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Allied in Ann Arbor
While unlikely to receive the scrutiny or attention of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the new addition to the University of Michigan Museum of Art is something of a return to form for Brad Cloepfil and Allied Works. The extension is uncompromisingly modern, tasteful, light-filled, and restrained enough to be a good neighbor to its beaux arts other half. The Detroit News sings the project's praises, and says that the museum now displays ten percent of its collection, up from a mere three percent prior to the expansion. With at least four museums now under his belt, Cloepfil has become a home grown Renzo Piano. The UMMA addition is likely to expand his reputation further. Next up, the Clifford Still Museum in Denver.

Doomsday for MTA

New Yorkers looking for a legislative express to rescue the flailing Metropolitan Transportation Authority got the bureaucratic equivalent of a garbage train this morning, as the MTA made good on threats to pass a budget and four-year capital plan marked by daunting service reductions and fare hikes.

In a series of 12-1 votes, the agency’s board approved the so-called “doomsday plan” that would slash service on train and bus lines and raise the monthly unlimited MetroCard’s cost to $103 from the current $81, among other desperate measures taken amid continued gridlock in Albany, where state legislators were still toiling to reach an agreement that would bolster the MTA’s budget.

On that front, the most powerful person in state government, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, kept pushing for a compromise among the state’s lawmaking bodies in the last hours before the vote. In February, the assembly appeared set to pass a plan to add tolls to East River bridges, along with a payroll tax to keep MTA capital projects alive. But the state senate, under fledgling majority leader Malcolm Smith, let that plan stall, and Silver has struggled to emerge as the straphanger’s hero.

“We’re trying very hard to reach a negotiated settlement,” Dan Weiller, a spokesperson for Silver, told AN yesterday. “Both the speaker and Malcolm Smith have said they may not make tomorrow’s deadline, but the MTA has said there’s a little wiggle room.”

In voting to turn a contingency budget into an operating plan, the MTA has strongly signaled that time’s up. The plan axes two subway lines—the Z, serving much of northeast Brooklyn from Bushwick to the Queens border, and the W to Astoria. Throughout the boroughs, 35 bus lines would also disappear, in addition to punishing weekend service cuts across the system. As New York’s transit-riding population keeps growing, and job centers disperse from midtown Manhattan, the cutbacks could well harm productivity and hamper access to jobs.

Yet Senate Democrats, new to the majority this year, did not organize to support either a previous plan spearheaded by former MTA chief Richard Ravitch or Silver’s compromise proposal, which lowered bridge tolls from their recommended level to around the cost of a subway ride. Said one transit advocate, insisting on anonymity due to ongoing discussions with the legislature: “Smith, who’s trying to say it’s all about MTA accountability, really can’t get the votes.”

Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the advocacy group Straphangers Campaign, argued that Silver could bring lawmakers around to his way of thinking, even after the MTA’s vote. And how might he do that? “The way he can direct any major expenditure,” Russianoff told AN. “The power of the purse. He says to them, ‘You want your annual appropriations?’”

At this stage, Silver’s political gamesmanship is the last recourse for New Yorkers who’ll otherwise have to dig deeper into their pockets for $2.50 for a single ride beginning May 31.

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Q&A: Gehry at 80
Courtesy Bustler

A few days before his 80th birthday on February 28, Frank Gehry sat down with his good friend, the author and historian John Pastier. The two ranged widely over the architect’s life and work, touching on how he’s been hit by the economy, energized by Obama, and inspired as ever by new technology. They speak candidly about Gehry's frustration with his postmodern peers and the fate of favored projects, among them Brooklyn's controversial Atlantic Yards.

John Pastier: Looking back, did you ever hope or imagine that you would get this far professionally?

Frank Gehry: No, and even though I’m conscious of where I am professionally, I’m actually unconscious of it because psychically I don’t feel any different from where I’ve always been—I’m always nervous, insecure, etc. I think it’s a positive thing, it helps keep you grounded. I’m just more comfortable there, so I do that. But it’s pretty exciting, much of it.

Originally I wanted to do city planning and big-scale urban design projects and social housing. But there was no interest in having architects involved in that. The social housing projects all stopped—HHFA, NFA, etc., didn’t continue.

You started your career working for Victor Gruen. What prompted your leaving in 1960?
They were promoting project managers while the design types were being marginalized. I wasn’t the same Frank Gehry back then. I couldn’t get up and do public presentations. I was very shy and had a hard time with all that. The guys that could do it were promoted and made associates of the firm.

I was productive, but they weren’t promoting me. In hindsight I think they felt that I was angry. I went through a period where I was always angry and they didn’t know what to do with that. They wanted me to be happy and I couldn’t be, I couldn’t fit in. I wasn’t comfortable even though I often got to work with Victor very closely, and with Rudy Baumfeld, and Edgardo Contini, people who I adored and respected.

