Renzo Piano completes his first New York commissionn the three-year, $106 million renovation and expansion of the Pierpont Morgan Library. Julie V. Iovine observes how Piano preserves the intimacy of the original but risks losing some of its immediacy by making it a crowd-pleaser. Photography by Dan Bibb.
On April 29, a transformed Pierpont Morgan Library rejoins the Manhattan museum scene, a landscape much-altered itself, both physically and psychically, since the Morgan closed for renovation three years ago. In that time, the beloved, ebulliently gaudy house-museum has undergone a vast makeover by Italian architect Renzo Piano who, when commissioned for the job in 2000, had an avid insider following and has since become a bona fide international superstar. Meanwhile, the newly gargantuan Museum of Modern Art has shown that critical skepticism has no bearing at all on popularity. Culture in general has taken a drubbing at Ground Zero (Drawing Center evicted; Frank Gehry's performance hall aborted; Snnhetta's Freedom Center nullified), underscoring the reality that no one puts particular stock any more in the power of art to uplift. J. P. Morgan would have been mortified.
After all, the Morgan Library was the rich man's sanctum and treasure horde turned tenderly over to New Yorkers so that they might be bettered through contact. And people have been passionate and personal about the place ever since. In the early 1990s, Paul Goldberger, then architecture critic at the The New York Times, described the experience of visiting as both tranquil and intense. Who wouldn't be entranced by the McKim, Mead & White portico and rotunda, the lavish H. Siddons Mowbray murals, the brocaded walls and gilded swags? John Russell, former art critic of The New York Times, dreamed of being locked overnight inside its walls. It's no surprise considering what it contains: drawings by Rembrandt, da Vinci, DDrer, and Degas; three Gutenburg bibles; one of only two extant copies of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur; Mary Shelley's own annotated copy of Frankenstein; architectural plans by Inigo Jones; etchings by Piranesi; JRR Tolkien kvetching in letters about the Hobbit; jeweled bindings; illuminated manuscripts galore; and on and on.
Piano was charged not with enlarging but rather, as he put it, rebalancing and rethinking the institution which had grown somewhat haphazardly over the years into a three-plus-building sprawl. He called his method micro-surgery.. Adding 75,000 square feet, even with more than half of it underground and the rest in the shape of a glazed- shed-covered piazza plus pavilions jimmied around the extant buildings, is hardly micro. The medical analogy is, however, apt because like cosmetic surgery, Piano has masterfully preserved the original while partially smoothing, even immobilizing, its vital lifelines.
The grand covered piazzaa or atrium is the centerpiece of Renzo Piano's design for the expanded library
Two balconies extend into the space, and some staff offices overlook it, but are glazed for acoustic privacy.
The Morgan Library is new and improved all right; in fact, Piano (with the local collaboration of Beyer Blinder Belle) has rendered it perfectly into one of the most au courant of building types: the destination museum. Whether Piano's Morgan has the power to incite passionate allegiance, much less a desire to be locked inside overnight, is more doubtful.
It could not have been an easy job. Bartholomew Voorsanger tried in 1991 with a $40 million expansion and courtyard. And let's not forget the ill-fated invitational competition of the late 1990s with Steven Holl Architects, Tod Williams Billie Tsien & Associates, and Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, which was abruptly cancelled. Piano had declined to participate but offered his services in case perfect solutions didn't materialize. Now, 15 years and $106 million laterrVoorsanger's and a few other minor additions razed without a traceethe library has been transformed again. Voorsanger's glass court might have been unloved, but it could not be considered a total failure; it did brisk business in party rentals, netting as much as $15,000 for evening events. Piano's renovation is not about adding square footage but, as director Charles E. Pierce, Jr., said in 2002, about providing greater public access.. The Morgan's new high-impact spaces are bound to be in great demand (and the fee for rentals sure to be higher))a goal that many institutions have come to share.
