All posts in East
Brought to you with support fromThe Citizens Bank Corporate Campus in Johnston, Rhode Island, is not a subtle complex—it's composed of five sprawling buildings across a 123-acre site. Designed by Boston-based architectural practice Elkus Manfredi, the project serves as a new facility to accommodate approximately 3,000 financial services employees and all five buildings are predominantly clad with ultra-high-performance concrete and low-E glass laid over zig-zagging forms. For the massing and design of the complex, Elkus Manfredi sought to evoke the historic barn vernacular of New England. All of the buildings are fairly low slung, and range in height from two-to-four stories. The bulk of the elevations are clad with light-gray cementitious boards produced by Envel that, from a distance, resemble oversized and weathered shingles or vertically-oriented wood cladding. The boards themselves are all a standard width of 12 inches and reach a height of up to 15 feet, although the latter varies to accommodate sloping roofs and parapets. The panels are fastened to the steel structure through a steel girt and two layers of steel angled brackets.
Last month, while the city was awash with runway walks during New York Fashion Week, perhaps no show received as much media frenzy as Savage x Fenty, Rihanna’s eponymous lingerie brand. With set design by Willo Perron in Brooklyn's Barclays Center, the show was more Super Bowl half-time show than fashion show. It featured everything from performances by Migos, DJ Khaled, 21 Savage, and celebrity-models Bella Hadid and Laverne Cox, to big choreographed dance numbers. Among the lingerie-clad, star-studded runway was an instantly recognizable architectural reference: Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, a monumental relic of Italian Fascist architecture. Swaying models appeared in the grid of classical arched windows, almost identical to the original building’s, posing in Savage x Fenty lingerie. The iconic travertine building, a modernist take on the Colosseum, was built under Mussolini in 1943 in Rome’s EUR district for the ill-fated 1942 world fair. According to WWD, the Moroccan setting of Savage's campaign shoot was supposedly the main driver of Perron’s set design, which doesn’t explain much about the unexpected Italian references. The connection, however, isn’t necessarily an arbitrary one; Philippa Price, creative director of the Savage x Fenty show and longtime Rihanna collaborator, has cited Bob Fosse as a major inspiration in designing past Rihanna performances. Fosse was well known for using Greco-Roman imagery, such as classical statues and antiquated fluted pillars, Sweet Charity (it's also no coincidence that the musical was based on a Fellini film). This isn't the first time the Palazzo has captured the imagination of the fashion world. The building is currently occupied by the luxury fashion house Fendi, whose move there was not met without criticism. "The architecture his regime commissioned propounds a notion of ‘good taste’ that is deeply similar to that of the fashion industry," wrote Owen Hatherley in The Architectural Review, "shamelessly elitist, wilfully sinister, hierarchical, Classical, its apparent minimalism belied by an obsession with the finest possible material and the severest cut." In contrast, Rihanna has largely built Savage x Fenty on its vision of inclusivity and diversity, which has landed it much praise and branded it as the self-described antithesis of the Victoria's Secret Show.
Last week on October 17 the New York City Council voted to approve a controversial plan to build four borough-based local jails to replace Rikers Island by 2026. The decision came after the city announced it would reduce the maximum height for the new facilities from 450 feet to 295 feet. The $8.7 billion proposal passed 36-13 and was backed by all four council members who represent the neighborhoods where the new high-rise jails will be located. Council member Margaret Chin of District 1 in Manhattan publically defended her choice to bring the tallest of the jails to Chinatown, saying the 155-foot height drop on the White Street tower “will [now] not be out of scale with the neighborhood.” Likely to now stand 29 stories tall, the facility will be significantly shorter than some of the recently-built and planned skyscrapers around the Lower East Side, but locals, prison-reform activists, and some architects still oppose it. Each community board overseeing the proposed sites actively disapproved of the plan when it came before them, and just two weeks ago, over 1,000 people marched through Chinatown in an effort to change Chin’s mind. The Neighbors United Below Canal (N.U.B.C.) has already announced it will sue the city for its decision, citing an unlawful approval process as its main defense. According to the Tribeca Tribune, the group’s founders believe the public should have been allowed to review the changes to the Manhattan location and that the environmental impact report, finalized in August, lacked significant details. So far, no one knows what these jails will look like, which is one piece of critical information opponents say should have been included in the too-vague proposal. N.U.B.C. also asked where all the much-needed services will go now that so many floors have been cut off from the high-rise towers. “How within months could you take away hundreds of feet?” said organizer Jan Lee in an interview with Curbed New York. “So does anyone really know what we’re designing here? I don’t think so.” Until AECOM, the lead design-build firm on the project, reveals initial visuals of each structure, it’s unclear just how these buildings will accommodate the incarcerated. For now, all that’s known are the heights of each facility: in Brooklyn, the 275 Atlantic Avenue site will be 295 feet; in Queens, the 126-02 82nd Street will be 195 feet; and in the Bronx, located at 320 Concord Avenue, the jail tower will be 195 feet. City officials explained that the new heights are based on the new estimated number of detainees in New York by 2026. The de Blasio administration expects the city's population will be halved by the time the jails open, to 3,300 people. Based on this, each facility will hold less than 1,000 people. Mayor De Blasio has said that he will sign off on the proposal when it arrives at his desk.
