Search results for "Brownsville"

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Jeanne Gang's fire station brings civic design to deep Brooklyn neighborhood
Chicago-based Studio Gang is designing a modern fire station for the Brownsville community in Brooklyn. The two-story, precast concrete structure, to be built on a vacant lot at 1815 Sterling Place, includes bright red accents as the facade pulls away from the street plane. The so-called Fire Rescue 2 facility "is intended to become a tool for training, enabling FDNY Company 2, an elite force of firefighters and specialized rescue workers serving the people of New York for nearly a century, to stage and simulate a wide range of emergency conditions in, on, and around the building," according to a project description from Studio Gang. This training program inspired Jeanne Gang, the firm's principal, in designing the building. "During emergencies, the Company must often utilize voids in buildings," the firm stated, "whether creating them to let heat and smoke out of a structure or locating them as a means of escape." The structure's design responds with its own voids demarcated in red that reveal windows, staircases, and a second-floor terrace. The facade of the 19,000-square-foot structure will be built of precast concrete and red glazed terracotta tiles. The 46-foot-tall structure is meant to respond to the scale of neighborhood buildings. Gang organized the fire house around a central interior that "enables the team to practice rescue scenarios that mimic conditions common to the city." The space is a sort of modern recreation of balconies, bridges, doorways, ladders, and stairs that the firefighters might encounter in the city. The void dually allows air and light to penetrate deep into the structure, enhancing the living quarters for the firefighters. While the facade's jagged geometry and bright color conveys the structure's purpose and sense of urgency, the interiors are designed to help firefighters cool off. Inside, a kitchen forms the hub of social life for the firefighters, adding another layer of heat to the project's design. Plenty of green space, including a backyard and open-air porches, allows the firefighters to cool off when not on duty. Studio Gang is working with SCAPE / Landscape Architecture on the project. The building also includes several sustainable gestures such as a green roof, geothermal HVAC system, and a solar hot-water system. Fire Rescue 2 is programmed to include office space, dormitories for firefighters, a kitchen, exercise rooms, training space, and storage. "With its adaptable spaces, environmental approach, and civic scale, the new Rescue 2 firehouse is both a neighborhood fixture and important piece of infrastructure, supporting a highly trained corps who safeguard those who call New York home," Studio Gang stated. Permits for the project were filed in October 2015, according to real estate watch-blog New York YIMBY. The project is estimated to be complete in 2017. In July 2015, the design was honored with an Award for Excellence in Design from the New York City Public Design Commission. Elsewhere in New York, Studio Gang is working on a major expansion to the American Museum of National History and an embattled condo tower along the High Line called the Solar Carve. The firm has opened a New York office to handle the increased workload. Also, don't miss AN's exclusive interview with Jeanne Gang while kayaking the Chicago River here.
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Letters to the Editor> Readers respond to AN's Municipal Art Society editorial
Editor's Note: In The Architect’s Newspaper’s December issue, editor-in-chief William Menking published the editorial, “What Happened to the Municipal Art Society?” In it, he questioned MAS’s commitment to architecture and New York City, saying: “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 de-fanged developer and real estate–led organization that serves as a cheerleader for major development projects…” Many of you responded and we are sharing a few letters below. Opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions or sentiments of the newspaper. AN welcomes reader letters, which could appear in our regional print editions. To share your opinion, please email I was the executive director of the Municipal Art Society (1975 to 1984) when the idea of locating a space where we could have our offices and also be able to have public programs was suggested by board member Fred Papert in 1976. The MAS Board at that time was chaired by Brendan Gill with Doris Freedman as president and, immediately seeing the possibilities of bringing our urban design and preservation concerns to a broader public, they got behind the idea enthusiastically. The MAS was founded in 1893 and had always been a group of enthusiasts inspired by the City Beautiful movement. For decades it didn’t have a full-time staff, and its projects were led by board members who were architects, lawyers, philanthropists, civic activists, and people who had influence with government agencies. At the time, our offices were located on the remote 45th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. We were looking for a new home that would be as different as possible. There was a real estate depression in Manhattan, so there were endless possibilities available. I looked at about 50 East Side locations from 35th to 65th streets. We could even have bought a whole—semi-decayed—building in Midtown for $650,000. Then we learned that the North Wing of the Villard Houses might be available and were excited by its possibilities. At 51st and Madison the location was at the crossroads of the city. We approached the Helmsley Organization, which owned the buildings (on land owned by the Archdiocese of New York). What emerged after a period of negotiation was an initial lease for approximately 25 years, with relatively small escalations, starting at about $2.00 a square foot, and another 25 years of optional extensions with periodic escalations to market rents. I signed the lease for the space in 1977 with Harry Helmsley, who evidently didn’t think it had much potential. While searching for the real estate, I did a survey of all of the citywide land-use organizations to determine which ones would be compatible with MAS in housing their offices in the building and sharing the public spaces for gallery exhibitions and public meetings. There were more than ten such nonprofit organizations, but some were far too large to fit, while others did not want to leave where they were. We finally ended up with the Architectural League, the Parks Council, and the New York AIA, which acted as an umbrella for the planning and landscape organizations. Then, as a way to keep the relationships open with all of these organizations, Doris Freedman suggested that MAS create an informal breakfast club to which only the top official of each of them was invited to meet monthly and share intelligence on development proposals before various city agencies. When the Urban Center project started, the MAS was raising its funding month by month. It had no endowment and almost no cash on hand. On the strength of the concept of an Urban Center (totally original at the time) we raised the funds (nearly a million dollars) for the renovation for programming. We finished the work in the fall of 1979 for the offices, the public spaces, and Urban Center Books (which was funded entirely by Joan Davidson and the J.M. Kaplan Fund.) We and our nonprofit sub-tenants were all subsidized by our commercial tenants. The National Trust for Historic Preservation held its annual meeting in New York in late 1979, and we were able to open the doors of The Urban Center in time to welcome them. It is interesting that MAS, an organization with a passionate, involved board, a tiny staff and no financial strength at the start, could carry off such a grand plan. It was the only organization that perceived the vacuum in unified civic leadership and undertook to fill it. The pioneering donors like CBS, Brooke Astor, Mobil Oil, and the National Endowment for the Humanities took a big leap of faith to back the effort at the beginning. In its time, The Urban Center did much to balance the combined strength of the real estate community and the public agencies with the concerns and desires of local citizens and enlightened professionals. The MAS organized and managed The Urban Center in its thirty years of existence with a lively program of exhibitions, presentations, bookstore, and celebrations, as it became a destination and meeting place for design professionals and students from all over the world. It is still missed by many. Margot Wellington, Urbanist I did not recognize the Municipal Art Society described in the December 11th Editorial. As a partner for the past three years in improving the safety, health, and prosperity of Brownsville, Brooklyn, MAS has brought attention to preservation, livability, and resilience concerns that it and other outer borough neighborhoods, particularly those with the highest rates of poverty, have long needed. In its work with residents and organizations in Brownsville, MAS has combined the best of its advocacy tradition with emergent tools and smart urban strategies aimed at helping local residents thrive. It’s an impressive evolution for an organization that continues to stand fundamentally for a more inclusive city. Rosanne Haggerty, president of the Community Solutions/Brownsville Partnership I worked up there. I learned about “social loafing,” which I teach in my management courses. Val Ginter, former MAS Tour Guide I worked, consulted, and partnered with the MAS for many decades and think you may have underestimated the value of the work it has been doing over the past years. For credibility, I was the professional advisor to the legendary MAS Time Square Competition recently revisited at the Skyscraper Museum. More recently, during my term as president of the AIA New York Chapter, I partnered with the MAS and the Architectural League on a public forum addressing the then immediate and contentious future of the American Folk Art Museum. But the most important work the MAS has been doing is related to the future of the city, the region, and the globe starting with its immediate and intimate involvement with the post-Sandy activities. The MAS was present at the 20 agency meeting at the AIA NY Chapter and was central to the HUD/RBD activities and runs right up to the recent Urban Thinkers Campus and organizing of programs like the critical multi-agency, multi-institutional one held recently at the National Museum of the American Indian dealing with the ever more critical issues of Climate Change. Not to recognize the importance of these activities is not giving credit where credit is due. Yes, we all look forward to a new home for the MAS and to robust new leadership, but this should not eclipse the contributions MAS is making while these new opportunities are being addressed. Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, Architect Your article is on target. The MAS is currently a sad situation given its long and distinguished history. For more than a century, MAS acted as advocate for zoning, planning, and historic preservation. It has since the 1950s provided first-rate public programs and tours to help the public reach a greater understanding of both planning and preservation issues. The Historic Districts Council has filled the preservation advocacy vacuum for the entire city and is more in touch with the issues and concerns all residents than MAS, which is generally perceived as “Midtown Manhattan- centric” and a “blueblood” organization. The HDC is responsible for so much fine work, but lacks the high profile of MAS. However on other issues such as planning and zoning, there is still is an important gap to be filled by MAS which was able to make the transition over the decades from a “City Beautiful Movement” organization of the 19th century concerned with “Municipal Art” to a dynamic advocate for rational zoning, planning, and preservation and the education of the citizenry in these issues through the 20th Century. I truly hope MAS can continue and find their way in the 21st. John Kriskiewicz, Architectural Historian Points well taken. We need a watchdog and you remind of us of the former and important role played by the MAS. Anthony Alofsin, Architect I joined MAS in the past year, and was asked to serve as chair of the preservation committee in the last six months. I feel the responsibility to respond to your article. This committee’s focus is the basis for the formation of MAS nearly 125 years ago, so the weight of the position was not lost on me. In taking stock of our preservation activities I came away with an external view, which was consistent with what you are saying. However, the internal evaluation yielded a different result. From an outside perspective, MAS had stepped away from the active preservation forum. We were not walking the halls nor shouting out loudly or early enough. We had lost direct touch with our constituents when the Urban Center was closed. However, in my internal research I learned that MAS became spread thin, overcommitted financially, and carried hefty legal bills to fight these fights. The outgoing director dedicated much of his tenure to streamlining programs, reducing costs and creating a fiscally viable organization. He focused on organizational health and moved us from reactive battles to proactive planning. If there was a loss of voice, I do stand by a leader who created focus and organizational health. My recommendations were to increase our financial commitment toward staff in preservation; to get into the fight earlier; to use new tools to engage a broader audience; and to support the broad array of smaller preservation organizations. Those recommendations were supported by the Board. And so, this fall we hired an experienced, highly respected preservation professional to support our efforts. We have formalized our areas of focus—Penn Station, supertalls, East Midtown, landmarks, and loss of character in neighborhoods across our five boroughs. Considerable planning has gone on in these core areas for the past three years. As we appoint a new president, MAS has a huge opportunity to be owned by all who care about its work. Many of the most frustrated voices are also those who have been a part of our history and care deeply about the Society. The sweep of a century has moved from no preservation to our first preservation policy, to tools that allow us to merge preservation with design planning. Through the leadership of a new President, the Board, our staff, and members, MAS is committed to an ambitious future for the city, which includes the fundamental importance of preservation. MAS has a huge opportunity to become owned by all who care about its work and thus drive the agenda. It is a membership organization and ownership should grow to encompass ALL New Yorkers. Christy MacLear, executive director at Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Has MAS lost its fight? An important question, but we could equally ask: “Have we lost our fight?” William Menking’s editorial poses a question that the media, advocacy organizations, and the profession itself should be asking. As an example, AN itself used to be known for publishing the latest gossip from the upper boardrooms of design and architecture, aiming to break down walls. But controversy is hard to sustain. For both not-for-profit and for-profit concerns, the fight seems to be for relevance. The many organizations that are committed to what makes New York New York, struggle with how to inspire New Yorkers to fight the continuing loss of variety in our city and its places. The struggle plays out through individual fights for buildings and larger fights for policy change, but what remains lacking is investment in and support of a platform to coordinate, combine, and focus these efforts, large and small. In our own experience, MAS sponsored The Next 100 initiative to communicate what was at stake for Grand Central. Since the teams presented these architectural visions in 2013, there has been almost no reaction and certainly no sign of a larger movement galvanizing interest around campaigning for any of the elements of the visions proposed for Grand Central and its district. Is this because we don’t see projecting a vision and building excitement about the future as a critical part of the preservation battle? Or maybe it is too hard to accept, that we need to work on the battles you cite, as civic issues that bring together organizations and their resources. Claire Weisz, FAIA, principal, W X Y architecture + urban design
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Cottages at Hickory Crossing, Dallas.
Courtesy bcWORKSHOP

