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Picture Perfect

Studio Gang fuses storage and display in their design for a traveling photography exhibition
Studio Gang Architects, working with art advocate Project&, have produced a traveling photography exhibition that highlights the stories and photographs of 24 American workers. Studio Gang produced 18 modular display cases which double as the show’s shipping containers. The show, entitled Working in America, features the work of Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer Lynsey Addario. The opening of the show corresponds with the anniversary of Studs Terkel’s 1974 book Working, which explored similar themes. The show consists of stories and images from across the country. Studio Gang’s design features seven-foot-tall display cases that can be locked together in sets of three. These cases were developed for ease of transportation and the ability to show in difficult situations. This was important as the show will be traveling through the United States on display at public libraries. Exhibiting in libraries presents a special challenge, in that work can be displayed on the walls. “I envisioned self-crating steamer trunks that held an entire world inside, and when opened, revealed the large-scale photographs and the working lives of Americans, putting their voices and narratives at the center,” explained Jane M. Saks, the show's curator. “The team from Studio Gang not only turned that vision into a reality, but they designed the displays so that they lock together and literally hold each other up. The design is elegant and almost poetic in the way it speaks to our interdependence as workers and human beings, and the strength of all of us when we join together.” The cases are built of Baltic Birch plywood and vegetable-tanned leather for the handles. “We wanted to give visual space and dignity to each of the individuals represented in the photographs,” said Jeanne Gang. Studio Gang’s experience with exhibition design includes shows for the Art Institute of Chicago, Art Basel Miami, and the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Working in America is currently on display at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library Center, and will run through the end of January.
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Manhattan Transfer

