All posts in East

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Rust Belt Revival

RAMSA’s American Water headquarters brings detailed aluminum to the Camden waterfront
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Opened in December 2018, the American Water Headquarters is the most recent significant addition to Camden, New Jersey's, Delaware River waterfront and sits directly across from Philadelphia's Center City. Designed by New York's Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA), the corporate project articulates the former industrial character of the Rust Belt with an aluminum composite facade studded with significant chamfered window bays. The footprint of the 230,000-square-foot project is narrow and rectangular as a measure to provide the office block with the greatest possible degree of water frontage. The east and west elevations are, as a result, 530-feet-long, highly visible throughout Camden and Philadelphia, and receive a remarkable degree of solar exposure. For RAMSA, the material choice of aluminum composite, and its bespoke detailing for the American Water HQ, addressed contextual concerns and performance requirements. “We sought a material with a subtle yet lively reflective sheen to respond to the ever-changing sun and sky,” said RAMSA partner Meghan McDermott. “The color of panels varies from white to silver to dark gray at various times throughout the day, and at sunset, the facade glows with pink and purple tones.” For the design team, it was critical to maintain outward views whilst mitigating solar gain and glare. The use of chamfered and recessed facade panels was a response to this performance requirement, and their design was developed over the rigorous study of sun angles and sightlines.
  • Facade Manufacturer Almaxco Viracon Bamco
  • Architects RAMSA Kendall/Heaton Associates (architect of record) Gensler (interior design)
  • Facade Installer BAMCO National Glass
  • Facade Consultants Curtainwall Design Consulting
  • Structural Engineer Thornton Tomasetti
  • Location Camden, New Jersey
  • Date of Completion December 2018
  • System Custom stick-built curtain wall
  • Products Viracon VRE30-46 Viracon VNE24-63 Almaxco Aluminum composite panel FCL0720 Silver Metallic w/ PVDF coating
Notably, the project's facade is not unitized but was assembled on-site from individual components. Manufacturer Almaxco produced and painted the aluminum composite sheets at their plant in Singapore. The sheets were then shipped to New Jersey for assembly by fabricator and installer Bamco. The decision to assemble on-site resulted from costs associated with prefabricated panelized systems as well as the logistical challenges of transporting what would have been 10-by-16-foot modules through densely populated southern New Jersey. Although the construction of the facade was not realized until installation, RAMSA and facade fabricator Bamco conducted several full-scale mock-ups at their facility to review detailing issues while also rehearsing installation and assembly. There were areas of particular scrutiny within the overall facade assembly; slip-joints at the reveals, the corner medallions of the panels, and the traveling stair of the west elevation. According to McDermott, “The angles at the traveling stair were especially tricky—triangular panels of glass had to work within minimum glass dimensions for coatings, and the medallions had to follow the slope, requiring origami-type folding of the individual pieces.” Although composite aluminum is the facade's primary stylistic element, certain moments break from this material-centric approach. The two entrances, located at the center of the east and west elevations, are denoted by four-story structural glass walls that illuminate the building's atrium and are on axis with Cooper Street towards the center of Camden.
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Into the Void

Snøhetta's Upper West Side luxury tower approved despite large mechanical void
Yesterday, the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) approved Extell Development’s contentious residential tower on the Upper West Side, according to Gothamist. After years of back and forth over the height, the Snøhetta-designed 50 West 66th Street is set to rise at 776 feet tall—the tallest building in the neighborhood—and will keep its significant mechanical void space at the core of the tower's chiseled frame. The project was under threat as recently as last month, when preservation organization Landmarks West claimed that Extell was inflating the building’s height with its 192-foot-tall mechanical void in order to charge a higher premium for top-level units. As AN has previously reported, the Billionaire’s Row developer has pulled this move before, side-stepping zoning regulations throughout the city and ignoring caps on maximum floor areas.  Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said the appeal's loss, which occurred in a 2-2 vote tie since one of the BSA members abstained from the process, was major and signals a problem for future similar developments. Opponents have been worried that real estate giants like Extell could use this as a precedent to design large voids in other tower projects in order to boost their overall size. A similar claim was levied against the Rafael Viñoly Architects-designed 249 East 62nd Street when it was first revealed.  Back in early 2019, Extell almost lost the project entirely when it was forced to rethink the tower’s 700-plus-foot height (it was originally pitched at 262 feet). Brewer said construction permits would be revoked, despite approval by the Department of Buildings if Extell failed to change the arrangement and height of its mechanical spaces. The outcry, from both public officials and local residents of the Upper West Side, resulted in a study by the Department of City Planning that detailed how, in New York City, mechanical floors had been excluded from the zoning floor area calculation. In late May, the New York City Council voted to prevent developers from further exploiting this loophole by limiting the height of mechanical voids to 25 feet.  Because 50 West 66th Street was passed before the amendment was made to the zoning law, Gothamist noted the luxury tower will now hold a mechanical void space that totals 176 feet in height—a 16-foot reduction to appease Brewer’s request, but it will now be split into three sections: two 64-foot-tall mechanical areas and a 48-foot-tall void.  Sean Khorsandi, executive director of Landmarks West, told Gothamist that the appeal rejection wasn't as shocking as the way the vote played out. “I think it’s ridiculous that even in the case of a tie, the community loses.” Critics of the project now have the opportunity to file a court appeal as a last-ditch effort to stop it from moving forward. AN has reached out to Snøhetta for comment.