BuildingcommunityWORKSHOP (bcWORKSHOP) is a non-profit, community-oriented design practice with offices in Dallas, Houston, and Brownsville, Texas. Helmed by founder Brent Brown, bcWORKSHOP seeks to improve the livability and viability of communities through the practice of thoughtful design. Working across scales and outside of the traditional boundaries of architecture, bcWORKSHOP is pushing the limits of what it means to be a contemporary architecture practice servicing a community. Their work goes beyond building to include elements of mapping, landscape and urban planning, filmography, community organizing, and marketing. Managing director Thor Erickson elucidated their approach, “We try to operate at multiple scales, from the entire city down to one neighborhood. Within that one neighborhood, we create a platform to go in and do some activating vacancy work, working with the residents to understand their needs and what they want from their community. That is how some of our housing projects and planning projects get started.” Each element of the practice has grown out of a certain need that was unaddressed or a problem that needed solving, lending the studio a degree of hands-on experience and unrivaled credibility within the communities where they operate. “I think community-oriented design is only going to grow,” said Brown. “Right now the questions are: Is it a specialty? Is it a credential subset like LEED, or is it a market segment? You do hospitals, you do schools, and you do public interest design. I completely reject that. I believe that every architect should ethically perform within the public interest.”


Cottages at Hickory Crossing

The Cottages at Hickory Crossing are representative of bcWORKSHOP’s ability to be sensitive to user and community needs while still delivering good design. Currently under construction, the project is intended to provide permanent housing for 50 chronically homeless residents. The houses are 430-square-foot one-bedroom homes oriented around a central green space and clustered into what Erickson described as “micro-neighborhoods.” “The plan was very thoughtfully crafted with many key partners here. This was a unique project because our client here was the homeless population who was brought into the community meetings early so that we could understand not only their immediate physical needs of housing, but what types of spaces would work in that situation.” Erickson said. The project not only addresses the immediate habitation needs of these homeless citizens, but provides a model for sustainable living by maximizing open space and incorporating sustainable technologies into the project while providing a viable return on investment.


