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Eight Celebs Who Take High Speed Rail
The current state of rail is nowhere near its heyday in the 20th century, when train travel was luxurious and serviced most parts of the country. But high speed rail is making a comeback, championed by planners, environmentalists, and the Obama administration. The mode of transport still has to contend with car and air travel (along with a reputation for inconsistency and irrelevance), but it got some help in March, when a commercial featured Mad Men's Pete Campbell and Harry Crane building a campaign for high speed rail. And Amtrak still has an surprising roster of famous passengers, which includes Angelina Jolie, Jesse Jackson and John Travolta, according to forums on Flyertalk.com and Trainorders.com. Check out these celebrities who take high speed rail: Vice President Joe Biden, known as Mr. Amtrak in Congress, commuted between Wilmington and Washington DC over 7,000 times during his years in Congress. The former Senator penned a piece in Arrive magazine last spring professing his love for rail travel:
Amtrak doesn’t just carry us from one place to another–it makes things possible that otherwise wouldn’t be. For 36 years, I was able to make most of those birthday parties, to get home to read bedtime stories, to cheer for my children at their soccer games. Simply put, Amtrak gave me–and countless other Americans–more time with my family.
Newt Gingrich, who just announced his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, has been sighted on Amtrak, even though he opposes Amtrak funding. He traveled between LaGuardia Airport and DC, as a member of Club Acela no less. BJ Novak, who produces and plays Ryan on NBC's The Office, was seen on the Pacific Surfliner 583 heading to Los Angeles. He rode business class. Bill Cosby takes Amtrak. The comedian has been spotted going from Philadelphia to Washington, and on the Texas Eagle 22. One excited passenger made this video of him, and reports:
A man on the back deck of the dome car alerted us of Bill Cosby being on board. We pointed out cameras towards the window he was sitting at. A few days later, Andrew Sax told me Bill visited his school.
Bruce Springsteen "charters a car on the NEC once in awhile. Guy likes trains and brings the entire band along," according to one observer. Have you spotted a celeb while riding the train? Share your star-studded encounters in the comments.
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Balancing Act
Field Paoli sponsors employee events put on by the firm's 'Fun Committee.'
Courtesy Field Paoli

Last year, LA-based CO Architects had nine babies born among their 75 employees. According to Associate Principal Frances Moore, their moms work the same amount of time as their male colleagues. “Some of the women having babies are the most driven women we’ve ever had at the firm,” she said.

According to the Family Work Institute (FWI), a non-profit center that researches the changing workplace, this is the new norm. Their 2008 “National Study of the Changing Workforce” found for the first time that men and women—with children or not—of the Millennial Generation express an equal desire to hold jobs with increased responsibility. Moore notes that CO’s new moms are married to professionals with equally demanding careers, meaning that somewhere along the line there’s less time to focus on parenting and, inevitably more tension in balancing work and life.

So with 70 percent of couples now dual earners, families are dividing responsibilities at home and at work in less traditional ways. Meanwhile small and large firms across the country and organizations like the AIA are taking steps to mitigate the issues that invariably result when parenting butts up against a notoriously hard-working culture.

“You can’t do both and do a good job at either,” comments Linda Taalman of Taalman Koch Architecture of work and life responsibilities.

Taalman spends most of her professional day at Woodbury School of Architecture, where she leads studios on building technology. Her husband, Alan Koch, who is also her business partner, takes the role of caregiver in the evening because it’s not unusual for her to teach until 9:00 p.m. on some nights. “But I do the mornings. At home, it’s divide and conquer. We divide our efforts to maximize our time,” she said.

For another husband-wife architecture partnership, Tim Durfee & Iris Anna Regn, an at-home studio allows them to not have to choose between their young daughter and work life—even allowing her to participate in some aspects of the design process.

Yet despite these novel efforts the pressure on architects can often be too much, and firms have had to step up to help architects with families survive.

 
A drawing by architect Yann Taylor's son, Finn.
 
 

“Parents are critical to any profession or organization because they represent the mid-gap and the future leadership,” said AIA Director of Diversity and Inclusion Sherry Snipes.

Through the Diversity and Inclusion program, the AIA promotes policies like medical benefits for domestic partners, paid or partially paid maternity/paternity leave, telecommuting, and flexible hours to support and retain parents. The organization also tries to set an example through its own policies, allowing its staff to work flexible hours and telecommute.

“The upside for the firm is employee engagement, which drives productivity, lack of absenteeism, staff retention and overall business success,” added Snipes.

At Field Paoli Architects in San Francisco, there is little in the way of these formal policies, but “promoting family and personal lives, makes our employees happier and more efficient—and more valuable to us,” said Principal Mark Schatz. “We like working with interesting people, and interesting people like more than just architecture.” The firm accommodates new parents by adjusting schedules to get them re-engaged. Even though project managers can be frustrated when people aren’t there full-time, Schatz added, “We always find a way to work around it.”

The firm has one program that any parent would particularly appreciate: a paid sabbatical, which is available to every associate and principal after ten years of service. Principal Yann Taylor, with an entrepreneur wife and two children aged five and seven, will be taking his three-month sabbatical in 2013. He has postponed it for a couple of years so that his youngest can better appreciate and remember the experience.

Architects Durfee and Regn's Growth Table is designed for both kids and adults.
Durfee Regn
 

“This is an opportunity to connect more deeply—not just to my family, but to the world around us. We want our children to experience different cultural viewpoints—and if we happen to come across some great architecture along the way, then so much the better,” said Taylor.

Four of TaalmanKoch’s five architects are parents, and Linda Taalman sees that as a plus not a minus. “People who have kids value time. They don’t waste it and are usually very efficient.” The office operates on a loose schedule allowing staff to arrive and leave at times that work for their day. The firm averages eight-hour days, five days a week with exceptions when deadlines require it.

“A lot of architects abuse people who work for them,” said Taalman. Her firm pays on an hourly model. “We try to be efficient in our process of working projects. Any time someone has put in, they should be paid for it.”

