Search results for "Richard Meier"

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UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music
Aerial view of the music school.
Iwan Baan

Kevin Daly Architects have brought the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music into the digital age, with additions that enliven one of the main entry points to the campus. Welton Becket designed the Schoenberg Music Building in 1955. His firm added another wing in 1985. Both are introverted red brick boxes, turning their backs on the Inverted Fountain to the west, and overshadowed by the tall arched facade of Knudsen Hall, the 1963 physics building across the cobbled plaza.

“Facilities of this kind are usually opaque,” said Daly. “The musicians are hidden away and have very little interaction or participation in the life of the campus. So we’ve tried to crack it open at a few points.”

The architects have reinterpreted the red brick and white stone palette of the campus in terra-cotta planks that are tilted in and out to catch the light and create a lively surface pattern. They come in two tones and three shapes, and are clipped to an aluminum frame. Angled planes with white trim and window reveals wrap a recording studio to the north and an ensemble/rehearsal room to the south. The asymmetry of their plans is expressed in the exterior geometry. In between is a glazed block containing a ground-floor café, second-floor faculty offices, and third-floor studios, with a computer lab, and mixing and editing bays below grade. These additions are linked to the existing buildings, which may be upgraded and extended in future phases of construction.

Douglas fir baffles shape the ensemble room.
 

The dull mediocrity of postwar additions to the UCLA campus is redeemed outside the building by leafy open spaces and mature trees. Over the past decade there have been some glimmerings of architectural awareness, and Daly has raised the bar. Michael Palladino of Richard Meier Partners made the Broad Art Center and Wasserman Eye Clinic studiedly reticent; in contrast, the Ostin Music Center is as joyful and exuberant as a Handel anthem or Stravinsky’s wind octet. Each of its three elements has its own expressive personality, but plays in harmony like a polished trio.

The precise detailing and pronounced horizontality of Daly’s composition stand in contrast with the massive verticality of Knudsen Hall. The scale is humane, the facades tactile, and the closed forms accentuate the transparency and openness of the glass-walled café and the projecting brise-soleils that shade the two upper floors. A crystalline porch provides a symbolic entry to the ensemble room, there’s an outdoor stage for occasional performances, and there’s an easy flow of space to promote social intercourse.

New buildings are clad in tilting and alternating terra cotta planks.
 

The two major interiors have similar end grain wood block floors, finned Douglas fir baffles over white plaster walls, and an angled soffit backed with sound absorbing materials. Windows pull in natural light and offer views. But each space has its own distinctive character. In the ensemble room, the baffles rise halfway toward the suspended plaster folds of the soffit. Daly worked closely with three acousticians to achieve a good balance for radically different kinds of music making, breaking up sound at a lot of different wavelengths, and settling on a 1.2 reverb count. The irregular floor plan allows musicians to come together in different configurations.

The recording studio is acoustically isolated within a steel-roofed concrete block building clad with terracotta panels. Isolation buffers and springs separate the inner steel-stud floor and walls from the outer shell and concrete slab floor, openings contain 1.25-inch laminated glass, and a low-velocity air displacement system employs the space between the folded fir soffit and roof as a return plenum. The wall baffles rise to full height, creating intriguing and warm geometric relief. In a city that’s full of professional musicians, this may become the recording studio of choice for its artistic and aural excellence.