Congo Street

One of bcWORKSHOP’s first projects and an ad-hoc prototype for much of the firm’s later work, Congo Street Initiative was completed over a period of five years. Like many of bcWORKSHOP’s projects, it grew into an extensive planning and engagement strategy for the neighborhood at large. The project originated as way for five families to rebuild their homes on a street that had been slated for removal without any of the residents being displaced during construction. bcWORKSHOP created a plan which would see each family move in-turn to a newly built “Holding House” that they could temporarily inhabit while their family home was rebuilt. This approach allowed each family to retain residency on their street while engaging with the design and construction of their new home. After this initial phase, the project grew into the first implementation in Dallas of a “Green Street” sustainable urban infrastructure. Congo Street was transformed by reducing street width to minimize impervious paving, providing integrated stormwater retention, bioremediation, shared landscaping, and design strategies to encourage community interaction.


Ark on Noah Street

The Ark on Noah Street is a powerful example of the synthesis between the different scales of practice at which bcWORKSHOP operates. Arising from the mapping, planning, and community organizing exercises, bcWORKSHOP performs under their POP (People, Organizing, Place) initiatives, the Ark provides a locus for community engagement and an idea exchange in order to activate a traditionally underserved area.  The Ark is a physical manifestation of bcWORKSHOP’s collaboration with the Dallas CityDesign Studio on Activating Vacancy, an art and design initiative for the Tenth Street Historic District in Dallas. Composed of reclaimed and salvaged materials built around a shipping container, the Ark debuted as a temporary gallery of community art. The project will be stored and re-assembled for a yearly festival celebrating the neighborhood and its institutions.


Cameron County, TX

Rapido represents the most ambitious and far-reaching initiative the bcWORKSHOP has undertaken to date. A holistic approach to responding to natural disasters, Rapido presents a comprehensive framework integrating key components of rebuilding after a disaster.  Starting with what Brown calls a ‘temp-to-perm’ model, the initiative seeks to enable temporary shelter to form the core of permanent housing. This core concept is buttressed by community outreach, case management, labor recruitment, and resource deployment, and works with federal and local agencies to facilitate resource allocation and recovery. This initiative is perhaps the most complete expression of what bcWORKSHOP seeks to accomplish through their work: Exhibiting a level of design thinking that goes beyond aesthetics and infrastructure to address human needs through superior problem solving.

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Archtober Building of the Day 8> The NYCHA Red Hook West Urban Farm
The NYCHA Red Hook West Urban Farm 6 Wolcott Street, Brooklyn thread collective A gaggle of green-thumbed Archtober enthusiasts joined thread collective’s Elliott Maltby and Gita Nandan to learn about the NYCHA Red Hook West Urban Farm. Situated in Brooklyn, the one acre plot has served as a model for other farms being developed on New York Housing Authority properties, including at Howard Houses in Brownsville and in Coney Island. While the lessons learned in the past three years have eased the way for these projects, each community has its own set of needs and will come up with unique solutions. In its pre-farm days, the site served as an open space that was largely unkempt, although a “tree zoo”—a small gated area with trees—had been put in place to make the lot more welcoming. While no planned walkways crossed the field, desire lines, eroded paths created by people moving along their daily lives, helped guide the design. Rather than planting rectangular beds parallel to the street, thread collective worked on a diagonal to recreate the paths that had developed naturally over time. Americorps team members, all of whom come from the community, talk with residents regularly—people are still learning about the farm every day.  Green City Force and thread collective worked to keep the space accessible to all to encourage community ownership and involvement. When asked if they have ever had a problem with people coming in and picking vegetables for their own use, John Cannizzo of Green City Force explained that while he doesn’t count every tomato, the nobody takes advantage. And if someone really can’t put food on the table, he hopes that they will come and take what they need. None of the produce is sold. Instead, the weekly farmers market is run as an exchange program in which residents volunteer their time or trade compost for freshly-picked vegetables at a pound-for-pound rate. Cooking demonstrations inspire experimentation in the kitchen, and Americorps team members check in with residents to ensure that they are growing the produce that the community wants. We turned the tour into a double feature, heading next to the nearby Red Hook Community Farm. This three acre plot, which is run by Added Value with the support of Green City Force and a coterie of interns and volunteers, processes compost and runs a CSA and farmers’ market. Nefratia Coleman, a CSA intern whose interest in food began at the NYCHA Red Hook West Farm, took us through the process of composting. Neatly arranged piles maximize airflow and capture heat to decompose the product without attracting vermin or smelling up the farm, which is teeming with interns and volunteers throughout the year. The farm and CSA program took a huge hit in 2012 when Sandy ravaged the land; water from both the East River and the Gowanus Canal rendered that year’s crop unusable.  The sanitation department cleaned it up, and the farm was replanted, this time a few feet above its original level. Corey, a staff member of Green City Force explained that the farm serves as a “vehicle to educate, empower, and train young people.” While the interns won’t necessary use their composting skills in future jobs, the leadership abilities they cultivate here will carry them forward in the future. Julia Cohen is the Archtober Coordinator at the Center for Architecture.
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In Conversation: Alternative Developers
Sumaida + Khurana's 152 Elizabeth St. in Nolita by Tadao Ando Associates + Gabellini Sheppard Associates.
Courtesy Noe & Associates and The Boundary

As part of the AN developers feature, Matt Shaw interviewed representatives from four developers who are innovating in New York and elsewhere using alternative models for development. These perspectives offer new ways forward as the architecture and business communities work together to find new design, housing, and community-oriented solutions to our 21st century urban issues.

Sumaida + Khurana

Up-and-coming developer Sumaida + Khurana is bringing high-profile international architects to do its first buildings in New York, including NoLita condos by Tadao Ando and a forthcoming 400-foot midtown tower by Alvaro Siza. Amit Khurana has more than two decades of experience in the real estate industry, while Saif Sumaida holds an architecture degree from the Cooper Union. Together, they are changing how New York development is designed.

Matt Shaw: How did you end up working together as developers?

Saif Sumaida: I graduated from Cooper Union with a degree in architecture, and the education was very rich in discourse and concepts. Just by accident, I actually ended up in construction, and over the last 23 years, I’ve been building in New York. I like working as a developer because you have control of authorship both from a construction and architecture perspective, but also as the developer when you put the vision together.

Amit Khurana: Saif is tremendously experienced and when we met it was an interesting fit just because I love architecture and design. I have to give Saif such credit for this but when we are in a room with an architect and we sit down, his knowledge is so fantastic, to not only think of just construction but to think of how architecture relates to construction. And I think that it was a unique situation because there was a shared vision and very complementary sets of skills.

Courtesy Sumaida + Khurana

What do you feel these projects bring to New York as a city, not just for the residents of the buildings?

AK: We see ourselves as developer/custodians of the built environment and ultimately we have a responsibility because we play a very important role that really changes the city. Small or large—it doesn’t matter. It’s about uplifting people, and fulfilling the dream of the city too, right? I think if you ask anyone, at the end of the day people appreciate excellence. It’s not about the asset type, it’s not necessarily about who is going to live there or rent there or work there. It has something to do with a kind of purity of design and the impact it has on people.

