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Ahem, Hem

On opening day of Hem’s New York studio, AN Interior talked shop with founder Petrus Palmer
Returning to the cobblestone streets of Manhattan, Stockholm-based furniture brand Hem opened the doors to its new permanent home in New York City. The studio has made a name for itself with affordable, well-made furnishings and designer collaborations with Max Lamb, Luca Nichetto, Pauline Deltour, GamFratesi, and Philippe Malouin, among others. Now open on Broome Street, the space features furniture vignettes where visitors can browse the collections and purchase for same week delivery. The location operates more like a design studio (as opposed to a typical showroom), offering by-appointment creative services, in a setting furnished with the independent design brand’s sustainable furniture, lighting, and accessories. AN Interiors’ products editor Gabrielle Golenda sat down with Hem’s founder Petrus Palmer to discuss how he designed the New York studio and how he plans to engage the city’s creative community.

AN Interior: How did you pick the showroom location?

Petrus Palmer: It’s our second space in the United States. We opened our first store in downtown Los Angeles last fall. Coming to New York, we wanted to make sure we were in a neighborhood that matches the creative values of Hem. Soho is home to most of the design brands and there are a lot of design firms and architects. Maybe, more importantly, it’s the only truly walkable part of the U.S. You can walk around and be inspired.

We didn’t want to have a street-level space because we’re not yet open for the weekends. It’s a by-appointment studio for interior designers and architects.

What was it about the space that drew you to it?

It’s a beautiful brick and iron building. It has intrinsic value that you can build on. Then there are high ceilings and windows in both directions.

Why are you bring a permanent location to New York City now?

To meet more people. As a brand and purveyor of quality and design, trust is our main goal. You need to get that final piece of the puzzle that you don’t get online—online, you can see everything from the quantity that we have in stock to the price level, but you won’t actually get to touch anything. That’s so important. In the end, to be able to get face to face with the brand and touch the products is imperative.

Read the full interview on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.
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Best of the Best

The Architect’s Newspaper recognizes excellence at the first Annual Design Gala
On March 11, The Architect’s Newspaper hosted its inaugural Annual Design Gala in New York, which recognized leaders in architecture, design, and construction in North America. The night consisted of a cocktail reception followed by an awards dinner; both held in the Stanford White-designed Bowery Savings Bank, a sumptuous Beaux-Arts space bedecked with a bevy of classical detailing and a 65-foot vaulted ceiling ballroom ringed by Corinthian columns and crowned with Tiffany glass. For AN, the Annual Design Gala fills a programmatic void within the design community. “The inspiration for this gala came when I realized that there was no premiere gala specifically celebrating all aspects of Architecture; from the architects, planners, designers to the engineers and contractors,” said publisher Diana Darling. “And, it’s our vision at The Architect’s Newspaper that this is the first of many.” The awardees of the gala were selected by a 22-person voting committee—many of whom were members of ANs jury for the 2019 Best of Design Awards—and were recognized in seven categories. Building of the Year was awarded to Beyer Blinder Belle and Planners, INC Architecture & Design, LUBRANO CIAVARRA, Mathew Nielsen Landscape Architects, MCR/MORSE Development, Stonehill Taylor, and Turner Construction for their work on the TWA Hotel; Denise Scott Brown received the Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of her decades of leadership in the architecture and design community; Studio Gang was honored in the Excellence in Building category for recent projects such as Solar Carve and Mira Tower; Urbanist of the Year went to Kate Orff of SCAPE and Columbia Urban Design; Leong Leong received the Interior Excellence award; builder Sciame Construction was awarded Contractor of the Year, and Buffalo-based terra-cotta manufacturer Boston Valley Terra Cotta was honored with Innovator of the Year. In honor of Denise Scott Brown’s Lifetime Achievement Award, AN commissioned designer Vilaplana + Vilaplana to produce Ode to Denise Scott Brown, a vinyl print inspired by the raucous postmodern architecture advocated for and designed by Venturi Scott Brown & Associates over the decades. Erica Hill Studio directed and produced audio and visuals for the Design Gala.
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Awaiting the Surge