The office had people like Fred Usher, Marion Sampler, Gere Kavanagh, Kip Stewart, Greg Walsh, and John Gilchrest. It was a place that was interested in art and culture and design. Some of them came out of the Eames office. There was a lot of energy and it felt good. It was a very vibrant group and Rudy loved it, he loved all the younger people, as did Victor. They all used the energy of it, they loved the meetings and would have evening parties, inviting all of us. They were us and we were them. But then it became corporate because they weren’t making money I suppose. Suddenly all of us were marginalized for these manager types, so I decided it was time to go.
I see a great watershed between the earlier and later parts of your career, when you went from straight, angular, diagonal—linear skewed geometries—to compound asymmetrical curves. That was a huge change.

Well, what ushered in that change was more what happened in the design world. People had turned to postmodernism, so all my friends were doing historicist buildings. Venturi, Johnson, Graves, Moore—I always considered them important friends, people I loved very dearly. But I was pissed off that they were going backwards. We’ve just gone through the modern thing, and before that the Beaux Arts, now do we have to go back to the Beaux Arts just because the architecture curator at the Museum of Modern Art decided that it’s time to go back?

This made me angry, and I thought, “If you’re going to go back, then go back 300 million years before man, to fish.” That’s when I started to realize the forms. Earlier, in the Norton Simon House, I was trying to create a sense of movement because he had a Shiva dancing figure on his dining-room table, and you’d look at it and turn around, and you’d swear it had moved! It was made of bronze and had a sense of movement. I was trying to capture that in wood with a tumbling trellis, but he said, “This looks like it’s your unfinished symphony.” I protested: “But Norton, Schubert died, and I’m still going strong.”

I kept searching for that motion and one day started looking at fish. They were architectural to me and had movement—that’s when I did the big wooden GFT Fish in Italy, the “kitsch” fish I call him. Standing beside it you felt the movement of the tail. So I asked how much of this kitsch stuff can you cut off and make abstract, yet still get the sense of movement? That’s when I did lead-clad fish for the Walker Art Center and for Jay Chiat in Venice, continuing to develop the forms and began to understand how to do it. Finally, I used the computer to help me—that’s when I cut loose.

Clearly, doing these curvilinear forms by hand limited how far you could go.
Yeah, I just couldn’t do it. If you were to think of Erich Mendelssohn with his beautiful drawings, he couldn’t do it. If he had the computer these things would have been easy. When you look at the Einstein Tower, you realize how incredible that is.

Exactly how did you come onto the computer?

The turning point was the spiral staircase at the Vitra Furniture Museum. I drew it using descriptive geometry, but since there was a kink in it, the contractors couldn’t build it from my drawings, so that’s when I asked the people in the office, “Isn’t there a way to describe it digitally?” They took us to IBM, who took us to Dassault [creators of the CATIA], and that’s how it happened. In the end I had to build a company around it so they could serve me and now the company is doing other people’s work, and so it spun off into something totally independent.

Your two greatest monuments have arguably been Bilbao and Disney Hall. Obviously you’ve done a lot of other work. One favorite of mine was the New York Guggenheim on the East River in the Financial District.

Yeah, but that was never real. I knew you couldn’t build out over the water there. The Corps of Engineers would never allow it.

What impressed me about that project was its immense scale. More recently it’s struck me that Disney Hall and Bilbao are not just radically different form departures, but also represent a major jump in scale for you—not physical scale so much as aesthetic scale. They’re very monumental but still very accessible. They’re not off-putting. The first time I visited Disney, I rounded a corner and saw it all at once. I thought, “My God, how did he do that?” It was immense and looming like a mountain range, yet was also something very intimate, very human-scaled, even friendly. How do you do that?

You’ve got to want to do it, consciously.

What gave you the idea that it was even possible?

Well, if you look at antiquity it’s possible. Great buildings of the past had it. Borromini did it, Bernini did it.

But those buildings were full of fine-scale detail.

I know, but that’s the point. By using the sense of movement you replace the details.

That’s a major insight.

That’s why I did the whole thing with the fish and then moved into this, because once I understood how to characterize movement at a big scale then I knew I had something. I could play with it, and I let it evolve, that’s all. It was a real breakthrough for me.

But during the design process, even working with really big models, how do you make that jump? How do you know what it’s really going to be like at full scale? Is it a leap of faith or can you actually visualize it that precisely?

No, I visualize it because we make models at several scales, which forces me to shift scale. It makes me think, “Real.” So I don’t let the model become the object of desire. I continually challenge myself about that, to keep myself in “real scale.” It’s worked for me a lot. And then we also build full-scale mockups of parts of the building before I “print it,” so to speak.

I’ve spent a lot of time with that idea because during that same period, Michael Graves had the great trouble with it, and we’d talk about it. The drawings were beautiful and a lot of my colleagues’ drawings were beautiful, the models were beautiful, but then the building didn’t deliver. I do lots of drawings, too. They are exciting to people because they’re so scribbly and free, but the important thing is to deliver that feeling to the final building. You have to focus on it and want to do it, you can’t just let it happen. You have to really control it from beginning to end.

Looking back on your work, which projects do you like the best and which have been especially significant to your development? Let’s consider residences.

They allow freedom because they were easier to play with—the scale is easier. The Smith House, a little addition to the first house I did [in 1959], that let me do my first “still life” village. Then the house for the filmmaker where I separated the pieces and you had to go outside to go to the bathroom—that kind of thing. But I was thinking of production houses then—tract houses—and got the idea of separate pieces so you could put the shapes in the computer, and somebody could pick four shapes and then, on the computer, place them on their lot. They could be mass-produced and delivered to your site. I still think it’s a good idea, but nobody did it. 