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Alex Barmas on implementing innovative facades in New York City
For Enclos' Alex Barmas, true innovation in facade design and fabrication is about more than the latest technological bells and whistles. Rather, it is about exercising creativity despite the restrictions posed by tight budgets, compressed timelines, and aggressive real estate markets. At Facades+ NYC later this month, Barmas will moderate a conversation on implementing innovation with AEC industry leaders including Cutler Anderson Architects' Jim Cutler, Arup's Tali Mejicovsky, Michael Stein, of Schlaich Bergermann & Partner, and Richard Meier & Partners' Vivian Lee. "My intention is to get the panelists talking about the possibilities of producing truly fantastic architecture while constrained by very real-world budgets and schedules," said Barmas. "They have all worked on projects where an intelligent and responsive approach to design, and an intelligence about materials and tectonics have allowed them to deliver great projects under tight constraints. The panel will focus on the commitment and perseverance required to execute and deliver such projects." New York is a hotbed of facade innovation exactly because of the particular constraints at play there, said Barmas. In much of the United States, he explained, the litigious nature of the building design and construction market tends to discourage integrated project deliver. But "the New York market is actually a counterbalance to this. Due to the complexity of building projects, compressed construction schedules, and the need for coordination throughout the design and construction process, projects must take on a more holistic design mentality." At the same time, said Barmas, the drive to build taller and faster for the top of the market "has meant that there are some very interesting building envelopes either recently built, or under construction." As a case in point, he cited BIG's 625 West 57th Street (W57), calling it "a fantastic example of a really interesting curtain wall." All of this is not to say that new technology is not compelling—especially when made a part of built projects. "I'm very excited about the continuing integration of sensors, actuators, and other electrical components with the building envelope to create active and responsive facades," said Barmas. "This seems to be turning into a virtuous cycle where integrated systems are becoming more robust, system integration is improving, and all the parties to a building project are becoming more comfortable implementing these systems. System intelligence and integration enable us to achieve better performance with traditional building envelope components." To hear more from Barmas and panelists on bringing facades innovations to fruition, register today for Facades+ NYC. More information, including a complete symposium agenda, is available online.
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American Academy of Arts and Letters announces 2015 architecture awards
A star-studded jury has selected the winners of the American Academy of Arts and Letters' 2015 architecture prizes. Elizabeth Diller (chairman), Henry N. Cobb, Peter Eisenman, Kenneth Frampton, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, Laurie Olin, Cesar Pelli, Billie Tsien, and Tod Williams chose the awardees from among 41 nominations. Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey of Dublin's O'Donnell + Tuomey took home the $20,000 Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize, for which any architect "who has made a significant contribution to architecture as an art" is eligible. O'Donnell and Tuomey, who also received the 2015 Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects, are the creative team behind projects including the Sean O'Casey Community Centre (Dublin, 2008) and Belfast's Lyric Theatre (2011). The jury also awarded four Arts and Letters Awards in Architecture of $10,000 each. Yolanda Daniels and Sunil Bald, and Kate Orff won the first two awards, reserved for American practitioners "whose work is characterized by a strong personal direction." Of Daniels and Bald's work, which they undertake in New York as Studio SUMO, juror Billie Tsien observed, "There is always a sense of the weight of materials in what they do." Kate Orff founded New York landscape architecture firm SCAPE to combine research and practice on the urban landscape. Her recent projects include Oyster-Tecture for the 2010 MoMA exhibition Rising Currents, and Living Breakwaters for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, ongoing since 2014. Kurt W. Forster and Rosalie Genevro secured the second category, for an American "who explores ideas in architecture through any medium of expression." Forster, an architectural historian and founding director of the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, is currently an emeritus visiting professor at Yale. Genevro heads the Architectural League of New York. "Quiet wisdom as well as consistent and powerful leadership are hallmarks of Rosalie's 30 years as executive director," said juror Tod Williams. Select work by the winners, who will receive their awards at the Academy's annual Ceremonial and may, will be on display in the Academy's galleries on Audubon Terrace from May 21-June 14.
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Snøhetta continues San Francisco streak with downtown highrise, and the town is talking
The momentum continues in San Francisco for the Norwegian firm Snøhetta with a recently-unveiled tower at the corner of the city's Market Street and Van Ness Avenue. And the project has been garnering some fairly untraditional responses from citizens. As proposed, the curving, 37-story One Van Ness tower would be divided by three large cuts, designed to lessen wind load and provide new common spaces. Paired with SCB, Snøhetta will work to replace a tower originally proposed on the site by Richard Meier and Partners. The building's carved-out center has also provided inspiration for illustrators to poke fun. Illustrator Susie Cagle, who told CityLab that the design reminded her of the last SF boom's "bubble mentality," drew the distressed building on the left, while Twitter user The Tens seems to think the building doesn't much care for its neighborhood, as demonstrated in the image below right. San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic John King took note of the parodies and dubbed theSnøhetta's creation the "Talking Tower." He was quick to add in another tweet that the impromptu naming was "not a critique"—he says he quite likes the tower. AN recently talked to Snøhetta principal Craig Dykers about his firm's continuing success in San Francisco, including an extension to SFMOMA, a consulting role on the (recently revised, and moved) Golden State Warriors Arena and a (ultimately unsuccessful) shortlisting for the Presidio Parklands. snoheta-sf-tower-03
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Unveiled> Fernando Romero plays the stacking game with the Latin American Art Museum in Miami
With Art Basel underway, not-quite-yet-starchitect Fernando Romero has unveiled new plans for what could become Miami's next architectural icon: the Latin American Art Museum (LAAM). That's right, this 90,000 square foot, cantilevering structure could overshadow the nearby works of his higher-profile peers like Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Lord Norman Foster. And Jeanne Gang and Herzog & de Meuron. And also Bjarke Ingels and Enrique Norten, because Romero's—sorry, and Richard Meier and Rem Koolhaas. Okay, that has to be everyone. All starchitects have been accounted for. Where were we? Right, the Latin American Art Museum. Romero's firm, Fernando Romero EnterprisE (FR-EE) has created an arresting structure defined by generous, crisscrossing terraces that provide circulation and open-air gallery space called "sculptural gardens." Together, the rotated squares evoke a deck of cards being shuffled or an uneven stack of plates. “The different levels of the building define LAAM’S program,” FR-EE said in a statement. “The first floor will be reserved to young and emergent artists; the second one will be for temporal exhibitions; the third floor will house a selection of 600 pieces belonging to the permanent collection; finally, a restaurant will crown the top of the building.” In October, the Miami Herald reported that the museum is being funded by local art collector Gary Nader, and that it will heavily draw from his own collection. Right, kind of like George Lucas and his contested museum of narrative art in Chicago. Nader will reportedly build a residential tower on the same piece of property in Downtown Miami to help pay for the museum, which is expected to open in 2016.
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Sacred Scope
johnson fain/ rios clementi hale