Piano's scheme is sublimely serene. He has treated the Morgan's three main buildingssan 1852 Renaissance Revival brownstone, the 1906 McKim mini-Met and its pared down twin, the annex of 19288as the corner anchors to his central focus, a glass-enclosed, light-filled piazza.
At the edges of the atrium space, he has inserted several elements, varied in scale, homogenous in material, and visible as connective tissue between old and new. The inserts are made of rolled steel panels painted off-white (press materials say they are rose-hued but on a sunny afternoon it looked powdery white to me). The largest piece encompasses the new entrance on Madison Avenue, which leads through a spacious cherry-wood clad tunnel directly to the piazza. A new gallery and reading room are located on the floors above this entrance volume. The smallest addition is a 20-foot cube, containing a gallery, tucked between the original McKim library and the annex. Though it's been cited in earlier articles as a climactic moment in Piano's design, it does not have the inscrutable impact promised by its perfect dimensions, at least not for this visitor. And curators may be hard pressed to take full advantage of its modest space in any way other than as a showcase for one singular item at a time, albeit, displayed to shine in all its glory.
Before making a beeline for an unoccupied caff table in the piazza, visitors will be tempted to descend a wide stair gaping downward at the lip of the entrance passage. Those who give into the urge will view a steel-encased treasure-holding vault sunk three stories into Manhattan's bedrock schist. Neat. Sunk below, too, is a new 280-seat performance hall. One enters at the top row of a steeply inclined auditorium baffled in slightly curled chips of cherry wood. The space is more elegant than expressionistic, a wonderfully intimate spoken-word stage.
J. P. Morgan's wood-paneled music room (below, right) will now hold the bookstore.
So what's missing then? Crowd-pleasing (event-friendly) piazza and caffécheck. Sculptural object cubeecheck. Cool performance space, naturally. A fancy restaurant and much-expanded shop are a quick detour right off the entrancee good plan. Oh, yes, the collection. Barely encountered. To actually find the prizes for which the library is so well known, one must wander a bit. A narrow vaulted passage to the right and set back from the entrance leads past an old elevator bank to two spacious galleries (and a gallery hall, once the museum entrance) in the old annex. In the far corner off the piazza, J. P.'s original library and study have been restored to full robber-baron Rococo style. And then there's the new gallery on the second floor of the entrance pavilion. For the inaugural greatest hits exhibition, some 300 objects will be on display through out the museummthat's less than 0.09 percent of the 350,000-piece-strong collection. So much for increased public access.
The vast majority of the new 75,000 square feet of space is underground, and accessible via a staircase located just past the entrance.
The new Morgan oozes the calm elegance of masstige modernism. On a smaller scale, it employs many of the same moves as Yoshio Taniguchi's MoMA, such as a vertically compressed, horizontally expansive entrance giving way to breathtaking volume. Instead of procession, the experience is more like scaling levels and discovering views of where you were a moment ago. Whereas Taniguchi used bridges, Piano has two balconies alongside a Hyatt-esque glass elevator peering over the piazza. Both capture unexpected and refreshing views of the buildings beyond (though the balcony off the reading room is accessible only to those with reading room passes).
And like the Museum Tower coming down to ground undisguised in the main lobby of MoMA (as if to holler, Don't forget me!!), so too do the three old Morgan buildings reveal themselves in the new atrium space. It's a little bit like catching a glimpse, from the knee down, of a giant whose head is in the clouds. While MoMA is all about pumping visiting hordes out of the central chamber into the building's arteries and galleries, Piano, despite having been called a poet of circulation,, seems content for people to stay put in the voluminous piazza. Unquestionably, the Morgan will become a cool place to meet and hang out (although at the moment, the only seating seems to be at the caff's tables). The light filtering in through complex but not particularly high-tech skylights (another Piano trademark) will be delicious. Staff offices have been allocated generous spaces in the 1852 Italianate brownstone with some walls sheered off and glassed over in order to give some lucky employees vistas of their own; a conservation studio is tucked up and out of the way at roof-top level.
