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Snow Joking Matter

Snowmaking signals climate control mastery and avarice in a warming world
The artificial production of snow, like that of any other material once found in abundance, can be a riveting thing to witness for the very same reason it can cause alarm: it demonstrates both the mastery of our surroundings as well and our anxious desire to manufacture them in the face of escalating material scarcity. All around the world, ski resorts and other snow-based trades are reporting that they can no longer rely on the natural cycles of the global climate to produce the snow they need to keep their businesses afloat and must consider alternative means. “If [they] relied only on natural snow,” explained meteorologist Joel Gratz, “some resorts wouldn’t be able to open at all, and others wouldn’t be able to run their base areas.” The tools for snowmaking, as it is known today, were first developed in 1950 and patented in 1952 by engineers Art Hunt, Dave Richey, and Wayne Pierce by attaching a garden hose to a 10-horsepower compressor and spray-gun nozzle. From modest beginnings came sophisticated, large-scale instruments that have been helping related businesses to maintain operations more days per year, since the 1970s. The components sited on the edges of ski paths are known as snow guns, which shoot tiny water droplets into the air that freeze before they hit the ground. One version of the snow gun internally combines water and compressed air to split the water into droplets atop a slender tower and propels them far and wide, while the more expensive version, known as an airless snow gun, propels water using only a powerful internal fan within a cannon-like form. As simple as snow guns may sound, the hidden infrastructure and software required to sustain them are modern marvels of engineering. Resorts work year-round to service and stock the water reserves embedded within the slopes, and some are able to transport as much as 12,000 gallons of water a minute uphill. And because employees of a resort cannot reasonably inspect the varying weather conditions of their sites on foot, snowmaking systems are often equipped with computerized sensors that collect hyper-localized weather data to determine the most optimal times for activating the snow guns. These sensors can not only reduce the labor costs of up to 30 percent but can also significantly lessen the amount of water expelled over the course of the winter season. Given that some of the largest North American resorts can spend as much as $2 million annually on snowmaking alone, the sensors provide a much-needed strategy for improving cost and material efficiency. Snowmaking techniques have evolved so dramatically in the last forty years, in fact, that some resorts have opened up in warmer parts of the world by relying entirely on the technology. There are now indoor ski resorts in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Australia, and other climates whose populations have rarely experienced snow first-hand. One of the first modern examples is Dubai’s Emirates Indoor Ski Resort, completed in 2005 by local company Majid Al Futtaim. The 240,000-square-foot building is raised just above the scorching desert ground, and its interior is snow-kissed every day of the year under a low-slung painting of a foggy blue sky. Even when temperatures outside exceed 106 degrees Fahrenheit, the interior of Ski Dubai remains within an optimal wet-bulb temperature range thanks to a series of overhead air conditioners that allow the snow guns attached to the perimeter to do their magic whenever a bald patch emerges on the slopes. Majid Al Futtaim is currently developing Wintastar Shanghai, which will become the world’s largest indoor ski resort at nearly one million square feet when complete, while the first indoor ski resort in North America is set to open in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on December 5 with 5,500 tons of snow on its slopes. The global water supply required for snowmaking, however, cannot easily keep pace with the development of ski resorts around the world. While the climates that have naturally supported skiing conditions, such as the Swiss Alps and parts of the American Northeast, are typically adjacent to copious water reserves that support snowmaking when necessary, the more recently developed ski resorts often go to much further lengths to keep their businesses afloat. And, given that it can take up to 14 kWh of energy (about the same as washing seven loads of dishes) to produce a single cubic meter of snow, the process of snowmaking for even a modestly-sized resort is far from energy-efficient. As naturally occurring snow becomes an even rarer commodity in the near future, the global competition among resorts for optimal skiing conditions by artificial means will no doubt continue unabated. With time, however, more sustainable methods of snowmaking may come to light—the only other alternative is conservation.
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Tortoise Grid

BKSK and BuroHappold crown Tammany Hall with a glass shell
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The neo-Georgian Tammany Hall located on the northeastern corner of Union Square has assumed multiple identities over the course of its nearly century-long existence: It has been the home of the notoriously corrupt Society of St. Tammany, a union headquarters, and a theater and film school. Now, BKSK Architects and BuroHappold Engineering are leading the conversion of the building into a contemporary office space, which will be topped by a bulbous glass dome ringed with terra-cotta panels.
  • Facade Manufacturer Eckelt-St. Gobain Permasteelisa Gartner
  • Owner Reading International
  • Architect BKSK
  • Facade Installer Permasteelisa Gartner
  • Facade Consultant BuroHappold Engineering
  • Structural Engineer Thornton Tomasetti
  • Location Manhattan, New York
  • Date of Completion 2020
  • System Custom shell grid
  • Products Saint-Gobain Parsol Grey, SGG Cool-Lite Xtreme
The design of the glass dome derives from both international Georgian precedents as well as the historical origins of the Society of St. Tammany—named after renowned Lenape leader Chief Tamanend, whose clan’s symbol was a turtle. According to BKSK partner Todd Poisson, the design team interpreted Chief Tamanend’s tribal imagery “With a turtle shell-like dome rising from this neo-Georgian landmark building, reimagining its tepid hipped roof with a new steel, glass, and terra-cotta base supporting an undulating glass dome.” Austrian manufacturer Eckelt, a member of the Saint-Gobain group, produced the structurally glazed insulated glass units. To reduce solar exposure to the office space below, the outer shell is built of tinted Saint-Gobain Parsol Grey panels treated with a high-performance sputter solar coating. The second layer of the carapace, separated from the tinted panels by a layer of air space, is comprised of clear glass panels. The roof, made of 850 isosceles triangular panels ranging from a 5- to 9-foot base, encompass a total surface area of approximately 12,000 square feet. Rising from the rear of the cornice line, the glass panels are fastened to an undulating steel free-form shell grid fabricated by Gartner. To support the weight of the dome, and to facilitate the straightforward installation of structural members, the entire structural system of the historic building was replaced with a poured-in-place concrete core—effectively transforming the original load-bearing brick enclosure into a freestanding rain screen. The project is scheduled to wrap up in 2020. BKSK partner Todd Poisson and BuroHappold Engineering associate principal John Ivanoff will present the Tamanny Hall project at Facades+ NYC on April 2 as part of the "Adaptive Reuse Challenges in NYC Historic Icons" panel.
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Keep Portland Tiny

An accessory dwelling unit conference in Portland pushes the typology forward
The biennial Build Small Live Large Summit launched in 2012 in Portland, Oregon, to help move the housing industry toward smaller, more energy-efficient homes. Originally organized under the auspices of city’s Department of Environmental Quality, past programs promoted tiny houses and accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The focus of this year’s event shifted to missing middle housing, reflecting another acute concern for many U.S. cities. “Everyone from every city is struggling to provide enough affordable housing and we all want to have a better approach to this problem,” said Rebecca Small, a planner at Metro, the regional agency that now convenes the event. The topic attracted a decidedly wonky audience of planners, but also drew builders, real estate agents, investors, developers, advocates, activists, and architects from across the country who are closely following recent legislation that lowers barriers to developing additional housing types on single-family lots. In August, Oregon passed a statewide bill that will allow the development of middle housing, defined as duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, cottage clusters, and townhouses, on single-family zoned lots by 2022. In October, California passed a suite of laws that go into effect in January 2020 that incentivize building ADUs, reduce restrictions for building them, and streamline the process. Rendering of a one bedroom gabled tiny home Build Small Live Large 2019 sessions covered financing and appraising ADUs, as well as strategies for passing state and local ordinances to encourage missing middle housing options. Panels mixed city planners, housing advocates, elected officials, architects, lenders, and developers who delved into the ramifications of the new code and zoning updates and explored housing models on the horizon to be reintroduced into many urban and not so urban regions. As Michelle Glass of the Rogue Action Center stressed, the perception of rural communities, such as those in Eastern Oregon, is that they’re still in the 1950s, but displacement as a result of affordability and accessibility is a very real issue there. Discussions around single room occupancy housing models, or SROs, highlighted how this once-common housing option has reemerged both as a way to help people transition from homelessness and as an affordable option for nomadic millennials as they move into and out of cities. Panelists also explored how using ADUs and cottage clusters gives the generation on the opposite end of the spectrum, baby boomers, a viable way to age in place or stay in their neighborhoods. Notably, Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law (2017), was the event’s keynote speaker. Rothstein drew parallels to the time after World War II when the homelessness crisis in the U.S. was comparable to today and noted how exclusionary zoning practices enacted then have resulted in deep economic disparity and segregation in the country. “If we abolish segregation in neighborhoods, the next day things wouldn’t look any different,” said Rothstein. Perhaps not overnight, but as new legislation takes effect along the West Coast and ripples out to cities such as Fayette, Arkansas, and Minneapolis, which are already updating their zoning regulations to encourage housing that creates more diverse, livable, walkable cities, the housing landscape may look very different by the next Build Small Live Large Summit.
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Plantastic

