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Make No Small Plans

Inside the diverse practice of Chicago- and Philadelphia-based PORT Urbanism

It is sometimes difficult for people who encounter PORT Urbanism’s work to know whether the projects are hypothetical or practical urban proposals. Despite this confusion, PORT would tell you that all of its work is practical, if not sometimes fantastic.

With small offices in Chicago and Philadelphia, PORT Urbanism fits into a niche of designers that are not typical urban planners and not strictly architects. As its name would suggest, it works at the urban scale, engaging with city governments and large-scale developers to envision near and far futures for public spaces.

AN visited the firm’s Chicago office, which seats four in a small space on the ninth floor of the Burnham and Root–designed Monadnock Building. The office walls are plastered, floor to ceiling, in bright renderings, small models, site photos, and marker-laden site maps. Partner Andrew Moddrell and two employees make up the Chicago office, while the Philadelphia office is comprised of partner Christopher Marcinkoski and one other employee. Moddrell and Marcinkoski started PORT in 2012. With the support of academic positions at the University of Illinois Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania, they were able to practice on their own terms.

Despite PORT’s small size, it is no stranger to large and complex projects. After being chosen from a request for proposal for a Denver park design with Denver-based Independent Architecture, a NIMBY battle ensued. The project was eventually moved and redesigned for a new park in a neighborhood with a community that appreciated the project. PORT is now moving forward through design development with an improved plan.

Presented at the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the Big Shift envisioned adding a new coastline and additional land east of Millennium and Grant Parks in downtown Chicago. While dismissed by many as too far-fetched, the project struck a chord with critics and the public. “If we had proposed putting an island in Lake Michigan, then nobody would have cared,” Moddrell said. “But when we ground it in the precision of an infrastructural hierarchy and proposed repositioning of Lake Shore Drive, extending boulevards, and turning Grant Park into a Central Park, and pitch it with a straight face, it is not just architects screwing around for other architects.” Moddrell stands by the idea, however grandiose, as a serious, though speculative proposal.

Carbon T.A.P. (Tunnel Algae Park) New York, New York

Winner of the WPA 2.0 competition, the Carbon T.A.P. envisions a carbon-harvesting algae park attached to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. The speculative project proposes to use carbon dioxide released by cars passing through the tunnel to feed algae that can be used to produce oxygen, biofuels, bioplastics, nutraceuticals, and agricultural feeds. Linked to the algae production is a large-scale public space in the form of a swinging bridge. Part of the rationale behind the project is that with the introduction of an innovative industrial infrastructural typology—carbon-reducing algae farms—a new civic infrastructural typology can be realized.

The Big Shift Chicago, Illinois

The Big Shift was originally conceived as an entry to the Art Institute of Chicago’s show Chicagoisms. It was developed further for the 2015 Chicago Architecture Biennial. The Big Shift proposes to move Chicago’s Lakeshore Drive east and add hundreds of new acres of land in order to expand the city’s downtown and produce hundreds of new acres of park along the lake. Making no small reference to Chicago’s history of reconfiguring its lakeshore, which was mostly fabricated after the 1871 fire, the Big Shift aims to produce trillions of dollars of new real estate. Despite its large upfront infrastructural costs, the plan highlights the advantages of a lakeside park that is three times the size of the current park and of 30 new city blocks of tax-paying, job-producing real estate.

City Loop Denver, Colorado

City Loop is a $5 million public park planned for the City of Denver. Comprised of a continuous ribbon of program and activity space, the Loop is designed to encourage healthy lifestyles and active play. A series of tubes, colorful paths, and diverse activity pods stretch over the half-mile loop, providing for every age group and taste. Along with physical health, the park aims to promote social and cultural well-being as a civic and community space. The full team working on the project is PORT, Denver-based Indie Architecture, Indianapolis-based Latitude 39, Boulder, Colorado–based engineers Studio NYL, Denver-based metal fabricators JunoWorks, athletics consultant Loren Landow, and Tulsa, Oklahoma–based contractors Site Masters Inc.

Goose Island 2025 Chicago, Illinois

In an ongoing collaboration with Chicago developers R2, PORT’s Goose Island 2025 addresses the large industrial Goose Island on the near North Side of Chicago. A planned manufacturing district, Goose Island is now in the middle of a quickly developing part of the city. The island itself, though, has seen little development due to its designation as a planned manufacturing district and the city’s lack of an overall vision. R2 and PORT’s plan looks at the possibilities of the island as it continues as a place of industry, as well as anticipates a future in which some of its land may become available for other programs.

