and runs a popular conference series.

As big as AN has become, the core of our mission has not changed. In the very first issue (AN 01_11.10.2003), Menking and Lang Ho wrote in this very column that the paper “emerged in part out of frustration that so many important architecture and design stories never find a place in the news dailies, city weeklies, and design monthlies.” Well, the intervening decade-plus has seen an explosion in architecture and design coverage, mostly on the Internet. However, the majority of this new-media virulence is utter copy-paste pablum—content not stories—only good for the eyes-glazed ingestion of massive amounts of glossy renderings that have very little to do with what architecture is really all about. With AN you can be sure that what you are getting is a carefully selected collection of independently produced news, commentary, analysis, and cultural reporting, assembled and edited to be enlightening as well as enjoyable.

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Glass House, Farmhouse
Harf Zimmermann

“I believe that change is a great thing. In fact, it’s the only real absolute in the world,” said Philip Johnson. In the five-plus decades that Philip Johnson and his companion David Whitney resided in the Glass House and on its 49-acre campus in New Canaan, change was, indeed, an essential part of their day-to-day routine and tenure. Johnson’s iconic one-story Glass House, perched on an elevated point, with sweeping views of the woods and pond below, was the first to be designed on the property. Over the next 50 years, Johnson and Whitney built or purchased 13 other buildings, including the enclosed Brick House, the Lake Pavilion, the Painting Gallery, the Sculpture Gallery, the Library/Study, Da Monsta, Ghost House, Calluna Farm, and the Grainger. While the architect’s celebrated glass-paneled and steel structure, characteristic of his own International Style, was his primary residence, it became one of many dwellings on the rambling property where the pair spent their time, with frequent movement between houses.

Calluna Farm.
Courtesy Glass House
 

Beginning this May when the Glass House reopens, two more houses, the Grainger and Calluna Farms, will be open to the public. This will be the first time that visitors will have the opportunity to step inside the Grainger, the 18th century home acquired by Whitney in 1990 (his middle name is Grainger), where the two men lived on the weekends, spending much of their time cooking, watching films, reading, and gardening. Whitney removed additions to the house—including bathrooms and septic system in the early 1990s—but kept the original floorboards and beams. A window etching created as a site-specific work by artist Michael Heizer is a prominent and contrasting feature of the house. Christa Carr, communications director of the Glass House, explained that these sandblasted glass windows are intended to be Heizer’s interpretation of the petroglyphs.

The Grainger.
Irene Shum Allen
 

Inside, a Johnson-designed table is sandwiched between Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich’s padded leather and steel Tugendhat chairs, which were originally made for the Tugendhat House in Czechoslovakia. A year after purchasing the house, Whitney planted a peony garden, consisting of 41 peonies and 25 irises, and in which he was the only one permitted to work. A bronze sculpture, Nature Amassment #4, by Alessandro Twombly (Cy Twombly’s son) stands in the garden.

Before the Grainger became part of the compound, Johnson purchased Calluna Farms for Whitney in 1981. Numerous renovations ensued on the early 20th century home. The kitchen became a focal point in the house, which includes Johnson’s own custom-designed kitchen table, and is where Whitney did much of his cooking. Outside sits his own succulent garden inspired by Kasimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition.