NYC eyes emptied dorms, Javits Center as makeshift coronavirus treatment hubs
With classes and conferences of all stripes being postponed, canceled, and migrated online as the widening coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic brings life in New York City to a grinding halt, two sizable patches of real estate are being eyed by officials as potential locations to set up additional emergency hospital beds. This move would help alleviate pressure on already overburdened medical facilities that are bracing for a deluge of infected patients in need of acute treatment. As of this writing, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York City is over 2,000. As reported by Politico, a key locale being considered by city officials as a “medical surge facility” is the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Sprawling across 1.8 million square feet on Manhattan’s far West Side, the Pei Cobb Freed-designed Javits Center certainly has the raw space to spare as the twelfth-largest convention facility in the United States. And, for now, it has the availability as well considering that all operations at Javits have been put on pause until April 30. Some events beyond April 30, notably the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, have also been canceled. The Javits Center is a state-run enterprise operated by the New York Convention Center Operating Corporation, which itself is a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation. Omar Bourne, a spokesperson for New York City’s emergency management department, relayed to Politico that Mayor de Blasio’s administration is still awaiting a response from the state as to whether the Javits Center could potentially be used as a temporary medical facility if need be. The Chinese city of Wuhan converted numerous convention centers and exhibition halls into pop-up hospitals during the height of the pandemic there. All of those facilities, as well as the city’s rapidly erected modular emergency facilities, have since been shuttered as the reported cases of the virus in and around Wuhan have gone from a flood to a slight trickle to nothing. Not far from the Javits Center, Madison Square Garden, a multipurpose arena clocking in at around 820,000 square feet, is also being considered as a potential emergency treatment center where COVID-19-stricken New Yorkers would be isolated and treated. The idea is one being floated by Council Speaker Corey Johnson and his colleague, Stephen Levin. In addition to converting Javits Center into a medical facility, Johnson and Levein “also argued that the city and state should transform Madison Square Garden, the home of the ailing Knicks, into a home for the ailing,” wrote Politico. Unlike the state-run Javits Center, Madison Square Garden is privately owned by sports and entertainment behemoth, the Madison Square Garden Company. In addition to gargantuan, glass-paneled convention centers and the home venue of an enfeebled NBA franchise, the soon-to-be-vacated dormitories of New York University are also being mulled as potential temporary treatment centers. As an email statement to NYU students reads: “There are significant indications that the State, as part of its contingency planning, is looking at university dormitories as settings for overflow beds from hospitals.” A small number of NYU students, including certain graduate students, law and medical students, and undergraduates who receive special exemptions are being allowed to stay put in their dorms. Otherwise, students must vacate all campus residence halls no later than March 22. As of March 15, two members of the NYU community, a student and an administrator, have tested positive for COVID-19. Noah Hopkins, a politics student at NYU, detailed the rather chaotic student housing situation in a March 18 op-ed published in The Guardian:
“Over the past few days, the roughly 12,000 students living in the NYU housing system saw the situation escalate around us and heard nothing from administrators. On Monday afternoon we received an email saying the residence halls would be closing on 22 March. We were told all students must vacate their rooms by the 22nd, or within 48 hours if possible.” “Students who already left campus and did not prepare their rooms for checkout have been strongly encouraged to return to New York, collect their belongings then return home. Regarding those unable to return to New York before the closure date, the university has said only that their items will be packed and shipped to them. We have not been given a timeframe for when this might happen, nor have the obvious privacy concerns been addressed.”
Per the Washington Square News, the city’s department of emergency management has not formally requested that NYU—or the City University of New York, for that matter—empty its dorms so that they can be used as treatment facilities. But the possibility that the dorms could, in the very near future, be repurposed into makeshift medical hubs is something that's very much on the table. As reported by Bloomberg, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing to increase, via executive order, the number of hospital beds within the state by 9,000 although thousands more beds might ultimately be needed as the spread of the coronavirus peaks in the coming weeks. Five thousand of the initial 9,000 beds would be in New York City. Already, around 1,300 additional beds have been set up or are due to be set up at a handful of municipal hospitals in the Bronx, a former nursing home in Brooklyn, and at a chronic care facility on Roosevelt Island. Hotels across the city could also be converted into isolation/treatment centers in the comings days in an effort to boost the number of available beds. On Wednesday, Cuomo announced that a 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, will be deployed to New York City. The vessel, however, is undergoing maintenance in Virginia and will likely arrive in New York Harbor in weeks, not days, as per Bloomberg.
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Who Glasses the Glass House?

When the glass cracks at the Glass House, how is it replaced?
The Glass House, Philip Johnson’s renowned personal residence in New Canaan, Connecticut, recently replaced the oversized glass panes of its iconic exterior after cracking due to thermal stress. The home, part of a 14-building compound on the bucolic 49-acre site, now functions as a historic house museum run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Originally completed in 1949, the Glass House features floor-to-ceiling plate glass exterior walls held in place by steel stops and black-painted steel piers of stock H-beams that expressed the mass-produced, industrial materials employed for its design. In the summer of 2019, one of the home’s 18’-0” x 7’-10” panes of existing glazing cracked due to thermal stress. The stress was caused by temperature differentials and a lack of movement within the original steel frame, said Ashley R. Wilson, FAIA, the Graham Gund Architect at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the lead architect for the glazing replacement project. While the replacement of original building fabric is often a contentious topic in the field of historic preservation, Wilson noted that the glass that was replaced was “likely an early-generation replacement” because it was 3/8” annealed glass, meaning that it was heat-strengthened glass—a technology not available yet in the late 1940s. The original glass, Wilson pointed out in conversation, was likely a single pane of 1/4” polished plate glass, per 1948 drawings, and would have been “beautifully clear and flat, but fragile.” Although the team was not replacing the original glass, the project was not without complexity. The new glazing, provided by Canadian glass manufacturer Agnora, needed to meet ANSI safety standards, accommodate wind load (particularly challenging because of the glass’s large dimensions), avoid overloading of the existing steel supporting rail, and, of course, visually match the original design intent as closely as possible. To accomplish these goals, the selected glass was slightly thicker, at 9/16” rather than 3/8”, and laminated with an inner layer of PVB for safety, said Wilson. To avoid potential corrosion of the steel and clouding of the glass in case the inner PVB layer gets exposed to moisture, the team added weeps to the glass pocket. The removal of the existing glazing and install of the new presented a new set of challenges: The old glass was prone to more cracking, requiring extra care in its removal. In order to extract the glass, the steel stops also needed to be removed. The steel frames were cleaned, prepped, and painted before the system was reinstalled. Because construction took place in November 2019 to minimize conflicts with tours and programming, the workspace also needed to be heated and protected from the elements, explains Wilson. What’s more, she noted, “the west wall glass had to use a crane to lift the glass unit over the building,” Wilson contends that the thermal stress that caused the glass to crack was not due to extreme temperature swings due to climate change but rather to “but an inherent weakness and limitations of 3/8” thick glass at such a large size.” But despite the unique nature of the Glass House—and its oversized glazing units—there are clear lessons to be learned from the project about considerations when replacing glass at midcentury buildings. “At the Glass House, care was taken by the preservation team to analyze the replacement glass options, thickness, performance, and installation to match the original design while improving performance and complying with current safety codes,” said Wilson. While the replacement project focused more on safety and appearance rather than sustainability goals, it did take advantage of how glass technology has evolved since the 1940s and 1950s. More broadly, new glazing products such as IGUs and more effective, longer-lasting sealants can significantly improve energy efficiency for mid-century buildings, allowing for better buildings that are more highly adapted for what the 21st century will bring—global warming or otherwise.
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In The Lows

