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Preserving American Landscapes

Architects must do more to protect our threatened public lands

Although debating the ideal size, role, and scope of the federal government is one of America’s great national pastimes, there has typically been surprisingly broad and consistent support for the Antiquities Act of 1906, a landmark conservation law passed by Congress and enacted by President Theodore Roosevelt 111 years ago.

The law, generally speaking, grants the United States government—particularly, the President—broad authority in designating federally owned lands as national monuments. The effort is made as part of a federally recognized network of protections, which includes the National Park Service, in order to retain and perpetuate public use of wild, scenic, and culturally significant landscapes. The Antiquities Act is responsible for securing some of the most sublime and irreplaceable landscapes the country has to offer, such as the Grand Canyon, Giant Sequoia National Monument, Devils Tower, and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, for current and future generations. The act, more or less, protects America’s—and Americans’—most literal and shared heritage: land.

But like so many other cultural and political norms and traditions under the new presidential administration, the Antiquities Act is facing an existential threat.

This April, President Donald Trump ordered the U.S. Department of the Interior not only to review 27 specific national monuments created under the last three presidential administrations but also to review the law itself, calling the Antiquities Act a “massive federal land grab.” President Ronald Reagan has been the only president not to name any new national monuments; President Trump is threatening to be the first to rescind existing monuments.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spent the summer observing the new monuments—including Bears Ears National Monument, in Utah, which was expanded under President Obama and has drawn ire from local landowners and politicians. Zinke completed his review in late August but is keeping the findings close to his chest, revealing that “some changes” were in store, without making the report fully public (at press time). It is expected, however, that Bears Ears Monument will shrink in size—current estimates predict it will be reduced from 1.35 million acres to just 160,000—but that, according to Zinke, the government would “maintain federal ownership of all federal land and protect the land under federal environmental regulations.” The move is fiercely opposed by Native American communities, including the Navajo Nation and Hopi and Zuni reservations, which surround the monument.

For now, we wait to see the full extent of Zinke’s report. And while we do not know where the administration’s review of the Antiquities Act itself will head, the effort—when combined with unsuccessful motions to backtrack on Obama-era methane-emissions regulations, successful measures allowing for increased mining runoff into streams, and incentivizing programs for coal projects on federal lands—it is clear the president intends to tarnish the nation’s lands in concert with violating its institutions and norms.

In the same way that architects have led the way in saving architectural relics via support for historic preservation and the National Register of Historic Places—also administered by the Department of the Interior—we must become more vocal in our support for retaining and, in fact, expanding public access to public lands. The National Park System is currently languishing with a $12 billion backlog of repairs. Efforts like the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Hands-On Preservation Experience (HOPE) Crew, which connects young people to preservation-related trades through on-the-ground work, is a positive first step, but more work and support are needed.

As with historic preservation, national monuments exist to perpetuate and preserve our most meaningful and compelling spaces and can, moving forward, even work to highlight forgotten or marginalized histories and cultures. Natural landscapes, like cultural landscapes and historic structures and neighborhoods, are vital to the architectural profession and the country alike.

The federal government should keep its hands off these lands, and architects would do well to fight publicly for their protection. 

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Theory vs. Practice

What happened to speculation in architecture?
This is a preview of our September issue, out tomorrow. What happened to speculation in architecture? At a recent symposium at the Yale School of Architecture titled “Aesthetic Activism,” Dean of the Syracuse School of Architecture Michael Speaks noted that curiously, architecture has lost its penchant for speculation in recent years. He cited the two most recent Venice Biennales as evidence of this trend, as the curators chose to look at the elements of building (Rem Koolhaas’s Elements, 2014) and reporting on reality in regions beyond what the Biennale had traditionally addressed (Alejandro Aravena’s Reporting from the Front, 2016). He also discussed the Chicago Biennial in 2015, which arguably focused on practice, rather than architecture. What happened to architecture’s ability to speculate on the world around us, as was the ordinary in the 20th century, from Le Corbusier and the modernists to Archigram and the radical architects of the 1960s and 1970s? In the latest issue of The Architect's Newspaper (AN), we set out to survey the state of architectural speculation today. AN Contributing Editor Sam Lubell will be opening the exhibition Never Built New York, which features proposals that were never realized. You could say that looking at the history of unbuilt architecture is speculation. So we set out to find what might be in the Never Built exhibition of 2050. What is speculation today? We found that in architecture, most speculation is more like plausible futures. It is being developed by private industry in some cases, well within the realm of possibility. Many think that self-driving cars are a revolutionary technology, and are a matter of “when,” not “if.” But why have so few architects gotten out in front of this technology looking for opportunities to change the city? Solar technologies, like those being developed at Tesla, would also have the potential to radically change how we build. Our research confirms that in many ways Speaks is correct in his thinking about a lack of speculation. Architects are not really thinking much about new ways of living and relating to the world outside of our own history and discourse. I would argue that the upcoming Chicago Biennial appears to confirm this idea. We did manage to find an interesting mélange of projects that project toward that future. From automation and smart cities, to floating islands (front page), there are some plausible futures that might be very real someday. So it is not necessarily speculation, but just futurist realism, which we found to be a fruitful endeavor. In an interview with Amelie Klein of the Vitra Design Museum about her exhibition as part of the Vienna Biennale, she reported that many of the most speculative work in architecture that she has come across is actually happening in the realm of construction, such as the algorithms used by Achim Menges at the University of Stuttgart, Institute for Computational Design, to minimize material use and create new ways of making. While the discipline might be struggling to imagine new ways of living, it is not a boring time for architecture. The world around us is changing quickly, and we can see several new futures simultaneously developing before our eyes. It may not be about predicting or producing new futures, but about reflecting on the present and what plausible near futures could be on the horizon and how they will affect our cities.
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Fake News

Does architecture have a crisis of ideas?