New York-based Goshow Architects’ HR Manager, Joel Peterson, described his firm’s Work/ Life Choices program in which most of the employees participate. Features include benefits for part-time staff working at least 30 hours per week, and creative weekly time splits: four ten-hour days (which are standard office hours during summers), and nine-hour days with a day off every other week. At its core, the program allows employees to offset choices like going to the gym or leaving early for their daughter’s soccer game by putting in the hours missed on another day. Goshow also offers job sharing where two part-time employees share the responsibilities of a single project role.

“To make this work,” Peterson explained, “we include one or two overlapping hours each day, so that the employee taking the next shift is up to date on the little details that transpired. “ While only 13 percent of Goshow employees are parents, the firm finds the flexible approach equally effective at engaging and retaining its under-40 Millennial staff.

“Employees are increasingly expecting the freedom to have both a successful career and personal life.”

Technology can play a supporting role for parents as well. CO Architects—where of its billable staff, 68 percent of men are fathers, and 44 percent of women are mothers—finds flex hours “very challenging because our work is so team based,” said Moore.

CO supplies staff with smart phones and VPN access, which makes it easy for project teams to communicate and share information with their colleagues working from home.  The firm also uses video conferencing and Webex to reduce travel demands by working remotely with clients and construction teams on site.

Regn, of Tim Durfee & Iris Anna Regn, sees a shift happening within creative professions, where family is more than ever a part of the thought process. Her interest in parenting’s influence on the creative professional led her to start an initiative called Broodwork, along with artist Rebecca Niederlander, to explore the reactions of those who found an unexpected change in perspective after becoming parents. Broodwork has been presenting the work of creative parents through exhibits and events since 2009, with their latest, Broodwork: It’s About Time, to open on April 30 at OTIS College of Art and Design's Ben Maltz Gallery in Los Angeles.

Regn is optimistic, “When I first began practicing, architecture offices were run like a grad school model—everyone was single and expected to work all night.  There was little talk about balancing work and life.” She continued, “But now, flexibility is more possible than ever.” The current generation of parents has made this choice consciously. They’ve become parents a little later and have decided that they want to spend time with their kids. “Because men are now also voicing concerns, it’s no longer just a women’s issue. After all, the way life outside affects design is the core of work itself,” she said.

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Eduardo Souto de Moura
The Burgos office tower in Porto.
Fernando Guerra FG+SG

Related Article: Vera Sacchetti's exclusive AN interview with Eduardo Souto de Moura.

In Porto, a small, gray city in the north of Portugal, you grow accustomed to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century weathered granite buildings that seem to rise from the ground as naturally as mountains. This is the foggy, damp place that has shaped the life and work of Eduardo Souto de Moura, the 2011 Pritzker Prize laureate, and he, in turn, has helped bring the city into modernity over the past thirty years. “In Porto, you have the beautiful historical city,” the architect has said, “the monuments and buildings trying to find—like cats when they go to sleep—their natural place and positioning, and then they become almost natural, all made with the same stone… And that gives them an immense serenity.”

This same serenity permeates the rigorous work of Souto de Moura, embodied in large, geometric volumes that are grounded and muscular. A fierce regionalist, Souto de Moura was born, raised and educated in Porto, and is today, alongside Álvaro Siza, the most visible face of what is called the “Porto school of architecture.” Souto de Moura began his career working for five years under Siza, but in 1980 started his own practice, winning a series of competitions for public buildings.

   
Souto de Moura designed multiple stations for the city of Porto's light rail system.
[+ Click to enlarge.]
 

His early—and, to date, strongest—body of work is comprised mostly of single-family dwellings in the northern region of Portugal, monumental in their simplicity. In combinations of oversized concrete and granite walls, glass facades and hardwood floors, Souto de Moura’s houses offer horizontal spaces that unfold dramatically, inside long perpendicular volumes surgically inserted into the landscape. “Artists like Robert Morris, Donald Judd and Sol Le Witt transformed the environment by placing assertive new objects into it,” wrote Hans van Dijk in 1994 for Archis, the Dutch experimental architecture magazine, “And that is exactly what Souto de Moura does.”

Donald Judd was a definite influence in Souto de Moura’s trajectory. The architect first studied sculpture in college, and attributes his transition to architecture to a meeting with Judd in Zurich. But other influences are felt in Souto de Moura’s work: Portuguese architects Siza and Fernando Távora, as well as Le Corbusier, and especially Mies. Sometimes described as “a Miesian architect,” Souto de Moura has admitted being “passionate about Mies van der Rohe,” and much of his work evokes the German architect’s.

     
Casa da Musica light rail station, Porto.
[+ Click to enlarge.]
 

In Souto de Moura’s Burgos office tower, a project that took almost twenty years to build, the homage to the Seagram building is evident, its Miesian roots more than apparent in two dark, rhythmical volumes. The seventeen-story tower rises alone in the huge lot that was cleared for construction, unusually tall for the city, and the lower volume—a shopping mall—replicates and anchors the tower beside it. The Burgos office tower is, today, the most visible building within a mile of its site in Porto, and it represents a more recent side of Souto de Moura’s work: public buildings and more ambitious architectural gestures.

Of these, his Braga Municipal Stadium, sitting atop a hill that was once a quarry, is the most striking and dramatic example. Part of a commission by the Portuguese state, the stadium, one of ten built for the 2004 European Soccer championship, is the only one to break free of the traditional typology. Two parallel concrete stands, brutalist at times, with gravity-defying sloping roofs, are thrust into a wall of the former quarry on one side, revealing and framing the pitch dramatically, opening it to the light of the sun and stars. For Souto de Moura, who was given free rein, this was a true gesamtkunstwerk, from “intervening in the landscape to drawing the doorknobs,” the architect has said. “It’s a project…in which the faults are mine.”

   
The Burgos office tower in Porto.
[+ Click to enlarge.]
 

