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Concrete Is Forever
Rudy Ricciotti's Villa Navarra in Le Muy, France.
Philippe Ruault

Concrete inspires numerical superlatives when describing its ubiquity: Slightly more than a ton of concrete is produced every year for each human on the planet—over six billion—with Americans responsible for 2.5 tons per citizen. Produced at an estimated rate of five billion cubic yards per year, concrete is the second most widely consumed substance on earth after water. Concrete is the world’s oldest man-made building material. Yet, it’s the material’s dual personality that makes it both ubiquitous and appealing. Since the Industrial Revolution, concrete has been the robust, utilitarian workhorse for constructing bridges, tunnels, aqueducts, sidewalks, roadways, and barriers. Modern concrete is reinforced with steel and other materials, poured-in-place, precast, pre- and post-tensioned, tinted, molded, embossed, polished, and drilled. In its most modest state, it provides a building’s structure, which is then hidden behind a prettier skin. But it can also be a glamorous material, especially when it performs simultaneously as structure, form, and surface.

Earlier this month, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation hosted a conference called Solid States: Changing Time for Concrete. A series of panel discussions explored the dual personality of the material with some stunning examples of form following innovation. French architect and engineer Marc Mimram presented his study of what he calls “living infrastructure,” a project underwritten by Lafarge, one of the world’s largest producers of cement, concrete, aggregates, and gypsum, and the conference’s sponsor. Mimram’s work focuses on reconciling a city’s infrastructure with the inhabitants. He is currently investigating that uneasy relationship by designing four hypothetical bridges for four cities, using Lafarge’s high-performance, fiber-reinforced Ductal concrete.

Ductal is indeed glamorous, which makes it a high-profile achievement in the realm of concrete innovation. French architect Rudy Ricciotti designed the Footbridge of Peace entirely out of Ductal in 2002. The pedestrian bridge crosses the Han River in Seoul, South Korea, with a 400-foot arch, no middle supports, and a deck only a breathtaking 1 1⁄4-inches thick.

The “world’s first” anything always captures the public’s imagination. Although many exquisite feats of engineering and design were presented at the conference, much attention was given to how much priorities have shifted with regard to building materials and construction. Global environmental imperatives are now at odds with concrete’s numerical superlatives. Not all large numbers are desirable. For example, the production of concrete uses approximately one trillion gallons of water each year—a devastating impact on many societies, especially if water becomes a diminishing resource, as scientific research suggests.

The environmental impact of manufacturing concrete is not lost on the industry. In 2000, the U.S. concrete industry’s Strategic Development Council (SDC) conducted a workshop to discuss the past, present, and future of concrete. A year later it published Vision 2030: A Vision of the U.S. Concrete Industry, a guide to the future presenting ambitious goals. First of all, it establishes the concrete industry’s commitment to sound energy use and environmental protection. Secondly, it commits the industry to improving efficiency and productivity in all concrete manufacturing processes. Research in new materials, processing technologies, delivery mechanisms, and applications of information technology is being developed to ensure that concrete remains the construction material of choice based on life-cycle cost and performance.

Vision 2030 is particularly focused on finding ways to unify a diverse and localized industry, which will have a positive environmental impact. The guide admits that because the industry is fragmented, it has been “slow to investigate new technology options, reluctant to invest in research, and hesitant to adopt new technology as it becomes available.” Risk aversion slows innovation, but there are external obstacles in play as well. For instance, transportation accounts for 20 to 50 percent of the cost of ready-mixed concrete. And yet, many communities have adopted a “not-in-my-backyard” attitude toward heavy industry, so concrete and cement plants and aggregate sources are forced to move farther away from delivery points.

According to the industry, manufacturing operates in a prescriptive rather than performance-based environment. Thus, the full potential of concrete often is unrealized. And yet, as long as concrete procurement favors the lowest bidder, manufacturers will have to keep costs low to be competitive. As a result, they have little incentive to spend money on the research and development of improved performance.

Extenuating circumstances such as these are not always apparent when discussing how all industries must reduce their impact on the environment. While the challenges are great, they are not insurmountable. A year after Vision 2030 was published the Concrete Research and Education Foundation produced Roadmap 2030, an initiative to assist implementation of the SDC’s goals. Roadmap 2030 is frank, detailed, and includes a myriad of alternative constituent materials, delivery systems, and manufacturing processes. It appears that the concrete industry would like to realize its goals in its own way before environmental compliance regulations do it for them, potentially reducing market share. Progress since 2001 is hard to quantify, but the SDC’s Accelerating Implementation Team has several promising initiatives underway, including the long overdue adoption of performance-based specifications.

There’s another way to think about concrete. It has been in existence for thousands of years, because it is so flexible. It has accommodated every era’s technological progress. Its recipe allows for all sorts of material substitutions, including industrial waste. For example, typical production of one ton of Portland cement releases one ton of CO2 into the atmosphere, which accounts for about seven percent of all greenhouse gases. Increasingly, however, cement is being made of waste, such as fly ash (a byproduct of coal burning), slag cement (a byproduct of metal smelting), and silica fume (a byproduct of silicon metal production). Christian Meyer, chair of the Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at Columbia, and one of the organizers of Solid States has been researching how to make all kinds of waste valuable for concrete production—glass, carpet fibers, and even the highly contaminated dreck at the bottom of New York Harbor. The simple theory being, one industry’s detritus is another industry’s valuable resource. Waste—the new renewable resource.

Sara Hart is a writer in New York City who contributes regularly to Architectural RecordArchitect, and other publications.  


Concrete Poetry 

To survey the latest advances in concrete applications, AN presents ten projects that explore its structural and expressive potential. Whether for high-performance uses or elegant finish effects, these works show that the oldest construction material is still the most fluid.

With contributions from Alan G. Brake, Jeff Byles, Matt Chaban, Anne Guiney, Julie V. Iovine, and Aaron Seward. 

Villa Navarra
Philippe Ruault

Pont du Diable
Courtesy Agence Rudy Ricciotti

Villa Navarra / Le Muy, France
Pont du Diable / Hérault, France
Agence Rudy Ricciotti 

Two projects from French architect Rudy Ricciotti are among the first to explore the structural potential of Lafarge’s high-performance Ductal concrete. With its visor-like roof jutting from the Provencal landscape, the Villa Navarra marks a boldly framed villa and gallery space for collector Enrico Navarra. Featuring a stunning, 25-foot cantilever, the roof is composed of 17 fiber-reinforced Ductal panels, each engineered to take into account thermal expansion, wind resistance, and size restrictions due to transportation of the units, which were precast by Montpellier-based Bonna Sabla using metal molds fabricated by an aviation-industry supplier. Each 7.7-foot-wide panel is edged by two lateral inertia ribs, which taper toward the cantilever and are joined together with a resin-injected socket. A silicon joint keeps the upper portion of the ribs waterproof, while perforations along the structure’s edge—which measures just over 1 inch thick at its tip—allow light to penetrate the porch-like gallery below.

