The home of the Brant Foundation’s new East Coast gallery is in the old Con Ed transformer station, built in 1920–21. When it closed in 1980, it was bought by artist Walter De Maria and served as his home and studio until 2013. After it was purchased by art collector Peter Brant, it has been restored and converted into a public exhibition space by Gluckman Tang Architects. Beautifully detailed white exhibition walls act as counterpoints to the newly cleaned brick walls and sand-blasted machinery, like a still-operative 2,000-pound black iron hoist. The top floor exhibition space has a magical skylight sitting under a water fountain, which sends dappled light into the space and serves as a relaxing rooftop public space with a spectacular view looking north over the East Village. The architects have turned the narrow open spaces on the west and north sides of the building into elegant and peaceful landscaped parks that act as a breathing space for this dense part of the city and allow natural light into the galleries.The Brant Foundation Art Study Center 421 East 6th Street New York, New York 212-777-2297 Architect: Gluckman Tang Architects
clay for days
University of Oregon’s Tykeson Hall announces a campus presence with a terra-cotta and brick facade
Yes, There Are Pink Flamingos
The Met’s Camp: Notes on Fashion translates an elusive concept into design
Tort suits alleging liability for failure to adapt to climate change are unusual, but there are signs that they may be becoming more commonplace.Tort suits alleging liability for failure to adapt to climate change are unusual, but there are signs that they may be becoming more commonplace. An Illinois insurer recently filed (and then dropped) lawsuits alleging that various state municipalities were responsible for payouts because their stormwater management plans did not anticipate increased rainfall that caused flooding. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, plaintiffs argued, with some success, that it was foreseeable to the US Army Corps of Engineers that a navigation channel would change the local microclimate in ways that exacerbated hurricane damage (St. Bernard Par. Gov't v. United States, 121 Fed. Cl. 687, 721 (2015), rev'd on other grounds, 887 F.3d 1354 (Fed. Cir. 2018), petition for cert. filed, No. 18-359 (Sept. 9, 2018). Tort-like duties may arise in other contexts. Contracts might impose tort-like duties upon design professionals. For example, an architect whose contract specifies a useful life for a building might have a duty to anticipate the effects of climate change during that timeframe. Similarly, statutes can impose tort-like duties and may even be enforceable by private plaintiffs—a not-for-profit was recently found to have the standing to sue an oil company over allegations that its vulnerability to flooding made it incompatible with “good engineering practices” under the Clean Water Act. So, what is the standard of care? Simply put, design professionals have a duty to exercise the care of a reasonable practitioner in the location. Unfortunately, complying with this simple standard can be tricky, and the door is often open for someone to argue after a problem develops that the architect or engineer did not exercise the required level of care. The best way to minimize the chances of that door being opened is to pay careful attention to local best practices.
Compliance with local codes does not insulate the design professionals from liability if their peers are building to a higher standard.Building codes are one potential pitfall. While failure to comply with local building codes can lead to a finding of a per se (i.e., automatic) violation of the design professional’s duty, compliance with local codes does not insulate the design professionals from liability if their peers are building to a higher standard. Design professionals would be well-advised to be aware when local codes are outdated or backward-looking. For example, most states’ building codes do not account for sea-level rise. Similarly, relying on locally available climate data or projections may not be enough to protect the design professional from liability. Today, an architect in New York would have access to well-founded floodplain maps that take into account the potential impacts of climate change. However, this was not always the case. When Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, many communities’ FEMA maps dated back to 1983. In this situation, it would be more difficult for a design professional to claim that reliance on official floodplain data was reasonable. And this is a significant problem—a 2017 government audit found that 58 percent of FEMA floodplain maps nationally were out-of-date. Further, although New York City benefits from an additional set of FEMA-drawn maps that anticipate the impact of rising sea levels, this is not the case nationally, meaning that even a brand-new floodplain map represents the chance of being hit with a flood in the last century rather than the next one. Practitioners should also be aware of codes governing public development. Future plaintiffs could argue that they are admissible to attack or to buttress expert opinions on the prevailing standard of care for private development. Our practitioner in New York should be aware of the city’s new Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines, which identify climate change risks and appropriate resiliency interventions for city projects—such as raising machinery when building in a potential floodplain. New York is not alone—various other state and local bodies, such as Boston, have developed or are developing similar standards. The Illinois lawsuits discussed above relied, in part, on rainfall predictions in the Chicago Climate Action Plan. Similarly, plaintiffs may argue that various nonbinding standards show prevailing practice. Industry bodies such as the American Society of Civil Engineers are attempting to develop such standards, and the Canadian Engineering Qualifications Board has published standards for engineers adapting to climate change. There is also the risk—as some design professionals have experienced with LEED certification—that undertaking to comply with otherwise nonbinding standards could create legal obligations. Our climate is changing rapidly. Design professionals already have plenty of incentives to make sure that our buildings and infrastructure are ready. A further incentive is that it reduces the risk of tort liability. Larry Dany is a partner at Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP where he leads the Construction Industry Practice Group in New York City. He helps clients across the construction industry resolve a wide variety of complex business and legal challenges through planning, contract negotiation and drafting, dispute avoidance, claim management, arbitration, and litigation from inception through jury trial in state and federal courts across the country. Nicholas Boyd is an associate at Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP. He advises corporations, financial services companies, and state agencies on complex business and civil litigation matters. His practice has a particular emphasis on antitrust disputes, class actions and construction lawsuits.