Many of Souto de Moura’s public projects are smaller interventions. The architect has taken up requalification projects, like the Pousada Santa Maria do Bouro, in Amares, or the Portuguese Center for Photography, in Porto. Both are historical buildings flawlessly renovated, the architect’s attention to detail apparent in every inch. Similarly, Souto de Moura’s project for the Porto light rail system has a light touch, seamlessly embedded in the fabric of the city.

One of the architect’s most poetic interventions is the Portuguese Pavilion at the 2008 Venice Architecture Biennale, in collaboration with the artist Angelo de Sousa. Souto de Moura covered an old warehouse facing the Grand Canal with glass inside and out, multiplying the space and making it disappear at the same time. “It’s obvious that architecture has an unseen part, that sustains it,” Souto Moura has said about the project. “Because architecture isn’t a door and a window,” and it must start from within. “Architecture is an almost unconscious process that then acquires an added value than cannot be foreseen or directed. It’s discerned. And we shouldn’t think too much about that process.”

Although it boosted the morale of his economically-depressed country, the Pritzker seems to have left Souto de Moura unfazed. He recently defined himself as part of “Europe’s most marginal country,” and “the less flamboyant… among Portuguese architects…defending architecture that is almost anonymous—well done, but almost anonymous.” The award might offer him opportunities to build abroad, but the architect is pragmatic. “I like to build in Portugal. I feel at home,” he said with a smile.

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Talking Heads
IAUS fellows and friends at one of Peter Eisenman's Indian dinners circa 1974. Clockwise from lower left: Bill Ellis, Rick Wolkowitz, Peter Eisenman, Liz Eisenman, Mario Gandelsonas, Madelon Vriesendorp, Rem Koolhaas, Julia Bloomfield, Randall Korman, Stuart Wrede, Andrew MacNair, Anthony Vidler, Richard Meier, unidentified woman, Kenneth Frampton, Diana Agrest, Caroline 'Coty' Sidnam, Jane Ellis, Suzanne Frank, and Alexander Gorlin.
Courtesy Suzanne Frank

 

Team Vitruvius

 

The most curious image I know of the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS)—the New York think tank that, from the late 1960s through the early 1980s, quite simply reshaped architectural discourse in the United States—appeared in a 1971 issue of Casabella. A cut-and-paste job, it pictured sixteen of the Institute’s members as a soccer team, wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with the Institute’s logo, the Vitruvian man of Cesariano’s 1521 edition. Crouched, at the far right, is Suzanne Frank, then an intern, later the Institute’s librarian, and now the author of a new book, at once an unoffical history of the Institute and, as the subtitle reads, “an insider’s memoir.”

Founded in 1967 by Peter Eisenman (see image below: bottom row, third from the right, with an impish smile) with backing from MoMA and Cornell University, the Institute set out to bridge the gap between academic culture and the world of planning agencies. Installed in offices on 47th Street enlivened by reproductions of the Vitruvian man and Le Corbusier’s Modulor, the Institute admitted graduate students for yearlong fellowships to work on real projects commissioned by municipal and federal agencies. Reyner Banham, writing in December 1967 for New Society, went along with the Institute fellows’ self-description as “utopians”—with a caveat: “They are utopians of aesthetic order rather than of social order. They look to the city of good form, before the city of good men—but probably believing that the good form will breed good men, that a city which makes itself visually clear will become clear in other senses, too.”

Kenneth Frampton and Peter Eisenman   Cesariano's Vitruvian man on one side of the revolving door.
Kenneth Frampton and Peter Eisenman sporting matching haircuts at 8 West 40th Street, circa 1970 (left), and the revolving door with Cesariano's Vitruvian man strapped to a grid on one side. Le Corbusier's Modulor Man was pasted on the other (right).
Gregory Gale
 

The early years of the Institute (notwithstanding its later, unjust reputation as cerebral, arcane, and elitist) were marked by what can only be called a modernist engagement with the city, culminating in the building of a low-rise, high-density housing complex in Ocean Hill/ Brownsville, Brooklyn, a prototype sponsored by the Urban Development Corporation and designed by Kenneth Frampton (see image below: top row, fourth from the left, with a resolute, captain-like mien).

By the early 1970s, though, when the money and the political will to sponsor projects and research on public housing dried up, the Institute had already gone through an aggiornamento of sorts. Indeed, over the years the Institute embarked on a variety of other programs, going through several changes of faculty and through what Eisenman called, in a 1975 interview with Alvin Boyarsky just published in Brett Steele’s book Supercritical, several “palace revolutions”—the first already in 1969, when Colin Rowe had his students do theoretical designs instead of real projects, and Eisenman, in Frank’s retelling of the story, responded by locking Rowe out of the Institute, literally changing the door’s lock.

New Urban Settlements cover
The number 1 on the cover of New Urban Settlements designed by Robert Slutzky indicated that more were to come.
Dick Frank
 
 
 
 

Over little more than a decade, the Institute became enormously influential, attracting architects, historians, and theorists to lecture, teach, exhibit, and do research there. Even a casual list of some of the protagonists (Diana Agrest, Anthony Vidler, Robert Slutzky, Rafael Moneo, Philip Johnson, Rem Koolhaas, etc.) commands attention. Eventually, the Institute expanded its educational operations (at one point it had graduate, undergraduate, high-school, and continuing education programs), organized extraordinarily intense lecture series, and mounted dozens of exhibitions (Mart Stam, Ivan Leonidov, Wallace Harrison, but also Aldo Rossi, Mathias Ungers, the Krier brothers, etc.) in the double-height main space of the offices it occupied from 1970, on the top two floors of 8 West 40th Street, just opposite the New York Public Library. The Institute also became a publishing house: it produced the aptly-named journal Oppositions (1973–84), edited by a pugnacious triumvirate made of Eisenman, Frampton, and Mario Gandelsonas (see image below: top row, third from the left) joined later by Vidler and then Kurt Forster; the monthly tabloid newspaper Skyline (1978–83); and, in the early 1980s, Oppositions Books (Rossi, Adolf Loos, Moisei Ginzburg, Alan Colquhoun).