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The Ashland

New renderings revealed for FXFOWLE's luxury Fort Greene apartments
Construction is wrapping up on the The Ashland, a 53-story mixed-use skyscraper in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. In anticipation, the building's website has launched ahead of the July 19 opening of its leasing office. The tower has a total of 586 units, about half of which were opened to applications through the city’s affordable housing lottery. The tower was designed by FXFOWLE, with interiors by SPAN Architecture. According to 6sqft, the units will range in price from $2600 per month for a studio to $7500 per month for a 3-bedroom, which is on par with rents in the area. On the new website's availability page, however, only studios and one-bedroom apartments are listed. The page also offers a link for rental applications. The website showcases many of the building’s amenities, like a fitness studio, rooftop lounge, and barbecue area. It also features renderings of the Gotham Market at The Ashland, a dining hall located at the base of the tower. The market will host eight different dining options, with one rotating pop-up space. This is in addition to the rooms themselves, which offer central air conditioning, floor-to-ceiling windows, and dishwashers in each unit. The luxury apartment tower is located on the edge of Fort Greene, adjacent to the BAM Harvey Theater and the Brooklyn Cultural District. The district, anchored by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, has been a hotspot for development since its inception. Industry has also boomed in the area following the opening of the Barclays Center. Marketing for The Ashland capitalizes on the fact that Downtown Brooklyn is increasingly becoming a center for art and culture in the city, emphasizing the many destinations within walking distance.
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Justin Garrett Moore named executive director of New York City's Public Design Commission
The PDC is an overseer of design in the public realm: The commission is tasked with reviewing the design, construction, renovation, and restoration of public buildings; the installation and preservation of public art (including its art collection); and the building and rehabilitation of public parks. Its 11 unpaid members include a painter, sculptor, architect, and landscape architect to represent the building and visual arts. “Justin Moore’s talents in design planning have brought us some of our greatest public spaces,” noted Mayor de Blasio in a statement. “He will be a strong, passionate voice for inclusive, public design. I look forward to Moore’s future work with optimism and excitement.” At City Planning, Moore has worked on major projects like the Coney Island Plan, the Brooklyn Cultural District, the Greenpoint and Williamsburg waterfront, and Hunter’s Point South. He is a co-founder of Urban Patch, as well as an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University GSAPP. (He also holds degrees in architecture and urban design from that institution). Moore intends to further the de Blasio administration's goal of extending design to the far reaches of the five boroughs: "In this administration, there's been an important shift towards considering all the city's communities, especially the outer boroughs and lower income communities, majority-minority communities. People recognize the value that quality design can bring to the city. Design is not just aesthetics. It's about how systems work, it's about how environments make people feel." The PDC has a, uh, rigid reputation among design professionals. Moore would like to change that. The Department of City Planning, he explained, has a resource called the Urban Design Network, where design ideas are shared within the agency's many divisions. Moore is investigating the possibility of creating an equivalent model rooted in the PDC to bridge, for example, the design resources of the Parks Department with those of City Planning or the DOT. Moore will assume his post on April 18th.
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State of the City
The fabric of New York—from shoreline to skyline—is getting a thread-count upgrade, much of it due to the success of ongoing projects like Vision Zero, coastal resiliency efforts, and a spate of new public ventures coming down the pike. In his annual State of the City address in early February, Mayor Bill de Blasio championed accomplishments from 2015 and shed light on what’s to come: New Yorkers will see projects and policies that could facilitate new commutes, provide civic and green spaces in the outer boroughs, and reshape neighborhood density via rezoning. Streets and Shores
Two large-scale, controversial rezoning proposals, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning For Quality and Affordability (ZQA), reached the City Council early February. Councilmembers heard public testimony for and against the measures, which are intended to increase the amount of affordable housing and create more interesting streetscapes in exchange for increased density in special districts. The full Council will vote on the proposals—the most sweeping zoning changes since 1961—in March.
Rezoning may change the look of the streets, and it’s almost guaranteed more pedestrians would be around to see it. Since the launch of Vision Zero three years ago, traffic fatalities have fallen annually, with a drop of almost nine percent between last year and 2014. (Although City Hall may not want readers to know that traffic-related injuries spiked by more than 2,000 incidents in the same period.)
The initiative is New York City’s version of an international campaign to end traffic-related deaths through better street design and harsher penalties for traffic offenders, and it has a record-setting $115 million budget for 2016. More than a quarter of that money (plus $8.8 million from the NYC Department of Transportation’s capital budget) will go to road improvements in Hunters Point in Long Island City, Queens, especially at busy nodes along main thoroughfares Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue.
The low-lying neighborhoods are some of many flood-prone areas that will benefit from the $20 billion in climate-change-resiliency measures that launched following Hurricane Sandy. Included in that figure is a massive project coming out of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design competition to protect Manhattan from rising seas. The City has selected AECOM to lead the design and build of these coastal resiliency measures, formerly known as the Dryline (and before that, BIG U). The project team includes Dewberry, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and ONE Architecture. BIG and ONE provided the original vision for the 10-mile-long project, and are now working on Phase One, the $335 million East Side Coastal Resiliency Project. That phase, which should go into constriction next year, deploys a series of berms and floodwalls from East 23rd Street to Montgomery Street on the island’s Lower East Side. Phase Two extends the project from Montgomery Street around the tip of Manhattan up to Harrison Street in Tribeca. Although those ten miles of coastline could be safer, the other 510 would still have a lot to fear from global warming. Fortunately, the Department of Design and Construction’s Build It Back RFP is having an immediate impact on those who lost homes to Sandy. By last October, the program, which rebuilds homes ravaged in the 2012 hurricane, broke ground on around 1,900 projects and finished construction on 1,200 others.
Targeted Reinvestment The recovery impetus extends beyond the property line and out into neighborhoods. In his speech, the mayor singled out three outer-borough neighborhoods—Ocean Hill–Brownsville, the South Bronx, and Far Rockaway—for targeted reinvestment. Civic architecture often heralds or spurs financial interest, and these neighborhoods happen to be the sites of three public projects by well-known architects in plan or under construction. Studio Gang is designing a 20,000-square-foot Fire Department of New York station and training facility in Ocean Hill–Brownsville in Brooklyn, while BIG is designing a new NYPD station house in Melrose in the Bronx. In Queens, far-out Far Rockaway, battered by Sandy and isolated from the rest of the city by a long ride on the A train, is anticipating both a $90.3 million, Snøhetta-designed public library and $91 million in capital funds for improvements in its downtown on main commercial roads like Beach 20th Street. On and Beyond the Waterfront In New York, a trip to the “city” is a trip to Manhattan. This idea, however, doesn’t reflect how New Yorkers traverse the city today: Older, Manhattan-centric commuting patterns at the hub are becoming outmoded as development intensifies in the outer boroughs. It’s estimated that this year bike-sharing service Citi Bike will have 10 million rides. The system is adding 2,500 bikes in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens to accommodate the increased ridership. The East River ferry service will begin this year, knitting the Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan waterfronts together in patterns not seen since the 1800s. Along the same waterway, the project that’s raised the most wonder (and ire) is the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), a streetcar line that would link 12 waterfront neighborhoods from Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to Astoria, Queens. The project proposal comes from a new nonprofit, Friends of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (FBQX), which first surfaced in January of this year. Its founders include the heads of transportation advocacy and policy groups Regional Plan Association and Transportation Alternatives; directors of neighborhood development groups; and real estate professionals like venture capitalist Fred Wilson and Helena Durst of the Durst Organization. The full plan, commissioned by FBQX and put together by consultants at New York–based engineering and transportation firm Sam Schwartz, is not available to the public, although the company’s eponymous president and CEO shed some light on the plan with AN. “Within an area that has so many [transit] connections, what we are addressing is transit that goes north–south,” explained Schwartz. His firm’s plan calls for a 17-mile route that roughly parallels the coastline, dipping inland to link up to hubs like Atlantic Terminal and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At a projected cost of $1.7 billion, why not choose the bus, or bus rapid transit (BRT)? The team considered five other options before deciding on the streetcar, Schwartz explained. “The projected ridership is over 50,000 [passengers] per day, while ridership for the bus and BRT maxes out at 35,000 to 40,000 per day.” Streetcars, Schwartz elaborated, can make fine turns on narrow streets, reducing the risk for accidents. They will travel at 12 miles per hour in lanes separate from other traffic, and, to minimize aesthetic offense and flood-damage risk, overhead catenaries will not be used.
