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Postopolis! Comes to LA
You remember Postopolis! don't you? The reality show-worthy architecture blog-a-thon that sequestered five bloggers for five days at the Storefront for Art and Architecture two years ago? Well, hold onto your laptops, kids, because Postopolis! is back and promises to be bigger, better, bloggier and more exclamation-pointy than ever before...because it's coming to LA, baby! Geoff Manaugh announced the lineup today and it's a doozy; six bloggers hailing from Sydney to San Fran (and including Manaugh himself, who we know is still an Angeleno at heart): —David Basulto from Plataforma Arquitectura and ArchDaily (Santiago, Chile) —Jace Clayton from Mudd Up! (New York City, USA) —Régine Debatty from we make money not art (Paris, France) —Bryan Finoki from Subtopia (San Francisco, USA) —Dan Hill from City of Sound (Sydney, Australia) —Geoff Manaugh from BLDGBLOG (San Francisco, USA) Postopolis! will still be sponsored by the Storefront (who had temporary digs here last year) and the lovely folks at ForYourArt as part of the LA Art Weekend. From March 31 to April 4 at a TBD location, the bloggers will post at a feverish, around-the-clock pace. Students from local architecture schools will be hired to monitor feeding tubes, administer 20 oz. Monster energy drinks on the hour and empty their bedpans as needed. In addition to the ancillary interviews, presentations, lectures, panel discussions, and slideshows that we saw last Postopolis!, Manaugh promises: "This time it will be all that plus more art, film, and music, a larger international scope, hopefully several Spanish-language events and lectures, hopefully at least one minor earthquake." We'll try our best to deliver on that last one.

Editorial: Think Again

Architects have been on alert ever since Obama declared on December 6 that he aspired to a building plan as ambitious as any the country has ever known—or at least that is what architects wanted to believe they heard. In reality, it wasn’t actually so much about new buildings as possibly new transportation, and not even so much about new railroads or high-tech mag lev—with their attendant stations and hub development—so much as about prosaic road and bridge repairs.

The high hopes for a vast and visionary infrastructure push that would translate into a wave of architectural design have gradually faded. A January 20 article in The New York Times put it bluntly: “Big transformative building projects seem unlikely.”

And still the air of opportunity persists, bolstered by the lists of 10,000 schools to be updated, 90 ports to be secured, 75 percent of federal buildings to be weatherized, and 1,300 waste-water projects to be built. (Remember what stunning work Steven Holl and Yoshio Taniguchi did with those water and waste plants?) At some point the “private sector” is also supposed to kick in with a $100 billion investment in clean energy projects, some of which will have to be three-dimensional.

The brute fact is that—like the shot of adrenalin to Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction—the $825 billion stimulus package has to be delivered fast and straight to the heart of the problem: joblessness. Even fast-track architecture doesn’t normally operate at that speed. Some advocacy groups, namely America 2050, a national coalition of regional planners, scholars, and policy-makers focusing on innovative ways to solve infrastructure, economic development, and environmental challenges, is warning that the money must not be spent all at once, but rather in phases that allow for strategic planning, job training, construction, and engineering evaluations.

And that’s where architects can regain some ground. In a timely book about the relevance of architects, Architecture Depends (MIT, 2009), Jeremy Till, the dean of architecture and built environment at the University of Westminster in the UK, says that architects have to shelve the notion that they are in the business of solving problems where the answer is almost always new construction. 

For if architects are not part of first imaginings, he writes, they are already hopelessly out of the game: “It is normally assumed that the most creative part of design is concerned with the building as object, hence the fixation with formal innovation, but it may be argued that the most important and most creative part of the process is the formulation of the brief.”

Many architects are already aware of this and have reprogrammed their practices to address a wider spectrum of analysis—of social usage, of historical relevance, of fiscal viability or even geological context—well before design takes place. More architects, the whole profession actually, needs to become better known for what planning theorist John Forester calls “sense-making” rather than form making. Cedric Price famously said that the best solution to an architectural problem may not be a building. And never has it seemed more imperative to the welfare and survival of the profession that architects make themselves known as designers of options, instead of icons.