1,000 Trees cover Heatherwick Studio's development in Shanghai's arts district
Now towering over Shanghai’s Suzhou Creek is Heatherwick Studio’s latest landscape-heavy development: a veritable mountain of trees populating a sprawling, mixed-use facility made for the city’s burgeoning M50 arts district.  1,000 Trees—the project's official name—has been under construction for the past five years and its first phase, spanning 3.2 million square feet, is slated to open in 2020. As a whole, the project is made up of two buildings split across two sites totaling 14.8 acres, each featuring a jagged facade with a “mountain peak” where the highest floors top out. So far, only the exterior of the first mountain has been unveiled to the public, revealing an undulating frontage punctuated by an array of plants atop structural concrete columns.  In initial photos, the project looks like a shrine to landscape architecture, or more specifically, the diversity of plants capable of outfitting buildings. Sourced locally from Chongming Island just northeast of Shanghai, 25,000 individual plants representing 46 species make up the vision of 1,000 Trees. Over half are evergreen to ensure a yearlong verdant look for the massive structure. Heatherwick Studio used grey-green granite to create a striped or striated facade that further accentuates the plants throughout.  Shangai's M50 arts district is located in an old manufacturing neighborhood where textile production used to take place. Now, the industrial area is a boon for contemporary art and 1,000 Trees is being built to amplify that theme. At 10 stories, the first section of the development, when open next year will boast eight levels of retail, restaurants, and commercial office space, as well as room for events programming and art galleries.  Its southern, street-facing facade, is practically flat compared to the rippled, creek-front portion, but it does include a series of boxy windows of varying sizes that are set back from the building's frame. Natural light from the floor-to-ceiling glass will be allowed to percolate inside the building, while multiple tall atriums throughout the elongated structure will bring a nice glow all the way down to the ground-floor from above. Heatherwick Studio partnered with local graffiti artists to cover some of the southern windows with large-scale murals. 1,000 Trees was commissioned following the completion of Heatherwick’s U.K. Pavilion for the Shanghai World Expo nearly a decade ago. As China continues to push towards building extra-large developments, architects are also considering the role landscape plays in the country's increasingly dense environment. For example, a new green-roofed hospital with a terraced design by Foster + Partners and the Cleveland Clinic is set to rise in Shanghai as well, bringing wellness to the forefront of contemporary architecture.  Compared to Heatherwick’s smaller, albeit still plant-focused projects, such as the nearly-complete, 2.75-acre Pier 55 or “Little Island” in New York (which utilizes a similar sculpted concrete pillar approach), 1,000 Trees will completely change the look and appeal of Shanghai’s M50 arts district. Phase two of the mega-project will connect to the existing structure through an enclosed link bridge, a tunnel, and a ground-floor drop-off area. It will feature even more public space and a 129,000-square-foot park. 
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Tightening the Belt

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is tying the world together—but what's the end game?

In addition to the more infamous killing and pillaging conducted by its various hordes, the Mongol Empire, first led by Genghis Khan and later by his grandson Kublai, brought nearly all of Asia, much of the Middle East, and some of Europe under a unified system of trade and commerce in the 13th century. Consolidating ancient Silk Road mercantile connections, it brought currency into widespread use and generally sought win-win trade deals with conquered territories. While that empire faded by the mid-14th century, it gave the world a precursor to the modern-day state of China, which has embarked on its own ambitious—and, to some, unsettling—quest to link a considerable portion of the world through trade.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched in 2013 by Chinese president Xi Jinping, includes hundreds of infrastructure projects financed and constructed in part or in whole by Chinese entities in lands far beyond China’s borders. Projects include ports, airports, rail lines, utilities, industrial centers, highways, and even entire new cities and urban sectors. “Belt” refers to roads and railways while, paradoxically, “road” refers to sea-lanes; together they aim for nothing less than the unification of almost all of Asia and Africa.

The initiative segments the globe into “corridors” and involves differing levels of participation from host countries. There is no official count of participating countries, but estimates range from 60—covering nearly all of Asia—to well over one hundred. The BRI’s six main economic corridors include the New Eurasian Land Bridge, the China-Central Asia–West Asia Economic Corridor, the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Bangladesh–China–Myanmar Economic Corridor, the China–Mongolia–Russia Economic Corridor, and the China–Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor.

Analysts estimate that trade generated by the BRI reached $117 billion last year. The total estimated cost, by 2027: up to $1.3 trillion. Whether that investment will pay off for China remains to be seen. Chinese banks and companies hope to profit from loan payments and contracts; the Chinese state hopes to benefit by opening markets and gaining influence. The World Bank estimates that the BRI could reduce transportation times on many corridors by 12 percent, increase trade between 2.7 percent and 9.7 percent, increase income by up to 3.4 percent, and lift 7.6 million people from extreme poverty.

Consisting largely of heavy infrastructure, these projects are unlikely to result in lavish Xanadus to stoke the architectural imagination. With the exception of some impressive new cities and city districts, such as Port City in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and some choice high-speed rail stations, BRI projects include workaday structures like cargo terminals, highway bridges, and the odd potash plant. The BRI recalls past geopolitical initiatives, like the Marshall Plan, by which the United States revived, and benefited from, Europe’s economy after World War II. But the BRI dwarfs the Marshall Plan, which comprised $13 billion of investment, or around $100 billion in today’s dollars—much less than BRI’s trillion-dollar scope.

As arguably the biggest collection of construction projects in human history, the BRI offers ample opportunities for architects, contractors, engineers, and other designers. Many, if not most, of the firms involved are Chinese concerns with close ties to the state. They include state-owned enterprises like China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) and China State Construction Engineering Corporation, the world’s third-largest shipping company and largest construction company, respectively. Both are massive enterprises with numerous subsidiaries, and though they are publicly traded, they ultimately answer to the Chinese Communist Party.

In many ways, this effort to build soft power through hard infrastructure extends a domestic development strategy that China has followed for the past two decades. Itself a developing nation not long ago, China has built up its own ports, roads, and railroads in order to unify its national economy and give its manufacturing sector—which comprises 20 percent of the world’s output of goods—access to global markets.

The Chinese government optimistically refers to the BRI as a 21st-century Silk Road, one that harmoniously links economies and increases prosperity for dozens of countries and billions of people, representing up to 60 percent of the world’s economic output. China pitches these projects to host countries as tools of economic development. Analysts say that success, for China and BRI partners alike, depends on far more than concrete and steel. The onus falls on host countries to make use of China’s largesse. Efficient trade relies on everything from effective local governance to the mobility of workers to the mitigation of environmental impacts. In the case of partners like Belarus (sometimes referred to as Europe’s last dictatorship) whose governments are unstable, corrupt, or underdeveloped, reforms may pose greater challenges than does the development of megaprojects.