Although sources tell AN that the city has a copy of the plan, City Hall spokesperson Wiley Norvell denied any relationship between de Blasio’s streetcar proposal and the plan commissioned by FBQX. (Although it’s not unusual for the city to consider the recommendations put forth by outside groups: In 2014, the city adopted many of the Vision Zero recommendations created by Transportation Alternatives.)
Norvell stated that the city’s plan calls for a $2.5 billion, 16-mile corridor that will be financed outside of the auspices of the (state-funded and perpetually cash-strapped) Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) using a value-capture model. The streetcar line’s success, essentially, is predicated on its ability to raise surrounding property values. The increased tax revenues, he explained, could be plowed back into a local development corporation, which would then use the funds to capitalize the project. Critics wonder why the streetcar is being privileged over other initiatives, such as the Triboro RX proposal, a Utica Avenue subway extension, and the not-completely-funded Second Avenue subway, that would serve more straphangers. Though a fare-sharing system could be brokered with the MTA to enhance multimodal connectivity, critics point out that the streetcar line’s proposed stops are up to a half mile from subway stations, bypassing vital connections between the J/M/Z and L. The Hills on Governors Island Are Alive and Ahead of Schedule With a growing population and growing need for more parks, the city is looking to develop underutilized green space within its borders. The Hills, a landscape on Governors Island designed by West 8 and Mathews Nielsen, is set to finish nearly one year ahead of schedule. The news coincided with the mayor’s announcement that the island, a former military base and U.S. Coast Guard station, will now be open to the public year-round. The city has invested $307 million in capital improvements to ready 150 acres of the island for its full public debut. Forty-eight new acres of parkland (including the Hills) will open this year. The Innovation Cluster, a 33-acre business incubator and educational facility that builds on the example of Cornell University’s campus extension on Roosevelt Island, will bring several million new square feet of educational, commercial, cultural, research, and retail space to the island’s south side. The Trust for Governors Island, a nonprofit dedicated to stewarding and capitalizing on the island’s assets, will release an RFP to develop the vacant land and historic district by the end of this year, and construction could begin as early as 2019.
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Downtown Brooklyn Partnership releases new report on robust development in Downtown Brooklyn
On its tenth anniversary, the local nonprofit development corporation Downtown Brooklyn Partnership has released a report that details just how well the development of downtown Brooklyn is going. Downtown Rising: How Brooklyn became a model for urban development demonstrates how, since its 2004 rezoning, private investors have put more than $10 billion into Downtown Brooklyn. The report was commissioned by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and produced by the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy at NYU. “Downtown Brooklyn has harnessed its determined capacity for creative change to undergo a true rebirth over the past decade,” said Tucker Reed, president of the Partnership. “This report demonstrates just how far strong civic leadership can go when it’s bolstered by smart public investment, and provides the first definitive account of how we came so far, so fast—and where we need to go from here.” At a panel hosted at NYU and moderated by Professor of Urban Policy and Planning Mitchell L. Moss last week, Reed, Joe Chan (executive vice president, Empire State Development Corporation), Regina Myer (president, Brooklyn Bridge Park), and Hugh O'Neill (president of economic consulting firm Appleseed) discussed the report and next steps for downtown Brooklyn. Since the creation of a central business district in the Group of 35 report, Downtown Brooklyn has transformed itself into a tech hub, a center of arts and culture, a nexus of higher education. Between 2000 and 2013, the district's population grew by 17 percent. The number of residents with a bachelor's degree nearly doubled, and median household income grew by 22 percent. Reed mentioned that, as part of its community development goals, the Partnership "is working on workforce development" to close a skills and opportunity gap among residents without a college degree. The report has five recommendations for continued growth which center on clearing barriers for development through incentives and flexible zoning, as well as greater investment in transportation, the arts, and public space:
  1. Downtown Brooklyn and the city should ensure that innovative new companies have room to grow through increased—and targeted—commercial office space investment.
  2. The city should learn from the 2004 rezoning of the area, which allowed flexible permissive zoning and land use policies and resulted in a surge in development. The city should avoid trying to achieve narrowly defined policy objectives by enacting overly detailed zoning restrictions and prescriptions.
  3. The city should continue to invest in innovative public space improvements, such as the Brooklyn Strand initiative and completion of Brooklyn Bridge Park, that make Downtown Brooklyn a more attractive place to live, work, invest, do business, and visit.
  4. Developers and property owners, non-profit organizations, and the city need to work together to ensure that cultural institutions, arts organizations, and individual artists can continue to play a vital role in the ongoing transformation of Downtown Brooklyn.
  5. The city needs to address long-standing gaps in the area’s transportation networks, including lack of transit access to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, difficulties in getting between the core of Downtown Brooklyn and the waterfront, and the scarcity of good options for travel between existing and new waterfront neighborhoods and growing concentrations of jobs along the East River.
What do you think: Will these strategies keep the neighborhood on its upward development trajectory, or is the celebratory document failing to consider downsides like the loss of affordable housing and the decimation of independent retail on Fulton Street?
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Three finalists named in PXSTL design-build competition
The Pulitzer Arts Foundation and the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis have announced three finalists for the second iteration of the design-build PXSTL competition. The three finalist were culled from a list of 35 artist, architects, and designers, who were solicited by the organizer. The list includes: —Randstad, NL and Istanbul-based architects Merve Bedir and Jason Hilgefort —New York/Houston-based artist Mary Ellen Carroll —Chicago-based architect Amanda Williams and artist/educator Andres L. Hernandez PXSTL (David Johnson) Canopy of the 2014 PXSTL structure. (David Johnson) All of the finalist will travel to St. Louis in mid-February to conduct detailed site analysis and give public presentations on their previous work and interest in PXSTL. The winner will be announced in March. Along with an $80,000 budget to complete the project, the winner will teach an architecture studio as visiting faculty at the Sam Fox Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Planning in Fall 2016 semester. With commentary from community stakeholders, cultural organizers and local artist, the winner will work with their students to develop the project over the semester. PXSTL (an acronym for Pulitzer, Sam FoX School, and ST. Louis) is a competition for a design-build commission to build a temporary structure on an empty lot near the Pulitzer Art Foundation in the Grand Center arts district. The fist iteration of the PXSTL was completed in 2014 by the Brooklyn-based Freecell Architecture. Their project comprises of a large canopy under which dance, music, and community events were held throughout the summer of 2014. This year’s competition will conclude in the pavilion construction in spring of 2017 and community programing through the summer of 2017. The goal of PXSTL is in engage the community with small-scale intervention to encourage urban transformation. As part of this, the public will have a chance to offer feedback in public forums to be held in the fall. “Since its founding, the Pulitzer has been dedicated to creating opportunities for art and culture to have a positive impact on the broader St. Louis community. As PXSTL demonstrates, this means working closely with and listening carefully to both our community and cultural partners.” Remarked Cara Starke, director of the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, in a press release.
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TEN Arquitectos' mixed-use downtown Brooklyn building tops out
TEN Arquitectos' 286 Ashland Place, a 384-unit, 32-story mixed-use development in Downtown Brooklyn, has topped out. The building's 45,148 square feet of community space will host 651 ARTS, The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), and the Brooklyn Public Library. The New York– and Mexico City–based firm has a number of major projects in design and under construction. Their campus for Centro, a technology, design, and business university in their home city, opened in September 2015, while plans for the Mexican Museum and residential building at 706 Mission Street in San Francisco are moving forward. Last month, TEN Arquitectos revealed renderings of a luxury resort in the Cayman Islands. At 286 Ashland Place, 20 percent of the units in the building are set aside for affordable housing. The building will host 21,928 square feet of retail. Construction is expected to be complete this summer, YIMBY reports. The project is located within the Brooklyn Cultural District, a Fort Greene development plan anchored by BAM. The triangular lot, across the street from BAM and a block from Atlantic Terminal, fronts high-traffic areas on all sides. On the Flatbush Avenue side, ground-floor retail and a stepped plaza break up what could have been a monotonous street wall. The facade is reminiscent of the firm's Mercedes House, in Midtown West. There too, the facade is broken up by a nonstandard arrangement of windows and built-in air treatment units. Mercedes House's outstanding features are terraced cubes and snaking profile respond to the site's steep elevation. 286 Ashland Place has a more standard site, and relies on an origami-ed facade for visual interest from afar. Though it obscures a previously unobstructed view of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank building the articulations of the facade draw the eye outward, towards the surrounding streetscape.
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Digging into Detroit's Future
The Chene-Ferry Market is a closed-down farmer's market in Poletown. It is part of an urban design plan at the University of Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC) led by Dan Pitera.
Stephen Zacks