The new Morgan is purre-perfect, blemish-free. People will flock to get in. And yet on a recent sunny afternoon, the piazzaasurrounded by limestone, electronically shaded glass, powder-coated steelllooked deadly calm. The Morgan has acquired a seamless, beautiful new mask. What may be lost is the quickening, possibly even vulgar, feeling of excitement that one man wanted to impart to others by sharing his precious treasures with the world.
Julie V. Iovine writes frequently for The New York Times and other publications. She is the features director at Elle DDcor and architecture critic for AN.
6 Original Library
7 Staff Offices
8 Reading Rooms
9 Performance Hall
The Pierpont Morgan Library
Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Beyer Blinder Belle Architects
F. J. Sciame Construction Co.
Robert Silman Associates
Curtain Wall: Front, Inc., Gartner
Acoustics: Harvey Marshall Berling Associates, Kahle Acoustics
H. M. White Site Architects
Lighting Designer: Arup
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Renzo Piano completes his first New York commissionn the three-year, $106 million renovation and expansion of the Pierpont Morgan Library. Julie V. Iovine observes how Piano preserves the intimacy of the original but risks losing some of its immediacy by making it a crowd-pleaser. Photography by Dan Bibb.
Modernism's focus on individual artistic expression has led to extraordinary buildings like Louis I. Kahn's Yale art gallery, Frank Lloyd Wright's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Peter Eisenman's Wexner Center for the Visual Arts. Each represents an attempt by its architect to try what had never been done before,testing the limitsof architectural form and building technology. Their progressiveness, however, made them more susceptible to depredation. And unlike most preceding architectural styles, with their familiar materials and construction techniques, modernist buildings require unique analysis and solutions as novel as those that brought them into being. The recently completed renovations of the Yale Art Gallery and Wexner Center and the Guggenheim's current facelift bring them into the 21st century while providing an opportunity to revisit landmark moments in architectural history.
Left: Lionel Feininger / courtesy Yale Unversity Art Gallery Archive. Center: Ezra Stoller Esto. Right: Jeff Goldberg Esto
Yale Art Gallery
1953, Louis I. Kahn
Left: Patty Carr Studios / both images courtesy Yale university Art Gallery archives
Left: View of the Yale Art Gallery staircase, 1952.
Right: View of the building from the north or garden side, ca. 1953354.
BY JOSEPH GIOVANNINI
Something about modernist buildings keeps them from aging with grace. They do not look better patinated by time, nor more picturesque when barnacled with accretions. Their purity does not accept the accidental event that might add character on a traditional building. Their abstraction is a demanding, high-maintenance mistress who would prefer to stay forever unblemished.
The Yale Art Gallery by Louis Kahn, finished in 1953, will be receiving its AARP card in a couple of years. The half-century has not been kind to this landmark of modernism, even though Yale is well-practiced at maintaining its rich architectural patrimony. The university's benign neglect has, over the decades, taken its toll on the gallery, which was not only a seminal work by an American master, but one that kicked off Kahn's career and Yale's historic turn to modernism. It was the flagship building that set the precedent for other Modernist buildings at Yale,, said Jock Reynolds, director of the Yale University Art Gallery. We also think of it as a great artwork.. Kahn's gallery is a masterpiece of understatement.
On Chapel Street, its undecorated brick facade meets the Italianate Gothic Swartwout building, a part of the museum complex, and defers to its elegant arches. Kahn's brick, austere in its planarity but gentle in its coloring, is a foil to the decorative complexity of the adjacent wall, and a datum of simplicity for the new gallery itself: A stairway up to an entrance between two planes of the bronze-colored brick cleanses the visual palette, and prepares the visitor for the nearly devotional space within.