In many cases, benefits to host countries have not materialized. Many projects use little local expertise or labor; rather, they are boons for Chinese engineering firms, construction companies, and suppliers such as steel and concrete manufacturers. Once built, they take on a nearly colonial tenor, moving raw materials out of host countries and moving Chinese goods into them. And no matter how economists feel about BRI projects, the initiative has already alarmed environmentalists. The number and physical size of projects promise to remake urban landscapes, alter—and destroy—natural landscapes, and consume untold millions of tons of natural resources, building materials, and fossil fuels. Chinese environmental laws and practices are also notoriously lax compared to those in the U.S. and Europe. In 2017 the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) issued a report documenting BRI projects’ numerous incursions into sensitive habitats. WWF identified “high impacts” throughout nearly all of Southeast Asia and “moderate impacts” in BRI corridors in Central Asia. BRI projects have also been associated with increases in the use of coal for power production in many host countries. 

Beyond environmental effects, even when host countries own their assets, they are indebted to Chinese financiers. Reports indicate that many countries cannot pay off construction loans, leaving them indebted to China indefinitely. Many projects have turned into white elephants. Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Sri Lanka was designed to accommodate one million passengers per year. Though fully operational, Mattala currently serves zero passengers, while also servicing $190 million in debt to Chinese banks. Having been a relatively poor, developing country so recently, China likely understands the pressure points of the Myanmars and Mozambiques of the world better than any other global power does.

The Center for Global Development estimates that as many as eight countries involved with the BRI are already at risk of debt distress. Some countries are in debt to China by a factor of as much as 20 percent of their GDPs. Others are now approaching BRI proposals more gingerly than they might have when the program launched. Malaysia recently canceled $22 billion in BRI projects; other countries, particularly Kenya and Mozambique, are pushing back against proposals and renegotiating deals. Ultimately, economic domination via financing may not be a great strategy—flush with cash though they may be, Chinese banks want returns on their investments no less than Western banks do. Then again, even if they aren’t repaid, the Chinese state might still get what it wants in the form of global influence.

In other words, the BRI is as much a geopolitical experiment as it is an economic development strategy.

Josh Stephens is contributing editor to The California Planning & Development Report and author of the forthcoming The Urban Mystique: Notes on Los Angeles, California, and Beyond.

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Shedding the Shed

the_shed_is_a_shack pokes fun at Hudson Yards and corporate malfeasance
On June 21, a couple of months after the opening of the Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group-designed Shed, the anonymous group behind the_shed_is_a_shack Instagram account began trolling the billionaire-real-estate-developer-funded arts center. Its organizers, who include an artist and an executive director of an arts institution, followed their friends' Instagram accounts to attract followers and began lampooning the Shed. They published a photo of a cracked electrical outlet cover and an electrical box with wires sticking out, poked fun at design and programming decisions, and savaged the financing behind the project. Increasingly they focused on its embodiment of extreme economic stratification, poor labor practices, and the "artwashing" of real estate the project embodies. We asked The Shack—as they call themselves—about the account, their trolling of the Shed and Hudson Yards, and their view of what should have happened there instead. They responded with a remarkably cogent argument for an alternative decision-making process for development on public property. AN: Can you tell us about your backgrounds or professional affiliations? Are you connected to any activist groups or have you been in the past? the_shed_is_a_shack: We are arts professionals with many years of experience with cultural institutions and in different aspects of the art world. The Shack includes an executive-level arts leader and an artist who is also active in a number of other social justice/advocacy issues. We are also people who care about our communities, our fellow citizens, and the importance of civic engagement.
 
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Are you creating some of the memes or are you mostly sharing other things you see? We create all of the content ourselves, except in a very few select cases where we have reposted and clearly credited the original poster. Our audience also sometimes sends ideas or news articles to us, and occasionally that’s a prompt for us to create a particular meme or post around that idea.
 
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How do you see this action: As advocacy or activism, or are you mostly just having fun trolling the developers? The account is light-hearted about a dark-hearted thing, and so we’re poking fun while also highlighting some very serious issues. There are a lot of problems with how money and power are distributed and abused in the art world, and also in the world at large, and what has happened (and is happening) at Hudson Yards and with the Shed is representative of some of the most egregious examples. There’s also such a huge gap between how Hudson Yards and the Shed were sold and marketed to the public, and what they have actually become. So much marketing hype was built into the selling of it, and so it feels right that the response should be similarly structured in terms of tone, as memes, faux ads, and hype-speak. Also, we’re in the art world, so we like our visuals. There’s a long history of art world projects that critique the structure and internal systems that underpin cultural institutions. We’d like to see that critique contribute to change, so there’s an advocacy element to our trolling.
 
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Is it connected to a particular set of positions? No matter how much we might have a laugh at some of the more outrageous details of Hudson Yards and the Shed, the development is actually a slap in the face to the people of New York and thus in need of more serious examination. A select group of wealthy individuals and corporations are benefitting from Hudson Yards, along with government officials who actively championed and pushed through the development to advance their own political or business interests (including Bloomberg, De Blasio, Dan Doctoroff, and others). But what did everyone else get? Our tax dollars went to build a private luxury neighborhood billed as “Little Dubai,” while many New Yorkers don’t have access to affordable housing, reliable subway lines, or adequate healthcare. The developers tried to cut out unions and limit worker safety standards, and people lost wages and got hurt. And with the Shed, our tax dollars helped pay for a building and organization that is not serving the cultural community or the public as promised, and instead has created a tax-deductible structure and plaything for the developer and his pals to utilize and benefit from. So, our position is about advocating for the public interest and for the cultural community.
 
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What motivated you in particular to start it, and is Instagram an effective tool so far to forward a message? The account started really just as a cathartic response and half-joke. We visited The Shed soon after it opened and were stunned by the experience. The building itself was in disarray. Hardware was falling off the walls or not properly installed, there were cracks in the glass and electrical socket plates, puddles of leaking lubricant from the escalator, peeling and chipped paint on multiple walls, exit signs with wires sticking out, obvious building code violations, and more.  
 
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For a brand-new, wildly expensive building supported by taxpayer money and on city-owned land—and touted by the developers and the city as representing the future of cultural institutions and civic public-private engagement—it was a massive failure. So many cultural institutions around the city are struggling to pay the bills, and money got poured into this development. It’s unconscionable that it turned out this way and that there has not yet been a reckoning for abusing the public trust. So what started as a joke among friends expanded as we realized how serious and ongoing the problems there were. Instagram is the art world’s preferred social media for the most part, at least for the moment, and so it seemed like a natural choice.
 
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What would be an ideal outcome? The desired outcome is to expand the conversation around the Shed and Hudson Yards. It’s also important to us to emphasize how the final shape of the development is not an accident; it’s what happens when a development that is privately owned and controlled does not include the appropriate level of input, regulation, and safeguarding by community groups and the public. The Shed is an extension of that core problem, with a board controlled by the developers and their buddies, and even the building itself is literally infected by and physically trapped inside the development Alien-style (The Shed ended up being constructed with much of its operational guts shared with and located inside of the skyscraper next door). So now we have a major NYC neighborhood and cultural institution that is being controlled by a small group of private investors, continuing to benefit from tax incentives and public money, in order to advance personal interests that are largely counter to the public’s.
 