Frank readily acknowledges that hers is not a scholarly book but a personal memoir, what Joan Ockman, in her foreword, calls “a labor of love.”(A few historians in Europe and the US are currently working on scholarly histories, most notably Ph.D. candidate Kim Foerster at the ETH in Zurich.) Frank’s history is in fact impressionistic; the author is at her best when she lets us into her personal recollections of characters, personalities, allegiances, and conflicts, as opposed to the narrative sections outlining the many activities of the Institute.

The last third of the book, a series of twenty-seven interviews that Frank conducted over the past decade with former Institute members, offers a wealth of valuable information (much of it anecdotal, certainly) and countless perceptive memories and thoughts: Julia Bloomfield, managing editor of Oppositions, discussing the journal’s graphic design (“the Massimo Vignelli ‘punch’”) and “the somewhat combative relationship” between Eisenman and Frampton; Andrew MacNair telling of a momentous 7:00 a.m. phone call with Eisenman (“[Robert] Stern and Frampton and I have gotten a grant to start a lecture series... we want you to run it, get your ass down here”); William Ellis (see image below: bottom row, third from the left) reflecting on the feat of Oppositions and on Eisenman’s organizational prowess (“an  absolute impresario”); Joan Copjec recounting the formation in 1979 of a women’s group at the Institute to voice concerns about “the not-so-veiled sexism”; Suzanne Stephens telling of her editorship of Skyline, of articles paying ten cents a word, Christmas lists about books to give to architects, and where Johnson got his glasses or Eisenman his shoes (“it’s Churchill shoes for Peter, very Loosian”).

  The IAUS journal Oppositions 5
The IAUS journal, Oppositions 5, edited by Eisenman, Frampton, and Gandelsonas.
Dick Frank
 

One of the most revealing stories is told by Stanford Anderson (top row, far right): in 1964 Eisenman wanted to form an association of young architects interested in new ideas (what would later become CASE, the Conference of Architects for the Study of the Environment, a prelude to the Institute), convinced Princeton to put up some money, and invited for a weekend-long meeting a group that included Anderson, Michael Graves, Robert Venturi, and a young Emilio Ambasz (see image below: bottom row, fourth from the right, in jaunty Greek fisherman’s cap); on Sunday the question came up whether that kind of group discussion should continue: “Venturi immediately said, ‘Well, is it going to help my practice?’ Everyone agreed, ‘No.’”

Eisenman, whose name appears in almost every page of the book, declined to be interviewed: the figure most central to the myriad stories interwoven at the Institute emerges here as an eerie presence, towering over everyone else and yet disappearing—with uncanny parallels, perhaps, with his own architecture. In the 1975 interview with Boyarsky, Eisenman argued that the Institute never had a curriculum, or a philosophy: “Its only philosophy, if it stands for anything, is to serve as a vehicle for critical discourse, for challenging the prevailing empirical attitude in the United States vis-à-vis architecture—i.e. that it is something useful, something that can be marketed, a commodity.” A critical history of that discourse, of those conflicts theoretical and ideological, remains to be written. Or, perhaps, as with that other great 20th-century think tank called the Bauhaus, the history of the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies may need to be told, written, and rewritten many times over.

Cesare Birignani studies architectural history at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.


 

A photo-montage from a 1971 issue of Casabella showed Institute members wearing sweatshirts with Vitruvian Man images and posing as a soccer team.
From Casabella, 1971
 

Q&A: SUZANNE FRANK

 

As a young art historian with a Ph.D. on Dutch Modernist Michel de Klerk, Suzanne Frank arrived at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS) in 1970, three years after its founding. Her husband, Dick, had photographed Peter Eisenman’s architectural models, and soon Eisenman would be designing a home for the couple in Cornwall, completed in 1975 and named House VI.

Frank remained at the Institute as a researcher then librarian until 1982. Her unauthorized memoir of those days was 12 years in the making. Clearly a labor of love by an historian eager to make a record of an extraordinary moment in architecture, Frank recounts much herself and then allows the transcripts from interviews with 27 other key players to fill in and amplify the story, vividly recounting everything from arguments over Italian architectural theory to how money was so short that office furnishings were picked up off the streets. Here, Frank recalls a few details from those heady days:

The Architect’s Newspaper: How did you come to be at the Institute?

Suzanne Frank: I was doing an art history Ph.D. at Columbia and they thought my research was good so they hired me to do research on a HUD-funded project, the Streets project, at least in the first year. I never had an office or anything, but I combed resources for studies of urban applicability and sorted heaps of photocopies of buildings in streetscapes. One time when I started talking to a fellow researcher, Gregory Gale, Eisenman told me to stop talking and get back to work. He himself was a schmoozer, especially at eight o’clock in the morning when few people were around.

Why did you decide to write a private memoir about The Institute?

It was a great time in my life. The projects they were doing were very interesting and important. What made me write it? I am a historian. I like to do research and write. I never dreamed it would take so long.

  Peter Eisenman
Peter Eisenman displays brand loyalty.
Gregory Gale
 

How easy was it to get people to talk?

There were 27 cooperatives. Tony Vidler didn’t agree; Rem [Koolhaas] agreed then backed out; and Peter said he’s not giving any interviews on the Institute. A doctoral student at ETH in Zurich, Kim Foerster, is working on the official history. I think he has done something like 100 interviews.

Was the focus on talk or on building, too?

They wanted to implement building. One of the student projects with a grant was to reorganize streets with buildings in a more public way. And they did it in print, but it didn’t happen because HUD took the money away when Bill Ellis insulted the HUD people when they were visiting.

They only built the one housing project that Kenneth [Frampton] worked on, Ocean Hill-Brownsville in Brooklyn.

Did Philip Johnson supply funds for the Institute?

Yes, I don’t know how much, but I know he was an angel. People didn’t like his architecture; they hated the AT&T. He didn’t mind, and Peter was very close to him, so was Bob Stern.

