Search results for "Public Design Commission"

Placeholder Alt Text

Tending Gardens
The Fort Mason Community Garden in San Francisco.
Briggs Nisbet

It’s probably too early to know if urban agriculture is a passing fad or the next chapter in the movement to restore the connection between the city and its sources of food and drink. The connection was severed after World War II as “progress” put a higher premium on convenience than on taste and variety, and urban “victory gardens” lost their necessity and official backing.


Topher delaney's medicinal garden on Minnesota street for UCSF
COURTESY topher delaney/ Seam Studio
 
 

What urban agriculture posits is the cityscape as a commons—and an active citizenry prepared to cultivate it. This wonderful word, cultivation, is much missing now in the metropolis. The cityscape has become an odd place, full of settings that seem alive until you actually experience them. If we accept that everything outside of buildings is potentially “cityscape,” a frightening amount of it seems to belong to no one. Between a public sector that approaches that cityscape as something to be minimally and mechanically maintained, and a citizenry that often sees its obligations as almost non-existent, we are left with a patchwork of private sponsorship.

Without a citizenry willing to cultivate, you can’t even sustain a victory garden. The difference between what was installed in San Francisco’s Civic Center and the allotment gardens at Fort Mason, for example, is an active community keeping it in good shape. Interestingly, the latter are administered by the National Park Service, which charges a nominal annual rent for a 5-by-20-foot plot and administers a long waiting list. There’s a degree of turnover, but slow enough that newcomers can benefit from old-timers, that the community can share some of its costs, and that there’s a tradition that encourages diversity, but also demands a level of participation.

When Shunryu Suzuki, propagator of Soto Zen in northern California, arrived here, he may have been thinking of “Instructions for the Cook,” an essay by Eihei Dogen, the 13th-century founder of Soto Zen, one of the three sects of Japanese Buddhism. He notes that being the cook at a monastery is a shortcut to enlightenment if you take the work seriously. Even hanging out with the cook can be helpful, he notes, telling of his encounter with an old man, a cook, gathering firewood in the hot noon sun. “Shouldn’t someone else do that for you?” he asked. The old man glanced over. “Other people aren’t me,” he said.

Suzuki proposed an ethic of self-sufficiency for his community in which raising vegetables and preparing food had a central place. There is something in that gesture that is directly relevant—the medicine we all need—to cure the barrenness of most cityscapes. Urban agriculture has similar motives: learn to cultivate here, and you may cultivate there—and there. Rooted in cooperation, cultivation is also innately personal, an expression of who we are.

The University of California at San Francisco recently commissioned Topher Delaney and Seam Studio to design, install, and maintain a small garden around a building that it owns in the city’s eastern neighborhoods, across from a public park. The garden fits between the building and the street, triangulated so what’s planted there can really be seen and experienced as you walk along. The raised beds are protected by metal barriers from dogs and debris. Written on them are the plants’ Latin names.

This is a medicinal garden, a source of remedies for people whose cultures still use them. They come and take leaves and cuttings. It’s likely that other gardens will be planted in the neighborhood, now that people see that it can be done. The medicinal garden is tended by a real person, Oscar Fuentes, who made the metal barriers and planted everything that grows there. In an area where the streets are often bare of vegetation, the medicinal garden is thriving. It makes the park seem untended by contrast.

It is untended. Like other public settings, the amount of human involvement in its cultivation has steadily diminished. What if, on the other hand, it was run jointly with the community? What if neighbors had actual plots that they could garden on their own? What if the streets became an extension of the park, with the city’s encouragement for people to garden there, too? What if the public realm was restored as a commons, in other words, rather than as the no man’s land it has become, controlled by cities that can no longer afford to cultivate it, as they briefly did? The commons is not a private realm, but it exists for the community that shares and cultivates it.

As long as the cityscape is someone else’s problem, it will be full of dead zones. As long as the public sector and its employees assert a monopoly over it, preventing its cultivation, it will stay as uninviting as it is—or get worse. It doesn’t have to be this way. If local designers, gardeners, and artisans in the private sector are enlisted in its cultivation, as UCSF did with its medicinal garden, their imagination, knowledge, and best practices can be an inspiration for others—a crucial step in reclaiming the cityscape as a commons and involving citizens in its cultivation.

Cultivation is work. You don’t put lettuce on the table without planting it, watering it, warding off the pests, and harvesting it at the right time. Urban agriculture is really a metaphor for any and all efforts to reengage the community in cultivating the cityscape, at every level that makes sense. Cultivation requires small-scale, fine-grained, locally-sustainable approaches—it’s more work, but it’s the only way to revive the cityscape as a commons—urbane, alive, uniquely ours.

A version of this article appeared in AN 08_10.28.2009_CA.

Placeholder Alt Text

PUC Yeah!
Delayed for more than a year, the new PUC headquarters has finally broken ground in San Francisco.
Courtesy KMD Architects

Never say never. After a three-year wait, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) finally broke ground last week on a new headquarters that is on tap to become the city's greenest office building. The $190 million, 13-story project, outfitted with environmental features like rooftop wind turbines and solar panels, is designed to exceed a LEED Platinum rating when it opens in spring 2012. The glass-clad tower is expected to use 32 percent less energy than a typical Class A office building.