Like everything, architectural history and theory have been radically realigned by the internet and digital culture. Now, ideas are passed through relatively unfiltered media, such as 140-character tweets that have turned writers’ attention from writing to spewing fragments of criticism that float off into the ether. Curation today is often merely a manic production of online content driven by clicks, which come from posting more (and more, and more) content. This makes young writers who are feeding this content beast truly starved for new things to write about. It is a dramatic shift from the days when magazines like Architectural Forum and Progressive Architecture were the curatorial gatekeepers that held the conversation at a high level.

The result is that bad ideas can come to be front and center in the architectural discussion very easily due to metrics and algorithms. What passes for “radical,” “idea,” “theory,” and “concept” today is becoming eroded as quickly as our political discourse.

For example, a recent headline on a popular architecture-oriented website proclaimed: “Designer Dror Benshetrit releases three conceptual proposals for residential skyscrapers in New York.” The article showed a series of towers as rudimentary as a student project before a first crit. While it makes business sense to do speculative projects on sites in New York that could attract luxury development, the media has a responsibility to question whether these are actually conceptual, or just a bad unbuilt project. What purpose these serve is unclear, although one claims it is a new, efficient structural system. As far as ideas go, this leaves much to be desired.

In a similar pointless exercise in mediocre conceptual architecture that looks good on the internet and keeps content producers busy, oiio—which also made a clever proposal to add onto the Guggenheim by extending its spiral upward—has proposed one of the least likely and most useless pieces of architectural speculation in history. According to the Huffington Post, this speculation was “The Big Bend, A U-Shaped Skyscraper, Could Become The Longest In The World.” But it almost certainly couldn’t. The conflation of possibility and wild speculation harms the media’s credibility and creates the architectural equivalent of fake news. And the project, essentially two 432 Parks that bend to meet at the top, isn’t even a compelling idea. It barely even qualifies as formalism, let alone conceptual architecture.

That would be the silliest architectural concept ever, except that an article on Forbes, “New York Architects Plan Enormous Skyscraper Hanging From An Asteroid In Space,” wins that prize. This bizarre fantasy is based on some actual scientific research, but when translated sloppily to architecture, it becomes simply childlike: Why would we want to “hang” a skyscraper from an asteroid, and why are we taking this proposal seriously? It would be hard to find something more useless for architectural discourse than the hanging-asteroid skyscraper.

Where are the relevant ideas in architecture? While taking the latest philosophy or digital technology and applying it to architecture is at least a stab in the right direction, what happened to innovative formal ideas, or cultural innovations in architectural form? Where are the radical ideas that might spark our imagination and make us think differently about the discipline and the world in which it exists?

Where are the good ideas, and how can we help to get them into the discussion?

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September 17 Opening

What the Chicago Architecture Biennial’s list of firms tells us about the upcoming biennial

With only one previous iteration, it seems impossible not to continuously compare the upcoming 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial to its predecessor. And that does not have to be a bad thing. During a panel discussion during the inaugural 2015 Biennial, British architect Sam Jacob was asked what the theme of next biennial should be. His response? In sum: Just do the exact same theme. That way, not only can we see the progress of the field over two years, but then we will also have two events that can be compared, apples to apples. His statement, though somewhat in jest, seems to have been, at least in part, prophetic.

With the recent announcement of the participants list, under the artistic direction of Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee of Johnston Marklee, we have our first look at how similar the exhibition may be. And though the list of around 100 offices does include many new names, there are 22 repeats from 2015. There are other similarities between the lists. Neither 2015 nor 2017 include any significant contribution from corporate firms. In 2015 this was a sore point for many of the hundreds of local architects that work in the numerous mega-firms in Chicago. Many local architects admitted to not even having seen the show, despite it being free and only blocks from many of the largest offices in the city.

But this is why Jacob’s idea of repetition could end up being so brilliant. First, the biennial is not for the big corporate firms—even if it is being held in the city that is bursting with giants. Biennials are where the most avant-garde architectural discourse is presented. While contemporary large firms often lead the way in engineering and technological daring, they are rarely at the fore of architectural discussion. The nature of their business means that they cannot afford to be. Small, young practices on the other hand, with fewer mouths to feed and less money on the table, can’t afford not to be on the edge. For ambitious young firms, being experimental is the only way to set themselves apart in a world of architecture blogs and Instagram. For good or for bad.

