All posts in East

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Amanda in Demand
Playing up to NYC Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden is usually more strategy, than pleasure. But the standing ovation she received today from architects, developers, and city agents, including Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber, felt real as Burden stepped up to accept the J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development from the Urban Land Institute. Established in 1936 with offices around the globe and 40,000 members in the U.S., the Washington DC-quartered Urban Land Institute supports enlightened development research and practices. The Nichols Prize for community building comes with $100,000; past winners have included Senator Patrick Moynihan, architecture historian Vincent Scully, Al Ratner of Forest City Enterprises, and developer Gerald Hines. According to prize presenter Lieber, Burden really does sweat the little stuff. He cited her paying attention right down to the root balls for street-lining trees.  (Profiles this week in Crain’s and the Observer talked about interest in window sill widths.) The gist was that she used her power wisely and in the service of improving the city as she said herself “one block at a time.”  The guys from ULI were distinctly old school, dragging in references to wives and, repeatedly, Burden’s gender. But Lieber injected some good old New York panache by noting about the High Line—the current jewel in city development’s crown—that at the beginning, “People said to me ‘What a stupid use of public money’.” But it was Burden who charmed the socks and leggings off the 100-strong crowd at the ceremony recalling that it was an epiphany at Paley Park, that tiny vestibule with waterfall on 53rd Street so beloved by solitary lunchers and established by CBS Chairman and Burden’s stepfather William Paley, that led her to a passion for urban planning.  Now, after rezoning 8,000 New York City blocks, she described her ambitious—but never over-reaching—approach as “setting our goals according to Robert Moses, knowing we’ll be judged by Jane Jacob’s standards.”  There was a Sally Field’s moment when she said she loved everyone in the room, but Burden ended on a classy note, announcing that she was turning the $100,000 prize back to the Urban Land Institute to establish a new prize for “outstanding examples of new or revitalized urban spaces that are urban magnets, readily accessible, and intensively used.” In other words, here’s to more Paley Parks.
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Crowning 23 Beekman
While the big news out of the LPC today was the approval of 980 Madison, there were quite a few noteworthy developments as well, namely the designation of three new landmarks and the calendering of 23 Beekman Place, better known as the Paul Rudolph house, which is the first step in the designation process. Poking fun at her fellow colleagues who had been skeptical of the Norman Foster designed addition at 980 Madison, which had been approved earlier in the day, commissioner Margery Perlmutter quipped, "Sometimes a rooftop addition does become a landmark." Rudolph's quixotic construction was completed in 1977, though he would revise it, like much of his work, until his death two decades later. It sits atop an otherwise typical Upper East Side brownstone built in 1900, and it also happened to be occupied by Catherine Cornell, who bought the rowhouse in the 1920s, just as she was becoming a major star on Broadway. Winking back at Perlmutter, commissioner Pablo Vengoechea remarked that were Rudolph applying for the addition today, there is no way the commission would support it. It was also pointed out that the interiors, once a testing ground for Rudolph's design ideas, would not be landmark in light of a rather drastic renovation earlier this decade. As for the new landmarks, they are the former Jarmulowsky Bank building at the corner of Canal Street and Orchard Street, the Ralph and Ann Van Wyck Mead House on Second Avenue near 7th Street, and the Lamartine Place Historic District, a contiguous row of houses on West 29th Street between 8th and 9th avenues. The first is, as the name suggests, the former 12-story headquarters of a Lower East Side bank built in 1911-1912 in the Beaux Arts style out of limestone and brick. It was praised by the commissioners for being a monumental structure in an otherwise low-rise neighborhood, which is perhaps why it is currently on the market for many, many millions of dollars. Perhaps the building was built because someone tried to cash an equally large check at the bank's former location in 1905. The Mead House happens to be the world's oldest halfway house for women, having been bought by the Womens Prisoners Association in 1874, a decade after the townhouses construction. Despite the ominous sounding name, it is this uninterrupted ownership that helped keep the house intact for so long. As commission chair Robert Tierney put it, "The strands of history that flow through this house are amazing." Finally, the Lamartine Place Historic District [PDF] protects a row of houses in Chelsea originally developed by William Torrey and Cyrus Mason in the 1840s. In the proceeding years, two of the houses would become important stops on the Underground Railroad, one of which was attacked during the notorious draft riots 1863. Many of the Greek Revival buildings still stand, some even relatively intact, but two were considered so altered, they were removed from the district. "This is an important row and a very important reminder of the draft riots," Vengoechea said, adding that he hoped this bit of history could somehow be incorporated into the site.