Scotland’s most important architect and designer was Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928). In Nikolaus Pevsner's 1936 book Pioneers of the Modern Movement, he called Mackintosh “the European counterpart of Frank Lloyd Wright” and a forerunner of Le Corbusier. Like Wright, Mackintosh designed not only buildings but also their furnishings and fixtures. A new exhibition, Designing the New: Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style, marks the 150th anniversary of his birth has just opened at Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum. It’s the largest show about the Glasgow Style, one that grew from Mackintosh and his contemporaries at the Glasgow School from the 1890s to 1914, that has ever come to the United States. Many of the 165 objects have never been seen here before. The exhibit draws on the Glasgow Museums collection, with loans from other institutions and private collections. The exhibit’s purpose is to "put Mackintosh in context," said curator Alison Brown of the Glasgow Museums. The Glasgow Style was not just Mackintosh “but a big body of people,” she emphasized, including many other architects and designers. Prominent among them were his friend James MacNair, MacNair’s wife Margaret Macdonald, and Macdonald’s sister, Frances, who was Mackintosh’s wife. Glasgow is “the only city in Britain that created its own version of Art Nouveau,” Brown said. The Glasgow Style was a rejection of historical styles. The bold and distinctive forms were “controversial at the time,” pointed out Brown. She noted that one of the Glasgow Museums’ tour guides often compares the Glasgow Style to the punk rock movement, seeing them as equally radical. The exhibition's designers wanted to give viewers a better sense of the buildings referenced in the show. To that end, Designing the New has several videos of the style's buildings, including exterior details filmed by drones. One of the most detailed videos explores the inside and out of the 1897 Queen’s Cross Church in Glasgow, the only church Mackintosh designed. Another video highlights several buildings completed by Mackintosh’s contemporaries James Salmon Jr. and John Gaff Gillespie, who designed many Glasgow banks. While wall labels are important, visitors often skip them. To make the installation meaningful even for visitors who quickly pass through, Brown says the curators and designers chose and located objects “to make visual connections,” to highlight the relationships between them and the evolution of the Glasgow Style. The show delves into influences on Mackintosh’s early career, including a major cultural exchange between Glasgow and Japan in 1878 that brought Japanese art to the city, and his trip to Italy in 1891. Another influence on the evolution of the Glasgow Style was traditional Celtic culture, which was enjoying a revival during Mackintosh's lifetime. Later in his career, Mackintosh visited Vienna and was influenced by the Vienna Secession. The square motifs often used in Vienna Secession designs began to appear in his furniture, and Machintosh's work also become more streamlined and “more intense,” said Brown. Some of his work prefigures the Art Deco movement. Countless people with no interest in architecture and design have been exposed to Mackintosh—Brown said his work seems to fascinate film and TV designers. Two high-backed chairs in Designing the New have been reproduced many times. A chair he created for the Argyle Street Tea Room (1898) appeared in films such as Blade Runner, The Addams Family, Doctor Who” and Madonna’s video for the song “Express Yourself.” A chair he designed for Hill House (1905) was in the film American Psycho and an episode of the TV show Babylon 5. Designing the New: Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style runs at the Walters through January 5, 2020. It will be at the Frist Art Museum, Nashville, June 26 to September 27, 2020; the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, St. Petersburg, Florida, October 29, 2020, to January 24, 2021; and the Richard H. Driehaus Museum, Chicago, February 27 to May 23, 2021. The exhibit is organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Glasgow Museums. In Baltimore, the Glasgow exhibit is accompanied by From Mucha to Morris: Books of the Art Nouveau, which features 12 books designed by William Morris, Alphonse Mucha, Aubrey Beardsley, and others, drawn from the Walters’ collection.