Hurricane Maria memorial unveiled for Battery Park City
New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has released renderings for the new Hurricane Maria memorial in Lower Manhattan. Designed by Puerto Rico-based architect Segundo Cardona and Puerto Rican artist Antonio Martorell, the glass spiral aims to be a symbol of resiliency for the Puerto Rican community. Located on Chambers Street overlooking Rockefeller Park, a multicolored glass curve will mimic both the spiral shape of a hurricane and a shell to represent protection against the elements. The iridescent panels will be painted with the words of Farewell from Welfare Island, a poem by Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos, written in New York City in 1953. The panels will fan to create the rotating star of the Puerto Rican flag. “We felt committed to working hard to bring together architecture, art, and literature into one single powerful message that we hope will engage and invoke reflection on the fate of the many victims,” Cardona and Martorell said in a joint press statement. The 10-person Hurricane Maria Memorial Commission selected Cardona and Martorell’s design from among the 120 competition entries. The governor’s office announced the commission as the latest development in New York State's support of Puerto Ricans since the hurricane, having dedicated approximately $13 million for over 11,000 displaced victims in New York. “New York stands with Puerto Rico today, tomorrow and always--and we are proud to celebrate and further strengthen the connection between the Empire State and Puerto Rico,” wrote Governor Cuomo in a press release. Community and even committee members pushed back against Cuomo’s site selection, citing the multiple monuments already located in Battery City Park. Critics have also voiced concerns that the memorial should be built in a neighborhood with stronger Puerto Rican ties. Controversy over the memorial isn’t limited to its location in New York City but expands to its timing and appropriateness. Students from the University of Puerto Rico School of Architecture issued counterproposals following the competition launch in 2019. The students created photomontages depicting U.S. memorials overlaid with FEMA tarps and wreckage to make a statement about how the destruction of Hurricane Maria was still ongoing; the images suggest that it’s not time yet for a memorial in New York, but for renewed reconstruction efforts in Puerto Rico. Throughout 2018 and 2019, the state of New York sent 1,150 volunteers to Puerto Rico to rebuild 246 homes and over 1,000 people to restore power. No doubt this wave of humanitarian aid was necessary to the stabilization of Puerto Rico, but over two-and-a-half years later, tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans are still without functional housing. Despite pushback, the $700,000 memorial is set for completion in early 2021.
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Not Again!?

Landmark Willi Smith exhibition (almost) opens at Cooper Hewitt
In what might be one of the darkest ironies of the COVID-19 saga in New York City, the Cooper Hewitt has been forced to close the Willi Smith: Street Couture retrospective before it opens, the first museum exhibition of the influential American designer Willi Smith (1948–1987), whose career was cut short when he was killed by the AIDS crisis in 1987. Smith, who in 1976 founded WilliWear with partner Laurie Mallet, is often credited as a pioneer—if not the creator of—streetwear, which today is nearly ubiquitous, uniting economic and social classes with a blend of high fashion and everyday-inspired clothing. Through collaborations with artists, designers and performers, such as Juan Downey, Dan Friedman, Keith Haring, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Les Levine, Dianne McIntyre, and Nam June Paik, Smith captured the creativity and spirit of the cities where culture was being formed. It is this marrying of the avant-garde and the world-at-large that brought together Smith with James Wines and Alison Sky of the art and architecture collaborative Sculpture in the Environment (SITE) built a series of showrooms that served as the backdrop for the gesamtkunstwerk of WilliWear. After seeing a window display at the Rizzoli bookstore designed by SITE, Willi enlisted the group to design a series of showrooms from 1982 to 1987, using found objects from around the streets of Manhattan. As members of the Environmental Art movement, SITE specialized in bringing art into places where you would least expect it, and retail stores were one of their specialties, most famously the BEST department stores. The exhibition, curated by Alexandra Cunningham was designed by Wines along with Sam Chermayeff Architects, who built a modified version of the original stores. The communication designers poly-mode have also contributed a very clear and fresh graphic solution to the display. The show was originally scheduled to be on until Sunday, October 25 2020, but the situation remains fluid. Note: Effective March 14, the Cooper Hewitt is temporarily closed to support the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.
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Quirky AF