SS: I think the problem is a lot of developers are really looking at buildings as commodities to monetize. But I think there is a legacy to be made in selecting the architect and making something that has meaning and has a place in the fabric of the city and that is something that you’ll ultimately be proud of. We want to create places. We feel that we have some sort of a social responsibility to do that.

Why bring in these architects?

AK: New York is a melting pot with a lot of influence from outside. We also came from different countries although we spent so much time here. We wanted to just focus on, in a very pure fashion, this idea of bringing master architects to New York to design their very first buildings here. Especially in New York where as-of-right sites are such a tremendous opportunity to work in a specific way and to push the envelope a little bit. looking at it and finding a site, we’re actually looking for a site for Ando or for Siza. This inverted process allows us to think about things a little bit differently.

SS: A lot of developers rely on marketing people to tell them what has worked. They’re following formulas because they believe that these are the formulas that will get them the profit. People find a proof of concept and just follow it. You don’t have to think too much. When you bring somebody else from abroad or somebody who hasn’t built anything in New York, they actually bring a certain amount of freshness. What’s amazing about New York is that it allows for this diversity. You can still be visionary and make it successful.

Courtesy Noe & Associates and The Boundary

Do you think that your experience as an architect lets you work with these architects in a different way rather than other developers?

SS: I think the one thing is, I’m very respectful of the process. I’m always able to talk to architects in their language. Instead of looking at it, again, as a commodity, I can engage them in their concepts and be able to enter that dialogue and be able to discuss it with them as opposed to always looking for an end product. I can enter the process and into a discourse with them so that once I understand what they’re trying to do we can then figure how best to get there.

You mentioned affordable housing a little bit. Do you see that as a project that could be interesting to take on?

SS: Very much so. I think there’s a responsibility for developers to be able to bring to the city various projects. It can’t just be building for the wealthy, you have to be able to do it for all. Otherwise, you’re not really making an impact in the city as you think you are. To make an impact on the city you have to touch on the various fabrics.

AK: Well I think that it’s also responding to the realities of where you are in a market cycle. Currently we’re in a market where land is insanely expensive. So we have to respond to that. It’s always allowing yourself to be flexible with different opportunities. I mean, imagine bringing in a famous Spanish architect to New York to build a wonderful, affordable housing project or something like that. It isn’t about how many dollars per foot you spend on a construction; it’s about thoughtfulness. We have the ability and skillset that allows us to also control costs and control some of these variables that can get out of control.


Proposal for a pool at the Shore Club in Miami by Isay Weinfeld.
Courtesy HFZ Capital Group

Thorsten Kiefer, HFZ

Thorsten Kiefer is Director of Design and Development for HFZ Capital Group. In this role, he has helped initiate collaborations with architects such as David Chipperfield, BIG, Moshe Safdie, and Isay Weinfeld on projects at various scales in New York and Miami. He talked with AN about his background at OMA, SOM, and SHoP, and what someone in his position can bring to the firm and ultimately the city.

As an architect at OMA in Rotterdam, his job included working in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro on a master plan for Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2001. This experience at OMA also led to HFZ bringing in OMA to develop an entire empty city block in New York between Tenth and Washington streets along the High Line. However, OMA wasn’t able to continue because of previous contractual commitments, so HFZ turned to another OMA alumni, Bjarke Ingels of BIG, who had worked with Thorsten 15 years ago.

Thorsten Kiefer.
Courtesy HFZ

Matt Shaw: You have an interesting background. How did you end up in this role as an experienced architect working directly for a developer?

Thorsten Kiefer:  My time at SHoP was truly formative. At SHoP I worked on competitions in London and New York as well as the redevelopment of the South Street Seaport, initially with General Growth and then followed by Howard Hughes. I formed a number of connections with the development side of the business and after a couple of years at SHoP I began looking for the next career challenge. This opportunity seemed interesting for myself.

What is your role at HFZ?

As Director of Design and Development, I work closely with the marketing team and our executives on the overall conceptual and programmatic framework. The team establishes a list of architects, which we believe would be a great fit for the project. In high-end residential development, the branding aspect of an interior designer or design architect can make a difference in sales.

The global desire for design is higher now than it was 20 years ago. There is money from many countries. Different cultures have different attitudes toward design, and the global market is reacting to that. A lot of global people invest in the city. HFZ tries to offer a high quality product. We do high-end residential, and without design, we wouldn’t get the margins. The value added from the architecture is necessary to get the numbers. 432 Park Avenue by Viñoly has a tremendous location, so people would buy there anyway. But 432 is getting astronomical numbers. Would you get the same price per square foot without the good design? Would the Russians, Chinese, Europeans, and South Americans still choose it?

This position is more common than maybe known in the architectural community. Large developers like Related or Extell have in house design teams. I do believe that this role is valuable. There are very different mindsets in design, construction, and development. The architect is best suited to mediate in between all of them. I also work with zoning lawyers to see if our massing is possible, and also with the construction team to make sure quality is good.

20 West 40th Street.

How do you see your role impacting the designs and ultimately the city?

Ziel Feldman, founder and chairman of HFZ as well as Nir Meir, Principal partner at HFZ are very keen on design and quality. Good design simply distinguishes our product within a very competitive market, and we understand this well. I’m also really interested in finding smart solutions to making the city a nice, vibrant place to be.

We are working with David Chipperfield on the last empty lot at Bryant Park and those units will come on the market in the next couple of months. I truly believe that it will not just be a beautiful piece of architecture completing an important urban space in New York, but also a very successful development.

What can this position bring to a company?

I believe an architect is best suited to communicate between all the different groups involved within the development process. We all know that the motivations of construction, marketing, development, or design are not always necessarily aligned, so the role we have with the position is to bring the different mindsets a little closer and hope that the end result is good design.

Do you ever push for different types of projects, like affordable housing?

I certainly have my personal opinion on “affordability” in New York and I do think that affordable housing will be a challenging component in any future residential development in this city.

Common Ground’s Schermerhorn supportive housing in Downtown Brooklyn by Susan Rodriguez/Ennead Architects.
David Sundberg/Etso

Brenda Rosen, Common Ground

Common Ground is the largest supportive housing developer and operator in New York. The organization offers formerly homeless people quality environments and services to recover, and also works to develop more traditional affordable housing. Its non-profit status makes its work different from many other developers in the city. Brenda Rosen is the president and CEO, and she gave us some insight on how Common Ground supports its tenants and navigates the non-profit development process.

Brenda Rosen.
Courtesy Common Ground

Matt Shaw: What is the mission of Common Ground?

Brenda Rosen: Supportive housing is affordable housing with onsite services so that’s what is different from your cookie-cutter affordable or market rate operation. There is a percentage of the tenants that come through the lottery process like any other affordable low-income tenant. And the other part of the building is filled with formerly homeless people who oftentimes are suffering from mental illness or substance abuse issues or medical issues and often times all of the above.

So there’s 50 percent or 60 percent of the building that is set aside for people coming from those circumstances and that is why we have onsite support to make sure that all of our tenants—low-income, regular working people, and those who are formerly homeless and who are coming with a lot of challenges and a lot of issues—have the support that they need to do that and to be as successful in housing as anybody else. With the exception of a few projects, one in Rochester and two in Connecticut, we are the property managers for all of our projects so we never leave the project.