 
 
the project incorporates extensive green features, including wind turbines and huge solar cells.
 
 

“Our intent from the beginning was to create the most energy-efficient office building developed in an urban setting in the United States,” said Ryan Stevens, director of design at KMD Architects in San Francisco, the building designers.

The 270,000 square-foot headquarters will come with a variety of water conservation features like a grey-water wastewater recycling system that will reuse water for the building’s toilets and cooling system. Waterless urinals, faucet sensors and on-demand water heaters are expected to shave water usage from an average of 12 gallons per day to five. Day-lighting features, like sun-filtering shades and window glazing, will be used extensively. A solar chimney, which improves ventilation through air convection, will also be added.

Still, some flashy design features were scrapped for cost and energy efficiency. Out went the line of wind turbines up the building’s northern face and the photovoltaic cells embedded between the windows.

For well over a year, it did not seem like the PUC would get a new headquarters at all. The agency's new general manager, Edward Harrington, balked at the rising price tag when he was hired last summer and put the project on hold. Concern over a ratepayer insurrection—the PUC was spending billions on seismic upgrades—was an added incentive for the delay.

The recession, however, forced agency executives to reconsider their decision. Building materials and labor were cheaper, and falling interest rates made borrowing money easier. Consolidating its 1,000-member staff from two leased buildings into one building would also save money. “The numbers came down to the point where it became economical to build,” said Tyrone Jue, a San Francisco PUC spokesman.

Since 1978, when California voters approved Proposition 13, municipalities have needed a two-thirds vote, instead of a simple majority, to issue bonds. COPs have become the preferred way for cities across the state to put up buildings without voter approval. In September, the agency raised $172 million through the sale of COPs, and is waiting to receive $18 million in federal stimulus funds.

Placeholder Alt Text

The City of Benchly Love
It would seem Philadelphia has a bit of a seating fixation going on with this year's Design Philadelphia event. First there was the new Veyko subway chairs, and now—as you've noticed if you've been out wandering the streets of town during October—more than a dozen seats/sculptures scattered about, all cut from DuPont Corian, all created by prominent local designers. Reading-based C.H. Briggs, the interiors supplier, decided it wanted to celebrate Philly's top designers and the city's popular public spaces by commissioning them to create site-specific seating from that most ubiquitous of building materials. The results will only officially be up through the end of the month, though Briggs is currently negotiating with the city and certain institutions to donate the pieces so that they might find a permanent home—not unlike those damn cow parades that were so popular earlier in the decade, though at least these seats have a far greater purpose. You can see a slideshow of all 14 here.
Placeholder Alt Text

Stoop to Conquer
Bunch Design is working on a the renovation of a Pasadena bungalow essentially for cost just to keep busy.
Courtesy Bunch Design

With firms still laying off large portions of their staffs and some closing their doors altogether, the economic downturn continues to pressure California architects to secure commissions however they can. According to several sources, some architects are offering clients lower project cost estimates than they can deliver, reducing services, and even working for free.

“I think some people’s attitude right now is to just get the job and worry about the consequences later. They’re low-balling us to get projects,” said Jess Mullen-Carey, principal at Silver Lake firm Make Architecture. He said his firm recently was passed over for a retail center and car wash in Long Beach from a client with whom they had worked successfully in the past. There were “a host of reasons” they didn’t win the job. But a major one, he believes, was that the winning firm’s proposed fee was two-thirds the amount of any other bid. “We couldn’t work with what they offered,” he said. “There’s no saying they won’t be adding services down the line.”

San Francisco architect Cary Bernstein sees a similar “deal with it later” trend in her city, where she says the biggest problem she’s come across is architects willfully underestimating what construction costs are going to be on a job. “I think some people would just get the job and take the risk of potential friction later,” she noted.

She pointed to a competing firm that offered a construction cost of about $300 per square foot for a house in the heart of San Francisco with extreme green features. “I said, no way, that’s just not possible,” said Bernstein, of the offered fee. “Is there a project to be done for that money? Possibly. Is that going to be what the client wants? Probably not.” She continued, “You have to think about whether you’re being honest with the client.”

Part of the blame, said Bernstein, goes to cash-strapped or inexperienced clients, who are much more likely to believe unrealistic projections in tough times. “They’re not looking for real numbers, they’re looking for what they want to hear,” she said. Desperate clients, said several other architects, are also encouraging firms to offer drastically reduced fees or free work upfront like drawings and documents to try to win them over.

Many firms said they could do little but comply, especially when some clients might just forego using an architect altogether to save the money. Mullen-Carey said his firm is now delivering free floor plans for a client who is considering them for a 5,000-square-foot office project in LA, even though it “goes against every bone in my body.” But in this climate, he said, “We feel if we have to spend a few hours on some basic layouts it’s generally worth the effort.”

Bo Sundius, founder of the small LA firm Bunch Design, has also performed free schematic work and has been willing to accept virtually no profit on a few projects just to keep things moving.