Hudson River Park/Pier 40 deal reveals the tangled web of calculated collusion that shapes NYC
“Follow the money” is the immortal, if apocryphal, phrase uttered by Deep Throat, offering the key to unlocking the mysteries of Watergate. Understanding cities requires similar forensics. Urban morphology maps the flow of cash with concrete precision and the New York skyline is a literal bar graph of investment and return. The manufacture of real estate (what some quaintly refer to as “architecture”) is our leading industry and the art of the deal the epicenter of our creativity. Money not only talks, it designs and “planning” in most American cities is almost entirely devoted to refining the process of spatial arbitrage. There’s a project underway on the Manhattan waterfront that spins this tangled web with a remarkable combination of clarity and opacity, exposing the freakish calculated collusion of intentions and outcomes that shapes the city. The story begins in September 1985, when the death knell was sounded for Westway, a lunatic land manufacturing scheme to shove the Manhattan shoreline four hundred feet into the Hudson all the way from 40th Street to the Battery. Beneath this massive fill was to have been embedded an Interstate—the most expensive per mile ever constructed—replacing the terminally rusted West Side Highway. Planners were looking for the most extravagant scheme possible and were strongly supported by public officials (including Rockefeller, Koch, Cuomo the Elder, and Moynihan), the development community, and the construction unions. Visionary rhetoric and seductive greensward images notwithstanding, it was all about the money: The Feds would have picked up 90% of the $2.1 billion ($10 billion in today’s dollars) price-tag and the resulting 220 acres of new real estate—100 for a park and the rest a free-fire development zone—and would have been the most spectacular piece of physical fiscalization in the city’s history. But if the magnitude was singularly impressive, the impetus was widely shared. Cities all over the country had been committing urban suicide—ramming highways through their yielding tissues (often of color)—to get their hands on that government cash and New York—cresting in the Robert Moses era—had been an absolute champ. Westway was opposed by a coalition of environmentalists, mass transit advocates, community activists, and progressive pols but was finally killed by a Federal court ruling that its sponsors had failed to consider the landfill’s potentially adverse impact on the Hudson’s striped bass population. This narrowly-decided opinion nevertheless proved a turning point in the urban highway wars: In its aftermath, Bella Abzug–sponsored legislation allowed a trade-in of highway money for mass transit (to the great benefit of our subways, busses, and pedestrians) and other cities—from San Francisco to Seattle—began tearing down the waterfront highways, a continuing trend. Today, instead of Westway, we have a surface “boulevard” that—if billions cheaper, tree-lined, and lit by ornamental luminaires—is still too much of a surrender of this precious edge to traffic. Along the road’s waterside, though, runs the lovely, if incomplete, Hudson River Park which—while far from big enough to meet demand— offers great pleasures as it struggles towards durability and completion. Instrumentally, the park both reproduces and inverts the Westway principle. Westway proposed to use public funds simultaneously for public benefit (a highway and a park) and to create opportunities for the accumulation of private wealth, which would, in theory, yield further public return in the form of income from land sales and real estate taxes. The current park, on the other hand, although built substantially with public funds for public use, is not exactly a public work, inasmuch as it is obliged to finance its own future by directly attracting private capital. This parlous paradigm of the “public-private partnership” has, in our Republican age, become the default strategy for “public” development and has deeply embedded the culture of the trade-off (literal pay to play in the case of the park) in our civic life. The genius of progressive taxation for “general revenue” is that, in theory, it embodies that equitable proposition, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” If the U.S. system is wildly distorted on both collection and distribution sides, ability and need are nominally meant to be determined democratically. Unfortunately, when democracy lurches towards plutocracy, the distortions on both ends grow to the inevitable detriment of public needs. As the system becomes more and more regressive, the question of public benefit is increasingly situated in the elective territory of philanthropy—optional altruism—rather than collective responsibility. A tax code designed to favor private fortunes (with the corollary commonweal reliant on trickle-down) begs the question of their public disposition: ceding this to individual interest, itself answerable to charity, guilt, avarice, deductibilty, and political power in varying degrees, depending on whether the fortune belongs to the Koch Brothers, Bill Gates, Andrew Carnegie, sundry Rockefellers and Fords, or the Clinton Foundation. The demonization of shared—“redistributed”—wealth is a trope as abiding as it is rank: one reason that Bernie was ultimately unsuccessful is our generalized hostility to high-tax. Scandinavian-style “welfare states” (every citizen a welfare king or queen!) and the sapping canard of the individual initiative-killing effects of “hand-outs” from big nanny. Even in “liberal” New York, we’ve long since internalized Trumpism as policy: Everything’s a deal. “Return” on public investment must not simply be quantifiable (gross municipal happiness anyone?) but literally monetized. This calculus undergirds the arcane systems of swaps and bonuses that radically territorialize and delimit our practices of urban planning and improvement, with the result that we now insist that virtually every public enterprise (save, of course, warfare—although Trump’s neo-imperialist, spoils-to-the-victor, proposals might bring this too under the umbrella of self-finance) demonstrably pay for itself. Thus, instead of public construction of housing we have inclusionary zoning, instead of public education we have charter schools and rising college tuition, and instead of public healthcare we have the confusions and insufficiencies of a rapacious marketplace. And, littering New York, we have those oxymoronic POPS—“privately owned public spaces”—a sad archipelago of plazas and lobbies (Trump Tower’s among them!), purchased in a currency of lost light, air, revenue, equity, and pride. Any trade begs the question of who gets the better of it. Are the view-blocking luxury apartments now built in its midst too high a price for the excellent Brooklyn Bridge Park? The conundrum lies less in the answer than the question, with its predicate in a fragmented, discontinuous, idea of public space. Its further, and all too legible, implication is that the location and quality of such spaces depend on their realization in places where they can graft values from already successful environments. Precisely because the investment is both self-serving and easily recouped in a rising gyre of adjoining real estate prices, private money pours into Central Park, those condos rise in Brooklyn, the High-Line flourishes, and Barry Diller wants to build a Fantasy Island on piles in the Hudson—just beyond the window his office—in the “undeveloped” waters between the piers of the park. Like Brooklyn Bridge Park, Hudson River Park is administered by a trust, a legal arrangement in which someone’s property—in this case New York City’s and New York State’s—is managed by someone else. The Hudson River Park Trust was created by the State Legislature in 1998—during the Pataki administration—and is nominally controlled by a thirteen-member board of directors, five appointed by the Governor, five by the Mayor, and three by the Manhattan Borough President. The Trust’s board, however, is backed by another larger and perhaps more important one: the self-perpetuating “Friends of Hudson River Park,” charged with fund-raising for on-going construction and maintenance and largely comprised of investment bankers and real estate types (as well as—for cultural leavening—Martha Stewart and David Chang, of Momofuku fame). Both boards are dominated by Madelyn Wils, the Trust’s President and CEO since 2011, a shrewd and well-connected operative with long executive service on the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and—as Chairman—Community Board One, in lower Manhattan. It has fallen to Wils to deal with fact that the park, legally obliged by the terms of the trust to self-finance, is stone-broke. Her duties thus include not simply supervising the operation of the park but, most crucially, fulfilling the Trust’s mandate to “ensure the park’s future financial self-sufficiency by developing the remaining commercial nodes.” These “nodes” include both the actively commercial piers under its control (the Chelsea Piers sports complex, the New York Waterway ferry terminal, the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, etc.) as well as the unrealized potential of other undeveloped piers (or deals for new ones like Diller’s island). Its largest such asset is the fifteen-acre Pier 40, former terminus of the Holland America line, which occupies a charismatic spot between Greenwich Village and Tribeca, west of burgeoning “Hudson Square,” an area recently rebranded and rezoned to incite development and supersede its industrial past by attracting “creative” and tech uses, luxury housing, and a froth of Portland-sur-Hudson amenities to go with. Pier 40 currently accounts for approximately 30% of the Trust’s revenue—mainly from parking nearly 2,000 cars (a truly idiotic use for one the city’s most wonderful sites)—but is crumbling and urgently needs extensive rehabilitation. It’s best known by locals for holding several large—and much beloved—playing fields in an area that is one of the most underserved with recreational space in the city. Cash must somehow be milked from this alpha cow. Thus, on her arrival, Wils and Board Chair Diana Taylor took control of the then moribund “friends,” loading it with wealthy donors. This move was not without turbulence, including the 2012 purge of uber-developer Douglas Durst (who did not go quietly), nominally over a fight about the Trust’s intention to build housing on Pier 40, which Durst thought might be more profitably exploited by something more commercial. Indeed, over the years, a variety of contentious schemes for the pier have been mooted, including construction of offices, housing, shopping malls, theme parks, a permanent home for Cirque du Soleil, more parking, the expansion of NYU, and other not-exactly-park-like uses. However, this being New York, the pier also offers possible monetization through the sale of its very lack of development: by cashing in on its air rights. The main impediment to this has been that New York’s air rights regulations restrict their transfer to another site within a single block or zoning lot, technically obliging the pier’s rights to be fully exploited on the pier itself. Re-enter the State Legislature. In 2013, the Hudson River Park Act was amended to permit the transfer of the park’s air rights (in toto around 1.5 million square feet) to “receiving sites” within a zone a block deep on the other side of West Street, the park’s landside boundary, running from 59th Street to Canal Street. This amendment was crucial both in establishing the park’s most potentially lucrative revenue stream and in enabling a particular deal already in the works between the Trust, the city, the state, and a consortium of developers (one of whom—Michael Novogratz—who subsequently and profitably sold his share—just happened to be the chair of the park’s “friends”): the transfer of 200,000 square feet of development rights to a site directly across West Street, now occupied by the ginormous, three-block-long, St. John’s Terminal Building, erstwhile end-point of the High Line (and, interestingly enough, with Bloomberg LC its major tenant). Throughout this multi-party negotiation, the key intermediary was the PR firm of James Capalino. Capalino is a long-time donor, fundraiser, bundler, and pal to Bill de Blasio who, in 2015, somehow made more money ($12.9 million) than any other lobbyist representing clients to the city. Capalino’s much in the news these days, implicated as the fixer in the lifting, by the city, of a deed restriction on the (now former) Rivington House AIDS Nursing Home on the Lower East Side, allowing it to be converted to upmarket condos. Capalino represented the building’s owner—VillageCare, a non-profit—which sold the building to the Allure Group, a for-profit nursing home company, which, with the restriction lifted, flipped the building to the Slate Property Group, realizing (per The Wall Street Journal), a profit of a cool $72 million. Capalino now works for the Chinese developer Dalian Wanda, itself a partner of China Vanke, part of the consortium that bought Rivington. At the end of August, de Blasio—although claiming to know nothing about the deed deal approved by his administration—cut his erstwhile fundraiser loose: “I have not been in touch with Mr. Capalino….I do not have contact with him anymore.” According to a timeline put together by the excellent Danielle Tcholakian of DNAinfo, Capalino e-mailed First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris in late January 2014 (just after the mayor’s inauguration) with a copy to Carl Weisbrod, who was himself appointed Commissioner of City Planning a week later! The e-mail: “Tony, for the past twelve months, my firm has been working with Madelyn Wils on a proposal to secure a $100 million contribution by our client, Atlas Capital, to the Hudson River Park Trust to fund the cost of rehabilitation/stabilizing Pier 40 for continued recreational use. We are in discussions to have the residential project over St. John’s Terminal become an ESD (Empire State Development) project through a State sponsored general project plan.” In fact, the Trust, the ESD, and the developer had already inked a secret Memorandum of Understanding in December of 2013 that fixed the scale of the project and the $100 million price for the enabling air rights. According to Crain’s, this had been signed-off on during the waning days of the Bloomberg administration by Robert Steel, the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. Bloomberg (as well as Wils and Weisbrod) apparently also supported the use of the “general project plan” to be overseen by the ESD, a process which the developer was eagerly seeking (via copious lobbying by Capolino’s firm) as a means of circumventing the city’s more rigorous Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), an end-run the developer believed could save many years (and bucks) in obtaining approvals. Negotiations between the state, city, Trust, and developer—lubricated by the continuing ministrations of Capalino—were proceeding briskly in camera until May of 2015 when the secret MOU became public. Consternation from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (“Shocked is an understatement for how we all felt”), Assembly Member Deborah Glick (a leader in the fight against building housing on the pier itself but also an original sponsor of the Albany transfer legislation, believing it the only hope for saving the pier), the media, and the public, resulted in an about-face by the de Blasio administration—with the immediate agreement of the developer (who clearly knew who his friends were)—to renounce the MOU and the General Project Plan route and to go through ULURP. ULURP—now nearing its conclusion—runs a statutory 200 days from the submission of the developer’s plans and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). During ULURP, these are reviewed, successively, by the affected Community Board (CB2), the Borough President, the City Planning Commission (which is obliged to hold a public hearing and did so on August 26), by the City Council (which may hold a public hearing), and finally by the Mayor. The Community Board and the Borough President are authorized to make recommendations (including rejection) but these are entirely non-binding. The Planning Commission, the Council, and the Mayor have actual power but, in the case of this project, the Planning Commissioner, the ambitious local Council Member, Corey Johnson (who now has great power over the endgame), and the Mayor have long since come out in strong support of the deal and it’s unclear whether push-back from CB2, Borough President Brewer, a few members of the Planning Commission, and many in the community (including the energetic Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation which has been trying hard to use the deal to leverage its own struggle to preserve a large swathe of Greenwich Village just north of the site) will materially affect the final outcome. Indeed, their concerns had little impact on the Planning Commission which, on October 17, voted to approve the project without substantial modification. Since the proposed development departs radically from the site’s existing zoning, the Department of City Planning (a government agency that reports to the politically appointed City Planning Commission) prepared a revised zoning map to define a “Hudson River Park Special District” that could receive—and advantageously use—the transfer by greatly increasing allowable bulk, changing designated uses, permitting additional parking, and building in exceptions to the “contextual” strictures that govern the scale and character of construction nearby, including those revised to create the Hudson Square Special District a block away. The parameters of the new receiving site, to the administration’s credit, would also bring the project under the Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning regime, which obliges the developer to provide a meaningful percentage of affordable housing in the mix but which also further ups the site’s permissible bulk. The end-point of ULURP is approval, rejection, or modification of these zoning changes, which—if passed—will provide the legal space for the deal to be consummated. And the project? Its design is a particularly ripe variation on the “form follows finance” mentality at the core of the way New York City plans and is larded with bluff (a big box store, vast amounts of parking, extremely tall towers, and a truly grotesque “as of right” alternative scheme (a standard-issue developer threat that could be built without special approvals should this deal come a cropper). The plans have been skillfully reverse-engineered from the Trust’s primary imperative to realize the $100 million from the deal and are driven by its better-get-it-done-now recognition that public resistance to any further transfers into CB2 will be strenuously opposed, ditto possible transfers to other communities elsewhere along the waterfront. Indeed, recent push-back to the plan from CB2 and the Borough President has specifically demanded that transfers from the park to the adjacent neighborhood be strictly capped at 200,000 feet. Architecturally, the plan (albeit the work of good architects) is a bad one, both in its general outlines and in its particulars. Most strikingly wrong is the almost complete disconnection of the special district—on which would rise by far the largest project ever constructed in CB2—from its surroundings (including Pier 40 itself) and its total failure to anticipate and conduce to future changes, including the much-wished restoration of the street grid obliterated by the St. John’s Building and by the equally long, single-story, UPS facility running parallel in the blocks behind it. The vigorous development taking place on all sides (as well as future advances in logistics technology) will eventually create pressures on UPS (and nearby FEDEX) and provision should surely be made to restore the streets now erased, and to think about—to plan for—what will happen on these newly created blocks, including parks and schools. The plan placed on the table was clearly an opening gambit, stuffed with calculatedly negative capability in the form of too much stuff but also with a series of artful deficits that might open avenues for more positive demonstrations of cooperation. For example, the public space component is, by the developer’s own arithmetic, so sparse that the project will produce a net decrease in local public space per capita. The DEIS is also deeply suspect and blithely concludes that this humongous erection will have virtually no seriously adverse impacts on traffic, solar access, public services, and other critical infrastructure. Equally irresponsible is the developer’s long-standing resistance to including a school to serve the kids among the thousands of new residents. Finally, the plan is non-committal about its internal distribution of the mandatory affordable dwellings (as well as the actual degree of their affordability), although it appears they’re going to be primarily small units for seniors and concentrated in a single building, facing the UPS garage (the presentation package—full of street level perspectives rendered to obscure the mammoth bulk of the buildings looming out of frame—disingenuously depicts a rare apartment at the back of the building with a water view through a wee gap in the surrounding condos). All of these issues might be addressed in a revised proposal and both CB2 and Borough President Brewer have demanded a number of adjustments. But there’s a sad, deckchairs on the Titanic, quality to even the strongest of these, which, in the end, fall for the plan’s artful misdirection. The salient, undeniable, fact is that the project is vastly over-scaled. The tallest of its towers—at 420 feet—is three times the height of the surrounding built texture and certain to have a deeply deleterious and distorting impact on the neighborhood that it and its companions will overwhelm. The complex will also irrevocably alter the profile and rhythm of the Hudson riverfront as a whole, a contemptuous interruption in a continuous—and historic—low to mid-rise skyline that now stretches uninterrupted from Chelsea to Tribeca. An authentically “contextual” solution would simply extend the scale of the existing street wall, which tops out at around fifteen stories. Urbanistically speaking, this is clearly the right way to go. In the report issued by her office, Brewer tellingly—if somewhat wistfully—observes that, given the city’s reliance on private development for the direct financing of public facilities, “the developer has a private interest that is paramount to any public interest.” Yes, and? Alas, no public body or official seems willing to walk away from the specific public return on this expression of private interests: the $100 million for Pier 40 repairs, the “up to” 476 units of affordable housing, the now rejected curb on further bulk transfers into CB2’s backyard, and support for land-marking the nearby South Village, a decision that rests with another, nominally independent, agency. As the negotiations enter their end-game, a variety of predictable gambits are being played. Westbrook Partners, the majority stakeholder (Atlas still holds a minority share), has just let it be known that it’s “rethinking” the project because of a weakening in the residential market and might be forced to revert to a purely commercial, as-of-right, scheme. More, Crain’s reports that Westbrook is actively looking for an equity partner for the site, which both suggestively reinforces the threat to abandon residential use entirely and almost certainly reveals the real plan beneath the plan: to get approvals for the maximum project and then flip the whole thing and walk away with the cash. The public-private daisy chain keeps yielding moments of delirious, if nauseating, irony. The City Planning Commission (Chairman, Carl Weisbrod) held a hearing on September 19, during which a few minutes were devoted to listening to the responses of the City Planning Department (Director, Carl Weisbrod) to questions raised about the project at their August meeting. A visibly nervous planner from the Department was obliged to present her answers to a body presided over by her boss, the man who had been most instrumental in structuring the deal now under review! And, while we’re still in ironic mode, there’s another I find especially hard to overlook: The projected cost of Barry Diller’s little entertainment island has now reached $200 million. The design (by Thomas Heatherwick) is tasty enough but the money would surely be better spent (and the island’s entertainment program easily accommodated without displacing the ball fields) were it to be used on Pier 40—100 million for repairs, 100 for theaters and trees. And, Diller would have an irresistible counter to Doug Durst, who has been biliously bank-rolling lawsuits to thwart Barry’s plans, out of some truly pathetic billionaire pique. I make this suggestion seriously as one of a number of ways to manage and coordinate both direct investment in the park and the sale and use its air rights. Another would be to expand the Hudson River Park Special District to encompass Hudson Square (and the UPS site which will surely be transformed at some point) and to radically disaggregate the 200,000 square feet into much smaller increments that could be added as a series of bonuses to the on-going wave on construction in the area. Yet another would simply be to gerrymander a 1.5 million square foot skyscraper (or add just a few additional stories to several already proposed) into the thicket of towers under construction in Hudson Yards further uptown, an area already given over to large-scale building and one that has a huge underbuilt perimeter (including the Javits Center) into which even these enormous numbers could easily be made to disappear. Our representatives should steel themselves and fight for the big picture, for something much better than this too-many-eggs in one basket contrivance. The project is far, far, too big for the bearing capacity and character of its site and nibbling at the edges of the design—reducing parking, slightly shrinking a tower, 86-ing the big box that everyone knows is only there to disappear, redistributing bulk a bit, getting a few more affordable units, adding a wee plaza at grade—will make little real difference. If public money cannot be made available for maintaining the public park (or housing the poor), the question of the fungibility of air rights—if that is to be the Trust’s primary asset—must be regulated with much greater invention and subtlety: Having crossed the West Street Rubicon, there’s no reason this conjured property “right” cannot be more broadly and appropriately distributed. Indeed, the question of the creation and deployment of these rights lies at the very core of the way in which we define public space. It’s our air, after all! The complete failure of the DCP, the Trust, or any other public (or quasi-public) body to formulate a rigorous, sustainable, and beautiful plan for this part of town is simply dereliction. Not simply have they acquiesced in a completely barse-ackwards mode of defining and financing genuine and general public interests and slighted a truly collective—and expansive—vision of community needs, benefits, rights and desires, their “spot” planning mentality totally ignores a truly mammoth elephant the stalks the room: the inevitability of sea level rise that will almost certainly inundate this low-lying place, piers, special districts, underground parking, twee little shops, and all. While our public servants blithely order another cup of bouillon, an iceberg looms on the horizon. Time to change course! It’s not too late! While the City Planning Commission has voted to approve the plan almost entirely as originally presented, the Council (which tends to defer to the local member) and the Mayor can still intervene, although de Blasio in unlikely to oppose a creature he was so instrumental in stitching together. The Commission altered the scheme only in cosmetic or predictable ways: the Big Box is now gone as are the “public” bridges over Houston Street. The developer has also agreed to provide 10,000 square feet of subterranean recreational space that would be publicly “available” on unspecified terms. A little more open space is to be squeezed in at grade. However, no modification of the project footprint was demanded to reconnect the street grid, no guarantees were offered about a cap on transfers into CB2, no reduction was made in height, and nothing was said about the larger context of the project, including the form and use of Pier 40 or the character of the extended neighborhood. As part of the deal, however, the South Village Historic District has been placed on the Landmarks Commission’s agenda at its regular November 1 meeting for a vote to “calendar” it, launching a process of hearings, deliberations, and possible designation that can last as long as two years. It’s likely to be fewer as the professional staff at Landmarks is expected to offer a strongly favorable recommendation to the Commissioners. Although the precise manner by which the exquisite timing came about remains murky, the agreement to hear the case was surely the result of strong—and long—advocacy by the Greenwich Village Historic Society (GVSHP), CB2, Councilperson Johnson (who now holds a great many cards), and others, and Andrew Berman, the energetic Director of GVSHP (with Johnson’s apparent support) has threatened to fight to derail the project should the South Village landmarking fail to go forward. Courage to them both! And to those who are opposed to dumping any further FAR into CB2 and to all who advocate for more public space, affordable housing, and rational planning. Yet, whatever the outcome of the landmarking gambit, the fundamental contradiction at the heart of both project and process looms huge, both literally and conceptually. I’ve met virtually nobody with a non-financial stake in the new building who supports it as a piece of architecture or planning, simply as the formal resultant of a negotiation for something else. This is the heart of the deal, the inevitability that there will be winners and losers. The developer wants to build a gigantic project and has surely calculated its return with precision, using a knowable metric of profit. The city—in all its roots and branches—is obliged to a far more notional heuristic for determining the cost of our benefit. Would it be a good deal if it only produced the hundred million for the pier? The hundred million plus the affordable housing? Pile repair and housing plus the South Village Historic District? Should the developer be offered another 100,000 square feet to build a school? To decrease the building footprint by going higher still? That we have tipped so far to inducement rather than obligation as a planning strategy is a tragic, indeed Trumpian, marker of the decay of the commons. This collusive failure of imagination, responsibility, and democracy is staggering, if all too typical. Time to demand a vision that grows from our shared “right to the city”, planning that looks beyond a contracting, bottom-line, approach to the possible and sees our architecture not simply as an outcome but an aspiration. No deal!
Michael Sorkin is the President of Terreform, the Principal of the Michael Sorkin Studio, Distinguished Professor of Architecture and Director of the Graduate Program in Urban Design at CCNY. A planning and architectural study of this site has been prepared by Terreform and may be downloaded from its website. Comments are greatly welcome.
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Glowing and Growing