Architecture AF restores a distinctive mid-century Andrew Geller home
The Antler House, a delightfully quirky vacation home designed by the midcentury architect Andrew Geller in the East Hamptons, has been almost irreparably modified since it was first completed in 1968. While previous occupants have replaced original, handmade details with catalog materials and modern appliances more times than one can count, the current owners, Chris Fisher and Blair Moritz, sought to restore the minuscule space back to its original charm after purchasing it in 2014. The clients commissioned the Brooklyn- and Richmond, Virginia-based firm Architecture AF to pour through original documents to return the home to its heyday while carefully adding 21st comforts. The team began by stripping away the subsequent additions and restoring the original cedar cladding, the texture of which now nearly steals the spotlight in every one of the home’s oddly-shaped rooms. All of the original gypsum board has been replaced with fragrant #2 cedar, while midcentury and midcentury-inspired furniture has been added to the space to further the home’s design origins. “In a neighborhood replete with trophy homes,” the architects write on their website, “we are proud and gracious to have had the opportunity to restore a mid-century work of art that another owner may have razed.” The firm’s major design contribution comes in the form of a raised deck accessible via a boldly triangular staircase that compliments the overall geometry of the original building. They were careful, however, to keep the vast majority of the surrounding landscape untouched. “A conservationist at heart,” they explain, “Geller believed that no house should occupy more than 20 [percent] of the site.” The Antler House is just one of many vacation homes Geller designed along the East Coast, all of which are similarly eccentric and creatively low budget. The architect, a relatively unsung design figure, has been behind some of the most significant projects of modern design and political history, including the interiors of SOM’s Lever House in Manhattan and, according to the New York Times, the “typical American house” that shaped the background of the infamous Kitchen Debate between then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev.
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Design Will Still Exist by Then

Coronavirus cancellations hit New York Design Week
NYCxDESIGN, the weeklong annual celebration of design that encompasses 400-plus events from product launches, installations, exhibitions, talks, open studios, and more across all five boroughs, has been postponed due to precautions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Originally slated to kick off in May 12, NYCxDESIGN will now take place in October and coincide with a slew of previously scheduled citywide architecture and design events including the Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum’s National Design Week, the Architecture and Design Film Festival, Open House New York Weekend, and the AIANY Center for Architecture’s Archtober—or Architecture and Design Month—programming. While the suspension of NYCxDESIGN is an unfortunate but necessary one, it appears that October will be an action-packed month for design professionals and enthusiasts in New York City. One element of NYCxDESIGN that will be moving forward in May as planned is the NYCxDESIGN Awards program, which will take place via a digital ceremony with another live event occurring in October. Additional details regarding rescheduled events will be announced in the coming months. “NYCxDESIGN was conceived to bring New York together in celebration of the incredible talent in the city, and the tremendous examples of international design that are shown here, said Edward Hogikyan, vice president and executive director of NYCxDESIGN, in a statement. “Gathering our community around design is so central to the work we do that, given the concerns around COVID-19, we are shifting from our annual Festival in May to a reconceived fall program to ensure the safety and well-being of all who participate in and visit NYCxDESIGN.” The largest and most widely attended of all design happenings scheduled for May, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), still, as of this writing, plans to run from May 17 through May 20 at the Javits Center in Manhattan per the ICFF website. Two other major design events coinciding with ICFF and NYCxDesign, WantedDesign Manhattan (May 17 to 20) and WantedDesign Brooklyn (May 14 to 18), have also not been suspended as of this writing. For the first time in its history, WantedDesign Manhattan plans to co-locate at the Javits Center with ICFF instead of at its normal venue, the Terminal Stores building.* Brooklyn Designs has also not announced if it continue as planned May 10-12 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Relatedly, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and numerous other cultural institutions in New York City have also extended their closures until May 15. Now in its eighth year, NYCxDESIGN was previously operated by the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Starting this year, media company SANDOW has taken over that role. *ICFF and WantedDesign both canceled several hours after this article was first published. The next editions of both events will take place in 2021.
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Beantown Lockdown

Boston imposes citywide moratorium on construction

Boston has suspended construction activity throughout the city as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced Monday that the moratorium on construction work would go into effect on Tuesday, March 17, and construction sites need to be secured by March 23.

Walsh’s action comes after he declared a public health emergency in Boston, postponed the Boston Marathon, and canceled the St Patrick’s Day Parade over infection concerns. It makes Boston one of the first cities or districts in the U. S., other than those in complete lockdown or quarantine, to ban construction activity as a way of fighting the coronavirus. The move comes at a time when the city and region are booming with construction activity, from affordable housing to high-rise office buildings. Walsh did not say how long work will be suspended, but he indicated it’s likely to be at least 14 days.