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Although Hudson Yards is mostly owned by private developers, the Shed sits on public land owned by the city and is a nonprofit entity that is required to benefit the public good. So we—the public—need to hold the Shed accountable and see that necessary changes are made to the way it operates. There are many different options that might be proposed as an alternative; for example, a consortium of existing cultural institutions and community organizations could come together to re-envision how the space should operate and who should run it. The building could serve as an outpost/off-site programming space for other arts and culture organizations on a rotating basis, among other possibilities. It could also be converted into free or subsidized office/studio space for cultural nonprofits, artists, and community organizations that can’t afford rent because of developments like Hudson Yards, or for events like pop-up free healthcare clinics or other services for those in need. Further, there should be a public conversation to include government officials that rethinks how the next phase of Hudson Yards is allowed to proceed, with an eye toward much more community oversight, regulation, and built-in systems for clawing back public money/tax incentives if and when promises aren’t kept.
 
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What should Hudson Yards have been? Hudson Yards should have been a true public-private partnership, which means careful input, oversight, and regulation by the community at every stage and ongoing for the life of the development. That’s a hard and challenging process, but it’s necessary and fair if developers want to get decades of tax incentives, city- and state-paid infrastructure, and other public money. Hudson Yards could have and should have been an actual mixed-use community, with truly integrated housing for low-income, middle, and yes even some luxury, as well as a range of nonprofit, business, and retail spaces that genuinely serve the neighborhood needs more broadly. It should have true public space (not privately owned space that the developer controls on whim) and cultural venues that more fully reflect the needs and interests of the community. Cultural and creative programming and public artwork should be informed by and ultimately decided by those with expertise in the field alongside community members, not by one rich guy who wants a big Heatherwick bauble because he thinks it’s what other rich guys like. If he wants a Heatherwick (or anything else), he’s welcome to buy it and build it—but not with the support and help of public money and infrastructure.
 
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Because the developers of Hudson Yards are claiming private control of the entire space (even though this isn’t actually correct, with the Shed on city-owned land and the Hudson Yards subway part of the MTA), they are asserting that visitors don’t have the same rights they would normally have in a public space. That’s deeply problematic on many levels (impacting everything from the right to protest, to who gets to sit on benches or be otherwise harassed under what conditions, as well as in their use of facial recognition technology in the kiosks and other surveillance measures by the developers). So there should be requirements that dictate how any development that benefits from public support can control that space.
 
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Also if you have anything to add about the processes by which public property is developed . . . Similar to what we noted should have happened with Hudson Yards, the process for [the] development of public space and property (and public-private developments) needs to be more carefully safeguarded and regulated, and there needs to be oversight by independent community experts and individuals who are not in any way affiliated with the developers. And this oversight should continue for the lifetime of the property and with teeth to match (heavy fines and claw-backs for developers who renege on promises, for example). We all know how arduous these kinds of processes can be, but it’s necessary if we want to ensure projects truly benefit the public. That doesn’t mean there needs to be total consensus on every aspect of a project (which is impossible to obtain in any case and often leads to art-horse-by-committee outcomes), but it means the decision-making needs to be led by a sense of true commitment to the public good and strict, proactive measures to ensure there are not conflicts of interest. There also needs to be a more nuanced understanding and recognition of how we assign expertise and decision-making power within this oversight and community process; for example, there’s a tendency to assume “expert” in the arts only applies to a well-known museum president, a wealthy collector, or a big name artist, when in fact it should include arts workers and others who have active, on-the-job experience within cultural organizations, or an avid arts goer who is not financially able to be a donor/collector but loves art with the same zeal as an Aggie [Agnes] Gund, among other examples. There are many of these people throughout the city, and their voices should be given a place. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because our public spaces will be made better by their input.
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Oh oh oh oh, it's Essex

Mourning the old Essex Street Market
How do we say farewell to buildings? Through what strategies or mechanisms might we experience parts of the city marked by disuse or disaster? Aside from traditional adaptive rehabilitation or cosmetic upgrades, simply refraining from intervening is one possibility. Providing equitable, safe access to an otherwise untouched site can be a radical act of civic elegy. For example, earlier this year, Seattle gave its residents the opportunity to inhabit the elevated freeway on its waterfront before scheduled demolition. Indeed, numerous cultural practices celebrate the death (and/or rebirth) of structures, ritualistic events in contrast to morbid photographs documenting implosions or ruins. Such performative acts of remembrance might approach what artist-architect Jorge Otero-Pailos called "experimental preservation," whose proponents “choose objects that might be considered ugly or unsavory, or unworthy of preservation, objects that might have been ignored or excluded by official narratives, perhaps because they embody the material, social, and environmental costs of development which governments and corporations seldom account for.” The old Essex Street Market in New York’s Lower East Side, slated to be torn down, is presently a time capsule, largely unchanged since May when vendors left or relocated to the new market digs in the recently opened mixed-use Essex Crossing complex across Delancey. The historic market’s past dates to the late-19th century, when pushcart peddlers congregated on Hester and Ludlow Streets, later formalized in 1940 by Mayor La Guardia, who opened indoor public market buildings to not only alleviate unsanitary conditions and congestion but also to limit and control street vendors. In the mid-1990s the city consolidated the remaining tenants. Throughout its lifespan, the area’s changing demographics—predominantly Eastern European Jewish, Italian, and Puerto Rican immigrants—shaped the space, transforming it into a vital working-class community hub. New Yorkers had one last chance to visit before it is razed and enters the next phase. Organized by Artists Alliance Inc., Italian artist Andrea Nacciarriti’s site-specific 00 00 00 00 00 [Essex Street Retail Market] intervened into the brick building with the sparest of means, yet achieved a dramatic and visceral effect. His project blacked out the large skylights, “installing darkness,” according to curator Alessandro Facente. After signing a waiver, visitors equipped with flashlights had the chance to explore the pitch-black environment practically alone. The low visibility was pierced by a bright white cube: the former Cuchifritos gallery, now housed in the location across the street. Its door and partitions were ripped away in a pile nearby, echoing other architectural instances of institutional critique removing gallery facades or opening up such hermetic spaces. The only foreign object introduced to the building was a representation of time in the form of a mysterious, red digital clock, reminiscent of the giant one in Union Square, counting down presumably to the end of the show’s run and thus civilian access. Markets are a vibrant typology defined and energized by temporal human activity. Without people buying, selling, and surveying goods, the physical infrastructure comprises a modest stage set sans actors. Wandering amongst the abandoned stalls and empty shelves induced an exhilarating, unsettling vibe. The building’s materiality and remaining appliances/furniture all registered traces of past lives and usage; each object is information. Residual evidence dotted the abandoned aisles and walls, ranging from dry onion skins to drawings by local school children. Barren deli counters and their ilk hinted at missing wares or services. The graphic design on leftover cheese labels and flattened cardboard boxes narrated geographic origins. Prices advertised phantom radishes, leeks, baby bok choy, tomatillo, and okra. The darkness and silence attuned one’s senses moving through space, sharpening visual attention and heightening aural or tactile stimulation. Throughout the defamiliarized setting, your flashlight illuminated entropic fragments along the way. Overall, the project indexes, and invited guests to bear witness to, the types of old school New York institutions disappearing due to development, gentrification, or negligence. In this way, the ephemeral installation offered a spatio-historical experience similar to the nearby Tenement Museum. Nacciarriti framed the project in terms of a Greek play’s choral intermission, a pause and commentary in between scenes. The intention is not to freeze bits of urban fabric forever, but to acknowledge and celebrate buildings and social relations amidst brute state changes. As the city continually evolves at breakneck speeds, nuanced moments like these, of reflection and silence, become all the more valuable to help process our surroundings. 00 00 00 00 00 [Essex Street Retail Market] ran from September 13 through November 17, 2019, at 120 Essex St, New York, NY.
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Build it Back