One thing the large firms do well is exporting Chicago Architecture to the rest of the world. The biennial is a rare chance for the city, and the U.S. at large, to import some architecture. This factor should never be undervalued. The well-known story of Frank Lloyd Wright being influenced by the Japanese pavilion at the 1893 Columbian Exposition should be enough of a lesson. Chicago is already benefitting from this in the form of the Museum of Contemporary Arts’ upcoming renovation by two 2015 CAB participants, Johnston Marklee and Pedro&Juana.

Something can also be said about the quality of the practices being invited. The list, repeats and new firms alike, is filled with excellent firms. The names might not always be familiar or pulled from glossy magazine pages, but the last iteration is proof that these practices are thoughtful yet daring in their architecture. The United States, and Chicago in particular, have a problem with not supporting small and/or young practices. Biennials are a place where that can happen.

Another notable similarity is the presence of Johnston and Lee. They were responsible for an exhibit in the main show as well as a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Johnston was also on the jury for the 2015 Biennial’s Lakefront Kiosk Competition (a program that will not be continuing this year).

Only five months out from the September 17 opening, we still don’t know a ton about what the show will be all about. Yet through a close reading of the participant list, and the memory of the last show, we can make some educated guesses about its nature. The overlap of offices, the exclusion of corporate firms, and the main venue of the Chicago Cultural Center tell us the show will likely feel familiar. Yet, knowing the wide range of small, diverse offices, it is just as likely to be full of surprises and architectural ideas that Chicago has not seen.

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A Modest Pot-posal

Marijuana reparations: A vehicle for housing reform in California?
If it seems like legalized recreational marijuana’s potential to instigate positive social change at the urban scale is little more than a pipe dream, think again. Several states and municipalities are already experimenting with innovative uses for legal marijuana revenues that hint at a possible urban dimension to the notion of so-called “marijuana reparations,” but these efforts do not go far enough. One approach comes from the state of Colorado, where lawmakers are working to change state law to allow municipalities to spend tax revenues raised via recreational marijuana sales to build new units of affordable housing for individuals experiencing homelessness. Officials there see a recent rise in homelessness as being related to the legal marijuana trade and are looking to utilize revenues from booming marijuana sales to fund re-housing and recovery efforts. The plan, if enacted, would seek to redirect $12.3 million in revenue—legal weed sales brought in $199 million in tax revenue in 2016—to build roughly 1,500 affordable housing units over the next five years. Oakland, California, on the other hand, is aiming to increase access to marijuana sales licenses via its equity permit program. That program aims to streamline the process by which formerly-incarcerated individuals who were jailed for marijuana-related crimes can apply for licenses to sell recreational marijuana. City Lab reports that by Oakland’s official estimates, African Americans made up 77 percent of marijuana-related arrests in the city during 2015. With such skewed figures, whites made up only seven percent of arrests for marijuana-related crimes that year while Latinos made up 15% of arrestees. The city is banking that by earmarking legal marijuana permits for formerly incarcerated individuals, some of those who suffered the most under the war on drugs will be some of the first to benefit from changing laws. These types of changes are a positive first step, but they do not go far enough in addressing the inequality engendered by the discriminatory racial paradigm that launched the war on drugs in the first place. Simply put, state and local municipalities have a moral, social, and financial obligation to rectify the impacts of the decades-long war on drugs that has unnecessarily criminalized African American and Latino communities across the country. The majority of people in prison are currently incarcerated at the state level, often due to local policing efforts. In the United States, the effects of racism on housing discrimination and incarceration rates are ongoing and well-documented. The intimately-related nature of post-World War II redlining practices, coupled with the facilitation of concentrated urban poverty by the interstate highway system, are directly responsible for the ease with which hostile policing and drug enforcement practices have been able to tear into communities of color left behind by suburbanization. Recent episodes of police brutality against people of color—and African Americans, in particular—point directly to the historical legacies that racist land use and policing policies have left on many communities to this very day. The historical legacy of these initiatives has also set up the parameters through which contemporary gentrification has been allowed to take hold in American cities. States and local municipalities are on the hook for limiting housing production over the last several decades. States like California have done an abysmal job facilitating housing production for years, a phenomenon that has created the rampant unaffordability crisis that is choking working class populations—the same groups suffering under draconian criminal policies—in major cities and small towns alike. Given these connections, it’s clear to see that the time to lay the groundwork for bold action is now; municipalities can no longer treat unaffordability and mass-incarceration as separate issues to be addressed piecemeal because they are a product of the same system of oppression. Here’s an idea for a holistic approach: What if states were to combine social justice–minded marijuana reparations efforts with housing market reform, as well? First, states like California should expand Oakland’s equity permit program to as many municipalities as possible, enabling at least the sales of legalized marijuana to economically benefit marginalized communities. The state should then administer revenues generated from recreational marijuana sales to directly incentivize the development of affordable and market rate housing within a certain proximity—say, one-quarter of a mile—of recreational and medical marijuana dispensaries or production facilities. This effort, if coupled with thoughtful increases in density around these facilities, would double- and triple-up the positive effects of the marijuana trade on marginalized communities by ensuring that new jobs and new housing are brought directly to communities besieged by the drug war. With this proximity-based approach, both urban areas and the rural communities across the state now responsible for growing and processing many cannabis products can benefit, as well. The state should also facilitate the development of community-based banks—again, located near dispensaries—tasked with providing private financing to individuals, families, business, and housing developers aiming to develop workforce housing within these communities. Formerly incarcerated individuals and their families should be given priority access to these funds, as well, an element could begin to facilitating paths to self-directed home ownership while also embedding more equitable access to financing within these communities. The potential impact of these policies could be high. In California, for example, recent legalization included levying a 15 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana sales as well as a wholesale tax of $9.25 and $2.75 per ounce on marijuana flowers and leaves, respectively. Recreational and medical marijuana sales are expected to reach $6.46 billion per year by 2020, potentially generating roughly $1 billion in tax revenues for the state. A rough calculation of the figures given earlier for Colorado’s affordable housing program indicates that state is aiming to spend roughly seven percent of marijuana revenue on supportive housing. Scaled to California’s marijuana economy, that would translate to roughly $70 million for housing reform. That’s a good start and, of course, the seven percent percent figure could go much higher. Additional funding could potentially be leveraged against funding from federal agencies for a larger effect, also. Either way, $70 million would certainly go far in communities that have seen economic disinvestment and marginalization for decades. Given the monumental shifts in marijuana policy and public opinion and the potential the booming industry has to generate vast amounts of wealth, it is essential that the spoils of legalized marijuana trade not only go to those who have access to capital and privilege necessary to start a marijuana-related business. It is also essential, given the ongoing housing crisis—and that phenomenon’s ties to other aspects of institutionalized racial inequality—that municipalities move to make housing reform a central component of any marijuana reparations program. These funds should be harnessed directly toward increasing business opportunities for individuals caught up by the war on drugs and be put toward the equitable redevelopment of the very communities torn apart by those policies.
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Sunshine State

