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.
Search results for "east"
After 88 years in operation, the School of Architecture at Taliesin (SoAT) will be closing its doors when the spring semester ends. The Governing Board of the organization said in a statement that it wasn’t able to align with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation on a plan to develop alternative educational programs over the next year and a half, and will be forced to transfer its remaining 30 students to the nearby Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University. “This is a sad and somber day for our school, our students, and staff, and the architecture community,” said Dan Schweiker, chairperson of the board. “Our innovative school and its mission were integral to Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision for connecting architecture to our natural world. Wright’s legacy was not just building. It was a school to promulgate the lessons for all future generations...We did everything possible to fight for its survival but due to other forces it was not meant to be.” Established in 1932, Taliesin has been home to over 1,200 architects who lived and worked alongside Wright and his contemporaries, furthering the practice of “organic architecture.” Students immersed themselves in study while splitting their time between two iconic Wright-designed spaces at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Taliesin East in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Prior to making the decision to close, leadership at both the Foundation and the school had created proposals to allow the institution to continue operations on both campuses through the end of July next year, a period during which, according to the Foundation, they were going to come up with alternative programming that wouldn't need to be accredited. “The Foundation had reached an agreement with the leaders of the SoAT Board that would have allowed for second- and third-year students to complete their education at Taliesin and Taliesin West, and we are disappointed that it was not approved by the full SoAT Board,” said Stuart Graff, president and CEO of the Foundation. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is based out of Scottsdale and is charged with preserving both Taliesin West and East and providing educational STEAM programming inspired by the principles of organic architecture. It is a separate entity from the SoAT, which had to be regularly accredited by several boards and commissions in order to be fully operational. According to a statement by the Foundation, the decision to close the esteemed institution was made because the school “did not have a sustainable business model that would allow it to maintain its operations as an accredited program.” Now that the school is closing, the Foundation said it will expand its educational programming for K-12 students and professionals while continuing to promote Wright's legacy and vision. “The Foundation wants to ensure that it has the ability to work with a variety of partners,” it said, “to develop professional education programs for architects, preservation specialists, and design professionals that will keep the Taliesin campuses vital places for the development of organic architecture in the future.”
Luisa Caldas uses AR to let DS+R's BAMPFA tell its own story
Luisa Caldas is a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, where she leads the XR Lab, focused on using augmented reality (AR), virtual reality, and other extended reality tools as part of architectural practice. Recently, Caldas created the Augmented Time exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), housed in a 2016 Diller Scofidio + Renfro-designed building in Berkeley, California. The exhibition used iPad-based augmented reality and physical artifacts to allow the narratives of the building—originally opened in 1940—and those who built it to shine through. AN spoke to Caldas about augmented storytelling, the narrative power of architecture, and what “extended reality” could mean to architects in the future. Drew Zeiba: What was the initial inspiration behind Augmented Time? Luisa Caldas: I was intrigued by the potential of AR to tell a story. I wanted to show a number of interwoven realities that I saw happening in this particular piece of architecture. The building was the Berkeley Printing Press, which was later abandoned and covered in graffiti, before becoming a museum designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. So, I saw the potential for a timeline kind of storytelling that would be engaging because the building itself was to become its own storyteller. You could embed all this multi-modal digital information that was captured in so many places and just have it congregated on the building itself. The other motivation was to show the workers that actually built the building. I wanted to make visible those faces and those stories that, as an architect who has built buildings, I know are there. Often, all these dramas, all this magic about putting something together, completely fades away and/or is told as the work of an architect. The people who build it actually kind of disappear. I’m really interested in the relation between this powerful new technology to tell invisible or forgotten stories. Not