“Effective tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, we are suspending all regular activity on construction sites in the city of Boston,” Walsh said in a briefing yesterday. “The only work that we are anticipating right now moving forward in the city will be emergency work” approved by the city’s Inspectional Services Department.

“These decisions that we make are not easy, but they’re out of an abundance of caution,” he added. “It’s about protecting the worker and preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

“This is a critical time for us right now… I think if we can prevent the spread from happening and try and level the virus off, we’ll be in a better position long term.”

The mayor said he didn’t have an exact figure for how many construction projects are affected by his order, but he knows it is substantial.

“It’s massive, massive,” he said at the briefing. “I don’t have a number. It’s tens of thousands. We’re in the middle of a boom right now, and…today is a difficult decision to make… Construction is at the core of our economy here in Boston. I come out of the trades. I was a construction worker myself. This is something that is very personal to me and to a lot of us.”

Mayor Walsh added that city officials will monitor the situation closely to determine when the moratorium can be lifted.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we ‘re looking at 14 days potentially, and then we’ll revisit it and hopefully they can be the first workers back to work.”

The moratorium is “something that we’re going to be monitoring literally week to week,” he said at another point. “Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks, we’ll be able to change the policy. But right now, out of an abundance of caution for the workers on the job site and to prevent spreading the virus, we want to make sure those workers are safe.”

According to a statement posted on the city’s website, the city is instructing employers to “maintain necessary crews to keep their sites safe and secure, keep any materials from blowing away, and prevent trespassing. This work needs to be completed in the next week, by Monday, March 23, 2020.” Once sites have been secured, the message said, skeleton crews will be permitted on site “for the remainder of the suspension” to ensure safety, but no construction activity can take place.

Walsh said Boston has 33 confirmed cases of Boston residents with COVID-19 as of Monday, March 16, and the construction moratorium is part of a multifaceted effort to address the spread of coronavirus.

“The coronavirus is one of the greatest public health challenges that our city has ever faced,” he said at a press briefing. “Our primary objective right now is to slow the spread and flatten out the curve so that our medical centers don’t get overwhelmed. This strategy is crucial to helping our most vulnerable residents and make sure that we can rebound from this as soon as possible.”

According to Walsh’s order, the only exceptions to the construction ban are: “emergency utility, road or building work,” such as repairing gas leaks, water leaks and sinkholes; new utility connections to occupied buildings, mandated building or utility work; work that “ensures the reliability of the transportation network,” work on facilities that support “vulnerable populations,” and work needed to make occupied buildings “fully habitable.”

Walsh said the city may make exceptions on a case-by-case basis for “essential” projects that “support increased public health and safety.” But he said new projects cannot be started after March 17, unless approved by the city. In his briefing, Walsh said he hopes employers don’t fire their employees as a result of his action.

“I want to remind Boston employers that we’re in a robust construction market,” he said. “Boston is home to a talented, hard-working construction workforce and when we get back to work as usual, employers need to bring these workers back and the right thing that we need to do right now is to lay them off and not fire them.”

Meanwhile, one state away, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he wants to increase construction of at least one type of building, medical facilities, and he wants the federal government to do it.

“Let’s bring in the Army Corps of Engineers and let’s start building temporary medical facilities because we know we’re going to need them,” Cuomo told CNN. “As many as we produce, if we started today, as many as we can produce, we would need twice.”

Cuomo said he has confidence in the Army Corps of Engineers to move quickly and complete projects that individual states need but don’t have the resources to take on. New York State has one of the highest volume of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, more than 600 people.

“The Army Corps of Engineers builds. I used to be in the federal government. I worked with the Army Corps of Engineers. They build bridges. They build airports. They’re builders. They’re engineers… They build. Let them come in, build with me.”

Cuomo also said he can identify state-owned properties that can be retrofitted to accommodate coronavirus patients. “I’ll find an old dormitory, an old nursing home. Let’s convert it to a hospital and let’s do it quickly so we have some backup space when the wave crashes on the health care system.”