Decks (over) and Yards
After Hudson Yards, Sunnyside could be New York’s next megadevelopment
Lawrence Halprin and William “Holly” Whyte both published books in the 1960s that highlighted the ad hoc and often bottom-up design decisions that make cities successful for their users and inhabitants. Facing the massive Nieman Marcus–emblazoned steel and glass street wall that greets visitors entering Hudson Yards from 10th Avenue, the lessons of Halprin and Whyte seem a quaint reminder of how city building has changed in the past 50 years. Hudson Yards, or as its developers like to call it, “New York’s next great neighborhood,” is not so much an accretive, incremental part of the city, but a pop-up assemblage of high-rise corporate boxes surrounding a shopping mall. There is little here that would interest Halprin or Whyte about how to design a city.
As America’s white middle class was abandoning the city for the suburbs, the authors wanted to rediscover and celebrate the joys of high-density living. Gentrification has gone from an obscure English academic theory to a popular derisive term to describe how our cities are being organized, planned, and developed. In New York City in 2019, even affordable housing has been handed over to large corporate entities, much as it was in the 19th century, when tenements proliferated and developers were allowed to do as they wished with their property holdings.
The urban critics writing about Hudson Yards yearn for a seamless Whyte-inspired urban fabric that gives as much as it takes from the city. Sadly, the Yards are described, variously, as “an urban failure,” a “$25 billion enclave,” “too clean, too flat, too art-directed,” and “a vast neoliberal Zion.” But how could it have been otherwise? It was conceived, planned, and designed by a corporation with little interest in anything but short-term profit, and it proceeded with little input from community boards, elected officials, or planners. The community boards had all been bludgeoned for years by proposals for sports stadiums on the site, and they gave the go-ahead to the first proposal that promised housing and a school, even if that meant luxury towers. Without serious input from community boards and city planners, this new quarter of the city was destined for failure. Developers only begrudgingly accepted the High Line—one of the most successful top-down planning projects of the past 25 years—into its 14 acres of “public” space when pushed hard by the department of city planning. The High Line, to its credit, makes provision for the sort of urban happenstance that we like about cities, and we can be thankful it wends its way through Hudson Yards and does not stop at its perimeter. The short High Line spur, with its still unfinished plinth for a rotating case of public sculptures, visible overhead to cars driving up 10th Avenue, is the sort of unexpected condition that makes the city richer. Unfortunately, the gigantic footprints of the Hudson Yards buildings and their corporate lobby design aesthetic makes it impossible for any bottom-up ad hoc events to take place.
A major problem for the Yards is that it sits on a 28-acre concrete pad and underground infrastructure complex that precludes any urban use that doesn’t generate billions of dollars in income. It’s the same problem faced in varying degrees by the World Trade Center site and Park Avenue, but these seem like triumphs of urban design compared to Hudson Yards.
Sadly, this blueprint for city building on concrete pads (and its economic and financing formula) may be the model for the next big development site in the city, Sunnyside Yard, as New York’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has already begun planning its future. It was identified as a potential development site in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2030 plan, and the 180-acre site in western Queens is not far from Manhattan and the growing centers of Long Island City, Astoria, and Queens Plaza. It potentially has 19 million square feet of retail, commercial, residential, and mixed-use spaces, and has been identified by the EDC as a place that could potentially house up to 24,000 homes, 19 schools, and 52 acres of public parks.
In February 2017, the city unveiled a feasibility study of the Sunnyside Yard area, which showed that decking was in fact possible, and that there were various scenarios in which a development of the site could move forward. But again, expensive decking will almost certainly preclude anything but corporate high-rise offices and luxury residential towers with commercial and open space, exactly like that at Hudson Yards.
Sunnyside Yard sits next to one of the most important residential developments in the United States, Sunnyside Gardens, designed by Henry Wright and Clarence Stein of the Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA). If only the planners for Sunnyside Yard could look next door and have the expertise and nerve to propose something as revolutionary as the RPAA did in the 1920s. But let’s not hold our breath—we are more likely to get another version of Hudson Yards on this public land.
Envision an entirely different turn in architecture after deconstructivism. What if, instead of neo-modernism and algorithmically generated formalism, architecture had pushed forward with conceptualism and a Brutalist take on the postindustrial world? An Architect Without Architects?, a recent retrospective on the work of Valdas Ozarinskas (1961–2014) at the Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) in Vilnius, Lithuania, gives a glimpse of such a possibility.