Students build glowing installation in West Side Chicago park
Students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) have designed and built a temporary installation in Chicago’s Homan Square Park. The installation, entitled bLUMEN, is the result of a summer course taught by architectural light artists Luftwerk and Chicago-based MAS Studio. The course was organized by the SAIC Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects (AIADO) and the Shapiro Center for Research and Collaboration. bLUMEN takes its name from the German word for flower, blume, and the latin word for light, lumen. The installation is comprised of six 10-foot tall hexagonal steel canopies. The canopy supports fifteen interconnected horticulture LED grow lights that help grow a handful of plants and vegetables. Situated on an underutilized site, bLUMEN was envisioned as a catalyst for community activity and social interaction. The West Side community of Homan Square is one of Chicago’s neighborhoods that suffers from a lack of access to healthy and fresh food. bLUMEN spotlights this issue, while providing a space for existing or new programs to gather, by day or night. The 10 students involved with the project worked with engineers from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and metal fabricators, Active Alloys.
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Chosen from 13 Firms

Hala Wardé’s studio, HW Architecture, wins Beirut Museum of Art design competition

Lebanese and French architect Hala Wardé and her studio HW Architecture has been awarded the commission to design the new Beirut Museum of Art (BeMA) in Lebanon. Situated in the center of the Lebanese capital, Wardé's design sees a “Central Campanile Tower” climb to almost 400 feet, aiming to be seen by many far and wide across the city as a symbol of unity. Aside from HW Architecture's winning proposal, New York–based firm WORK Architecture Company (WORKac) was given a special mention by the jury.

The submission from Wardé was chosen from a final shortlist of 13 and selected by a jury comprising Lord Peter Palumbo (chair); Rem KoolhaasLord Richard Rogers, Serpentine Gallery curators Hans Ulrich Obrist and Dame Julia Peyton-Jones. Zaha Hadid, now an honorary member, was on the jury until her passing last year.

From a museum perspective, BeMA will be dedicated to displaying art and design as well as contemporary Lebanese culture. As for Wardé's design, the tower will offer a place for artists to reside as well as room for studios and performance areas. Surrounding the Campanile Tower is a publicly accessible garden that will feature a series of site-specific art installations. The site—now part of the Université Sant-Joseph—was once a borderline within Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. Provisions have been made in Wardé's proposal to ensure connectivity to the university is available.

“I am delighted and honored to realize my first major project in the city of Beirut where I was born, on such an exceptional site,” said Wardé. “This museum program, in connection with the university, will allow us to create a new cultural and social space with a garden and amphitheater, and will single out this artistic territory with a strong and recognizable urban beacon, which through its multiple expressions, will belong to the new urban landscape of the city.”

BeMA is due to be open by 2020, while dates for groundbreaking are yet to be released.