Big Style, Tiny State
Independent designers are transforming Providence into a creative hub
With skyrocketing costs of living pushing creatives out of major urban centers, smaller U.S. cities are offering affordable alternatives where designers can live and work more easily. Providence, Rhode Island, the home of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), among the nation’s foremost design schools, is rapidly emerging as one of these new hubs. Rather than getting out of Dodge after graduation, a growing number of the school’s alumni are sticking around and setting up shop in the postindustrial town. They have formed a tight-knit community that produces art, furniture, food, music, and more. Take a look at some of the most impressive practices in the area. O&G Studio O&G Studio designs and manufactures furnishings in its Warren, Rhode Island, factory. The company—helmed by RISD graduate Jonathan Glatt—develops new furniture and lighting concepts every season. These series often return to the same sources for inspiration: For example, the practice has reinterpreted the Windsor chair, a classic piece of New England design, in multiple collections. While the studio’s pieces are based on a historical construction technique where all structural elements are anchored by a solid-wood core, O&G Studio offers its wares in contemporary finishes. Read the full list of Providence practices to watch on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.
Completed in 1984 as the headquarters of the telecommunications giant AT&T, the postmodern Philip Johnson and John Burgee–designed tower at 550 Madison has been the subject of a series of controversial renovations over the last two years. Today, the developer behind the Snøhetta and Gensler revamp of the former AT&T building, The Olayan Group, has released the first look at its new interiors. Designed by Gensler, the new lobby has been rendered in a basic Midtown office building palette of bronze and terrazzo, offset with large expanses of white marble which seem to contrast rather starkly in material, color, and proportion. The basic visual language of the architecture of the original lobby were worked into the new design, making for what architect Philippe Paré claims in a press release is a “powerful expression of the building’s character.” Recessed lighting embedded in the ceiling arcs and cutaways creates a formal distinction with a minimal hand. The lobby is designed to connect to Snøhetta’s proposed garden, which should be visible through the lobby's rear windows (though the outdoor space will only be accessible through side doors). 550 Madison is the youngest building to receive landmark status in New York, though only the exterior is protected; the original interior was demolished early last year. Additionally, the pair of site-specific Dorothea Rockburne murals that were added in 1994 when Sony owned the building—and that some feared would be destroyed or moved—will be preserved in a “sky lobby” seven stories up. The forms in the tiles pictured in the lobby's floor vaguely seem to echo the shapes of the 30-foot-by-29–foot pair of paintings. In addition to Gensler’s lobby renovation, Snøhetta intends to replace the enclosed Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman rear plaza with an expanded garden, open up the Madison Avenue loggias with large glass panes, and reconfigure the current elevator arrangement. This renovation is a more modest proposal after a plan to replace the base of the building’s granite facade with sheer glass was met with backlash. Originally designed for 800 workers, current plans are meant to fit in as many as 3,000. The former AT&T Building is expected to reopen in 2020 as a multi-tenant office tower with LEED Platinum certification and will include ground-floor retail and expanded public space.
Freedom of Expression
Is Torkwase Dyson's abstract recount of racial violence a missed opportunity?
Torkwase Dyson’s 1919: Black Water, on display at Columbia GSAPP’s Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery through December 14th, is an inscrutable meditation on an incident of racial violence that took place in Chicago on a hot summer’s day in July 1919: the killing of a black 17-year-old named Eugene Williams on a Lake Michigan beachfront by a white man throwing rocks. Represented in the form of abstract paintings, geometric sculptures, and ink drawings, Williams’ story becomes a framing narrative for Dyson’s installations, which combine expressionist, minimalist, process art, and postminimalist elements in the manner of Mark Rothko, Dan Graham, Theaster Gates, or Nari Ward. Dyson describes her projects as “spatial systems that build upon the architectural typologies that people have used to liberate themselves.” But this is not social practice art or urban interventionism. There’s no evident intention to interact with or build a community, educate a group, or communicate a didactic message. As the accompanying exhibition pamphlet discusses in an engaging conversation with architectural historian Mabel O. Wilson, the works are at least partly meant to function as abstract ciphers for the re-imagination of architectural space through black experience. Deciphering that code for practical uses might require an advanced Ivy League degree. Dyson tends to fixate on sites of trauma in black history, seeking the potential for liberation within spaces that otherwise appear to lack all potential for agency: Henry “Box” Brown, who freed himself from enslavement by having himself mailed in a crate to the north, or Samuel Osborne, a janitor at Colby College who earned the school’s dedication by exemplifying an upright moral code. In the case of 1919: Black Water, the redemption emerges from an experience of pleasure-seeking and invention turned tragic: the fabrication of a boat to create a group space of joy, interrupted by racial violence. The story behind the show is compelling. In the summer of 1919, Eugene Williams and his friends had constructed a makeshift raft to carry them to a small island on the shores of Lake Michigan near 25th Street, in between the two unofficially segregated sides of