Ductal’s compressive strength is taken more dramatically to task in Ricciotti’s Pont du Diable, a footbridge spanning 236 feet across a gorge in the Hérault district of southwestern France. Composed of 15 sections weighing 10.5 tons each (also precast by Bonna Sabla), the sleek structure, completed in August, makes a low impact upon this world heritage site along the route of Saint-Jacques de Compostelle. JB



Dean Bierwagen

Ultra-High Performance Concrete Pi-Girder Bridge
Aurora, Iowa
Federal Highway Administration 

In building infrastructure, and especially bridges, the Federal Highway Administration does not choose a preferred material; it makes choices based on site-specific performance issues such as safety, construction speed and ease, and rate of deterioration. The new ultra-high performance concrete (UHPC)—in the U.S., Lafarge’s Ductal is the only one currently available, although Densit in Denmark and Bouyges in France have also developed UHPCs—makes the most sense for locations where weather conditions are subject to random freezes and sudden thaws. In late October, a UHPC was used for the first time in the U.S. for a bridge in Buchanan County, Iowa. The Aurora bridge differs from conventional concrete usage in that both beams and deck were fabricated off-site. Once cast, the bridge was assembled on-site in less than a week. “The advanced concretes are inherently more durable, quicker, and safer to use,” said Benjamin Graybeal, a research engineer for the Federal Highway Administration (FHA). Additionally, UHPC lends itself to a new girder shape developed by the FHA in collaboration with MIT, known as the Pi-Girder, where pier and deck plate are of a single piece, an added efficiency. “It’s a shape that optimizes the properties of this particular concrete and its abilities to address structural demands,” said Graybeal, noting that Ductal is still too expensive to be considered for widespread FHA use. JVI



Peter Mauss/Esto

College of New Rochelle, New York
Ikon.5 Architects 

As part of a new wellness center for the 100-year-old College of New Rochelle, Princeton-based Ikon.5 Architects used concrete to create a modern-day grotto, sandblasting the material in order to emphasize the rough texture of its aggregate content. A double shell vault spans 80 feet without structural interruption, with the exterior casing operating as both waterproof barrier and green roof container. Mechanical ductwork, fire suppression material, and lighting are contained within the poche, allowing the grotto space to maintain its raw simplicity. The concrete mix contains recyclable blast furnace slag, reducing the admixture of less sustainable Portland cement by 50 percent. There was a challenge when it came time for the concrete pour. Due to the natatorium’s irregular elliptical curve it was difficult to make a concrete without air pockets at the bottom. “Based on a site mock-up, the problem was solved,” said Joe Tattoni of Ikon.5, “by widening the back of the form—which was invisible—to a shape somewhat like an elephant’s foot, it allowed for a more generous flow. And that worked perfectly.” JVI




One Madison Park
New York
Office of Metropolitan Architecture

For its first highrise condominium in Manhattan, the Office of Metropolitan Architecture put high-strength reinforced concrete to the test with a 30-foot cantilever graduated in steps extending over ten stories. The structural system, according to project architect Jason Long and developed with WSP Cantor Seinuk, is a shear tube or “3-D reinforced box system with concrete column sections like Vierendeel trusses” that thicken depending on the changing load (from a thickness of 4 feet 8 inches to 10 inches at the top). Rem Koolhaas described it as a “structural corset” squeezing the building’s midsection, from the 6th floor, where forces are transferred to the sidewalls, to the 15th floor at the maximum point of the cantilever. Openings in the sheer tube expand and contract the maximum amount allowed in relation to stresses, forming apertures for windows. The use of a structural tube system also meant column-free interiors, always a plus in residential work. While the architects wanted the condo to possess a certain urban toughness and hoped to reveal the structural concrete on the facade, the client balked (“If we were in Portugal the quality of concrete work might have made it possible,” said Long). Now the facade is to be finished in fiber reinforced concrete held in place with a polished stainless steel grid. JVI



Courtesy Reiser + Umemoto

Reiser + Umemoto

With its concrete structure pulled to the exterior as a latticelike shell, Reiser + Umemoto’s 22-story Dubai office tower dispenses with conventional interior columns and walls. While freeing the core from the burden of lateral forces, the efficient, load-bearing shell also offers an appealing shading solution for exposed glass towers in the region’s blazing sun. Working with New York structural engineer Ysrael Seinuk, the architects modulated the tower’s circular openings to manage both structural requirements and sun exposure, cutting down on direct light while still permitting strategically placed views. A one-meter-deep cavity between the shell and building enclosure also creates a chimney effect, drawing hot air away from the building and cooling the tower’s inner glass surface. The perforated shell is created by pouring super-liquid concrete around a mesh of woven steel reinforcement, resulting in a structure that is roughly 60 percent solid and 40 percent void. The 1,326 apertures in the shell are achieved by introducing computer-numerically-cut polystyrene void forms into the rebar matrix, then siding the voids with modular steel slip forms prior to the concrete pour. The shell’s thickness tapers from 1.9 feet at the tower’s base to 1.3 feet at the parapet, offering a ruggedly refined addition to the Dubai skyline. JB



Courtesy Steven Holl Architects

Vanke Center
Shenzhen, China
Steven Holl Architects 

The 1.3-million-square-foot mixed-use office, hotel, and condominium is depicted by its architect Steven Holl as a recumbent Empire State Building. Supported on eight legs, this floating skyscraper is unusual in that it takes a concrete structural frame and transforms it into a suspension bridge-type structure with elevator and mechanical shafts serving as piers. Now under construction and due to be completed in late 2009, the building hovers on 50-meter spans from core to core. Steel cables in stiffening tubes support the bottom deck suspended above a tropical garden, with a high-strength composite concrete structure rising five stories above. The bamboo formwork used on parts of the exterior adds a modest decorative effect. Before construction began, a full-scale mock-up was created and subjected to maximum simulated shaking to make sure this novel concrete megastructure would be tsunami-proof. JVI



Courtesy Allied Works Architecture 

Clyfford Still Museum
Denver, Colorado
Allied Works Architecture 

Brad Cloepfil, like so many notable architects before him—Le Corbusier, the Smithsons, Tadao Ando—has been fascinated by the limitless possibilities of working in concrete. “I always think about concrete as witchcraft,” he said. “No one knows everything you can do with it.” Starting with his earliest work, the Maryhill Overlook on the Columbia River Gorge, the Portland architect has always pushed the boundaries of concrete. Now, with Allied Works’ designs for the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, he is attempting to render it as the very earth from which it came. To evoke the prairies from which the museum rises, Cloepfil is developing a unique pouring process that will create geological bands of concrete within the walls. “The feeling is that it’s almost carved out of the earth,” he said. Using a monolithic pour, the design team has been experimenting with varying the types of aggregate, dryness of the mix, and time between pours so that each pouring, which takes place in 12- to 36-inch bands, takes on its own character. Cloepfil said he has never encountered such an application before, and he thinks he knows why—it is incredibly challenging to get right. After 30 4-foot-by-8-foot mock-ups, he’s still experimenting. “It’s like a choreography,” he said. “We’re doing a dance, and it’s got to be perfect, but that takes an unbelievable amount of work.” MC



Courtesy Toshiko Mori Architect

Darwin Martin Visitor Center
Buffalo, New York
Toshiko Mori Architect 

In the otherwise all-glass Darwin Martin Visitor Center, the designers at Toshiko Mori Architect inserted a solid concrete wall at the back of the space to conceal bathrooms, kitchens, and other non-public spaces. Rather than settle for a blank screen, they wanted the wall to respond to the Frank Lloyd Wright house which the facility serves, and so introduced horizontal banding across the surface to match the Roman brick and recessed mortar joints of Wright’s work. Achieving a materiality that the designers were satisfied with turned out to be more work than they expected. They experimented with nine different mixes of architectural concrete and conducted numerous studies to realize a smooth finish. The mix they wound up using employs a superplasticizer, which increases the material’s fluidity by softening the mix before it hardens and reducing the amount of water needed, thus increasing compressive strength. The method of installation also required extensive testing, as avoiding bubbles in the surface was made more difficult by the horizontal bands. In the end, the contractor injected the concrete into the base of the custom-made forms, filling them from the bottom to the top, and used an internal vibrating machine to shake out excess air. AS



Rien Van Rijthoven

Congregation Beth Sholom Synagogue
San Francisco
Stanley Saitowitz | Natoma Architects 