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Another Atlantic Yards Suit
As we reported back in June, the activists fighting the Atlantic Yards project did not expect any of the various government agencies with oversight of the project to oppose it when they had the opportunity this summer—the MTA revised its sale of the yards, the ESDC approved a modified General Project Plan. What the critics were more excited about was the possibility of additional lawsuits, which, while generally unsuccessful, have helped stall the project nonetheless and paint it in an increasingly negative light. Today, a day before a major showdown over eminent domain in the state's highest court, Develop Don't Destroy filed a new lawsuit, this one challenging the MTA's sale, and it has an important distinction from the others. When we saw the filing, the first thing that struck us was the petitioners. In the past, only Develop Don't Destroy or local residents and businesses had been signed on to the suits. Now, a number of local politicians and a major transit advocacy group have signed on to this latest case. Maybe that's immaterial in the eyes of the courts, a case is a case, petitioners are petitioners, but it certainly underscores the growing opposition to the project. This is not to say prior petitions were invalid, but they did have the patina of NIMBYism. Now, this is much less the case. Again, we're not sure this matters, legally speaking, but given that Yards watchdog Norman Oder points it out in his typically no-stone-unturned analysis of the new suit, it obviously bears mentioning. As for the suit itself, Oder agrees with us that, like its predecessors, even if it doesn't technically succeed, it could still make progress on the Yards all the more difficult:
Even a successful lawsuit might not formally stop the project, but it could throw a wrench into Forest City Ratner's plan to have the state sell tax-exempt bonds and for arena construction to begin this year. As Neil deMause observes on his Field of Schemes blog: "The real question now is whether another lawsuit will make it too expensive for Ratner to get bond insurance so he can start selling arena bonds this month as planned."
The MTA has so far declined to comment. UPDATE: Dan Goldstein of DDDB wrote us last night to point out that the Straphangers, as well as the Sierra Club, had been involved in one of the two prior suits, though no politicians. Also, we forgot to mention that this is probably only the first of what could be many more suits now that the MTA and ESDC have officially taken action. In fact, our June story emphasized the latter more than the former, which suggests that one is on the way, though Goldstein made no mention of it. And he's not the only one filing suit. Last week, as the Park Slope Courier reported, neighborhood groups have filed a suit against the state and Ratner for not doing a thorough enough traffic study. The groups are not trying to stop the project, however, but simply get Ratner to make changes to address the problems.
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Vito Acconci, Male Model
Back in June, we spoke with Vito Acconci about his decision to close up shop. The artist and designer essentially said he was yet another victim of the recession—"The contradictory thing is that at a time when there are these architectural projects that we have the possibility of doing, how do we keep the studio active on a day-to-day basis?"—but now we're wondering if he maybe had a career change in mind. It would appear so, as Archinect alerts us to Vito's appearance in none other than October's J. Crew catalog. Maybe it's some kind of performance art? He's ready for his close-up after the jump.
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Decathletes, Start Your Solar Panels
Yesterday was press day at the 2009 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C. The student teams were still scrambling to finish up their installations when Team Archpaper arrived on the scene, but we still managed to talk our way into a hand full of the 20 solar houses that will go head-to-head in open competition. As in past years, the students will be go about the work of every day living—doing laundry, washing dishes, cooking—and will be judged based upon the energy efficiency, as well as architecture, engineering, comfort, and marketability of their houses. While each of the entries evoked aspects of their respective regions, they fell to either side of a line that ran between off-the-shelf affordability and high-tech über-design. Rice University's Zerow House shot for bottom-budget affordability. The school has teamed with Project Row Houses, a non-profit that fixes up shotgun shacks in Houston, Texas' 3rd Ward. The Zerow House will wind up there after the decathlon, where it will become the home of a low-income family. The team used off-the-shelf furniture from Ikea and The Container Store and all of the construction materials were selected to be widely available and easy to install by contractors. The house offered a great deal of privacy on the interior as most of the envelope is solid corrugated iron, but a light well let in plenty of daylight. A 4.2 KW solar array on the roof was paired with a solar hot water array. Cornell University's Silo House went further than any entry in subverting the elongated box aesthetic. Three distinct circular volumes of CorTen corrugated steel (the silos) wrap a deck that maximizes livable space. This entry went took opposite rout of Rice's, as almost every aspect of the project, from the dish rack to the floating bed, was custom designed. The solar array, which shaded the house on a tube steel structure, is capable of generating 8 KW, more electricity that the house is expected to use. 2007 winners Team Germany (Technishe Universität Darmstadt) turned in what will probably be judged the most technically advanced project, which comes as no huge surprise. The team combined standard polycrystaline solar arrays on the roof with building-integrated thin film solar panels that make up the exterior walls. This glassy black box is interspersed by panels treated with acrylics to add a bit of color. All of the windows were either outfitted with integrated shading systems or exterior louvers. Inside, the house is a single voluminous room with a lofted sleeping area that covers the bathroom. Team California (Santa Clara University, California College of the Arts) brings the outside in by breaking its volume into three boxes that wrap a central courtyard. In addition to the solar array, the roof captures rainwater, which feeds a garden and a pond. The decathlon also features entries from Iowa State University, Penn State University, Virginia Tech, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Team Boston (Boston Architecture College, Tufts University), Team Ontario/BC (University of Waterloo, Ryerson University, Simon Fraser University), The Ohio State University, The University of Arizona, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of Minnesota, University of Kentucky, Team Missouri (Missouri University of Science & Technology, University of Missouri), and Team Alberta (University of Calgary, SAIT Polytechnic, Alberta College of Art + Design, Mount Royal College).