the waterfront. There they were free to swim and play away from the crowds. It was a summer of heightened racial tension: The black population had more than doubled in Chicago during the preceding decade—the beginning of the Great Migration of six million African-Americans from the south. Competition for jobs had intensified at the nearby stockyards at the end of World War I and white supremacists had been increasingly fomenting hatred. The teens had apparently got caught in the middle, accidentally crossing an invisible boundary between the informally segregated areas. A group of white men began throwing rocks at them; as Williams ducked in the water and resurfaced, he was hit in the head, going under and drowning. The police neglected to arrest the rock-thrower, instead arresting a black man following a complaint by a white person. An explosion of violence ensued. In the following week, police killed seven black men; mobs and individual gunmen murdered 16 blacks and 15 whites; more than 500 others suffered from injuries; mobs burned more than 1,000 black families out of their homes. A mass of black string congealed with black acrylic hangs on a wooden bar against a blue background with a geometric abstraction above (Pilot), possibly invoking a blue sky mingling with its reflection in the water, a raft floating on top, a black body bleeding from the head, and maybe, sinking below. Thick black acrylic paint and graphite on canvases suggest a line of polluted water (Just Above and Just Below; Place, Raft, and Drift), and slices of brass bisecting canvases evoke segregated division of space, the surface of the water, and the horizon (Plantationocene; Being-Seeing-Drifting). A few geometric figures appear on canvases that resemble towers or antennae (Hot Cold; Extraction Abstracting). On the gallery floor, shiny black plexiglass tetrahedrons with voids on some sides (Black Shoreline) reference the reflection of the water, which gain energy from the presence of gallery visitors. The absence of figurative representations of Williams, the raft, or the crowds after the drowning—though historical images do appear in the catalog—recalls the protest a few years ago of Dana Schutz’s Open Casket at the Whitney Biennial. Schutz had portrayed the open casket of Emmett Till, a young black teen lynched in an incident of racial terror. His mother insisted on an open casket so everyone could see what was done to her son, producing a shocking image of brutality that spurred the civil rights movement. Did it do violence to his memory to represent his broken body? Was Schutz making common cause or exploiting Till’s suffering? In this case, the inverse question might apply: why isn’t Williams represented more powerfully rather than rendered in abstraction? Is it a missed opportunity not to deploy figurative tools to animate Williams’ story, bring it to light, propel it into the present, deploy it to inform policies, use it for more than personal expression? Or is the freedom to be a black expressionist a worthy end in itself, our desire to see his body exploitative, and art that exhorts politically tedious and doomed to failure anyway? “These systems also consider infrastructure and the environment to create a visual amalgamation that recognizes the ways that black people move through, inhabit, cleave and form space,” Dyson is cited as saying the catalog, describing her nomenclature of representation as “black compositional thought.” Often Dyson uses dancers accompanying installations to animate them with exuberant gestures, and the presence of performers might make this rhetoric seem less overblown. If these works constitute a kind of expressive freedom grounded in black narrative and experience, they operate within the exclusive prison-house of the institutional contemporary art and academic architecture world, its markets, nonprofits, grants, and formalist language games. It’s a project worthy of poststructural critique to seek liberation even within the most repressive situations. As with the collapse of the New Museum’s Ideas City program in the Bronx, it can be challenging to reconcile the sustained intellectual discourse with the urgent, viscerally felt problems of the world: lack of control over space and governance, being unable to afford a place to live or to find adequately paid work, and abstract financial forces determining the fate of your community.
As Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s (SOM) iconic 270 Park Avenue, once lauded by Ada Louise Huxtable as one of New York’s contributions to a “dramatic revolution in architectural design,” prepares for a painstaking demolition process, new details have surfaced regarding its replacement. JPMorgan Chase announced in February 2018 that it would demolish the 707-foot structure to make way for a taller building on the site. The original building was completed in 1961 by SOM partner Natalie Griffin de Blois, the first woman to serve as lead architect in a midcentury corporate design project, and a key figure in the history of women in American architecture. Since the announcement, details of the replacement have been scarce. Aside from the fact that Foster + Partners is leading design and Adamson Associates Architects is listed as the architect of record, little information has been released about the actual building. That is until an alleged tipster reached out to New York YIMBY earlier this week with images of the project model and 3D renderings of the final project. The images show the building with an asymmetrical setback design that gradually becomes narrower as it extends upward, topped with a parapet. While New York YIMBY maintains that an anonymous tipster submitted the renderings, some industry professionals are skeptical. A side-by-side comparison shows that the new building was superimposed onto a previous rendering of Tower Fifth from earlier this year, and AN has not been able to confirm the authenticity of any of the images. The original SOM structure is currently surrounded by scaffolding and cranes as crews prepare for the demolition. A completion date for the new tower at 270 Park Avenue has not yet been announced.