The ark-like form which is the distinguishing feature of Congregation Beth Sholom’s new synagogue in San Francisco presents a perfectly smooth and solid face to the street that belies the difficulty in creating a 24-foot-high, 24-inch-thick concrete double shell. According to Neil Kaye, project manager at Stanley Saitowitz | Natoma Architects, to achieve the incredibly fine finish that they wanted for both interior and exterior of the volume which holds the sanctuary, they built several full-scale mock-ups and tested everything from the form release to the way the sealant affected the concrete’s color. “It was a very plastic mix because we had to keep a certain level of liquidity during the lift in order to get fine cold joints,” said Kaye. The outer shell went up first in three separate lifts, and then the rebar was laid in; the inner shell came last. On the interior, Saitowitz made use of concrete’s plastic qualities and incorporated the acoustic baffles into the walls themselves. The acoustician, Charles Salter, had determined that a 15 degree offset would be optimal for the space, and so when the formwork for the inner shell was going in, they inserted pre-fab fiberglass liners. The resulting panel-like forms incorporated into the sanctuary’s walls serve a second and valuable function of decoration, as they shape sunlight as well as sound. AG



Steve Hall/Hedrich Blessing

SOS Children’s Village Lavezzorio Community Center
Chicago, Illinois
Studio Gang 

With material costs rising and a fixed budget of $3.5 million, the architects at Studio Gang had to rethink their design for this community center, stripping away the planned brick screen. That left the double-cantilevered concrete structure exposed. “We thought, ‘let’s investigate the fluidity of concrete,’” said managing architect Mark Schendel. To express this structurally, the architects used three different strengths of concrete in alternating bands for the 12-inch-thick walls. They used chemically stiffened concretes with very low slump, or viscosity, so that even after vibration, the bands kept their wavy appearance. Each of the seven bands was a separate pour, or lift, and each is reinforced according to the strength of the concrete (if the wall had been constructed conventionally, it would have been poured in two lifts). Working with general contractor Bovis Lend Lease and engineer Thornton Tomasetti, the architects choreographed the elaborate sequence of pours to keep costs low. “Bovis was working on Trump Tower at the time, so whenever they had a truck with the strength of concrete we were looking for, they would pull it out of the line and send it to our project,” he said. That allowed them to leverage the economy of scale from the massive skyscraper project. In addition, the architects economically tested their ideas by using the elevator core as a mockup. AGB

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Crumbling Concrete
Yesterday, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau served an indictment against a dozen employees of a concrete inspection company, which the DA cited for improperly inspecting at least 102 buildings in the city in recent years. According to the Times' account, Testwell, of Ossinning, New York, was "the city's leading concrete-testing firm." AN picked up a copy of the indictment today, and how right the paper of record is. What is striking is the number and range of projects Testwell touched--or didn't, as the case may be. The Times notes three--the Freedom Tower, new Yankees Stadium, and the Gensler-designed Terminal 5 for Jet Blue--and adds that city officials believe all projects to be safe, though the quality of the concrete may be inferior and thus have a shorter lifespan. But the other 99 projects are not just faceless outer borough in-fill. 7 World Trade Center is there, as are a number of high profile projects, including Norman Foster's Hearst Building, Frank Gehry's Beekman Place tower, Polshek's Brooklyn Museum Expansion, FXFowle's One Bryant Park and 11 Times Square, KPF's Goldman Sachs HQ in Batter Park City, and the new Greek and Roman Gallery's at the Met by Beyer Blinder Belle. (The indictment [we've linked a PDF of the list below] lists the gallery as MoMA, but that can't be right. Not surprisingly, roughly half the projects are nondescript luxury condo projects--10 Barclay, 150 Lafeyette, 801 Amsterdam, Latitude Riverdale--not unlike the majority of construction work in the city during the recent boom. A number of government projects, big and small, local and federal, are listed, including Brooklyn Borough Hall, I.S. 303, Thurgood Marshall Federal Courthouse, as well as a number of collegiate buildings. Perhaps most unsettling, safe or otherwise, are the infrastructure projects the company worked on, such as the Second Avenue subway, New Rochelle MetroNorth station, and, scariest of all, the deck replacement of the Triborough Bridge. There are a few oddballs, too:the USS Intrepid's refurbished Pier 86, the Pier 90 cruise terminal, the massive Xanadu commercial complex at the Meadowlands. The Testwell 102
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Waterfalls of Revenue
Though some people were more than happy to see Olafur Eliasson's New York City Waterfalls dry up a few weeks ago, one person who will dearly miss them is the mayor. Standing beneath the Scandinavian artist's massive mirror installation at P.S. 1 yesterday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced with great excitement that, according to a study undertaken by the city's Economic Development Corporation, the falls generated $69 million in economic activity, exceeding the $55 million initially expected and countering criticism that the $15 million project was wasteful. "Art also has the power to invigorate neighborhoods, as you know, and catalyze new investment" Bloomberg said. "That's why we've made investing in culture a major part of our efforts to diversify the economy." He added that this would be especially important in the wake of the collapsing financial sector--long the bedrock of the local economy. While it will likely never reap the dividends Wall Street once did, it is good to know we can put our art to work for us, rather than simply embracing art for art's sake. Other findings of the report include:
  • An estimated 1.4 million people visited the Waterfalls in the 13 weeks it was up this summer. Of those, 79,200 would not have visited the city or otherwise extended their trip, and 590,000 people from the metropolitan area made special trips to view the falls. They drew people from all 50 states and 55 countries.
  • As part of the administration's plan to revitalize the Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfronts, 23 percent of visitors, or 320,000 people, visited those areas for the first time. Of them, 44,500 were residents of the five boroughs.
  • About 95 percent of all out-of-town Waterfalls viewers participated in at least one other cultural attraction during their stay. About 43 percent of visitors attended one or more Broadway shows; 42 percent attended a visual art, photography, or design museum; 34 percent visited a history museum; and nearly 27 percent viewed a public art installation other than the Waterfalls.
  • Circle Line Downtown offered between 25 and 30 tours a day, with sell-outs on many tours, particularly during its evening cruises. Between June 26 and October 13, more than 213,000 passengers bought tickets for Circle Line Downtown's Waterfalls tour, Zephyr and Shark boat tours that all went past the Waterfalls.
  • The Public Art Fund's official Waterfalls website,, received more than 512,000 visits between January and October 2008. More than 6,000 photographs were posted to Flickr, 1,200 blog posts were written, and 200 videos with 235,000 viewers uploaded to YouTube. [Here's a personal favorite because, you know, who doesn't love models.]
  The full report [PDF] Video of the press conference

Editorial: Beyond Beauty Contests

The knives were drawn and glistening when the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) opened last month at 2 Columbus Circle. In an article shouting out “N.Y. facade spells trouble,” Christopher Hawthorne of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the Brad Cloepfil design seemed “clinical and rigid, even schoolmarmish.” In the now-defunct Sun, James Gardner declared the whole thing “emphatically not good,” and then wistfully hoped that a facsimile of Stone’s disintegrating punch-card marble grille would soon replace the custom-made iridescent terra-cotta tiles. Closing in for the scold like a white-gloved mother-in-law looking for dirt, Nicolai Ouroussoff complained about “a section of drywall [that] is left at the corner” where one of the 3-D incisions that track up and into the building makes a turn. Mad at MAD for being “meek and lifeless,” he went on to hold it responsible for “sanitizing the city.” Two days later, he called for it to be demolished.

This rush to judgment of a small-scale building that’s barely been open a week throws an unflattering spotlight on architectural criticism today. Many of these critiques appeared within 48 hours of the building’s official opening, guaranteeing that any commentary was based primarily on aesthetics, historical baggage, or the architect’s reputation—issues that have little or nothing to do with how the building serves its site and its users.