Kahn was a master of environmental tone, which he modulated through his choice of materials and his handling of light. Just beyond the entrance, the architect achieved a nearly religious aura in the cylindrical concrete stairwell, where a triangulated staircase rises up to light that suffuses the interior of the drum. The cylinder and a nearby prism of smooth-faced concrete block, which contain a service core of bathrooms and an elevator, were the only forms articulating the gallery's otherwise-open loft space. He conceived the ceiling as a tetrahedral space frame made in concrete, which floats out, freespan, to the glass-and-steel perimeter walls.
Over the decades, two forces eroded the integrity of the design. Pressed for room, the museum started cannibalizing the interiors, adding offices and storage areas within the galleries; the sunken sculpture garden was roofed over in the same desperation for additional square footage. The encroachments reduced the purity of the galleries and obscured the geometric clarity of the concrete cylinder and the block prism. The divisions of space started to impede the way you saw the building,, said Reynolds. Administrators also plastered sheet rock over the concrete block service core and the entire south wall, diminishing the sense of material gravity in a space whose tone was defined by the sobriety and light-absorptive qualities of concrete.
The spatial distress inside was matched by the cumulative failure of the glass facade. By today's standards, the original wall system was elementallsupported simply on a solid steel frame that conducted cold in and heat out. At dew point, condensation formed, and anticipating the water, the architects actually detailed a gutter pan at the floor that would catch condensate running down the steel. In theory, the radiators next to the pan would evaporate the water. Over the years, however, the water corroded the steel. Furthermore, each bay of the window wall did not have enough tolerance for expansion so the glass wall deformed the edges of the concrete slab, which in turn resisted the pressure, sending bending forces back into the wall. Numerous panes of glass failed.
Yale hired the New York firm Polshek Partnership to restore the building in the first phase of a larger program to create a master plan for the arts district on the campus. Though Kahn's gallery was the youngest of the three buildings that make up the Yale Art Gallery, it was the neediest. The environmental systems, toooHVAC, lighting, communications lines, securityyalso needed to be updated.
In what must be the most gratifying aspect of the restoration, Duncan Hazard, partner in charge, and project manager Steven Peppas removed the structures squatting in the galleries to reveal the loft-like spaces. At the same time, they peeled the sheet rock off the smooth-faced block, reestablishing the materiality of the wall and its tonal impact. The architects also removed the roof over the original sculpture garden, which when restored, will be occupied by a site-specific piece by Richard Serra.
The window wall was the most tortuous problem in a difficult project,, attested Hazard. The troublesome steel frames are being recreated in aluminum, with the same profile, but with a thermal break. We built in more allowance for expansion in the connections,, said Hazard.
Another difficult task was updating the building systems. Kahn laid the electrical conduits, HVAC ducts and lighting tracks over the tetrahedral ceiling before pouring the concrete floor slab above, and the architects found it difficult and labor intensive to replace or rework the ducts and conduits within the closed cavity. They managed to snake in new sections of light track by using short sections. Cables for security systems and communications that had been surface-mounted over the years were also laid up into the cavity. The dimensions in the cavity between the ceiling and floor above offered little forgiveness.
What director Reynolds called the absolute simplicity and minimalist sensibilityy of the building was the root of the problems in its restoration, which is scheduled to be complete next year.
It's amazing how difficult the project has been,, noted Hazard. Buildings from the 1950s and 60s are tremendously difficult to work with because there's no place to hide anythinggthere's no pochh, as in traditional buildings. In modernist structures, everything is simple and exposed, making it very difficult to bring in new services. Maintaining that purity is very tough when trying to bring it up to 21st century standards..
The architectural archaeology in this extensive $44 million restoration yielded insights into Kahn's design. You could retrace his design process and see how he figured things out,, said Hazard. He was working out certain details for the first time, like corner conditions, where he turned the interior back to accommodate a window..
There are brilliant solutions, like placing a heating pipe at the bottom of a cavity in the wall at the front of the building, so that the heat would rise and lift the moisture out of the wall,, added Peppas. That wall looks as good today as it did when it was built..