After a year-long design process, Johnson Fain and Rios Clementi Hale Studios have unveiled their design for the restoration and reconfiguring of one of California’s most famous spaces: Philip Johnson’s Christ Cathedral—otherwise known as the Crystal Cathedral—in Garden Grove, California. The church was purchased by the Diocese of Orange in 2011 after its founder, televangelist Robert H. Schuller, filed for bankruptcy.

The plan converts the former Evangelical cathedral into a Catholic one, addresses several pressing technology and site issues, and makes the church the clear centerpiece of its 34-acre, seven building campus, which also includes structures by Richard Neutra and Richard Meier.

Inside, in order to make the altar the focus of the space (a necessity of Catholic mass) the team will convert the cathedral to an antiphonal layout, with the altar at the center and the congregants on either side. The move, said Johnson Fain principal Scott Johnson, not only makes sense from a religious standpoint but also spatially: “With the trapezoidal shape it’s the most intuitive thing to do,” he said.

 
A new plaza ringed with flowering trees will give the Cathedral a place of prominence.
 

Above the altar the designers are planning a dramatic baldacchino, a suspended canopy made up of glistening metallic fins with a large crucifix hanging from its open center. Around that composition, along the interior skin of the building, the architects have proposed a treatment of rigid “petals” that cover each of the cathedral’s more than 10,000 panes of glass, opening between 15 and 45 degrees. The petals will control light and heat (both are problems in the space), and will also improve the acoustics. On the exterior the team will clean the church’s windows and restore the existing shell.

 

Outside the cathedral, the team is surrounding the building with a new plaza intended to give it a position of centrality in its crowded campus. The space will be lined with dark and light concrete and travertine pavers, dotted with water elements, landscaping, “light pillars,” shrines, and chapels, and ringed with flowering trees. The new landscape “creates a boundary between it and the mundane,” said Rios Clementi Hale partner Frank Clementi. The transition toward the cathedral will be marked by “layers of sacredness,” he added.

The campus, with the remaining buildings now more clearly defined as support structures, will be master planned to better manage a wide array of events. “It’s a huge undertaking,” said Clementi. “One treads with caution,” added Johnson of working on such an important landmark.

Johnson’s team is focusing on the cathedral itself while Clementi’s is focusing on the surrounding area, but both are engaging in a healthy back and forth, said Clementi. That conversation also includes the cathedral’s ministry, which both architects have praised for their openness and generosity. “They’re people of faith, and they actually have faith in the designers,” joked Johnson.

The building is expected to reopen in 2017.