Eavesdrop: Sara Hart

AN is thrilled to deliver the Eavesdrop baton—oh, dare say cudgel, do!—into the dextrous hands of Sara Hart who has long impressed many with her wickedly apropos sense of humor. We count on you all to slip her innuendo-loaded emails, secret handshakes, and any floating info aching to land in print.

The Penguin Club lives! Seen at the Four Seasons on inauguration night was a reconvening of the so-called Penguin Club, the group of once-young avant-garde architects whom Philip Johnson had regularly hosted for all-male, black-tie dinners at the Century Club from the mid-1970s onward. The lineup of aging superstars included, among others, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, Charles Gwathmey, Harry Cobb, Jacquelin Robertson, Bob Stern, Steven Holl, Bernard Tschumi, and Jorge Silvetti. Conspicuous by his absence was charter-member Penguin Peter Eisenman, but conspicuous by his presence was Graves, whose enormous motorized wheelchair necessitated the group’s dining at a long table in the northeast corner of the Pool Room, rather than in the private space they had requested. According to Four Seasons co-owner Alex von Bidder, these events are an ongoing series, though they are not bankrolled, as had been widely speculated, by a bequest from Philip Johnson, whose entire estate along with the art-auction proceeds of his late longtime partner, David Whitney, went to the endowment for the Glass House.

A new architectural/design blog has arrived to entertain and inform you. Edited by design writers (and AN contributors) Eva Hagberg and Ian Volner, Edificial ( is the latest addition to Breaking Media’s stable of sharply written industry-specific blogs, which includes Above the Law, Fashionista, and Dealbreaker. The content will be gossipy, but it will also include back stories about projects, people, deal-making, and all kinds of design extranea. According to Hagberg, the editors plan to critique the critics and introduce new voices. “We’ll present the up-close play-by-play and the long view,” she said. “There will be roundups, link dumps, and essays. Edificial will be personal, political, and polemical.” No doubt it will be all of those things and, if successful, make money for Breaking Media. Best of luck! Meanwhile, over in the serious and sober nonprofit world, the Architectural League of New York went live with its own blog on January 5. Underwritten by the NYC Cultural Innovation Fund of the Rockefeller Foundation, Urban Omnibus ( will feature “multimedia content to showcase design innovation, critical analysis, and local expertise” with the aim of encouraging “a more inclusive, more sustainable, more beautiful city that could be.” Bring on the multimedia. We’re parched!

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Hotels On The Rise
Nikolas Koenig

Standard Hotel

Impresario André Balazs has set necks craning and tongues wagging with his structurally brazen, Polshek-designed tower over the High Line. That Balazs has transformed this high-visibility site into public accessibility—with a sprawling street-level plaza and elevated public spaces designed to connect directly to the High Line—makes the Standard all the more noteworthy. Julie V. Iovine takes in the view.


COURTESY cooper square

Cooper Square Hotel

New York–based architect Carlos Zapata and famed Italian designer Antonio Citterio have created the latest addition to the fast-transforming edges of Astor Place. By incorporating existing tenements into the tower’s base and layering public and private spaces, hotelier Klaus Ortlieb extends a tradition of suitably incongruous East Village aesthetics. Alan G. Brake checks in.







aaron seward

Room Service in Gowanus?

Because a quirk in the 1961 zoning code treats hotels the same way it does factories, some hoteliers are plumping pillows where metalworkers once stamped tin. As demand drives new transient hotels in dwindling manufacturing districts—eight are under way blocks from the Gowanus Canal—job-retention advocates are crying foul. Matt Chaban investigates.

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Cooper Square Hotel
A paneled library-lounge offers homey comfort at this urbane hotel.
Courtesy Cooper Square Hotel

Buildings by well-known architects are transforming the shaggy edges of Cooper Square and Astor Place, once the domain of college students, homeless people, and Cube-spinning hangers-on. The latest addition, the Cooper Square Hotel, is a striking juxtaposition of old and new, with 19th-century tenements incorporated into its base and a curving, contemporary tower above. The building, designed by New York–based architect Carlos Zapata with interiors by famed Italian designer Antonio Citterio, engages with its context but makes a few clean breaks, as well.