“We try to keep as many projects going as possible,” said Sundius, whose firm has taken commissions with terms as low as 10 percent of construction cost in recent months. “If there’s a slow bleed we can handle that. But as soon as you start hemorrhaging money you’re in trouble. When you’re doing nothing you’re hemorrhaging.”

Even more drastic, some would say non-collegial, tactics are drawing attention. One firm, Santa Monica–based Boto Design, recently sent out a note promising “a referral fee will be paid to all brokers upon securing an architectural commission.”

Will Wright, director of government and public affairs for AIA/LA, sees the recent habits of underbidding and even stretching what’s possible as a symptom of several problems in construction, including a “culture of change orders,” in which prices are rarely static, and the “flawed” design-bid-build model that leaves both clients and architects vulnerable to unforeseen changes down the line. One solution, now under consideration by the AIA at many levels, is “Integrated Project Delivery,” where, among other things, all parties are part of a single team and are all contractually obligated to hold up their end of the bargain.

Meanwhile, many worry that the cost of driving down rates will linger long after the recession is over. “If everyone starts dropping their fees to a bad spot what are you going to do? Not do it and become extinct?” Mullen-Carey said.

Others say the strategy will hurt firms in the short run as well as the long run. “It’s a slippery slope when you’re cutting fees to get jobs,” said Roger Sherman, principal at LA-based Roger Sherman Architecture + Urban Design, who said he saw one firm underbid his fee estimate on a public project by almost 50 percent. “If it’s the kind of client who’s going to pick you just because your fee is lower, it’s probably not the client you’re going to want to work with.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 08_10.28.2009_CA.

Placeholder Alt Text

John Parman
The Fort Mason Community Garden in San Francisco.
Briggs Nisbet

It’s probably too early to know if urban agriculture is a passing fad or the next chapter in the movement to restore the connection between the city and its sources of food and drink. The connection was severed after World War II as “progress” put a higher premium on convenience than on taste and variety, and urban “victory gardens” lost their necessity and official backing.


Seam Studio's medicinal garden at as streetscape at UCSF.
COURTESY topher delaneya
 
 

What urban agriculture posits is the cityscape as a commons—and an active citizenry prepared to cultivate it. This wonderful word, cultivation, is much missing now in the metropolis. The cityscape has become an odd place, full of settings that seem alive until you actually experience them. If we accept that everything outside of buildings is potentially “cityscape,” a frightening amount of it seems to belong to no one. Between a public sector that approaches that cityscape as something to be minimally and mechanically maintained, and a citizenry that often sees its obligations as almost non-existent, we are left with a patchwork of private sponsorship.

Without a citizenry willing to cultivate, you can’t even sustain a victory garden. The difference between what was installed in San Francisco’s Civic Center and the allotment gardens at Fort Mason, for example, is an active community keeping it in good shape. Interestingly, the latter are administered by the National Park Service, which charges a nominal annual rent for a 5-by-20-foot plot and administers a long waiting list. There’s a degree of turnover, but slow enough that newcomers can benefit from old-timers, that the community can share some of its costs, and that there’s a tradition that encourages diversity, but also demands a level of participation.

When Shunryu Suzuki, propagator of Soto Zen in northern California, arrived here, he may have been thinking of “Instructions for the Cook,” an essay by Eihei Dogen, the 13th-century founder of Soto Zen, one of the three sects of Japanese Buddhism. He notes that being the cook at a monastery is a shortcut to enlightenment if you take the work seriously. Even hanging out with the cook can be helpful, he notes, telling of his encounter with an old man, a cook, gathering firewood in the hot noon sun. “Shouldn’t someone else do that for you?” he asked. The old man glanced over. “Other people aren’t me,” he said.

Suzuki proposed an ethic of self-sufficiency for his community in which raising vegetables and preparing food had a central place. There is something in that gesture that is directly relevant—the medicine we all need—to cure the barrenness of most cityscapes. Urban agriculture has similar motives: learn to cultivate here, and you may cultivate there—and there. Rooted in cooperation, cultivation is also innately personal, an expression of who we are.

The University of California at San Francisco recently commissioned Topher Delaney and Seam Studio to design, install, and maintain a small garden around a building that it owns in the city’s eastern neighborhoods, across from a public park. The garden fits between the building and the street, triangulated so what’s planted there can really be seen and experienced as you walk along. The raised beds are protected by metal barriers from dogs and debris. Written on them are the plants’ Latin names.

This is a medicinal garden, a source of remedies for people whose cultures still use them. They come and take leaves and cuttings. It’s likely that other gardens will be planted in the neighborhood, now that people see that it can be done. The medicinal garden is tended by a real person, Oscar Fuentes, who made the metal barriers and planted everything that grows there. In an area where the streets are often bare of vegetation, the medicinal garden is thriving. It makes the park seem untended by contrast.

It is untended. Like other public settings, the amount of human involvement in its cultivation has steadily diminished. What if, on the other hand, it was run jointly with the community? What if neighbors had actual plots that they could garden on their own? What if the streets became an extension of the park, with the city’s encouragement for people to garden there, too? What if the public realm was restored as a commons, in other words, rather than as the no man’s land it has become, controlled by cities that can no longer afford to cultivate it, as they briefly did? The commons is not a private realm, but it exists for the community that shares and cultivates it.