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Another Brutalist Wonder Bites the Dust: Johansen's Mechanic Theatre
Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore (photo: Edward Gunts) Despite pleas for preservation from some of the nation’s top architects, demolition work has begun on  a nationally significant example of “Brutalist” architecture in north America, the 1967 Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland, designed by the late John M. Johansen. A  yellow backhoe with a spike-like attachment began chipping into the theater’s concrete exterior earlier this month, ending any chance that the building could be saved. One local preservationist was able to salvage the original letters from the  building, but nothing else. Mechanics Theatre in Baltimore (Edward Gunts) The Mechanic is one of two major Brutalist works by Johansen targeted  for demolition in recent years, along with the 1970 Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Owners of the Baltimore theater, a development group headed by David S. Brown Enterprises, plan to replace it with a high rise containing 476 residences and street level commercial space. Shalom Baranes Associates of Washington is the architect. Named for local businessman Morris Mechanic, who built it, the 1,600 seat  theater at 1 N. Charles Street was designed to be the sculptural centerpiece of Charles Center, a 33-acre renewal project in downtown Baltimore. When it opened, the theater was hailed as a symbol of the city’s rejuvenation. The building was considered a prime example of  the architectural movement known as “Brutalism” or “New Brutalism,”  because it involved creating an unadorned, free form building with raw concrete -- “breton brut” in French.  Johansen, a pioneer in the movement, described the theater as “functional expressionalism,” because the exterior was designed to express what was going on inside The building received numerous awards and accolades in architectural circles, but it also sparked controversy.  One theater critic, unimpressed with the exposed concrete interior, lamented that going to the Mechanic was like watching performances inside a storm drain. A public official likened its shape to that of a poached egg on toast.  In 2009, it was ranked  Number One on a British publication’s list of the “World’s Top Ten Ugliest Buildings.” Johansen defended it to the end. “The Mechanic Theatre is one of my favorites,” he said in 2007. “It’s right up there at the top of the list. It’s a dear, dear building. It’s not brutalistic, as some say. It’s like a flower, opening its petals. It has drawing power.” Mechanics Theatre in Baltimore (photo: Edward Gunts) The theater closed in 2004,  after a larger performing arts center opened in the restored 1914 Hippodrome Theater several blocks away, with more seats and backstage facilities designed to accommodate  touring Broadway style shows. The Mechanic was dormant for years, and eventually was acquired by Brown and owners of a parking garage underneath. They initially asked Baranes to prepare a design that retained most of the theater’s shell  as part of a larger development, but opposed efforts to have the theater designated a city landmark -- a warning signal to preservationists. Before he died in 2012 at age 96, Johansen, the last of the “Harvard Five,”  pleaded with Baltimore officials to designate the theater a landmark and not issue a demolition permit. To support his case, he submitted a hand-drawn design showing how the theater could be incorporated into a larger mixed use center. More than a dozen well known architects wrote letters to the city supporting landmark designation,  including Hugh Hardy, Richard Rogers, Richard Meier, Kevin Roche, and James Stewart Polshek, who urged public officials to save the building from “the wrecking ball of greed.” Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation added the Mechanic to a “special list” that offered temporary protection from demolition. But two other civic bodies in Baltimore, the Planning Commission and City Council,  never agreed to add it to the city’s permanent landmark list, which would have given it more protection.  Saying they could find no tenants for the repurposed theater after years of looking, the developers abandoned their initial plans, asked Baranes to design  a mixed use development without the theater on the site, and applied for a demolition permit. They waited out the six month protection period afforded by the preservation panel’s emergency listing and received their demolition permit earlier this year.
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Beverly Hills Loses Another Mid-Century Modern Icon
Beverly Hills gained a vacant lot this week as crews demolished the former Robinsons-May department store at 9900 Wilshire Boulevard. The four-story, marble-clad building, designed by Charles O. Matcham, Charles Luckman, and William Pereira in 1952 with interiors by Raymond Loewy and Associates, was retailer J.W. Robinson’s first store in suburban Los Angeles. The fate of the site, which is for sale for the fourth time since Robinsons-May closed in 2006, remains uncertain. The first developers to take control of the property, New Pacific Realty, commissioned Richard Meier to design two 14- to 16-story condominium towers to replace the mid-century modern store. Subsequent owners Christian and Nicholas Candy promised to fulfill some version of Meier’s plan, but they defaulted on the project in 2008. Hong Kong firm Joint Treasure International purchased the site and the Meier design in 2010, but nothing happened until this month, when they decided to go ahead with demolition despite having listed the property for sale. Preservationists are mourning the demise of yet another Beverly Hills landmark. “The razing of the Robinsons-May building is a tragic loss for Beverly Hills,” said Beverly Hills Heritage’s Robert Switzer. “Not only was it a superb example of mid-century architecture, it stood as an elegant gateway structure at the west boundary of the city, beautiful in its own right without distracting from the view of another important building of the same period immediately adjacent to it, the Beverly Hilton hotel.” Beverly Hills, previously without preservation laws of any kind, adopted an historic preservation ordinance in 2012, too late to save Robinsons-May. “Had Beverly Hills enacted its preservation ordinance before a demolition permit for Robinsons-May was filed, I suspect that the City would have made every effort to save the building,” said Switzer. “Sadly, permits issued before the ordinance’s enactment could not be revoked. Moreover, the approval of the permit and redevelopment plans were transferable to the new owner, who chose to act on it.” Switzer worries that a contemporary high-rise development would disrupt the community’s urban fabric. “While it remains unclear whether the Richard Meier design will be constructed, any tall buildings on this site will be a jarring break in the smooth height transition that existed from the golf course on the west, past Robinsons-May to the Beverly Hilton,” he said. “It will be a less welcoming entrance into Beverly Hills.”
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Massimo Vignelli, 1931-2014
Marco Zannini