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After a year-long search, the Met chooses David Chipperfield to design the museum's new wing
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has announced that David Chipperfield has been selected to "develop a new design for the Southwest Wing for modern and contemporary art, and potentially for adjacent galleries for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, as well as additional operational spaces." In a statement, Thomas P. Campbell, the director and CEO of The Met, said Chipperfield's firm was selected after a year-long process because of its global experience and sense of collaboration. Campbell also noted the firm's extensive museum work, calling it "brilliantly coherent, elegant, and accessible." Chipperfield's team is now tasked with increasing gallery space, enhancing visitor circulation, doubling the Roof Garden, and creating accessible on-site storage. “We are delighted to have been selected for this extraordinary commission," David Chipperfield said in a statement. "During the competition we developed an understanding and fondness for this amazing institution and we look forward to working with Tom Campbell and his colleagues on the development of the design.” While the design process is just beginning, the Met said the renovation will support "a more open dialogue between the Museum and Central Park." The potential impact of this renovation on the park itself could be the most controversial aspect of this project and will surely be closely watched. While construction is underway, the Met's collection will be temporarily moved to the Breuer Building, the former home of the Whitney, which is moving into a new Renzo Piano–designed space near the High Line. The old Whitney building will open to the public next spring as a satellite campus of the Met.
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Pictorial> Take a walk along New York City's starchitect-lined High Line
If you haven't been up on the High Line recently, or perhaps ever–looking at you Mayor de Blasio–then you've been missing out on some big new projects from architecture's biggest names–we're talking about your Hadid’s, your Foster’s, your Piano’s, and your Kohn Pedersen Fox’s. AN recently took a stroll along the 'ole rail line to see the progress on Renzo Piano’s nearly-completed Whitney Museum, the quickly-rising Hudson Yards, and all the fancy condos rising in between. Take a look at the gallery below to see all that's been happening on the park that every city wants to recreate.
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Tempered by Restraint
Jonathan Wallen

New York Transformed: The Architecture of Cross & Cross
By Peter Pennoyer and Anne Walker
Monacelli Press, $60

Towards the end of his foreshortened career, the late, colorful art historian Henry Geldzahler organized a painting show at PS 1 in Queens called The Underknown: Twelve Artists Re-Seen in 1984.

After leaving his successive posts as first-time curator of 20th century art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and as New York’s just-hatched commissioner of cultural affairs in 1978, he turned much of his critical attention to the work of older artists once widely recognized and collected (including by leading museums), but then relegated indefinitely to unseen storage. It was like taking a 30-year-old Whitney Biennial catalog and restaging its content as a way of recalling the once recognized and now ignored, far outnumbering as they do those withstanding the fullest measure of time’s passage.

In a world focused evermore on the young, emerging, and diverse, it was a refreshing curatorial impulse and a sobering reminder of how few era-shapers end up gaining a lasting hold on our collective attention.

   
An elegant, curved staircase by Cross & Cross at the Links Club in New York (left, center). The crown of the RCA Victor building in New York (right).
 

Ironically, with architecture, despite its status as the most social and publicly accessible of the arts by dint of formal intent and (excepting secluded private houses) exterior visibility, such credit-giving is stingier still for past and present practitioners alike.

In the history of the United States Postal Service, for example, there has been a single stamp commemorating an architect and in case you have not guessed already it was in 1966 for Frank Lloyd Wright, who also got one for Falling Water, the original Guggenheim Museum, and the Robie House among the measly total of seven stamps that have had anything to do whatsoever with those who shape the built environment. Maybe some of the internationally branded stars anointed more recently and redundantly by critics, like the late Herbert Muschamp, will hold up to long-term scrutiny but it is too soon to tell.

Such lack of attribution and the according anonymity of practitioners, whose contributions are thus hidden in plain sight, helps underscore the important joint contribution of the authors Peter Pennoyer, an architect, and Anne Walker, a historian, with their ongoing series about important “Underknowns” from the first half of the last century. And they come at a time when much of their subject examples still stand in moot contrast to the frenzy of up-zoning and air-rights laden exuberances now taking root across the five boroughs and their surrounding region.

 
Cross & Cross' Brick House.
 

There is no justification for the accomplishments and business practices of these masters to be lost to history, especially if and when the constructed results are overlooked, demolished, or at risk. Yet this backward glance is not a nostalgic yearning for better days past, nor a disguised plea for preservation. On the contrary, by always adding analysis of what building their subjects’ work replaced, they acknowledge the changing social dynamics and economic circumstances imposed on the profession by varying clients. At the same time, however, they refuse
to ignore such precedents and look instead for ways it can inform this inevitable continuum, especially given the sometimes blinding juggernaut of Modernism.