just as a tool. I think one of the things this project touches on his how AR could shape how we think about built history, and not only frame discussions of the history of a building, but even question what “preservation” and site-specificity mean in a post-digital age. Totally, because a lot of the preliminary work that architects do on sites has to do with precedent, has to do with history, has to ask “What is there? How did it come to be there?” We architects always tend to do that research, but it just becomes another invisibility, unless there is a very clear reference in the building design about site context or historical context. And so it becomes our first conceptual stages, our first approaches to the site, to the building, to the program, but it just usually vanishes away. I enjoy asking how process captures or preserves or ignores or incorporates or shows that history, that resonance of the site. For me, that was very fascinating, how to embody that enquiry in this AR experience. It also shows the potential for AR as a tool for experiencing buildings and the built world as things that don’t just exist in a single moment, but unfold over time. Exactly, which is such a part of human narratives, isn’t it? And it’s so many times built by layering things over one another. So, being able to peel those layers away, to turn the skin into a derma. You know, a skin is a surface, but a derma is a layered reality. That was also the idea: peeling the visible surface away and revealing those layers. Can you tell me a little more about the technical aspects of the project and the process of realizing it? I lead a lab of virtual and augmented reality so there was initially a discussion: “Should we have AR headsets or should we have handheld devices?” And headsets were, at the time at least and even today, not really up to what we wanted to do. Also, I like the more democratic access to the experience that the handheld device provides you. We developed the app for iPads, but we can have the app for a smartphone, so anyone can access AR, like you do popular Snapchat filters. This is a project that had to be done in augmented reality, not virtual reality, because it had to be related to the physical artifact of building. There was a lot of interaction with the museum about visitor access, about how to make invisible things appear in a museum. When you get to a museum you expect to see things, right? And there you want to view was not available. You have to get these devices and you have to understand where to go. That led us to a lot of research on what is called user interface and user experience (UI/UX). We had to invent this new way of showing an exhibition, and to understand how people related to the content and to the technology, and so we did two or three previews where we open the exhibit and we were there seeing what people did and how they used it in a fluid, public event. Of course, I had a lot of students coming up to try it in the lab, but it is very different how tech savvy students and how seniors or kids use it, for example. We saw all these people using the technology and we learned from it, and we kept refining the UI/UX. We had to create everything from scratch, really, there wasn’t a precedent—we basically invented it. In terms of the technical solution, we decided to go for the Apple platform. As Apple was releasing more of its technology, we were constantly adapting to what was being made possible, to create more and more ambitious projects. Computer science at Berkeley is excellent. So I had a large team of computer scientists, architects, and also UI/UX designers, and the level of integration was very high. We met every week. Everyone was bringing ideas to the table, everybody was super excited. So there was a big integration between the creative side and the technical side. The technologists and computer scientists could come up with a really creative solution, or the architects or designers could suggest something to the computer scientists that they were not expecting. I think the team was very committed and we knew we were breaking new ground so, it was a lot of fun. After closing at the museum, BAMPFA AR — Augmented Time reopened at the Wurster Hall Room 108 gallery at UC Berkeley, where it will be on display until January 30. It will later travel to other locations around the country. For more on the latest in AEC technology and for information about the upcoming TECH+ conference, visit https://techplusexpo.com/events/la/
New Year's Reading Resolution
Kick off 2020 with these architecture primers