Designer Massimo Vignelli, born January 10, 1931, in Milan, Italy, died peacefully in his New York City home on May 27, 2014. One of the world’s most consistent supporters of a modernist approach to design, architecture, and life, Vignelli was widely known for his work on signs and diagrammatic maps of the New York subway; the identity for American Airlines; and for a vast array of publications, signage, products, and furniture for clients including the U.S. National Park Service, Knoll, Heller, Artemide, Casigliani, Feudi di San Gregorio, Ducati, and the British GNER Railway. He worked in tandem with his wife Lella for most projects, particularly on interiors such as Saint Peter’s Church and SD26 Restaurant in Manhattan, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and Poltrona Frau showrooms in Italy and the U.S.

Many people list award-winning artifacts as Vignelli’s most meaningful legacy, but these products and projects were a tangible result of his intent to make the world a better, more organized place. Vignelli’s unwavering belief in design as a tool to benefit society grew naturally from his childhood. Familial stresses and the political upheaval as Italy was torn apart in World War II disrupted his schooling and when he was 15, life was further confused by the untimely death of his father. Vignelli first became aware of furniture and architectural design thanks to a family friend and this provided a meaningful focus for his intellect and skills as he excelled in studio and art history courses.

He furthered his education as an avid reader of Domus and international design magazines. Assisting a cousin who was studying architecture brought him into the studios of Italy’s leading modernist architects; the views of Ernesto Nathan Rogers and Giancarlo de Carlo on life and work strongly influenced the young Vignelli. Issues of politics, economics, and war raised ethical and societal questions and led to his self-directed search for answers. At that time, Vignelli’s learned distrust of the inequities of capitalism and of America was contradicted by his interest in innovations in American architecture and by the fact that many Bauhaus masters had resettled in the U.S.

In 1950, Vignelli enrolled in the architecture program at Politecnico di Milano. For a time, he rented a room to Swiss designer Max Huber, who became his mentor for graphic design and typography. In 1951, he was a student volunteer at an architectural conference on Lake Como. There he met Elena (Lella) Valle, who accompanied her architect father to the conference. Lella would become his wife (in 1957) and lifelong business partner. Later, both would study architecture at the University of Venice.   

In 1957, Massimo earned a fellowship at Towle Silversmiths and the Vignellis moved to Massachusetts. Lella continued her studies at MIT. The couple traveled across the US; while visiting Chicago, Massimo was offered a teaching position at the Institute of Design and a part-time position in design research at Container Corporation. The Vignellis stayed in Chicago until their visas expired in 1960, when they returned to Milan and opened their own design office. During this time, Massimo defined a language of visual form that would provide the foundation for his entire career.

In 1965, Vignelli was a co-founder of the short-lived Unimark International; through this position he became influential in establishing a comprehensive approach to American corporate identity and in promoting the widespread use of the Helvetica typeface. Unimark brought the Vignellis to New York, but in 1971 he abruptly resigned from the company to form Vignelli Associates with Lella. From that time, their firm continued under their leadership along with a second company, Vignelli Design (for licensed products). Their showcase office was on Tenth Avenue from 1984 to 2000, then the Vignellis downsized their business and moved to their home office.

Massimo fulfilled a lifelong goal by actively working until his final days. Vignelli clients often became Vignelli friends. His love of architecture resulted in some of his favorite projects as he designed books for and developed close friendships with many architects, including Richard Meier, Harry Seidler, Peter Eisenman, and Tadao Ando.