New York Transformed: The Architecture of Cross & Cross (aka brothers John Walter (1878–1951) and Eliot Cross (1883–1949)) arrives as the series’ fourth, following Delano & Aldrich, Warren & Wetmore, and Grosvenor Atterbury. All subject architects are united by success in terms of both design and client engagement in the shadow of the “progressive torpedo,” as foreword writer Robert A. M. Stern puts it, of Modernism’s inexorable concurrent rise so accelerated as it was by the advent of worldwide war. The record of these labors is twice confounded: by their polemical peers as well as by the profession’s relative anonymity in general.

The 35-year duration of the fraternal partnership ranged from the Colonial Revival, which was under way as the Crosses launched their firm (e.g. the Flemish-bonded simple Georgian symmetry of the American Foundation for the Blind, 15 East 16th Street), to the sky-scraping proto-modern art deco of their late career (RCA Victor Building at Lexington Avenue and 51st Street) with its tacit acceptance of new technologies as well as the budgetary trimming born of depression and warfare. There was always a client- and architect-shared tie to the past and an acknowledgement of its best lessons cast anew. Like Peter Pennoyer Architects today, Cross & Cross deployed a broad and varied vocabulary, yet one descending from a rigorous classical point of departure and manifesting in continuously innovative ways.

 
Bayberry Land gardens and living room.
Courtesy Monacelli Press
 

Enlivening the text are ample blueprints and illustrations, especially in an occasional photographic essay contributed by Jonathan Wallen, of a surviving example of each building typology that defines the volume’s thematic chapters. The Lee, Higginson & Co. tower at 41 Broad Street stands out for its instructive glimpse of structure and ornament in vital symbiosis.

And who knew? Far from their Federally inspired clubs and Cotswold Cottage-inflected homes on Long Island’s North Shore, Cross & Cross landed in 1940 at the stripped down swank of Tiffany & Co. at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street with what was then the largest column-free merchandising hall in the country. Here the window dressers have enjoyed more attribution than those who created the beguiling vitrines of irrepressible yet concentrated attention on the goods for sale: bling for the masses as much as for the potential customer, overall, however, tempered by restraint of the stylistic commission.

Another narrative drive found here, lacking in most contemporary architectural narratives, are lively and unapologetic accounts of the Cross & Cross clients, who, like them, grew up in the small world of interconnected families at the center of wealth and power which, without knowing it, were witnessing the end of this age of birthright privilege. All the Pennoyer/Walker books do so not as gossipy peeks at the rich and discreetly renowned, but as measures of doing business—that can still instruct even as a WASPy upper class hegemony depicted in these pages has long ago yielded to the finance and real estate meritocrats and foreign oligarchs who prove more elusive as illuminating ingredients in the complex business of getting things built.

Ironically, despite their well set place at the exclusive elite table, Cross & Cross, and in particular Eliot, also worked as speculative developers with the associated firm of Webb and Knapp that has evolved into today’s Zeckendorf Development, thriving as never before. While benefitting from the decorous rules of Social Register propriety, Eliot and his profit-minded cohorts simultaneously contributed to its ultimate dismantling by the tools of investment, marketing, and the general free-for-all of accumulated wealth alone as the real drivers of growth.

In this way too, the invisible impact of forgotten trailblazers emerges from the historical shadows as with the authors’ earlier series’ subjects. The profession, like an evermore design savvy public, gains as a result of these insights. Its creative intent is worth sharing for the sake of drawing back a curtain blocking the artistry we inhabit daily whether, frankly, we want to or not.

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Harvard Art Museums
Nic Lehoux

The recently opened Harvard Art Museums consolidates under one roof the university’s three art museums: the Fogg, the Busch-Reisinger, and the Arthur M. Sackler. Combined, these institutions boast larger holdings than the Boston MFA, some 250,000 objects, all of which are available to students by request. Designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop in collaboration with Payette, the new facility’s purpose is to make this impressive collection more accessible with the hope of encouraging scholarship. At 200,000 square feet, it includes galleries, teaching spaces, and a sizeable conservation studio, as well as an auditorium and lecture hall.