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Not Your Grandad's Passive Design

Passive-Aggressive design: When sustainability radically shapes architecture

This article is part of  The Architect’s Newspaper’s “Passive Aggressive” feature on passive design strategies. Not to be confused with “Passivhaus” or “Passive House” certification, passive design strategies such as solar chimneys, trombe walls, solar orientation, and overhangs, rely on scheme rather than technology to respond to their environmental contexts. Today, architects are more concerned with sustainability than ever, and new takes on old passive techniques are not only responsible, but can produce architecture that expresses sustainable features through formal exuberance. We call it “passive-aggressive.” In this feature, we examine three components—diagram, envelope, and material—where designers are marrying form and performance. We also look back at the unexpected history of passive-aggressive architecture, talk with passive-aggressive architects, and check out a passive-aggressive house. More “Passive Aggressive” articles are listed at the bottom of the page!

Diagram

The promise of architecturally considered, environmentally conscious buildings that are more than exercises in technological prosthetics is taking shape around the world. Sustainable design can be achieved without subjugating space, form, experience, and aesthetics, concepts that often end up subservient to green concerns. Even offices are moving beyond the often-gauche addition of solar panels and sun shades to typical building typologies. To do so, form is playing an important role in achieving sustainability goals, and a new crop of spatially and formally exuberant projects is being realized. The result is a series of buildings that neither perform—or look—like anything we have seen before.

Perhaps the best test of a project’s sustainability aspirations is an extreme climate. Drastic temperature changes, remote locales, and inhospitable landscapes call for more than technological gadgetry to produce even a habitable project. Deserts in particular present challenges that push conventional designs to their limits. When New York firm WORKac began designing a guesthouse in southern Arizona with the goal of being completely off the grid, it looked to the southwest Earthship typology to start. Earthships are passive solar homes that use a combination of natural and upcycled materials embedded in the earth to create a thermal mass that keeps their interiors cool during the day and warm at night. WORKac took some of these concepts and elevated them into a unique architectural form. A simple diagram, the heart of the project is an adobe brick mass, upon which airy living spaces are cantilevered above the ground.

New York–based MOS Architects engaged the desert climate in its Museum of Outdoor Arts Element House. A guesthouse and visitor center for the Star Axis land art project by the artist Charles Ross, the project hovers just above the New Mexico desert on stout concrete piers. The house, designed to be off the grid, is built out of prefabricated structural insulated panels. By distilling the project down to its basic architectural components, a theme among many MOS projects, a clear yet expressive geometric system governs its overall shape. Rather than a central hearth, a series of modules each has its own solar chimney. The result is a naturally lit interior without excessive glazing to increase solar gain. A reflective aluminum shingle cladding counters even more of the sun’s intense rays while also playing visual games with the overall form. Views out of the project are captured through deeply inset operable glass walls at the ends of each module. The only typical sustainable technology visible is a solar array folly, situated just a few yards from the building.

On the other side of the world in another desert climate, Zaha Hadid Architects supersized its sustainable efforts. The King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC) was founded in 2010 by its namesake as an independent, nonprofit research institution to investigate the future of energy economics and technology. KAPSARC will bring together researchers and scientists from 20 nations into one planned community in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Currently under construction, KAPSARC will become the main building of the campus, while formally being a campus within itself. An aggregation of six-sided plant-cell-shaped spaces, the project is a series of conditioned and unconditioned laboratories, conference rooms, lecture halls, and courtyards. Thanks to the office’s mastery of parametricism, angles, openings, and surfaces are cleverly utilized to manipulate sunlight, blocking it or allowing it into the advantage of the occupants. The modules also permit future expansion while maintaining the overall form and performance. The complex interlocking forms, and green-water-filled courtyards passively cooling surrounding spaces, echo traditional Arab courtyards buildings.

While designers strive to capture and control sunlight in the desert, in more northern climates it can be a scarce resource that is protected by code. In a city like Toronto, which averages six months of regular snowfall, new buildings can be required to allow sunlight to hit the sidewalk for portions of the day. For large projects like Bjarke Ingels Group’s (BIG) King Street development, sunlight, views, and greenspace were calculated using the latest in super-computer simulation modeling. Though the pixelated project will resemble the early diagram-driven ones from Ingels’s days with PLOT, such as the Mountain Dwelling project, King Street will be undeniably more complex. Within BIG, a smaller studio called BIG Ideas works in collaboration with Microsoft to develop predictive modeling tools for direct use by the designers. “All of the hill heights are determined by the sun and site,” Jakob Lange, BIG partner, explained. “Big Ideas created a tool for the design team to use to generate the formation of the hills. On the sidewalk, you need at least a certain amount of sunlight. The only way you can do that is to have a machine that can test every point.” The result is a seemingly haphazard stack of blocks that allow copious light and air into each unit and terrace, as well to streets and public courtyards. 

Whether through high-tech computer modeling or low-tech desert vernacular, passive sustainable design is turning a corner. No longer an afterthought, environmental considerations have stopped holding projects visually captive. With improved agency, architects are striking a delicate balance between formal, spatial experience and sustainable considerations.

—Matthew Messner

Envelope

Be aggressive and show off your passive sustainability strategy facade first.

Bates Masi Architects’ Amagansett Dunes home, a modest cottage a few hundred feet from the ocean on the South Shore of Long Island, is covered on its east and west sides with operable glass. Different-sized adjustable openings create a pressure differential that promotes natural ventilation. To modulate light through these surfaces, the firm installed canvas louvers that admit cool breezes in the summer and block cold winds in the winter.

Each tapered louver is cut from one piece of canvas and wrapped around a powdered aluminum frame, its riveted strips slightly twisted to increase their transparency. The canvas pattern, which was developed through several digital and physical models, casts dappled light and dramatic shadows throughout the house and creates a lantern effect at night.

Another dramatic facade is located at Carrier Johnson + Culture’s Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. The concrete project has achieved LEED Gold certification through a number of sustainable solutions—from drought-resistant landscaping to smart solar orientation—and is lined with a curved, south-facing stainless-steel screen that reflects solar heat while allowing in natural light. A concrete roof overhang provides additional shading for the building and an adjacent outdoor walkway serves both as a pedestrian connector and a sort of double-layered facade. A new public plaza fronts the other side of the wall.

The wall’s staggered, water-jet-cut steel panels are unique: Each one contains a gap to allow air and views and is connected to a series of steel posts. The screen’s design makes subtle references to the religious campus, employing alpha and omega symbols, images from the cosmos, and other abstract references. “It’s both an art piece and an environmental wall,” Carrier Johnson + Culture’s design principal Ray Varela said.

Halfway around the world in Tehran, Iran, Admun Design and Construction created a memorable brick facade that shields the hot sun, encourages natural ventilation, and provides privacy while allowing limited, interesting patterns of light. Inspired by the surrounding neighborhood buildings and the city’s chaotic skyline, the facade is composed of variously rotated bricks with varied apertures. The openings change size based on the views, sun angles, and external distractions. Mortar was removed by punching the bricks, and the scheme was designed using parametric software. The process was carried out by the builders through a simple coding system. A ledge was placed in the gap between the brick membrane and the outer edge to provide space for flower boxes and to give cleaning access to the windows from outside. Balconies were placed behind the brick facade.

Indeed, low-tech solutions are becoming new again, but with a clever technological twist.

—Sam Lubell

Material

Is it possible for sustainable systems to be both high- and low-tech at the same time? That’s the question architects are answering with a resounding “Yes,” thanks to advanced, but somehow simple, passive strategies that rely on new materials. One of the most publicized solutions is New York–based raad studio’s Lowline Lab, a heavily planted public space—still early in development—that will be located in a historic trolley terminal under the streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

In order to bring natural light into the space, the team is using what they call a “remote skylight,” in which sunlight passes through a glass shield to a parabolic collector, where it’s reflected and gathered at one focal point, then transmitted onto a “solar canopy,” a reflective surface underground. The technology transmits the necessary light wavelengths to enable plants and trees to grow in the underground space. A motorized optical system (likely to be powered by photovoltaics) tracks maximum sunlight throughout the day, and the solar canopy carefully distributes light evenly throughout the space.

Raad principal James Ramsey likened the system, which uses a series of relay lenses and mirrors, to both a telescope and a plumbing system. “You’ve almost treated the light as if you’ve turned it into a liquid,” he said. “It’s only geometry. That kind of simplicity is very efficient, and there’s something elegant about that.” All these technologies, added Ramsey, are still in development, so a specific system has not been finalized. He hopes to have it nailed down in the next couple of years.

French firm studioMilou’s reimagining of the National Gallery in Singapore consists of a roof and “veil” that unite two renovated historic buildings while creating a new courtyard. It’s another passive wonder that draws even, dappled light and keeps the buildings and their new public space cool. It mimics one of the oldest systems in the universe: a tree, with its thousands of branches stemming outward. The veil starts above the existing buildings and swoops down around them, filtering and softening natural light through thousands of laminated fritted glass and perforated aluminum panels, creating a filigree structure that also marks the new main entrance. All is supported by large aluminum columns, which effectively serve as tree trunks.

The goal, the French architects said, is for the roof and veil to resemble a handcrafted rattan tapestry. To execute the simple but complex form, the firm scanned the entire space and created a detailed 3-D model, working the roof and veil into the complex geometries of the space and even adjusting panels to fit and avoid the existing facade cornices. Each aluminum panel (chosen for its light weight and rust resistance) can be removed if maintenance is needed.

Meanwhile, Phoenix-based Wendell Burnette Architects’ (WBA) Desert Courtyard House uses a simple, reductive system to create a memorable space in a Sonoran Desert community near Phoenix while also being naturally sustainable. The house, which wraps around a courtyard containing volcanic rock, Saguaro cacti, and desert trees, is located in a low-lying area. It consists of about eight percent locally sourced cement (constituting the raised base) and 92 percent rammed earth excavated from the site. All of the extracted soil was used for the thick walls—none was taken away from the site and none was imported from elsewhere. The peripheral walls range from 3.5 to 18 inches thick, their high thermal mass keeping the home cool—although air conditioning can be used on particularly hot days. Another natural cooling system is the folded, wood-framed Cor-ten steel roof, which conducts heat up and out, creating a chimney effect.