We are about to break ground on our first stand-alone conventional affordable project which will be 248 units of affordable housing and that will not have a supportive housing component at all. Because our buildings are tax-credit buildings, your income has to be at 60 percent or less of the Area Median Income. We do the same marketing, advertising, and lottery like any other developer in the city for the affordable housing.

Webster Avenue by COOKFOX.
Courtesy COOKFOX

What are some of the challenges of being a non-profit? What does it mean to be a non-profit developer?

What it means is that the financing of the projects can be incredibly complicated compared to for-profits. When we finance a project we have multiple streams of support coming in for capital and for operating. We’ll use bonds, we’ll use tax credits, we’ll use state and city subsidies. And sometimes borough presidents or city council funds will fill a gap that we might have on the capital side. We also have government contracts that are providing operating support so we have regulatory agreements and government contracts, which means we are under intense scrutiny at all times regarding the services that we’re providing and the quality of the housing.

Can you talk more about what it means to be non-profit and specifically do affordable housing?

Fortunately or unfortunately we are not in this business to make a ton of money as we develop. Any non-profit developer that builds housing—for whatever population—will be collecting a developer fee. I think that the thing that really sets a non-profit apart from a for-profit developer is that all of the development fees that we collect, all of the net proceeds of whatever we’re doing, goes right back into the services and the housing that we’re providing. At the end of the day, again, we’re here to have a sound investment for investors that will buy our tax credits and finance a building. But we aren’t here to come out with this monstrous surplus in our budget. I think that because we are a mission-driven organization, our goal is ultimately to develop and operate housing for vulnerable people in New York.

2010 Brook by Gorlin Architects.
Courtesy Common Ground

What role does design play in your mission and in your projects?

Design in all of our projects is a top priority for us. We believe that a pride in home and surroundings helps recovering people to gain stability and to really end up succeeding. Ennead [Architects] did Schermerhorn in downtown Brooklyn for us. It has a ton of green elements, is cantilevered over a subway, and it’s incredibly beautiful. We have worked with COOKFOX who designed a building for us in Brownsville and is designing our next two buildings up on Webster Avenue in the Bronx—both a supportive building and an affordable building. The apartments and hallways are really flooded with natural light.

COOKFOX and Robert A.M. Stern are normally known for high-end buildings and yet they come back and work with us again and again, and bring those same design elements into an affordable project. Not many non-profits get to say that Robert A.M. Stern is going to be doing their next project and build in a low-income neighborhood in Brooklyn. We also develop mini studios, where the average apartment is between 225 to 300 square feet. We have to be really thoughtful about the design of the interior of each apartment. I’ve joked that we were doing micro units long before micro units were popular.

What are some of the challenges that you face when choosing sites?

Years ago when we were looking for land, we would site projects in Manhattan and in Brooklyn and in other places. Over the last several years we’ve done new construction in downtown Brooklyn, Brownsville, the South Bronx, and the Lower East Side, in addition to our older Manhattan sites in Midtown. But now primarily the only affordable land for us at this point is in the Bronx.

Common Ground tends to build large. Our smallest building has 72 units and our largest has 640. We prefer to have a building with 200 or more units. So you need a lot of buildable square feet for that, because in addition to the apartments we have a lot of community space in our buildings for our tenants—so we can have computer labs, a multi-purpose room, a gym, outdoor spaces, and offices for the onsite support staff.

Tom Fruin, kolonihavehus, in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Matthew Williams

Lisa Kim, Two Trees

Two Trees Management Company was founded in 1968 and has developed over 3 billion dollars in real estate. It is most famous for its redevelopment of the industrial neighborhood of Dumbo, Brooklyn. The company has remained committed to fostering artistic and cultural activity in the area through subsidized spaces for arts community tenants, and more broadly, supporting art as an urban issue. Lisa Kim is the Cultural Affairs Director for Two Trees. She formerly served as Private Collection Manager and Director of Exhibitions and Operations at Gagosian Gallery.

Lisa Kim.
Courtesy Two Trees

Matt Shaw: What initiatives does Two Trees have to support arts and culture?

Lisa Kim: Just having someone in my position is different. I am not a real estate person. My entire background comes from the art world. And so they brought me in to be the liaison to the art community and to think about this notion of organizing the company’s efforts of cultural philanthropy and making space for arts and artists in the neighborhood and how that integrates into our development. For Two Trees in Dumbo, it was really organic from the beginning. They own the majority of this neighborhood, and have seen it change.

It has become expensive for artists to work in Dumbo. The reason for the cultural space subsidy program is to find an organized way to create a level of support for the art community and open up space in our buildings for artists and non-profit groups. We thought an application process was the best way to do it. The space subsidy is rather dramatic. If you are granted a space subsidy here you’re given a lease of up to three years at basically a dollar a foot per month.

It’s tricky because there are a lot of people that certainly do want to bring artists in just to kind of spruce stuff up and then leave them when they don’t need them, but that’s not our case. We have 17 tenants—11 artists and six non-profit groups. With the cultural space subsidy tenants who’ve come in, we want to make sure that they’re also an active part of the community over there.

We want them to know who else is in the neighborhood. We had a little happy hour event last month where we brought in, not just the cultural space subsidy tenants, but our other artists and arts organizations tenants.

A mural in DUMBO.
Daniel Greenfeld

Who are some of the tenants?

We have New York’s first feminist cooperative gallery that was founded in 1972 and has been in Dumbo for eight years. On the 2nd floor of 20 Jay Street is a young theater group that goes to empower young women, to teach them how to write, direct, and perform plays about women’s issues. So here you have an A.I.R. gallery, a 40-year-old institution meeting Girl Be Heard, a six-year-institution with very-like minded initiatives talking about what they do.

We’ve been the go-to for arts groups that need a space once they’ve been booted from Tribeca, or Chelsea, or Soho. So we have arts support groups such as the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Marie Walsh Sharpe Faith Program. We also have the sculpture studio for the NY Studio School. Brooklyn Arts Council has their offices here. Arcadia is another arts funding organization that has its office here. We’ve been very supportive, for decades, to St. Ann’s Warehouse and to Smack Mellon. These are all tenants who had free to low rent. So it creates a very serious art community and a cluster in this neighborhood.

Do these cultural initiatives translate to added value for the developers? Or is this sort of a cultural, philanthropic project?

I think it’s cultural and philanthropic. A lot of people want to quantify what happens when you bring culture, but you can’t say when you put in X amount of dollars into arts support that you’re going to affect your bottom line by another number because you can raise property values or rents are higher or various other things. I mean I think it’s really anecdotal. I wish I could give you a metric. If you have cool shit for people to see they’re going to come see it. So who’s doing the cool shit, it’s the arts groups, right?
So how are these initiatives structured financially? Are they part of a separate non-profit? How does it relate to Two Trees?

Well, we’re a two-person part of the staff of Two Trees. The cultural space subsidy program is straight out of Two Trees. You get the same commercial space you would get if you were a market rate tenant. In Dumbo we have three commercial buildings—45 Main, 54 Washington, and 20 Jay Street—and our subsidy tenants are spread throughout all three buildings.

Then, separately, there is the non-profit Walentas Family Foundation with two programs as part of it. One is a neighborhood school program where grants are given for innovative school programs. The other half is the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program that offers 17 selected artists free studio space for one year in New York.
What does someone in your role bring to the development firm?