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Only If It's Built

Only If builds practice through research and context
The following interview was conducted as part of “Building Practice,” a professional elective course at Syracuse University School of Architecture taught by Molly Hunker and Kyle Miller, and now an interview series on AN. On September 26, 2019, Stewart Tillyer and Aditya Jain, students at Syracuse University, interviewed Adam Frampton and Karolina Czeczek of the Brooklyn-based practice Only If. This interview has been edited by Kyle Miller and AN for clarity. Stewart Tillyer and Aditya Jain: Was starting an office something that you always planned to do? Karolina Czeczek: Yes, definitely. I’ve always wanted to run a practice. Adam and I were working together at OMA when we decided to leave and start our own practice. Without the opportunity to have a partner, I don’t know that starting a practice at that moment would have happened. Adam Frampton: I worked for about seven years after school before we started this practice. There was a real advantage to working in one place during that time and having the opportunity to make meaning[ful] contributions to multiple projects. The experience built some confidence in my ability to start and run a practice, but nothing really prepares you for the challenges of having your own office. Does your experience working at OMA influence your work today? Karolina: Definitely. In particular, how we approach projects is something that is inspired by our time at OMA. We try to understand the broader issues of each project. We’re not always able to solve that issue solely through building, but our position is embedded in our design. What was also impactful about spending time at OMA was the opportunity to take on a lot of responsibility really quickly. We were just not executing sketches of more experienced architects. It was an office environment that encouraged the newest and youngest employees to insert themselves from the start. This collaborative, relatively non-hierarchical environment is something we try to maintain in our office today. We’re not simply handing off sketches to our employees, but are promoting a collaborative effort. Who would you consider to be the primary audience for your work? Is it colleagues and other professionals, the general public, or someone else? Karolina: Other architects, no. Of course, they are an audience by default, but we're not designing for architects, we're designing for a much broader audience. It's important to keep that in mind because we have to understand the issues and needs of the general public. We have to understand the economic and political context in which we work to respond more appropriately through design. Adam: An architect’s obligation is to the public. Even with projects for private clients, there is a responsibility to imagine how a project engages society and an audience beyond who commissioned it. And I agree with Karolina. We do not explicitly design for other architects, but we take pleasure in working on disciplinary issues through drawings, collages, and models… everything that precedes the building. How does the location of your practice affect your work? Karolina: We’re based in New York and I think this requires us to focus on New York right now. We’re dealing with the issues that are specific to this context, such as housing, and it takes a lot of time, effort, and expertise to understand and navigate building in New York. We don’t want to pretend we know everything about everywhere, but at the same time, some specific issues we’re working on now in New York could also apply to other areas. Expanding where we practice is on the horizon. Adam: Having an office in New York as young architects almost seems to entail working on local projects in a very hands-on way. It’s very different from what we experienced previously, where large projects or budgets enable global collaboration: everybody in the office was from a different country, traveling constantly, and working on projects scattered around the globe. But starting an office requires commitment to the place where the office exists. Eventually, we’d like to take on much larger projects, and projects outside of New York, but we’re enjoying working on smaller projects in New York right now. We can be on construction sites, work directly with contractors, and watch projects evolve on a daily basis. Is your built work more meaningful to you than your unbuilt work or vice versa, or do they hold equal value? Karolina: We’re definitely interested in building and executing buildings. That being said, we also find tremendous value in working in a more speculative manner on urban-scale projects. We understand that you have to engage projects at a variety of scales and with vastly different objectives in order to execute one project. For example, the Narrow House came out of research on overlooked and irregularly shaped narrow lots in New York City. The research at an urban scale was ultimately realized as the Narrow House, at an architectural scale. Adam: We know there is value in research and in developing