The heavy, almost cave-like palette continues throughout the house, creating a unique aesthetic that Burnette said “feels ancient, primal, and modern at the same time.” He added, “You experience this as a shelter in a very elemental way.”

—Sam Lubell

For more “Passive Aggressive” articles, explore: Bjarke Ingels Group’s own tech-driven think tank, how WORKac’s Arizona House revives the super sustainable Earthship typologyMOS Architects' Michael Meredith on sustainability, and our brief, unofficial history of recent passive-aggressive design.

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Micro-Scope

Are micro-apartments a revolutionary trend? Or are developers exploiting an out-of-control market?
The situation was dire: People were flocking to cities for work, but scarce land and lack of new construction were driving up rent prices. Middle-income residents couldn’t afford the high-end housing stock, nor did they want to enter cramped—sometimes illegally so—apartments. Luckily, a new housing solution appeared: In exchange for small, single-occupancy units, residents could share amenities—like a restaurant-kitchen, dining area, lounge, and cleaning services—that were possible thanks to economies of scale. Sound familiar? It should: It’s the basic premise behind Carmel Place, a micro-apartment development in Manhattan’s Kips Bay that recently started leasing. The development—whose 55 units range from 260 to 360 square feet—was the result of Mayor Bloomberg’s 2012 adAPT NYC Competition to find housing solutions for the city’s shortage of one- and two-person apartments. Back then, Carmel Place needed special legal exceptions to be built, but last March the city removed the 400-square-foot minimum on individual units. While density controls mean another all-micro-apartment building is unlikely, only building codes will provide a de facto minimum unit size (somewhere in the upper 200 square foot range). What does this deregulation mean for New York City’s always-turbulent housing market? Will New Yorkers get new, sorely needed housing options or a raw deal? In a way, this deregulation is a return to an old, widespread, and subsequently outlawed, real estate formula. In New York City at the turn of the 20th century, converting hotels into apartments, and offering single-occupancy units with communal amenities, helped alleviate a housing shortage. These “apartment hotels” were wildly successful until legal changes in 1929 largely eliminated them. Now, it seems, the pendulum of history is swinging back: Carmel Place also offers shared amenities and services through a company named ollie (a wordplay on “all inclusive”). The project’s developer, Monadnock Development, has brought in ollie to facilitate weekly house cleaning, limited butler service, and more, to the building’s 25 market rate units and eight units for veterans with Section 8 vouchers. Those units will also come with space-saving furniture; the other 22 units are affordable but not serviced by ollie. While micro-apartments haven’t yet proliferated, there is a fundamental economic formula that makes them appealing for developers. It boils down to the difference between rent per square foot and chunk rent. The former is what developers use as a metric for market demand and revenue. The latter is the monthly rent the tenant pays. “Ollie is a sustainable housing model for attainably [sic] priced, high-quality housing, and we're really exploiting that understanding that the consumer is paying on a chunk rent basis and the developer is driving their model on a dollar per square foot basis,” explained Christopher Bledsoe, ollie’s cofounder. Furthermore, because rent is less a strain on residents’ finances, they become more reliable and long-term tenants. This dynamic isn’t just conjecture. Before ollie worked on Carmel Place, it renovated and leased micro units in an old Upper West Side building to demonstrate demand for smaller apartments. (The company didn’t offer its standard suite of amenities and services, so the development wasn’t branded “ollie.”) “One of the surprises is that this [micro unit] market is far broader than Millenials,” said Bledsoe. About 30 percent of the building’s renters were over age 34; they included empty nesters, retirees, those seeking to downsize or own pied-a-terres, long distance commuters, and many young couples, not all of whom were Millennials. Units in that building ranged from 178 to 375 square feet; demand was so high rent shot up to around $2,250 for the smallest units, $3,000 for the largest. “Over 40 percent of the tenants coming in [to the Upper West Side micro units] opted for a lease longer than 12 months. That's huge,” said Bledsoe. In light of this, Carmel Place is a more mature experiment in micro-living: What combination of amenities, services, and architecture can upend the long-held real estate belief that square footage determines what people will pay? This is where ollie’s pitch comes in: “For every one square foot I can eliminate from the apartment, I can give back $50 a year to the tenant in services,” said Bledsoe. Bledsoe sells ollie as essentially doing two things for renters: First, it leverages its purchasing power to provide economies of scale to its residents. Space-savvy products from Resource Furniture, WiFi, cable, Hello Alfred butler service, housekeeping, and social club membership through Magnises, are folded into the tenant’s rent. Bledsoe argues that those expenses are frequently hidden in rents, so including them helps tenants save time and keep Carmel Place competitive with nearby comparable units. Furthermore, he added, “It's not just about services and amenities, it's about the community.” At Carmel Place, a live-in community manager helps arrange social events ranging from BBQs to lectures by guest speakers. While ollie was hired after Carmel Place was designed by New York–based nARCHITECTS, the building’s design facilitated ollie’s mission: Carmel Place features a long, open, “main street” lobby, a ground floor gym, and on the top floor, a communal kitchen, dining area, extensive terrace, and outdoor grills. The walls between the top floor’s private terraces can even be swung aside, creating one giant shared terrace. ollie’s vision for a communal, dorm-like experience also recalls WeLive, WeWork’s coliving experiment (which, unlike a true apartment, doesn’t offer leases beyond 30 days). Rent at Carmel Place isn’t cheap: At the time of writing this article, unit 6H, furnished and 265 square feet, is going for $2,720 per month. If and when less expensive micro units are built, don’t count on the same quality furniture: Carmel Place’s Resource Furniture can quickly transform a studio into a one bedroom, but it’ll dent your wallet (a standard Carmel Place Resource Furniture setup costs $13,465). If micro-apartments proliferate, isn’t there risk that some won’t be able to afford that kind of hardware? “Yeah, absolutely,” said Frank Dubinsky, vice president at Monadnock Development, who added that, “In the future what will likely happen is there needs to be more furniture out there that works in these spaces. Resource's stuff is great but it's not inexpensive.” And what about affordable housing—will the next generation of New York’s affordable units be bare, 260 square foot apartments? Thankfully, on that count, no. When it comes to the city’s new MIH (Mandatory Inclusionary Housing) program, where developers must set aside 20 percent to 30 percent of a residential building’s floor areas for affordable housing, an affordable studio can’t be less than 400 square feet and an affordable one-bedroom can’t be less than 575 square feet. Furthermore, the mix of affordable unit types (studios, one-bedrooms, etc.) must match the ratio of market rate units. Combined with density controls, it’s very unlikely a residential building would use all its floor area for micro-apartments. MIH policies are currently only in effect in the recently rezoned East New York neighborhood but, overall, the program is a major part of the de Blasio administration’s plans to build or preserve 200,000 affordable units over the next decade. There’s also the unpredictable law of supply and demand to consider. California may offer some insight: In the 1980s, in a push to increase affordable housing stock, San Diego passed a legislation to allow micro-apartments. The practice subsequently spread to L.A., San Francisco, and beyond. “To a certain extent, you have to let people vote with they wallets,” said David Baker of San Francisco–based David Baker Architects. Baker’s firm recently designed an upscale condominium development in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley; half of its 69 units are micro-apartments. “If it doesn't rent, people won't build them. If you have more competition, they'll be better and rent for less.” Monadnock and nARCHITECTS created voluminous, bright, airy interiors for Carmel Place units. “Those things are not required by the zoning code—tall ceilings and big windows—but I think they're part and parcel with this becoming a replicable typology in New York City,” said Dubinsky. Only time will tell if New Yorkers avoid less generous micro-units, a fact that isn’t heartening to those were excited to see so many innovative housing solutions—including a full-scale, Resource Furniture-equipped micro-apartment interior—at the 2013 exhibition Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers at the Museum of the City of New York. Perhaps mid-tier micro-apartments will appear, along with lower cost furniture to match. Conversely, there’s the possibility that micro-apartments will remain a niche market in select cities where housing stock is short and a few urbanites will trade “space for place.” “At present, and for the foreseeable future, micro units are such a small segment of the new multi-family housing supply that's coming online in cities that it's highly unlikely they're going to have any material impact on rent,” said Stockton Williams, executive director of the Terwilliger Center for Housing at the Washington, D.C.–based Urban Land Institute (ULI). But in terms of how micro-housing is already evolving, ollie’s next two projects, one East Coast, one West Coast, may presage what form it’ll take. The first, in Long Island City, is 42 stories. Floors two through 15 will contain 426 ollie-served micro-apartments. They’ll have the same basic suite of amenities found at Carmel Place (Resource Furniture, WiFi, Hello Alfred, etc.). However, the conventional apartments can also opt into ollie’s services. The second development, in downtown Los Angeles, involves—in a twist of historical irony—a hotel. Located on a 192,000-square-foot site, the project will feature 30,000 square feet of amenities and retail. The 300 ollie micro-apartments will have access to the hotel’s amenities: “Rooftop pool, gym, lounge spaces, food and beverage, essentially what you'd expect to find in a trendy hotel amenities program,” said Bledsoe. “We're even talking about putting recording studios in the basement, doing some fun things that are more local.” Some of the micro-units will actually be micro suites (micro-units with a shared bathroom and kitchen), a model that a 2014 ULI report identified as being even more profitable for the developer. Maybe cities will find new reasons to dislike micro-apartments—when cities emptied in the 70s, their Single Room Occupancy (SRO) developments deteriorated, became stigmatized, and were vastly cut back. But this time around, there’s growing awareness among developers that communal living is marketable and desired by tenants. “For a lot of people home is the happy place, but more home doesn't equal more happy. I think more home equals more money and more maintenance,” said Bledsoe. But the exploration of micro-apartments’ future is just beginning. As Baker explained, they’re popular among seniors, not only for being cheaper, but simply “It's a lot less to clean… and they want the bathroom to be closer.” Seniors’ micro-apartments with rooftop shuffleboard? Middle-class micro-apartments paired with a Motel 6? Who knows. But if the micro-apartment does indeed take this many forms, maybe the pendulum of history won’t know which way to swing.
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A Situation Where Architecture Is Made