“We wanted to create an architecturally significant building to reflect the changes in Cooper Square,” said Klaus Ortlieb, managing partner for the hotel, referring to the architecturally ambitious new buildings associated with Cooper Union. A new academic building by Morphosis is rising next door to the hotel, and the curves of Gwathmey Siegel’s condominium building at adjacent Astor Place are visible from its rooms. A new mixed-use project designed by Fumihiko Maki is also planned just two blocks away on the site of the school’s engineering building.

Unlike the developers of those buildings, however, Ortlieb and his partners chose not to clear the site. After initially planning to demolish three tenement buildings, one of which includes protected artists’ apartments, they reversed course and asked Zapata to redesign the building, incorporating the tenements into the new building’s base and creating a contemporary form above. Two apartments, one of which is home to a well-known poet, remain, and are now accessed through the hotel’s main entrance. In retaining these buildings, the developers avoided a messy public fight, which could have tainted the hotel’s relationship with the famously cantankerous neighborhood. (Zapata is no stranger to controversial additions to historic buildings: His most famous project remains the renovation of Chicago’s Soldier Field, designed with former business partner Benjamin Wood.) The hotel’s sleek glass tower, built by Sciame,  is narrow where it joins the base and swells in the middle before tapering again at the penthouse level. This Miami-meets-McSorley’s relationship between old and new is interesting and somewhat jarring, but could be read as another iteration of the clashing of styles and repurposing of found objects that has long defined East Village aesthetics. The planned landscape design by Nathan Browning, which will include a large dining garden wrapping around the rear and side of the hotel, may help to bring these opposing sensibilities into greater harmony.

The tower (top) has a corporate flavor distinct from the tenements at its base. the spare guestrooms (above) offer sweeping views of the neighborhood.              
courtesy cooper square

Inside, Zapata has woven a complex and layered sequence of public and private spaces into the narrow site. Bar and restaurant patrons can enter just to the left of the main hotel entrance. The bar area has a curved ceiling covered in black subway tile that forms the underside of a 20-person stadium-seating screening room. Behind the bar and restaurant, bordering on 5th Street, the outdoor garden and dining area will be accessible to both guests of the hotel and restaurant and bar patrons. In the back of the garden, a stair and catwalk lead to an elevated outdoor bar built over the base of the building.

On the interior, Citterio used natural materials such as slate flooring, with pieces hand-broken in Italy and shipped to the site, and warm walnut panels in the lobby and the lounge-like library, which is carved out of space from one of the tenements. There is no reception desk, but attendants hover close by and will instantly know your name and preferences. Patterned glass with an abstracted leaf motif lines the elevator core. Citterio designed almost all of the furniture, which was then produced by B&B Italia in a palette of black leather, wood, and steel (a few other pieces, such as seating from Herman Miller and Poliform, are interspersed). The library and the guest rooms are stocked with used books provided by the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, which are for sale with all proceeds benefiting the nonprofit service provider. A Persian rug in the lobby and subtle floor and side lamps round out these chic but comfortable spaces. “We wanted it to have a residential feel,” Ortlieb said.

The rooms have an even quieter appearance, and here all of Zapata’s glass and the location really pay off. Set on the square on one side, where the Bowery and 4th Avenue meet, with the mostly low-rise East Village on the other, the rooms have spectacular views both on the lower levels and upward. On the lower levels, the church steeples, rear yards, and rooftop gardens of the neighborhood provide endless fascination for the eye, while on the upper floors, the entire city, including the outer boroughs and the banks of New Jersey, open up to view. Inside, Citterio’s pieces have clean lines, and the bathrooms have large windows with fritted glass and no curtains, offering both views and privacy. “The bathrooms are very important,” Ortlieb said. “You spend most of your waking hours in a hotel in the bathroom.”

While the rooms—145 in total, ranging from small, 225-square-foot rooms to junior and full suites—are luxurious without being flashy, none will compare with the two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom 21st-floor penthouse suite, currently under construction. With 360-degree panoramic views and a wide terrace on three sides, the space will surely be one of the most desirable in the city for private events and late-night debauchery.