masterplans and working the scale of the city and even the region, but these types of projects can take a long time to be implemented. They afford us space to think and design in a more speculative manner, but in the end, often get passed to others to execute or become smaller scale projects only slightly related to the initial conception. We enjoy the smaller scale projects right now because they can be executed and have an impact quickly. Do you approach smaller projects differently than larger projects? Adam: Our approach is different at different scales. Each scale has its own degrees of indeterminacy or looseness. When you put dimensions on the drawing, there are some dimensions you omit because there are always deviations in construction. In small projects, there might be tolerances of an eighth of an inch. In urbanism, there [are] other degrees indeterminacy that need to be built into the project, but the techniques are very different for doing so. Every scale has its own techniques and approaches. We’re also interested in developing ideas for one scale and applying them to another. For example, in a competition for temporary installation, we thought about urbanism playing out within a very small interior. We developed an idea about how a city grid hosts events and activities that unfold over time. The architect or planner cannot choreograph or script everything happening in the space of the city, but they can setup a system or structure in which activities take place. This scenario became the basis for our entry. We like the idea of applying approaches developed for one scale to drastically different scales.  You’ve stated that you view Narrow House as a prototype for confronting unused narrow lots in the city. What are the qualities of Narrow House that transcend its site? Karolina: Of course, we do not imagine this to be a copy-paste prototype, because every narrow lot is slightly different, with different zoning regulations and different existing conditions and contexts. The notion of “prototype” corresponds more to a development approach that challenges existing models of building in the city. We are thinking in terms of strategies young architects can employ to be more proactive when it comes to development and construction. We mapped over 3,400 of these narrow lots scattered throughout the city. 600 of these lots are city-owned and also not suitable for development relative to existing financial models. But they are suitable for development if other priorities take the place of simply earning profit, such as helping to ameliorate the housing crisis or inventing new forms of housing. In that sense, we're thinking about methods and policies that will enable us and others to work in these types of sites. Adam: Working on Narrow House has allowed us to think about a broader approach to designing in other narrow lots. What’s critical for these sites is not the outward expression or form of the building, it's about interior circulation and how to deliver light into a very deep floor plan. The strategies we’ve developed in Narrow House to solve these issues can certainly transfer from lot to lot. We’re also excited to now be working with New York City to help develop 23 of these city-owned lots for affordable housing. What have been the biggest highlights and challenges that you’ve faced during the design and construction of Narrow House? Adam: Those are two different things, right!? Well, the biggest highlight will be getting it done! Karolina: It's going to be our first completed ground-up project as Only If—definitely a highlight on its own. When we conceived of the project, we didn’t even know if it was legally or logistically possible. I'm not going to go into detail, but we had to prove certain things to show that it's possible to build on the site within the existing zoning. Receiving the permit was a highlight! With construction, the biggest challenge is getting out of the ground. The specific conditions of the site constrain the staging area as well as space for construction. Adam: There are hundreds of challenges. The zero-lot condition, where you're building one structure right up against another one requires layers of legal agreements, seismographs for construction, vibration monitoring, surveys for optical deflection of movements, etc. I'll share one specific challenge... in New York City, all of the natural gas comes from the Marcellus Shale. It comes through pipelines in an area where it's becoming more and more challenging to build pipelines. There's actually a pipeline that the utility company is trying to build right now under Rockaway Beach, but they can't build it and there's no more natural gas in Long Island. I was on the phone recently with a gas company asking them where to put the meter when I learned about this. All of a sudden, we have to redesign the building without natural gas, which is a good thing because we’ll be able to transition the building off [of] fossil fuels. It's a challenge that will ultimately have a positive impact in the design. All things considered, it's been a very long and challenging process. What type of projects do you hope