There was also fund-raising for Oppositions by Julia Bloomfield. They were all pretty good at it. I mean, here was this little magazine with a leftist tinge, but they still got Exxon and Mobile to give to it.

Large hall at the 40th Street location.

The large hall with balcony at the 40th Street location, the Institute's second home, lent itself to flexible uses.
Gregory Gale
 

Rumor has always had it that women had a hard time there. Was that your experience?

Peter hired women to have posts there but they were not as important, I think, at least in the beginning. Somehow they receded beside the men. Some say they were not treated well, and they formed a women’s group about it in 1979, but I was always treated with respect as the librarian, which was a joke because there weren’t many books.

In time, women had a very strong voice. Silvia Kolbowski started out as a receptionist and became the catalog editor with Frampton.

Did everyone get along?

The receptionists had a hard time; they were so overworked because Peter was always at odds and ends. They would start crying, and his wife at the time would have to console them.

Then there was a big argument between Frampton and Bob Stern—it was recorded in Skyline in 1980— after Kenneth’s book on modern architecture and critical history came out. Stern said that Frampton never looked at actual buildings but did everything in libraries and used miniscule photographs, and that he left out American sources. Kenneth said he retorted that he was an American admirer—I forget his phrase–and then he sent him into a “Spenglerian night” What does that mean? I don’t know.

What was the office scene like?

There were parties with lots of dancing. I remember one that Rem attended—he came to all the parties—but usually he wasn’t around because he was working on Delirious New York. Then Peter had his Indian dinners, they were very congenial. People sat next to the people they liked, and snubbed the ones they didn’t.

There were little cliques; everyone was equal except at times. Peter had special lunches, and when we were at the 40th Street office, he got goodies from Zabar’s. He’d have interesting people in, like his father- in- law to talk about Jackson Pollock. It was a very elite and selective crowd who went to those.

There was no hierarchy or, rather, there was and there wasn’t. There was a hierarchy because Peter was always the absolute, but he was friendly, very down to earth, and yet he was always the boss. He dressed very funny in a beige sweater with a hole in the back. He didn’t have very much money, but he managed to borrow from people and he went out a lot and ate very well.

Everyone else was always on diets. “Oh, you’ve lost weight. What’s your diet?” kind of thing. It was a big topic. They were all eating cottage cheese, hamburgers and ketchup.

What’s your final impression of The Institute after 40 years?

It was important. It stood for a really high level of thought and a high level of camaraderie. I am also relieved that I can finally go on to some other things now.

IAUS: The Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, An Insider’s Memoir by Suzanne Frank can be purchased for $42.30 plus postage at authorhouse.com.

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Columbia Boathouse Marsh Hullabaloo
Columbia University looks as though it's in the final stretch of the public review process for the proposed Boathouse Marsh designed by James Corner Field Operations and the Steven Holl-designed Campbell Sports Center. On Friday night and Sunday afternoon, Columbia University Executive VP Joseph Ienuso made presentations to neighborhood residents. A few media outlets dubbed the gatherings "dueling meetings," due to some political infighting between council members Robert Jackson and Ydanis Rodriguez, which erupted during a subcommittee meeting before the city council last week. The background political drama only heightened already-tense negotiations between the neighbors and the university. The City Planning Commission green-lighted the project on February 16. The proposed 47,700 square foot Campbell Sports Center building sits on a riverfront lot. The university is required by law to devote 15 percent of waterfront property to public access. But instead, the university asked that Field Operations spruce up adjacent wetlands on city-owned land in Inwood Hill Park and offered 10 percent of the university land for public use, arguing that the university can barely squeeze in fields for football, baseball, softball, soccer, and field hockey, as well as six indoor tennis courts and two boathouses. For their part, Columbia has put an "action plan" in writing that promises to deed the boathouse dock to the city and develop children programs that teach rowing. The eight-point plan focuses primarily on access to the facilities, but also emphasizes getting on the water, a timely point that found its way into the recently released NYC Comprehensive Waterfront Plan released last week.  Several rowers who spoke at both meetings, apparently got Jackson's ear. The councilman plans to meet with them early this week. The rowers are pushing for another item to be added to the action agenda: a place to store boats. The deadline for council approval or disapproval is April 6.
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Neo Aztec Calendar
Detail of 2011 Neo Aztec calendar by Ricardo Cid
Ricardo Cid
While contemplating a World Cup soccer calendar last year, Mexican artist and designer Ricardo Cid was reminded of the ancient Aztec calendar in the shape of a circle. Cid had an epiphany: Why not create a new calendar form that is a mash-up of different ways of tracking the year? The result is his 2011 “Neo Aztec” calendar. It folds the linear Gregorian year we follow today into the circular format of the Mayan year adapted by the Aztecs. Cid’s diagram represents one earth year. Each numbered square equals one day and each color group one month, with dotted lines indicating a change in months. Mondays are outlined with black circles, demarcating the Gregorian week (and other colored dots reflect car-coding for congestion control in Mexico City), while black-filled circles with letters from A to S show the first day of each Mayan month (the Mayan “Mexica” New Year is on March 12). Ricardo Cid's New Aztec Calendar.
Detail of Ricardo Cid's Neo Aztec calendar. [Click to view the full 2011 calendar.]
Every grouping of blue, yellow, and green days adds up to a trimester, and the beginning of each season (winter, spring, summer, fall) is marked with a black square in each of the equinoxes (March 20, September 23) and solstices (June 21, December 22). As a whole the diagram evokes a molecular structure or—for fans of ‘80s video games—the tessellated screen of Q*bert. As you start hopping through 2011, be sure to note the dotted detour that loops back to capture an extra square for Leap Year. Got it.
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Park Panacea over BQE Trench
Conceptual rendering showing new park space and a possible community center atop the BQE.
Courtesy dlandstudio

A new park design is moving forward in Southside Williamsburg, thanks to a plan to cap the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) trench running through the neighborhood. Brooklyn Councilwoman Diana Reyna first proposed the idea in 2005, arguing that building a cohesive park in the area would help remedy health issues affecting local children, including asthma, obesity, and diabetes. Early last spring, Brooklyn-based dlandstudio was selected to research strategies for building atop the trench.