New York City Council approves controversial East Side flood protection plan
The New York City Council voted to approve the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) Project yesterday, with little opposition from officials. Local councilwoman Margaret Chin, who represents the affected area, fell in favor of the $1.45 billion project, which will raise East River Park to 8- to-10 feet above sea level with landfill from Montgomery Street to 25th street to protect against future floods. Forty-six members voted in favor, with only one against and one abstention, and the plan now only has to cross Mayor de Blasio's desk, and he's indicated that he'll sign it. The project has experienced strong ongoing opposition from organized community groups, civic associations, and neighborhood parks advocates, who voiced opposition to the extended loss of play areas, removal of trees, and lack of consultation during the design process. A coalition of community groups had drafted an alternative People's Plan, which the final project considered as a part of its community engagement, along with the EDC's Waterfront Esplanade plan and WXY Studio's East River Blueway Plan. The city responded with a plan to phase work over a longer period to ensure the availability of parks during the construction. Others, like architect William Rockwell, who lives in an Amalgamated Dwellings Cooperative building and experienced severe flooding and loss of power during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, voiced support. Among the notable benefits of the design, apart from potentially live-saving flood protection, will be vastly improved pedestrian connections to the East River across on grade bridges spanning FDR Drive. The areas protected from flooding, according to the Scope of Work in the Environmental Impact Statement, fall within the 100-year flood zone and extend upland to meet the 90th percentile projection of sea-level rise to the 2050s. That includes large parts of the Lower East Side and East Village, Stuy Town, Peter Cooper Village, and Stuyvesant Cove Park, which was built on top of low-lying marshes. Originated in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as part of the BIG U Rebuild by Design project—with Bjarke Ingels Group as the lead urban designer in collaboration with One Architecture, Starr Whitehouse, James Lima Planning + Development, Green Shield Ecology, AEA Consulting, Level Agency for Infrastructure, ARCADIS, and Buro Happold—the ESCR became the northern half of two separate projects, with the other part section, the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project, extending below the Manhattan bridge. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development originally committed $511 million to the project during the Rebuild by Design phase, with New York promising an additional $305 million. The environmental impact statement (EIS), however, only cites the $1.45 billion cost and $335 million committed by HUD from a federal Community Development Block Grant. An October 2019 independent review of the ESCR by the U.S. arm of Dutch water research institute Deltares noted the lack of publicly available information on aspects of the project, making it impossible to review in its totality. The report argues that "transparency of the decision-making process by city agencies will help rebuild trust and gain [the] support of the community," and recommended establishing a community advisory group and keeping community representatives involved in the later, more detailed stages of project design. It also recommended adding two more feet of fill, coordinating with the green infrastructure program, and studying groundwater patterns in the East Village to evaluate the impact of rainfall on the neighborhood and basement flooding. The implementation is being led by the New York City Department of Design and Construction with AKRF/KSE Engineering as the lead consultant.
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Just Don’t