That all came out of houses, and it led to the still-life strategy that I’ve used in many buildings. It’s present in a lot of things, not so much in Bilbao and Disney but many other projects use that idea. But I don’t like doing houses because I don’t feel like I’m doing anything for society. Although it’s nice doing it for a friend. I even have trouble doing it for myself because it gets into closets and things like that. I played with it over and over—after 60 versions I gave up.

Which other unrealized commissions do you most wish had been built?

The Corcoran Gallery in DC, the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn—I don’t think it’s going to happen. There are projects underway that are being threatened, and may not be completed. That would be devastating to me. Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles is also on hold.

But now we’re working on the Louis Vuitton Foundation Museum in Paris, and that’s exciting. It’s a pretty big building, bigger than Disney Hall.

Do you feel some need to adjust to age now that you’re hitting 80? Will you give up playing hockey?
Well, I gave that up a couple of years ago. I had a back operation and I was having trouble.

Will you cut back on working and heavy travel?

I talk about that, but in fact I don’t, and now I’m more excited. I guess you might say I’m Obama-ized—watching him before Congress last night was amazing. It’s not about black or white anymore, it’s about how he’s a real president. He’s the real thing and what he’s talking about is a new revolution in technology—I’m really excited about that. The world’s energy concerns can lead to new architectural models, and not just by that part of the profession that’s using it to get business, putting on their Boy Scout uniforms and doing terrible buildings in the name of “greening.” Now there’s finally traction on this issue, and it’s become something that clients are asking for. We’ve tried it for years and nobody would pay for it—they just wouldn’t do it.
So you’re sensing a change in that perception.

I really think there is. What Obama is talking about is certainly going in that direction. There’s a lot of technology out there. I was recently called by somebody asking if I could play with new materials that could become photovoltaic. I said yes, and I’ve been very interested in it.

I can see you experimenting with that and having a lot of fun, so you’re in no danger of burn out there.

No, I’m not going to go there at all, and I’m having fun with the young people in the office. The only problem I’m dealing with is how do I exit. What do I leave here, and should I worry about it?

You’ve cut back on staff size—what was the peak?

About 250, about a year and a half ago. We were doing Brooklyn and Grand Avenue, they were big staffs, 40 to 50 people each. Now we’re at about 120 to 125.
Will you keep shrinking until the economy improves?

No, I think we’re pretty steady there unless Abu Dhabi were to stop. You never know about that. I’m doing a Guggenheim museum there with Tom Krens and it’s really exciting to work with him.

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Ship Shape
The Landmarks Preservation Commission has approved SHoP's designs for Pier 15.
Courtesy LPC

On Tuesday, Gregg Pasquarelli and his partners at SHoP Architects moved ahead on a much-anticipated project when New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 7-1 in favor of a new pier and promenade for the South Street Seaport district, part of the firm’s larger East River Esplanade. It was the last major regulatory hurdle for the project, a portion of which began construction last fall near Wall Street.

It’s been rough sailing for the SHoP crew of late, given the firm's struggles with the commission over its plans for a mixed-use project at the adjacent Pier 17. That design was rejected as out-of-touch with the district's maritime history, but for Pier 15, the commissioners largely agreed with Pasquarelli, who emphasized its antecedents in the multistory working and recreational piers that once lined the New York waterfront.

The pier, with boats docked alongside, as seen from the promenade.
All images courtesy LPC

“While I don’t agree with every detail of this, I think the overall approach is an appropriate, 21st-century interpretation of its historic forebears,” commission chair Robert Tierney said. Some of his colleagues even argued that it was not so much the design as the reactivation of the waterfront that was the project’s focal point—the return of New Yorkers to the shore.

“The most important preservation part of this effort is pulling people to the pier, pulling them underneath the FDR and to the water,” commissioner Margery Perlmutter said. “Whatever you have to do to achieve that is appropriate.”

The plans for Pier 15 have not changed much since they were unveiled in November 2007. The major components remain a new pier constructed upon the site of one that collapsed decades ago—a sign of just how far the waterfront had fallen in the city. On the main level, there will be fendering and bollards for the Seaport Museum's historic ships to dock, as well as a small boat launch and a maritime-themed pavilion, all of which were major demands from the maritime community.

SHoP used examples of historic two-story piers, many of them built for similar recreational purposes, as precedents for its design.

Local residents had called for ample open space, which SHoP delivered by adding a second level to the pier, a feature the firm found was once very common on the waterfront and which helped win support for the idea from the commissioners, who especially admired the use of a hull-like wooden shape for the base of the second level.

What did not impress them was the inclusion of three grass plots atop the pier. “The green space is not within the historic character of the district,” vice-chair Pablo Vengoechea said. “There was once a green edge on the water, but it is long gone, especially within the seaport.”

neighborhood groups applauded the project's upper-level plots of grass, but commissioners deemed such green spaces anachronistic.