AN focuses on Florida for the AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando

The Architect's Newspaper's April 2017 issue takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). You can see all those articles on this page. Here, Senior Editor Matt Shaw's editorial from that issue highlights what we've explored in the Sunshine State.

Since The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) switched from four weekly regional editions to one single national monthly, we have worked tirelessly to maintain our in-depth regional coverage of architecture, even if it is packaged differently. But sometimes we miss the intense focus on one region for one issue. That is why for our AIA special issue, which coincides with the AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando, Florida, we decided to make a Florida regional issue, in the spirit of our old East, Midwest, West, and Southwest editions. We could call it Southeast, but there is so much building and development going on in Florida that we wanted to give it the classic AN treatment by itself.

What exactly is happening there?

Most of the high-profile development is in Miami, where The Four Seasons stands as the tallest building in the city at 789 feet, but will soon be surpassed by the 830-foot-tall Panorama Tower, and soon after that both will likely be passed by a wave of supertalls that are in the planning process. There are nearly a dozen proposals in various states of planning, including World Trade Center of the Americas, The Towers by Foster + Partners, KPF’s One Bayfront Plaza, and Skyrise Miami, a.k.a. “The Eiffel Tower of the Magic City.” The FAA has never approved a building over 1,049 feet, so that is the designated height of many, including the latter three listed above.

This boom shows that while the condo market in South Florida may actually be cooling off, the cities are not. In our feature, we profile Miami from several angles, showing a complex metropolis layered with architecture and design activity. The latest wave of development has brought with it a new civic-mindedness to a city that is struggling to escape its car-centric culture and is slowly growing to offer more urbane experiences through infrastructure, density, and advances in technology. The re-urbanization of Miami parallels many other places, but it has its own characteristic development patterns.

The paradox of building directly in the face of sea-level rise may seem daunting, especially as the governor of Florida continues to deny climate change and forbids government employees from using the term. Luckily, there is hope: A sub-state organization of counties and municipalities are taking the lead without state help. Since 2009, the counties of Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach have led the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact. Other partners include the Institute for Sustainable Communities, South Florida Water Management District, The Nature Conservancy – Florida Chapter, and the Florida Climate Institute. Along with a collection of cities and towns, they have been working together—and meeting annually—to coordinate mitigation and adaptation activities across county lines, as well as address funding and policy issues.

In Miami, there is also work being done to combat the social issues of sea-level rise threatening the city, as there is real concern that up to 50 percent of the land will not be habitable in the coming decades. What will happen if this is true? Not only would real estate become unusable, but higher ground that is now affordable could become unaffordable for those who live there, if that territory becomes more desirable to those displaced along the shore. To offset that, many are looking to Philadelphia’s anti-gentrification “Development Without Displacement” methods such as the tax exemptions in the Longtime Owner-Occupant Program (LOOP), and other alternative ownership incentives and models, and applying them to a GIS-based plan for the city.

These contradictory forces—the ocean and the city—may pose a threat to Miami if no action is taken, but they are also what makes it so desirable. The landscape and the resultant tourism industry—hotels, malls, resorts, beaches, nightlife—fuels a tropical paradise with urban, suburban, and rural issues as compelling and complex as anywhere.

Because we cover Florida regularly, we have some past coverage that might interest those who enjoy this issue. Click here for a list of past articles.

Special thanks to landscape architect Walter Meyer of Local Office Landscape Architecture whose help was indispensable for this issue.

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Self-Preservation

Can the Municipal Art Society save itself?