I am not a big fan of crafts, even the radical new crafts that can transform a stockpile of plug-ugly eyeglasses into a dead-ringer for a Murano glass chandelier, but it didn’t take a moment to see that this new museum was going to be a very popular place for its purpose: The size is right for smallish objects; it’s easy to navigate; the interiors are aglow with natural and artificial light; and the views slicing up Broadway or out across the park are a revelation. The restaurant is going to be packed all the time.

MAD is the last piece of the puzzle needed to reclaim the entire Columbus Circle for civic enjoyment. As someone who once lived nearby, I remember well how dangerous and depressing it all was 20 years ago, from the dark arcade of the abandoned 2 Columbus Circle to the squat, dingy-bricked Coliseum and the deadly slalom of traffic islands. Though the Christopher Columbus statue has stood atop the column at the circle’s center since 1892 (the official point from which all distances to and from New York City are measured), I had never noticed it until it was silhouetted one glorious bright day against the glass of Time Warner Center. The column is framed even more eloquently for viewing from inside MAD by its sharply-etched windows.

It is time for critics to forget the building’s checkered—and also its Venetian die-cut—past and report to the public how it is working, or not. By now, Ada Louise Huxtable may well regret her choice of words when writing about the building in 1964, because a new collection of her writings shows that her original review was as much about the problems of traffic and an ill-configured site amounting to “a sordid and dismembered open space” as anything to do with lollipops. It’s time for critics to stop treating every new building like the latest piece of eye candy.

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Future Follies
The Omi property, on 460 acres of rolling Hudson Valley countryside, will soon be adding more architectural works.
Courtesy Art Omi

Last October, New York City real estate developer and Time Equities CEO Francis J. Greenburger announced the establishment of Architecture Omi, a program of the Omi International Arts Center dedicated to exploring the middle ground between architecture and art. This month, with the imminent selection of the first participating designers and the naming of architect Lee H. Skolnick as board chairperson, Architecture Omi has begun to show signs of life.

Art Omi was founded in 1991 as a residency program for artists and writers on Greenburger’s Hudson Valley property. Expanding to some 460 acres of rolling countryside two hours north of the city, since 1998 Omi has been home to The Fields Sculpture Park, a year-round exhibition of large-scale modern and contemporary works from artists both renowned and emerging. The creation a year ago of Architecture Omi, under the stewardship of program director Peter Barton, signaled a shift for the organization, envisaging a series of 21st-century garden follies on 75 acres of the estate.

“That’s our green rug to put stuff on,” said Barton. “Right now it’s mostly cornfields and woodland, all very beautiful.” Barton said that the structures chosen for the site will harmonize with the bucolic landscape, and will include temporary pavilions, longer-term structures, and architectural settings for private collections.

Barton has a few precedents in mind when thinking of Architecture Omi’s future. He cites Chris Burden’s installation for the plaza of Renzo Piano’s LACMA extension as an example of a collaborative model in which artists respond to the work of architects in conjunction with institutional support. In another instance of the same approach, San Francisco–based architect Jim Jennings worked with artist David Rabinowitch in 2006 on a Sonoma artist’s studio for collector Steven Oliver. Barton imagines such artist/architect collaborations undertaken with the aid of collectors, gallerists, and museums, mentioning Connecticut’s Aldrich Museum as a possible co-sponsor for projects at Architecture Omi.

Rabinowitch and Jennings are “frontrunners” to design Architecture Omi’s first project, along with a so-called “Museum in Action” from board member and founder Paola Iaccuci. Steven Holl was also reported to have visited The Fields recently, but no final decisions have been made as yet; the architects will be chosen in consultation with the board of directors, which includes artist Tarik Currimbhoy and architects Peter Franck and Kathleen Triem, who have developed the site’s masterplan.

The new chair Lee Skolnick, principal of Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership, has worked on a number of museum and cultural projects, including the Children’s Museum in Bridgehampton. Planners Franck and Triem’s firm, ft Architecture + Interiors, recently completed a new visitors’ center for Omi, a modestly scaled, appealingly unassuming glass-fronted box cantilevered over a cornfield. Barton also pointed to works currently on exhibit in The Fields, “architectonic sculptures” by Currimbhoy and Charles Frazier, as well as proposals from the team of sculptor Pino Barrillà and architect Fausto Ferrara, all of which split the difference between habitable works of art and environmental experiments. But process, more than product, is at the core of this long-term project. Stressed Barton, “explorations and thesis projects are our goals,” not necessarily buildings “in the traditional sense.”

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16 Acres, 12 Years
Courtesy Snohetta

A pivotal report from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has simplified plans for rebuilding the World Trade Center site, trimming Santiago Calatrava’s PATH terminal while committing to a new budget and schedule that would open the World Trade Center memorial plaza a full decade after the September 11 attacks, and complete the Freedom Tower by 2013.

In a report to his board today, Port Authority executive director Christopher Ward reiterated previous statements that the PATH station will lose its “oculus,” or retractable skylight, that had given the project its persuasive symbolism of a bird taking flight. The redesign, which Ward said Calatrava had helped configure, would produce a ribbed, enclosed roof and substitute conventional steel columns for the V-shaped trusses in Calatrava’s original design. Ward maintained that cutbacks would allow the station to proceed with its essential elements intact, in lieu of a wholesale redesign of the project.

To that end, Ward reminded board members that the station’s original purpose had involved expanding rail capacity by allowing for 10-car trains. “We were doing that before the attack,” he said. Since the attack also obliged the agency to restore the station, he continued, the new design would produce a suitable icon at a manageable cost of $3.2 billion.

Further streamlining construction plans, Ward recommended “turning the memorial upside down.” Rather than insisting on finishing the sunken memorial garden and museum before the surrounding skyscrapers, Ward endorsed building the memorial plaza first. “We will be able to pour a concrete floor as a deck-over, in a one-time event that will allow a ceremony on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks,” he said. “Our goal is to complete the full memorial as soon as possible.”

Tellingly, Ward chose to discuss the memorial rather than the schedule for the four skyscrapers due to surround the site. A slide in his presentation pegged completion of the Freedom Tower, the only building the agency owns, by 2013. But if the Port Authority and partner agencies finish the at-grade vehicle checkpoint and memorial plaza by 2012, as Ward projected, developer Larry Silverstein would not be able to blame delays in his tower on the Port’s management of necessary infrastructure.

In a statement, Silverstein’s team remained noncommittal. “We appreciate the Port Authority’s work over the past several months in trying to develop greater certainty about the schedule and cost of its projects at the World Trade Center site,” the developer said. “We are now going to study the Port Authority’s report and back-up materials so that our construction professionals can evaluate the new dates they have identified.”

With the revised schedule, Ward presented a budget calling for an extra $1.1 billion above what the Port has already dedicated to the site over the next ten years. Steve Sigmund, a Port spokesperson, told AN that his agency would “work with project partners” to meet financial targets. Those partners—city and state agencies, along with Silverstein—are all but certain to keep revising their own budgets as construction and the credit crisis continue.

At a press conference, Mayor Bloomberg put an optimistic face on rebuilding efforts. “Right now Wall Street is hurting, but the businesses will come back,” he said, with a nod to the troubled site. “And this is a great place to have your office.”

Gerson’s WTC Statement

The World Trade Center site is one of the most technically complicated modern construction projects ever undertaken: the building of five high rise towers, concomitantly, on a sixteen acre site over two train lines; issues of unprecedented toxicities and missing human remains; all in the middle of a bustling residential and business district.   The architects, engineers and workers on the ground deserve credit for the performance of a difficult task, and interruptions, unexpected technical problems and delays should have been anticipated from its inception. 