Preservation groups remain divided by the project. “The architects have done a good job of balancing the many different viewpoints of what the East River waterfront landscape should be, and we believe this pier design should be approved by the LPC,” Melissa Baldock, a fellow at the Municipal Art Society, told the commission. But Nadezhda Williams, preservation associate at the Historic Districts Council, disagreed. “HDC supports the rebuilding of a pier originally in the district and lost," she said. "We strenuously object, however, to the gussying up of a pier with a structure designed for leisure in a district defined by its working history.”

That working history, however, is so far gone from Lower Manhattan that the commission seemed eager to leave it in the past. “Although it is not a recreation of a historic pier, it is a modern interpretation that serves the needs of the community,” said commissioner Diana Chapin. And that, her colleagues agreed, was appropriate enough.

A drawing shows the multilayered nature of the pier.

Editorial: Pedlocking Broadway

General gladness and near unanimous support greeted Mayor Bloomberg’s February 27announcement that he was malling Times and Herald squares by closing off portions of Broadway in the interest of easing traffic, widening sidewalks, and reclaiming some three acres for pedestrian use. The Regional Planning Association has been pitching the idea since 1974, and so the group’s president, Robert Yaro, was triumphant: “This plan is a win-win-win strategy for New York’s motorists, its residents, workers, visitors and property owners. All will benefit as the City’s Broadway plan is brought quickly to reality.” Streetsblog called it “a bold transformative new vision.” And what’s not to like? The $1.5million plan is supposed to reduce southbound motor vehicle travel times by 17percent on 7thAvenue, and northbound travel times by 37percent on 6thAvenue. And the Naked Cowboy will have someplace to sit down.

The notion of banning cars on Broadway has reared up every decade or so since the 1960s, when a malling craze seized the entire country from Kalamazoo (where the first downtown pedestrian zone opened in 1959) to Atlanta. Only 15percent of 200pedestrian malls survived, according to Sam Staley, director of urban and land use policy at the Reason Foundation; the ones that did not were absent two essential ingredients: plenty of pedestrians and a unique sense of place, with viable retail. Those two are resoundingly on hand in Times Square, and always have been, along with efforts to subtract the traffic. In 1977, a $500,000federal grant was paid to the city to create an “experimental pedestrian mall” with trees and potted plants that—just like the one announced by Bloomberg—would become permanent if it worked. And that was the last we heard of a plan that made local businesses fear they’d lose curbside traffic; annoyed taxi drivers for the inconvenience; and flew against the city’s thinking at the time that only more and wider roads could make traffic flow faster. This time around, things are different, not least because the plan seems motivated in part by the mayor’s determination to have something highly visible go his way after congestion pricing went so wrong. The attitude of other stakeholders has also changed—except perhaps the taxi drivers—reflecting more enlightened thinking about public amenities and transportation. They get it now: Cars in the city are headed for extinction.

And yet as radical as the plan is, it was disappointing to see it quite so completely devoid of design. As Deborah Marton, executive director of the Design Trust for Public Space, pointed out, “No one thinks these plazas should look this way. Just claiming the ground was kind of heroic; they can always go back and rethink the detailing.” That’s true, but why doesn’t the Department of Transportation, which is spearheading the plan, have a landscape design consultant on call to sketch up a vision that’s a little less ad hoc, more layered, and not so isolated from side streets? The agency’s so-called piazza islands—like the new pedestrian spaces at Madison Square and 14thStreet—are risible for their smatterings of cafe tables and glued-in-place gravel. Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan deserves enormous credit for shaking the lead off this decades-old plan and making something happen that this time might stick. It’s still a shame, however, that landscape designers seem to belong to the second wave of the solution, not the first.

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The A-Lists
Completed in 2008, the STV-designed Engine Company 277 in Bushwick is one of the first built works of the city's Design and Construction Excellence Initiative. The design won an Art Commission award in 2004.
Bernard James/City of New York

As a peer-review architect for the U.S. General Services Administration’s Design Excellence Program, Karen Bausman of Karen Bausman + Associates is enthusiastic about public work. “From my perspective, the barrier between public architecture and all other architecture is closing,” she said. “Public architecture is now at the forefront of developing the design ideas that will fulfill our 21st-century needs.” The New York–based architect has herself plunged into the public realm, designing two projects at Ferry Point Park in the South Bronx for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Her views may sound a little too optimistic to some. Over the past several decades, the legacy of public architecture has been such that municipally released Requests for Proposals have more likely caused design firms to hide their heads in despair than jump at the chance. Known primarily for modest budgets, Byzantine bureaucratic proceedings, and poor construction quality, the public realm has remained the domain of the ideologically dedicated—or of large firms looking to burnish their public image after profiting handsomely from private developer jobs.

Designed by arquitectonica, the Bronx Museum of the Arts won an art commission award in 2003 and became the model for the city's dce program.
norman mcgrath

But that trend, in New York City at least, is changing fast. The number of architects of all stripes competing for public contracts (involving nearly 100 projects per year) has more than doubled in the last five years. With private developer work about as plentiful as the saber tooth tiger, billions of dollars are set to flow into the public realm. Part of this tectonic shift can also be attributed to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s Design and Construction Excellence Initiative (DCE), which has turned what was once the ugly stepchild of the profession into a hot date.