Of prophets and professionals: a response to Peter Zellner
Though I share some of his concerns about the state of contemporary architectural education, I was taken aback by comments from my friend and colleague Peter Zellner in a recent editorial in this paper. In “Architectural Education Is Broken—Here’s How to Fix It,” Peter offers a five-point critique of contemporary education and a matching five-point prescription for a “post-studio and post-digital architectural education.” The criticism, gleaned from twenty-five-year-old comments by John Baldessari about the artist’s development of a “post-studio” course at CalArts nearly 50 years ago, takes aim at hierarchical master-disciple relationships between teachers and students, at the proliferation of academic styles that often result from them, and at the suppression of dissenting opinions such situations often entail. His prescription for change unfolds along a familiar, if vague, trajectory that valorizes shared knowledge, free experimentation, and egalitarian exchange among students and teachers. Some of Peter’s criticisms are justified, if a bit overblown. “Various forms of academic cult worship” indeed exist in architecture schools today, and this “pied-piperism,” to borrow a term from Eric Moss, has led many a promising student into unproductive territory. In my experience, though, most of those lost sheep eventually find their way home, and more often than not they return primed to parlay experience gained in foreign fields into significant contributions within the disciplinary fold. Peter’s complaints about the nefarious forces of digital technology, on the other hand, lack both specificity and substance. He merely states, rather than argues, his contention that digital tools foreclose creativity, and dismisses without comment not only the obvious achievements of several decades of innovative work at schools around the globe but also of his own students. Worse, the statement is not his own, but rather a quote from Peter Eisenman, which adds to an air of older generations kvetching about newfangled habits and, like his invocation of Baldessari, undermines his admonition against undue authority invested in the pronouncements of elder statesmen. However problematic, Peter’s criticisms are for the most part innocuous. I have more serious concerns about his proposals for change. His recipe for post-studio education rests on a specious, if common, elision of art and architecture and a ludicrous, if equally common, contention that architecture “can’t be taught.” Such arguments brush aside significant differences between art and architecture and perpetuate damaging mystifications about the nature of architectural practice and education. I agree with Peter’s assertion that architecture is an art form. But unlike painting, literature, music, and other modes of artistic production, it is also a profession with significant ethical and legal responsibilities, and a discipline with cultural ambitions to advance the public imagination. The latter aspect distinguishes the practice of architecture from the craft of building. The former distinguishes it from the production of fine art. Peter and I share a deep commitment to architecture understood as a cultural practice with professional responsibilities, as opposed to a design profession with cultural ambitions. Nonetheless, I take issue with his proposals, which, in spite of his criticism of a supposedly style-obsessed status quo, continue to portray architecture almost exclusively in aesthetic terms, pay only passing lip service to “technical knowledge,” overemphasize issues of style and individual expression, and disregard questions of professional competence. Any serious proposal about architectural education must take the full gamut of architecture’s professional and disciplinary responsibilities into account. More damaging is Peter’s proposition, also borrowed from Baldessari, that architecture cannot be taught. Apparently, the best we can do is to “set up a situation where [architecture] might happen.” This is a bizarre idea to be put forward by such an intelligent and effective teacher as Peter Zellner. Peter proposes that we can’t teach architecture because he conceives of architecture, as Baldassari apparently conceives of art, as a mystical quality, a transubstantiation of physical matter into some higher form of existence. This is the sort of stuff that routinely pours from the mouths of those academic shamans Peter rails against in his essay. It can be seductive, to be sure, but it is nonsense. Architecture doesn’t just happen. Architecture is made. Architecture can be made, and its methods taught, because “architecture” refers not to a specific object but rather to evidence that an object—usually but not always a building—has been produced in terms of a specific way of working. Just as literature cannot be reduced to books, architecture cannot be reduced to buildings. Neither can it be reduced to drawings, models, or digital animations. Architecture is method all the way down. The Oxford English Dictionary defines architecture not as a kind of building but rather as “the art or science of building.” Another Peter, the historian better known as Reyner Banham, put it better: “What distinguishes architecture is not what is done… but how it is done.” Understanding architecture as having to do with how  rather than what  makes it easier to see that architecture is, like all academic disciplines, a cultural construct. Its techniques and methods, its history and theory, the habits and conventions of those who practice it, can and routinely are taught and learned, as evidenced by the surfeit of students who quickly master the tactics of their teachers that Peter laments in his essay. Of course, those techniques, histories, habits, and conventions also can be developed, transformed, thrown out, and replaced as needed. Such activities rank among the most important work that takes place in architecture schools. Understanding architecture this way also makes it easier to see that the field’s value system, its internal methods for identifying what constitutes good and bad work, is always a work in progress. Architectural quality, like architecture itself, is determined not by the presence or absence of some quasi-spiritual attribute in an object but rather by consensus. Constituencies in support of any architectural work must be constructed long before the project can be built, and even if constructed buildings are not one’s aim, it is an ability to assemble such constituencies, and little else, that transforms individual interests into relevant contributions and, in some cases, canonical achievements. In other words, architecture’s aesthetic ambitions are deeply political. And the disciplinary politics of architectural education, as Peter intimates in his essay, can make for some pretty ugly situations. Luckily, contemporary architecture can and does support a wide range of coexisting genres and associated value systems. In the best schools, a handful of them vie for dominance, motivating proponents of each to hone their political as well as their aesthetic and technical chops as they make their respective cases and build their respective constituencies. In the worst ones, well-meaning but misguided faculty utter empty pronouncements like “you can’t teach architecture.” There are plenty of issues with contemporary architectural education today, and I commend Peter for having put some of them on the table. But at the top of any list of things to fix in architecture schools must surely be the abdication of so many faculty of their responsibility to teach it. Todd Gannon is the Cultural Studies Coordinator at SCI-Arc.
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A Situation Where Architecture Might Happen

Architectural education is broken—here’s how to fix it
Todd Gannon, cultural studies coordinator at SCI-Arc, issued a response to the following article that can be found here. In an interview1 by art critic Christopher Knight at John Baldessari's studio in Santa Monica, the seminal Los Angeles artist had much to say about the state of art education in L.A. in the early 1970s and his efforts at the then-nascent CalArts program. At the time, the dominant pedagogical model in most art academies, as in many architecture schools, was founded on the inviolable relationship between master and disciple within the studio environment. This tradition—mostly established in medieval artisan guilds and professionalized in the 19th-century academy—relied on a few well-worn shibboleths:
  1. Creative or technical knowledge can only be passed on through direction supervision.
  1. The hand and eye of the disciple can only be cultivated, monitored, and authenticated by an appointed authority, typically a master or a master’s apprentice.
  1. The authority of the master’s opinion is evidenced by the caerful replication of the academy’s official style(s) and through the copying of known works by the master.
  1. Until sanctioned by the master or the academy itself, the disciple remains a novice and therefore an intellectual and creative subordinate.
  1. Any challenges to this (mostly) patriarchal order are considered heretical. (To wit: The Salon des Refusés of 1863.)
Baldessari and other notable L.A. art educators like Michael Asher upended these traditions by teaching what is now known as post-studio art practice. Post-studio art teaching was conceived of as a model of art-academics that inverted the relationship between what is taught, if it is taught at all, and what is practiced. It leveraged intensive group critiques between students and students, students and faculty, and faculty and faculty to attack what was practiced by artists in an effort to create space for new forms of art to emerge. Baldessari and others at CalArts shifted the onus of responsibility from the teacher to the student, moving art teaching from a master-disciple model to a communal and relational notion of education. This new model of art education was founded around open conversation, relentless critique, and a demand for a radical autonomy put to and assumed by each individual student. Baldessari explains:

Well, the whole idea was to raise the question what do you do in an art school? And you say, "Well, what courses are necessary to teach?" and that is question begging in a way, because you can say, "Well, can art be taught at all?" And, you know, I prefer to say, “No, it can’t. It can’t be taught.” You can set up a situation where art might happen, but I think that’s the closest you get. Then I can jump from there into saying, “Well, if art can’t be taught, maybe it would be a good idea to have people that call themselves artists around. And something, some chemistry, might happen.” And then the third thing would be that to be as non-tradition-bound as possible, and just be very pragmatic, whatever works. You know, and if one thing doesn’t work, try another thing. My idea was always you haven’t taught until you see the light in their eyes. I mean, whatever. Extend your hand, that’s what you do. Otherwise, you’re like a missionary, delivering the gospel and leaving. [laughs]”2