As long as the cityscape is someone else’s problem, it will be full of dead zones. As long as the public sector and its employees assert a monopoly over it, preventing its cultivation, it will stay as uninviting as it is—or get worse. It doesn’t have to be this way. If local designers, gardeners, and artisans in the private sector are enlisted in its cultivation, as UCSF did with its medicinal garden, their imagination, knowledge, and best practices can be an inspiration for others—a crucial step in reclaiming the cityscape as a commons and involving citizens in its cultivation.

Cultivation is work. You don’t put lettuce on the table without planting it, watering it, warding off the pests, and harvesting it at the right time. Urban agriculture is really a metaphor for any and all efforts to reengage the community in cultivating the cityscape, at every level that makes sense. Cultivation requires small-scale, fine-grained, locally-sustainable approaches—it’s more work, but it’s the only way to revive the cityscape as a commons—urbane, alive, uniquely ours.

A version of this article appeared in AN 08_10.28.2009_CA.

Placeholder Alt Text

Insider Job
Local firms are struggling to get civic work in San Francisco in the face of the city's Bureau of Architecture, a city agency that does a lionshare of public work.
brothergrimm/Flickr

In tough times, even small jobs are worth fighting for. In March, when the city’s Recreation and Parks Department put out a bid for a $21 million contract to spruce up the city’s Palega Park, 11 local architecture firms responded to the RFQ/RFP, only to come up against the powerful Local 21.

The union, which represents the architects and engineers employed by the city, insisted loudly that the project be kept in-house. In April, Parks  took their case to the Civil Service Commission, the city’s official arbiter on such matters, and won, rewarding the contract to architect Mark Cavagnero. But that was only after Local 21 managed to delay the project until this month.

The incident highlights an ongoing debate about who gets to design city buildings. The city of San Francisco runs an architecture department that is atypically large. Within the Department of Public Works (DPW), the Bureau of Architecture has a 65-person staff, including 27 licensed architects, 28 associates and assistants, and ten support staff.

Among private firms in San Francisco, DPW would definitely be one of the larger operations. It is in charge of maintaining some 400 buildings owned by the city, and does design work and project management for construction of new city buildings. Of the bureau’s 134 current projects, 70 percent are designed by the bureau, the rest by consultants. Twenty of the city’s largest projects, like Laguna Honda Hospital, are handled by a separate group, the Bureau of Project Management.

It’s not uncommon for cities to have an architecture department, but not all major metropolises have evolved in the same way. LA has an architectural division of about 80 people, which contracts out about 50 percent of its design work. Meanwhile, in New York and Chicago, nearly all new building design is contracted out.

Many architects agree that outsourcing is a great way to support small firms while guaranteeing high-quality work. Craig Hartman of SOM, who worked in Chicago before coming to San Francisco in 1990, said in an interview, “You certainly need a city advocate for architecture, to help the city commission architects who can provide the best design quality and services.

But is it the right thing to have a public architecture firm, operating on taxpayer dollars, that has no competition? Fire stations and libraries are the kinds of projects that would be perfect for the city’s small, highly talented design firms. In any economy, you want to have architects that are competing based on architectural excellence and their ability to deliver projects on time and within budget.”

While private architects are loath to speak critically about the bureau because of their interest in getting work from the city, landscape designer Topher Delaney has publicly raised issues about the quality of the bureau’s designs. At a February SF Arts Commission meeting, Delaney commented that the bureau’s proposed structures for the Public Utilities Commission didn’t “measure up to work being done around the world.”

The Bureau of Architecture has been even larger in the past: In the early ‘90s, it doubled to about 100 people after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. There was lots of seismic retrofitting to be done: the renovation of the City Hall, Opera House, and Civic Auditorium, along with several police and fire stations. For the last three years, the bureau has been helmed by Gary Hoy.

With the organization since 1991, Hoy believes the current level of staffing is “appropriate.” The “city has the authority to do its own architecture, there is consistency in the level of quality they get, and they can save money over the private sector,” Hoy said. “Part of the reason I joined is to help the city be a good client to the private sector.”

One way that the department could speed work to outside firms would be to have a list of prequalified architects and contractors, as other municipalities have done. The department is working on a proposal but has not formally submitted it to the city board for consideration. Of the current RFP/RFQ process, Hoy admitted: “We don’t rate design criteria as highly as the quality of service provided: things like change orders, errors and omissions, and delivering on time. Those aspects are far more important to the city, because they’re about controlling costs.”

Much of the bureau’s work is not very glamorous: interior renovations of courthouses, bringing holding cells up to code, ADA upgrades, and public utilities boxes. But these days, that work might sound pretty good to San Francisco’s struggling firms. “There’s contention [about public work allocation] during downtimes,” said Charles Higueras, an architect who spent 25 years in private practice before joining the Bureau of Project Management. “When everyone’s busy, no one cares.”