to work on in the future? What do you see as the trajectory of your firm going forward? Karolina: Housing is definitely on our mind and we want to work on housing at a variety of scales… single and multi-family, affordable, senior, etc. It's something that we're planning on working on for a long time. But, of course, we have other interests. We understand that housing is not the only component of the city. We've been looking at public amenities and infrastructures that also constitute the city. Adam: Working on public and cultural projects is an ambition. But we’d be happy to do parking garages, too. We’re not thinking of the future of the office solely in terms of typology. We want to work with really enlightened, ambitious clients who see the value of design. How do you allocate resources for research? Does your research generate revenue or are you using revenue from other projects to fund your research? Adam: To be honest, we’re not terribly successful in managing time or money in the office. It's difficult. We both teach and are very fortunate to be supported by academic institutions. We're not an office that has “bread and butter” work that we don't publish and that we're just doing to make money. A lot of offices do that. Our time is very valuable, and we can’t imagine working on something that we’re not invested in simply for financial gain. Karolina: Research also has potential to create other projects for us. We don't see it as research for the sake of research. It's always combined with something that we're teaching or that we're personally interested in. Adam: Maybe not connected to your question, but looking at all the practices that are being interviewed as part of this seminar… everyone is teaching. We have mixed feelings about the role of teaching and academia in our practice. On one hand, teaching and being connected to and supported by an academic environment facilitates and enables research. But on the other hand, teaching takes a lot of time. It's rewarding on many levels, but it sometimes feels difficult to devote enough time to both ends, as a teacher and scholar in the academic world and as architect, striving to make significant contributions to the built environment. What's been the most rewarding moment in your practice thus far? Adam: Architecture is a very difficult profession. We find pleasure in the act of design, as simple or complex as it may be. Having an opportunity to work on projects is incredibly rewarding in and of itself. We are not motivated by the outward accomplishments. It’s simply the ability to work on complex design problems, struggle through them, find a resolution… when everything clicks, it’s very rewarding.
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In with the old, in with the new

This season of Art Omi: Architecture explores handiwork through hand drawings and glass blowing
Archaic methods and practices in the context of contemporary architecture are the common themes for two new exhibitions presented by Art Omi: Architecture, the nonprofit Hudson Valley, New York, arts foundation and exhibition space. The two shows, Single-Handedly: Contemporary Architects Draw by Hand and InConstruction: SO – IL, both opened on January 11.  Single-Handedly brings together a collection of hand drawings from a group of 44 contemporary architects, focusing on a practice that seems to have become all but obsolete in the architecture industry today. The exhibition showcases the work of architects from all over the world, including Fernanda Canales and Liesbeth van der Pol. Taking on a range of materials and subject matter, the exhibition suggests that an important place for handmade drawings continues to exist outside the regime of digital and computational technologies. Bending the rules and traditions of architectural representation, the collection shows handwork is as relevant as ever for practicing architects. Single-Handedly was co-curated by Warren James, director of Art Omi: Architecture, and Nalina Moses, author of Single-Handedly: Contemporary Architects Draw by Hand. The exhibition will be on view through March 1 in the Newmark Gallery. InConstruction: SO – IL highlights the construction of Site Verrier de Meisenthal, an art and cultural center set within an 18th-century glass factory designed by the New York-based architectural firm SO – IL. The MoMA PS1 Young Architects prize-winning firm designed an “intervention” of the historic space that would bring a “contemporary institutional identity in dialogue with an industrial heritage” Through models, drawings, and photographs, the exhibition explores Site Verrier de Meisenthal, located in a French village near the German border, as a contemporary art and community space that continues the area’s glasswork tradition. Once completed in 2021, the project will contain a glass museum, glass arts center, as well as a flexible exhibition and event space. With a poured concrete plaza that connects the disparate institutions, SO – IL will also bring renewed public involvement to the historic industrial space. InConstruction: SO - IL  is on-view through February 9th in the Kantor Lobby.