The 57th New York Film Festival just ended, but luckily many of the films that feature architecture as a main character will be released in theaters or available online. Here's a breakdown of the must-see flicks where cities takes center stage: Motherless Brooklyn A fictionalized Robert Moses called Moses Randolph (played by Alec Baldwin), drives the plot of Motherless Brooklyn, a film by and starring Edward Norton, scion of the real estate Rouse family. It's set in the 1950s in what he calls “the secret history of modern New York, with…the devastation of the old city from neighborhoods right up to Penn Station, perpetrated at the hands of an autocratic, almost imperial force.” That ruthless force is Randolph, Commissioner of Parks, Buildings and an “Authority.” For reference, the Triborough Bridge can be seen through his office window. In the film, Randolph plans slum clearance in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, just as he has just done in Tremont in the Bronx, which is protested by Gabby Horowitz (played by Cherry Jones), a Jane Jacobs stand-in. Randolph is at the root of a murder, which Norton’s character, a gumshoe with Tourette’s syndrome, is investigating. The film treats us to actual locations: we drive by the Jones Beach Water Tower, hold a rally in Washington Square, and we even visit (in CGI) the original Penn Station, demolished under Moses. Free Time Free Time, a documentary set in the same period, is a real-life counterweight to Motherless Brooklyn. It celebrates neighborhoods that could be in danger of Randolph/Moses’s slum clearance gentrification plans. The film opens with a sequence of carved stone architectural ornaments, which serve as a leitmotif throughout this black-and-white-filmed poem that was shot between 1958 to 1960 and newly edited by now 88-year old filmmaker Manfred Kirschheimer. With shots filmed in Washington Heights, Hell’s Kitchen, and West 83 Street, it shows construction workers tearing down buildings and putting up new ones, bridges, and, most of all, neighborhoods. Parasite Another kind of ruthlessness is symbolized by the architecture of contrasts in Parasite, winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, directed by Bong Joon-ho. The struggling Kim family occupies a grim basement apartment in Seoul. They attach themselves to the Parks, a wealthy family, and their high modernist house built by a prominent (fictional) Korean architect named Namgoong, who built it for himself before moving to Paris. The Parks identify themselves with the architect’s creativity and maintain the modernist aesthetic. The man levels of the house, including a hidden subterranean fallout shelter, factor into the plot, as does the plate-glass facade leading to the walled-in garden, an oasis in the midst of the capital city. The film is a tale of class conflict, deception, and home. More to see Other films that feature architecture include Pain and Glory by Pedro Almodóvar in which the main character, a filmmaker (played by Antonio Banderas), lives in an art-filled and colorful Madrid apartment with sliding glass walls after growing up in a “cave-like” apartment lit by a skylight. Martin Scorsese sets his new film, The Irishman, in mid-century Philadelphia, New York, and Detroit while Noah Baumbach uses the many apartments and theaters of New York as a contrast to the endless houses, offices, and restaurants of Los Angeles in Marriage Story. Of the short films featured in the festival's Projections category, Kansas Atlas (Peggy Ahwesh) shows split-screen aerials in the dead center of the United States, with land tracts, houses, factories, silos, and turbines, as SIGNAL 8 (Simon Liu), provides a psychedelic, fast-cut journey through the urban archeology and construction sites of Hong Kong as a storm approaches. A Topography of Memory (Burak Çevik) features CCTV footage of Istanbul and Houses (for Margaret) (Luke Fowler) is about a woman who doesn’t want to be confined by a house, but loves going into buildings.