 

A version of this article appeared in AN 08_10.28.2009_CA.

Placeholder Alt Text

Jailbreak
City-funded architecture work is becoming scarce, if the DDC's latest list of Design and Construction Excellence firms is any indicator, so it's heartening when public projects promised during the boom times move into the construction phase. Today, Mayor Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Kelly, and DDC Commissioner Burney broke ground on the Rafael Vinoly-designed 121st Precinct Stationhouse, which was unveiled in last year. It will be the first police station built on Staten Island since 1962, and the first in the city to be built under the 2030 sustainable design initiative. The project is expected to earn a LEED Silver rating and to be completed in 2012. See a rendering after the jump.
Placeholder Alt Text

Planning Ahead
The City Planning Commission decided on four major development proposals yesterday (clockwise from left): the Hudson Yards, Kingsbridge Armory, MoMA Tower, and Broadway Triangle.
Courtesy Related; Hines

When the real-estate industry went into deep freeze, word had it that developers would use their recessionary downtime to get planning approvals in line for the uptick to come. And sure enough, New York’s City Planning Commission had a marathon day yesterday, approving the Related Companies’ Hudson Yards project and Kingsbridge Armory redevelopment, the rezoning of the Broadway Triangle in Brooklyn, new approvals for Jean Nouvel’s MoMA tower, and—the biggest surprise of the bunch—the announcement that the city was moving ahead on acquisition of the final stretch of the High Line.

The High Line news came just after commission chair Amanda Burden voted in favor of the re-rezoning of the western portion of the Hudson Yards, which had been designated for a stadium in 2005 as part of the city’s Olympic bid. Burden perked up noticeably when she made the announcement, declaring, “The vision of the High Line will not be realized until it extends all the way from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street. That’s why I’m pleased to announce that the city is preparing an application to acquire the final piece of the High Line.”

Burden added that she expects the process to be completed by the end of the year, at which point it will enter the public review process. The continuation of the elevated park, the first phase of which opened to great fanfare earlier this year, has been an open question throughout the Hudson Yards development process. While commensurate open space was required, some developers bidding on the project wanted to replace the High Line with a new park north of 30th Street, arguing its preservation would make building the deck over the rail yards more difficult.

Related, which took over the project after Tishman Speyer backed out last year, was ambivalent about including the High Line in its plans. The developer did seem to warm to the idea as the commission increasingly indicated that was the direction it was leaning, working language supportive of preservation into the rezoning in September. Until today’s announcement, though, nothing was assured.

Peter Mullan, vice president for planning and design for Friends of the High Line, said after the announcement that he was excited by the news, but more work remains. “This does not guarantee preservation, but it’s the beginning of the process to ensure preservation and the most significant and concrete step in the process,” Mullan said.

The city must now come to an agreement with CSX, the national railroad operator, to purchase the final stretch of track. No previous deal had been made because the tracks would have been demolished under the stadium plan, and then the city was unsure what action the developers would take.

As for Related’s massive project abutting the High Line, the commission approved changes to the 2005 rezoning, replacing the stadium with one commercial and seven residential towers surrounded by acres of open space, by a vote of 12-1. This will be a part of the completed Hudson Yards, which also includes a parcel east of 11th Avenue that was rezoned in 2005 for commercial and residential use.

The commission made some changes to the Related plan for the western yards that was certified in May, following criticism from the local community board and the borough president. In further deference to the High Line, one tower at the project’s southwest corner that would have straddled the elevated park has been pushed back and its height reduced, though it still overhangs the tracks by 50 feet (the Standard rises 30 feet above).

Changes were also made to the open space, which had been described as “too Bryant Park” by the board. Now, it will be more tightly integrated with the surrounding buildings, along with more seating and other minor changes. Burden also announced the assent of the School Construction Authority to develop a new primary school within the western development. Related could not be reached for comment about these changes.

“They heard everything we said,” Lee Compton, former chair of Community Board 4, told AN after the vote. “They did not agree with everything, though, and we’re going to continue to fight for them.”

The major sticking point, and the reason for the one dissenting vote, is affordable housing. “This project will contribute a number of important, positive aspects to the borough,” commissioner Karen Philips said. “But I am concerned by the lack of onsite affordable housing.” Related has pointed out that 600 units will be created off-site, but Compton said that those were promised during the 2005 rezoning. “To take credit for them would be double dipping,” he said. The community hopes to sway the City Council to require the developer to include more affordable housing, ideally within the site, when the council votes on the project in the next 50 days.

Things did not go as smoothly for Related’s Kingsbridge Armory, an old military hall in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx that has lain vacant for 15 years. The developer wants to turn the massive 57,500-square-foot building into a mall, including a 60,000-square-foot grocery store, which has drawn fire from two local grocers that fear it will put them out of business. Four commissioners sympathized with this issue and voted against the project, though it was still approved by 8-4 with one abstention.

During the meeting, the room was stormed by about two dozen unionists who have also been fighting Related for wage guarantees, along with the borough president Ruben Diaz, Jr., who was in the audience. The commission did not comment on this issue, but pressure will no doubt be brought to bear on the council. “I vote yes on this item trusting that progress on this project will continue,” commissioner Richard Eaddy said.