The site chosen for the new facility was that of the existing Fogg, a protected 1927 Georgian revival edifice that had been added to several times over the years. The design team completely overhauled the Fogg, stripping it down to the landmarked portions of the building, which left the facade and about two thirds of the floor space, including an arcaded courtyard. A new Alaskan White Cedar and glass–clad, steel-framed structure was then added that seamlessly integrates with the historic building. A circulation corridor was cut through from Quincy Street to Prescott Street and a sloping, steel-framed glass roof links the old and the new.

   
 

“Renzo’s concept was to rip out the existing roof and put in a clear glass roof so that you would be able to see the sky,” said Robert Silman, president emeritus of structural engineering firm Robert Silman Associates (RSA), which worked with the architects on the project. “It’s a trademark of his work. This project, the Morgan, and the Whitney, all of which we worked on, have this characteristic. He likes to articulate the components and to make them visible. Slick isn’t what he’s after. There ought to be visible clarification of the primary, secondary, and tertiary members, and how the glass interacts with that framework. That’s the stuff you have to work on in collaboration from the beginning, or it doesn’t happen.”

The glass roof support structure is made up of double king post trusses that interlock to form its two halves. RSA performed extensive studies and worked closely with German fabricator Josef Gartner to engineer the system’s main structural components to a high-degree of precision so that it joins seamlessly with the existing building and the new steel-framed addition. The design team was able to convince the department of buildings to consider the roof a skylight, allowing them to only fireproof the structure’s hip brackets, a job that was accomplished with an intumescent coating. The rest of the structure is exposed, putting Piano’s carefully thought out connections on view for contemplation.

 

RESOURCES:
Arborist
Carl Cathcart
Civil Engineer
Nitsch Engineering
Cost Consultant
Davis Langdon
General Contractor
Skanska
Glass Roof Structure
Josef Gartner
MEP Engineer
Arup
Restoration
Building Conservation Associates

 

The conservation studio occupies the majority of the top floor, the fifth, giving the conservators access to abundant daylight. The fourth floor is dedicated to teaching, while second and third floors are reserved for gallery space. The first floor houses offices and through-building public circulation linking the Harvard campus across Quincy Street with Prescott Street. Throughout the lower floors, the engineering team was challenged with integrating modern mechanical systems with a structure whose beam dimensions and floor-to-floor heights matched the 1920s building. This required multiple pre-planned openings in beams through which to thread the services. The team also designed a frame with closely spaced beams whose bays are expressed with arched ceilings that maximize headroom.

 

The east side of the addition cantilevers at the second floor over a ramped walkway that links Broadway with the Prescott Street entrance. To the south, this walkway ties into Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center ramp. Floor-height trusses concealed within the walls support the cantilever over multiple bays of framing and allow for roomy column-free gallery spaces in this section of the addition. To the north and south, glass-enclosed galleries protrude from the main volume of the addition. Mechanically operated wood sunscreens in these sections give curators the ability to control the amount of daylight admitted into the galleries. Here, RSA had to keep building movement within tight tolerances to prevent the screens from binding when slid open or closed.

The auditorium and lecture hall were allocated to the basement, which required a significant excavation of the tight sight. RSA used a slurry wall foundation system that was cross-braced during excavation. In the final construction, the subterranean levels’ floor framing braces the concrete foundation walls. This was a tricky procedure because the ramp of the Carpenter comes down on top of the auditorium roof. It had to be temporarily shored during construction. “We had to hold up the ramp while we demolished a library that was on that spot and built the addition, simply because it’s Corbu,” said Silman. “It’s a block of concrete!” Work of genius or pile of cement, Skanska, which handled the construction, did its work carefully. The Carpenter ramp suffered no damage. Not that you could tell. In the words of Silman, “It’s pretty beat up as it is.”