Because I’m naive to the world of development I can really be fresh about my approach in thinking about the art first. I go create it first and then there’s the reality check of is it possible to do this? On this site? Is it possible to do it in this budget? Does it make sense for this project or development?” And that’s when you start to put things together.

One of the buildings is a rather significant renovation and that’s the old Galapagos Art Space building at Water and Main streets. Four galleries will occupy that space. We spent the winter and spring months renovating that building from a cavernous, theater event space/bar to four beautiful sixteen-foot-ceiling white box gallery spaces.

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Shifting Gears
Courtesy NYCDOT

On a New York City map, the seven-mile roadway that cuts through Queens is designated as Queens Boulevard. But to many New Yorkers, the notoriously dangerous street is known by another name: the Boulevard of Death. According to the city, 185 people (most of them pedestrians) have been killed on the boulevard since 1990; over that time, scores more have been seriously injured. For Mayor de Blasio—who wants to eliminate traffic deaths through a street safety campaign called Vision Zero—overhauling the Boulevard of Death was an obvious place to focus his attention.

In March, the Department of Transportation presented a $100 million plan to transform an especially hazardous 1.3-mile section of the street where 42 people were killed or seriously injured between 2009 and 2013. The plan would fundamentally change the geometry of the street by widening sidewalks, shortening crosswalks, reorganizing slip lanes, and creating pedestrian plazas and protected bike lanes.

“Work has begun to turn Queens Boulevard into a Boulevard of Life—literally remaking this street, rewriting its future, making it safe for all,” said the mayor at a press conference along the street as construction kicked off in July.


Transit advocates and numerous elected officials from Queens and around New York heralded the redesign of Queens Boulevard—especially its inclusion of protected bike lanes—as a “safe streets” homerun. But to these same stakeholders, the laudable transformation of Queens Boulevard is an exception in the DOT’s track record of creating safe streets for cyclists. In the Vision Zero era—after Michael Bloomberg waged, and largely won, the battle to make New York more bike-friendly—the so-called “bicycle lobby” and its allies are questioning the DOT’s commitment to protecting people pedaling around town.

As work was just beginning on Queens Boulevard, the DOT presented a $60 million plan to remake part of another notoriously dangerous roadway in New York: Atlantic Avenue. The redesign included traffic calming measures to protect pedestrians, but like many recent road diets proposed and implemented by the department, it lacked any bicycle infrastructure. To the added chagrin of cyclists, as these plans have been rolled out, existing bike lanes across the city have been worn into oblivion while others have failed to reappear following street resurfacings.


In July, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James wrote a public letter to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg inquiring about these issues. After lauding the department’s commitment to Vision Zero, she asked why certain road diets were missing bicycle infrastructure and urged the department to make bike lanes the “default option when a street is up for a redesign.”

Paul Steely-White, executive director of the non-profit Transportation Alternatives, said the DOT must be bolder about implementing bicycle infrastructure if it is serious about eliminating traffic fatalities by 2024. With the rate of bicycling increasing, neighborhoods clamoring for bike lanes, Citi Bike now doubling in size, and the mandate of Vision Zero, he believes the department has all the political capital it needs to do so. “It’s no longer a political issue, it’s simply a DOT performance issue,” he said. “There is a residual shyness from a lot of DOT professionals who are perhaps gun shy from the bike lanes battles of the Bloomberg years,” he said. “But politically, socially, we’ve evolved beyond that and it’s time for the agency to catch up.”


DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo said the criticisms levied at the department are not reflective of the reality on the ground. “People should be impatient, they should want things to come quickly, but there has been a process,” he said.

Russo explained that while certain road diets may exclude bike lanes, they can be the first step in convincing skeptical communities that precarious streets can become complete streets. “We have to get people from A to C,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean every single street has to have a bike lane initially or when you do a project.” In the Vision Zero era, he continued, redesigning a dangerous intersection might initially get priority over a bike lane. The idea is that once a street is made safer for all users (cyclists included), the DOT can go back to a community board with a more substantial focus on cyclist safety.


To Ben Fried, the editor-in-chief of StreetsBlog, a popular pro-transit publication, this strategy amounts to unnecessary “self-censorship” on the part of the DOT. Since road diets often meet community resistance whether they include bike lanes or not, the DOT “might as well propose the bike lane anyway,” he said. To many advocates, the best way to create support for bike lanes is to implement bike lanes.

As for the condition of the existing bike network, Russo, who bikes to work from Brooklyn, understands cyclists’ frustration about faded markings and vanished paint. He said the winter was especially harsh on existing lanes, but that “under Vision Zero we have money we never had dedicated to upgrading our markings, and we’ve been growing that operation.”

Overall, the DOT is bullish on its bike lane record—especially outside of Manhattan. The department highlighted bike networks it has proposed or implemented in Long Island City, Ridgewood, Queens, Brownsville and East New York, and around the Harlem River. Each of these plans includes a mix of bike infrastructure from shared lanes to protected lanes to bike pathways. In August, Commissioner Trottenberg also announced that the DOT would be presenting plans for a bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue, a project cyclists and local officials have been requesting for years.

The DOT plans to install 50 miles of bike lanes per year, at least five of which will be protected.

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Reimaging Spaces Under the Elevated
Dutch Kills Green park adjacent to elevated tracks in Long Island City.
Courtesy Linda Pollak / Design Trust

Building on its success in developing research that led to the High Line and the first purpose-built NYC Taxi, the Design Trust for Public Space partnered with the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) on a two-year research project exploring in-depth the 700 plus miles of elevated infrastructure across New York City, and the spaces below. The results of this study have been published in a new book entitled Under the Elevated: Reclaiming Space, Connecting Communities.

The book was developed by Design Trust fellows Neil Donnelly, Susannah Drake, Krisanne Johnson, Chat Travieso, and Douglas Woodward. Together, the team analyzed spaces under bridges, highways, subway tracks, and rail lines as a comprehensive network of underutilized urban space. They envisioned new strategies for developing these sites, as well as a criteria for choosing the most potentially useful ones.

Existing uses of the space along Division Street under the Manhattan Bridge (left), and Division Street Pop-Up installation (right).
Neil Donnelly / Courtesy Design Trust for Public Space

Douglas Woodward, vice president of Design + Development at Edison Properties told AN that the project started in 2001 when the Design Trust recommended that the 33 urban spaces under the High Line should be considered equally important as those above it. Edison Properties wanted to figure out what to do with the plots they owned, so they approached the Design Trust, who put out a call for fellows. "Rather than having an urban designer or architect, we felt we should have a landscape architect," explained Woodward.

Drake approaches urban design with an ecological focus, having previously received EPA grants for pilot projects to improve stormwater management on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. However, this is only one part of the larger equation of Under the Elevated. "We always want to improve underused places, ecologically, culturally and socially," said Drake. "These are places where transit cuts through human scale things."

Elevated transit infrastructure in New York City (left), Broadway and Flushing Avenue under the elevated JMZ subway line in Brooklyn (right).
Courtesy Design Trust; Krisanne Johnson for the Design Trust

NYCDOT, a collaborator on the project, has been searching for and realizing innovative urban design strategies in recent years, illustrated by such work as the Plaza Program and the Green Infrastructure Unit. Its mission for Under The Elevated is to empower communities to improve those leftover, underused spaces, and reconnect them to the urban fabric.