Los Angeles is at a crossroads—don’t let it become New York
Makin’ my way downtown, I zip along on my Lime® scooter through the ersatz Japanese village of Little Tokyo, past taxis, buses, and Prii, to a bustling, small-scale warehouse district on the fringe of Los Angeles’s central core. The whirlwind of scales, land uses, languages, and people is dizzying, but I finally land at my destination: Sonoratown, a lively taco spot famous for its soft tortillas, which are made with flour driven up from Sonora, Mexico, in small batches by the owner’s mom. This delirious, quasi-urban experience is one that could only happen in the messy, diverse urban fabric of Los Angeles. You are free to grab whatever pieces of the kaleidoscopic surroundings you can, and the faster you are moving, the more there is to take. Somehow, this frantic energy and free movement seem unaffected or held back by the past. The cultural critic Sean Monahan called LA the capital of the 2010s, describing it as:
...a city whose attributes anticipate collapse: flat and amorphous, rather than vertical and defined; kitsch and pop, rather than avant-garde and tech; individualistic and mass, rather than institutional and elite. You can suggest San Francisco, HQ of disruption, or New York, backdrop for protest movements (#OWS, #BLM). But both places fail to capture the spirit of the age, because they are fighting so hard to change it. They are relics of empire, unsure of themselves after a decade in which success was indistinguishable from failure… Built on celebrity, media, and lifestyle, L.A. doesn’t presume to be building the future, merely inhabiting it. It’s a pick your poison kind of place. [Go wild] at Chateau Marmont. Spend half your paycheck on inscrutable health food at Erewhon. Commute four hours so you can live in a Riverside McMansion. Drive Uber every day, write screenplays every night. Sell out, drop out, suck up, fuck up. There is no right or wrong way to do L.A.
Monahan accurately describes why Los Angeles encapsulates the present, and why it’s the most exciting place in the US right now. However, it is also important to note where the city is moving in the 2020s. With the 2028 Olympics as a finish line, Los Angeles is at a crossroads, on a path to become a different place in the next decade. But with the city already at the forefront of global media culture (The Kardashians, Moon Juice, Goop, etc.), it doesn’t need global architecture to maintain its position as a worldwide force. How it defines itself as a physical place is still up for grabs, and it should learn lessons from other hyper-globalized cities, namely New York. Tomorrow’s Los Angeles is one of layers. Moving on from its days as a bastion of mythological American modernism centered around mobility (cars), individuality (single-family homes), and triumph over nature (lawns), it will add new collectivities on to itself. These layers will arise from the constant flux of the new: Technologies and emerging social patterns meld nicely into the loose, still-codifying culture and its corresponding urban forms. It is the flickering of new, communal, car-free, publicly subsidized lifestyles against the old, car-centric, low-density, low-regulation, “libertarian” bones of the urban landscape that make it such an interesting place for urbanism today. The oft-bandied-about claim that the city is libertarian is also not entirely accurate, as California is a sea of regulation and red tape, continually votes to raise its already high taxes, and both California and Los Angeles are leading on climate action. The city is quietly building public infrastructure at a pace that vastly outpaces New York. New York’s Second Avenue Subway took somewhere between 10 and 100 years to complete three stations, and the next phase will be three stops and will be completed by 2029 at the earliest. Meanwhile Los Angeles is (optimistically) on course to build 28 new lines by 2028. This includes an airport-connection line that will allow a direct link from LAX to the city. Meanwhile, New York’s MTA is in a worsening crisis with crumbling stations and delays only getting worse, and New Jersey’s NJ Transit recently gave up on accounting for the traffic expected to reach the American Dream Mall, instead calling on private industry to complete the line, citing none other than Los Angeles’s electric rail airport connector as an example. That’s right—L.A. is leading the way in public transit. Meanwhile, Uber, a municipal car share and micro-mobility options such as scooters have already altered how people get around (many young people don’t have cars at all) and where they live, partly due to an explosion in transit-oriented development around the new metro lines. It is unclear exactly how successful, affordable, and sustainable this will be, but change is certainly underway. New transit networks both public and private, along with lower parking requirements for new construction will profoundly impact development and housing typologies in the future. But it is no secret that Los Angeles is careening toward a New York–like affordability crisis (if it isn’t there already) that goes hand-in-hand with the urban whitewash of global capital. Homelessness is at record levels and only getting worse. In response, architects are working to develop new housing typologies, from affordable prototypes and accessory dwelling units, to larger, multi-family schemes that continue to evolve with new regulations and design challenges. The L.A. River and the L.A River Greenway in the San Fernando Valley are also emerging sites of urban experimentation and reclamation/rehabilitation of greenspace. Los Angeles has a unique architectural culture and urban fabric, but red flags are emerging. First, Bjarke Ingels Group and Herzog & de Meuron, international firms that are both very popular with the New York development community, have projects downtown. Related Group (of Hudson Yards fame) has moved in and is developing a large Frank Gehry project across from Gehry’s own Disney Concert Hall. It perfectly illustrates the lower design quality of developer-led construction and echoes Related Companies’ other project, Hudson Yards: “The project is anchored by a central plaza wrapped with shopping areas and public art.” The biggest red flag might be the shortlist for the La Brea Tar Pits project. In Miracle Mile’s Museum Row, a neighborhood that already has been marred by architectural globalists—once by KPF and twice by Renzo Piano—the shortlist for the La Brea master plan is New York establishment firms WEISS/MANFREDI and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, along with Danish firm Dorte Mandrup. It is a truly odd and troubling list. All three are talented firms, but their selection signals the wind turning toward a placeless architecture where, in California terms, “there is no there there,” reflecting classic donor-class aesthetics. Don’t even get me started on what director Michael Govan and the LACMA board are doing to push through their new building. Joseph Giovannini said it best:
In a sleight of hand that still has serious consequences for LACMA and Los Angeles, Govan introduced [Peter] Zumthor, the architect who presumably could achieve this world-class building, to his Board of Trustees. There was no competition, no public review or discussion, no transparency, just a shoo-in of the architect who had arrived in Los Angeles in Govan’s back pocket. “It won’t be the seventh Renzo Piano building in the country,” Govan explained to me in an interview. “We’ll have the only Zumthor.” …Had he even made it into a normal architect selection process, the jury might have concluded that he was mismatched and dangerously underequipped for the commission.
Some Angelenos say that local architects should get their due. L.A. has been defined in many ways by outsiders such as Neutra and Schindler, but also by local legends like Thom Mayne and Frank Gehry, as well as a younger generation like Barbara Bestor, Michael Maltzan, and a host of others who can deliver top-notch design. Los Angeles doesn't need the continental, polite, same-as-everywhere architecture that plagues institutions around the world. The architecture scene has always valued experimentation and allowed younger, more avant-garde approaches and diverse practices to gain ground, outside of the institutional weight that plagues places like the East Coast. It is not “provincial”—as some claim—to want to preserve this well-established local flavor while moving forward. In fact, what would be provincial is thinking that it is necessary to look outward for world-class architecture, or that a mythical global culture needs to be imported for the city to become a world-class place. Nothing defines the periphery like the center, and nothing makes one more provincial than defining oneself against New York. Of course, outside architects can come in and add to the culture; it just takes a bit of judgment. For instance, Spanish firm SelgasCano’s bright, breezy, kit-of-parts style seems to fit with L.A.’s pop modernist aesthetic, and Arata Isozaki’s MOCA has also become an iconic part of L.A. architecture. So let L.A. be regional and different. Don’t let it succumb to the pressures of global capital and “global architecture.” Don’t let Boyle Heights—a strong Latino neighborhood under development pressure, with several buildings already being renovated—become Hudson Yards. New York City has been ruined by capital, which was weaponized to take away the grittiness of places like Times Square, a project of Ed Koch and eventually of Rudy Guiliani. Later, technocrat billionaire Michael Bloomberg finished the sanitization of the city with sloppy rezonings of Williamsburg, West Chelsea, and Long Island City most notably, which ushered in the era of bland office towers and mega mall-like sterility. Developers like President Donald Trump and Related Companies, along with their elected enablers like Bloomberg and Guiliani have shared class interests that threaten the small-scale, local and regional urban landscapes where artists, immigrants, and the working class foment culture. How can Los Angeles be a laboratory for resisting the entropic, hegemonic cancer that is global capital, the global donor class, and the donor-class aesthetic? One tactic, and to be fair, something that the Bloomberg administration got right in places like Brooklyn and Staten Island, is downzoning to preserve the character of neighborhoods. This is also tricky and can lead to NIMBYism, which L.A. has certainly had its share of recently. In a similar vein, Thom Mayne provocatively suggested clustering development on the Wilshire corridor in order to protect other areas. The Wilshire area has seen some development, but not at the scale Mayne has suggested. Additionally, serious and innovative criticism is needed. Critics must not fall into 20th-century modes of operating; they have to get out in front of these debacles rather than react to them. There are a host of critics operating in Los Angeles, and no one is better positioned to have an impact than former L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, who is now in a unique role as the Chief Design Officer for the City of Los Angeles, a position where he is literally helping craft RFPs (request for proposals). As long as Hawthorne is able to be heard in the government and in the public and can surround himself with good people who will help guide L.A. through this crucial time, there is a real opportunity to have more and more expert opinions in the process that will avoid the disasters that haunt New York. This, along with more equitable and compensated juried design competitions, can help the people who make financial decisions make "better" aesthetic and cultural decisions. Regionalism, when connected to local ecology, provokes more interesting and nuanced design than a totalizing, global aesthetic. In terms of what resistance might look like outside of design review, Los Angeles is already taking on challenges in a unique way. In Boyle Heights, gentrifying art galleries have been pushed out by strong neighborhood coalitions demanding affordable housing and neighborhood services. Los Angeles could also adopt anti-gentrification policies such as rent control or downzoning to prevent the displacement of both residential and retail spaces. Many cities have adopted such plans, while Berlin and other cities have enacted rent freezes and other regulations on the housing market to ensure affordability. Los Angeles in many ways is the logical conclusion of the myth of the American West. Several time zones and thousands of miles in distance from New York and other global cities, it has historically been connected to global culture through mass media, not physical space. This isolation has left it to its own devices as an urban place. This doesn’t need to change as it grows into more of a global force. New forms and ways of living can be cultivated without abandoning what makes it a special place: its resistance to the forces of the outside. In the 2020s, defining a new localism would be quite an amazing achievement.
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Must-See Not-TV

Here are fall's hottest architecture, sustainability, and social theory events on the East Coast
AN has assembled another collection of exhibitions, lectures, and conferences in the coming week that feature artists, architects, policymakers, and thinkers reflecting on aesthetic, social, ecological, and design strategies for the modern world. If you're in or around New York City, stop by and enrich yourself. Check out the events below: Rashid Johnson, The Hikers at Hauser + Wirth Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street Opening reception: November 12, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. November 12 through January 25, 2020 Rashid Johnson's The Hikers show includes ceramic tile mosaics, collaged paintings, a large-scale bronze sculpture sprouting plants, and an installation of his latest film shot in Colorado, using the combination of mountain landscapes and body movement to express the psychological consequences and challenges of the modern world and its injustices. Johnson asks: "What are the movements like when a black man is walking past a police officer? Or when a black man is suffering from agoraphobia?" Urban Thinkers Campus: Accelerating the SDGs in Cities Kellogg Center, Columbia University, SIPA 15th Floor November 13, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. GSAPP, Wood Auditorium, 1st Floor 420 West 118th Street, Room 1501 November 14, 10:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. The Urban Thinkers Campus is a UN Habitat framework for critical exchange between stakeholders and partners to promote sustainable urbanization. Columbia University's Center for Sustainable Urban Development is hosting Accelerating the SDGs in Cities, promoting the Paris Climate Agreement's Sustainable Development Goals as a tool to evaluate projects on the basis of the 193-nation agreement. Emphasizing the urgency of meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, it shepherds academics, professionals, and participants of civil society to generate ideas for action and methodologies to expedite action on the SDGs. The event will also include a complementary gallery of 100 local projects from more than 30 countries, considered according to how they meet the goals.