It is a difficult time to launch a new hotel that caters to “global creatives” in the art, fashion, and entertainment industries. Ortlieb, who worked for both Ian Schrager and André Balazs before becoming a developer himself, remains confident. “Not everyone looks only at prices,” he said. “Especially in New York, there will always be people looking for something a bit more unique. I opened the Mercer [with Balazs] when the market wasn’t strong. Things come around.” He’s confident enough to be planning two additional hotels with Zapata, one in Chicago and one more in New York, though he plans to work with different interior designers on each of these upcoming projects. He does not necessarily think his concept of small, architecturally ambitious hotels will be copied. “These are not inexpensive buildings to build,” he said. “I hope it’s my direction, not the new direction.”

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Room Service in Gowanus?
At Williamsburg's Hotel Le Jolie, rates for a night can hit $300, but they come with a BQE view.
Aaron Seward

New York is a hotel town. Glamorous haunts like the Plaza and the Carlyle are etched into the city’s lore, while boutique newcomers—the Mercers, Maritimes, and Grands—have transformed its social life. The newest category to make its mark is not doing so through cachet, however. More likely to overlook scrapyards and warehouses than Broadway theaters and four-star restaurants, these hotels are the strange progeny of a boom economy and an anomaly in the zoning code. They are, to coin a phrase, the industrial hotels.

“Here’s what you’re looking at—Manhattan Mini-Storage on one side, the Holland Tunnel on the other, and a waste transfer station over there,” said Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, expressing his dismay over the most famous such hotel, the Trump Soho, now nearing completion at 246 Spring Street.

Trump and his partners at the Bayrock/Sapir Organization could just as easily have built to the east of 6th Avenue in Soho proper. But then they would not have been able to create what at 44 stories will be the tallest building between 34th Street and the World Trade Center when it opens this fall. The area, known as Hudson Square, is zoned for high-density light manufacturing, and is full of the mid-rise loft buildings that were once at the heart of the city’s printing industry. But like manufacturing districts citywide, it allows developments such as Trump’s, thanks to a quirk in the 1961 Zoning Resolution that permits hotel construction as of right.

Both industrial buildings and hotels require high-density sites, though for precisely opposite reasons. A manufacturer typically builds out to the edge of the lot to get wide-open floors conducive to machinery and storage. An hotelier, on the other hand, is more likely to choose a taller building with a narrow floor plate so that each room has a window. Any given warehouse and hotel may have identical floor area ratios, but their form and the kinds of jobs they provide could not be further apart.

But beyond the physical advantages of developing hotels in manufacturing districts, there is also substantial demand. According to NYC & Co., the city’s tourism arm, lodgings in the five boroughs averaged an 86 percent occupancy rate since 2004, while the average room rate rose from $210 to $312. And as the city continues to rezone industrial areas like Dutch Kills in Queens, which saw more than a dozen hotels built within an eight-block area in three years, it’s best to get in while land is still cheap.

“We’ve been losing manufacturing at an alarming rate,” said Eve Baron, director of the Planning Center at the Municipal Art Society (MAS). In 2001, she completed an inventory of the city’s manufacturing zones with the New York Industrial Retention Network (NYIRN) and the Pratt Center for Community Development. While the resulting study found a number of development pressures threatening industrial areas, Barron said that hotels never came up. But now they are a serious issue, she argues, because unlike big-box retailers or illegal conversions, hotels tend to be physically out of scale with the buildings in manufacturing areas: “It changes the character of a neighborhood.”

Look no further than Hotel Le Bleu. Opened in November 2007 during the peak of the hotel boom, it briefly charged more than $300 a night, despite being within a block of the famously polluted Gowanus Canal. And yet it’s the first of eight hotels going up nearby. Like its Williamsburg sister Hotel Le Jolie, which charges similar rates for views of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, Le Bleu’s style is more Best Western than Biltmore. Still, next to its low-slung neighbors, the eight-story Le Bleu has unrivaled views, albeit of the canal, but also of Manhattan off in the distance. 

Despite cries from manufacturers and groups like MAS and NYIRN, the city sees no problem. “Transient hotels are compatible with commercial and light industrial businesses, and important to the overall economic health of the city,” said Jennifer Torres, spokesperson for the Department of City Planning. “Hotels need to be able to locate where business is conducted, as well as where they can serve demand generated by nearby residential neighborhoods.”

Adam Friedman, director of NYIRN, did acknowledge the Bloomberg administration’s work on industrial retention with the creation in 2005 of Industrial Business Zones (IBZ) that provide protections to companies located therein. But they do not preclude hotels. Friedman points to one NYIRN study that found that of the 23 hotels built in manufacturing districts in the last five years, 12 were built in IBZs.