What remains inexcusable is needless political exacerbation of the difficulties rather than public sector facilitation of the complexities.  This process has been plagued by: false expectations generated by political grandstanding; delays in providing necessary funding to critical job components; the failure to create reasonable and responsible budgets for project components; the avoidance or postponement of difficult but necessary political decisions; and a lack of full transparency and accountability in all government agencies and activities.

Governor Paterson and the new Port Authority Executive Director, Christopher Ward deserve great credit for restoring governmental efficacy in the rebuilding process.  The Governor’s demand for a top-to-bottom reassessment, and the preliminary report issued by the Executive Director provide desperately needed doses of reality, transparency and accountability.  Mayor Bloomberg deserves credit for his partnership and involvement in this new expeditious and efficient approach.
The extraordinary economic conditions faced by Lower Manhattan, our city and the nation should accelerate work at Ground Zero. The history of recovery in past times of economic distress has involved large-scale public works projects.  Ground Zero is a great public works project, a statement of confidence and moral uplift.  It is also a desperately needed economic stimulus, more important now than ever since 9/11.
The Lower Manhattan Redevelopment projects on and off the World Trade Center site must also position Lower Manhattan to be ready with adequate transportation and infrastructure as well as sufficient  space to meet the future demands of the inevitable upturn in the economy as it occurs.  We owe it to the 2800 innocent people who lost their lives as they went about their work, sustaining and building our economy; to the heroes who risked or sacrificed their lives to save others; and to the community residents who rallied and remained to support each other and to rebuild their neighborhoods.  We must tell each of their stories and complete the rest of the job safely, efficiently, democratically and without delay.

Now is the time to demonstrate Lower Manhattan’s most visionary and effective public sector. I have set forth, below, seventeen specific next steps necessary to move the World Trade Center site and Lower Manhattan redevelopment projects forward.  These recommendations, which should be implemented immediately, follow from the series of hearings of the City Council’s Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment, which I chair, and from numerous conversations I have had with community members and leaders, including community board members, and the entities involved in the projects. I call on the Governor and the Mayor to provide the leadership necessary to implement these next steps. I call on Chris Ward of the Port Authority of NY/NJ  to incorporate these next steps into his plan of action, recognizing that even on those measures over which the Port does not exercise direct control, the Executive Director’s recommendations will carry great weight.

On October 6, 2008, the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee will conduct its next oversight hearing. At that time we will expect the Port Authority, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and other relevant agencies to report on their response to these recommendations, as well as to the full report issued by Christopher Ward and the ensuing timetable for Ground Zero, Fiterman Hall, and the Fulton Street Station.

17 Steps for Getting the World Trade Center Site Project Back on Track

1.  APPOINT AN AUDITOR GENERAL TO MONITOR ALL LOWER MANHATTAN REDEVELOPMENT PROJECTS.  We need one auditor general to monitor the World Trade Center site, 130 Liberty Street, Fiterman Hall and the Fulton Street Transit Hub.  All of these projects involve state agencies.  An auditor general will monitor progress and spending, keep an eye out for delays and cost overruns and present options for synergies and cost-saving measures, including cross-project efficiencies.  What has been missing from the governance of Lower Manhattan redevelopment has been one accountable official with access to all relevant information and monitoring and reporting responsibilities. 

Our governmental system is founded on checks and balances, which have been entirely missing from the Lower Manhattan redevelopment process. The independent authorities carrying out these projects are exempt from normal auditing by the State Comptroller or City Comptroller and from normal oversight by the State Legislature or City Council.  This was a mistake from the start.  It is too late to totally recreate the governance structure of the rebuilding efforts.  But the appointment of an auditor general will provide the needed check and balance moving forward.

The auditor general should serve at the governor’s pleasure, report directly to the governor and mayor, issue periodic public progress reports and appear regularly before the City Council and State Legislature. The Port Authority, the MTA, the LMDC, the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center (LMCCC) and all agencies involved in any projects must be required to open their books and plans to the auditor general. Christopher Ward, no matter how capable, serves the Board of Directors of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and thus could not be in the position to audit it and the other authorities. Many of us thought that this was part of what the LMDC was supposed to do in the first place.  The LMDC should, however, now provide funds to support the auditor general. 

2.  REAFFIRM THE 9/11/11 DEADLINE FOR PERMANENTLY OPENING THE MEMORIAL PLAZA.  Past unrealistic timetables should not be taken as an excuse for establishing no timetable.  Deadlines serve an important purpose.  We would not have reached the moon when we did if President Kennedy had not set that ten-year deadline.  By all accounts, there exist no technical or physical reasons why the Memorial Plaza cannot be completed by the tenth anniversary.  The governor and mayor must direct all agencies to work together to make this happen.

3. MODIFY PATH TRAIN MEZZANINE TO ACHIEVE SIMPLE ELEGANCE WITH COLUMNS.  Utilizing columns to support the #1 train, rather than the more complex suspension system under consideration, would save money and time.  We estimate the savings in the millions of dollars.  The columns will also expedite utility work under Greenwich Street and thus assure timely progress.  This will save money and help assure progress on the memorial and other ground zero sectors.  It will also allow for the setting of a timetable for the rebuilding and remapping of Greenwich Street, which will be critical for access to the Memorial. Grandiosity has its place, including within this site, but the PATH station achieves sufficient grandiosity in the Eagle structure and the main hall.  What is essentially a passageway for commuters rushing to and from their trains and pedestrians rushing between the World Financial Center and Church Street can be built elegantly with columns and with less expense

4. WITHIN 90 DAYS THE MTA MUST RE-ISSUE BID SPECIFICATIONS FOR THE FULTON STREET TRANSIT HUB—WITH SPECIFICATION CHANGES AIMED AT LOWERING COSTS BY AT LEAST $200 MILLION.   At a hearing of the City Council’s committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment held in April, 2008, the MTA pledged to reissue bid specifications within 30 days.  This has not happened.  Further delay is inexcusable.  The MTA testified that it planned to divide the work and issue separate bid requests for each of the major discrete parts of the project in order to optimize efficiency and expertise and to minimize costs.  That still makes sense, as the best subterranean contractor is not necessarily the best aboveground structural contractor. 

The Fulton Street Transit Hub is a critical component of Lower Manhattan’s future.  Its transit connections are needed to optimize downtown’s accessibility.  Its retail and street level presence, including the promised replacement of the scores of retail cleared out for this project, will anchor the future of a thriving Fulton Street corridor. 

The longer we wait, the more expensive this project will get.  The basic contours of the project, including the design for the transit hub, should remain the same. It is clear however, that fewer internal flourishes and excesses, with the aim of simple elegance in method and outcome, could save the project millions of dollars. 

In addition, the Corbin building’s restoration can be deferred without detracting from the train station or the main entrance. Indeed, the Corbin building should not be part of the transit hub.  It should be sold, restored and turned into office space.  To integrate a historic building into a transit center is overly complex.  To remove the Corbin building from the site could save hundreds of millions of dollars.

5.  FULLY FUND FITERMAN HALL’S RECONSTRUCTION IMMEDIATELY.  Fiterman Hall provided critical classroom space for the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC).  Over 21,000 degree students from all over the City are enrolled at BMCC this semester, making it by far the largest community college in all of New York City.  The necessary funds must be allocated now in order to avoid another hole in the ground in Lower Manhattan and to mitigate spiraling costs.  New York’s Dormitory Authority will not allow City University of New York (CUNY) to contract for reconstruction until full funding is allocated. CUNY officials anticipate that the remediation process (the cleaning of Fiterman Hall) will be completed by the end of January 2009 and that demolition will be completed by summer 2009.  The contracting process is such that it needs to begin imminently, requiring full funding, in order for construction to begin immediately upon deconstruction. 