Architectural education today, perhaps not surprisingly, finds itself at a similar juncture some 50 years after institutions such as the IAUS, the Cooper Union, SCI-Arc, and the Architectural Association challenged accepted architectural academic orthodoxies, much like CalArts did in the arts. Many of the very schools of architecture that modeled new and innovative forms of teaching and pedagogy in the 1970s and 1980s now find themselves mired in various forms of academic cult worship: Digital traditionalisms, faux-art fetishisms, silly mannerist dead-ends, philosopher-shaman worship, and other neoconservative returns. The outcomes of this neoliberal and cultish return to a seemingly 19th century Beaux Arts models of architectural education have been devastating: Several generations of students were robbed of their voices and their right to grow potent individual practices; the architecture school falsely made into an imprimatur-machine for its academics, superseding the idea of a school as a space for free conversation, debate and critique; and most worryingly, the importance of the architectural school as an autonomous intellectual and cultural institution has been trolled and traded in, cheaply, for the bad faith business-innovation-two-point-oh-idea of education as an enterprise, student and teacher masquerading as entrepreneur and investor. Freeing architectural education now seems imperative and necessary. If we have reached the end of the current road, perhaps this is a golden opportunity to challenge these tired orthodoxies and to create a space for new forms of education, perhaps in post-studio and post-digital formats. This will require a challenge to these cults, and of them, the cult of the digital must be confronted and interrogated ruthlessly. Technology and its misuse and abuse, in particular, must be wrestled with now. As Peter Eisenman recently noted, “Technology is a cruel tool, because what it does is defer the possibility of the student being creative. The student can take an algorithm, produce 50 alternatives to the same problem… It takes away from you the possibility of value judgment.” Beyond the problem of too much technology, which might have an easy fix—namely turning off the screen once in a while in studio to read and think for an hour or two—one imagines that an inversion of the aforementioned and blindly accepted new academic traditions might produce a post-studio model of architectural education that could be constructed along these lines:
  1. Creative or technical knowledge can be shared through engaged debate, critique, and conversation.
  1. The relatively high value placed on the approved hand and eye of the student as an expression of the notion of individual genius should be challenged.
  1. The fast paced reproduction of official styles and the copying of contemporary professional works should be exchanged for awkward experimentation and slow growth.
  1. The student and the teacher must be seen as intellectual and creative colleagues whose conversations followed shared but not parallel paths.
  1. Intelligent challenges to accepted academic concepts by students and teachers alike should be celebrated and not extinguished.
Without placing more radical expectations on our current models of architectural education, our schools will forfeit their ability to fulfill their cultural and academic missions. Without freeing up a zone for architectural education to explore the space between vocations and ideas, the profession and the discipline will wither. Without a return to the value of an architecture of ideas and not an architecture of marketing concepts then the purpose and need for the very a school of architecture may be on the table. As these are not acceptable outcomes, the new goal of post-studio and post-digital architectural education must be to promote genuine intellectual change through a radical questioning of the very purpose of teaching, of the academy and, by extension, of architecture itself. The question one might ask now of architectural education, after Baldessari, is this: “Can architecture be taught at all?”  And, the answer might be, “No, it can’t. It can’t be taught. You can set up a situation where architecture might happen, but I think that’s the closest you get.” Peter Zellner is a longtime contributor to The Architect's Newspaper and teaches in the Graduate Architecture program at the University of Southern California, School of Architecture. 
1 From an oral history interview with John Baldessari,
conducted by Christopher Knight at the artist’s studio in Santa Monica, California, April 4–5, 1992. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
2 Ibid.
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After Belonging

AN Exclusive: First look inside the Oslo Architecture Triennale
Running from September 8 to November 27, the Oslo Architecture Triennale promises an in-depth exploration of many challenges facing the architectural field, including refugees, migration, homelessness; new mediated forms of domesticity and foreignness; environmental displacements; tourism; and the technologies and economies of sharing. The conference will also feature 17 speakers from across the global design scene, including Columbia GSAPP Dean and Work Architecture Company co-founder Amale Andraos, Atelier Bow-Wow Founders Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kaijima, and OMA Partner Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, just to name a few. The Architect's Newspaper  Senior Editor Matt Shaw sat down with the curators and scholars of After Belonging Agency (Lluís Alexandre Casanovas Blanco, Ignacio González Galán, Carlos Mínguez Carrasco, Alejandra Navarrete Llopis, and Marina Otero Verzier), the group organizing the Triennale, to learn more. Matt Shaw: First, I'd like to ask about the current geopolitical context in which the exhibition is happening. Among many other symptoms of advanced globalization, Europe is struggling with how to deal with a wave of migration, while in the United States one presidential candidate is calling for building more walls along the Mexico border and accuses the other candidate of wanting a “borderless world.” How is the exhibition timely in this sense? After Belonging Agency: From the outset, our aim has been to focus on questions of contemporary relevance—in this case, questions addressing the role of architecture in the construction of communities and territories. Those preoccupations coalesced around a critical inspection of architecture’s changing relation to current forms of belonging. The situations that you mention—what media has come to call the refugee crisis or the rise of populist measures against migration like the one led by Trump in the US—suggest the timeliness of interrogating architecture’s relation to stability, property, and identity—ultimately, architecture’s relation to belonging. However, for us, it is important not considering these events as isolated historical phenomena, nor responding to them under a paradigm of crisis or the rhetorics of urgency. We rather want to understand what is the role of architecture in the increasing circulation of populations, goods, and information on a global scale, as well as the effects of this circulation on architectural practice. How is the exhibition organized? In order to develop the questions at stake in the curatorial premises, we defined two main areas of work: On Residence and In Residence. On Residence documents the spatial conditions that shape our ways of staying in transit as well as the redefinition of our contemporary spaces of residence. Here architecture takes different forms beyond the building, ranging from arrangements of objects and their logistics to territorial configurations and digital systems of organization. The contributions to the exhibition gravitate around five areas: Borders Elsewhere, Furnishing After Belonging, Sheltering Temporariness, Technologies for a Life in Transit, and Markets and Territories of the Global Home. Conceived as an accumulation of evidence and speculations, the exhibition unveils the multiple scales and media involved in the architectures of contemporary forms of residence, and how these architectures convey new articulations between individuals, objects, technologies, collectives, and territories. Additionally, the curatorial framework is furthered by a closer inspection of specific case studies. This results in the In Residence program and exhibition. Reports have been commissioned for each of the ten selected sites, outlining diverse ways of describing the architectures they include. In addition, we launched a Call for Intervention Strategies for five of those sites located in Oslo and the Nordic region. Understood as tactical and long-term forms of engagement with the sites, these interventions have been developed throughout the last nine months. By bringing together these different approaches, the In Residence exhibition aims to test the capacity of architectural expertise to respond to these changing realities. What are the venues for the Triennale? How did you choose them and how did they shape what we will see? The Triennale takes advantage of the architectures of the city of Oslo. Opening on September 8, the After Belonging: On Residence exhibition is set at an old warehouse now housing the Norwegian Center for Design and Architecture (DogA), and the After Belonging: In Residence exhibition is displayed in a glass pavilion addition to the National Museum designed by Sverre Fehn. The After Belonging Conference will be celebrated on September 9 at the Oslo Opera House by Snøhetta. Some additional events will happen at the Oslo City Hall. Yet, other architectures critical to understand the transformation of belonging are being mobilized both in the city of Oslo, the Nordic region, and around the globe. These architectures are addressed within the In Residence program both by the reports and intervention strategies. For example, a Triennale visitor, upon arriving at Oslo, will encounter an architectural intervention developed at Gardermoen Airport or will be able to engage with the different strategies for an asylum seekers’ center in the neighborhood of Torshov, in the In Residence exhibition. Each of the member organizations that are part of The Oslo Architecture Triennale plays a role within the program, adding new locations. In addition to The National Museum, DogA, and the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO) will also host events during the opening weekend and a lecture series throughout the duration of the Triennale. What role does digital technology and communication play in the exhibition, and what is its relationship to the more physical parts of architecture that you will display? Digital technologies are central to the questions addressed by the curatorial topic, as well as a key component of the curatorial strategy. On the one hand, the role of architecture in the articulation of belonging is intertwined with the development of the digital technologies that define everyday realities and global imaginaries. Some of the pieces in the On Residence exhibition reflect upon the media and modes of organization shaping networked geographies, analyzing the social bonding and mutualization systems that they enable. Moreover, some of the case studies addressed in the In Residence program and exhibition are particularly concerned with technological processes. In Lagos, for example, we consider how videotapes and sound recordings circulating in social media foster spiritual and social affiliation. In fact, the spaces hosting these forms of religious congregation can be both understood as broadcasting platforms and reception nodes. But In Residence looks also at the effects of digital platforms like Airbnb and all the so-called sharing economies upon the built environment, ranging from the monetization of domestic spaces to the real estate processes they trigger in the city. Some intervention strategies instrumentalize the possibilities offered by these platforms with other purposes. This is the case of bnbOpen, which—through an app that facilitates asylum seekers’ access to accommodation offered by the inhabitants of Oslo—explores alternative ways of meeting asylum seekers’ needs with new notions of adaptability and hospitality. In fact, the spaces resulting from the technological mediation of financial structures are of great importance in understanding new ways of being together. These spaces are addressed in a section of the After Belonging Conference that we have titled The Digital and the Real Estate. This section conjoins scholar Reinhold Martin and the collaborative effort of OMA’s Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli and digital invention studio Bengler. In a project especially set up for the On Residence exhibition, OMA and Bengler investigate the accelerating influence of digital sharing platforms and their pervasive impact on the built environment. On the other hand, interaction through digital technologies—namely, social media and other web platforms—have been key for our curatorial proposal throughout these last two years: in order to convey a global conversation in anticipation of the Triennale. Not to talk about the central—even if obvious—role of digital meetings in making this project possible. With curators living in two different time zones distant from the Triennale’s location, we consider the curatorial project as a global architectural practice in its own right. What auxiliary events will be planned in the city, both at the opening and throughout the length of the Triennale? Together with the On Residence and In Residence exhibitions, the After Belonging Conference and the Triennale publication (which we will launch at the opening), there are two other key platforms within the Core Triennale Program: The Academy and The Embassy. The Academy is a forum organized by the AHO, which brings schools and students from around the world into a global dialogue and knowledge-sharing experiment that will reflect on the topics of After Belonging. Visitors to the Triennale will be able to see the results of the students’ work in a public presentation at the Stenersen Museum on Friday, September 16. During the opening weekend, we will launch The Embassy in an event on Sunday 11. Its main program will be developed during the Triennale’s closing week. The New World Embassy: Rojava—a collaboration between Studio Jonas Staal and the Democratic Self-Administration of Rojava—will manifest as a temporary embassy that will be constructed in Oslo with the aim of discussing the ideals of “stateless democracy” developed by the communities of the autonomous region of Rojava, northern-Syria. The embassy will consist of a large-scale oval shaped architectural structure, designed as an “ideological planetarium.” In addition to those, more than 40 events, conversations, workshops and smaller exhibitions throughout the city will echo the topics of the Triennale during the opening weekend, and more as the program unfolds until the end of November. Some of them are coming from a Call for Associated Projects, while others are directly organized by the Triennale’s members or other collaborating institutions. These events range from an exhibition on Chinese communities around the world to a discussion addressing the contemporary status of the so-called European project. What else should visitors know about the opening? Be ready: there will be a party every day! Partying is a form of belonging. For more details on the Triennale, visit their website here.
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Give Me Liberty

Liberty Park successfully fills a critical role in the World Trade Center site

The park slipped on top of the World Trade Center Vehicular Security Center is a rare thing within the World Trade Center campus. Up until now, traversing the WTC site has presented the hapless wanderer with despair. To discover an east-west passage meant confronting an interminable and illegible security and construction barrier. Liberty Park is both an unexpected place for rest and relaxation and a visually appealing pedestrian corridor. Its infrastructure-as-park fascination is reminiscent of the High Line and its formalistic planter-and-seating shards recall Zaha Hadid’s cosmopolitan futurism. 