Bloomberg first announced DCE in 2004, along with the 22nd annual Art Commission Awards for Excellence in Design, which recognized eight city projects that exemplified the highest design standards, including Polshek Partnership’s entrance pavilion at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The purpose of DCE, the mayor stated, was “to expand our city’s pre-eminence as the design capital of the world,” by encouraging city agencies “to strive for the same level of excellence in design for all public works—large and small—that is recognized annually by the Art Commission’s Awards.” While DCE is a citywide initiative, the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), headed by Commissioner David J. Burney, was placed in charge of spearheading it. The Parks Department, which manages its own design and construction projects, also took an active role. The first step was to revamp the city’s method of procuring design services.

Since time out of mind, public architecture projects have been awarded based on one driving factor: the lowest bid. This has proven an effective method for politicians wishing to exhibit their thrifty application of taxpayer dollars, but for obvious reasons, hasn’t always attracted the best architects or resulted in the finest work. DDC turned the tables on this method by removing price competition as the prime motivator in procurement, instituting a quality-based selection process. “I think that the perception, for better or worse, was that the city had a tendency to focus on schedule and budget. One measures those and defends the taxpayer’s dollar, and quality takes a back seat,” Burney told AN. “The idea was to reinstate quality in the minds of every project manager. We now have a series of initiatives to make that happen.”

DDC developed two new methods of procurement, streamlining the RFP process to attract the right architect to the right project and to allow a greater range of firms the opportunity of winning public commissions. (Not all designers have marketing departments at the ready to fill out 90-page competition forms.) The first method is for large projects of $25 million or more, such as the Brooklyn House of Detention or the new Police Academy to be built in Queens. In this method, two-stage RFPs are issued for each project. During the first stage, a committee that includes at least one outside professional peer evaluates respondents and ranks them based on their sub-consultants, the education and experience of their project team, and their design record. The top firms are then invited to submit detailed proposals during stage two. At the conclusion of the second stage, the city begins fee negotiations with the highest technically ranked firm. “The DDC’s new selection process guarantees a level of attention to architecture,” explained Todd Schliemann, a partner at Polshek Partnership Architects, which has completed countless projects for New York City. “It wasn’t so long ago that they insisted on practicality over design.”

dce projects now beginning  construction include the ocean breeze indoor track facility on Staten Island by Sage and Coombe...
COURTESY Sage and Coombe

... And Bushwick inlet park in williamsburg by Kiss + Cathcart
COURTESY Kiss + Cathcart

The second method, for projects of less than $25 million, involves the selection of a panel of consultants who become the city’s go-to architects for projects in this budget range. As with the first stage of the RFP process in method one, architects are invited to apply to be on the panel and are evaluated based on their relevant experience and the quality of their portfolio. Firms that are selected are awarded 24-month on-call contracts with the city and are given the option of submitting proposals to projects as they become available. To keep the submission process fair and distribute the work evenly to large and small firms, this category is further subdivided into projects of less than $10 million and projects of $10 to $25 million. In the less-than-$10 million range, which thus far has accounted for approximately 50 projects every year, the city selects a panel of 24 small firms (defined as having ten or fewer employees) for each contract period. These have included firms like Andrew Berman Architect, Lyn Rice Architects, and Toshiko Mori. The remainder of the work, in the $10 to $25 million range, is offered to a panel of eight larger firms, such as Polshek Partnership, Smith-Miller + Hawkinson Architects, and Grimshaw.

“For each project that becomes available, the DDC issues an RFP to the 24 firms,” said Adam Marcus of Marble Fairbanks, which has been included in the DDC’s $10 million-and-under on-call list since 2005. “We usually submit proposals for each one, but it’s not required.” The firm’s diligence has paid off, and it currently has four projects under DCE: a cultural center and a fire station on Staten Island, an arts center in the Bronx, and a library in Queens. “DDC is very involved throughout the process. Their input usually is helpful and they’re right about a lot of things. There’s definitely additional work dealing with the bureaucracy, but in general it’s been pretty good and we’ve found their reviewers easy to work with.”

This method of procurement, along with the completion of a string of high-profile public projects including the Bronx Museum of the Arts by Arquitectonica, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum by Rafael Viñoly, and the Queens Botanical Garden by BKSK Architects, has had the effect that Bloomberg desired, and an increasing number of firms are showing interest in city work. In 2005, when the first round of contracts was issued, the DDC received applications from 178 firms. In 2007, the second round of contracts, DDC received 237 applications—a 33 percent increase. A similar increase in applications is expected when the next round of RFPs goes out late this summer, and the competition will be all the more fierce as the city expects to complete less work as a result of the faltering economy. “This round, we’re only going to issue on-call contracts to 20 firms,” said Burney. “We have less work now, due to budget cuts.”