All summer, a lively cavalcade of events and performances testified to a reawakened cosmopolitanism in Detroit and proclaimed a community that is growing in size and complexity. Detroit’s 139 square miles are suddenly teeming with contemporary art, design, and development activity. The projects are no longer isolated but connect larger tracts: the Jam Handy industrial film production building-turned-performance space hosts a temporary Sunday market, around the corner from the ONE Mile funk revivalist project by Anya Sirota and Jean Louis Farges, with Catie Newell’s studio halfway between. A land rush has begun in the area.

Enter Culture Lab Detroit. The three-year-old brainchild of Birmingham-based designer and creative director Jane Schulak, Culture Lab Detroit orchestrates dialogues between the Detroit community and internationally renowned designers and urbanists, instigating potentially paradigm-shifting collaborations that evangelize green interventions in the landscape.

“My platform is about connectivity,” Schulak said. “I pose a design question each year and try to identify people who will respond to that question in all very different ways.”

In early September, urban ecology-themed panels in packed auditoriums at the College for Creative Studies and the Detroit Institute of Arts brought together San Francisco chef Alice Waters, industrial-scale urban farmer Will Allen, French vertical gardener Patrick Blanc, Oakland landscape architect Walter Hood, and Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto to discuss strategies for greening the city and evolving architecture with nature.

“I’ve always thought that agriculture could be the lead piece to bringing these cities back,” Allen, who grew up in a sharecropping family in Maryland, said. “This city is really primed for local production because all of the vacant land where you could grow food. There’s a lot of opportunity.”

Acre Farm’s “CITY DO NOT CUT” signs are meant to prevent public agencies from mistaking crop fields for overgrown lots. This tension between the small-scale farm and the urban scale network of municipal government is one of many interesting conditions raised by the urban agriculture in Detroit.
 

At Acre Farm in North Corktown, several blocks adjacent to the highway form a patchwork of fertile fields that skip over paved streets, the only sign of a once-populous neighborhood. Acre Farm is in an in-demand but mostly demolished area between the MotorCity Casino Hotel and a retail strip on Michigan Avenue (pioneered by restaurateur Phil Cooley). The farm is marked with large plywood “CITY DO NOT CUT” signs to prevent public agencies from mistaking it for overgrown lots.

Urban agriculture is not new, yet the diversity of greening tactics and players spreads benefits far from the heavily invested downtown, the Woodward strip, and Midtown areas. The number of farming and gardening initiatives has multiplied: Keep Growing Detroit has supported 4,000 gardens in the last decade with seed packs, transplants, educational, and technical assistance. Nonprofits like the Greening of Detroit have planted about 4,000 trees in the past year, while Hantz Woodlands installed 15,000 trees in a square mile of East Detroit. In 2013, the City Council adopted a zoning ordinance that legalized existing urban farms and set standards for agricultural land use.

“For some of the more grassroots or ground-up entrepreneurs, it’s all based on returning to true connections between people, relying on businesses that can help support your businesses that are within the city itself, and producing real food that you know who grows it,” said D MET studio’s Liz Skrisson. D MET designed offices and a Great Lakes Coffee shop for Midtown Inc., a major player in cultural developments and a tech innovation district near the Detroit Institute of Arts.

A circular path is planted with flowers and grass, while a fish sculpture combines art with landscape. A small building sits in the background, drawing an illusion to the wild west.
 

The Ye-Olde-Brooklyn style pioneered by John McCormick in Williamsburg—repurposed wood, distressed paint, thematically culled antiques, industrial objects, and Edison light bulbs—is as pervasive here as elsewhere. Culture Lab Detroit, however, is cognizant of a need to move beyond adaptive reuse to pioneer innovative buildings: nothing of any architectural significance has happened here in decades. Schulak’s advisory board is packed with a savvy group of local and international cultural leaders, among them Reed Kroloff, David Adjaye, collector Marc Schwartz, and Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit founder Marsha Miro.

Schulak selected Hood and Fujimoto for a panel that emphasized ecological design to create landscapes and structures that connect people and evoke delight. Fujimoto incorporated vegetation into high-rises that mimic both repetitive and idiosyncratic patterns in plant life. Like inversions of vacant houses overgrown with wilderness, the design rationalizes natural forms into building technologies.

“I do think fresh voices are good for a place,” Hood said. “Places that become so insular keep repeating the same patterns over and over again: bringing people in might help others get excited.”

The dialogues double as provocations for speakers to explore Detroit: local facilitators tour designers around sites and schedule meetings with project organizers and entrepreneurs, offering a platform to present proposals. For the past year, Patrick Blanc has speculated on ways to grow vegetation on the concrete embankments along the Dequindre Cut. Blanc seeks to irrigate the plants without access to running water.

Hood is working on a concept for a square-mile area near the northeastern edge, incorporating blue-green infrastructure concepts from the 2012 Detroit Future City strategic plan to deploy large depopulated spaces for the benefit of those still living there. “One of the things that I’m interested in is how you can change people’s sociology through the pattern on the landscape,” he said.

The Flower House is a project by Lisa Waud where artists will make floral installations in a blighted building facing the I-75 highway in Hamtramck.
 

The Flower House, a project by Lisa Waud, will create floral installations in a blighted building facing the I-75 highway in Hamtramck. Inspired by the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, twenty or so florists will descend on the house during the weekend of October 16, filling its rooms with flower arrangements. Afterward, the house will be deconstructed and the lot will become a flower farm.

Further north, near the Squash House, the Play House, the Power House, the Sound House, and the Ride It Sculpture Park—a well-known collection of repurposed homes and lots by Gina Reichart and Mitch Cope of Design 99 and Powerhouse Productions—ceramicist Abigail Murray and architect Steven Mankouche (Archolab) are building a passive greenhouse in the burned out foundation of a 1920s bungalow. The team erected a slanted south-facing polycarbonate roof within the existing foundation, cladding the exterior with dark charcoal slats (cutoffs from a lumber mill) charred using the ancient Japanese shou-sugi-ban method. Inside, they plan to grow almond, olive, and pomegranate trees, as well as other non-native plants.

“The project is in dialogue with blight in a lot of ways, and how we can deal with blight other than just ripping everything out of the ground and carting it to a landfill,” said Mankouche, a professor at the University of Michigan’s College of Architecture. After the project is completed, Archolab plans to donate it to a local gardener and evaluate its reproducibility in other places.

The industrial stock of Detroit provides a unique backdrop for urban agriculture.
 

Elsewhere in Hamtramck, sculptors Andrew Mehall and Ben Hall, co-owners of the Eastern Market’s Russell Street Deli, are using a large warehouse as a gallery to stabilize a block overgrown with weeds and grass, its double-height space presenting a fair likeness of industrial Bushwick. However, these reclamation projects demand fortitude. The day we visit, Hall struggled to open the gallery door after a break-in the night before—scrapping metal is a full-time occupation for pickup-driving bandits in southeast Michigan. Inside, the gallery exhibits colorful truck-sized inflatable pieces by Chicago-based Scottish artist Claire Ashley.