Another contentious community project was approved yesterday, this one with little uproar. Despite an alternative plan with the support of some 40 community groups, the commissioners approved the city’s rezoning application for the Broadway Triangle 11-1 with one abstention.

The commissioners who did speak up embraced the position of the community board, which argued that a good plan—with contextual zoning and nearly 1,000 potential units of affordable housing—was created in the worst of ways by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which largely ignored the community in the process. “We have had these issues with HPD in one manner or another in the past,” commissioner Irwin Cantor said. “I hope we don’t see HPD making similar errors in the future.”

As for Jean Nouvel’s midtown tower, it had already been approved in September, when the commission unexpectedly chopped 200 feet off the top, leaving it at 1,050 feet. Then, at City Hall two weeks ago, the council decided further changes needed to be made to the street-level facade, which had been more of a concern to the community all along.

Despite a personal plea from Nouvel to restore the full height of the tower, the council instead referred it back to the commission after reducing the hotel square footage from 150,000 square feet to 100,000, which eliminated the requirement for a loading dock on 54th Street. (The council also requested that MoMA make the wall to its sculpture garden more transparent and community friendly, something that has been a bone of contention since the expanded MoMA reopened in 2004, though that changes was not under the purvey off the commission.) The changes were approved unanimously, and the council is now expected to vote on them in the next few weeks.

Placeholder Alt Text

Miller Time
The Miller House designed by Eero Saarinen sit in a Dan Kiley landscape.
Ezra Stoller/ESTO

The fate of the Miller House and Garden in Columbus, Indiana, one of the greatest residential ensemble works of midcentury modernism, is in limbo. Restoration efforts by its owner, the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), have been put on hold due to sluggish fundraising.

The museum acquired the Miller House and Gardens in 2008, soon after Mrs. Miller’s death; her husband, J. Irwin Miller, died in 2004. From 1957 onward, the couple were renowned patrons of modern architecture following the underwriting of architectural fees by their foundation, the Cummins Foundation, for public buildings in their hometown of Columbus. Some 42 of the town’s civic buildings and malls were designed by architects such as I.M. Pei (library), Kevin Roche (post office), and Cesar Pelli (shopping center).

The Millers continued in this vein for their personal home, selecting Eero Saarinen for one of the rare residential commissions of the architect’s later period. Landscape architect Dan Kiley designed the gardens, and Alexander Girard the interiors. The Miller House is one of six National Historic Landmarks in Columbus.

The house's colorful interior was designed by Alexander Girard.

Significant not only to Columbus, the Miller House is also one of the most important modern houses in the country. R. Craig Miller, the IMA’s senior curator of Design Arts and director of Design Initiatives (and no relation) said, “You had these three extraordinary designers at the peak of their careers, working for two exceptional and discerning clients with almost unlimited means.” The house is not as well known as others because it was the primary residence of the Millers for decades and seldom available to be shown or photographed—another point of rarity.

The IMA is no stranger to custody of historic properties. It also owns the Oldsfield Estate, a 26-acre country house on its own grounds that is also a National Historic Landmark, and includes the Lilly Home and Gardens from the 1920s.

There is little distinction between inside and outside in the Miller House.

The public will have to wait for a good look at the place. The IMA plans standing tours, but these can’t be done until after conservation and restoration is complete. That work is on hold pending fundraising. When Mrs. Miller died, her heirs donated the house to the IMA, along with $5 million for a maintenance endowment, but the museum is required to match the amount within 18 months. Fundraising for that is only now getting underway in a challenging economic environment.

Leaders in Columbus are eager to see the work complete. “We’re excited about the reach and reputation of the IMA,” said Lynn Lucas, executive director of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau. Lucas believes the IMA brings both expertise and an expanded audience for Columbus’ architectural treasures.

While the museum wants to move quickly, speed is not its overriding goal. “We want to do everything as close to perfection as possible, because that’s how the Millers did it,” IMA’s Miller said.

 

A version of this article appeared in AN 01_10.14.2009_MW.

Placeholder Alt Text

Joan Goody, 1936-2009
Courtesy Goody Clancy

We may have crossed paths at MIT earlier, but I know Joan Goody and I met in 1970 at an extraordinary gathering, the first of its kind in Boston, for Women in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Planning (fondly dubbed WALAP). Joan was then a young partner in the firm Goody Clancy and Associates, and together with Sally Harkness at The Architects Collaborative, they were the only principals in a room of over 100 women.

For those of us who dreamed about creating a practice of architecture, Goody was tangible evidence it could be done. Her participation in WALAP was no surprise, because Joan was nurtured in an environment of political activism. I recall her saying that growing up, there was always talk of The Movement—in the ‘50s it was the labor movement, in the ‘60s it was the civil rights movement, and in the ‘70s it was, naturally, the women’s movement. Through the years since that meeting, she generously shared her experiences, joys, and frustrations with many of us.

Goody worked on the restoration of H.H. Richardson's Trinity Church in Boston.