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) has a proud history but today is a broken organization. It was founded in 1893 to modernize and professionalize city government, and in the 20th century it led the charge for better planning and historic preservation in the city. In the society’s “glory days” of the 1960s and 70s it helped save Grand Central Terminal, Radio City Music Hall, and the Jefferson Market Courthouse in Greenwich Village. It also helped win passage of the city’s landmark law. But its own website stops listing its achievements or milestones in 2012 with the convening of a planning group studying East Midtown. Since that time, the organization has sputtered to remain relevant, making controversial decisions and reinventing itself in a changing city. In a 2015 editorial, we wrote, “What was once one of the fiercest and most devoted New York City organizations that would litigate when it thought the best interests of the city were threatened, has now become a defanged real estate and developer-led organization that serves as a cheerleader for major development.”

In retrospect, the beginning of this period of uncertainty started when it moved out of the Urban Center in the Madison Avenue Villard Houses and received a multi-million dollar settlement for leaving before its lease expired. It then moved into the Steinway building on 57th Street until it was paid again to leave that building early and received yet another financial settlement. While any nonprofit would be thrilled to receive huge financial gifts like this, the MAS board relied too heavily on these on windfalls and did not continue to raise the money needed to keep the organization strong. Then, in 2014, it moved into another larger (but much needed) space in the Look Building on Madison Avenue, where the rent is a reported $600,000 a year. The board, while it has had several generous members, stopped raising the funds needed to keep the organization healthy and robust. Furthermore, it did not continue to develop a board of directors with the appropriate mix of well-connected advocates and wealthy contributors.

But financial issues are not the only problem for the MAS and its board of directors. Over the last month, we have been reporting on the board’s decision to fire its third director—President Gina Pollara—and hire yet another leader: Elizabeth Goldstein from the California State Parks Foundation. We reported on an open letter from the City Club, another civic organization (with many former MAS leaders in its leadership) that asked the board to “to defer any action with regard to President Gina Pollara,” because, it continued, to “move forward with this action would be an unhappy step backward and a display of internal governance disarray at MAS.” But the letter also asked the MAS board to “consider an independent review of governance and management structure accepting one of the following alternatives to pursue: appointment of a balanced committee of emeritus directors; retention of an outside professional consultant (such as McKinsey); or consultation with an experienced non-profit organization professional.” We agree with the City Club that it is time for the MAS board of directors to be more transparent about its actions, change how it views its fiduciary responsibilities, and rethink its board structure and decision-making process.

Finally, the MAS board has not only mismanaged its mandate to stand up for New York but should explain its management of the Gina Pollara presidency.

According to sources, Pollara asked the board when she began her term to give her a year to re-engage with the community that they depended on for funding and memberships. In the year of her presidency, she reportedly brought in nearly $1 million to the society. Pollara seemed be on track to making this happen after she canceled “The MAS Summit,” its largely irrelevant two-day non-event of tweets and advertorials for MAS board members and their friends. Instead, Pollara created a successful (and less expensive to convene) one-day summit that engaged with and discussed important and controversial issues in New York in 2016. The board has been mysterious about why it fired Pollara, and while it doesn’t have to explain all of its decisions, hiring yet another president makes one wonder if the members are serious about continuing to be a civic organization worthy of respect—and financial support. We hope Goldstein can make the society respected and relevant again, but she has serious bridges to build in the New York preservation and planning communities. And she has to have the ability to work with its board.

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Retrofit for the Future

The American suburbs are the next fertile ground for architectural and urban experimentation

The last twenty-odd years may have seen the remarkable comeback of cities, but the next twenty might actually be more about the suburbs, as many cities have become victims of their own success. The housing crisis—a product of a complex range of factors from underbuilding to downzoning—has made some cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, a playground for the ultra-wealthy, pushing out long-time residents and making the city unaffordable for the artists, creatives, and small businesses who make vibrant places.

While it is impossible to cast a national generalization, in a broad sense, the cities’ loss could be the suburbs’ gain. Many young people and poorer residents are moving to the suburbs, although not necessarily because they want to. This is creating a market on the fringes of the city for a more vibrant mixed-use development based on public transportation and urban amenities. The traditional American suburban model of sprawling single-family homes and clusters of retail is not necessarily the only way these territories are developing, as even the big box mall models are taking new forms.

In some ways, the urban and the suburban are flattening, as Judith K. De Jong argues in her book New SubUrbanisms. Culturally, formally, and conceptually, they share more than we typically think. While suburban residents crave quasi-ersatz urban experiences, many in the urban areas are living as if they are in the suburbs, in more insular developments that minimize their interactions with the city and other citizens. In the suburbs, on the other hand, there is potential for an increase in mixed-use and mixed-experience living.

Adding to this new “intersectional suburb,” which we consider in our feature, are the demographic shifts that are continuing to upend the notion of classic post-war suburbs. We examine how a recent report by the Urban Land Institute surveys the new landscape on which the formation of new suburban projects will take place. A recent study by urban planner Daniel D’oca and his students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design even called this phenomenon “black flight.”

What makes these changes so loaded with potential to provoke new types of suburban development and living is that the suburbs already cover an enormous amount of land in the U.S. University of Michigan professor of landscape architecture Joan Nassauer cites Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2007, a 2011 U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service study that shows that 3 percent of all land in the U.S. is covered by “cities,” while upward of 5 percent is taken up by suburbs.