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In Construction> Columbia's Renzo Piano–designed Science Center and Center for the Arts
Just six miles north of Renzo Piano’s highly-anticipated, High Line–adjacent, Whitney Museum, two other projects birthed from the same Italian brain are moving forward: Columbia University’s Jerome L. Greene Science Center and the Lenfest Center for the Arts. Speaking of brains, the nine-story, glass-encased Science Center is the future home of the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Initiative. Construction-watcher Field Condition recently visited the building which is now almost entirely wrapped in glass. Behind that nearly-completed glass curtain wall, Field Condition reported that framing, piping, ductwork, and sheetrock installation are ongoing. Next to that Piano-designed glass box is the new Center for the Arts, another glassy Piano creation that has recently topped out. Both the Science Center and Center for the Arts are slated to open in 2016, making them two of the first buildings in Columbia's bourgeoning Manhattanville campus.
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Meet AN's 2015 Best Of Design Awards Jury
header_art_900px_final_blog While architecture and design firms across the country and around the world gear up to register (the deadline is November 3) for The Architect's Newspaper's 2015 Best Of Design Awards, we'd like to take the opportunity to introduce this year's jury. As with last year, we invited a group of prominent design professionals whose expertise covers the nine categories in which we are giving awards. Collectively, they will lend their broad experience and individual perspectives to what is certain to be the very difficult task of choosing the best of many sterling projects. Thomas Balsley is the founder and design principal of New York City–based landscape architecture, site planning, and urban design firm Thomas Balsley Associates (TBA). Founded in the early 1970s, TBA has completed a range of work from feasibility planning studies to built urban parks, waterfronts, corporate, commercial, institutional, residential, and recreational landscapes. In New York City alone, the firm has designed more than 100 public landscapes, including Peggy Rockefeller Plaza, Chelsea Waterside Park, Riverside Park South, and the Queens West parks Gantry Plaza State Park and Hunters Point Community Park.  Winka Dubbeldam is founder and principal of Archi-Techtonics and the Chair of the Graduate Architecture School at PennDesign, Philadelphia. Since 1994, Archi-Techtonics has completed multiple ground-up buildings and renovations, including 497 Greenwich in New York City's Soho neighborhood, which combines the renovation of a 19th-century warehouse with the construction of an 11-story "smart loft." The firm has also received many awards, including The Architecture League of New York's 2011 Emerging Voices award.  Kenneth Drucker has been director of design in HOK's New York City office since 1998. During that time he's lead the design process on all kinds of projects around the globe, including the Harlem Hospital Modernization in New York, the Sheraton Incheon Hotel in South Korea, and the University of Buffalo School of Medicine in Buffalo, New York. He is also a member of HOK's board of directors and design board. Chris McVoy has been with Steven Holl Architects since 1993. He made partner in 2000. He has been the partner-in-charge and co-designer for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, the Whitney Water Purification Facility and Park, the Campbell Sports Center at Columbia University, and the Glasgow School of Art. He is currently partner-in-charge for the Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU, and the new Visual Arts Building at the University of Iowa.  Craig Schwitter founded Buro Happold's first North American office in 1999. With more than 20 years of experience, he has led the multi-disciplinary engineering process on multiple project types, including educational, performing arts, cultural, civic, stadia, transportation, and master planning projects. Under his direction Buro Happold has developed the Adaptive Building Initiative and G. Works, both related industry efforts that address today’s critical low carbon and high performance building design issues. Annabelle Selldorf is principal of Selldorf Architects, which she founded in 1988. The firm has worked on public and private projects that range from museums and libraries to a recycling facility; and at scales from the construction of new buildings to the restoration of historic interiors and furniture design. She is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, an Academician of the National Academy Museum, and seves on the Board of the Architectural League of New York and the Chinati Foundation.  Erik Tietz and Andrew Baccon founded digital design and fabrication studio Tietz-Baccon in 2007. The studio has realized custom architectural elements and installations for a broad spectrum of clients that range from Asymptote Architects and Belzberg Architects, to Tiffany & Co. and The Museum of Modern Art. The firm works on every stage of a project, from conception to prototyping to fabrication and installation. 
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On Accountability & the Public Realm
Zumthor's planned expansion to LACMA.
Courtesy LACMA

Architecture, unlike art, is an endeavor that impacts entire communities and requires the approval and consent of the many. But from looking at LACMA’s anointing of Peter Zumthor and Frank Gehry to design its museum replacement and (potentially) an adjacent tower, it would appear that this reality is still being ignored.