What is next for the program? "We are talking to the DOT now, trying to find some sites to kick the program off," said Drake. "We are all committed to it, but until we have something on the street it won’t seem that real to me. We have the pop-ups, but we need something permanent." Without having to abide by the same stringent regulations as most long-term urban design projects, pop-ups have proved to be a good tool for experimentation. The pilot projects, while more permanent, are still recognized as tests which can push the envelope.

View of the landing of the Queensboro Bridge (left). Under the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, the pilot charging stations could become permanent productive landscapes (right).
Susannah C. Drake / Courtesy Design Trust

The program addresses a range of issues from policy and ownership to simple problems, including measures to reduce noise and increase light. Neil Gagliardi, director of urban design at NYCDOT, says that the information from the study is very useful, and the agency is committed to moving forward with the ideas proposed. (NYCDOT owns, or at least operates nearly all of the spaces.)

"This is the first comprehensive approach. It is good to look at [underused spaces under the elevated] as a system and how they can benefit the city,” explained Gagliardi. “We are testing some solutions over the next few months mainly around lighting, because it is the main complaint we get." NYCDOT has engaged Sam Schwartz Engineering to look at the spaces on Livonia Avenue in Brownsville, and has also sought the expertise of other designers whom the agency has worked with in the past. The goal is to establish a toolkit of tried-and-tested strategies to enhance spaces under the elevated.

View of a fenced-off space beneath the tracks at Broadway Junction (top). Redesign recommendations for Broadway Junction in Brooklyn (above).
DCP; Susannah C. Drake /  Courtesy Design Trust

NYCDOT has identified pilot sites to inform its larger framework called the EL Space Program. It will address sites in Sunset Park's Industry City at 36th Street and "Rampland" in Long Island City along Dutch Kills Street—with the hope to get funding for a more comprehensive program. The pilot program is funded through public and private sources and will depend partially on how the Department of City Planning (DCP) rezones these areas. NYCDOT is working with City Planning to incorporate elevated spaces into housing and zoning initiatives. For example, The Jerome Avenue area in the Bronx has been the focus of recent rezoning efforts, and the city has expressed interest in improving lighting in places under the elevated infrastructure as part of its economic development strategy.

Project Underway along the Rockaway Freeway.
Zoë Piccolo / Courtesy Rockaway Waterfront Alliance; Design Trust

The question is whether these improvements will come to fruition.

"I think it’s more real than the High Line," said Gagliardi. "We need comprehensiveness to help plan strategies and plan criteria. What places are best used for industrial operations? Which are best for the pedestrian?"

The ultimate success of this program will likely be the strategies born from this study. These forgotten, underused tracts, however, are not just found in New York City. They are ubiquitous in most cities in post-industrial America. The study has far-reaching potential, and could serve as a lesson in how to exploit and make good use of underutilized spaces.

Under the Elevated: Reclaiming Space, Connecting Communities is available for $30.00 from the Design Trust.

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Prairie Progressive Past & Present
Dogtrot is a house designed by Designtrait for the Tiny Victories competition in Austin.

In AN's last Southwest issue is a story by Editor-in-Chief William Menking, which is about a worker housing development built in the 1940s in Grand Prairie, Texas. Called Avion Village, it was part of a New Deal project to provide housing for military and civilian defense personnel during WWII. I won’t rehash the whole thing here. You should read the story. But a couple of aspects of it came as surprises to us editors. One was to learn that Richard Neutra was involved in the design of the project, along with Texas architects Roscoe P. DeWitt and David Williams. We were all familiar with Neutra’s George Kraigher House in Brownsville, which was restored last year by University of Texas at Brownsville, but had no idea that the Viennese architect had a hand in a progressive development in the state. The other is that Avion Village is still there, if in somewhat diminished condition, and is now owned and operated as a limited-equity cooperative.

Less surprising is that there aren’t more examples of this sort of housing development in the region. Once the top-down planning initiatives of the New Deal came to an end and the economic boom of the postwar years took over, suburban housing development in the region and in the U.S. as a whole took on a different cast, one fueled by a surging middle class (may it surge again!) and hungry developers bent on capitalizing on the market. Sometimes this resulted in modern designs and community spaces—California has many such examples—but more often than not, it meant retreading old styles from the Eastern Seaboard and Europe and maximizing private lot sizes to make the most of a sale. The idealistic communal garden space that was central to early suburb schemes like Radburn, New Jersey, was either parceled out and fenced off, or made into golf courses.

Which isn’t to say that progressive housing development is dead in the Southwest. It just comes from local sources rather than federal agencies, like faith-based charities and other not-for-profit organizations. Also in this issue is a story about AIA Austin’s Tiny Victories competition. Put together in collaboration with homeless care charity Mobile Loaves & Fishes, the competition selected four winning designs (from 55 entries) of small shelters for the homeless, 60-to-70 of which will be built at the Community First! Villages site in East Austin. The designs are modest but dignified. They sit lightly on the land and will be made available at a price that is affordable.

Of course, other than the fact that these two projects were intended for low-income or working-class people, there isn’t much that connects them. Neutra, European modernist that he was, designed the housing at Avion Village in a modern vein because he found this appropriate for workers who were building modern machines for the war effort. The Tiny Victories winners are decidedly more laid-back and eclectic, deeply involved in the local vernacular (lots of corrugated metal siding), not conceived as a grand scheme but as come-as-you-are individuals—in short, very Austin. Both, however, show us that architecture is about more than style, that it reveals much about the people who make it: the aspirations of the society and how it attempts to live up to its best intentions. So in these two projects we can see the fruits of the technocratic rationalism that propelled the nation through the mid-20th century and the grassroots organizing that in our own era defines the prime alternative to capital-driven development.

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Alaska's "Dr. Seuss House" is a real-life manifestation of the revered storyteller's Whoville
A rambling, gravity-defying structure in Willow, Alaska has drawn a bevy of curious onlookers, who have dubbed it “the Dr. Seuss house.” The structure was built in the aftermath of a forest fire once the trees had regrown, obscuring the owner’s view of nearby Mount McKinley and the Denali National Park. The previous owner spent a decade adding floors, but when he died abruptly, the tower was abandoned for 10 years. Renovations were then taken over a by a new occupant to add more stories, and the sky-piercing structure now comprises 12 floors that gradually taper in square footage. The building bears a striking resemblance to the winding, often structurally implausible structures incorporating endless staircases in Theodor Giesel’s fictional town of Whoville, which is rumored to be based on the Massachusetts town of Easthampton, as well as treehouse designs. The Giesel Library by William Pereira at San Diego State University, almost as much a spectacle as the so-called “Dr. Seuss house,” is named after the legendary storyteller and illustrator himself. The brutalist structure features gravity-defying concrete levels extending from a tapered base.
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Indiana University Health Neuroscience Center.
Courtesy Cannon Design

The sprawling Chicago offices of CannonDesign span two buildings just south of the Magnificent Mile, but its 60,000 square feet are a gateway to projects around the world.

The space occupies a single floor across two connected towers, 205 North and 225 North Michigan Avenue—the 11th floor views of downtown Chicago are left to the studio spaces, not corner offices. Cannon’s open plan is meant to promote collaboration, while sophisticated communication technology throughout helps the firm’s architects and design professionals keep in touch with colleagues in other time zones. Almost 100 years after Will Cannon, Sr. started the practice in Niagara Falls, New York, Cannon has more than 1,000 employees in 15 offices across four countries.