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Very Veyko
With the rising popularity of both design and public transportation, it was only a matter of time before the two joined forces. Here in New York we've gotten fancy bike racks, fancy bus stops, and fancy bike racks cum subway grates. Now, Philly's getting in on the action, with new, nifty seats for some of its SEPTA stations. Designed and fabricated by the fellas at Veyko, a local full-service shop, the benches are meant to evoke the movement of the trains as they fly by—though hopefully not because you've missed your train. They won't be installed in stations just yet, but yo can give them a spin at Penn's Meyerson Hall this Friday night, where they'll be installed as park of Philly Work, an open studio event for the city's designers. Invite after the jump.
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Cooper Struts Its Stuff
Last week, the Rockefeller Foundation handed out its Jane Jacobs Medal, now in its third year, at a fête at Thom Mayne’s sumptuous new Cooper Union building. Guests were initially relegated to a basement parlor for drinks before being ushered across the hall into the jaw-dropping Frederick P. Rose Auditorium, which is said to be the little sister of the famed 1858 Great Hall in the main building. Maybe—but only if she were wearing a gauzy, wrinkled sheath dress of aluminum lace. Could there be nicer acoustical baffling? Cooper president George Campbell, Jr., introduced Judith Rodin, president of the foundation. Before beginning her remarks, Rodin gave a shout out to a trio of city commissioners who were equal parts guests of honor and comrades at arms: Planning’s Amanda Burden, Transportation’s Janette Sadik-Khan, and, newest of the pack, HPD’s Rafael Cestero. Rodin noted that exactly 50 years ago this month, the foundation awarded its first two grants, one of which happened to go to a housewife from Manhattan. “It was to support her monograph, that single most import book on the rebuilding of the city,” Rodin said. “That kicked off 50 years of thinking about and working on urban issues.” It is in Jacobs’ honor that the awards were created in 2007, one for Lifetime Leadership, the other for New Ideas and Activism. This year’s honorees were Damaris Reyes, executive director of the Good Old Lower East Side, and Richard Kahan, founder and CEO of the Urban Assembly schools. (You can watch a nice video profile of the two shot by the Municipal Art Society, co-sponsor of the awards, below.) First up after Rodin was New Yorker architecture critic and man about town Paul Goldberger to award Kahan his medal. He had many beautiful things to say, repeatedly comparing the former head of the Urban Development Corporation to Jacobs herself: “Like Jane Jacobs, Richard Kahan loves New York and sees it with a clarity that uncovers its humanism.” “He’s a skeptic, like Jane Jacobs, but like Jane, he’s never let his skepticism spill over into cynicism.” “He was in training to be Robert Moses, not Jane Jacobs, but fortunately for us, that’s not how it worked out.” Kahan thanked Goldberger, and then admitted that while he was honored to be receiving the lifetime achievement, “not to be ungrateful, but I’d rather be getting the award for the up-and-comer.” Circling around to Goldberger’s point, Kahan said that Moses versus Jacobs “presents a false dichotomy.” Indeed, the genius of New York was both its intimate scale and its immense monumentality. He said you have to empower the community so it can be a part of big change. Mary Schmidt Campbell, dean of the Tisch School for the Arts at NYU, invoked Howard Zinn’s A People's History of the United States in her introduction for Reyes, and in many ways echoed Kahan saying that Reyes, too, was at the front ranks spending most of her adult life fighting for the rights of public housing residents and the disappearing culture and community of the Lower East Side. In a stirring speech that at times brought her to tears—“I always cry, even though I told myself I wouldn’t tonight”—Reyes recounted her trials and travails in Manhattan’s most mixed neighborhood. “Today the benches are gone, and the street life with it. Mom and Pop shops are disappearing as people are evicted and rents continue to rise. We fight, and we continue to hold out.” Reyes received a standing ovation. The other ovation goes to 41 Cooper. After the medal presentation, guests made their way to the Alumni Roof for some delectable drinks and treats, including a steak bar and make-your-own mash potatoes. Charlie Rose, accompanying Amanda, was ever so gracious to take a picture with our friend and big fan, Nancy. Meanwhile Commissioner Sadik-Khan was chatting it up for part of the night with Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives, no doubt cooking up new schemes to foil the city’s drivers. At one point, we bumped into Charles Renfro, Giuseppe Lignano and Adda Tolla of LOT-EK, as well as about a dozen other spiffily dressed folks we took for designers but didn’t happen to know. Former MAS president Kent Barwick told us he would shortly be back in action at the advocacy group, "the resident crank in the attic." "Whenever they need to know about the Peloponnesian War, they'll come ask me," he joked. And his successor, Vin Cipolla, confided in us that he has a soft spot for Solange Knowles though not Beyonce. Also, he promised big things from the MAS in the coming months, after some reorganizing and rethinking. Ron Shiffman, the Pratt professor, community planning advocate, and former city planning commissioner, got a shout-out from Kahan during his speech for being an inspiration. On the roof, Shiffman told us that he was sorry they don’t make ‘em like Kahan anymore, who, after a period of butting heads, came around to plan such path-breaking projects as Battery Park City and the Bronx Center. “You can’t do planning like he did,” Shiffman said, a note of disappointment in his voice. “Not anymore.”