“In a lot of ways the gallery is just a basic stopgap to keep the neighborhood solid,” Hall wrote in an email. “In one way we’re pretty anti any kind of Richard Florida narrative...As the businesses in the neighborhood that were hanging on by a thread gave up, or let go, or demurred, or decided to forfeit, it became a matter of introducing some solidity, or reintroducing occupants for the sake of the building not being vacant.”

Within this ambivalence lies much of the trepidation about the city’s fast-moving developments. Dan Gilbert’s Quicken Loan-led renovations—all paid for with the ill-gotten gains of payday lending—gobble up dozens of downtown buildings to restore long-lost landmarks. Among these is a planned SHoP-designed replacement for the symbolically important Hudson’s building.

Another example is Chene-Ferry Market, a voluminous closed-down farmer’s market in Poletown that is part of large-scale urban design initiative led by Dan Pitera’s University of Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC). Situated in a spottily inhabited area on the East Side, RecoveryPark uses urban farming, fisheries, value-added foods, and a farmer’s market to provide job skills training to substance abusers, the formerly incarcerated, and others struggling to land on-the-books employment. Working with the mayor’s office and the new planning director Maurice Cox, DCDC is designing RecoveryPark and other mile-wide areas far from the central business district with a mixture of ecological and commercial functions.

“We wanted to show that every area that looks like this is right adjacent to a dense area,” said Pitera. “Can they be seen more as a unit? Then you design them in a way that this could become blue-green infrastructure, more interesting design opportunities, like retail, that become assets for the denser area. How do we think about design in ways that can keep people in place, think about more off-grid ideas for people who live in neighborhoods like this?”

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A Prescription for Place
Herlev Hospital in Denmark by Henning Larsen.
Courtesy Henning Larsen Architects

In the early part of the 20th century, design for illness was a grim affair. Driven by the dread of infectious disease—especially tuberculosis and other contagions found in dense, dank cities—doctors and architects turned to the transparent, hygienic values associated with modernism. Cures included moving patients to specialized, isolated environments with unornamented white or glass walls and ample sunlight that were elevated on pilotis and off the unsanitary earth.

Today, we talk about design for health, not illness. Rather than segregate the ill from the well, design strategies now aim to make environments conducive to healthier habits. Contemporary healthcare institutions—recognizing that waiting until acute diseases need high-tech attention is an inefficient form of care—are reaching further into public space and emphasizing prevention, nutrition, primary care, and triage. This more porous relationship between healthcare and communities comes with design implications at the civic, neighborhood, and residential scale. It even affects the personal level, as home care, smartphone health-monitoring apps like the FitBit, and telemedicine reflect and amplify two intertwined trends: the medicalization of everyday life and the deinstitutionalization of medicine.

Herlev Hospital in Denmark by Henning Larsen employs circular plans to organize the hospital as a “small city.”
Courtesy Henning Larsen Architects
 

Health at City Scale

In 2010, New York City’s Active Design Guidelines codified what many architects, planners, and public health officials already knew: that built environments could exert pathogenic effects—circulation patterns encouraging sedentariness and elevator overuse, poor lighting and air quality, food deserts, and streets subordinating self-powered movement to motorism. The Active Design Guidelines, however, recognized the need for a different approach and set forth a design philosophy in which existing environments could be redesigned as salutogenic, incorporating exercise and healthier nutrition into spaces and daily routines. From low-hanging fruit like stair prompts and wayfinding signage to the more complex redesign of streetscapes, office buildings, affordable-housing complexes, and entire communities, Active Design has become a globally recognized movement over the ten years of its Fit City/Fit Nation/Fit World conference series, yielding seven supplements to the original Guidelines and assuming institutional form with the 2013 founding of the Center for Active Design.

Some healthcare organizations have long promoted community health alongside hospital-centered interventions: Kaiser Permanente, for example, launched the first of its hospital-based farmers’ markets in Oakland in 2003, anticipating public programs like the New York City Department of Health’s Stellar Farmers’ Markets and Health Bucks coupon program. Civic-scale changes, from smoking bans to pedestrian-friendly street designs such as the wide medians and car-free plazas that began appearing under Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, transform public spaces so that healthy choices become intuitive norms, not exceptions.

Herlev Hospital in Denmark by Henning Larsen.
Courtesy Henning Larsen Architects
 

“At their heart the Design Guidelines are built around the idea that we need to get out of the clinic or the hospital setting as the only place that influences health,” said California-based designer and scholar Elizabeth Ogbu. “I’m seeing shades of this all around the country.” Ogbu, a veteran of Public Architecture and IDEO.org, is now founder and principal of Studio O and teaches at Stanford and UC Berkeley. Her aim is to use the power of design to defend principally underserved communities and try to deliver social impact. In London, Nairobi, New Orleans, San Francisco, and elsewhere, her work integrates healthcare and health education into projects that combine spatial and programmatic design, an approach she calls “architecture plus,”and added that “rarely is it about just the object of the building itself.”

Ogbu’s ReFresh project—which opened in New Orleans in October and is spearheaded by Broad Community Connections—is an adaptive reuse of a long-defunct grocery store along a major mid-city thoroughfare. A Whole Foods serves as the anchor tenant for the multifunctional health hub, along with eight other partners onsite, including a community teaching farm, a Boystown center, the nonprofit cafe and youth training program Liberty’s Kitchen, and Tulane University’s Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine.

According to Ogbu, health starts in the ReFresh lobby where there’s a station for health education, staffed by 50 percent neighborhood residents, who serve as greeters, information providers, and shopper guides. A trip for groceries might also include financial-management advice and other services. “The beauty of co-location,” she added, “is that here’s a partner you can potentially work [with] so that Boystown may be identifying at-risk kids during its program but can then plug in Liberty’s Kitchen, and those kids could also be bringing in their parents to take classes at Tulane’s community kitchen.”

Ogbu believes this “Trojan horse” works where more direct approaches fail. “Our clients can do a good job of anticipating the needs, but they don’t always have a full understanding of desires,” she said. “The desire is actually the thing that is emotional and that actually binds people to a place and creates behavior change.”

In Ft. Oglethorpe, GA, Francis Cauffman designed these detached, house-like units to give residents a community that is intended to be more like home.
Courtesy Francis Cauffman
 

Local Connections and Flexibility

“A more diffuse, integrated, and almost retail approach to healthcare is becoming much more prevalent,” observed James Crispino, president and design principal at healthcare specialist firm Francis Cauffman. “The institutions are starting to realize that isolating themselves in these campuses and enclaves makes them a little difficult to access.”

Bottom-up attention to individual experience can also reconfigure dedicated medical institutions. Long wait times in hospital emergency departments (EDs) are one indicator that medical needs and resources are often misaligned, and not solely because of the health insurance system’s inadequacies.

Crispino described the patient mix at many institutions as a rough 80/20 rule, meaning 80 percent of challenging cases come from 20 percent of the patients. Decentralization of emergency services can help match the acuity of clinical conditions with appropriate facilities.