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Independently Architectural

Independent Architecture builds practice in the suburbs
The following interview was conducted as part of “Building Practice,” a professional elective course at Syracuse University School of Architecture taught by Molly Hunker and Kyle Miller, and now an AN interview series. On September 19, 2019, Tianyi Hang and Yifei Luo, students at Syracuse University, interviewed Paul Andersen, principal of Independent Architecture. The following interview was edited by Kyle Miller and AN for clarity. Tianyi Hang and Yifei Luo: In this interview we’d like to focus on a few recurring themes in your work—repetition and difference, and engagement with the ordinary. Before addressing these issues, we’ll begin with a few questions about your general approach to practice. So, to begin… What does it mean to practice architecture? Paul Andersen: Generally speaking, I think that to practice architecture is to contribute something to the discourse—in the form of models, essays, drawings, gossip, or buildings. The goal is to open up new ways of thinking and designing, which is different than, say, practicing piano, which is more geared toward refinement. What do you think makes your office unique when compared to other emerging offices? The most obvious difference is that we’re in Denver, which is on the fringe of the field, at best. When it comes to buildings, Denver has a lot of corporate schlock. But it also has some pretty good suburban architecture, which influences the office’s culture and work. The suburbs’ pop sensibility is fantastic… it tends to be accessible and unique, so we use it as a model for how we work. Pop practices accept that their work isn’t essential. It acquires value when people like it—and those people might be friends, experts in the field, the general public, or any number of groups. This seems like a good approach for architecture, too. If people don’t absolutely need great design, we can feel free to do strange, irrational projects... and even to fail. We also borrow material from the suburbs. Sometimes we incorporate everyday objects, like giant party balloons, statues, and letterforms. In other cases, we use a familiar material in an unorthodox way, like in the project that we’re doing with wood framing at the US Pavilion this summer with Paul Preissner. And occasionally we look for new design principles in idiosyncratic examples of ordinary suburban buildings. Who commissions your work? Do you have to spend a lot of time finding work or do clients come to you? Some of both. There is a lot of chance involved in finding the type of projects that we enjoy. Some offices have a structured approach to finding work, but I think that sometimes it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. A related issue is the low percentage of projects that we actually finish. Of all of the projects that we've started, only about 10 percent to 20 percent have been built. In the end, I’d say that finding clients who want to do the same kinds of things that you do is what matters most. What types of projects do you hope to work on in the future? More houses and arts projects would be great. Mainly I hope to keep designing, curating, and writing. We’d like to ask some questions about the Motherhouse project, which we understand was commissioned by your mother and recently completed construction in Denver. Congratulations!  On your website, you reference plan diagrams of houses completed by Palladio, Le Corbusier, and Ungers. What is the role of these projects, and of precedent, in the design of Motherhouse? I was looking at the Ungers House in Cologne before we started the Motherhouse project. I often hear other architects describe it as a minimalist project. Even Ungers described it as an experiment in making a totally abstract house… where you can't recognize materials or scale or even tell the top from the bottom. Oddly enough, the minimalist tilt is completely undone when you look at the plan, which has an outrageous number of doors. I think that there are 178 doors… including six in the hedges. So, there's the minimalist exterior in contrast with an interior that's beyond excessive. I like the bizarre combination of rational and irrational design in that house… it turned us on to some aspects of Motherhouse. At the same time that I was looking at Ungers, I was also looking at houses in Englewood, Colorado, that are quirky, very odd 1960s houses. The point of Motherhouse was to merge these two references… to do a suburban American version of the Ungers house. The walls have the same thickness as the Unger's house, but instead of that thickness being used as a set of foyers, it's used for closets, which we needed because we couldn't build a basement on that lot. The water table is a bit too high. So, the first floor of the house ends up being a single room lined with doors—no walls. The second floor is a more or less rotationally symmetrical arrangement of rooms that all have different ceilings. Throughout the house are examples of excessive repetition… in the gables, doors, stairs, and colors, for example. Was the open ground floor plan a requirement set by your mother? My mother will not actually live in the house. As I’m sure you know, there is a tradition of architects early in their careers building houses for their mothers, because it's a moment when your mother is the only one who thinks you can actually do whatever strange thing it is that you want to do. So, Corb designed and built a house for his mother; so did Richard Rodgers, Robert Venturi, Charles Moore, Harry Seidler, Charles Gwathmey…. this list goes on. In my case, my mother didn't want a house for herself, but she wanted to support me by commissioning the design and construction. We're going to sell the house; and as soon as we sell it, we’ll do another one. It'll be an ongoing project. Earlier, you mentioned that you're drawing inspiration from the suburbs. What has been the response to Motherhouse from people living in Denver? Do they see the connection between your unique design and some of the familiar aspects of houses it’s inspired by? So far, most people’s initial response is usually confusion, even dislike. The work that we do in schools gets farther out of the mainstream than we realize sometimes. It could be that there is something unnerving when an architect messes with the familiarity and comfort that people expect in a house—especially in a suburban house. So, for example, the extra flat facade is a problem for a lot of people. They don't know what to make of it. However, when I get a chance to talk to people about the house, to explain the design strategy, they usually come around. They understand that the stripes on the facade and the 12:12 gabled roof are already in the neighborhood, in Victorian bungalow houses that have been there for a century. They can see that this house is just a different version of the typical houses in the neighborhood. Across many of your projects, we see recurring use of strong geometric figures in plan and three-dimensional figuration… as opposed to complex three-dimensional form. Can you talk a bit about your interest in figuration? Are these features intentionally incorporated? It’s a pretty deliberate reaction to things that I learned back in graduate school at UCLA. In my second year, I got a chance to work with Greg Lynn on his Embryological Houses. He had a brilliant argument regarding variation and difference, how the project inverted the Modernist kit-of-parts logic… but I always thought that the argument would have been stronger with more figurative geometry. Working with geometry, and curvature in particular, is an interest that continues to play out in many of our projects. Teaching at the University of Illinois – Chicago, where a focus on figure and shape has been an important part of the discourse during the past decade has definitely helped. For years, we intentionally limited figuration to the plan in our projects. Motherhouse is the first one where we are more aggressively pursuing figuration in elevation and section. You mentioned that only 10 to 20 percent of your projects get built. What happens when a project stops prior to completion? Do ideas find their way into other projects? And what about the temporary installation projects… do those concepts evolve into building projects? Do you reuse the materials? A few years ago, Paul P. and I designed a structure made of two barns for a contemporary arts festival in Denver. The barns were only up for a day… actually more like eight hours. They were made out of an off-the-shelf steel barn panel kit. For years I’ve been trying to build houses made of the same system, just assembled differently. It hasn’t happened yet. In other projects, we’ve gotten all the way through construction documents before cancellation. There are many ideas from those projects that we hope to incorporate into future work. Even with projects that don’t get built, there is research that we do in terms of material or structural systems that will become valuable again someday. There are also some bubblegum projects… I have yet to build a cruciform column out of bubblegum, but I will someday. In another interview, you stated that you're not as interested in creating good architecture as you are in creating interesting architecture. What did you mean by that? What I meant by good was moralizing. There’s a lot of talk these days about what architects should be doing. I got into architecture for the complete opposite reason. I like the idea that if you're a good architect, then you’re figuring out what you shouldn’t do. You go against the grain and attempt to open up new ways for others to see the world. Sometimes, the only way that can happen is by pursuing the unfamiliar and the unexpected, and even the uncomfortable. What has been the most rewarding moment in your professional career, or what’s the most rewarding aspect of practicing architecture? I really enjoy the surprises when I see a project get built. You know… there’s stuff that you drew and modeled and imagined, and then all of a sudden, there it is. But sometimes it isn’t what you expected. It turns out to be weaker or stronger in some way. In the Motherhouse and a few other recent projects, we’ve been trying to see if we can produce qualities through excessive, consistent repetition, rather than variation, or repetition and difference. We don’t really know what kind of sensibility will come out of it until it’s built. So, we do it and we get to find out. I really love that. And also, that in any given day, we might deal with bubblegum, framing plans, and Catholic theology, all with equal seriousness and irreverence.
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Sliding Doors