Start the new decade off right with these freshly released architecture and urbanism books. From the lasting architectural influence of Thomas Jefferson (with a dash of character examination), to cutting edge research in timber construction, to 10,000 years of earthen construction, the following books all present new examinations of what might seem like familiar topics. Pick up one (or all) of these titles to keep you warm on those long February nights. The Responsive Environment: Design Aesthetics, and the Human in the 1970s By Larry D. Busbea University of Minnesota Press MSRP: $30.00 Busbea begins this book with a question: “Where do we—as subjects and objects—begin and end?” Exploring the new interactions between humans and their environments that characterized the 1970s, Busbea delves into emerging practices in design, art, architecture, and technology. The Responsive Environment analyzes theories developed by Gregory Bateson, Marshall McLuhan, Wolf Hilbertz, and many others, to examine the changes of how we perceive our spatial identities and physical boundaries in the latter part of the 20th century. Ways of Knowing Cities Edited by Laura Kurgan and Dare Brawley Columbia Books on Architecture and the City MSRP: $28.00 Co-edited by Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP) researchers, Ways of Knowing Cities compiles 16 essays on the influence of technology on urban experiences. The texts broach the undeniable politics of reshaping urbanity through data, calling on architects, anthropologists, migration and media specialists to analyze the information systems that affect cities. The book is a product of a 2018 GSAPP symposium of the same name. Planetary Mine: Territories of Extraction under Late Capitalism By Martín Arboleda Verso MSRP: $29.95 Arboleda opens this book with a description of a miners’ strike in northern Chile as just one example of the effect of global resource extraction on the human experience. He traces the geographic development of supply chain capitalism from South American to East-Asian economies, questioning exploitations of resource-based industries like construction. Planetary Mine rethinks global development in terms of world political climate and geography. The Art of Earth Architecture: Past, Present, Future By Jean Dethier Princeton Architectural Press MSRP: $125.00 In a global survey of raw earth construction techniques, 1987 Grand Prix d'Architecture winner Dethier investigates over 250 instances of environmentally sustainable architecture through technical, cultural, and historical lenses. This encyclopedia of raw earth construction depicts projects built over the last ten thousand years, including UNESCO World Heritage sites from the Great Wall of China to the Great Mosque of Djenné. Over 700 high-resolution photographs and illustrations are paired with essays from 20 experts to explore projects from ancestral palaces to contemporary dwellings. Thomas Jefferson, Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles, and the Conflict of Ideals By Mabel O. Wilson Edited by Lloyd DeWitt and Corey Piper Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk (Yale University Press) MSRP: $45.00 A publication stemming from a 2019 exhibition at the Chrysler Museum of Art of the same name, Thomas Jefferson, Architect provides an inside look into the architectural works of the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. This book examines Jefferson's designs with a new perspective, highlighting the neoclassical influences on the contention between Jefferson's ideology of liberty and property. Jefferson's complex character is explored through the designs of Monticello, Poplar Forest, and the University of Virginia campus, as well as his prioritizations of both democracy and slavery. Wood Urbanism: From the Molecular to the Territorial Edited by Daniel Ibañez, Jane Hutton, and Kiel Moe Actar Publishers MSRP: $54.95 From microscopic biology to the macrocosms of cities, wood has been an invaluable component of construction throughout history. Wood Urbanism explores the scalar properties of wood in terms of species, carbon impact, thermal qualities, ecology, cities, and metabolism. Case studies and visual essays are separated by full-spread photos and technical graphics that question the role of wood in today's industry. Both a manual and a challenge for architects, this book investigates how wood can continue to be a dynamic, multi-faceted material in an ever-changing landscape. Frederick Kiesler: Face-to-face With the Avant-garde: Essential Essays on Network and Impact Edited by Peter Bogner, Gerd Zillner, and the Frederick Kiesler Foundation Birkhäuser MSPR: $44.99 The father of the Correalism theory (the continuous interactions between people and their built environments), Frederick Kiesler was a visionary of architecture and design in both Austria and New York. This monograph is comprised of 21 essays that explore his work in regard to his contemporaries, including Theo van Doesburg, Piet Mondrian, Arshile Gorky, and more. The book's release marks the 20th anniversary of the Frederick Kiesler Foundation, and a celebration of the network of avant-garde artists of the time, placing Kiesler's contributions in fuller context. Bodybuilding: Architecture and Performance Edited by Charles Aubin and Carlos Mínguez Carrasco Performa MSRP: $35.00 Where architecture traditionally functions on permanence, Bodybuilding is the first publication specifically devoted to the ephemerality of live performance in design. Featuring architects and collectives from Lina Bo Bardi to Toyo Ito, the book traces staged performances, rather than constructed buildings, that have questioned the built environment. Bodybuilding was launched as a part of Performa's eighth biennale, examining trends that stemmed from the Bauhaus. The book surveys performance art curated by contemporary designers, who searched for other creative outlets during economic downturns that stymied construction projects. AN uses affiliate links; if you purchase a product through this page, AN may receive a commission.