He would like to see the creation of Industrial Employment Centers, which would require any non-manufacturing use to go through environmental review and approval by the City Planning Commission and the City Council. The council voted in support of such a measure in 2006, but has taken no action since.

Some might argue that with the recession in full swing, the market will move away from such development. According to NYC & Co.’s numbers, occupancy since October has fallen an average of eight percent despite a record-breaking August, when it was at 92.4 percent.

But according to numbers from hotel consultancy PKF, the city has enjoyed 80-plus percent occupancy rates since the late 1970s, meaning the recent boom in hotels is not a fad but the new reality, at least once the city climbs back out of the current recession. In essence, it is the entire city that is encroaching on its few remaining manufacturing zones, and the hotels were just first to get there.

“Of course they’ll be back,” Friedman admitted. “Within a year or two, the market will be strong again, and the underlying issues will still be there—how do you have a manufacturing district like Long Island City so close to somewhere like Midtown Manhattan?”

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Ciao, Bryant Park
The AP first reported last night, and the mayor confirmed it earlier today: Fashion Week is departing Bryant Park for Lincoln Center. But not just any Lincoln Center. The new-and-improved, Diller Scofidio + Renfro-approved Lincoln Center. According to Bloomberg--in this case, we mean both the mayor and his eponymous news service, via the latter link above--the festivities will take place at the center's Damrosch Park. We emailed the ever-fashionable "R" in DS+R, Charles Renfro, to get his take on the news:
In general, Fashion Week is one of the most vibrant events that New York has to offer. We are pleased that they have chosen Lincoln Center as their venue. It suggests that Lincoln Center’s efforts to shift perceptions of the facility from elitist acropolis to popular forum have been effective. Those efforts include the redesign of course, but also include more youthful and affordable programming. For heaven’s sake, I saw Sufjan Stevens perform there. And my tickets were free!
Now while we agree with that sentiment, Fashion Week seems to run counter, more exclusive elitism than than inviting populism. Still, our dear Renfro persists:
Like most events at Lincoln Center,  one can purchase tickets to Fashion Week tent shows, though I will admit that price points are higher than the current $20 Met cheap seats. And they sell out fast. Fashion Week is not that different than a Giants game: If you have any desire to go, you can buy a ticket. If you can get one, a seat on the 50 yards line will set you back $700 while a fashion week tent ticket will set you back $150, and all the tent seats are essentially 50 yard line seats.
If you say so. As for the park itself, "We haven’t moved into that phase of the redesign yet," Renfor wrote, and it remains to be seen if, whether, or how Fashion Week might impact the redesign--a rather controversial one at that, because it will remake one of Dan Kiley's more famous landscapes. Best known for free summer concerts--we especially enjoyed Mahmoud Ahmed last year--the new digs will almost certainly be fancier than the former ones, at least after DS+R is through with them. The trade offs: far less subway access--the Times points out that Chelsea Piers posed a similar challenge in 1997--and a departure from the industry's psychic home, the Garment District. Still, the move was inevitable, as Times fashion writer Eric Wilson makes clear:
Although the fashion shows, now operating as Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week to reflect a corporate sponsorship, were welcomed in Bryant Park in 1993, there were frequent clashes with the management company that controls its maintenance and security. The dispute intensified in 2006, when the Bryant Park Corporation announced it would no longer allow the shows to happen in the park, because they were interfering with plans to operate a skating rink in the winter and public use of the main lawn in the late summer.
And so, greener pastures have now been traded for chicer ones.
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Legoland, NY
For those of you who haven't already seen Christoph Niemann's great blog for the Times, "Abstract City"--the expat illustrator renders the city we love in terms of its subway lines and coffee stains--today's post proves to be his best work yet. At least that's the case for those of us whose obsession with architecture began with a pile of LEGO bricks many years ago. (Guilty as charged.) Here are a few of his more architectural pieces, but be sure to check them all out, as his clever renditions are just too good to be missed. Talk about (de)constructing New York.
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Astroland, Gone But Not Forgotten
Astroland may be gone, and much of Coney Island with it, but it least its most iconic symbol will be saved. (No, not the Tilt-a-Whirl.) As per a press release we just received, Carol Hill Albert, a co-owner of Astroland, has donated the amusement park's namesake rocket, which once rested atop Gregory & Paul's hot dog stand (an AN favorite).
"This one of a kind Rocket simulator was the very first ride to arrive at Astroland Park, when it was founded by my late father in-law Dewey Albert in 1962," Hill Alpert said in the release. "My husband Jerome and myself are donating this in his honor and on behalf the Coney Island History Project.  It is especially fitting that this Rocket, which was the first to arrive, will be the last item to leave Astroland Park. On the sad occasion of closing Astroland, which has been Coney Island's largest amusement park for 47 years, my husband Jerome and I are heartened to know that the City will be displaying the Rocket in a prominent location as part of the new Coney Island where it can continue to educate and entertain."
The release also said the city has agreed to afix a bronze plaque to the rocket to honor Astroland. And here's a video of its removal a few weeks ago:
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Q&A: Tom Kundig
Tim Bies