Plus Pool floats a light sculpture to raise awareness of NYC's water pollution problem
Nine years ago, New Yorkers were promised a floating, self-filtering pool on the East River, but all they've gotten so far is a floating light sculpture. Plus Pool Light has been installed, temporarily, in place of Plus Pool—a floating outline one quarter the size of the original proposal, consisting of LED lights that change color depending on water quality. “It’s about having people look at something beautiful and coming here if they want to learn more,” said Archie Lee Coates IV, a partner at New York-based Playlab and a cocreator of the public pool proposal. But, as he also told The New York Times “It’s been incredibly difficult, painful and exhausting,” navigating the red tape and blockades associated with publicly funded projects in NYC. Plus Pool (or +Pool) was conceived in a brainstorming session amongst Coates and his design friends Jeff Franklin, Dong-Ping Wong and Oana Stanescu back in 2010. The concept began with the frustration that New York City residents are constantly within walking distance of water, but live largely cut-off from it. The Hudson and East Rivers remain too polluted for safe swimming, and public beaches often take over an hour to get to. While waterways in several other major metropolises have been cleaned up in the interest of the public as well as tourists, like the Seine in Paris, New York’s rivers have been unswimmable for over 70 years. Plus Pool would use a state-of-the-art filtration system to help people reclaim their rivers for recreational use, and even strengthen campaigns to keep the waters clean. In response to the passing of the Clean Water Act, many liquid assets in NYC were adopted as Superfund sites by the government, but sites like the Gowanus Canal remain in deplorable condition, as the city has yet to adequately update their storm surge systems—a system so inadequate that a 2018 NYT article titled “Please Don’t Flush the Toilet, It’s Raining,” drew viral reactions. All of that intake affects the ecosystem of the East River, and therefore the light show of the Plus Pool Light. When the quality is at an acceptable level, the LEDs shine turquoise-blue, but as sewage and bacteria levels increase, the lights shift to pink. This real-time quality indication comes from data collected by on-site sensors as well as an algorithm developed by researchers at Columbia University and the tech firm Reaktor. While Plus Pool has been compared to other “Instagrammable” public projects like The High Line, this environmentally sensitive project may be more about addressing the physical effects of human degradation of the environment than reclaiming leisure space. The Light installation has already turned public attention towards the water by offering an unflinching visual representation of urban pollution, and in the era of Instagram and visual storytelling, potentially generating more attention for realizing the Plus Pool project. Plus Pool Light will be on view off of Lower Manhattan’s Seaport District until January 3, 2020.
Did Elizabeth Hirsh Fleisher build Philadelphia's modernist stone pavilion? The answer may save it from demolition
The city of Philadelphia is moving forward with plans to demolish the beloved modernist stone pavilion in Columbus Square, affectionately referred to as the 'Roundhouse' (not to be confused with the Philadelphia Police Headquarters at 8th and Race Streets, also colloquially known as the 'Roundhouse'). The building gained notoriety earlier this year when The Philadelphia Inquirer's Inga Saffron attributed the building's design to the late Elizabeth Hirsh Fleisher, the first woman architect in Philadelphia and one of the first in Pennsylvania. However, the Department of Parks and Recreation has expressed its doubt of Saffron’s claim, attributing the project to Fleisher’s partner Gabriel Roth instead. Some claim that the Roundhouse lacks historical significance without direct attachment to Fleisher, making it an easy target for demolition in the wake of a $2.8 million renovation of Columbus Square. In a recent article for her column in the Inquirer, Saffron bluntly addressed the following questions: “Who’s right? And why should it matter at this late date?” Regardless of the architect’s identity, Saffron claims that the structure, which has been vacant since the city opened a larger recreational facility in 2005, deserves another chance. The whimsical modernist roof and hefty stone walls make it a unique time capsule from a bygone era, drawing parallels to Eero Saarinen’s MIT Chapel, which has long been praised as a treasure of mid-century modernism. Since its completion in the 1960s, the Roundhouse served as an important center of community life for the surrounding neighborhood of Passyunk Square. Its single doorway opened into a small but inviting space in which park-goers could stop to rest, grab sporting equipment, and hold meetings. Even after years of vacancy, Passyunk Square residents have not forgotten the legacy of the Roundhouse; Philadelphia resident Jay Farrell launched a change.org petition to save the beloved pavilion, stating that “the Columbus Square Fleisher Pavilion is clearly a much-loved and familiar landmark in the Passyunk Square neighborhood of South Philadelphia and there is a strong desire among local residents to see it preserved and adaptively reused.” The petition has garnered over 2,500 signatures thus far. While the future of the building remains unclear, the story of the Roundhouse has sparked important conversations about the unsung contributions of women architects and how we determine the historical significance of buildings.