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the restoration is the controversy latent in the confrontation between the imperatives of restoration and today's curatorial expectations that the white box is the best viewing environment. Properly restored, Kahn's galleries are not white boxes. Kahn's spaces have an almost preternatural serenity about them that are unusually conducive for seeing art, but in their materiality and character, they are not neutral. In Yale's desire to restore the building to Kahn's intentions, the university is assuming a radical position that critiques the white box in the same way that Kahn himself posited his original critique. In general, museums like white hanging walls made of sheet rock,, said Hazard. We're not going to have that..
The museum, instead, is going the full nine yards, recreating Kahn's pogoo wall, a moveable wall-panel system with adjustable poles, spring-loaded at top and bottom, that hold the panels in place by compression. The architects are also uncovering the long south wall (opposite the north window faaade) to reveal the original smooth-faced block. They will add a discreet hanging rail so that pictures will hang on wires. We're interested in expressing Kahn's original materiality,, said Peppas.
The effort at restoring a national architectural treasure also masks the controversial fact that fully half the perimeter is glazed. Windows, of course, are usually discouraged or at least minimized in contemporary galleries. The architects have, however, invented a solution that satisfies curatorial demands for protecting art: They simply conceived the interior as a light bank that receives a safe, calibrated amount of light over the year. Motorized black-out shades will drop after closing hours, eliminating a source of deleterious light. Light-permeable scrims over most windows further reduce the total amount of light banked. Scrims over windows in spaces where collections, such as sculpture, can tolerate light, will be left open.
Far from being simply a feel-good restoration of a known and celebrated architectural quantity, the restoration of Kahn's art gallery resituates the building in the polemic about what constitutes a desirable or optimal viewing environment. The gallery exemplifies a persuasive argument that there are valid alternatives to the supposed neutrality and objectivity of the white cube. Fifty years later, Kahn weighs in again with his brilliant argument about designing for subjectivity in space.
joseph giovannini is a writer and architect who divides his time between New York City and los angeles.
The Yale Art Gallery while under
renovation last year.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1959, Frank Lloyd Wright
Kathryn Carr SRGF, New York
BY DAVID D'ARCY
It took seventeen years to get the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum built on Fifth Avenue. For the five decades that the museum has been standing, exterior maintenance has consisted mostly of painting. Now the spiral is covered with scaffolding, and the exterior is finally being studied for eventual repairs that are projected to finish in late 2007. The extent of the work is yet to be determined, but the price has been set at about $27 million, ten times what it cost to build the inverted spiral that opened in 1959.
The project is still in its study phase, said the architects from Wank Adams Slavin Associates LLP (WASA), who will do the preservation work. In March 2005, sensors were placed on the building's exterior to measure contraction and expansion. In December, the paint was stripped off to reveal the concrete walls underneath: vast Twombly-esque abstract surfaces with scratched patterns and cracks that look like beginnings of Clyfford Still crevices. Architects are now studying these mostly vertical cracks, and trying to determine their causes before any repairs begin.
It was a challenge when it was built almost 50 years ago. If we had to build it today, it would still be a challenge, because of the geometry of the building, the construction techniques, and the use of concrete to the extent that it was done here,, said project architect Angel Ayon of WASA.
Part of the building's uniqueness stems from Wright's goal to make its form a continuouss uninterrupted pattern of circles, spheres, and a ramp that spiraled upward. Those continuous elliptical walls that we all know about are walls that he didn't want to put expansion joints in. As a result, there is a lot of cracking,, Ayon noted.
The 6-inch walls are made of Gunnite, a sprayed concrete mixture. Our goal is obviously to keep as much original material as we can and then to do a minimal intervention, first to understand exactly what's wrong, the extent of the damage, and then how to repair it in the least obtrusive way,, said Ayon. A lot of the work we do is based on having done similar buildings. You develop a tool chest of problems and repairs. This building is so unique that we have to approach it from scratch..