Vignelli’s constant battle against mediocrity, obsolescence, and the consequent deterioration of society itself lasted through his lifetime. His impassioned embrace of an engaged life came with a ready smile, quick wit, raised eyebrows, and a nimble mind, but he also aimed sharp criticism at anyone whose work failed to meet his strict standards. “There is no design without discipline. There is no discipline without intelligence,” he said. This led him to a lifetime of teaching, sharing, and explaining ideas and methods with consistency, clarity, and patience to clients and designers alike. He was active in several professional organizations during his career, serving as president of Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) and of AIGA, as vice president of The Architectural League, and as member of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA).

Massimo Vignelli’s most meaningful legacy was relationships. He was a designer—a builder—not simply of materials, but of ideas and of people. Besides visiting and lecturing for many schools and organizations, he began offering a series of Master Designer Workshops through the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). In 2010, the Vignellis donated their archives to RIT. The archives are housed in a Vignelli-designed building with exhibition and teaching spaces. “The Vignelli Center is not only the building and the archives, but it is sharing our philosophy of the importance of design theory, history, and criticism,” he said.

Massimo Vignelli is survived by his wife Lella, daughter Valentina, and son Luca. His final days were honored by an outpouring of mail, thanks to Luca’s suggestion of a “Dear Massimo” letter-writing campaign. Hundreds of letters arrived from those who felt Massimo’s influence. Some were witty, some serious, but all expressed gratitude and support to the mentor who touched their lives and work in a meaningful way. It was a final reward and a warm tribute to Massimo Vignelli, whose great desire was “to rid the world of ugliness.”

 

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To Preserve and Develop
Richard Meier's luxury condos outside the Greenwich Village Historic District.
Peter Mauss/Esto

“Is Landmarking Out of Control?” That was the question posed by Crain’s New York at a forum it hosted in mid-May. To answer that noticeably leading question, Crain’s invited some of the biggest names in the city’s preservation and development worlds to hash it over coffee and pastries at the New York Athletic Club in Midtown.

The debate played out along familiar lines: The pro-development side—Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) President Steven Spinola, Columbia University professor Kenneth Jackson, and Nikolai Fedak of the blog NY YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard)—said that landmarking has its place, but New York should focus more on its potential for growth than its picturesque past. Jackson made that case in more explicit terms, saying that “history is for losers,” “no one comes to New York to look at buildings,” and “if you’re more comfortable with fish, trees, and aging houses, move to Vermont.”

On the other side of the debate were Peg Breen, the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy and Ronda Wist, the vice president of preservation at the Municipal Art Society (MAS), who explained how historic districts create a vibrant, livable city that creates jobs, attracts tourists, and increases property values.

This type of preservationist versus developer back-and-forth is not new—these battles have been waged over the streets of New York for years. But, now, as Mayor de Blasio sets out to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing, the issue of landmarking—specifically, the designation of historic districts—has become a flashpoint in the debate over the city’s affordability crisis.

So, when exactly, did the landmarking process supposedly get “out of control?” A quick look at the numbers shows it happened under Mayor Bloomberg. Yes, as glass towers were rising and megaprojects were being approved, “pro-development” Bloomberg was designating more historic districts than any mayor since the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) was founded in 1965. According to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg added or extended 41 historic districts—topping Giuliani’s designations by 23 and Koch’s by 14. More than half of those designations were in outer boroughs.


Map of New York City with historic districts in orange.
AN / NYC.GOV
 
 

Near the end of Bloomberg’s three terms, REBNY started issuing studies on the impact of all this landmarking. In July, the Board found that nearly 28 percent of Manhattan properties were landmarked; a subsequent press release declared: “Excessive Landmarking of Manhattan Properties Stifling Economic Growth.” To arrive at that figure, REBNY counted both historic districts and specific landmarked buildings in its calculation. Four months earlier, the Journal reported that historic districts, by themselves, only encompassed 10 percent of the island and two percent of the city overall. REBNY now puts that latter figure closer to four percent.

In September, REBNY was out with another study; this time it claimed that no affordable units had been created on landmarked properties in the borough since 2008. “Landmarking Curtails Affordable Housing Development in Manhattan,” read the press release.

And then in June—with a new mayor in town—the same argument. The latest study, which encompassed the entire city, found that only 0.29 percent of new affordable units built from 2003 to 2012 were on landmarked properties.