Ozarinskas was born in the northeastern Lithuanian town of Ignalina, where in 1974 the Soviets began to construct the largest nuclear reactor in the world, a facility that would later provoke concern within the European Union due to its lack of a containment building, a design it shared with the destroyed reactor at Chernobyl. After military service, Ozarinskas studied architecture and graduated from the State Art Institute (now the Vilnius Academy of Fine Arts). His first works were informed by deconstructivism, although he aligned himself less with the colliding planes of Malevich and more with Tatlin’s faktura. The retrospective opens with one of Ozarinskas’s first projects, the 1989 Tarakonas (cockroach), designed with Audrius Bučas, with whom he would frequently collaborate. An abstract composition made of debris found at construction sites, Tarakonas is depicted in photographs floating in the air and of indeterminate scale, perhaps a building, a light, a space probe, or a threatening insectoid robot. Though it is a take on Productivism, Tarakonas was made not at the beginning of the Soviet era, but at the end, when utopian ideal had been displaced by dystopian reality.
During the 1990s, after Lithuania regained independence, Ozarinskas became the deputy director of the CAC under visionary director Kestutis Kuizinas. There, Ozarinskas had the opportunity to explore his architectural imagination more freely. Built in the late 1960s by Vytautas Čekanauskas, the exhibit hall was inspired not by Soviet architectural dogma but by Aalto and European modernism. If the CAC was a significant building, by the time Ozarinskas became deputy director it was in desperate need of an update. Working with a minimal budget, Ozarinskas traced surgical interventions into the space by installing industrial steel doors in the galleries and repurposing found objects such as a glider wing which, suspended by cables, still serves as the reception disk. The result, akin to the earliest moments of Brutalism at Hunstanton, dragged rough poetry out of the simultaneous deprivation and optimism of the first years of reconstruction.
Ozarinskas is best known for collaborating with his wife, Aida Čeponytė, his longtime collaborator Bučas, and architect Gintaras Kuginis as the Private Ideology group on the Lithuanian pavilion at the Hannover World Expo in 2000. Here, Lithuania made its first appearance in a World Expo since attaining independence, and Private Ideology set out to insert Lithuania into the globalizing world with a structure based on the theme of flight. The result deliberately recalls the shape of a jet engine, while also evoking a science fiction flying craft. An international success, the pavilion brought disdain at home from the conservative Lithuanian Architects’ Union, which wanted instead to promote the sort of weak “folk” pastiche commonly found at Vilnius’s most touristic restaurants.
Having little opportunity to practice as an architect after 2000, Ozarinskas immersed himself in the art world. Like the central figure in Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, Ozarinskas compulsively sought out objects in the “Zone” of post-Soviet Lithuania. A display case full of Ozarinskas’s jewelry reveals not precious metals and gems, but repurposed industrial parts and even some items that look like they might be from disassembled weapons. In the CAC cinema, which Ozarinskas and Bučias also designed, the exhibit featured black pillows of heavy rubber, lined with grommets and outfitted with an integral handle. Originally created for a 2001 concert by minimalist electronic group Monolake, these would reappear in his exhibits from time to time as seating; we’d sit on them as night bled into morning while Ozarinskas described how they could be an end to architecture, a reduction of all human needs to a piece of furniture for nomads.
In the 2002 Lux Europae light festival in Copenhagen, Ozarinskas and Čeponytė installed another controversial project, this time a reflection on the role of the Ignalina nuclear power plant in Lithuania’s economy. The Ignalina plant, at this point, generated 90 percent of Lithuania’s electric power, which was its dominant export, but was slated to be decommissioned as a condition of the country’s ascension to the European Union. For the 2002 exhibit, Ozarinskas and Čeponytė suspended a series of cathode ray tubes from the ceiling of a Copenhagen train station, their cabling and suspension hidden in high tech orange fabric bringing to mind anti-radiation suits worn by nuclear power plant workers. On the monitors flickered footage Ozarinskas had found from the reactor on Lithuanian television and that he depicted as a live feed from Ignalina. The result again brought round condemnation from conservatives in Lithuania who claimed the exhibit harmed the national image and demanded it be shut down.
The final two projects in the retrospective—and of Ozarinskas’s life—index the anxiety provoked by the global financial crisis, which hit Lithuania hard. For a 2010 CAC exhibit entitled Formalism, Ozarinskas and Bučas filled the main gallery of the CAC with a gargantuan, 25-meter-wide version of the Monolake pillow. The optimism of 2001 had ended, however, and Ozarinskas described it as a “story of our failures,” a black mass that smothered everything. Ironically, the Black Pillow achieved international success, being exhibited at the Liverpool Biennial in 2012. Having left the CAC, Ozarinskas found himself at the Antanas Mončys House museum in the seaside town of Palanga. His last show, Filters, was composed of a set of 300 x 137 cm photographs taken through welding filters. Rather than being continuous black fields, each photograph had a distinct texture, promising—but nevertheless denying—a hint of something visible beyond and reminding viewers of the darkness inherent in Malevich’s reduction to what he called “the zero of form.” Ozarinskas died five days after the exhibit opened, at the age of 53, leaving behind a rich legacy of work still virtually unknown in the West.