Creative Time Speaking Truth | Summit X

The Great Hall, Cooper Union November 14 through 16, various times Kickoff Event: November 14, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. LOLA, 169 Avenue A, New York The tenth Creative Time Summit, Speaking Truth, continues the public art organization's discussion of social, political, and aesthetic questions through keynote presentations, group discussions, workshops, and performances. Traveling to DC, Toronto, and Miami in recent years, it returns to New York City to the Great Hall at Cooper Union and sites around the East Village, asking whether the long-time activist cliche of "speaking truth to power" can rescue us from disillusionment. Maybe not, but some of the usual suspects of socially engaged art will be mixed with new faces to challenge whether art can be more than another sideshow of collapsing civic life, politics, and media culture. Francis Kéré: Work Report Yale Architecture Hastings Hall, 180 York Street, Basement Level, New Haven, CT November 14, 6:30 p.m. Kéré's lecture at Yale promises an update on his recent projects, with an emphasis on his communal approach to design and commitment to sustainable materials and modes of construction, drawing on the social and physical particularities of localities. Based in Berlin, Kéré Architecture's current work includes the Burkina Faso National Assembly, the Lycée Schorge Secondary School, the Léo Surgical Clinic & Health Centre, the 2017 Serpentine Pavilion, and Xylem, the recently opened pavilion for Tippet Rise Art Center. The Green New Deal: A Public Assembly Queens Museum New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens November 17, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Advocates, organizers, and elected officials—including a rumored appearance by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her district—will gather for this conference jointly organized by the Buell Center at Columbia GSAPP with the Queens Museum, AIA New York, the Architecture Lobby, Francisco J. Casablanca (¿Quién Nos Representa?), and Green New Deal organizer and architect Gabriel Hernández Solano. Following the drafting of a set of general principles for how to equitably redress climate crisis in House Resolution 109 and Senate Resolution 59, The Green New Deal: A Public Assembly includes morning workshops and an afternoon series of discussions to encourage invited guests and the public to think systemically and across scales. Alphonso Lingis, "Irrevocable" The New School GIDEST Lab at 63 Fifth Avenue, Room 411 November 22, 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. The philosopher Alphonso Lingis lectures on the "irrevocable" at the GIDEST Seminar, the New School's weekly discussion at the Graduate Institute for Design, Ethnography & Social Thought. Author of a series of books on places of alterity and social cohesion, including The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common, The Imperative, Dangerous Emotions, Trust, and Violence and Splendor, Lingis's work draws from continental philosophy, phenomenology, and engages in philosophical-ethnographic travel meditations, often focused on bodily experience.
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RIP

British architect Ted Cullinan dies at 88
Edward "Ted" Cullinan, founder of London firm Cullinan Studio, has passed away aged 88. The RIBA Gold Medalist died in his sleep yesterday, Monday, November 11. The British architect was born in Islington, London, in 1931 and started eponymous practice, Edward Cullinan Architects (later Cullinan Studio) in 1965. After studying in the U.K. and U.S. at the Architectural Association and the University of California at Berkeley, he designed buildings across the U.K. in his own name after working Denys Lasdun on ziggurat-shaped student housing at the University of East Anglia. For his first project, Cullinan spent a year as a student working with a local builder to restore the decommissioned 19th-century Belle Tout lighthouse in East Sussex. The project was finished in 1956 and today you can rent it out for a holiday—worth it for the views across the South Downs alone. Other early buildings also endure, like the British Olivetti headquarters in Derby (1971) which Cullinan got the job for after being recommended by James Stirling. “Stylish and expandable” and “immediately identifiable by its big yellow plastic-clad roof” Nikolaus Pevsner’s co-editor Elizabeth Williamson once remarked, before adding her fears over the building’s maintenance. Almost 50 years since it opened and after the original tenants departed, the building has been refurbished and reincarnated as the East Midlands Logistics Center, with Stirling's influence still very much present. Cullinan’s work was also a big part of my childhood. His studio’s Charles Cryer Theatre in Carshalton, South London, was—and arguably still is—the area’s most architecturally ambitious piece of modern architecture in the area. As a former member of the council’s technical office told me, Cullinan was given a graphic account of what activities can take place in public toilets by the council’s chief electrical engineer as the theater was under construction in the early '90s. “That told him!” the engineer told the rest of the office, who had all been listening in, as he put the phone down. (It was all in good spirits, I’m told). Other notable buildings from Cullinan include the Bartholomew Villas in London; the Grade II-listed (the U.K. equivalent of having landmark status) RMC headquarters in Surrey; the Downland Gridshell, West Sussex; and the Newcastle Maggie’s Center (all featured in the above image gallery). Beyond practicing as an architect, Cullinan taught at the University of Nottingham, the Bartlett, Sheffield University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Edinburgh. Cullinan was awarded the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 2008. “I’ve never seen anyone hold a room quite like Ted did …when he spoke, everyone listened,” a former colleague told AN. In a statement released today, the practice said:
“The inspirational founder of our practice was a true pathfinder for all architects. Ted was designing for climate change 60 years ago with a holistic vision for the practice of architecture that he described as a social act. His legacy is in the buildings and places he transformed, in his model of architectural practice, but perhaps most powerfully in the thousands of people he taught and inspired throughout his long life. We share our deepest sympathies with his family and all his many friends.”
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We Live, We Die.