Axonometric of South Williamsburg.
A conceptual axonometric view of the proposed park atop the BQE.

 

“The kids who play there have to play by a six-lane highway,” said dlandstudio principal Susannah Drake. As for Southside Williamsburg’s existing park areas, Drake said, “They’re not well-equipped, they’re disconnected, and they’re often difficult to get to.” Drake and her team spent the better part of 2010 helping Councilwoman Reyna drum up support for the plan from community organizations and government agencies, relying on scientific evidence about noise and air pollution to gain public and private interest. The team is drawing upon several California studies that linked the proximity of major highways to asthma rates, and spurred state legislation prohibiting construction of schools within 150 feet of heavily trafficked arteries. According to dlandstudio, there are five public elementary schools and two junior high schools within the general vicinity of the proposed park area.

New park in South Williamsburg.
A conceptual rendering showing a proposed baseball diamond atop the BQE highway trench.

 

This month, the firm will begin preparing cost-benefit and health analyses while creating a design model for public presentation. Existing park spaces flank the BQE from Broadway to Borinquen Place, and the plan’s conceptual drawings show these spaces united by a tree-lined lawn, a baseball diamond, and a soccer field. By enclosing the expressway between South 3rd and 5th streets, the team hopes to significantly reduce traffic pollution and noise, which is ten times that of Park Avenue. “We’re trying to reach out to the Columbia School of Public Health to engage thesis students in research,” said dlandstudio associate Rebecca Hill. “We’re relying on data that exists, and making that data more available to more people, but if we’re going to be making more public health claims, we need to have more proof behind it.”

The structural feasibility of capping the expressway walls will also be examined. Though putting an active recreation area such as a baseball diamond over the proposed deck area is structurally easier because it requires a much thinner soil profile than a building, the BQE was not built to current Federal Highway Administration standards, and so any changes would have to comply with new regulations.

New park in South Williamsburg.
Conceptual rendering of proposed improvements to South Williamsburg's divisive BQE trench.

 

As part of a Phase 1 to be carried out over the next two to five years, the new decks require approval from the city and state departments of transportation, both of which have already expressed support. “Many of the moves we identified in the first phase can be done right now and without much money,” said Drake, who has been given an estimated budget range of $85 to $175 million for the full scope of the project. But some of the park’s components—a large community center, for instance—could be completed at a later date, once the initial groundwork has been laid and more public and private funding secured.

Beyond the aesthetic and holistic value of a BQE park, legislators and residents involved see it as way to change the neighborhood’s social dynamic. “We heard from the community that the parks were dangerous, due to gang activity—there’s this side of the BQE versus that,” said Drake. “The objective is to create a place that will bring the community together.”

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Shipping a Vernacular Village Out to Africa
A prefabricated community center could become a model for simple vernacular architecture in Kenya.
Courtesy Philippe Barriere Collective
Prefab pods can be reconfigured and linked to other pods.
The multifunctional prefab pod can be reconfigured and linked to other pods.
 
 

In the burgeoning village of Maai Mahiu, Kenya, there is no method to the madness of development. An architect, an engineer, and a nonprofit organization hope to change that. At the November First Friday’s event at the Missouri Crossroads Arts District in Kansas City, nonprofit Comfort the Children (CTC)— which promotes community development through education, environment, economic, and health initiatives—showcased a pre-fabricated community center that it hopes will become a model for simple, high-quality vernacular architecture.

The community center was designed by architect Philippe Barriere, founder of the Philippe Barriere Collective, with help from William Zahner of A. Zahner Company, an architectural metal and glass fabricator; the structure will remain in Kansas City for the next few months on display to raise awareness and money. In mid-2011, it will be dismantled and sent to Kenya for reassembly by local workers trained by a contingent from Zahner. Zane Wileman, executive director of CTC, said his organization “is about education and empowerment, so we work with the local population to help them build themselves out of poverty.”

A proponent of multi-transitional growth housing, Barriere said his design is slated to be the first of many such installations on the Kenyan site. As funding allows through partnerships and donations, structures will organically grow into each other over time. Said Barriere, “Each prototype is organized to create a rhythm in which they eventually reach each other to make a coherent whole.” Wileman explained that these structures would serve as a hub for future development.

Zahner and Barriere have worked together on other projects, and the design is again the product of their collaboration. They posed the question of what is the easiest, cheapest, and simplest archetype to build, which turned out to be the arch. Each prototype (community center, medical facility, sewing school/factory, children with special needs facility, multi-purpose recreation facility, and a public library/internet cafe) introduces what Barriere called “high simplicity” to local development.

The 12.5-acre site in Kenya's Rift ValleyThe 12.5-acre site in Kenya's Rift Valley is being prepared with a water well, landscaping, and a soccer field.
 

“This first project allowed us to test construction, cost, and scalability of each structure as it grows,” Zahner said. All structures are scheduled for completion in phases by 2013. Until then, the 12.5-acre site in Kenya’s Rift Valley is being prepared with a water well, landscaping, and a soccer field.

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Piggyback Yards Still Not Rollin' on the River
A masterplan envisions a vibrant Piggyback Yards and a revitalized LA River.
Courtesy Perkins + Will

Over 25 years of work have culminated in a transformative blueprint for 150 acres of land in the heart of LA abutting the famously barren Los Angeles River. However, funding and approval for the Piggyback Yard (PBy) conceptual masterplan, as the project is called, are still nonexistent, while the land’s owner, the Union Pacific Railroad, is still hesitant to part with it.

In 2009, the nonprofit Friends of the Los Angeles River found four architecture and landscape firms—Michael Maltzan Architecture, Mia Lehrer + Associates, Perkins + Will, and Chee Salette Architecture Office—to work pro bono on the Piggyback plan, targeting the railroad yards located at the critical junction of downtown Los Angeles, Lincoln Heights, and Boyle Heights. The firms, known as the PBy Collaboration, met biweekly until late May 2010. Now the group is initiating a dialogue with city leaders, public and private agencies, and the community.