First let me be clear that I respect these decisions. Zumthor and Gehry don’t need to prove their credentials to anyone, and the likelihood of two Pritzker Prize winners designing on the same block is an exciting one.

But…

LACMA director Michael Govan is in charge of an institution that receives about forty percent of its funding from the County of Los Angeles, and thus needs to answer to those funders. Yet he chose Zumthor and floated Gehry without even a semblance of public input or awareness. No competition. No public discussion or review. Yes he made the public aware of the Zumthor scheme with an exhibition, a public session with the architect, and in articles in the press, but only after the architect was chosen and the plans were well along. He also announced Gehry’s potential selection without a hint that others could be up for the job or that there might be another public process if that plan—which the museum would undertake with LA’s transit agency, Metro—goes forward.

Outside of the issue of its public funding, a work of such tremendous impact on the community should be both more transparent and inviting with regard to its selection process. In his most recent iteration Zumthor wants his oozing design to curve its way over Wilshire Boulevard, blocking views down this fabled corridor and questionably removing the building from the pedestrian flow around it. Like it or not it’s a bold move. But it needs to be vetted with the public that will be impacted at the stage when the initial design is still in formation. At the point of unveiling it’s too late.

I’m not arguing that the public needs to make the decision over the architect or the design. In my opinion those decisions should be made by experts in the field and by the museum administrators who will use it. (When the public starts to get too involved in the minutia of a project they can stifle creative plans—see the Whitney’s original expansion proposal or the many scuttled plans in the heart of San Francisco.) But they need to share that responsibility with the public, who should oversee what’s happening. To ignore this is not just irresponsible but arrogant.

Richard Koshalek, who led the competition for Disney Hall, the Tate Modern, and for other major buildings around the world, speaks highly of the lessons learned from including public input in various selection processes.

“We learned a hell of a lot from the public about what they wanted,” said Koshalek, of one of these many undertakings. He added: “When it’s a public funded institution the public should have the right to be aware of the process and aware of what you’re trying to accomplish.”

No other recent building of this cultural import in Los Angeles was developed without public input or at the very least a competition. In addition to Disney’s very public competition, Caltrans hosted a public competition for its downtown building by Morphosis as did MOCA for its structure by Arata Isozaki. Even Eli Broad held a competition for his new museum in Downtown LA, although he never shared the schemes from the runners up, which was way off the mark.

Beyond being the right thing to do, an inclusive strategy can also be the smartest path to getting a project approved. Without it a museum risks alienating the public before it gets a chance to make proper adjustments. This is a strategy that has backfired in other areas. While President Obama’s health care initiative has provided millions with very necessary care, just think how much easier it would have been to pass if he had made his case more clearly to the public early on? Closer to home, SCI-Arc is still facing some bluster for naming Hernan Diaz Alonso as its new director without involving the student body in a more direct way before the decision was made by the school’s selection committee. While I do support Diaz Alonso as a gifted teacher, and acknowledge that most schools don’t follow these rules, I think for a school like SCI-Arc, founded as an “institution without walls,” the selection process should have been more open from the beginning. Finally, LA’s planning department should make its web site much more robust, allowing the public to access in a much more detailed way all the projects and plans that are being put forward.

In a day and age when the public can be included so easily via technology, and when people express their likes and dislikes on social media every second, it is important to incorporate this kind of openness in the built world; particularly in the public realm. We need to embrace that reality.