Respiratory infections or minor injuries can be better suited to community-based walk-in urgent-care centers, bypassing private physician appointment delays or expensive care in EDs; ambulatory centers can occupy retail spaces under 5,000 square feet—the size of a “big Starbucks,” Crispino noted. Many older buildings in New York and other cities have floor-to-floor heights that readily accommodate imaging and surgical equipment, facilitating adaptive reuse in chains like CityMD or the branded branch clinics of major hospitals like NewYork–Presbyterian and NYU. A new typology, the freestanding ED, has arisen at two of the city’s former hospital sites, the North Shore/Long Island Jewish system’s Lenox Hill HealthPlex in the former St. Vincent’s and Montefiore Westchester Square, formerly the Bronx’s Westchester Square Medical Center.

The ambulatory center for the Hotel Trades Council will include a health center with tech offices above.
Courtesy Francis Cauffman
 

A new ambulatory center that Crispino and colleagues have designed in Brooklyn’s Cultural District for the Hotel Trades Council dispenses with waiting rooms entirely. Opening in 2016, the 12-story, 165,000-square-foot HTC Brooklyn will be a mixed-use building with ground-level restaurants and retail, 65,000 square feet of medical facilities from the second through fifth floors, offices above, and a public park. Information technology obviates queuing: patients call in advance, check in at kiosks or by smartphone, and receive printed directions to examination rooms, aligned in staggered positions along corridors to make wayfinding signage visible at a distance with minimal supervision.

In Ft. Oglethorpe, GA, Francis Cauffman designed these detached, house-like units to give residents a community that is intended to be more like home.
Courtesy Francis Cauffman
 

In Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia (population 9,513 in 2013), Francis Cauffman is engaged in replacing an underused, over-scaled 500-bed hospital with a better-sized 100- to 120-bed facility, freeing up the 200-acre site for other uses, including a cinema, barbershop, bowling alley, parks, a few retail healthcare establishments, and about 1,500 residents in single and multifamily row houses. The senior-oriented plan calls for a pedestrian main street that links to the rest of Fort Oglethorpe and brings the elements of small-town life within a comfortable five-minute walk from any point for residents in their seventies.

Replacing its scandal-ridden predecessor, Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in South Los Angeles brings dignity and health services back to the neighborhood.
David Wakely / Courtesy HMC Architects
 

In a drastically different environment, South Los Angeles, the decline and resurrection of a major healthcare center is inseparable from a community’s fortunes. Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital, a 461-bed facility opened in 1972 as a response to severe local needs highlighted by the 1965 Watts riots, grew so mismanaged and mishap-prone that neighbors called it “Killer King.” Patient deaths became national scandals, and MLK lost its Joint Commission certification and closed in 2007. The facility reopened this August as Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital, just days before the 50th anniversary of the riots. The reinvented MLK is “one of the first and most important steps in the reconfiguration of the Watts area,” said architect George Vangelatos, principal and healthcare practice leader of HMC Architects, designers of the renovated and “future-ready” hospital.

A new, glazed entrance lobby, reoriented on the building’s north side, bridges multiple elements (inpatient and outpatient services, elevator cores, and the cafeteria, overlooking a healing courtyard) as a “one-stop shop.” The 131-bed MLK is a full-service hospital in all respects but one, lacking a Level One trauma unit but including a 35-station ED that can fast-track large numbers of uninsured and primary-care patients, many of whom will arrive through a new bus stop or, soon, the expanded multimodal Rosa Parks Station three blocks away. Rapid triage takes place either at the ED’s dedicated entrance or at a station appended to the main entrance, sorting “bellyache and booboo” cases to a nearby outpatient center, low-acuity cases to an urgent-care component, and higher-acuity cases to the ED, said HMC’s Kirk Rose. (Ambulance drivers take trauma patients to St. Francis or County General, as they have since 2007.)

Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in South Los Angeles.
David Wakely / Courtesy HMC Architects
 

MLK’s lighting, landscaping, and other visible upgrades give patients an implicit message of respect. Upper floors, once dedicated to offices, were converted to well daylit patient areas, and the $1 million public art program, the largest funded by Los Angeles County, recognizes the relation between aesthetics and healing, a staple of evidence-based design. Yet the most consequential changes may be the features promoting operational flexibility in a fast-changing profession.

“We have a fraction of the EDs we had twenty-five years ago in all of Southern California,” said Rose, citing local activist Sweet Alice Harris’ description of “kids with asthma needing to go twenty miles, and some of them not making it, [and] women giving birth in their house before the ambulance could arrive.” He suggested that the strain of using high-intensity facilities to provide primary care to starkly underserved communities is a reason EDs have been shutting down. “They are a huge financial drains on hospitals, sometimes dragging entire hospitals down with them,” he cautioned.

Denmark’s health policy took the opposite direction in 2008 with a national plan to centralize functions, particularly emergency care, in a few highly efficient “super hospitals” located outside the cities, reported Lars Steffensen, partner for healthcare projects at Copenhagen-based Henning Larsen. “We’re not especially fond of that idea,” he said. “The issue is how to design a very large hospital, a complex functionality in the outskirts of a large city, and our point of view was, we have to deal with this as a small town or small city in itself.”

Emphasizing the continuities rather than distinctions between a healing environment and a fully functional community, Henning Larsen’s medical projects draw from the firm’s extensive sustainability research and its experience with a competition in the center of Milan, where Filarete’s Ca’ Granda (Ospedale Maggiore), one of Europe’s oldest hospitals (founded in 1450, now part of the University of Milan), inspired their thinking about hospitals’ relation to urban density and outdoor space as well as their internal design: “the hospital in the city” and “the hospital as a city.”

Herlev Hospital, Denmark’s tallest building at 28 stories, is undergoing expansion, adding an ED and maternity/pediatrics center (among other components), with an estimated completion date of 2017. Henning Larsen’s design for the 560,000-square-foot extension combines a minimalist geometry with a biophilic philosophy recognizing the value of proximity to nature and sick patients’ high sensitivity to all forms of stimuli. Three discrete circular buildings sit atop rectangular bases, two comprising bed wards and all enclosed courtyards with carefully programmed landscaping and roof gardens. Water features are prominent throughout the scheme and patient rooms have large windows that look out onto rich, seasonally varied foliage. “These outdoor spaces are at least as important as all the indoor spaces,” Steffensen said. He described a spectrum of green spaces: “[The hierarchy goes] from a completely public park-like area, where actually the public from the rest of the city can pass through, to the extremely private garden for the most vulnerable patients in the pediatric department.”

Nationwide, numbers of inpatient beds are slowly dropping as specialty outpatients rise rapidly. “Statistics show that a patient stays in a bed for an average [of] three to three and a half days,” observed Steffensen, pointing out that the design also considers the wellbeing of the staff, who spend every day there. Triage and patient flow are pivotal: they direct 20–25 percent of patients to EDs and 70–80 percent elsewhere. Psychiatric conditions, he noted, account for significant proportions of cases initially believed to be acute somatic disorders, and Henning Larsen’s EDs thus include a common entrance for both types of patients.