A conceptual rendering of the PBy site.
A conceptual rendering of the PBy site showing parkland surrounding the LA River.

Although the city’s Los Angeles River Revitalization masterplan, which was started in 2005, has moved forward with bike lanes and small park projects along the river’s length, the PBy masterplan is the first sizable effort, said Mia Lehrer + Associates designer Hong Joo Kim. The plan includes 125 acres of land and 25 acres of riverbed. The Piggyback Yard, otherwise known as the Los Angeles Transfer Container Facility, is the largest single-owner property adjacent to the river, and hence, the yard’s proponents suggest, the only place a single, large-scale project could work.

The PBy Collaboration proposes to replace the river’s concrete bottom with a soft riverbed, reintroduce plants and wildlife, and set the stage for educational, cultural, commercial, health care, and minor industrial buildings. The midsize structures would include green roofs and photovoltaic panel arrays. Building vertically means more space for the proposed 130-acre public park, which would include soccer fields, sports amenities, walking and biking paths, and a botanical garden.

Conceptual rendering of new park space against the LA skyline.
A conceptual rendering of proposed park space set against the LA skyline.

The plan is to build an area where mixed-income residents would live, work, and play, increasing vitality and decreasing crime. The project would “bridge, through architecture and landscape design, the gap between isolated neighborhoods and districts,” said Jessica Varner, an architect from Michael Maltzan Architecture.

Mia Lehrer emphasized that the PBy plan is “an ongoing investigation” of the yard, with several private and public agencies involved. Some of these include the county, city, and California High Speed Rail. But even with such backing, the collaboration’s hands are still tied, since Union Pacific (UP) owns almost all of the land in the masterplan. It uses the Piggyback Yard to transfer containers to and from trains and trucks.

Union Pacific acknowledged the yard is operating below capacity, but Lupe Valdez, the company’s director of public policy and community affairs, partially blamed the economy, adding that UP was worried about giving up the valuable property. “It is the last yard UP has in the city of Los Angeles, and we realize we could never get it back once gone because of cost and current environmental requirements,” Valdez said. She added that the yard is being used night and day by 50 to 100 workers at a time, not including truck drivers.

Several athletic fields are included in the PBy master plan.Several athletic fields are included in the PBy master plan.

Others note that while retaining jobs in this recession is important, more jobs would be created than lost if this working blueprint—which would take about 20 years to complete—were implemented. Architect Leigh Christy from Perkins + Will said work could be realized piecemeal through “capitalizing on efforts already in place.” The Army Corps of Engineers, for example, has funding to complete the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study by 2012. Part of the area being studied for restoration and flood control is a stretch of river adjacent to the PBy. Meanwhile, the city’s Clean Tech and BioMed Tech Corridors and California High Speed Rail all have funding to perform work on or around the PBy area. The PBy Collaboration needs to sway these organizations to work in tune with its masterplan, which cannot be realized without eventually purchasing the yard from Union Pacific.

A small piece of the plan, the Mission Road corridor, is almost free of UP ownership. This portion of Mission Road, which lies between Cesar Chavez Avenue and Main Street, is about one mile of arterial roadway lined by commercial or industrial buildings. The PBy Collaboration has been talking to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and various city council and city planning members to start work on this area, said Christy. The project could become a “new model for the densification of the city,” said Marc Salette of Chee and Salette Architecture Office, and could jumpstart the rest of the PBy masterplan.

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Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn Bridge Park struggles with being both human scale and monumental.
Courtesy MVVA

Sometimes allegory writes itself. Here, it’s the removal of the futuristic stainless-steel playground climbing domes at the Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates– designed Brooklyn Bridge Park. Following the opening of the park’s Pier 1 first phase in April 2010, the domes scorchingly overheated in early summer sunshine. Their replacement by a direly anodyne but liability-proof dollhouse structure could stand for the sensible return of quasi- traditional designs after modernist overreach, or for a failure of imagination and ambition, in which the optimistically risk-taking formal and functional intelligence that is modernism’s timeless legacy is abandoned in favor of the complacently picturesque.

The design of parks and playgrounds in New York City seems currently torn between these two impulses. On the one hand, there are projects like David Rockwell’s Imagination Playground, a Constructivist Legoland just opened at the Burling Slip near the South Street Seaport. On the other, there are developments like the recent renovation inflicted on Washington Square Park, in which the once superbly sensitive prospect-and-refuge modulations of the park’s multi-level ground plane, and the once lively handling of its historically off-kilter plan (developed by polymath designer Robert Nichols in a community-driven 1971 project) have been flattened by a tightly-wound ersatz-historical pastiche of windswept symmetry, bench-shaped benches and fence-shaped fences, from which tiny tidy bits of lawn can be surveilled, but not much else.

A new playrgound at Pier 6, with Red Hook and Governor's Island beyond.

Brooklyn Bridge Park would appear to be safely in the first camp. To be arrayed when complete across some 65 acres of Brooklyn’s former shipping piers, it continues for the outer boroughs such large-scale waterfront reclamations as Manhattan’s Hudson River Park and Harlem Piers Park—in this case financially initiated and sustained, not without controversy, by the residential and hotel development of six adjacent parcels with priceless skyline and river views.

Much of Pier 1 is unimpeachable. A robust vocabulary of galvanized steel, maritime wood, asphalt paving, cable fencing, and other no-nonsense materials hold their own against a tough urban setting in the shadow of the BQE. Behind the shoulder of a steep hill, a cascade of granite steps, salvaged from nearby Roosevelt Island, forms an amphitheater and climactic overlook high above the East River. Thirty-five-foot telephone poles become totemic tree trunks and laconic lighting uprights. A sinuously sloping ridgeline provides ramped tree-lined pathways that delay and reveal views of city and water. A broad waterfront promenade recalls the one far above in Brooklyn Heights.