Joan began her practice in Boston in partnership with her husband Marvin Goody, who had formed a small firm with colleague John Clancy. From the outset, their commitment to design for the public sector and particularly urban housing gained regional and national attention. When Marvin died in 1980, Joan became the firm’s most visible presence, and it grew dramatically under her leadership.

Joan’s values, shaped by her earliest experience in New York’s Ethical Culture School and later at Cornell and Harvard Graduate School of Design, permeated her architecture. The social benefit of architecture was always uppermost in her mind, and she was famously skeptical of design that celebrated itself more than its users. While the work of her firm expanded with projects of many types around the country, her contribution to Boston was most significant.

The Tent City housing complex.

Her affordable housing projects for Boston’s Tent City and Harbor Point restored a livable urbanism to damaged parts of the city. Her Student Center for Emmanuel College and Graduate Center for Simmons College were both inviting student and academic spaces, and critical elements in the campus ensemble. She excelled in historic restoration in three notable buildings by H. H. Richardson: Austin Hall and Sever Hall at Harvard, and Trinity Church. For her contributions to the profession and the city, she received the Award of Honor for lifetime achievement in 2005 from the Boston Society of Architects.

As a cultural and civic leader, Joan was well known for her breadth of knowledge, her forthrightness, and her eloquence. She served for many years as the mayoral appointee and chair of the Boston Civic Design Commission, reviewing every major building project undertaken in the city with consistent and persistent concern for the quality of life and design each would contribute. When she stepped down and recommended me for “her seat,” she cautioned me to accept only if I would speak my mind with candor as she had done. She was one of the leaders in the current effort to save Boston’s City Hall, a modern landmark designed by Kallmann McKinnell & Wood Architects, slated for demolition or redevelopment by Boston’s mayor.

The Jean Yawkey Student Center at Emmanuel College in Boston is suffused with expansive, light-filled spaces.

She was a great reader—I never could read the newspaper early enough to be ready for her morning question: “Did you see… in the Times/Globe today?”—and belonged to several discussion groups including the Saturday Club and the Tavern Club, where she led conversations both serious and light-hearted. She was dedicated to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where she taught briefly in the 1970s, close to her classmates who included Tom Payette and Henry Wood, and served on its Visiting Committee for many years. She was always ready with suggestions for improvements large and small, including most recently the wish for the school’s lecture and exhibition posters to be more graphically legible.

Joan was an elegant woman who bore a frequently mentioned resemblance to Mary Tyler Moore. She favored Italian sportswear, artisan jewelry, and shopping at Saks. She preferred public transportation to driving. She loved her homes in Maine and Gloucester, and she traveled widely. Her favorite city abroad was Paris, and she spoke French well. In 1984, she married the poet and editor Peter Davison, and became close to his children and grandchildren; they were together until his death in 2004.

The community of Boston architects is stunned and saddened by her death. She chose not to tell most of her friends and colleagues about her short and devasting illness, so that she might enjoy her life as normally as possible until its end. Not long ago, she told me that she really couldn’t imagine retirement, and indeed she has not needed to. I will always remember her as a person of strong convictions, sparking intelligence, great humor, and enormous kindness. She began as a generous colleague and wise advisor and became an enduring friend.

 

A version of this article appeared in AN 10.07.2009.