The news is not all bleak, and there is still ample hope for high-design architects to find satisfying work in a city that values design. The Parks Department, the only other city agency that issues its own series of on-call contracts using the same methods as the DDC, has a $3 billion budget to spend on capital improvements over the next ten years. The first generation of Parks DCE projects is now going into construction, including the Bushwick Inlet Community Center by Kiss + Cathcart Architects, the McCarren Park Pool renovation by Rogers Marvel, and the Union Square Comfort Station by ARO. The agency is actually increasing the number of architects it will hire from six firms to eight. In addition, Parks also issues eight contracts to landscape architecture firms. RFPs for Parks’ latest round of contracts were due at the end of February, and while official numbers were not released as of press time, the number of applications has nearly doubled from the last count of 115 submissions.

The Marble Fairbanks-designed Glen Oaks Branch Library in Queens was commissioned by the DDC and is currently under construction.
Courtesy Marble Fairbanks

The fact that New York City values design and has implemented strategies to increase its weight as a factor in public works is heartening, but the question that must be on the minds of many architects right now is whether pursuing these jobs can keep them afloat. While the city’s process of finding architects has changed, its fee structure has not. The city has a sliding fee curve—based on percentage of overall construction cost—that is derived from a combination of previous contracts for the same services, adjusted for inflation, and information from a New York State analysis of contract fees. The lower the construction cost, the higher the percentage the fee accounts for. For example, a $100,000 project offers a 15.13 percent design fee, or $15,129. A $25 million project, on the other hand, offers a 6.08 percent design fee, or $1,520,375.

Without doing a detailed economic analysis of architecture firms, their fees, and their profit margins, it seems that this pay structure is more beneficial to the smaller fish in the architecture pool. Speaking about his firm’s extensive public work for New York, Schliemann said, “I’m not going to tell you that we make a great deal of money, but it’s a great contribution to the city.” On the other hand, city commissions account for approximately one third of Marble Fairbanks’ work.

DCE is an admirable addition to the administration of New York City, but it is just one part of a greater initiative to make this town a better designed, more egalitarian, and more sustainable place. The city’s overall 2030 strategy also includes requirements for green design and a degree of diversity among those hired to complete public work. “What has been very satisfying to me,” said Bausman, “is that my voice is listened to and I have an opportunity to help re-imagine the city. The city is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year. It’s great to finally have a seat at the table.”

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Open: The Greatbatch Pavilion
Biff Henrich

The Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion
125 Jewett Parkway, Buffalo, New York
Tel: 716-856-3858
Designer: Toshiko Mori Architect

Opening to the public tomorrow, the Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion, a new addition to the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Darwin D. Martin House in Buffalo, New York, highlights Wright’s signature Prairie style through a sublimely contrasting aesthetic. Designed by Toshiko Mori of New York–based Toshiko Mori Architect, the $5 million pavilion can be seen as a reinterpretation of Wright’s classic “organic principles,” integrating the surrounding landscape while meeting the programmatic needs of the complex, a site of architectural pilgrimage that is home to both the Darwin D. Martin House and the George F. Barton House, plus sundry outbuildings including a pergola, conservatory, carriage house, and gardener’s cottage.

Part of an ambitious, multi-year restoration and expansion of the complex—Wright’s largest residential ensemble—the 7,775-square-foot, glass-paneled pavilion houses interpretive exhibitions, interactive touch screen programs, and a visitor orientation film. The new structure, which sits unobtrusively across a courtyard from the main house, reflects Wright’s overarching structural logic: His archetypal Prairie style is echoed by the building’s cantilevered hip roof and low, horizontal profile, while the dimensions of the glass-paneled exterior and floor plans derive from the proportions and scale of the 1905 Martin House. Mori carefully updates Wright’s formal vocabulary with materials such as stainless-steel columns and high-performance glass, providing thermal insulation while maximizing daylight. The triple-glazed windows also provide visitors with the most important benefit of all—uninterrupted views of Wright’s masterpiece next door.

Biff Henrich
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Design for the Younger Set
Perhaps one explanation for why there's so much mediocre architecture and planning in this country is that we were never taught anything about it as youngsters. In fact most kids don't even have access to an art history class until they reach college; and don't even try asking them who their favorite architect is. But a few new kids architecture books could help change that, or at least inspire younger people to start appreciating the built world around them. Where Things Are From Near To Far (Planetizen Press), by Tim Halbur and Chris Steins (with illustrations by David Ryan) introduces very young kids to basic concepts of urban planning, giving them an appreciation for the changing, dynamic urban environment. The colorful book follows the path of a young boy, Hugo, as he makes his way with his mom through six different environments; from a dense urban core all the way to the countryside.  The progression is based on the "urban-to-rural transect," developed by New Urbanist Andrés Duany, which divides cities into six different zones, and at its end introduces kids to the person who decides how all of this will be created: a smiling urban planner. Another, The Modern Architecture Pop Up Book (Rizzoli), by David Sokol and Anton Radevsky, includes pop-ups, fold-overs, and slide-outs (and short descriptions) of most of the best-known Modern architecture produced over the last 125 years or so. That includes London’s Crystal Palace; the Brooklyn Bridge; the Eiffel Tower; New York’s Flatiron Building; Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, Chicago; Reitveld’s Schroeder House; Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye; Saarinen’s TWA terminal; Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao; Calatrava’s Milwaukee Art Museum; and Foster’s 30 St. Mary Axe, a.k.a. the "Gherkin." A few of the moving parts don't work completely right, but overall the book is an engaging way to explore not only modern architectural history, but also to get a feel for the dynamic shapes of today's architecture. Indeed with its moving parts and easily grasped visual concepts, the pop-up architecture book might be the most accessible way into the field for kids. Several more have been released recently. They include Frank Gehry in Pop-Up (Thunder Bay Press), Architectural Wonders: A Pop-Up Gallery of the World's Most Amazing Marvels (Thunder Bay),  Architecture Pop-Up Book (Universe), California Missions Pop-Up (Geomancy), and Frank Lloyd Wright in Pop-Up (Thunder Bay).