Joggers and bench-sitters enjoying the promenade at sunset.

A complex three-dimensional problem of physical and visual occupation has been methodically and successfully solved, with crisp detailing pleasingly combining industrial manufacture and contemporary élan. Still to come are a rainwater runoff pond, a reconstructed salt marsh, and a boat slip. On a recent Friday afternoon, the park was densely and delightedly occupied by diverse constituencies—including an intrepid group of soccer players who had miniaturized and adapted their game to fit into the mostly concave hollow of the main north-facing lawn.

That miniaturization speaks to one challenge facing the Pier 1 park, which is scale: Mediating its 9.5 acres between the scale of the human body and the scale of nearby infrastructural icons like the Brooklyn Bridge, Pier 1 has chosen to be a little-big park, rather than a big-little one. What this means is that in the cumulative effect of its many small hills and valleys, switchbacks, and meadows, it can feel slightly like a three-quarters-scale model of itself: packed with beautiful and effective features, and almost continually delightful, but without a lot of room to breathe or improvise. At Brooklyn Bridge Park, that room will, of course, eventually arrive with the continuing development of the adjacent five piers, which will provide full-size indoor and outdoor sports fields, event spaces, and miles of trails and lawns.

A cove created by the former pilings of Pier 2 adjacent to Pier 1.

And yet this tendency toward dense specificity of activity can risk suppressing the imaginative improvisation, drift, opportunism, serendipity, and loosely counter-programmatical use of space that are the greatest gifts of playgrounds and parks to their users. The new Washington Square Park fails so profoundly because, unlike the old, it encourages the narrowest one-to-one mapping between object and event: a hospitably curving edge calibrated along a shift in ground level can be a bench, a bed, a stage, a gameboard, a skate ramp, a soap box. A faux-Victorian bench is a bench is a bench.

A sign at the Pier 1 playground outlaws, along with amplified sound and smoking, “using playground equipment in an unsafe or unintended fashion.” Safety matters. It’s that “unintended” that worries. And yet somewhere there’s a tipping point in which the regulation of space required by a density of narrowly single-use features starts to betray the magnificent liberties of unintended consequences, that, ever since Richard Dattner brought the Adventure Playground to Central Park in the 1960s, has been the city’s contribution to play and to public space.

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Beekman Tower Has Bad Back
We're not sure where the rumor started—most likely Curbed—but for a while now, it's been going around that the southern side of Frank Gehry's Beekman Tower isn't faceted because it got smoothed out during a value-engineering process in 2009 that saved the project after it nearly stalled out (at half its planned height no less). The latest iteration is a lament on ArchDaily. We called Gehry's people, many of whom were out of the office, but when they finally got back to us, the answer was a definitive "Nope." This baby's backside was always flat. We asked why but were told that this is "a question for Frank, only Frank," who happens to be on vacation with his family in South Africa. Which can only mean one thing. World Cup. Who knew we had such a soccer fan in our midst? Maybe he's checking out all those cool stadiums? Anyway, our guess is it has something to do with zoning envelopes. And now, consider the record corrected. For the second time.
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Randall's Island Reborn
More than 60 athletic fields are among the improvements recently made to Randall's Island.
Courtesy RISF

Randall’s Island has long been a daunting landscape of deteriorating ball fields and overgrown parkland. But on May 19, the Randall’s Island Sports Foundation (RISF) announced the completion of more than 60 new athletic fields, one of the final pieces of a decade-long effort to revive the island as a recreational destination. Along with acres of landscaped open space, a waterfront promenade, and other public amenities, the vast project has transformed the forlorn site for residents of East Harlem and the city beyond.

The $130 million field project, launched in 2007, fulfills the dream of then–Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, who in the 1930s aspired to transform the 480-acre island into playing fields and public pathways. “When we opened the fields the other day, Moses’ vision was finally completed—we are really turning the island into a state-of-the-art athletic facility,” said Rick Parisi, managing partner at M. Paul Friedberg and Partners (MPFP), lead architect for the project. The new fields are expected to double the island’s visitors, currently numbering 700,000 annually, with an array of facilities for soccer, softball, baseball, football, lacrosse, and cricket. Improvements also include artificial turf on 11 fields for year-round use, lighting for evening play, restrooms, dugouts, and bike racks.

The bleachers at Icahn Stadium, which opened in 2005.
Courtesy Zurita Architects

The masterplan forged by MPFP recovered land from various institutions—including the Manhattan Psychiatric Center and the Wards Island Water Pollution Control Plant—that were a major obstacle to creating connectivity and giving the island an identity as a singular park. The present phase improves orientation in the landscape through a grid inspired by Manhattan’s 625-foot-long West Side blocks.

“The grid helped us to generate familiarity and orient the fields properly,” said Ricardo Zurita, principal of Zurita Architects, which collaborated on the masterplan and other aspects of the park, including the design of new sculptural comfort stations that serve as nodes along the grid. The artificial fields were also inserted along the edges of the island’s natural areas. “By doing this we tried to blur this very artificial landscape and blend it seamlessly with naturalistic elements,” Zurita said.

Young baseball players take to some of the island's dozens of diamonds, with the RFK Bridge in the background.
Courtesy RISF

Other park additions include the planting of 4,000 trees in tandem with PlanNYC’s Million Trees initiative, as well as new waterfront pathways designed by RGR Landscape Architecture that offer scenic views along the East River. Elements remaining to be finalized are the restoration of shorelines—including sea wall, riprap, and areas of natural beach, as well as several more ball fields and a path providing access to a new bridge connecting to the Bronx Greenway.

The project marks a milestone for RISF, which manages the island as a public-private partnership with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Aimee Boden, executive director of RISF, said the new work complements additions such as the 2005 Icahn Stadium and the Sportime tennis center, completed last year. “I really hope that this galvanizes the island,” she said, “and brings it to its place as a regional park facility where New York City goes to play.”