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A Double Feature at pinkcomma
Increasingly becoming home to Boston's architectural community, pinkcomma gallery opened its third Fall season on with two exhibitions: Heroic and Publishing Practices. Heroic takes a closer look at the material that re-shaped Boston, concrete, and the idealistic architects that used it from 1957-1976. The exhibit consists of a selection of local concrete buildings intertwined with essays by some of the architects who built them, material experts, historians, and voices from a new architectural generation who seek to put this work in context. Heroic, however, boasts a larger and weighty agenda: to educate the public at large on the innovations and ideals of Boston's concrete architectural legacy to save endangered buildings. On pinkcomma's second room Publishing Practices traces a history of practices that use publication as part of the tools available to them to think about and produce built form. Perhaps as interesting are the results of a survey on contemporary attitudes towards publishing conducted by curator Michael Kubo. Not surprisingly, Kubo finds that most people get their architectural news from websites and blogs while a great majority of respondents say that the physical book will always have a place in their studios. The results begin to show practices more comfortable using digital-physical media hybrids in their publishing projects. During the opening the crowd enjoyed the interactive yet low-tech nature of the exhibit. Heroic, for example, consists of over thirty 11" x 17" pieces of paper that the gallery encourages its visitors to collect and asks them to participate by suggesting additions to their growing list of notable concrete buildings. Both shows run through October 15.
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Code Warriors
On September 28, the first round in a series of debates on the future of computational design kicked off at Columbia University’s GSAPP. Under the heading Post-Parametric, the first debate was co-chaired by David Benjamin, partner at The Living design studio and director of GSAPP’s Living Architecture Lab, and Michael K. Reed of Columbia’s Department of Computer Science and Blue Sky Studios. Focusing on the subject of data, the event brought Casey Reas to the table with Chuck Eastman, and the result, one might say, was a technical knockout. Reas, a professor at UCLA’s Design Media Arts department and cofounder of the programming language called Processing, opened by demonstrating the power and versatility of Processing, with an emphasis on its role as a collaborative, open-source, and altogether egalitarian venture. Even to an audience familiar with his work, the fluidity with which he moved from code to geometry and back again was dazzling. This was a hard act to follow. A couple of slides into the presentation by Chuck Eastman, professor of architecture and computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology and author of the BIM Handbook, the BIM models of courthouse projects presented by Eastman had students slowly filtering out of the auditorium. Perhaps the inadvertent message of the students’ exodus suggests that scripting is perceived as spontaneous, exciting, and anti-establishment, whereas parametric modeling, stripped of its “wow factor,” is now becoming an extension of the corporate machine—the ideal tool for making the design of prison cells and judges’ chambers more efficient. (Eastman’s last slide was a collage of the design-office-turned-war-room of the future, where all data imaginable is displayed simultaneously on large monitors for ultimate control.) During the roundtable, co-chair Benjamin tried to head off this simplistic and polarizing reading by asking why the language of Processing couldn’t be a model for a more intuitive way of visualizing the kinds of data that BIM attempts to manage. Great question. But apparently a difficult one to answer. While Processing has made its way into a fair number of avant-garde architecture programs, the kind of code that Reas is interested in couldn’t be further from the building codes that BIM was designed to measure. Reas’ art is a personal and subjective exploration of the relationship between natural and digital language, computer simulations, and still images; Eastman’s work is focused on the objective assessment of data for the purpose of testing the efficiency of building systems. Bridging these two speakers would have required at least one or more additional panel members whose work straddles both worlds. I suspect that, from their absence, they are still hard to find.