Safer Now?

Yesterday, New York City Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri released the official findings of a yearlong investigation into the March 15, 2008 crane collapse on East 51st Street that killed 7 people. Conducted by Arup, the investigation combined structural laboratory testing and computer analyses with the review of photographs and eyewitness testimony to produce a 339-page report [PDF] that placed blame firmly on poor rigging practices.

In brief, the report states that the jumping crew disregarded a number of the crane manufacturer’s recommendations in their use of polyester web slings to hoist and hold an 11,000-pound steel collar in place. They used four slings as opposed to eight, connected them not at the recommended collar points but in the crook of the tower’s legs, and did not pad them against the sharp edges of the steel. In addition, one of the slings had suffered previous damage, greatly reducing its bearing capacity. The slings broke, the collar fell from the 18th floor—severing lower connections to the building—and the crane toppled. In January, a grand jury indicted William Rapetti, the master rigger in charge of the jumping operation, on charges of manslaughter.

Arup’s investigation also found that the DOB crane inspection and permitting protocols in place at the time would not have identified the rigging errors that caused the collapse, highlighting the need for more vigilant construction oversight. “This investigation shows the consequences of taking shortcuts on the job site,” said Commissioner LiMandri. “In the coming days, we will convene a series of meetings with the construction industry to review the report’s findings and identify ways to prevent tragedies like this from happening again.”

The DOB has already taken several steps to tighten safety regulations at construction sites. Since the collapse, the department has worked with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn to enact 12 new laws to this effect. Among these are laws that mandate the presence of more safety managers on site, the drafting of specific safety procedures for jobs, an increased amount of training for rigging crews, and the restricted use of nylon or polyester slings unless specifically indicated by crane manufacturers. There is also a law that requires notification to New York State of disciplinary actions that DOB takes against licensed architects and engineers, so that the state can determine whether those disciplined need either remedial education or further disciplinary action.

Curiously, though, no law has been passed that addresses one other important factor that, while it did not cause the crane collapse, could very well have prevented it: the crane’s foundation. The base of the crane sat on dunnage beams, which in turn rested on concrete foundation walls. But the beams were only secured laterally by friction from the vertical load. According to the report, Dale Curtis, a member of the Crane Certification Association of America who was brought on as a reviewer, “observed that such a base frame is preferred to be positively restrained at the concrete below to prevent lateral movement during disassembly of the tower sections when only the lowest tie is attached to the completed building.”

During the collapse, only one tie remained attached to the building—the lowest, at the third floor. The base of the tower and the dunnage beams, however, suddenly exposed to the increased lateral loads, slid out from under the crane and allowed it to fall across 51st Street. As an industry insider who preferred to remain unnamed told AN in March 2008, “In this foundation there was no ability to withstand the lateral loads. When the ties failed it couldn’t handle it. There was no redundancy.”

DOB is aware of the issue, however. Among the 41 recommendations that resulted from the department’s recent $4 million dollar study of crane, hoist, excavation, and concrete operations was one that mentioned crane foundations. It recommended that the city require a New York State–licensed engineer to provide design drawings for a tower crane foundation and require notification to DOB prior to pouring the foundation. It also suggested requiring the engineer of record to conduct a special inspection of the tower crane foundation before and after the concrete is poured.

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Porter House: Hoboken Edition
Say "Hoboken" to a New Yorker and Irish Bars (and rowdy ex-frat boys), quaint row houses, and the Path Train might spring to mind. Thanks to the recently completed Garden Street Lofts (on sale now!), you can add high-end green condos designed by name brand architects to that list. Designed by SHoP, the project incorporates new construction into an old coconut processing plant, and is expected to receive LEED silver certification. Garden Street Lofts gets lots of merit badges: adaptive reuse, urban infill, green features, good design in Jersey, etc. But it also bears a striking resemblance to an earlier SHoP project, the Porter House, at 15th Street at Ninth Avenue in Manhattan. Hoboken! It's like the Meatpacking district, only farther west, and green, and with less expensive cocktails nearby. And the view from the green roof is better (at least until the High Line opens)!
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Fittings and Furniture

the children's place by clive wilkinson architects with western office interiors and vitra


Cascade Coil
9505 SW 90th Ct.,
Tualatin, OR;

Constantine Commercial
220 Montgomery St.,
San Francisco;

Edelman Leather
101 Henry Adams St.,
San Francisco;

564 Pacific Ave.,
San Francisco;

Shaw Floors
616 East Walnut Ave.,
Dalton, GA;


Geiger International
6095 Fulton Industrial Bvld., SW, Atlanta, GA;

900 12th St. Dr. NW,
Hickory, NC;