Seattle-based architect Tom Kundig had what he would call a “really terrific 2008.” In May he was awarded the Architecture Design Award for the Cooper-Hewitt’s 2008 National Design Awards, and last fall the AIA named his firm, Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen, Firm of the Year. Born in California but of mountain-climbing Swiss descent, Kundig spent his formative years in Canada and Alaska, where he first worked as an architect, before turning to architecture at the University of Washington and becoming a partner at Olson Sundberg with Scott Allen in 2000. Kundig quickly became known for his use of natural, sustainable materials and his love for kinetic architecture—designing dynamic elements often powered by antiquated machinery but softened by nature. Kundig talked to AN about the secret to Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen’s longstanding partnership and why Seattle’s architecture might at last be entering a golden age.

THE ARCHITECT’S NEWSPAPER: Some people would say your Cooper-Hewitt win and the AIA Firm of the Year would mean Seattle is finally getting noticed. Do you guys see it that way?

TOM KUNDIG: In the past, I’ve thought that maybe it’s fair that the East Coast and California don’t recognize good stuff is being done in other places. Now I don’t. I think sometimes work flowers out of an area, and regions get a little bit insecure about what’s being generated in their area. But there’s been work coming out of Arizona for a few years now that’s really been terrific. There’s work coming out of the Midwest that’s really terrific. I think there has been some great work that’s come out of Seattle, maybe it’s better right now, maybe it’s going to get even better. 

What about personally, how is your own work evolving?
I think one of the important issues every professional has to think about is how you continue to change and morph and still be true to the core of yourself. And I think that’s a full-time job. It’s a chore but I think people like Glenn Murcutt or Peter Zumthor or Herzog and de Meuron or Steven Holl—and there are others, many others—are able to achieve that recalibration and continue to be inventive. That’s a challenge. 

tim bies

mary randlett

paul warchol
OUTPOST, CENTRAL IDAHO (top); earth house, longbranch, washington (middle); and mission hill winery, westbank, bc, canada (above).

You’re known for your residential work. Are you shifting your focus from that?
I’m working on some things that are different in scale, certainly, from the past. Some urban work, some highrise and midrise that, depending on the economy, might be built. There’s one, Sun Valley Center for the Arts, which is looking for funding right now. It’s really my first small community center; it’s a kunsthalle, basically. 

You’ve become well known for using simple, affordable materials. In fact, you once described something as “dirt cheap,” but in a good way!
Maybe it’s just something that’s important to me, being frugal and efficient by nature. There’s the types of materials, first of all. Leaving them as-is makes them beautiful as-is. And it’s humble, it’s modest, and it’s not indulgent. You basically take a material and let it be what it wants to be. That seems awfully efficient, and yes, dirt cheap! 

You’re also famous for your experiments with kinetic architecture. How did this become a signature part of your work?
When I was a kid I grew up in a mining-logging-farming area, and of course there was a lot of machinery, a lot of practically-designed—and in their own way, beautiful—machinery. And when I lived in Alaska, I would go way out in the country, hiking and mountain climbing, and I would see these pieces of machinery way the heck back there, powered by water coming off the side of a mountain or by wind. The guys who designed these were geniuses! I think as I was developing an architectural voice, I realized there was something similar about building that I found fascinating: that buildings could be changed by people using them. You can literally move walls or furniture and move it on a scale that reminds you that in fact you’re capable—with geometry and physics—of moving these things. 