This means that while there are new tracts of land being built, much of this experimentation will be transforming what is already there, but with new technologies and understanding of what a healthy urbanism looks like environmentally, culturally, and economically. It is an incredibly fertile ground for architecture and urban design to imagine how to retrofit the suburbs and make them part of the next generation of cities.

When discussing his vision for the future of cities, Vishaan Chakrabarti cites Paul Baran’s 1962 diagram “Centralized, Decentralized, and Distributed Networks,” which argues that a distributed, rhizomatic network of nodes and connections is the most resilient way to organize a system. If the affordability crisis in urban areas drives more people out of city centers, then maybe mixed-use centers could be located all around a periphery, creating new conditions that are very well suited for the new technologies and environmental challenges that face the suburbs.

As the suburbs adapt to technologies—such as self-driving cars and solar power—to update their inefficient and problematic infrastructures, they will have new opportunities to address new transit options that connect them to the rest of the urban landscape. They will also be fertile ground for more industrial and commercial uses.

These changes in the suburban landscape can only be fruitful for architects and urbanists if they allow themselves to see the suburbs not as a “deplorable,” ecologically destitute place, but rather as a design challenge that offers a culturally rich and diverse set of problems that can help a variety of families in varying socio-economic conditions. Once we shed our preconceptions, we can start to analyze them on the terms that have already been set, and we can start to remake the suburbs in the image of a progressive, 21st century city.

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Aye Aye AIA

AIA makes major misstep on Donald Trump

In the weeks since the presidential election, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has drawn ire from architectural professionals for releasing a post-election memo containing conciliatory and supportive language for President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to embark on a $500 billion infrastructure building program.

Robert Ivy, AIA executive vice president and CEO, released a statement on behalf of the national AIA apparatus and membership, saying in part, “The AIA and its 89,000 members are committed to working with President-elect Trump to address the issues our country faces, particularly strengthening the nation’s aging infrastructure. The memo continued, “We stand ready to work with him and with the incoming 115th Congress to ensure that investments in schools, hospitals, and other public infrastructure continue to be a major priority.”

In response, The Architect’s Newspaper issued a rebuttal challenging Ivy’s magical thinking relating to the scarcely-detailed, so-called infrastructure plan put forth by the President-elect and the fundamental lack of leadership inherent in pledging blind support to a political movement expressly aligned with xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, and climate change-denying ideals.

We wrote: “It is anathema to this editorial board to fathom the positive impact of such a work of infrastructure as the proposed border wall or its attendant detention centers, federal and private prisons, and militarized infrastructure that would be necessary in order to achieve the President-elect’s stated deportation policy goals. To ignore the role design and designers could play in instituting and perpetuating the inequality inherent in the racist patriarchy of Trump’s ideology embodies is irresponsible and reprehensible.”

AN’s response was buttressed by supporting statements from dozens of architects, designers, and academics from across the field. As a consequence, Ivy issued an apology directly to AN saying, “The AIA remains firmly committed to advocating for the values and principles that will create a more sustainable, inclusive, and humane world. The spirit and intention behind our statement is consistent with and in support of President Obama’s eloquent call for us all to unite for the best interest of America’s future.”

The statement did little to quell fury in the architectural community, with members openly calling for Ivy’s resignation and at least one AIA member, Fritz Reed of Baltimore, resigning in protest. After members continued to express disapproval at AIA leadership, Ivy and AIA National President Russ Davidson issued an additional apology via video pledging to engage in listening sessions with AIA membership to better articulate a future vision for the organization and the profession. Moving forward, as Ivy and AIA leaders begin to plan these listening sessions, AN reiterates its initial pledge to stand in solidarity with AIA members and those who advocate for an inclusive, diverse, and morally responsible profession aiming to address climate change, promote equitable urbanism, and fight for design quality in the built environment.

AN will continue to listen to the architectural and design community and help articulate ways for the profession to move forward in support of the goals stated above and help lead the resistance to forces that aim to undermine the pursuit of those values.

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Opportunity Knocking

Why Airbnb should help save an architectural icon

If I had to guess, I would say that it has been forty years since Columbus, Indiana, was the hot topic of cocktail conversations at design-related get-togethers in New York City. In those days, it was the supercharged patronage of industrialist J. Irwin Miller and his relationships with designers like Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard that spurred a wave of innovative and provocative architecture in the small Midwestern town. Columbus, with a population of 45,000, has a Robert Venturi fire station, a John Johansen school, a park by Michael Van Valkenburgh, and several buildings by Eliel and Eero Saarinen, including the younger’s iconic Miller House.

However, Columbus is once again in the spotlight. Exhibit Columbus is an ongoing initiative that launched September 29 with a symposium that will set the stage for a large public design exhibition in 2017. Exhibit organizer Richard McCoy, with the assistance of local patrons and leaders such as president of the Wallace Foundation Will Miller, designer Jonathan Nesci, architect Louis Joyner, educator T. Kelly Wilson, and archivist Tricia Gilson, has built a local movement and amassed a group of world-class designers—Aranda/Lasch, Baumgartner + Uriu, Rachel Hayes, Höweler+Yoon, IKD, Ball-Nogues Studio, Johnston Marklee, Jonathan Olivares Design Research, Oyler Wu Collaborative, Plan B Architecture & Urbanism, and studio:indigenous—that are competing for the inaugural Miller Prize, an unusual head-to-head competition where ten teams will make site-specific installations for five sites in Columbus. Five will win the battle and build their proposals fall 2017.