Michael Wang explores the multiverse in The World Around
In 1964, Julio Cortázar published his famous short story Axolotl, the tale of a man living in Paris fascinated by an aquatic creature that he observes in the aquarium of the Jardin des Plantes. The axolotl, a slow-moving amphibian that spends its entire life in a larval stage, and seems almost like a plant or a mineral, looks like it came from the prehistoric ages. The story’s protagonist starts to understand the different spaces and temporalities embedded in the axolotl: Both the man and the axolotl seem to share the same universe, but, in fact, their bodies encompass different notions of their surroundings, tearing them apart. They don’t share the same universe because the way they can relate to their environments and their temporalities are unreconcilable. Yet they coexist. They are part of a multiverse. In 2017, the artist and architect Michael Wang gave the axolotl a main role for his project Extinct in the Wild at Fondazione Prada in Milan. Wang showed the mutual dependency of these multiverses shared by different species and the ideologies behind them. The axolotl is now an endangered species that has vanished from its natural habitat and lives almost exclusively under artificial conditions in zoos and aquariums, in scientific facilities for research, and in homes as exotic pets. Humans are responsible for their disappearance in the wild, but they also owe their continued existence to human care. This relationship attests to the complex understanding of how the Anthropocene has affected a multispecies shared environment and the need to comprehend its challenges. It is not enough to build an immediate response to the climate crisis that comes from human beings or to come back to an “original” state of harmony, but a structural change that surpasses an anthropocentric view—with human beings and their standard of living as the center. It is necessary to build a notion of the world that takes into account the agency of other species. The conception of a multiverse and the mutual dependency of species has been the center of Wang’s work for the last few years, presented at The World Around in January of this year. In Extinct in New York (organized by Swiss Institute, where the installation permanently resides, and on view at LMCC’s Arts Center at Governor Island in 2019) he introduced a series of plants that had been eradicated from New York City’s landscape. This ecological catastrophe was the result of centuries of hunting, harvesting, and building craziness. As Wang pointed out:When the Croton Aqueduct opened in 1842, the outflux of wastewater suffocated the seaweeds of New York Harbor. The air changed. Coal smoke poisoned the lichens that had hung from hemlocks; a century later these trees too nearly vanished, plagued by an insect introduced with ornamental plants. Forests of steel rose in their stead, as human habitation stretched skyward.” But Wang doesn’t understand the ecosystem in a dialectic way, based on the binarism of human/non-human confrontations; rather he highlights the new environments created by this relationship. Subways that maintain optimal temperatures for rats; pigeons that found in the skyscrapers a shelter not far from their ancestors’ nests on Mediterranean cliffs; heated living rooms that welcome new flora, etc. The territory, and their inhabitants, are both techno-social recompositions. This project is not about restoration, nor about the idea of a harmonic past. Wang rather conceives it as a life-support system that doesn’t try to reinstate the previous ecosystem where species like Zostera marina (native of the marine meadows in New York Bay) or the Helonias bullata (last collected in Jamaica Bay in 1883) have disappeared from their original habitat. This was also the basis for another project, The Drowned World, that Wang presented at Manifesta Palermo in 2018 (also shown at The World Around). In it, an artificial forest assembled from plants closely related to those of the Carboniferous period grows from the industrial ruins of a gasworks. These plants once formed swamplands that stretched across the globe. Over millennia, their buried remains hardened into the very coal used at the gasworks. As this coal was heated and burned, carbon captured from the air 300 million years ago was again released, and an ancient atmosphere was in part restored. In Wang’s projects, all the violence, the displacements, the uneven balance of powers, and the colonization of the territory are confronted. The world is designed by one species and for one species. But human beings are not self-contained. Their bodies are also part of other species, from the varied microorganisms that inhabit them to the ever-changing habitats they share with other non-human agents. The challenge now is to understand the mutual dependency between species in a multiverse.
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It's Raining Soffits