This year, New York’s Pride celebrations revolved around a single bar: The Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher Street. In the late 1960s—before the Stonewall Riots of 1969 made the site historic—the windows would’ve been blacked out, the doors kept closed, the inside kept dark and smoky until bright lights flashed on as a warning for an impending police raid. Now the bar is dressed in dozens of rainbow flags and sponsorship banners from Brooklyn Lager and Sky Blue, and in 2016, it became the first LGBTQ site to be designated a National Monument. As the jewel in New York’s queer history crown, the Stonewall Inn shows how the visibility of LGBTQ venues has changed over the past fifty years. “Bars have long been a key social aspect of gay life,” said Andrew Dolkart, cofounder of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, a group that documents significant buildings from New York’s queer history. “At a time when it was very difficult for gay people to find each other, bars served that purpose. There weren’t really alternative places where people could congregate and meet each other.” Many of the sites documented by the LGBT Historic Sites Project are no longer extant; the buildings remain but the inhabitants and businesses that gave them their character have since moved on. Any and every kind of building has the potential to transform, if temporarily, into a queer space: The Gay Activist’s Alliance, formed in the aftermath of Stonewall, hosted meetings and parties in an old firehouse at 99 Wooster Street in SoHo before an arsonist’s fire evicted the group in 1974. In 1983, the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion on Sixth Avenue was transformed into the Limelight, a disco club, before becoming a David Barton gym. In the late ’70s, the disused buildings at the Christopher Street Piers permitted men the privacy to sunbath naked or seek sex in the crumbling buildings, before the area was redeveloped in the mid-’80s right as AIDS was ravaging the city and performing an erasure of gay history and memory. “One of my favorites was the Starlite Lounge in Brooklyn,” Dolkart said. “It was a black-owned gay and lesbian bar that saw itself as the oldest nondiscriminating bar in New York, and when it was closing there was a little demonstration in front.” Patrons felt the closing of the Starlite to be a particularly hard loss, because, as Dolkart pointed out, “People have this tendency to think that gay bars and gay culture are white culture.” A lifelong resident of New York, Dolkart has witnessed first-hand the evolution of LGBTQ nightlife and the venues that accommodate it, “from places that were closed or enclosed, where you couldn’t tell what was going on inside unless you were gay.” Around the ’80s is when he noticed a change, with “bars with large windows that were very public. I think that has been an enormous change, that gay bars aren’t hidden anymore.” The changing character of New York’s architecture has accommodated this increased visibility, as vast sheets of glass have become the skin of the city. Take two of the city’s most visible hotel monoliths: The Standard East Village on Cooper Square (upon its opening, the building received nicknames including the Giant Shampoo Bottle and the Dubai Dildo), and its West Side counterpart, The Standard High Line in the Meatpacking District, with its wall of windows through which pedestrians can watch hoteliers having sex against the glass. This February, Angela Dimayuga opened the queer-friendly spot No Bar under the East Village Standard, a windowed venue with the option of opening up to the street front. At The High Line Standard, the rooftop bar and club Le Bain invites queer Meatpackers to dance in the open air. As queer spaces become more publicly visible, they also blend more homogeneously into the city’s landscape. “Gentrification is the removal of the dynamic mix that defines urbanity,” Sarah Schulman wrote in The Gentrification of the Mind, her book chronicling the erasure of gay life during the AIDS epidemic and the concurrent development of New York. During that time, New Yorkers saw Time Square’s adult cinemas and stores cleared away, health authorities began padlocking New York’s gay saunas as a preventative measure at the height of the AIDS crisis, while the Meatpacking District—where clubs like The Anvil and The Manhole turned the neighborhood’s industrial grunge into a fetish aesthetic—began its transition to a luxury address. While the glass and steel of contemporary New York favors transparency over privacy, there are those for whom queer nightlife will always be sought in shadowy spaces that offer obscurity, secrecy, and (hopefully) debauchery. Ladyfag, the queer party organizer who is responsible for many of New York’s most popular queer events, including Battle Hymn and Ladyland, is less interested in these new, glitzy venues. “I prefer a dirty basement with a low ceiling,” she said. “You want to go to some plush hotel and sit on a banquette? Go ahead.”