One week after BIG founder Bjarke Ingels was photographed in Brazil alongside the country’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, the Danish architect has provided AN with a more in-depth explanation of his time there. Ingels was reportedly touring Brazil as part of a Nomade Group delegation, investors who had been invited by Minister of Tourism Marcelo Álvaro Antônio to explore sustainable tourism opportunities. The backlash online was swift given the President’s history of climate denialism, and only intensified when Culture Secretary Roberto Alvim was fired after lifting phrases and imagery from Nazi propaganda for a speech about funding national art that Bolsonaro finds acceptable. Heated back-and-forths over whether Ingels’ meeting was appropriate broke out on Twitter, as well as in AN’s own comments. Ingels issued the following statement earlier today, where he called for critics to move beyond binary ways of seeing the world:
Our role and impact in the world Many have asked what we are doing in Brazil. My colleague and I have been on a fact-finding trip with Nomade Group to gather background information for a holistic masterplan for responsible tourism in socially and environmentally sustainable destinations in Northeast Brazil. Some may know the incredible, barefoot, light impact environments that Nomade is known for—a form of tourism that doesn’t replace the forest or the sand but rather inhabits and preserves it. A much-needed alternative to the high-rises on the beach that often happens when international tourism arrives as it has in Cancun only hours north of Tulum. We traveled the Northeast Coast of Brazil from Fortaleza to Atins, crossing three states, meeting mayors, governors and ministers across the entire political spectrum, and most importantly, amazing people from all walks of life. The observations and ideas we presented in our preliminary research to the ministries of Economy and Tourism impacted them so much that that they asked us to present our ideas directly to the president’s office. How better to impact the future of the region and the country than to plant the ideas we believe in at the highest level of government? Neither the president nor the ministers are our clients, but we are happy to share our ideas and ideals with a government that is willing to listen. As much as I would enjoy working in a bubble where everybody agrees with me, the places that can really benefit from our involvement are the places that are further from the ideals that we already hold. I love Brazil as a country, and I really want to see Brazil succeed. Slash and burn agriculture is one of many examples of how socioeconomic problems can become environmental problems. That is why I want to be actively involved with the necessary transformation of Brazil and share ideas that I believe would be a great alternative to the traditional development that destroys the landscape, deteriorates the ecosystems and displaces the local community. We may not succeed, but I am certain that we will not succeed, if we don’t even try. Creating a list of countries or companies that BIG should shy away from working with seems to be an oversimplification of a complex world. Dividing everything into two categories is neither accurate nor reasonable. The way the world evolves isn’t binary but rather gradual and on a vast array of aspects and nuances. If we want to positively impact the world, we need active engagement, not superficial clickbait or ignorance. I believe we have a great responsibility that comes with the creative platform that we have created. We should use that platform to change the world for the better. We can’t expect every public instance to be aligned with all aspects of our thinking, but we can make sure that we bring the change we want to see in the world, through the work we do. The ideas and ideals of the projects we propose bear their legitimacy. That means working in countries like Brazil (and the USA for that matter) despite the controversies that their elected leaders may generate. One of the core principles of democracy is the ability to coexist and collaborate despite political differences. In my mind that is a way for us architects to have ethical impact. To engage actively to create the future that we want, by proposing our ideas to people, governments and businesses even if they have different points of view than we do. We have to engage and embrace our differences if we want to dare to imagine a different future. Bjarke Ingels
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.
10th Anniversary Memories
SCHAUM/SHIEH builds practice through agreement
The following interview was conducted as part of “Building Practice,” a professional elective course (and now AN interview series) at the Syracuse University School of Architecture, taught by Molly Hunker and Kyle Miller. On October 10, 2019, Kate Kini and Rachael Gaydos, students at Syracuse University, interviewed Troy Schaum and Rosalyne Shieh of SCHAUM/SHIEH. The following interview has been edited by Kyle Miller and AN for clarity. This year marks your 10-year anniversary. Congratulations! Can you talk about how starting a practice in 2009, the year after the recession, presented a challenge that may have limited growth? Troy Schaum: Both of us were teaching when the recession hit. Rosalyne was a Taubman Fellow at the University of Michigan and I was a Wortham Fellow at Rice. What we anticipated would be a brief foray into the academy was extended as a result of the macroeconomic situation in this country. We had to figure out how to work as architects without being hired to work as architects. So we started making our own projects—competition submissions and university-sponsored independent research projects and installations. It was only after we were invited to participate in the Venice Biennale in 