How did you join Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen?
Jim Olson founded his firm in 1966, and when I came down from Alaska in 1986, of course I knew the old firm, and this new firm that was reconfiguring itself [with Rick Sundberg]. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do because I had my own firm in Alaska and I had started to feel a little more personal about my work. So I joined the firm in 1986 as a test to see if I could work with a group of people and it felt really comfortable. It wasn’t so much that my voice was exactly like their voice, but if you did good work, it was a firm that skeptically but supportively let you use your own voice and develop it.

What’s happening in Seattle architecture that’s exciting?
Hopefully, some of the stuff we’re doing right now. I’ve got some projects I’m excited about, but they’re not built yet. I think there’s some good work going on, but nothing big and splashy like the Olympic Sculpture Park and the Seattle Public Library. Now, those were both out-of-city architects; if we can do something for our own city on that scale, that would be great. The Olympic Sculpture Park would’ve been a dream commission. That integration of the landscape and art in an urban setting—that would have been really interesting to me. Especially in a civic setting, you can’t get much better than that! There are some waterfront projects, too, it’s basically the removal of our viaduct, our Embarcadero, and that could have some interesting possibilities. And of course, Obama’s new infrastructure directive, that could lead to interesting stuff, because during our massive infrastructural building in the 30s, boy, there were some wonderful things being done, from dams to powerhouses to bridges.

Delta Shelter, Mazama, Washington
Tim Bies


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The Skyway's the Limit
As architects struggle to find work, a good place to turn has been the "green" market, especially adaptive re-use ("weatherizing," as the president likes to call it). Well, here's an extreme case: On Friday, Curbed noticed a proposal by Minneapolis firm City Desk Studio to transform a skyway into, among other things, a lakeside retreat. Better yet, it was being offered on Craigslist. For $79,500. Our jaws firmly dropped, we decided to call the firm up to find out more. Partner Bob Ganser answered in his polite, Midwestern way (sadly sans a Fargo accent) and admitted the firm was shocked by the response. "It's been viral, to say the least," he said. Perhaps the only thing more impressive than the proposal itself is the fact that the firm had posted it on and off on Craigslist all year, and it just happened to explode this time around. "There was one small story in a weekly financial paper here," Ganser said. "And then it just caught fire within a week." All the better, given that all the flood of interest has generated dozens of responses, about half of which Ganser said were real, serious offers. The story's even made as far as the UPI. "It's the News of the Weird, but we'll take it," Ganser said. "It is pretty wild." The firm, made up of Ganser and two fellow Golden Gophers, first heard about the bridge sale through an RFQ listserv run by their alma mater. When they placed their blind bid, it turned out no one else had, so the skyway was theirs. They attached wheels and moved it a matter of blocks to land currently leased from the city. (Some prospective buyers are far-flung, and transport has proven the greatest impediment to those deals, Ganser said.) Once the firm had the skyway, Ganser said they struggled to decide what to do with it. Minnesota being the land of 10,000 lakes, they eventually settled upon a lake house. "When we first heard about it, we though it would be some piece of junk," Ganser said. "But it turned out to be a beautiful piece of engineering. We thought it could be our own Glass House." It's not that much of a stretch, either, given that the span's designer, "father of skyways" Ed Baker, worked with Philip Johnson. He said the firm did realize they would need partners to complete the project, so they devised a time-share with a dozen slots at $100,000 a pop. They even put together a sales procure [.PDF]. When the partners canvased friends and family, there was some interest, but never a critical mass, so they turned it over to Craigslist, where the most recent ad has caused such a commotion. While the firm proposed such uses as a wine bar and an "inhabitable billboard," Ganser said those now interested in the project have mostly hued towards cabins and artist studios, as well as people seeking home additions, though Ganser believes that would a far more difficult undertaking than a stand-alone building. A number of local municipalities have also expressed interest. And, for better or worse, a number of architects who are themselves in need of a skyway for one of their own projects have called about buying it. "We would certainly like to see it transformed into some other use," Ganser said. "In a perfect world, we'd be the architects, too, but above all else, we want to see it get some use." As for moving the skyway, Ganser said he hopes it stays local, given that Minneapolis is the birthplace and, arguably, capitol of these architectural appendages. "In a way, it's a special object," Ganser said. "It has a special character. It's not just being reused. Especially in this area, it's place defining. It's almost mythical."
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Hold the Champagne
Developer Aby Rosen wants to restore the Parke-Bernet Building at 980 Madison Avenue, and then build a Norman Foster-designed addition atop it.
Photograph by Matt Chaban