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Brutalist Bulldozing

Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments are finally coming down in Buffalo
Paul Rudolph’s Brutalist Shoreline Apartments are finally under demolition in downtown Buffalo, New York after a three-year delay. A 2018 lawsuit filed in part by a resident had previously halted developer-owner Norstar Development from moving forward with razing the 9.5-acre site to make way for new affordable housing.  Built in 1974, the 142-unit complex rose at a time when Rudolph was experimenting with various Brutalist-style designs for the Western New York city, including the still-standing Niagara Falls Public Library. For Shoreline, the New York State Urban Development Corporation (UDC) brought him in to create a large-scale urban renewal project with a school, community center, and ample green space scattered throughout the site. Rudolph’s ambitious plan—which was never fully realized because the UDC ran out of money—was on view in a 1970 exhibition called Works in Progress at the Museum of Modern Art.  After just a few decades of use, the low-rise, ribbed concrete buildings, with their shed-style roofs and projecting balconies (reminiscent of Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67), fell into disrepair as vacancies rose. The surrounding landscape, including the individual enclosed garden courts, were forgotten as people flocked further into Buffalo’s suburbs and away from high-density neighborhoods like Shoreline. Locals have been calling for the buildings’ demolition since the early 2000s, and the city worked up a deal with Norstar to configure an 18-building scheme in its place.  One round of demolitions occurred in 2015 after preservation groups failed to get the complex landmarked. A CityLab article from that same year profiled the remaining Shoreline resident, John Schmidt, who filed the lawsuit to stop Norstar’s plan. He noted that he loved living there, but he recognized how badly the building needed attention. Due to eventual poor management, he said, and a general distaste for Brutalist architecture at the start of the millennia, the legacy of Shoreline waned like many similar low-income housing projects from that era.  Schmidt was evicted in January of 2018. Norstar has already completed construction on 48 new units on-site—replacing the first section of buildings that were demolished—but says it will take up to two years to build the entire complex.
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45 Belated Street

CetraRuddy's lower Manhattan supertall postponed due to market conditions
The CetraRuddy-designed, 1,115-foot supertall residential tower planned for 45 Broad Street in New York’s Financial District has been postponed and is looking at a height chop. Renderings revealed over three years ago showed a skyscraper clad with a latticed bronze exterior, evoking the city’s art deco history. As The Real Deal reports, developers Madison Equities and Gemdale Properties have delayed construction due to “market conditions”—in other words, an overabundance of new luxury units across the city that have remained unsold—the tower's technical challenges, and location issues.  Madison and Gemdale are maintaining that they expect the project to be completed, but haven't offered a timeline for when that's expected, although the team anticipates pouring the foundation soon. “45 Broad Street remains a top priority for the development team, and we have strong long-term confidence in the project’s viability,” a spokesperson for the developers told The Real Deal. The project was initially scheduled to be completed in spring 2021. It also appears that the building will face some design changes. The Real Deal also reported that the building would top out at 80-feet shorter than originally proposed. The program for 45 Broad Street includes 206 residential units, as well as 62,000 square feet of commercial space and a 94,000-square-foot school.  The recent developments underscore the downward trend for the ultra-luxury housing market. In an article recently published by the New York Times, it was reported that almost half of the new condos in Manhattan finished after 2015 remain unsold, with the average citywide price hovering around $3.7 million per unit. Since 2009, 1,396 new units have been added in the Financial District alone. Despite the fact that much of the new construction in Manhattan has sat unsold for years and the current inventory could take up to six years to sell, developers Madison and Gemdale are expecting the project to move forward. “Due to short-term conditions in the Lower Manhattan market, we have decided to delay on constructing the building in the near future,” said the spokesperson. 
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Byford Goes Bye-Bye

Andy Byford resigns as head of NYC’s subways
Andy Byford, president of MTA New York City Transit, has quit. The British transportation expert was hired to turn around the city’s ailing subway system in January of 2018 after pulling off a similar feat at the Toronto Transit Commission. Now it seems that clashes between Byford and Governor Andrew Cuomo have reportedly led to the former’s departure. The system did improve markedly under Byford’s tenure. On January 20, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) released the latest update on its Subway Action Plan, demonstrating improvements in station and track cleanliness, a 10,000-delay-a-month reduction for the fourth month in a row, and an on-time performance rate of 72.6 percent, the highest in four years. Still, despite all of the tangible benefits of his work, this isn’t even the first time Byford has resigned from the MTA; he briefly quit and then rejoined the agency last October. The friction between Byford and the Governor had reached an all-time high and Byford claims that he was being forced to organize conferences at transportation conferences at the Governor’s behest, rather than doing his job. That came after Governor Cuomo swooped in last January to preempt Byford’s 15-month plan to shut down L Train service between Manhattan and Brooklyn for repairs to the Canarsie Tunnel with his own preferred alternative. According to the New York Times, Byford and Cuomo didn’t speak for four months after that, though relations had seemingly thawed since then. Byford’s announcement that he was leaving came during an MTA board meeting earlier today, and even his staff reportedly only learned it was happening through Politico. Immediately afterward, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson took to Twitter to try to woo Byford back, trying to kickstart the “#BringAndyBack” hashtag and calling his departure a crisis. So, farewell to the transportation official that railfans were so enamored with that they nicknamed him the “Rail Daddy.” He’ll live on as long as the MTA continues to run in-station ads for its new OMNY contactless fare system; Byford lent his dulcet voice to an audio announcement about the upgrade that has been running since January 7.