All of this attention has once again launched Columbus into the design consciousness. Many people are excited to see what the 2017 exhibition will bring.

In parallel, there is another incredible opportunity in Columbus that could build on this momentum.

With renewed interest in the town, which thrives off of architectural tourism, the hospitality industry is booming. Notably, however, there are few Airbnb properties. A cursory search for a weekend in October returns only three listings, none of which are downtown where all of the action is. This matters because young tourists are looking for more exciting lodging options than a regular hotel. What would alternative lodging look like in Columbus today? There is a venue that would be perfect. The Cummins Occupational Health Association (COHA) was one of the most innovative buildings in Columbus, but it is now under threat because its owner, Cummins Inc., has no use for it. Originally completed in 1973 by Hugh Hardy of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, this late modernist, high-tech building is one of Columbus’s best-kept secrets. Its colorful, highly expressive exposed building systems celebrate building technology with mannerist exuberance. The spacious open plan is choreographed by a ramp that animates the space and was a revolutionary new way of building healthcare facilities in the 1970s. However, this ramp may render it inflexible for healthcare-related adaptive reuse in today’s world.

So what is the appropriate new life for COHA? One possibility would be lofts or student housing. While the town may not have the market for this typology, there might be another solution. If Airbnb bought the building, it could turn it into a cluster of rentals (like a hotel) that would be rentable on Airbnb and could piggyback off of its collaboration with Japanese architect Go Hasegawa in the Japanese village Yoshino. This project, Sugi No Ie (Yoshino Cedar House), acts as both a rental unit and community center for visitors and is owned by local community groups, thus giving back to the town and offering a community-based experience for travelers.

In this model, the town would own the space, and rent it out on Airbnb. Proceeds could benefit the Heritage Fund, which is invested in the preservation of the architecture through Landmark Columbus. Airbnb would be helping to preserve modern design.

The COHA building is perfect for this model. It needs a patron, and there is no cut-and-dry reuse for it. How cool would it be to stay or live in a radical, 1970s doctor’s office? Artists or designers could get long-term rentals, while visitors could stay for the night. It would take a visionary company like Airbnb that values design to revitalize this space into one of the world’s best design destination hotels. The company would be a hero. Let’s hope it can make this dream a reality.

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Vulnerability In Resilient Urbanism

Has “resiliency” been hijacked to justify and promote development?

The recent visioning scheme for Red Hook, Brooklyn, is a case study in the conflicting interests that contribute to any proposed change in New York neighborhoods. We all know the story of poor, underserved areas like Red Hook that are ignored for generations, and then suddenly become intense hot spots for development. This scheme proposes not just subtle adjustments, but instead hyper-development, which brings out conflict.

The shorthand to describe this process of change is the overused word “gentrification.” But development in any New York neighborhood, let alone one like Red Hook, with spectacular views of the Verrazano Bay and Manhattan, is fraught with the prospect of winners and losers. All too often in New York City, the losers have been the poor and the winners the wealthy who want (and get) to live in these prime urban sites.

AECOM, the creator of this scheme, has presented a vision (identified specifically as not a “plan”) that it claims was done in response to community demands for new investment and infrastructure. This vision encourages the public to visit AECOM’s website and offer suggestions and critique. The project has the sense of being another top-down plan, where more valuable pieces of landscape are handed over to developers.

In fact, the vision seems to check off many of the much-needed development boxes for southwest Brooklyn: three new subway stations, a bulked up manufacturing-commercial zone, and 11,250 new units of affordable housing.

One important new piece of this “non-plan” is its use of a resiliency paradigm to justify and promote the change. Red Hook is perhaps the lowest lying waterfront area west of the Rockaways and needs new physical barriers to save it from the increasing occurrences of flooding.  In a recent study of the impacts of Superstorm Sandy, “resiliency” is defined by Leigh Graham, Wim Debucquoy, and Isabelle Anguelovski, as “the degree to which a complex adaptive system is capable of self-organization and can build capacity for learning and adaptation.” The concept is usually presented in technical, engineering, and competitive business terms where social, political, and cultural issues are never a part of the equation. The AECOM vision states, for example: “Strategies could include both green and gray infrastructures that provide coastal protection and flood management as well as development of smart grids and distributed clean power generation to provide energy security and buildings that can deal with longer, hotter summers without requiring more energy use.”

But the concept of resiliency is becoming a buzzword that animates otherwise pedestrian urban design schemes into relevant and apparently socially conscious initiatives for a more functional and healthy city. AECOM has proposed a creative resiliency plan here, but underserved communities are always wary of these code words because they often mean gentrification. Is resilience in this scheme potentially one of these words?