Atlantic City declares Trump Plaza a public safety hazard
Officials in Atlantic City have filed an injunction in New Jersey Superior Court in an attempt to hasten the demolition of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. The Martin Stern Jr.-design property, completed in 1984 and now owned by billionaire hedge fund manager and Donald Trump ally Carl Icahn, closed in September 2014 and has remained unoccupied since. Icahn took control of the blighted building in 2016. In a press conference held on Thursday, officials deemed the 39-story building an “imminent hazard” due to the fact that chunks of the building’s concrete and stucco facade are actively raining onto nearby streets. Some falling debris has almost reached Atlantic City’s famed boardwalk, as per the Philadelphia Inquirer. The city's court filing claims Tower Plaza poses “an actual and immediate danger to life” and needs to be demolished without delay. “A part of my vision is to have a clean city and a safe city,” Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. said in a news conference. “Right now, Trump Plaza isn’t clean or safe.” “Today we’re saying to Carl Icahn, we want this building torn down,” Small told reporters. “We are negotiating in good faith. But it changes when we have to dispatch emergency police and personnel 24 hours a day around the building.” As the Inquirer notes, Small opted to hold the conference at Boardwalk Hall in lieu of the crumbling hotel because “we didn’t feel safe enough to stand near Trump Plaza.” As the Inquirer details, fire and public safety officials recently carried out an emergency inspection in which a drone was used to pinpoint the source of the structural shedding. During the inspection, five large holes in the facade of the hotel’s tower between the 15th and 19th floors were identified as was damage to the seams of the structure caused by unchecked water damage. Further up, soffits on the penthouse level have been deteriorating and falling to the street. “These buildings need to maintained, and they need to be kept safe,”  Scott Evans, chief of the Atlantic City Fire Department, said. “The most important thing for us is public safety. We need to ensure that the owners of these buildings do not create a situation that is going to pose a threat or risk to the city, or to any pedestrians for that matter, that are within the vicinity of this building.” However, as the need for a court order demonstrates, razing this gone-to-seed former Atlantic City landmark won't be easy. Despite a longstanding desire by Atlantic City officials to demolish the Trump-branded architectural blemish, the city can’t take action and demolish Trump Plaza itself, and condemning it comes with exorbitantly high costs. Previous attempts to raze Trump Plaza in 2018 never came to fruition largely because Icahn failed to receive state funding via the Reinvestment Development Authority that would have been used to cover the cost of the demolition, a cost currently estimated to be in the ballpark of $14 million according the Inquirer. And so, demolition permit deadlines came and went much to the chagrin or local officials and residents alike. As local daily The Press of Atlantic City wrote in 2018, many believe the shuttered building to be “responsible for stifling growth and contributing to a negative perception of the city from visitors.” “My administration’s goal is to tear Trump Plaza down,” Small said at the beginning of this year. “That’s not accepted in any other city but Atlantic City. It’s an embarrassment, it’s blight on our skyline, and that’s the biggest eyesore in town.” In this week's press conference, Small explained that Icahn is now on the same page regarding the building's demolition. He said, however, that the city and Icahn have “different paths on how we get there.” “We are puzzled by the city’s actions,” Hunter Gary, president of Real Estate for Ichan Enterprises, said in a statement in response to the city seeking injunctive relief. “In fact, we have already decided to demo the building and have commenced the process including finalizing contracts. If the mayor had simply called us instead of holding a press conference, we could have updated him too.” Once upon a time, Trump Plaza, opened as Harrah's at Trump Plaza, was the Trump Organization’s flamboyant flagship Atlantic City development with 906 guest rooms, 86,000 square feet of gaming space, and regularly held wrestling matches. But following decades of legal issues and financial failures including a 1992 bankruptcy filing, Trump Plaza was “finally put out of its stained-carpet, squeaky-revolving-door, no-room-service, center-of-the-Boardwalk misery” in 2014. Another Trump property in Atlantic City, the Trump Taj Mahal, went belly-up in 2016 and reopened two years later under new ownership as the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City. In the meantime, city officials have enlisted an around-the-clock police detail to stop pedestrians from using a particularly perilous sidewalk next to Trump Plaza. The Press also reports that there are plans to erect fencing around a section of the Boardwalk in order to keep people safe from falling debris.