WeWork is imploding. What happened to its plan to redesign the world?
“Everything we do at WeWork should be done with intent and meaning for maximum impact,” said Adam Neumann, the recently ousted CEO and cofounder of WeWork, in a 2018 blog post. “This starts with every space for every member and scales to every building in every city. In 2018, we want to have an impact on the buildings we occupy. In 2019, it will be the neighborhoods WeWork is part of, and by 2020, the cities we live in.”  This bombast was characteristic of the businessman known equally for his tequila-fueled screaming bouts and Kabbalah-enhanced executive meetings, whose oversized persona in many ways came to define the company. To meet the megalomaniacal goal of a WeWorld as well as the more quotidian needs of making flexible office spaces, the We Company amassed a large team of architects, designers, and technologists through both hiring and acquisitions. The company was itself cofounded by an architect, Miguel McKelvey, who WeWork’s recently-departed chief growth officer (and then CTO) David Fano claimed rather hyperbolically in a 2015 interview in Architect built a lot of the original WeWorks with his bare hands.” McKelvey remains WeWork’s chief culture officer. This cultish blind faith is—or was—characteristic of WeWork acolytes. In the wake of a botched attempt to take the We Company public, exposés on Neumann’s excessive spending, unpredictable behavior, and self-dealing, and revelations that the company was more or less out of cash and has little prospect of turning a profit in the near future, confidence has flagged, even among true believers. Once valued at $47 billion, and after an infusion of cash from SoftBank which included an unprecedented $1.7 billion “golden parachute” for Neumann to leave his post, the We Company is now worth "just" $8 billion.  WeGrow, the company’s foray into for-profit education led by the former CEO’s wife, Rebekah Paltrow Neumann (cousin to Gweneth Paltrow), will close at the end of the academic year. The fate of its other numerous side projects, such as Rise by We, a gym, and the housing initiative WeLive( which is currently under investigation in New York City for possibly illegally operating as a hotel) are uncertain. WeWork is also likely to divest from the high-profile conversion of the former Lord & Taylor building in midtown. But perhaps most distressingly, the company is expected to lay off as many as 4,000 people this fall, according to some estimates, with untold more to come. But even those plans have been hampered: the company can’t afford to pay severance. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t look like we’ll all be living in WeCities in 2020. With WeWork shedding its properties and staff and finding itself on less steady ground day by day, what does that mean for the company’s architects? Uncertainty reigns.“It’s been disheartening to find things out through media instead of the company itself,” said one WeWork employee to AN (the company declined to comment on whether those layoffs might include architects and other design employees). Designer Dror Benshetit, who was hired for WeWork’s “Future Cities Initiative” in partnership with Di-Ann Eisnor, formerly of Waze, has been sacked along with his team, according to current and former employees. Fashion designer Adam Kimmel, former chief creative officer, has just stepped down. Most of the architecture and technology higher-ups from Case, the design tech company that WeWork acquired in 2015, have departed in the past several months, including Federico Negro, WeWork's former head of design, and David Fano, former chief growth officer, who left in October. That said, architects inside the company who were willing to speak to The Architect’s Newspaper reported feeling relatively secure in their positions. Creating workspaces is WeWork’s core enterprise, and employees have noted that at conferences given by executives, the work of the architects at the We Company has been largely praised. However, the constant uncertainty and erratic nature of the business has driven many to leave the company in advance of any possible layoffs. Others are staying, some with the hope of cashing in on severance deals, not of keeping a job in the long term. “I find it sad that the person who made this business happen was an architect, but it was his business partner who ruined it,” lamented one WeWork employee, speaking of McKelvey and Neumann, respectively. Building WeWork Founded in 2010, WeWork’s design ambitions became clear in 2015 when the company acquired Case, a high-tech Building Information Modeling consultancy. This made sense: WeWork is more or less a real estate company masquerading as a Silicon Valley-style startup. It owns very little of the buildings it occupies, including the much-talked-about Dock 72 that just opened in the Brooklyn Navy Yards, which The New York Times reports is still largely empty. Instead, it leases spaces, then redesigns them and offers them up as flexible rentals to other businesses—from brand new startups to tech giants like Facebook and IBM to legacy publications like the Atlantic The biggest news was, well, BIG. In 2018, WeWork named Bjarke Ingels its “chief architect,” an unprecedented move for a company like WeWork. But it spoke to its ostensible high-minded design goals. Ingels’s firm BIG did design the Manhattan WeGrow, as well as other projects. However, current and former employees who requested not to be named for fear of reprisal reported that most of Ingels’s actual architectural responsibilities had been delegated to Michel Rojkind, the architect who serves as WeWork’s senior vice president of architecture (Rojkind could not be reached for comment). “It wasn’t anything more than a marketing thing,” said one former WeWork employee of Ingels’s appointment. Ingels reportedly receives no salary, having opted instead for compensation in equity alone, a regrettable move in light of recent events. (Representatives for Bjarke Ingels and BIG declined to comment for this story.) It wasn’t just notable names—WeWork hired architects, lighting designers, project managers, and other design professionals by the dozen. “There was a lot of hand-wringing early on about how many architects were leaving the industry to work at WeWork, and there was a fear that WeWork was sucking up the best architectural minds,” recalled one former employee. The company also formed another architectural spinoff, Powered by We, which brought its know-how for designing workspaces to external corporate clients, like the Swiss bank UBS. Insiders report the division has yet to turn a profit. But despite all the present-day disorder and uncertainty, many employees are happy to stay. “I don’t want to work at a normal architecture office,” said one architect who spoke on condition of anonymity. “ As tumultuous and crazy as the year has been for the whole company, I think it’s a good thing that they disrupted architecture practice; it’s an industry that needs some disruption.” “At an architecture office you’re not encouraged to try other projects or make it better; it’s just, ‘This is the system, this is how we do it,’” the employee added. But WeWork lets architects ask, “How do we make things better rather than just following traditions?”—something they didn’t feel able to do in traditional architecture offices. WeWork’s ability to “disrupt” architecture is due not just to some vaulted startup ethos nor its ability to pay higher salaries. Another meaningful difference is who the designers work for; WeWork is its own client. While it may work with architects of record and contractors, for the most part, WeWork’s architectural labor supply chain is vertically integrated. Everyone from the lighting designer to the architectural software engineers are on staff.  There is also a hope that former WeWork architects might bring this new perspective with them when they return to the industry and that the industry might respond, for example, by putting technology on the same level as other aspects of design. “Architects have a lot to offer, but it’s time to take risks. We need to learn to want more for ourselves and for the industry.” Buildings = Data  Beyond all the hype surrounding the company, at least one of its divisions was living up to the Silicon Valley unicorn moniker that investors had ascribed to it. A former WeWork employee described the architectural software arm of the company as “One of the more technically advanced offices in the entire AEC [Architecture, Engineering, and Construction] sphere.” The employee went on to say, “We’ve got a pretty intelligent system around BIM, around data, around workflow and processes.” These developments happened relatively behind the scenes, though hardly secretly. WeWork regularly published blog posts about its use of 3-D laser scanning, machine learning, and data collection.  This architectural brain power, along with easy access to new BIM and parametric technology, did, in fact, give WeWork an edge in its core business: designing office spaces. It’s as a design practice that WeWork could truly be understood as an innovator. To be clear, it isn’t in the often-mimicked design aesthetic of its office spaces—with its exposed brick, neon signs, midcentury modern knockoffs, and formaldehyde-expelling phone booths. What is new is how WeWork has been able to design with tremendous efficiency at scale in part thanks to its voraciously collected user data. Similar to the way social media companies harvest untold amounts of data on their billions of users, WeWork was swimming in data on the workers occupying its office spaces around the world. In February, some WeWork employees had begun wearing shirts that said, “Buildings equal data.” The largest office leaseholder in New York City was using data to shape everything from what buildings to rent to how to lay them out. Through a variety of tools, WeWork was harvesting its tenants data the way Facebook exploits its users—as unwitting sources for generating new, targeted services to generate even more revenue. WeWork embedded sensors in conference rooms and phone booths, tracked “user behavior” on its app, and tested out computer vision and location beacon systems. “Imagine a conference room that can tell you how it feels, that understands what the inhabitants might be feeling,” said a company blog post that asked, “What would the Google Analytics of buildings look like?” Last year, WeWork used virtual reality headsets and EEG brainwave monitors to see how people responded to different “vibes.” For example, “Spaces with more natural light and brighter finishes are associated with significantly higher levels of focus and interest.” While WeWork wanted to collect users' general emotional response—one test subject described wearing the headset as “empowering”—its central interest, of course, was creating environments ideal for work. Of course, WeWork, along with tech companies and creative firms, has created a new sort of standard which other companies want. “A lot of corporate America works in environments that are stifling and boring,” said one Powered by We employee. “Retaining and hiring young staff has been hard for them. [Powered by We] is a way of changing a workplace by changing the interiors.” With this data, WeWork claims it was not only able to make the design and building management process more efficient and targeted, but also able to introduce new custom automation into its design of its mass-produced office spaces. They are often created from a sort of kits of parts—which included pre-determined selections of wallpaper, kitchen fittings, furnishings, etc.—inside the many buildings the company has leased, or less frequently, owned. WeWork had also developed custom software to help the company’s designers automate desk arrangements throughout their spaces. More desks means more money, after all. Recently, in the Avery Review, philosopher Mathew Stewart referred to WeWork’s space layout algorithm as “One tool in the now endless surge of automated BIM options that aims to make the bureaucratic processes of architecture more efficient, calculable and less labor-intensive.” He added, “This produces a mystified process that hides the social and political character of design decisions. The contemporary production of architecture is a complex global web of supply chains, logistics, labor, and legal and political infrastructures.” Some former WeWork employees disputed this characterization. In a company blog, former senior researcher Andrew Heumann said that they just want to get rid of the “tasks that are the most tedious and repetitious.” However, design at WeWork was arguably a relatively simple problem, one in which automation could easily be introduced without tremendous technological innovation. Offices may be different shapes, but at the end of the day, they’re relatively consistent spaces. One Powered by We architect suggested that “WeWork Classic” architects weren’t “challenged.” “I would assume their job is quite boring,” the employee said. “It’s just based on efficiencies.” Multiple things can be true at once. While WeWork likely overstates its technical prowess in order to boost its legitimacy as a “startup,” and while other companies also use data collection to inform design, building, and usage in their offices, its proprietary BIM tools and automation technologies may have unforeseen, significant impacts on how architects design, especially as more and more well-qualified architects, designers, and tech professionals exit WeWork to create their own startups or work at other companies or traditional firms. If expanded beyond the simple constraints of aesthetically-unified office design, new automation tools could free up designers to do more interesting, innovative things beyond building mechanics and interior layouts. Or, as so often happens under a capitalist logic consumed with “optimization” above all else, they may just cause a flattening of design difference, ushering a new Algorithmic Realism in architecture. Perhaps WeWork will take over the world after all. At least there’s happy hour.