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2020 USA Fellowship

United States Artists awards MOS and Sara Zewde with $50K grants
Chicago non-profit United States Artists (USA) has announced its 2020 fellowship class, a group of 50 creatives across the country and various disciplines who will be awarded $50,000 in unrestricted grants towards supporting their lives and individual work. New York-based MOS Architects and landscape designer and urban artist Sara Zewde were selected as this year’s sole architecture honorees.  “It is a critically important time to support the livelihoods of artists and we are ecstatic to be able to honor 50 of them this year,” said USA President and CEO Deana Haggag. “The 2020 class is the largest cohort of Fellows we have awarded since we relocated to Chicago, and each and every one of them stands out as a visionary influence in their respective field.”  Born in Los Angeles in 2006, USA was established soon after the National Endowment for the Arts decided to cut ties with its personal grant awards program. Now backed by larger endowment groups like Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, among others, USA has continued to grow its annual fellowship program, often awarding two or three design teams among the honorees. Recent winners in the field include Erin and Ian Besler of Besler & Sons, Keller Easterling, and Lucia Cuba in 2019, as well as Amanda Williams and Norman Kelley in 2018.  Founded by principals Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample in 2005, MOS works out of Harlem, New York, on numerous projects ranging from schools, apartments, exhibition design, furniture, books, and more. Most recently, MOS completed a nine-acre Housing Laboratory in Mexico meant to help the National Works’ Housing Fund Institute (Infonavit) explore new low-cost housing typologies. In 2018, AN named the firm one of the top 50 interior architects in the country.  Zewde is the founding principal of Studio Zewde based in Harlem, New York. A trained landscape architect from Harvard GSAPP, Zewde also holds a master’s in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She integrates artistry and activism into her work, as seen in her graphic urban park planned for the Africatown Community Land Trust in Seattle or her masterplan for Plan Road, a historic street in East Baton Rouge that’s about to undergo major changes as the site of Louisiana’s first-ever Bus Rapid Transit system. In 2018, Zewde was named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's inaugural “40 Under 40: People Saving Places” list. Find the full list of USA's 2020 fellows here.
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Wunderkind Wisdom

R & Company assesses Wendell Castle’s early genius
Bright-eyed yet foolish, young people are often perceived as incapable of achieving great feats. Our professional culture is built on this assumption. But, as rare cases will prove, mastery can manifest at an early age. Not yet affected by the mounting pressures of life or the demotivating impact of critique, these prodigies can ideate and produce with unencumbered fervor. Whether these exceptional individuals benefit from some innate force, sparely bestowed to a select few, or simply from being in the right place at the right time is hard to determine. What perhaps matters most is their ability to create truly original and honest work while also being able to draw in an audience. For the late, great designer Wendell Castle, such a fortuitous coalescence was the driving force behind one of his most prolific periods. Between 1958 and 1980 (his mid-20s to late 40s), the unofficial "father of art furniture" crafted some of his most iconic pieces. During this time, he developed a sculptural and organic approach that would leave an indelible mark on the industry. Read the full article on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.