The overriding consideration in hospital design, he said, is flexibility. “[Old hospitals] were built for one specific purpose, but they were built so generously, so they could easily transform for other functions.” The tendency toward hospital centralization, he finds, may ultimately be a pendulum that swings back: “We are never to believe that now we have the answer for the healthcare sector for the next century, because that’s not going to happen.”

The Ten Degree House by Höweler + Yoon is designed to be accessible for aging-in-place clients.

Courtesy Höweler + Yoon

 

Residential scale: reuniting generations

While Europe looks to a hospital as city model, what happens when home becomes hospital? Demographic trends favor the blurring of lines distinguishing fully independent living (an active “third age”), assisted living, and palliative care in nursing homes or hospice settings. Official estimates predict that by 2035 one in five Americans will be over 65, more than a third of UK residents will be over 60, and a quarter of China’s population will be over 60 (some 336 million people, more than the population of the U.S. today). Whatever medical advances lie ahead, they are unlikely to convince most of the elderly boomer generation that institutionalized life is widely desirable.

Naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs), along with more intentionally engineered age-friendly spaces, offer certain bulwarks against the debilitating isolation of a senior facility. However, in many locations aging in place poses challenges, particularly when elders living in auto-dependent sites reach a point where driving becomes hazardous, or when dementing disorders make familiar spaces strange.

The Ten Degree House by Höweler + Yoon.

Courtesy Höweler + Yoon

 

Cultures that emphasize filial care of elders may have valuable lessons for the age-phobic United States. Integrating built environments across generational lines can help people across broad spectra of ability and disability live in proximity with dignity and appropriate support. The Bridge House, located in McLean, Virginia, offers a strong example of design for multi-generational living. Designed by Höweler + Yoon and built in 2014, the residence appears as a single-family home when viewed from the front, while its rear elevation reveals three attached rectilinear volumes capable of housing three generations. Architect Eric Höweler describes Bridge House as a “post-nuclear-family house” and a potentially replicable model.

The Ten Degree House by Höweler + Yoon.
Courtesy Höweler + Yoon
 

The clients, first-generation Korean immigrants to the U.S. with adult children and grandchildren, occupy a suite in the smaller of two ground-floor volumes, minimizing use of stairs; the larger, more public volume holds shared programs: the kitchen, family room, dining room, and garage. An elongated upper volume cantilevers across the two ground-floor segments and houses the second and third generations along a single-loaded corridor, with master suites at each end, two central grandchildren’s rooms, and a rear roof terrace. Beneath the bridge, a central void with floor-to-ceiling glazing offers views into nearby woods, creating continuity between nature and domesticity while demarcating the first generation’s private zone. That gesture extends a strategy from another nearby Höweler + Yoon project for aging-in-place clients. The 10 Degree House, designed for the parents of architect Meejin Yoon, places a small courtyard on the narrow site while still observing local zoning’s setback requirements.

The Ten Degree House by Höweler + Yoon.
Courtesy Höweler + Yoon
 

Clad in anodized aluminum panels, the facade treatment reflects the owners’ practical concerns. “They said, ‘We’re going to get old; we’re not going to have energy to get out there and paint the house, so we want a zero-maintenance cladding material,’” recalled Höweler. “You never have to paint it, you never have to stain it, you never have to worry about woodpeckers and other things.” Defying the upstairs-master-bedroom convention of normative American single-family houses, Höweler points out, eases access to essential spaces in the event of future disability. Barrier-free entry ramps and a wheelchair-accessible shower, he added, also make the 10 Degree House exemplary in this regard.

Höweler + Yoon’s Bridge House is a “post-nuclear-family” dwelling that gives each generation its own private zones.
Jeff Wolfram / Courtesy Höweler + Yoon
 

Although Bridge House is already influential—three new clients have commissioned similar projects by the firm—its design required a complex dance with local codes. While courtyard houses inspired by East Asian traditions offer numerous advantages for extended families, they are difficult to reconcile with zoning that privileges the house as an object plopped in the middle of the lot with a large front lawn. “There is something about the zoning that institutionalizes certain kinds of land uses that don’t make a lot of sense,” Höweler noted. “[The courtyard typology] sounds progressive in this context, but it’s totally normal in a Korean context.”

Höweler + Yoon’s Bridge House.
Jeff Wolfram / Courtesy Höweler + Yoon
 

Bridge House essentially integrates three common domestic spaces geared toward seniors into a single building: the granny flat, mother-in-law apartment, and Hawaiian ohana unit. U.S. suburban zoning was commonly enacted for health and safety reasons and more nebulously to protect property values by limiting rental units. Interdependence between seniors, neighbors, children, and health providers is integral to active aging, yet zoning codes arguably express an impulse toward maximal separation of individuals and generations from each other—very twentieth-century, and a far cry from sustainable aging in place design. One suspects that as knowledge accumulates about how different designs affect health, and about how people would really prefer to live, that particular pendulum could swing in the opposite direction.

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Archtober Building of the Day 19> Theatre for a New Audience at Polonsky Shakespeare Center
Theatre for a New Audience at Polonsky Shakespeare Center 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture “All the world’s a stage, and all men and women merely players.” At today's Archtober tour of the Theatre for a New Audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture's Geoff Lynch and David Haakenson explained how the firm took the Bard’s oft-quoted lines to their logical architectural conclusion. Before even entering the performance space, the theatre’s 60-foot-high hanging glass facade reveals the theater of urban life on the plaza below and invites passers-by to view the actions of theater-goers in the lobby space and balconies. According to our guides, the origins of the theater date back to the 1970s and '80s, when BAM President Harvey Lichtenstein re-envisioned Fort Greene as the Brooklyn Cultural District. While the BAMbus carted jittery Manhattanites to and from the outer borough, developers and architects renovated and built a number of cultural spaces in the neighborhood, including the BAM Majestic, the Bam Harvey Theater, and the BAM Fisher Building. As development moved in, the Theatre for a New Audience got knocked around to a number of different sites, like a chess piece. No matter where it moved, however, the actual theatre and its dimensions stayed the same. Inspired by the Cottesloe Theatre in London, the performance space itself has the proportions of an Elizabethan-style theatre. The 8-foot-6-inch balconies are significantly less high than those found in the majestic halls of Times Square, making the experience intimate, even from the “nosebleed section” on the second balcony. The U-shaped viewing areas also allow attendees to look at each other. A performance theater is not a movie theater, Lynch reminded us, and catharsis is experienced collectively. While Elizabethan in proportions, H3 Hardy made sure to give the Theatre for a New Audience a 21st-century upgrade. The balconies are fixed but seating isn’t, and the space can be rearranged to bring the imaginative visions of theater directors, no matter how eccentric, to the stage. Lynch noted that despite providing the theater with nine different floor configurations, on the opening night of its first production, Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the space was completely unrecognizable, a black box transformed into fairy woodland. Camila Schaulsohn is Communications Director and Editor-in-Chief of e-Oculus. She was born and raised in Santiago, Chile.
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The South Street Seaport fetes its new Cultural District with exhibits curated by James Sanders
On September 17th, New York artists, architects, and designers gathered in lower Manhattan to celebrate the newly anointed South Street Seaport Culture District. Conceived by The Howard Hughes Corporation (the Seaport's primary developer), exhibitions by the AIANY's Center for Architecture, the GuggenheimNo Longer Empty, and Eyebeam, among otherscreated programming in spaces damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The installations were complemented by live music, and food by Smorgasburg. James Sanders (of JS + A Studio) curated the event. Often maligned by New Yorkers for its tourist sensibilities, The Howard Hughes Corporation counters this perception by positioning the Seaport as a "cultural incubator," a destination for the arts that draws on the area's singular role in the city's economic and maritime history. At 181 Front Street, AIANY curated Sea Level: Five Boroughs at Water's Edge. The exhibition featured Elizabeth Fellicela's panoramic photographs taken on the riverfronts, inlets, and coastlines of New York City. Select images are paired with essays by urbanist and author Robert Sullivan. AIGA/NY curated an exhibition at 192 Front Street that focuses on the iterative nature of design across disciplines. No Longer Empty, a public art organization that curates temporary, site-specific installations in vacant spaces, commissioned Teresa Diehl: Breathing Waters, an immersive installation that draws on the Seaport's location near the confluence of the East and Hudson rivers. Visitors meander through curtains of water droplets fashioned from clear resin, lulled into a meditative state by the projections and sounds meant to simulate submergence. The South Street Culture District is part of The Howard Hughes Corporation's larger development vision for the area. The developers will invest approximately $1.5 billion to build up the South Street Seaport, and adjacent Pier 17, for residential and commercial use. Plans have met with fierce opposition from community groups and preservationists who claim the proposed developments are out of scale with the neighborhood. The events and exhibitions may not mollify opponents of the redevelopment, but they do provide a valuable public platform for the art and architecture in lower Manhattan. Programming at the Seaport runs through December 31st, 2015.
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Jewish History & Modernism
The Kaufmann House, designed by Richard Neutra in Palm Springs, CA, 1947.
Courtesy J. Paul Getty Trust

Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York Through January 17, 2016 Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television Jewish Museum in New York Through September 27, 2015

Midcentury modernism continues to weave its magic spell in two fascinating exhibitions now on display in New York. Although both exhibitions—Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television at the Jewish Museum and Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage—discuss Jewish architects, artists, and designers, they are far more central to the latter exhibition than to the former. Regardless, both explore little-known aspects of the midcentury movement that will interest visitors of any religious persuasion. Designing Home was guest-curated by Donald Albrecht, who has also curated exhibitions at the National Building Museum, Museum of the City of New York, and Cooper Hewitt, and Smithsonian Design Museum, among others. It looks at American-born and émigré Jewish architects and designers’ contributions to the modern, American domestic landscape. Albrecht’s thesis is that the work and concepts of these architects and designers—regardless of where they were born—can be traced to the Bauhaus, which aimed to develop new designs for the broad public in a new industrial age before the Nazis shut it down in the 1930s. According to Albrecht, the architects and designers were either hired as faculty members by various schools, or had their work showcased in museum exhibitions or publications throughout the United States. Not surprisingly, the Museum of Modern Art was at the forefront of this movement, with its 1932 Modern Architecture: International Exhibition and 1934 Machine Art exhibition, the1950s Good Design program as well as the demonstration houses in the sculpture garden in 1949 and 1950 by former Bauhausler Marcel Breuer and American Architect Gregory Ain.
Ernest Sohn, made by Hall China Company for Ernest Sohn Creations, “Esquire” coffee pot set and casserole dishes, 1963.
John Halpern/Courtesy Earl Marin
Also in this network of institutions was Chicago’s New Bauhaus, run by another Bauhausler, László Moholy-Nagy. This later became the Institute of Design and is now part of the Illinois Institute of Technology; it adopted the Bauhaus’ workshop system. Arts & Architecture magazine launched a Case Study House Program in Los Angeles in 1945 to promote modern domestic architecture to American homeowners; Eero Saarinen (then practicing in Michigan), the Californians Charles and Ray Eames, Richard Neutra and Raphael Soriano created prototypes of affordable, livable, modern homes for it. The magazine also hired photographers and graphic designers, many Jewish, to illustrate its stories; among the former was Brooklyn–born, Los Angeles–based architectural photographer Julius Shulman, whose work, Albrecht says, captured “the architectural essence of a building…[and] compellingly represents the California way of life at midcentury.” The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis also actively promoted modern residential design through construction of two full-scale, fully furnished houses, and an “Everyday Art Gallery” of home furnishings. They even had an accompanying quarterly magazine. Advancing these efforts was a former student of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at the Bauhaus, Hilde Reiss. On view to the public for the first time in this exhibition is residential furniture—including a cube frame chair, desk and desk lamp, and dressing table and swivel vanity chair—designed by Bauhaus graduate Harry Rosenthal in the 1930s for the Berlin apartment of Dr. William Schiff and his wife, Ilse, who fled Germany for San Francisco in 1935. They commissioned Neutra—himself an Austrian Jewish immigrant who had settled in Los Angeles—to design a townhouse for them and another doctor in San Francisco’s Marina district; they specifically requested an appropriate setting for the bold, geometric design of Rosenthal’s furniture, later photographed by Shulman, in pictures also on display here. Other notable pieces of furniture in the exhibition are a multifunctional, sculptural combination chair and end table, in wood and plush upholstery, designed by Rudolph M. Schindler, a Viennese architect who worked with Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago and Los Angeles; a bookshelf that resembles a skyscraper, designed by Paul T. Frankl, an Austrian-born architect and interior designer who practiced in New York and Los Angeles; and a 1938 wood and plywood chair and wooden desk designed by Breuer for dormitory rooms at Bryn Mawr College. Although architecture is not the primary focus of Revolution of the Eye, the exhibition’s curator, Maurice Berger, finds the modernist ideals and ambitions of the CBS television network reflected in its architectural commissions, specifically, its 1965, Saarinen-designed, dark-granite clad corporate headquarters in New York, known as “Black Rock,” and its 1952 studio complex in Los Angeles—Television City by Charles Luckman and William Leonard Pereira. According to Berger, Saarinen’s wife, and TV and print journalist, Aline Bernstein introduced Americans to art and architecture in her writing and as an on-air critic for several NBC shows; she believed, he said, “that the appreciation of art was not limited to insiders and cultural elites [and] rejected the idea that art must be understood in purely aesthetic terms.” Among works not to be missed in this exhibition—especially by visitors of a certain age—are the 1950s, puzzle, crayons, paint kit, game book and record player from Winky Dink, which Berger calls the “first fully interactive” TV program; clips of segments from The Ed Sullivan Show, whose stage sets Berger said “embraced the look and sensibility of a number of contemporary avant-garde movements”; and an extremely rare, one minute long 1968 color TV commercial, The Underground Sundae, made by Andy Warhol for ice cream from Schrafft’s, a now-defunct New York restaurant chain. As Schrafft’s President Frank G. Shattuck later remarked, “We haven’t got just a commercial. We’ve acquired a work of art.”