Clearly marked stairs step up the screening building and connect to a bridge across the West Side highway to the Hudson River. Along the way, the passageway folds out into a rooftop park, punctuated with stylized white concrete planters and benches that plunge out into sharp points and a long terrace that overlooks the entire campus. Its graded pathway makes the building feel like a gently sloping hillside.

It may be the mercifully limited programming and lack of overdetermined symbolism that give it the promise of urbanism—its resonance will come from being inhabited and iterated over time. What Liberty Park provides are two qualities that the reborn World Trade Center lacks: A sense of place and a free passage for walking.

Designed by Gonzalo Cruz of AECOM’s landscape studio as a part of the WTC transportation infrastructure portfolio brought to the firm by Joe Brown during its merger with EDAW, the park itself is a legacy that dates all the way back to the original Daniel Libeskind masterplan. It was meant to buffer the memorial site and provide an open public space adjacent to Liberty Street. But as security measures intensified throughout the WTC site, the Vehicular Security Center got pushed to the edge, and the park ended up plopped on top of it. As the building elements shifted during its design, the park deformed to become a complex landscape, graded and situated to disguise the robust security apparatus below. The Port Authority covered its reported $50 million price tag.

The adjacent street, once imagined as a restoration of the street grid, will be permanently blocked by a guard booth and vehicle entry barriers, but at the street level, the truck-shipment screening facility is clad in a G-O2 Living Wall, covered by rows of periwinkle, sedge, and ivy.

It may be fitting that this odd park cropped on top of a security building achieves what’s missing from the intensely programmed whole. As a leftover space, the designers were unencumbered by the duties of solemn remembrance, architectural spectacle, real estate bravado, and tourism. It anticipates the day when the World Trade Center is reborn as a part of the city, which could be a greater honor than any designated monument.

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Brownsville, Brooklyn

Studio Gang’s ecological firehouse and training facility breaks ground today
Ground has broke on the site of the Fire Department of New York's (FDNY) newest firehouse, designed by Chicago-based Studio Gang for the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC). Set to cost $32 million, the 21,000-square-foot building will sit on 1815 Sterling Place in Brownsville, Brooklyn and become the new home of the FDNY's Rescue Company 2.  Founded in 1925, Rescue Company 2 is one of FDNY’s five rescue companies, elite units that handle a variety of emergency situations ranging from building collapses, high-angle rescues, hazardous materials incidents, water rescues as well as fires. In their new location, Rescue Company 2 will use the building to train for all these scenarios and many more. The project is Studio Gang's first in New York and as a result they have opened up a new Manhattan office. The Architect's Newspaper attended the groundbreaking ceremony and spoke with Studio Gang design principle Weston Walker about the firm's design process and approach to the project. "We wanted the design to fit the [low-rise] scale of the street, while accommodating all the unusual training that will take place here" Walker said. Training facilities will also include specific areas for trench rescue and confined space rescue training as well as a room to simulate the smoke-filled environments in which firefighters operate, and an elevated area that allows firefighters to train to rappel from the roof of a building to perform a rescue. The project's design drivers were "apertures and openings" that paid heavy respect to both the site and typology traditions. Demonstrating this, he pointed out the numerous openings—visible in the renders above—that "ease the building's oppressiveness" in massing. A subtractive structure, the openings allow for interior landscaping as well as facilitate natural ventilation. This is also aided by the fact that the building will be the first firehouse in New York to have a drive-through concourse on the ground floor. The building aims to be as energy efficient as possible. Due to sit 500 feet below the structure is a geothermal heating system. A solar water heating system has also been included which is due to reduce the energy required to heat and cool the building by a third. In addition to this, a green roof and permeable pavement will be implemented to aid the reduction of stormwater runoff and further cut down on the firehouse's carbon footprint.  “In keeping with Mayor de Blasio’s vision for a healthier, more sustainable and resilient city, DDC is proud to partner with FDNY to provide New York’s bravest with a state-of-the-art training and housing facility that is energy efficient and can serve as a beacon of community engagement,” said DDC commissioner Feniosky Peña-Mora in a press release. “The design aims to reduce carbon emissions, conserve water and contribute to a healthy urban environment through integrating environmentally responsible practices. A geothermal system, solar water heating system, permeable pavement and a green roof will contribute to this goal and strengthen the City’s commitment to building sustainable, environmentally friendly buildings.” “We are proud to break ground on a state-of-the-art new home for Brooklyn’s Rescue Company 2.  This firehouse will be a leader in energy efficiency, moving our city closer to an environmentally sustainable and resilient future. With ample space for tools and a training facility on the roof, this firehouse will be the impressive space that New York’s bravest deserve,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a press release. 
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North of South

A new book surveys little-known modern Mexican architecture

Edward R. Burian, an architect and professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, has produced an informative survey on a subject not well known to a general audience. Although northern Mexico is a large, well-populated region, to many Americans it still conjures images of a largely empty, dusty land of vaqueros or the setting for Pancho Villa’s daring exploits. Its situation as a place of contemporary cultural production in the Mexican national imagination is even more limited. There, cultural discourse is dominated by the capital, Mexico City, in a manner much more profound than equivalent United States centers like New York and Los Angeles. Architecture of this region, which spans the states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, Sonora, Sinaloa, and Baja California Norte and Sur has been almost completely excluded from systematic study in its own country. The continued neglect makes this book, the first written in English or Spanish on the subject, valuable as a groundbreaking effort to draw attention to a historically under-recognized region.

The book is organized state by state, starting in Tamaulipas on the Gulf Coast and ending with Baja California Norte and Sur. Each chapter begins with a brief overview of each state’s geography and history and then proceeds, city by city, to describe significant works of architecture and urban design. These descriptions are short in the manner of an architectural guide. About a third of the buildings are illustrated with a mixture of new and historic photographs. There are some extremely detailed maps of the central portions of the larger cities, but no architectural floor plans are included.

There is a great variation of geography and climate across the region. The easternmost section is flat and humid, with abundant rainfall and semitropical vegetation. As one progresses west, the land becomes hillier and more arid with isolated oasis-like microclimates. Toward the Pacific Coast, vegetation is again lush (a word the author likes to repeat), while just across the Gulf of California, the Baja California Peninsula is desert. However, despite these climatic variations, nearly all the buildings included in the book are made of brick, concrete, or stone and as the author frequently writes, have “wall-dominant” exterior elevations. Climatic adaptation seems to be accommodated by porches, changes in wall thickness, and fenestration patterns. (Here, plans would have helped to show more specifically how buildings physically varied from region to region.)

Monterrey, the major city of Nuevo León and Mexico’s third largest, seems to have the most vibrant contemporary architectural culture of all the cities in the book. Founded in 1596, it became a major city after World War II when its industrial capacity dramatically increased. Some outstanding early projects include Enrique de la Mora y Palomar’s parabolic-vaulted Iglesia La Purísima (1940–1946), one of the first modern churches in the country, and his 1942 master plan for the newly-created Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (Monterrey “Tech”). This plan, as well as many of the early buildings, recalls those of the better-known Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City that were inaugurated about 10 years later.

Monterrey architect Rodolfo Barragán Schwarz, who studied under Paul Rudolph at Yale in the early 1960s, is a notable figure. His postwar modern designs fused American and Mexican sensibilities in unusual and compelling ways. In the past two decades, local architects including Cecilia Rangel and James Mayeux, Agustín Landa Vértiz, Alexandre Lenoir, and Gilberto Rodríguez, have produced work that holds its own against that of the many Mexico City and foreign architects also designing projects in Monterrey.

As a pioneering work, however, the book is rough around the edges. Its format is halfway between a traditional architectural guide and a textbook. Although the buildings’ names are highlighted in bold text, their addresses are not given, and only a small handful are marked on the infrequent city maps, making them difficult for visitors to locate. Also, the book, which measures approximately 9-by-12-inches, is awkwardly sized for a traveler to carry conveniently. Finally, the maps of the states showing the locations of the cities appear to be cropped from a larger map and are all but useless for navigation. A model the author and publishers might have consulted is the outstanding Buildings of the United States series, which covers an equally wide-ranging area and is very rigorously organized.

However, these complaints become quibbles when considering the massive amount of work and dedication that the author almost single-handedly expended to gather the information for this book. He should be commended for setting up—in a very deliberate and conscious way—a larger discussion about the architecture and culture of our southern neighbor.