Delay in Fiterman Hall’s reconstruction will retard overall downtown development, including the ability of Silverstein Properties to rent office space at 7 World Trade Center, which is opposite Fiterman Hall.  Eventually, Fiterman Hall will have to be rebuilt.  The longer we wait, the more it will cost taxpayers.

With classes scheduled in the daytime, evening and weekends, and additional adult and continuing education programs in high demand from the community, we must do everything within our power to expedite the process of demolishing and building a new Fiterman Hall. 

6. REAFFIRM THE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (PAC) AT THE PROPOSED LOCATION, WITH THE 1,000-SEAT THEATER IN A GEHRY DESIGNED BUILDING, WITH THE JOYCE THEATER AS THE ANCHOR TENANT. Specifically the LMDC must do the following: establish the 501(c)(3) entity that will raise funds for the project, along with a strong board of directors and dynamic leadership and allow fundraising to begin. The LMDC must reaffirm the previous commitment of $50 million to the site.  There must be a recommitment to building a Gehry-designed, 1000-seat theater.  There must also be a reaffirming of the Joyce Theater as the anchor tenant of the PAC.

The LMDC and Port Authority must jointly make it clear to the world that the Performing Arts Center will be built.  The 1,000-seat theater remains important to serve a gap of that theater size in our city’s cultural infrastructure. The Joyce remains the most viable and appropriate anchor tenant.  The center is important to the community’s future, as well as to the spirit of the site.  All governmental entities involved in reconstructing the World Trade Center site must remain faithful to the entire original concept for the site:  the Memorial, to commemorate the infinite worth and stories of the lives lost; the commercial to carry on the work of those lives; and the cultural, to celebrate life itself.

7. THE PORT AUTHORITY MUST ISSUE A TIMELINE FOR THE TURNOVER OF TOWER 2 TO SILVERSTEIN PROPERTIES IMMEDIATELY AND ISSUE A STATUS REPORT AND TIMETABLE, WITH BENCHMARKS FOR THE COMPLETION OF ANY OUTSTANDING INFRASTRUCTURE WORK ON THE SITES FOR TOWERS 2,  3 AND 4  The timetable must project when site 2 will be turned over to Silverstein Properties and when all infrastructure work on  sites 3 and 4 (which have already been turned over) will be completed.  Until then, the Port must issue periodic reports on the status of the timeline, with explanations of any extensions.  Obviously, unfolding economic events may impact the programming of the site, but the infrastructure will be required for any future development to take place.

8. IMMEDIATELY CONVENE A MEMORIAL ACCESS PLANNING GROUP.  This group should combine site designers, architects, the NYPD, and other security agencies on the site and community representatives, with the goal of achieving the most open and easy access that prudent security will allow.  The group should develop plans for interim access to the Memorial for the tenth anniversary and permanent access upon completion of the entire site.  Important security and design details need to be addressed now because of their relevance to infrastructure construction.  Delaying this process could delay or impede the Memorial’s opening.  It makes no sense to open the Memorial Plaza if it cannot be accessed.

9.  THE LMDC MUST RELEASE DESIGN SPECIFICATIONS. A number of years ago, the LMDC drafted design specifications for the World Trade Center site that were never released.  These site design specifications cover criteria for planting, pavement type, street and sidewalk furniture, lighting and light poles, curb cuts, and façade appearance and other material pertaining to the streetscape, grounds, and building fronts of the site.  These design specifications could affect infrastructure now under construction as well as security measures.  Finalizing the specifications forthwith could avoid needless costs and extra work.  The LMDC should release its draft specifications and then proceed swiftly to a public hearing and ultimate adoption of the specifications.

10.  NYPD AND FDNY MUST CONDUCT AND RELEASE A FULL SECURITY AND FIRE SAFETY AUDIT OF PLANS FOR THE UNDERGROUND MUSEUM.  A full, joint security review by NYPD and FDNY, based on all applicable New York City codes, as well as other governmental regulations and state-of-the-art measures, should be completed and certified by the agencies. We cannot once more complete plans only to have security agencies send them back to the drawing board.  Several family groups have raised questions about security measures, entrances, exits, ramps, and other aspects of security precautions planned for the underground museum. They may be right or wrong, in whole or in part, but these family groups and the public deserve to know definitively.

11. PRODUCE A LOWER MANHATTAN BUS PLAN WITHIN NINE MONTHS.  This could be done in-house or by retained experts in consultation with the community.  The Memorial tour buses are coming, but no one knows where they will lay over, where they will drop off and pick up passengers and what routes they will take. Lower Manhattan already faces a bus invasion, with more long-distance bus passengers than the midtown Port Authority bus terminal, according to police statistics.  Combine this with tour buses, commuter buses, casino buses and all manner of charter buses. We need a plan to protect the area’s quality of life and the ambience of the Memorial, which will be a major destination. The different buses share many of the same streets, routes, stops, and might most efficiently share the same parking facilities. The report must therefore lay out options for all bus categories for all of downtown from at least south of Ninth Street. Again, this needs to be worked out now because it could have an impact on the underground parking facility and related infrastructure presently under construction at the World Trade Center site. 

12.  THE LMDC MUST IMMEDIATELY ISSUE A DETAILED STATUS REPORT AND TIMETABLE ON 130 LIBERTY STREET AND PROVIDE REGULAR UPDATES.  The LMCCC should continue to play an active oversight role at 130 Liberty Street.  However, we are reluctant to recommend a governance overhaul for fear that this could only generate further delay.  This project’s delay stems from past mistakes, including ignoring sound practices demanded by community groups and elected officials.  However, the LMDC’s current administration has it right with the decoupling of decontamination and demolition, and ongoing safety measures.  In order to prevent further delay, the LMDC must provide a timetable and detailed monthly progress reports, including explanations for any failures to meet the timetable.  Much of this is now being done verbally at periodic task force meetings.  Given the past history of this project, these reports need to be formalized in writing, with as much detail as possible.

13.  CLOSE VESEY STREET BETWEEN CHURCH STREET AND WEST BROADWAY, BUT ONLY IF THE PORT AUTHORITY MEETS THE BURDEN OF DEMONSTRATING THAT TO DO SO WOULD MATERIALLY SAVE TIME OR PROVIDE FOR GREATER SAFETY The imperative to avoid delay at the World Trade Center site appears to far outweigh the inconvenience of the temporary street closure.  The Vesey Street block that would be closed does not have residences or businesses needing to access the street.  However, the Port Authority must put in place means to compensate for the closure, such as widened sidewalks on adjoining streets, additional signage, additional traffic enforcement agents, and shuttle buses, including a shuttle bus connection with Battery Park City.  Vesey Street should not be closed any longer than is absolutely necessary.  The Port Authority should regularly update the community as to the progress of the work performed and whether there is a continuing need to keep that section of Vesey Street closed. Local Law 24 must be followed in letter and spirit, to ensure proper community input and notification.

14.  CONTINUE THE STEERING COMMITTEE RECENTLY ESTABLISHED BY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR WARD.  By all accounts, the steering committee established by Chris Ward has provided improved coordination among the public and private entities working on or regulating the World Trade Center site.  Representation by the Mayor’s office on the steering committee should include the NYPD in order to assure full interagency coordination and to avoid the delays due to lack of such coordination, which have occurred in the past.