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Watching the Watchmen

The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project wants to curb surveillance abuses
Without a suspicious eye or an advanced degree in software engineering, it can be nearly impossible to keep abreast of the evolving role surveillance technology has had in the law enforcement of the built environment. Biometric databanks, facial recognition cameras, cell phone trackers, and other watchful devices have been quietly installed throughout our major cities with shockingly little public disclosure and virtually no discussion with privacy advocates. New Yorkers deeply familiar with their city's streets, bridges, and subway system may still be largely unaware of the more than 9,000 surveillance cameras currently installed on top of them under the watchful eye of the New York Police Department (NYPD)—and those are only the ones either publicly disclosed or visible enough for the public to spot on their commutes. Their targets, their prejudices, and the malpractices they engender all remain shrouded in secrecy, resulting in discriminatory injustices too numerous for any member of the common public to challenge. With prior experience as a lawyer, technologist, and interfaith activist, Albert Cahn founded The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.), a 501(C)(3), non-profit advocacy organization and legal services provider based in New York City in 2019 with the goal of addressing local officials’ growing use of surveillance technologies and serving the victims of surveillance abuse. Within the last year, S.T.O.P. has already stepped in to litigate against many recently uncovered abuses of surveillance technology and databanks; including the NYPD's misuse of mobile device forensic tools (MDFTs) and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA)'s use of facial recognition surveillance technology in the Times Square/Port Authority Subway Station. AN spoke with Cahn to learn about the extent to which surveillance devices have already become a common element of the urban fabric, and what organizations like S.T.O.P. can do to lessen their grasp on our personal information. Shane Reiner-Roth: How did your nonprofit begin? Why was surveillance chosen as a central issue? It came out of my prior work as a legal director for The New York Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a nonprofit organization that has worked for more than 25 years to defend constitutional rights.  In that role, I saw the alarming array of high-tech tools deployed by the NYPD that were disproportionately targeting that demographic. It seemed like there was an urgent need to make that our top priority. How do you determine an “impacted community?” Here in New York, the discriminatory habits embedded in surveillance systems mirror those found in more traditional forms of law enforcement. In other words, our group has observed the same patterns of policing that occur in physical spaces using analog techniques being replicated by digital techniques, including identity tracking systems and comprehensive databanks. The Gang Database, for instance, is a confidential record organized by the NYPD that lists over 42,000 New Yorkers as suspected gang members, about 99 [percent] of which are people of color. Oftentimes, the impact of these newly developed systems can engender forms of harassment just as significant as through conducted through stop-and-frisk. The people who are being constantly monitored may not know their lives are under a microscope. We’ve seen technology originally developed for the US military, including StingRay phone tracking towers and Counter-IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) equipment, deployed throughout the city without public disclosure. The public was not only uninformed of their presence, but they also didn’t learn the extent to which these technologies were potentially retaining their data, and they certainly didn’t have a say in how they were dispersed across the city. How do surveillance systems present (or conceal) themselves within NYC’s infrastructure? One of the most difficult parts of surveillance work is that much of the infrastructure is completely opaque to the New Yorkers being monitored. And even if they’re visible to the naked eye, we can’t know by looking at them if they’re running facial recognition, biometric analyses, or any other invasive methods of surveillance.  New York City has the largest investment in anti-terrorism surveillance technology in the country, yet nearly all of it goes unreported. Yet following the initial investment in the physical infrastructure of the city, there's a relatively low cost to add additional layers of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and surveillance technology on top of it. A common example is the ALPR, a device embedded into many of the city's bridges to reads license plate numbers and store them in a database that allows the MTA to charge drivers for crossing. How is the surveillance situation different in various parts of the world? We see cities all around the world grappling with this issue. The issue in China has become well known, in which its citizens can be automatically penalized for behavior its government doesn't find agreeable in the form of automatic reductions through their WeChat accounts. Suddenly, the wheels of a justice system are not only driven forward by AI, but they make it almost impossible to disagree or contend with what the algorithms decide. On the flip side, you have countries like Sweden that intentionally limit the data stored in their license plate reading systems. Their authorities have made it clear that they did not install their system for privacy breeching, even though they could use it to make personal information available to the police, they self-imposed limits as a matter of law through automatic image cropping.  Do you feel there could be a version of surveillance that is morally just? Like any form of law enforcement, advanced forensic systems can, of course, have potentially equitable outcomes—we have seen extreme cases such as with DNA matching to exonerate innocent people, for instance. The problem comes in when it's embedded in our infrastructure without the proper safeguards—when they collect data that is simply inappropriate to collect in a free society. How can ordinary citizens protect themselves against unwarranted surveillance when navigating the city? It's often the case that the people who have the time and money to invest in protecting themselves against surveillance are those who are also least vulnerable to its effects. The clients of mine who may be struggling financially or are undocumented are usually not able to invest the same level of resources. While individuals can always increase their odds of maintaining privacy by improving the security of their digital identities, none of us will be able to protect our privacy until we reform the laws and enforce better police practices. We need systemic reform to be truly secure in our privacy and reverse racial injustices perpetuated by unregulated surveillance infrastructure. Do you hope to broaden your work beyond New York state? There are already so many amazing activists operating throughout the world fighting the same battles we do in New York City. While S.T.O.P. will always be based here, we have offered advice on potential litigations strategies beyond our city and will continue this service in the future.