Placeholder Alt Text

Cooper Struts Its Stuff
Last week, the Rockefeller Foundation handed out its Jane Jacobs Medal, now in its third year, at a fête at Thom Mayne’s sumptuous new Cooper Union building. Guests were initially relegated to a basement parlor for drinks before being ushered across the hall into the jaw-dropping Frederick P. Rose Auditorium, which is said to be the little sister of the famed 1858 Great Hall in the main building. Maybe—but only if she were wearing a gauzy, wrinkled sheath dress of aluminum lace. Could there be nicer acoustical baffling? Cooper president George Campbell, Jr., introduced Judith Rodin, president of the foundation. Before beginning her remarks, Rodin gave a shout out to a trio of city commissioners who were equal parts guests of honor and comrades at arms: Planning’s Amanda Burden, Transportation’s Janette Sadik-Khan, and, newest of the pack, HPD’s Rafael Cestero. Rodin noted that exactly 50 years ago this month, the foundation awarded its first two grants, one of which happened to go to a housewife from Manhattan. “It was to support her monograph, that single most import book on the rebuilding of the city,” Rodin said. “That kicked off 50 years of thinking about and working on urban issues.” It is in Jacobs’ honor that the awards were created in 2007, one for Lifetime Leadership, the other for New Ideas and Activism. This year’s honorees were Damaris Reyes, executive director of the Good Old Lower East Side, and Richard Kahan, founder and CEO of the Urban Assembly schools. (You can watch a nice video profile of the two shot by the Municipal Art Society, co-sponsor of the awards, below.) First up after Rodin was New Yorker architecture critic and man about town Paul Goldberger to award Kahan his medal. He had many beautiful things to say, repeatedly comparing the former head of the Urban Development Corporation to Jacobs herself: “Like Jane Jacobs, Richard Kahan loves New York and sees it with a clarity that uncovers its humanism.” “He’s a skeptic, like Jane Jacobs, but like Jane, he’s never let his skepticism spill over into cynicism.” “He was in training to be Robert Moses, not Jane Jacobs, but fortunately for us, that’s not how it worked out.” Kahan thanked Goldberger, and then admitted that while he was honored to be receiving the lifetime achievement, “not to be ungrateful, but I’d rather be getting the award for the up-and-comer.” Circling around to Goldberger’s point, Kahan said that Moses versus Jacobs “presents a false dichotomy.” Indeed, the genius of New York was both its intimate scale and its immense monumentality. He said you have to empower the community so it can be a part of big change. Mary Schmidt Campbell, dean of the Tisch School for the Arts at NYU, invoked Howard Zinn’s A People's History of the United States in her introduction for Reyes, and in many ways echoed Kahan saying that Reyes, too, was at the front ranks spending most of her adult life fighting for the rights of public housing residents and the disappearing culture and community of the Lower East Side. In a stirring speech that at times brought her to tears—“I always cry, even though I told myself I wouldn’t tonight”—Reyes recounted her trials and travails in Manhattan’s most mixed neighborhood. “Today the benches are gone, and the street life with it. Mom and Pop shops are disappearing as people are evicted and rents continue to rise. We fight, and we continue to hold out.” Reyes received a standing ovation. The other ovation goes to 41 Cooper. After the medal presentation, guests made their way to the Alumni Roof for some delectable drinks and treats, including a steak bar and make-your-own mash potatoes. Charlie Rose, accompanying Amanda, was ever so gracious to take a picture with our friend and big fan, Nancy. Meanwhile Commissioner Sadik-Khan was chatting it up for part of the night with Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives, no doubt cooking up new schemes to foil the city’s drivers. At one point, we bumped into Charles Renfro, Giuseppe Lignano and Adda Tolla of LOT-EK, as well as about a dozen other spiffily dressed folks we took for designers but didn’t happen to know. Former MAS president Kent Barwick told us he would shortly be back in action at the advocacy group, "the resident crank in the attic." "Whenever they need to know about the Peloponnesian War, they'll come ask me," he joked. And his successor, Vin Cipolla, confided in us that he has a soft spot for Solange Knowles though not Beyonce. Also, he promised big things from the MAS in the coming months, after some reorganizing and rethinking. Ron Shiffman, the Pratt professor, community planning advocate, and former city planning commissioner, got a shout-out from Kahan during his speech for being an inspiration. On the roof, Shiffman told us that he was sorry they don’t make ‘em like Kahan anymore, who, after a period of butting heads, came around to plan such path-breaking projects as Battery Park City and the Bronx Center. “You can’t do planning like he did,” Shiffman said, a note of disappointment in his voice. “Not anymore.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Working for the City
The New York Public Library's Mariners Harbor Branch in Staten Island, designed by Atelier Pagnamenta Torriani, won a Design Excellence award this year.
Courtesy Atelier Pagnamenta Torriani Architects Planners

The New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC) has announced its 2009 list of architects contracted under the Design and Construction Excellence program. Firms on the list are eligible to compete for projects overseen by the DDC. The program was initiated in 2005 under the direction of DDC Commissioner David J. Burney to shift the city’s procurement method from price-based to quality-based selection.

Competition for these coveted contracts has become fiercer each time that the agency has updated its list, which happens every two years. In 2005, 178 firms applied. In 2007 that number grew to 237. This year 329 firms answered the RFP, vying for four fewer spots than were previously available. The DDC reduced the number of contracts due to a downturn in work projected over the next two years.

Firms on the list fall under two categories: those eligible for projects with construction estimates of $15 million or less, and those eligible for projects with construction estimates of more than $15 million. DDC limits the size of firms applying for the smaller budget positions to no more than ten professional staff. Out of 221 applicants for the smaller budget work, the agency issued 20 contracts, down from 24 in 2007. Here are the firms that made that list: Architecture Research Office; Atelier Pagnamenta Torriani Architects Planners; Audrey Matlock Architect; Belmont Freeman Architects; Bentel & Bentel, Architects/Planners; BWA|de.Sign (Basil Water Architects and de.Sign); Charles Rose Architects; Dean/Wolf Architects; Della Valle Bernheimer; Garrison Architects; Gray Organschi Architecture; Huff + Gooden Architects; Leeser Architecture; LTL Architects; Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects; Ogawa/Depardon Architects; Slade Architecture; Toshiko Mori Architect; Wallance + Hibbs Architects; and WorkAC.

The DDC has no rules about only contracting firms based in New York City, as can be seen by the presence of Boston architect Charles Rose, and the New Haven-based Gray Organschi Architecture.

Out of 108 applicants for the larger budget work, the DDC handed out eight contracts, the same number as was awarded in 2007. Here are the firms that made that list: Selldorf Architects; Asymptote Architecture; BKSK Architects; Grimshaw Architects; Rogers Marvel Architects; Snøhetta; TEN Arquitectos; and Thomas Phifer and Partners.

At the time of this writing, all the contracts on the lists are pending registration with the city comptroller, which is a necessary step for all city contracts.