15. CONTINUE THE PORT AUTHORITY  BRIEFINGS FOR FAMILY MEMBERS AND COMMUNITY LEADERS IN LOWER MANHATTAN.  By all accounts, the direct meetings between high-ranking Port Authority figures and representatives of family groups and local community representatives have not only reduced tensions but provided valuable input. These briefings should take place on a regular basis. They should be expanded to include the Memorial Museum and the MTA.  In addition, we urge the Port Authority to continue to hold monthly open meetings of its board of directors focused exclusively on the World Trade Center.  These board meetings must be held at a location in Lower Manhattan to maximize the number of community members who may wish to attend.  We suggest the Conference Center of the New York Academy of Sciences at 7 World Trade Center, overlooking the site, reminding us all of the progress that can be made.

16. INTEGRATE THE TRIBUTE CENTER PERMANENTLY INTO THE MUSEUM ENTRANCE BUILDING.  This building is supposed to provide orientation exhibitions as well as security and ticketing functions.  The Tribute Center has provided orientation admirably since it opened.  Lee Ielpi and his team stepped up to provide this critical service when no one else did.  They have done a remarkable job.  The Tribute Center they created has received approximately 715,000 visitors to date.  It exists in temporary leased space, but it deserves to become permanent in order to continue to enhance the education for site visitors.  The entrance building of the museum would be the logical place and would avoid redundancy and waste in resources. At the very least, a discussion between the Tribute Center and the Memorial Museum should take place, and take place now so that the entrance building’s layout and size could still be adjusted to accommodate the Center.  In the past we have questioned the need for a separate entrance building at all.  The Museum’s entrance could be created through the oversized Calatrava building.  However, if we are going to have an additional building, it should be as meaningful as possible.  We cannot imagine anything more meaningful than the Tribute Center.

17.  CREATE A MECHANISM TO STRENGTHEN CONSTRUCTION SITE SAFETY AND LOWER MANHATTAN’S LIVABILITY. Situations will undoubtedly increase as work at or above ground level accelerates and authorities charged with the work seek variances, or the equivalent, to meet or exceed schedules.  We cannot sacrifice the health, well-being or livability of area workers or residents to get the work done.  That would fly in the face of the value of upholding the importance and sanctity of every human being, which the site and downtown’s rebirth are supposed to reflect.  Next month, this office will release a follow-up report and series of recommendations to improve construction site safety and construction area livability for Lower Manhattan and the city at large.  We call on all levels and leaders of government to work together to achieve the goal of reconstruction within the timeframe, but not at the expense of safety and livability.

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“The Best Facelift on 5th Ave.”

Last evening a crowd of one hundred or so gathered on museum mile in front of the Guggenheim Museum to mark the completion of its three-year renovation project with a champagne reception and a ceremony officiated by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Arriving fashionably late, Bloomberg addressed the crowd with his typical charisma, candidly remarking that the new restoration is “one of the best facelifts on 5th Avenue.” Bloomberg also stated that despite the tough financial times we have recently come upon, the City will continue investing in art and cultural institutions, like the Guggenheim. At the conclusion of Bloomberg’s speech, the official ribbon cutting ceremony revealed a large sign draped over the front exterior of the building that read, “Good As New." Marc Steglitz, the Guggenheim Museum's Interim Director-Elect, later commented that the building is actually "better than new," but said that he was told that he could not say that in fear of the lurking preservationists in the crowd!

The celebration also included the inauguration of a site-specific work of art created by artist Jenny Holzer to illuminate the building’s newly restored facade and in honor of the restoration’s major benefactor Peter B. Lewis. Jenny Holzer’s site-specific light project, entitled, For the Guggenheim, cast large-scale texts comprised of her own writings as well as numerous poems directly onto the exterior of the Frank Lloyd Wright building, noticeably transforming the building and its surroundings. For the Guggenheim will be illuminated every Friday evening, beginning September 26 through December 31, 2008, from dusk to 11 p.m., with a special additional showing on New Year's Eve. On an aside, the Guggenheim is offering a day of free admission on October 30, to thank New Yorkers for their patience during the last three years of restoration.

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Buon Viaggio
Over the weekend the bloggers of AN boarded the worlds most elegant form of public transportation-the venetian water taxi and headed to Marco Polo airport for the 11:35am Delta flight back to New York City and our offices on Murray Street. We are back to spritzless days, the New York subway rather than vaporettos, beautiful fall days in New York and the typically intense –and wonderful world of New York architecture. A press conference today on Lincoln Center’s design changes and tomorrow the new Brad Cloepfil designed MAD museum on Columbus Circle, Yale’s new art school on Friday and next week the opening of The Storefront for Art and Architectures’ restored facade. Now that we are up and running we will be blogging about all these events and more on the new AN blog! But where can we get a decent spritz in this city?
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All Rise
P&T Architects and Engineers

Vertical Cities
Hong Kong/New York
The Skyscraper Museum
39 Battery Place
Through February 2009

Hong Kong is a city of seven million inhabitants, most of whom live and work in one of its 7,838 highrises. But the city wears its verticality and density in a way that is remarkably different from that of New York City. It is this difference that Carol Willis, the founder and director of the Skyscraper Museum, examines in Vertical Cities: Hong Kong/New York.

Willis’ show, which runs through February 2009, is the second in a series of three called Future Cities 20/21. The first, New York Modern, examined the New York of the early 20th century as a prophecy of the metropolis that it was about to become; some of that show’s historical materials form the basis for Vertical Cities. Considering the diminutive size of the Skyscraper Museum, the incorporation of earlier exhibitions to develop a story line for the new show can be slightly puzzling for the typical visitor, but it may well stimulate the curious to come back for the third chapter in the Future Cities saga: China Prophecy, an exhibition that will explore the 21st-century skyscraper city of Shanghai.

Vertical Cities zooms in on the more contemporary, rapid-fire model of verticality that Hong Kong offers. The show starts enthusiastically with the stark comparison of two wall-size Google maps of Hong Kong and New York. These not only suggest a story of two waterfront cities that developed from colonial ports into bustling hubs of finance and transport, they illustrate how New York’s model of vertical density, which developed a century ago, has been copied and tweaked in Hong Kong. There, it has become a new urban idiom of verticality, and almost forty years after the start of the city’s building boom, bears visual similarity but spatial differences that are well worth a closer look.

Courtesy The Skyscraper Museum
Hong Kong's vertiginous topography creates a multi-layered island.

Willis may have felt obliged to present visitors with well-known examples of skyscrapers such as I. M. Pei’s Bank of China, Norman Foster’s HSBC building, and Cesar Pelli’s 88-story IFC2 tower, but the show’s narrative focuses more on the spatial qualities that make Hong Kong such an intriguing place. An aerial photo of New York shows a gray hodgepodge of buildings that is equaled in Hong Kong’s gridded area of Kowloon. Both can be highly suffocating, and both feel very 20th century. But whereas Manhattan’s density of 70,000 people per square mile is relieved primarily by Central Park and the odd pocket of greenery carved out by Broadway’s meandering path, the urban experience in Hong Kong can be completely different.

Hong Kong’s topography is one of hills and valleys, and aggressive conservation efforts by the government—especially on Hong Kong Island—has led to the development of densities up to 100,000 people per square mile amid generous pockets of tropical green space. Some of these urban zones are New Towns in the modernist sense of the word—filled with isolated residential towers of sixty or more stories overlooking the tropical landscape—and thus feel generic and boring, but these are not the rule. Though it isn’t well articulated in the exhibition’s layout and design, which could have done with a stronger graphic hand, it is the inspired layering of space that makes Hong Kong a worthy case study of the possibilities of such intense verticality.

Willis shows the Mid-Levels Escalator, the world’s longest outdoor escalator that snakes up above the steep, narrow streets of Hong Kong Island, connecting the urban grid to slender towers that are soaring high above. Together with the elevated pedestrian bridges that link the lower-level floors of a series of towers in the financial district, this escalator portrays an exciting horizontal, and even diagonal, connectivity. Adding a layer to the busy street level and underground transit systems, it activates the otherwise cut-off verticality: a successful prototype in practice that cries for further investigation in the designs for future cities all around the world.