600 Townsend St.,
San Francisco;

214 Wilshire Blvd.,
Santa Monica, CA;

Moroso dba Unifor
146 Greene St.,
New York, NY;

Poltrona Frau
141 Wooster St.,
New York, NY;

Quinze & Milan
Walle 113, 8500 Kortrijk, Belgium;

28-30 Greene St.,
New York, NY;

Valley City Architectural Furniture
64 Hatt St., Dundas,
Ontario, Canada;

Vitra Los Angeles
8753 Washington Blvd.,
Culver City, CA;

Western Office Interiors
500 Citadel Dr.,
Los Angeles;


Lost and Found Etcetera
6314 Yucca St.,
Los Angeles;

Stefan Lawrence
8057 Beverly Blvd.,
Los Angeles;


55 Ferris St.,
Brooklyn, NY;

151 Vermont St.,
San Francisco;


Von Duprin
2720 Tobey Dr.,
Indianapolis, IN;


Boffi Los Angeles
1344 4th St.,
Santa Monica, CA;


5 Tudor City Pl.,
New York, NY;

Duravit Bathroom Furniture

John Boos + Co.
315 South 1st St.,
Effingham, IL;

6015 Power Inn Rd., 
Sacramento, CA;


9006 Beverly Blvd.,
West Hollywood, CA;


Boyd Lighting
944 Folsom St.,
San Francisco;

950 Bolger Ct.,
St. Louis, MO;


7200 Suter Rd.,
Coopersburg, PA;

5 Lumen Ln.,
Highland, NY;

Zumtobel Lighting
44 West 18th St.,
New York, NY;




Western Office Interiors and Vitra provided all of the workstations and most of the ancillary furniture for the Disney Store Headquarters in Pasadena. There was a huge amount of custom work and this team provided virtually every piece on time and with impeccable quality. We worked exclusively with Melanie Becker from Vitra and Dawn Nadeau of Western Office, who worked tirelessly to provide the highest level of product and support, and produced an excellent result.”
John Meachem
Clive Wilkinson Architects

Lost and Found Etcetera is a big decorators’ secret for enlivening modern interiors.”
Barbara Bestor
Bestor Architects

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Five Vie for Civil Rights
The design for Atlanta's new Center for Civil and Human Rights by Moody Nolan, Antoine Predock, and Goode Van Slyke
Courtesy Center for Civil and Human Rights

The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta has announced five architecture teams and possible designs for its new home. The finalist teams include: Diller Scofidio + Renfro of New York with Stanley Beaman & Sears of Atlanta; Freelon Group of Durham, NC with HOK of Atlanta; Huff + Gooden Architects of New York with Hammel Green and Abrahamson of Minneapolis; Moody•Nolan of Columbus, OH with Antoine Predock Architect of Albuquerque, NM and Goode Van Slyke of Atlanta; Polshek Partnership Architects of New York with Cooper Carry and Stanley Love-Stanley of Atlanta.

The center, organized in 2005 by Mayor Shirley Franklin, plans to open in 2012 on a 2.2 acre site on the edge of Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta. “We will be located next to two more entertainment oriented institutions, the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium, that generate a lot of foot traffic. We asked the teams to create a space that will help visitors transition to a more contemplative state,” executive director Douglas Shipman said.

After issuing a RFQ in November 2008, which garnered interest from dozens of firms, according to Shipman, the Center and its design jury narrowed the list down to twenty firms. They then asked the firms to submit a “design narrative” and complete team roster. “We didn’t want them to draw anything. We wanted them to demonstrate their way of working,” he said. That group was then narrowed down to the final five teams, who were then given a small design stipend as well as a detailed exhibition design program.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Stanley Beaman & Sears

The five teams have responded in strikingly different ways. Diller Scofidio + Renfro/Stanley Beaman & Sears created a layered design, with much of the exhibition space below grade and a thin cantilevered roof hanging over an outdoor garden. Freelon/HOK designed a pair of interlocking L-shaped volumes topped with green roofs. Huff + Gooden/Hammel Green and Abrahamson presented the most austere scheme, a low-slung horizontal volume with wide expanses of glass, which hangs over the sloping site supported by a massive truss. The Moody•Nolan/Predock/Goode Van Slyke engaged directly with the park-side setting with a building-as-landscape design and a glazed entrance carved out of the middle. The Polshek/Cooper Carry/Stanley-Love-Stanley design calls for a collection of glazed flat roofed wings with projection screens, accented by a tall, thin concrete entrance portal.

In addition judging the degree to which the designs fulfill the institution’s esthetic and programmatic goals, the jury will also consider the environmental sensitivity of the projects and the level of participation by women and minority owned firms. The jury of 13 including civil rights leader Juanita Abernathy, Chelsea Piers founder Tom Bernstein, filmmaker George C. Wolfe, and architects Alan Balfour, Deborah Berke, and Craig VanDevere—will make its recommendation to the Center’s board in late March. Ground is expected to be broken late this year.

Freelon Group with HOK 


Huff + Gooden Architects with Hammel Green and Abrahamson

Polshek Partnership Architects with Cooper Carry and Stanley Love-Stanley