2012, curated by David Chipperfield, that we started to get commissioned work. I don't know if those two things were related, but we started to pick up projects both in New York and Texas, and we very quickly had four additional employees. Our office size hasn’t grown a lot since then, but when we look at the numbers every year, it's been relatively steady, which is its own form of success. In response to the challenges of starting a practice at that time, have you used unconventional methods to promote your firm or to attract potential clients? Rosalyne Shieh: We began our practice in an academic setting with little opportunity to practice in a traditional manner. In 2009, by starting in the midst of the recession, there was little momentum to be lost and the work we made was unsolicited. I don’t mention this so much to bemoan, rather to state the conditions within which we set out and to explain why in the beginning, most of our work was speculative, invested in an alternate economy of ideas and discourse, one partially encapsulated from the macroeconomic situation that professional practice is embedded in. So we may have had a small audience tied to the academy, but we didn't have clients. We started by thinking about what it meant to make work that nobody was asking for, about what questions could be posed or offerings made through the framework of an architectural project. The parameters and conceptual territory of this early work were partly self-defined but also defined by our educations, conversations with our peers and collaborators, as well as things we were reading and looking at. This was an important incubation period for us, but it didn’t necessarily transition seamlessly into attracting clients and working on commissioned projects. Troy: What encouraged that transition for us was a desire to work at a certain scale. We were conducting design research and building temporary installations, but we were interested in engaging building[s] at a much larger scale. When we received opportunities to work on larger projects, we realized that the two of us couldn’t do it alone anymore. We had to build an ecosystem of people to support us. All of a sudden we had to develop an economy around the work in order to support the people that were supporting us. At that point, we found ourselves running a business. We didn't say “no” to a lot of requests, because you never know where certain journeys are going to take you. In 2012 or 2013, we were asked by some relatively young people in Houston if we were interested in designing a music venue. We made some sketches and renderings for a very small amount of money. We just assumed these people would go away and we’d never hear from them again. What actually happened was that they took those renderings all over town and raised significant capital to build the music venue. What also happened was that lots of people who build things in Houston saw the renderings. They didn't necessarily want to invest in a music venue but were very curious about us as architects. Developers would contact us and request a portfolio of built work. The problem was that we hadn't actually built anything! It’s a common and unfortunate catch-22, especially for a U.S.-based practice in its earliest stages. That said, some of them hired us anyway. How do you mediate between presenting your work to a broader public audience versus an audience of architecture students, colleagues, and other professionals? Troy: This is a huge issue for us, especially as we oscillate between our audiences. We're both teachers and we both have conversations with very erudite students and colleagues, and we have conversations with people who work out of the back of their trucks and know a lot about building things, but not so much about architectural discourse. The importance and role of communication and the ability to articulate ideas to many different audiences [are] primary to our understanding of architecture. You mentioned two audiences, but there are probably 20 audiences that we communicate with throughout the course of the day, from the people that are going to send us metal samples to the lawyers that are helping us draft contracts for our clients. Rosalyne: Also, communication is a very personal thing. You have to respond to who you're talking to. Depending on what it is that each person is able to receive or wants to talk about, you have to meet each other somewhere, and you both need to arrive from where you’re coming. I like to speak with my own voice across different conversations, but communicate differently given the situation or who I’m talking to. Troy: It's become very apparent to me that when we talk about audiences in school, we’re talking about collectives. And we're very interested in creating projects for collectives. There's a democratizing idea that architecture is for everyone. It is. But, one of the things that I underestimated was how powerful architecture can be for individuals–our individual clients and the contractors who build our projects. What do you understand to be your responsibility as an architect? Troy: Wow, that's a difficult question! Our practice is both of our names for a reason. SCHAUM/SHIEH wasn't just a default. That decision makes the practice a very personal thing for us. I imagine there's certain ethics in our work. I believe we have a responsibility to use these professional tools and our ways of seeing the world to be as careful and reflective and deliberate about our decisions and our work, especially when working in cities and in public spaces. To be stewards of the resources that we’re given, to be stewards of opportunities that we’re given to shape cities–these are very important responsibilities. Rosalyne: I agree and would add that we hope our projects enrich the world and make more connections possible. That's the aspiration, at