Cracking had been a problem since the concrete was poured, Ayon said, noting that Wright had used a vinyl-based paint called the cocoonn in the hope that the coating would breach the cracks. Yet cracks were always visible, as were abrasions, bubbles, and craters in the concrete under the paint, even 12 coats later, in 2005. In the 1990s, studies based on limited samplings examined the cracking. What's different now is that the team can remove the paint and study the extent of the cracking,, Ayon said.
Structural engineer Robert Silman, also part of the team, doubts that the cracks pose a structural risk: The risk is only that, as a crack opens, water gets into it and the water can cause corrosion of reinforcing steel. Over a long period of time, it's a maintenance headache. Will it cause a collapse? Not likely.. Silman said that a laser survey, underway as this article goes to press, will indicate where the building could be under stress.
Exterior cracking is the most visible problem. The terrazzo floors on the interior ramp are also cracked, the rotunda suffers from condensation (an annoying dilemma for anyone operating a climate-controlled space), and the front of the building, on the upper levels of the spiral near the skylight, is moving forward for reasons not yet known. The sidewalk, which Wright embedded with stainless steel circles (which, like the building, are landmarked), is also set for renovation. It was repaired in 1992 as part of the renovation that included the museum's expansion below ground.
The momentum for repairing the exterior seems to have come from one individual, Peter B. Lewis, the former chairman of the Progressive Corporation, who has now contributed $15 million to the project. Lewis was chairman of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation from 1998 to 2005, and he donated a total of some $90 million before resigning his chairmanship in a dispute with Guggenheim director Thomas Krens. Lewis thought that Kren's expansion policies were draining the foundation's resources. It is the building, after all, that is the museum's most valuable work of art,, said Lewis.
Lewis was always an admirer of the Frank Lloyd Wright structure but he was also, he noted, always conscious of how badly the toilets worked.. Lewis offered $15 million towards the renovation, and the board subsequently came up with an additional $5 million. But it still isn't clear whether that will be enough. Lewis said last spring. The building needs a lot of work, and whether $20 million is enough remains to be seen..
The insurance mogul was right. An additional $7 million came from New York Cityyabout $5 million by early 2005 and an additional $2 million around the time of last November's mayoral election. The project is overseen by the Paratus Group, the firm that Lewis designated as owner's representative which reports to Lewis and Guggenheim vice president Mark Steglitz.
When the project was initially conceived, a strong and comprehensive maintenance program wasn't in place,, said Jon Maass, an architect with the Paratus Group. The repair policy up to this point was, If it's dirty, if it's faded, if there are cracks, add more paint to it.' What will be part of this project is not only fixing what's underneath the paint, but designing a more comprehensive maintenance program for the museum. The public may see more maintenance on the building on a regular basis as opposed to just putting more paint on..
The official story from the Guggenheim is that the broader renovation proceeded in stages, beginning with the construction of the current tower on the northeastern corner of the site and the renovation of the Frank Lloyd Wright interior, opened in 1992, which was followed by the renovation of the below-ground theater, now named the Peter B. Lewis Theater in recognition of his $15 million gift for that project. The exterior was always next, say Guggenheim officials.
There was never a sense that this was urgent, in the way that the interior restoration was. It looked fine,, said Anthony Calnek, a Guggenheim spokesman. Every time you scraped away the old flaking paint and repainted it, it looked pretty good. It was sort of the last thing that needed to be done. You go from the most urgent thing to the least urgent thing.. Yet the architects working on the building say the exterior was disfigured, with cracks widening just above the entrance, and hardly looked fine..
Once the work is done, sometime in 2007, the Guggenheim will open an exhibition devoted to Frank Lloyd Wright and the building, organized by junior architecture curator Monica Ramirez-Montagut.
Yet the experts stress that it's still uncertain what they'll be celebrating. The exterior finish now is pretty rough and ready. You could see a lot of blemishes through the paint,, said Robert Silman. When the sun struck the building at a very flat angle, all of these blemishes showed. To me it's not very handsome. I don't think there's a paint that would cover them. It doesn't look at all like the interior spiral, which is beautifully smooth, like sour cream. The ramp wall is just gorgeous..