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Across The Street

Frick expansion critics propose buying Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion
Plot twist: Several New York preservation groups want the Frick Collection to stop part of its controversial expansion plan and instead, buy Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion across the street to use as gallery space. New York Daily News reported that two groups, Save the Frick and Stop Irresponsible Frick Development, propose that the late financier’s home, located at 9 East 71 Street, along with other buildings on the block, be alternatively used for the institution's growing needs. For years, the museum has attempted to upgrade its physical presence in the Upper East Side community but has been unsuccessful until recently in 2018, when a scheme by Selldorf Architects and Beyer Blinder Belle passed through the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The current plan includes repurposing 60,000 square feet of existing space and adding 27,000 square feet of new construction while enhancing accessibility, and most notably, moving and reinstalling the Russell Page-designed garden above its current location to make way for an auditorium underneath. Despite both pushback and support from various area residents, art world leadership, and preservation organizations, the design team negotiated several rounds of revisions on the plan, including the path to demolishing the Frick’s beloved Music Room and Reception Hall. Recently, Save the Frick launched a new petition calling for the LPC to reconsider a rejected proposal to designate the spaces as interior landmarks.   On-site work is set to begin later this year, and according to Joe Shatoff, COO of the Frick Collection, that the Epstein ploy doesn’t carry much weight given the amount of work it's taken to get the plan off the ground. He released a statement to the Daily News rebutting the proposal: 
“Our renovation and revitalization plan has been guided carefully by two key tenets—first and foremost, to preserve the unique, intimate experience of the Frick, and secondly, to ensure the long-term future of the museum and library. A separate building across the street does not answer these needs and would not provide the critical adjacencies required to make it a functional solution.”
It remains unclear what will happen to Epstein’s estate. His Upper East Side home—one of many—is reportedly valued at $77 million and where police uncovered hundreds of photos of underage girls. 
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Phantom Threads

James Carpenter Design Associates lets the light into Nordstrom with gargantuan double-curved glass panels
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Over the last four decades, James Carpenter Design Associates (JCDA) has been a pioneer in advanced glass installations and facade design, with projects ranging from the Museum at the St. Louis’ Gateway Arch to the Fulton Center Sky Reflector Net. The new Nordstrom flagship store in New York is located at the podium of the Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture-designed Central Park Tower, the world’s tallest residential structure. The storefront is yet another demonstration of JCDA’s proficiency in lightness and transparency, evident in the undulating curtain wall of double-curved and supersized glass panels. The JCDA-designed curtain wall is the public face for the retailer along the store's south and north elevations—the store also includes several buildings located on adjacent Broadway. Reaching a height of seven stories, the translucent exterior presents a striking streetwall that, in certain respects, resembles the articulated stone-and-brick massing of abutting historic structures, and, according to JCDA, its wavelike form is an homage to the East and Hudson Rivers bounding Manhattan.
  • Facade Manufacturer Cricursa Tvitec
  • Architect James Carpenter Design Associates
  • Facade Installer Permasteelisa
  • Facade Consultant Surface Design Group
  • Facade Structural Engineer schlaich bergermann partner
  • Location New York
  • Date of Completion 2019
  • System Custom curtwainwall system
  • Products XXL Cricursa Curved Glass
Spanish glass manufacturer Cricursa—one of the few with the technical capacity to produce extra-large curved glass panels—was pulled into the project at an early stage. According to JCDA, “The design started with the glass itself and worked out to the surrounding frame system, so ensuring the bent profiles were achievable both in terms of structure, manufacturing, handling, and shipping was important in the early design stages, most critically in the visual mockup and the performance mockup stages.” In total, there are five typical profiles and four unique corner profiles, and their dimensions range in height from 17'-6" to approximately 19'-6", and in width from 3'-10" to 6'-2". The result is a striking succession of convexities and concavities following an A-A-B-B rhythm, with occupiable spaces similar to that of bay windows. It is difficult to overstate the complexity of the curtain wall system, and New York-based facade consultant Surface Design Group played an essential role in balancing aesthetic concerns, thermal performance, structural behavior, and code compliance. “The final glass composition was developed as a slump formed, complex curved, insulated glass unit, comprised of various layers of laminated, low-iron glass and a subtle, custom ceramic dot frit pattern,” said Surface Design Group partner Benson Gillespie. “Aluminum mullions were stretch-formed to an exacting tolerance that matched the glass.” The curtainwall is backed by a diaphanous steel mesh veil, that, similar to the now-defunct pool room of the Mies van der Rohe’s Four Seasons, filters daylight and adds a layer of depth, with shadows and iridescence, to the facade.