least. We hope our efforts lead to building more complexity into the world. One of the quotes that we come back to a lot is this one–it's included by Jane Jacobs at the beginning of Death and Life of Great American Cities, from Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.: “Life is an end in itself, and the only question as to whether it is worth living is whether you have enough of it.” He's talking about the vibrant complexity of civilization and Jacobs connects this to cities as an engine of that. There's an interest in the pursuit of what we do as architects, but also as people to contribute to more life for more people. Some architects believe that there should be a separation between being a citizen and being an architect, specifically in relation to political issues and attempt to be as apolitical as possible. With your office, it seems to be the inverse. How much effort do you put into making a project political? Does it come naturally from its inception? Rosalyne: That’s a good question, and it's one that comes up again and again in architecture: What is the relationship between architecture and politics? If being political means seeing and engaging structural inequality, I can't live in a world where those two things can be separated, because it would mean willfully denying a part of reality, if not my own then someone else’s, with whom I share this world. It’s not only an issue of what we believe, but it’s also about lived realities. There could be different reasons why people feel the need to separate these roles. It could be because the very act or idea of the work—its property—requires that its limits are circumscribed. One way to work on something is to isolate or bracket it from other things. Or it might be a matter of survival: the world can be difficult; maybe you’re at capacity with what you can handle, and creative work is a kind of expression that feeds you. Some might have the choice to separate the two where others don’t. Broadly speaking, people undertake creative work for so many different reasons. I would just ask whether your position to proceed in any certain way is predicated upon an invalidation of someone else’s, and if it does, I would find it hard to support. I do not require you to not be in order for myself to be. That said, work that is explicitly political is not the only way to be political as an architect or artist. Godard said: “The problem is not to make political films but to make films politically.” That might mean simply expressing or applying yourself without explanation. There's no way to escape this question. It's not fair actually, to say that those worlds should be separate. I can't say that every project we do is political; we're not a political practice per se, but I am who I am, who I am, who I am… whether it's an architect, an educator, a person in the world, a cis-woman, a Taiwanese person, visibly Asian, a daughter of immigrants in the United States, today. The tension of trying to hold all these things together is at the heart of my humanity. Troy: There's a certain disciplinary agenda in the work of some practices, and a legacy of a particular kind of formalism. This way of approaching architecture is very different from how we understand practice. One important role of the architect is to construct agreement. For example, when working on White Oak Music Hall, we found ourselves in scenes similar to scenes in Ghostbusters where we were summoned to the mayor's office at eight in the morning to be reproached regarding an aspect of the project that a certain constituency was not happy with. These explicitly political aspects of practice and this particular project necessitated engagement with a broad audience and a range of issues well beyond the purview of the discipline of architecture. I don't know how you practice any other way. It's beautiful that buildings have the ability to engage political issues, and that architects have the ability to engage political issues. What's been the most rewarding moment in your professional careers thus far? Troy: We recently had the opportunity to observe how powerful work can be for an individual. This positive impact is not something you can encounter until you build something. White Oak Music Hall was embedded in a lot of politics around how music is booked in this country. We created White Oak Music Hall and made a lot of sacrifices in order to complete that project. We were criticized by a portion of the local community, but also supported by many diverse groups within the community. Recently, after finding out that we designed White Oak Music Hall, a local musician said to us, “That space you've created—we didn't have a space like that. That's my temple.” There's an entire ecosystem of creative people that can now work in this space we designed. Rosalyne: I agree with that, and I'll give you pretty much the same answer, but in a more abstract sense. We’ve had that experience a few times with the projects that are out in the world, with both White Oak Music Hall and Transart. You talk to people, and you might not know them well, and they’re like, “I know that project,” and they share some story that gives you an understanding that the project somehow belongs to them. These are the moments when you realize that projects, once they are out there, belong to the world and not just to ourselves. It can come back to us through clients, contractors, or anyone really… when they share a sense of belonging to this thing that we helped create, and that’s a really special moment.
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.
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.
James Carpenter Design Associates lets the light into Nordstrom with gargantuan double-curved glass panels
Brought to you with support fromOver 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.