This finding was immediately dismissed—and mocked—by the Historic Districts Council. “[REBNY] is at it again,” said the Council in a statement. “The crisis in affordable housing… is not a landmarking issue; this is a deeper indictment of the real estate market to provide for the needs of New Yorkers and the subtle failure of government to guide market forces to help meet that need.”

A spokesperson for the LPC told AN, “the Commission is currently reviewing the findings in the REBNY Report.”

When asked about landmarking’s impact on affordability, preservationists tend to reject the notion outright. Since landmarked properties represent such a small percentage of the city overall, they say historic designation has little—if anything—to do with the city’s housing crisis, and question REBNY’s seriousness about wanting to create affordable housing. Laurie Beckelman, the chair of the LPC under Mayors Dinkins and Giuliani, said REBNY’s claims on this issue are a “cheap shot” and “total rubbish.”

Fifteen of the city’s top developers did not respond to AN’s request for comment for this story, but REBNY spokesperson Jamie McShane, said, “we are working with the de Blasio administration and other stakeholders on how to address the need for more housing, particularly affordable units. Responsible landmarking is one issue of many in addressing that need.”

As this debate plays-out, the Board is quick to tout its support for Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan. “Mayor de Blasio deserves a lot of credit for putting forward an honest plan that attemptsto deal with the housing needs for all New Yorkers. [The plan] identifies the problems and provides a realistic roadmap for solutions,” said REBNY president Steven Spinola. “[The Board] thanks the mayor for his commitment to this issue and we will continue our work with the administration to implement these critical objectives.”

Upper West Side/Central Park historic district.
Scott Loftesness/Flickr
 

The plan, however, does not touch the issue of landmarking. In 115 pages, the word “landmark” only tangentially comes up in a footnote and in the glossary. And that is partially because the mayor is not targeting the West Village’s brownstones or Soho’s cobblestones to build his 80,000 new units of affordable housing. And the industrial and under-used areas he is eyeing to rezone for residential use are not being considered for historic designation.

To achieve his ambitious goal within 10 years, de Blasio is launching a multipronged approach that also includes mandatory inclusionary zoning, raising taxes on vacant lots to encourage development, and reevaluating Bloomberg’s land lease plan to build on New York City Housing Authority property. The mayor has also been packing more affordable units into Bloomberg-era developments like the Domino Sugar Factory and Atlantic Yards.

But even with these new, permanently affordable units—and the many more market-rate apartments slated to rise alongside them—New York City will still be a very expensive place to live in a decade’s time. The city cannot, and will not, stop building; most everyone agrees that freezing construction would only make matters worse. But there is plenty of debate about how much the city should build, where it should do so, and if supply can ever meet demand.

The bigger question, then, is: Can New York City build its way out of the affordability crisis?

“It is impossible,” said Jaron Benjamin, the executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, a housing advocacy group based in New York. “We do not have billions and billions of dollars to throw at this problem. We have to think creatively.” Benjamin supports new development, but wants the city and state to focus on ways to preserve the apartments that are currently affordable.

And that is exactly what the mayor’s plan does. Because while de Blasio’s pledge to build new affordable units, and increase the city’s overall housing stock, has received the most attention, it gets him less than halfway to his goal of 200,000 units. The bigger piece of the plan is focused on preserving affordable units, about 120,000 of them. The details on how, exactly, he plans to do this are less clear, but the mayor’s office has said that city agencies will “use every tool at their disposal” to protect rent-stabilized units from being deregulated.

This is where the LPC believes it can aid in de Blasio’s efforts. “Since historic districts are also home to affordable housing units, the LPC will work with the Department of Housing Preservation & Development to align efforts to preserve both affordability and architectural character in these areas,” said a spokesperson for the Commission. “The LPC also understands that the city must continue to grow while maintaining a judicious approach to designation of historic properties.”

Andrew Berman—the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and one of REBNY’s most vocal critics—readily admits that landmarking is not the way, or even a way, to build new affordable units. But he believes that landmarking can be a tool to preserve rent-stabilized units that still exist in some of the most coveted zip codes in the world. “[Landmarking] can slow down the pushing out of long-term tenants and the disappearance of existing affordable housing because of anti-demolition protections,” said Berman.

He also pushed back on the “strong correlation” that REBNY drew between high incomes, limited racial diversity, and Manhattan’s historic districts in its July study. “We are talking about parts of the city that are, for the most part, some of the most distinctive, historic, and architecturally interesting,” he said. “They are naturally going to be places that are likely to have become more expensive, not because they are landmarked, but because they have these qualities that people find increasingly desirable.”