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Ground Zero Pavilion Unveiled
Squared Design Lab

On September 9, Governor David Paterson vowed that a memorial to the events of September 11, 2001 must open before other planned commercial development at the World Trade Center complex. Which left architect Craig Dykers of Snøhetta with a delicate task: create a beacon, located between three proposed towers and the memorial itself, that commemorates a tragedy while tying together an obstacle course of a site—all in a 47,500-square-foot, three-story building.

In that context, Dykers presented a brave face at a press conference later that day to unveil the most recent designs for a Ground Zero museum pavilion. His $80 million building, a gem-like, glass-and-steel volume composed of tilted planes, is to open in 2012 as the only above-grade portion of the memorial museum. And his remarks subtly referred to the jousting that made the pavilion so modest. “As important as any event in the past may be, people of the present and the future will connect with this place,” Dykers said. “Our design should speak to what this place will be. So the design tries to balance the initial Libeskind scheme and recent commercial planning.”

The original scheme for the site included a 220,000-square-foot cultural center fronting the sunken footprints of the World Trade Center towers. Former governor George Pataki rejected one of the site’s designated tenants, the International Freedom Center, and subsequent negotiations reworked the zone as part of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, honoring victims of all terrorist acts. It’s that museum, which one will enter underground, to which Dykers’ angled building opens through a stand of 50-foot-tall trees. The pavilion will also face three proposed office towers, each with double-height retail at street level, designed by international stars Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and Fumihiko Maki. (The Freedom Tower, to the north, is still due to open in 2011.)

Squared Design Lab

Two columns from Minoru Yamasaki's original trade center towers will stand as the pavilion's centerpiece.

Searching for a connective language, Dykers and his team looked to the street-facing pediments of the lost World Trade Center. Since some had called the famous Y-shaped columns of the center’s lobby “tree trunks,” Snøhetta borrowed the metaphor to make a gesture with its roof. “We wanted the atrium to be a web structure, so that as much light as possible comes in,” Dykers said at the presentation. The roof, a trapezoid with carats on top, follows the vein-like pattern of a leaf. This motif relates the building to Santiago Calatrava’s birdlike PATH station, planned for Fulton Street on the east, and the trellises of Battery Park City on the west.

But as site leaseholder Larry Silverstein reiterated after Dykers’ talk, other projects are on hold until the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey “delivers infrastructure” to the entire, 16-acre site. And that process won’t begin in earnest until the agency releases a report on September 30 that presents a defensible construction schedule. Even after construction begins, it’s not clear that Silverstein can get financing or tenants for the other proposed towers.

Perhaps to preempt the Port Authority’s report, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called on September 10 for the city to take over site management. And if that were to happen, Dykers and his client could get fast-tracked. Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber emphasized after Dykers’ talk that the city’s chief priority remains opening the memorial by September 11, 2011. The memorial should be completed before infrastructure and office development, Lieber told AN, “because of what it is.”

Lieber’s view reflects sound economic logic. Unlike the office towers, the memorial has a committed occupant, and can draw tourists while making good on a civic promise to victims’ families. And while that logic places a heavy burden on a small building, Dykers welcomed the challenge.

“Being small in a place like this sets you apart,” he told AN. “In New York, smaller spaces, like pocket parks in the Village or a small club, can be more memorable.” Of course, other Ground Zero elements have been getting scaled back, notably among them Calatrava’s station. In that spirit, Dykers’ closing words to the press corps had a poignant ring. “Your memory of this place will be not a physical object,” he said, “but an experience.”

Alec Appelbaum

All images: Squared Design Lab
With its entry along Greenwich street, The pavilion connects the calatrava-designed transportation hub and planned commercial towers with the memorial and museum spaces.


The project's angular footprint of 15,000 square feet points visitors to an oak-tree grove at the center of the plaza, near both the north and south memorial pools. 

A large, glazed atrium allows views into the museum, where remnants from the twin towers will be displayed. 


The pavilion will provide general site orientation, ticketing services for museum exhibitions and programs, and security screening.
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Fitful Sleep
Introductory panel to Episode 3: The Tower (The Fall), 1980, Bernard Tschumi.
Courtesy MoMA

Dreamland: Architectural Experiments Since the 1970s
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
Through March 2, 2009

After viewing Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling at MoMA, do not overlook Dreamland: Architectural Experiments Since the 1970s, on exhibit a couple of flights down in the architecture and design galleries. Drawn primarily from the permanent collection, the show focuses on visionary architecture from the seventies that reckoned with New York, including works by Rem Koolhaas, Steven Holl, Raimund Abraham, Superstudio, and others, and culminates with contemporary works influenced or inflected by these visionary ideas.

Many of the early works are large, meticulously rendered drawings of the city altered by radical architectural interventions, which, though some are iconic, such as Superstudio’s Continuous Monument (1969), seem remarkably fresh. Most involve superstructures inserted into a dense and chaotic urban fabric. For all these works’ radicalism, a nostalgic atmosphere pervades much of the 1970s work: Koolhaas’ Plan of Dreamland, Coney Island, New York, New York (1977), for which the show is named, is a plan for the historic amusement park, a place filled with real and invented memories.


Plan of Dreamland, 1977, Rem Koolhaas (top); Church of Solitude, transverse section, 1974-1977, Gaetano Pesce (above).

This somewhat paradoxical backward-looking atmosphere is underscored by the old-timey music playing in the gallery tracked to Madelon Vriesendorp, Teri When-Damisch, and Jean-Pierre Jacquet’s animated film Caught in the Act (1979), depicting the seduction of the Chrysler Building by the Empire State Building. Stills from the film, which until recently was thought to be lost, illustrate Koolhaas’ book Delirious New York, which curator Andres Lepik uses as the intellectual frame for the show.

“Many Europeans were coming to New York, seeing it as a field for experimentation,” Lepik told AN while walking through the exhibition. The city was then in a period of decline and crisis, so perhaps these architects saw their visions as redemptive forces, or at least saw the city’s degraded condition as rife with potential. Gaetano Pesce’s astonishing Church of Solitude, New York, New York, transverse section (1974–77) project includes tiny classical ruins at the mouth of his enormous church, hollowed out of the ground like a geometric cave. Interestingly, much of the 1970s work seems to reject a tabula rasa approach, signaling that though these architects were still thinking big, they had internalized the problems of large-scale urban renewal without lapsing into historicist recreations or capitalist capitulations—there isn’t a festival marketplace in sight.

The show loses steam as it moves toward the present and as its geographic range widens. Non-Cartesian formal investigation becomes a stand-in for the visionary. A large table of models fills the center of the room, and while they are a joy to see, many also feel like filler (Steven Holl’s Bridge Houses Project, Melbourne Australia [1979–82] is a notable exception). Most of the contemporary projects are houses, which Lepik argues are expressions of the persistent architectural fantasy of bringing urbanity to the countryside. But is Lindy Roy’s Sagaponack House really all that visionary? Many of the recent specimens included seem more like fashion, vestiges of the previous chief curator’s enthusiasms.

New York, it seems, is no longer the petri dish of architectural experimentation it once was. But though China and the Middle East may hold out the promise of endless possibility, a tabula rasa view of urbanism also seems to have returned to the work of many practitioners, including some included in the first part of the exhibition. Though absent from the show, these locales are hinted at, perhaps inadvertently. A model of Peter Eisenman’s Max Reinhardt House, Berlin (1992–93), prescient of the CCTV Tower with its contorted loop form, sits in the center of the room, prompting the question: Has Koolhaas’ dreamland evolved into a contemporary nightmare?