As South East London's Old Kent Road area undergoes a massive redevelopment, several ideas have been tossed around regarding what to do with its centerpiece, a towering gasholder remaining from the Victorian era. Followers of the project have snapped to attention in light of the latest announcement: Developer Avanton is recruiting architects to sink their teeth into designing London’s first alligator farm. Maccreanor Lavington, Patel Taylor, and Farrells are the firms working with Avanton to explore the feasibility of the project, according to a report byBuilding Design. Avanton’s project information describes the park is the “green heart” of the larger Ruby Triangle, Avanton’s extensive mixed-use development of the Old Kent Road area in South East London. The result will be five new buildings with a total of 1,152 residential units, as well as commercial space and a community sports and recreation center. The gasholder stands at the center of the park zone, and while it has been defunct for more than ten years, Avanton plans to keep the 160-foot metal skeleton as a tribute to the heyday of the Old Kent Road gasworks industry in the mid-19th century. The frame would be outfitted with glass and essentially converted into a circular conservatory with a 65-foot-deep water feature. This type of enclosure would allow the park, along with its accompanying educational facility and visitor’s center, to remain open to visitors year-round. While the alligator farm is just one of at least three distinct park concepts for the area, it has understandably caught the attention of many who wonder what a public space of this nature might look like. In a statement to Londonist, Katheryn Wise of World Animal Protection expressed concern:
“Not only is the busy and noisy environment of a property on the Old Kent Road no place for a wild animal, the transportation and handling of these alligators is likely to cause them unnecessary stress, fear and anxiety. Wild animal exploitation to boost the profits of a property developer is the wrong message to be sending and we are urging the company to rethink their decision.”Alligators require warm, humid climates not just to survive, but also to reproduce and feel at ease within their habitat. In a press statement, Avanton claimed that it treats all environmental and ethical implications seriously, and the project will not move forward without consulting the appropriate experts. All of the park concepts are currently under discussion with Southwark Borough Council, and commentary will soon open up to a public forum.
Desert X AlUla announces artist lineup
The fourteen artists participating in Saudi Arabia's controversial first Desert X AlUla, a “site-responsive exhibition,” have been announced. The lineup includes artists living and working in Saudi Arabia, including Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim and Rashed Al Shashai, as well as other artists based throughout the Middle East, Europe, and North America, including previous Desert X participants such as Superflex and Lita Albuquerque. The first international exhibition of the Coachella Valley biennial has been organized along with the Royal Commission of Al-Ula and co-curated by Desert X artistic director Neville Wakefield, along with curators Raneem Farsi and Aya Alireza. It will take place in the Al-Ula area in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a region at the forefront of Saudi Arabia’s push to invite in more tourism. The large-scale installations are meant to “inspire new dialogue about the desert and reflect on themes that range from the passage of goods and ideas along the ancient incense route, the cultural memory that passage has left, and the natural resources that have shaped the region, both past and present,” according to a release from Desert X. Artists will create installations responding to the particulars of the geology, geography, history, and present of the region, with projects such as an “oasis” of date containers from Zahrah Al Ghamdi, a series of steel rings by Rayyane Tabet meant to engage with the oil pipelines in the region, and a sculpture by Nasser Al Salem that “embraces the idea of time as a continuum that connects all cultures and civilizations.” Desert X has also promised to increase public outreach programming through schools and universities. Desert X AlUla emphasizes the history of Al-Ula as a site of global connection and exchange, but it's become increasingly contentious to participate in programming in the repressive monarchy. Saudi Arabia has been accused of “sportswashing” for inviting major international boxing and golf events to the country, and pop stars like the group BTS have similarly come under fire for performing there. When asked about the pushback to the Al-Ula exhibition, artistic director Neville Wakefield told The Art Newspaper: “We live in binary times, when people are either isolationist or believe in the power of cultural dialogue. Art changes hearts and minds. Denying an entire population this opportunity is to be part of the problem not the solution.” However the choice to work with Saudi Arabia has caused issues even within Desert X. This past fall, the Los Angeles Times reported that three board members—the artist Ed Ruscha, the curator Yael Lipschutz, and the philanthropist Tristan Milanovich—resigned from the organization's board over the choice. Lipschutz told the L.A. Times that he thought the project in Saudia Arabia was “completely unethical,” noting that Desert X wasn’t just starting a “dialogue,” but receiving money from the Saudi royal family. Issues of philanthropic funding have been causing increasing friction in the world of art and architecture, whether it’s BP sponsoring the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the Sackler family donating to museums like the Met and V&A, arms profiteers serving on the boards of the Whitney and MoMA. The full list of artists is: Lita Albuquerque, Manal Al Dowayan, Zahrah Al Ghamdi, Nasser AlSalem, Rashed Al Shashai, Gisela Colon, Sherin Guirguis, Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, Nadim Karam, eL Seed, Wael Shawky, Muhannad Shono, Superflex, and Rayyane Tabet. Desert X AlUla opens January 31st.