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Man of Metal
Last night Rafael Moneo, Madrid-based architect and Harvard Graduate School of Design professor, kicked off Columbia’s third annual conference on architecture, engineering, and materials with a keynote lecture on his Northwest Corner Building, a new interdisciplinary science facility between Chandler and Pupin halls. This year’s conference is titled Post Ductility: Metals in Architecture and Engineering, and though Moneo’s building isn’t scheduled to be completed until the fall of next year, there may not have been a better time to discuss its materials or its contribution to the campus. Unfinished, the building can be seen as the engineering marvel that it is, with 300 tons of structural trusses enabling it to float above the gym beneath it. (Here's a video we posted of them being installed.) Fitting neatly with the conference’s theme, Moneo’s discussion of interpreting what McKim, Mead, and White would have wanted for a New York campus in this century presented the building as less of a departure and more of an entrance. To critics who would say the building doesn’t meld with the university’s architecture, he cautioned, “Use of a material doesn’t guarantee the true continuity you are looking for.” The Post Ductility conference runs through Friday and will conclude with a discussion by GSAPP dean Mark Wigley, and Werner Sobek, Steven Holl, and Matthias Schuler. Next year's conference theme is slated to be Polymers: Plastics in Architecture and Engineering.
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Julius on Camera
In the first months of The Architect’s Newspaper, more than five years ago, we were preparing a story on the possible demolition of a Richard Neutra house in Los Angeles. We figured that Julius Shulman, the famed photograper and chronicler of modern California, would have an image of the project. At the time, I called and spoke with Shulman, whose name was listed in the Los Angeles phone directory. He naturally had several images of the house, and when I asked if we could use one of them for the story, he said, “Sure—it will be $700!” I mentioned that we were a poor startup, and asked if he might cut us a deal. “No,” he said, and promptly hung up. Well, now there is a film, Visual Acoustics, that details just why Shulman was such a commanding figure in American architecture. The film receives its New York premiere on October 5 in the Cooper Union’s new Thom Mayne–designed theater. Director Eric Bricker will introduce the screening, which is a fundraiser for Open House New York, and will be followed by a private reception. Correction: An earlier version of this post said the movie was screening October 7. It is screening this coming Monday, October 5.
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Bloomy: Paint It White
New Yorkers, grab your paint brushes and rollers. That's the message from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as he and Mr. Global Warming himself, Al Gore, kicked off NYC Cool Roofs, part of the city's new service program that gets volunteers to paint city roofs white. A cheaper and less intensive alternative to green roofs, white roofs help keep buildings cool by reflecting the suns rays back from whence they came—though they don't address stormwater issues like their verdant cousins. “It’s such a simple concept—anyone who has ever gotten dressed in the summer knows it—light-colored surfaces absorb less heat than darker surfaces do,” Bloomberg said from a factory rooftop in Long Island City earlier today. “Coating rooftops with reflective, white paint can reduce roof temperatures by as much as 60 degrees and indoor temperatures by 10 to 20 degrees." Gore thanked the mayor for keeping the city "at the forefront of enacting innovative policies that reduce our carbon footprint.” While the Times calls white roofs a stop-gap measure, and more green roofs would obviously be the ideal, they're gaining in popularity, particularly with the Obama administration. The city's program is currently in the pilot stages, with plans to cover 100,000 square feet of LIC rooftops over the next two weeks. The area was chosen for its expansive industrial buildings that make it one of the hotter spots in the city—as well as easier to paint. While the Building Code now requires many new buildings to have white roofs, the city's sustainability czar, Rohit Aggarwala, noted that 85 percent of buildings that will exist by 2030 are already built. "As a result, we must include existing buildings in our efforts to cool the City," he said. "The NYC Cool Roofs program, combined with the building code requirement that re-roofing projects include reflective coating, is critical to meeting the City’s goal of reducing citywide greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030.”