Many visions or plans for “resilient neighborhoods” consider only a limited number of factors in what they consider resiliency to mean for any particular neighborhood or stretch of coastline. Many advocacy groups are starting to question whether resilience in the scientific sense is enough and propose the use of the concept of “vulnerability” as a framework for understanding exactly what is at stake. 

One such plan is “Equity in Building Resilience in Adaptation Planning,” a guide produced by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), that aims to “provide a guide to localities to enable them to integrate an equity lens as they seek to build resilience in designing adaptation plans.”

The NAACP report calls into question the politics behind physical resilience. They point out a long list of factors that should be considered when planning for environmental stresses on an urban area, in addition to purely engineering factors such as income/wealth, employment, literacy, education, housing stock, insurance status, and access to fresh food.

For designers, this list offers an opportunity to think beyond traditional architecture and planning modes of resilient design, and further challenge what it means to create an equitable, 21st century city—a city that is not easily definable in the face of such large environmental issues. Problematizing “resiliency” with an advanced understanding of “vulnerability” can lead to a more progressive understanding of a rapidly changing world and urban habitat at all scales. This resiliency vision for southwest Brooklyn might yet be one of these new ways of designing cities, but it needs further refinement in how it considers and represents the public.

This article was part of our Oct. 12 issue which focused on how water is shaping today’s landscape architecture and urbanism. Communities face deluges and droughts—for some, the stakes can be survival itself, but others see opportunities for decadence. To explore these stories from around the U.S. and the world, click here.

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High Standards

Less regulation is no way for the U.S. to produce better architecture

In a recent Crain’s New York Business editorial dated August 7, “Make architecture great again,” architect Garo Gumusyan argued, “architecturally, America isn’t great anymore.” He cited regulation as one of two reasons for a lack of great architecture in America. Regulation, he said, causes architects to suffer because of liability, too many oversight committees, and high taxes that make great architecture impossible.

This tired argument is made over and over by those opposed to regulation. More often than not, they are champions of market-driven private industry, which they believe can innovate us out of our problems, from the economy to the healthcare system. It is a position that never seems to go away, despite decades of evidence to the contrary in Europe, Asia, and even here in the U.S.

The New York Times recently published an article that provides quantitative evidence in support of regulation. “The Path to Prosperity Is Blue,” Jacob S.Hacker and Paul Pierson’s July 30 opinion piece, argues that, according to many economic and quality of life indicators—median household income, life expectancy at birth, taxation of the top one percent, patent rate, and number of citizens with a bachelors degree or higher—traditionally “blue,” or liberal-leaning, and mostly more highly regulated states perform better on these metrics.

How does regulation affect architecture? Like Donald Trump, Gumusyan’s claim first invents some kind of “Golden Era” when architecture was “great.” I wonder what he considers “great?” It is the robber baron estates or the postwar sprawl that brought us decimated urban cores and, later, suburban strip malls?

We aren’t sure why the author would claim that architecture is not “great” today. Here at the paper, we cover important and “great” architecture projects every day. Several very good—if not great—buildings have come online just in the last two months, including Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Columbia University Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center, BIG’s VIA 57 West condominium complex, (arguably) the World Trade Center Transportation Hub by Santiago Calatrava, as well as Herzog + de Meuron’s 56 Leonard, just to name a few.

It is hard to argue, as Gumusyan does, that taxes are making architecture suffer by driving up the cost of development. On the contrary, developers are chomping at the bit to develop each last plot of unused—and often used—land for the wealthiest one percent of the population. Often, these people are not even paying their fair share of taxes, let alone being burdened by them.

Condos are selling for record prices, and architecture is cited as one of the main drivers of the ultra-luxury market. And it is no coincidence that Douglas Durst will be living in the top of VIA 57 West. Regulation, especially design standards and reviews, is what would bring great architecture to the rest of us.

As for oversight, it could be argued that oversight and regulation by city agencies actually make architecture better. Amanda Burden is famous for having pressured developers into making better designs, resulting in buildings like VIA 57 West. They may otherwise have been the boring, developer-driven glass boxes that we see across New York City. It wasn’t the city that killed Frank Gehry’s Barclay’s Center—it was developer greed.

Gumusyan does rightly cite the bureaucratic shuffle as an impediment that architects must weave through—that can always be improved. David Burney and the Department of Design and Construction have made much progress in streamlining the process, which will we hope will continue to be improved under Mayor de Blasio and future administrations.

However, the author also claimed, “We are being left with blocks that blur together like rest stops on a godforsaken interstate.” It is an odd argument, as the land along the desolate stretches of the American freeway system is some of the least regulated, and thus the corresponding architecture is perhaps the ultimate expression of “freedom from regulation.” If there is a preferred site for outstanding architecture it is certainly not the highway off-ramp, but the downtowns of the U.S.’s largest and most regulated cities, like New York.

For a real test case, we would need to look to Europe. There, for the most part, everything from design to environmental standards are higher and more regulated than in this country. Norman Foster once famously said that he had been making buildings like the Hearst Tower for years in Europe. Everyday architecture there, from housing and civic buildings to urban infrastructure and parks, is of a higher quality. 

More regulation is not only good for design innovation like the step-back New York skyscraper that came from the 1916 Zoning Law, but it is also good business for architects. What is holding the U.S. back from producing great architecture is a lack of regulation, not more.