When AN dropped by in February, the social work environment was in full swing, with designers gathered around a marker board projection that grafts manual notes and comments onto digital files. No less busy were the board’s more old school counterparts—a wealth of white dry-erase panels covering nearly every free space, including the building’s structural columns.

The LEED Platinum office features real-time energy monitoring displays and recycled materials, including a large steel wall salvaged locally. Like most firms today, Cannon stresses sustainability in corporate literature. Being a large global firm, it has the opportunity to practice what it preaches, whether that be local work done in partnership with architecture students at Virginia Tech, or building new cities in Asia from the ground up.


Indiana University Health Neuroscience Center
Indianapolis, Indiana

Large photos of this 270,000-general-square-foot LEED Gold outpatient neuroscience center stick out on the walls of Cannon’s healthcare design studio, in part because the building’s facade features a jagged cut resembling the read-out of an electroencephalogram. The interiors also incorporate imagery from neuroscience research, with patterns taking after cellular forms and blocks of color inspired by the vibrancy of PET and fMRI brain scans that help visitors and staff find their way.


University of Minnesota Ambulatory Care Center
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Another healthcare facility, this Minneapolis project was the first building of the newly formed Minnesota Health organization—a public/private partnership of health providers in the state. Three quarters of all occupied spaces are naturally
lit thanks to glass-clad lobbies and a flexible work model that orients collaboration areas across clinics toward daylight apertures. Where glass does not punctuate the facade, the exterior color palette draws on local geology with deep purple, rust, and earth tones.


Jaypee Sports City
Jaypee, India

Jaypee Sports City is a brand new city for 1 million people along the highway between New Delhi and Agra, India. Privately funded by a business magnate, Jaypee will be an industrial city “in harmony with nature,” according to Peter Ellis, who leads Cannon’s urban and city design practice. A continuous park system works with the Himalayan monsoon, managing floods during the wet season and saving moisture during the dry. Smart circuits of stormwater facilities and power plants maximize efficiencies where older cities, whose infrastructure evolved unevenly and in organizational silos, cannot. “Nature is actually the fundamental designer of this city,” said Ellis.


University of Texas Brownsville
Brownsville, Texas

In Brownsville, a border town at the southern tip of Texas, Cannon’s master plan for the local University of Texas campus calls for a contained water cycle and net-zero energy consumption. Last year the city allocated 76 acres of land to the push for an urban campus near downtown. If the plan goes through, the new campus could include integrated systems of waste and water recycling, local power generation, and extensive green infrastructure.


CRUDEM/Hôpital Sacré Coeur
Milot, Haiti

Through Cannon’s pro bono Open Hand studio, designers are working to help resuscitate a battered hospital In Milot, near the northern coast of Haiti. Sacré Coeur was one of a few hospitals to survive the devastating 2010 earthquake, but its 100 beds were far too few for the demand that the disaster created. Since then another earthquake and subsequent challenges have made the problems worse. Using land provided by the government, Cannon’s design emphasizes community outreach and scalability, should the hospital expand again in the future.

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A Gravity-Free Leap in Commercial Space Travel
Buckle up: the gap between commercial space travel and the present moment is rapidly narrowing. Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America (designed by Foster + Partners) recently signed an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration granting access to airspace in New Mexico, with designs to turn the ground beneath into a commercial spaceflight center. A major milestone in commercial space travel, the agreement arrives the same week as the unveiling of the Dragon V2, a manned spacecraft designed by SpaceX and Elon Musk. The cutting-edge capsule is a major step in building spacecraft that have the same touch-and-respond sensitivity as a helicopter. The Dragon's development fell beneath a NASA initiative to replace the retired Space Shuttle. Maybe it will be used at the new spaceport, also designed by SpaceX and Elon Musk, in Brownsville, South Texas?
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Total Reset: Institute for Public Architecture Symposium Tackles Affordable Housing in New York City
The history of affordable housing in the United States has always centered on efforts—research, architectural prototypes, and creative financing—undertaken in New York City. From early philanthropic models like the late 19th century Cobble Hill Tower Homes, the 1911 Vanderbilt-sponsored Cherokee Model Apartments, and the 1930s Amalgamated Dwellings on the Lower East Side, virtually all early advancement in housing reform in this country began in New York City. Beyond philanthropic models, New York has also birthed the most important organizations advancing the cause of affordable housing—from the Phipps Houses to the Regional Planning Association and the Rockefeller-era Urban Development Corporation. These organizations not only realized models of affordable housing like Sunnyside Gardens in Queens and Via Verde in the Bronx but theorized creative options for affordable housing in capitalist economies like the United States. It is no mistake that New York alone of all American cities has a diverse array of housing options for low- and even moderate-income residents that is the envy of the rest of the country. In the tradition of these New York advocacy organizations there is a new group that promises to continue New York's leadership in the field of affordable housing. The organization—Institute for Public Architecture (IPA)—was founded in 2009 by architect Jonathan Kirschenfeld (for which he has just been honored by the New York State AIA with the inaugural Henry Hobson Richardson Award). Its mission is not focused simply on housing, but on the larger subject of promoting socially engaged architecture. In its first year of programming it organized an exhibition and discussion on Marcus Garvey Village in Brownsville, Brooklyn and an exhibition, Low Rise High Density, that highlighted an obvious but all-too-often overlooked condition of urban housing focused on scale and density. In an attempt to keep the spotlight on housing—specifically the crises of affordability affecting most American cities and New York in particular—the institute organized a symposium, Total Reset, based on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's recent promise to reset the city's public and affordable housing policies. Total Reset brought professional planners, scholars, architects, and housing organization directors together with housing and neighborhood activists. The symposium, held at Columbia's Studio X, began with three case studies: the "Vienna Model" on contemporary municipal housing in the Austrian capital (which I presented) and new New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Turnkey and Modernization programs by James McCullar; "Reimagining Brownsville" by Nadine Maleh; and finally Rick Gropper and Richard Weinstock of L+M Development Partners presented their firm’s facade restoration and refinancing of a 1,093-unit Mitchell-Lama residential complex in Far Rockaway, Queens. Then, more importantly, the symposium was opened up to activists from community organizations and leaders of various New York housing authorities to discuss the real, on-the-ground problems of maintaining and creating housing in the city. The discussion focused on issues of what to do with public housing in the face of drastic federal funding cuts amid enormous housing shortages and needs. Several panelists talked about the anchoring role that public housing has played in poor communities and how this is threatened by the lack of support and ongoing infrastructure improvements. One of the most controversial issues tackled by panelists was the role that the discourses on privatization would have on the city and that human needs should come before corporate profits. The afternoon was left for Peter Marcuse, the long-time Columbia planner who made the argument that for housing to really work there is a need today "for a fundamental rethinking and considering of all social benefits of housing not just having a focus on profits." Another panelist, Nicholas Bloom, suggested that the institute's next housing meeting should take place in a NYCHA facility. That's exactly what the organization plans to do next fall. There is no other city where the conversation on public housing is taking place at the level that the IPA intends and that's why New York will continue to lead the country in creative ideas and solutions to house that part of the population locked out of the private marketplace.