There is a familiar complaint, from Tom Wolfe on down to the blogosphere, that the fame of one’s architect—particularly in connection with a certain Upper East Side gallery building—entitles the developer to lighter treatment from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. But even if one of the commissioners had not insisted on the contrary at a January 13 meeting on 980 Madison, the verdict the project received should, once again, affirm the commission’s refusal to play favorites.

“I just want to say, addressing some of the comments that have been showing up on blogs and such, that this doesn’t have anything to do with who the developer is, or who the architect is,” commissioner Margery Perlmutter said, referring to Aby Rosen and Norman Foster, the team behind the project. “It’s a good piece of architecture, and that should be encouraged in New York City.”

But beyond Perlmutter’s general approval of the project as it was presented, and commissioner Christopher Moore’s prurient endorsement—“I wouldn’t want to see a timid design,” he said. “If you’ve got a great bottom, you should have a great top.”—the commissioners roundly agreed that the proposal was too tall. Still.

Rosen's team went out of their way to impress the commission, bringing tons of models and samples, including a full-scale mock-up of the aluminum sunscreens.
Matt Chaban

It has been a long slog for Rosen and Foster, who first presented plans to build atop the famed Parke-Bernet Building in 2006. The 22-story elliptical glass tower they sought to build atop the 5-story, full-block masonry building caused quite a stir, attracting famous supporters and detractors before being voted down by the commission in January 2007.

The team then returned last July with a five-story addition designed to match the proportions of the building below, which was panned by a number of locals who testified against it. Fewer stars turned up on that occasion, including Lord Norman, though Wolfe, who lives across the street from the proposed development, did make an appearance.

When the team returned last week, they presented essentially the same plan, except that the aluminum rods that comprised the addition’s sunscreen had been lightened from a terra-cotta color to one that Brandon Haw, director of Foster + Partners' New York office, described as “champagne,” and a parapet on the top floor had been set back, as opposed to being flush with the street wall as originally proposed.

Every commissioner applauded the considerable thought and detailing that went into the design. “It’s very elegant, as we’ve seen before,” commissioner Stephen Byrns said. But, as most commissioners agreed, there was one major issue. “I think it has a real scale problem,” Byrnes added. The major challenge facing the commission was that they wanted further concessions from Rosen, who had been very patient thus far, at the same time they applauded his desire to restore the old gallery to its former glory.


Almost as dramatic as the addition to the parke-bernet building is the restoration work that will go into the existing building.

“The fact that this building has been so screwed up, with the addition of the third floor windows and the changing of the fourth and the awkward penthouse, that buys you a legitimate addition,” Byrnes continued. “The question is, how much of an addition?” The consensus seemed to be two stories, with possible setbacks from there, but the special Madison Avenue preservation district presents a very tight zoning envelope, as Rosen’s attorney pointed out.

"It's the base we should be celebrating here," commissioner Roberta Smith said, referring to the original building, "and we shouldn't even be calling it that. It's not a base, it's the main attraction. The edition needs to be lower."

“The question is, is it reconcilable with the landmarks law we are required to uphold as well as the precedents we set every week?” asked commission chair Robert Tierney. “I think this is achievable, but this is not yet it, and the issue remains one of scale.” Thereafter, the meeting adjourned, and Rosen held a half-hour meeting with his team in a conference room off the hearing room. When he finally exited, he seemed flustered. Asked about the future of the project, he said simply, “We’re studying that.”

Foster + Partners New York Office director Brandon haw presents his firm's plans for 980 madison as commission Chair robert tierney (left) and commission counsel mark silberman look on.

foster + partners brought so many supplies to its presentation, one preservationist joked that it looked like a rock band was going to perform.