Part of the appeal of Ladyfag’s parties is their transient nature, appearing in previously undiscovered spaces and always moving. “I like to create my own connection with a space, with my crowd,” she said. “That way, when they come there, they think of it as that party or that space that I created as opposed to something in a bigger picture.” Holy Mountain, which Ladyfag held at Slake on 30th Street for four years, exemplified her parties’ punk, trashy experience: The narrow staircases were always gridlocked, the air-conditioning regularly failed, and the lighting was mercifully low. “Everybody told me it will never work because it’s on 30th Street and nobody wants to go to Midtown,” she said. “And they’re right. But it worked, everybody loved it.” The party eventually moved to Brooklyn when Slake was bought for redevelopment. Queer nightlife has a knack for finding such disused venues, bringing them to filthy life for a year or two, and then slinking off as the development teams approach. Being so short-lived, such parties and venues become instantly mythologized. Andrew Durbin’s 2017 novel MacArthur Park reads as a nostalgic ode to the Bushwick nightclub Spectrum at 59 Montrose Street, which had only closed one year prior to the book’s release. Spectrum—where coats were checked into garbage bags and thrown onto a pile in a corner while sweat dripped from the so-low-I-can-touch-it ceiling; where you were discouraged from lingering on the street out front because the venue wasn’t, strictly speaking, legal—instantly became the epitome of the grungy, DIY sensibility of Brooklyn’s queer nightlife, a sensibility which welcomed a nostalgia for itself even as it was happening. For Ladyfag, who got started when no one wanted to come to Brooklyn to party, the tables have turned. “Now everyone’s in Brooklyn,” she said, “and I’m like, I’m going to go back to Manhattan.” In the past ten years, nothing has affected queer nightlife more than social media. When Ladyfag first moved to New York in 2005, social media hadn’t yet dominated our lives. “We had the internet, but we didn’t have that constant knowing where everyone is at all times,” she said. “If you didn’t go out, you were alone. It was a totally different New York.” The rise of social media—specifically dating and hookup apps—significantly changed queer people’s reliance on bars and parties to find each other. “People don’t have the need to go to bars as much,” Dolkart said. “Like other commercial places, the internet has really taken over. Bars were not only social spaces, they were spaces where people met for sex, and then on to meet people to go home with. That’s kind of petered out.” As bars could no longer solely rely on the promise of sex to entice patrons, the rise of drag culture offered an alternative drawcard. Drag has always been a fixture of LGBTQ venues, but as RuPaul’s Drag Race jump-started a resurgence of the art form, it underwent its own Brooklyn renaissance. The drag performer Untitled Queen discovered Brooklyn’s drag scene in 2012. “All of these creatives descended into this nightlife scene,” Untitled said. “I think we romanticize ourselves as dirty punk, but there really were a lot of people experimenting and trying new stuff out. At the time, the bar scene became really hungry for drag.”View this post on Instagram
This experimental drag scene congregated in warehouses in Greenpoint and Bushwick, bars such as Metropolitan, Tandem, and Sugarland, and parties like Bath Salts at Don Pedro, a venue that Untitled remembered being “disgusting. There was old carpet and all the performers did lots of stuff with food and blood and alcohol. It was a very liquidy, gross show, and it was awesome.” In 2012, Untitled Queen performed at the first Bushwig, a drag festival cofounded by drag performer Horrorchata. Bushwig initially took place at Secret Project Robot, another Bushwick venue that has since disappeared. “That was an art gallery space, very DIY,” Horrorchata said. “I don’t even know how we did three years there because by the second year it was just so big.” Now in its eighth year, Bushwig takes place at the Knockdown Center, the festival’s home for the past four years, an immense converted warehouse space with huge windows and masses of outdoor space. “I think for some people they imagined it would lose its edge, and it has not at all,” Untitled said. “The family and the door opens wider, and people still feel the same energy.” To define a space as queer comes, more than anything else, from those who inhabit and transform it. “I think a queer space for me is if the promoter is queer, the event is queer,” Horrorchata said. “For example, at Knockdown, whenever we have Bushwig, we have a meeting with security and make sure there’s no gendering, no ‘Mrs.,’ no ‘Ma’am.’ It’s super nonbinary. We try to educate them and let them know this is going to be a queer space for the next weekend, and these are the rules.” Ladyfag’s events invite the same openness. “Queer to me is still this radical kind of gayness,” she said, “and in a queer space, if you call it a queer space, you’re making a statement of inclusivity.” In 1994, on the 25th anniversary of Stonewall, Dolkart took part in a conference on gay space. “There was an interesting conclusion that was reached at the end of the day, that there were no gay spaces, with the exception of bathhouses. There were no gay spaces, there were spaces that gay people put to use. And I like that. I think that our site is very much about that. It’s about places that gay people have made their own, and with nothing unique about the design of those places—whether it’s a bar or a theater or an apartment—they’re the types of spaces that you find in New York but that gay people have made their own.”