Unleashing development in, or around, historic districts, he said, would not necessarily lead to more affordable units; it could build a foundation for luxury condos that lift prices higher. He points to the glass towers lining the Hudson River, just outside of the Greenwich Village historic district, as glossy examples.

But in the debate over the future of landmarking, something resembling common ground starts to appear in terms of the process itself. The LPC’s approval procedures for new projects in historic districts—and renovations on landmarked properties—has been criticized by many for being too slow and overly expensive for property owners.

Peg Breen made clear to AN that the landmarking process is not broken, but that it could be improved. And to do that, she said, the LPC’s budget should be increased. “[The Commission] is woefully understaffed and overworked,” she said. “It needs an adequate staff to handle the load, and they do not have that now.”

Whether that will happen is entirely unknown—as are most aspects of landmarking under Mayor de Blasio. The big question hanging high above any concerns about process or funding is what’s next? On preservation, will de Blasio be another Bloomberg?

Six months into the mayor’s term, that remains a question neither side can answer. And de Blasio’s selection of Meenakshi Srinivasan to head the LPC provides few clues about the future of landmarks in New York City. The choice of the then-chair of the Board of Standards and Appeals surprised most onlookers when it was announced in May.

While landmarking is not expected to have an extensive impact in the affordable housing plan, in the coming months and years, the LPC could have a direct role in shaping New York City’s skyline. If the controversial Midtown East Rezoning plan is adopted, and taller towers head for the sky, the Commission will help decide the fate of the area’s older stock.

It could also adopt a proposal from a group called “Iconplans,” which would upend the selling of air rights. As the Journal reported, the group’s plan allows non-profits, universities, and religious institutions to sell air rights above their landmarked properties to developers who could use them elsewhere in the city—likely places where they can build taller. Currently, those air rights can only be transferred to adjacent sites. The LPC told AN it would consider this type of proposal. “As the administration continues to develop its housing and economic development policies, the expanded sale of air rights will be a relevant part of the discussion, which will occur across agencies,” said the LPC spokesperson.

Now, with the mayor’s housing plan in effect and the Commissioner in her new role, preservationists and developers are eagerly waiting for the Commission to answer that same question posed by Crain’s back in May: “Is Landmarking Out of Control?”

Its response could transform the city.

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Herzog & de Meuron's undulating concrete grid to rise along New York City's Hudson River
Ian Schrager and Herzog & de Meuron are at it again. Just weeks after renderings appeared for the team’s Lower East Side boutique hotel, images of the prolific hotelier and Swiss architects’ condo project in the West Village have surfaced. Real estate blog NY YIMBY received renderings for 357 West Street, which show a curving, 12-story building that will become the latest addition to a corridor crowded with starchitecture. The structure resembles much of Herzog & de Meuron’s recent work in the city, as it is clad in concrete and glass. These materials are being used at 215 Chrystie and 56 Leonard—the firm’s Tribeca tower, which looks like a dangerous game of Jenga. A tipster told YIMBY that the 357 West Street contains 88 units and is expected to open in 2017. Herzog & de Meuron’s building will be in good starchitect company over on Manhattan’s western waterfront, which includes—or will soon include—works by Morris Adjmi, Helmut Jahn, Jean Nouvel, Shigeru Ban, Richard Meier, Renzo Piano, and Frank Gehry.
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Saturday in Los Angeles> Bid on a custom Archpaper skateboard by Bureo at the A+D Gala
What do you get when you cross an innovative eco-conscious startup with your favorite source for architecture and design news? A custom upcycled skateboard designed by Bureo in AN’s logo colors. The board will be up for auction at A+D Museum’s CELEBRATE gala Saturday, June 28, part of the Los Angeles Design Festival. Headquartered in Santiago, Chile, Bureo manufactures plastic skateboards using fishnets collected in a local recycling program called Net Positiva. The company’s name comes from the Mapuche word for “waves,” and refers both to the ocean and to the hope that their small-scale intervention might lead to broader change. After a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign this spring, Bureo is preparing to ship its first model, the fish-shaped Minnow, beginning in August. For a shot at Bureo’s bespoke AN surfboard, purchase tickets to the CELEBRATE gala here. Other architects and artists creating skate and surf boards for the gala include Greg Lynn/Form, Karim Rashid, Erhlich Architects, Tom Wiscombe Architecture, Neil Denari Architects, and Richard Meier & Partners, to name a few.