I can't imagine that Mr. Wright wouldn't want the outside to look like that as well, but it never did,, Silman said. Will our repairs be invasive enough that it's going to require us to do some kind of patching of the outside? What will that patching look like under the paint? We don't know what we have to do yet, if anything..
david d'arcy is a regular contributor to the art newspaper.
The Guggenheim Museum's scaffolding follows the curve of the spiral.
Wexner Center for the Visual Arts
1989, Eisenman Robertson Architects
Jeff Goldberg Esto
BY JAYNE MERKEL
When Peter Eisenman's Wexner Center for the Visual Arts at Ohio State University opened in 1989, admirers lined up to get the architect's autograph, a series of famous artists performed, and the Ohio State Marching Band paraded from the new art center to the football stadium.
When the Wexner Center reopened last fall after Arup's three-year, $15.8 million renovation, the architect was nowhere to be found. A series of performances took place, and supporters of the institution came from miles around, but there was no parade. Architecture, it turns out, is a complicated business. Having a famous, challenging building had been deemed worth the inconvenience and expense, but having this particular famous, challenging building was also, obviously, a mixed blessing.
How could a 13-year-old, $43 million building possibly require a three-year, $15.8 million renovation, largely financed with state funds ($14.8 milion from Ohio Sate University, $1.3 million from the Wexner Center Foundation) at a time of rising tuitions and cuts in student loans?
A university press release cautiously explained why: The new curtain wall system results in significant improvements over the original, both in terms of light levels in the galleries and in temperature and humidity controll[It provides] a threefold improvement in air filtration over the original, which was built to the best 1980s standards. The new system also specifies thermal and condensation resistance tests that were not widely available in the 1980s. The skylight was entirely redesigned, including its unusual dual-directional slope, to better manage rainwater and protect the exterior seals and glazing gaskets. The new curtain wall framing systemmsignificantly improves the thermal performance of the curtain wall. The curtain wall and skylight glass have been upgraded from the best material available in the 1980s (1-inch dual-pane glass) to contemporary high-performance material (1 5/8-inch heat-strengthened, low-iron triple-pane glass, with inert argon-filled air spaces, reflective coatings, and other features). The new glass reduces visible light to curatorial standards via transmission and diffusion filters and removes ultraviolet light via PVB interlayers. It also benefits the temperature and humidity control in the galleries..
We are not talking about an ancient hut sheathed with animal skins here. Surely building technology has not leaped forward so dramatically in a decade and a half that such drastic measures should be necessary? What the press release did not say was that all this was necessary because the roof leaked badly, the original curtain wall subjected works of art to ultraviolet glare, and the inside temperature could shift as much as 40 degrees.
And while innovative buildings do often encounter technical difficulties, not all innovative buildings do. Eero Saarinen's, for example, have survived astoundingly well for over half a century even though almost every one used new materials, structural systems, or technologies. On the other hand, university officials are rarely wild men. If they decided to make an investment of this kind, they must have decided that the building was worth its weight in gold.
The Center for the Visual Arts (as the project was initially called before Leslie H. Wexner pledged $25 million) was not a building created to house an existing institution. It was conceived to create energy on and draw artistic activity to a campus known more for its football team than anything else. Ohio, unlike other midwestern states, does not have one major dominant university, like as in states like Michigan. Instead, there are half a dozen state schools with various strengths and appeals. Ohio State is the biggest research university and has many solid departments, but its flat, spread out campus is not very lively, and the school was not known for academic excellence or artistic daring. Also, Columbus did not have major art museums like Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo. The Wexner Center has helped change all that.
Peter Eisenman (who was practicing with Jacquelin Robertson at the time) won the commission to design the center (with capable Columbus architects Trott & Bean) in a highly publicized national competition in 1983, edging out finalists Arthur Erickson, Michael Graves, Cesar Pelli, and Kallman McKinnell & Wood. It was Eisenman's first major building. And since his scheme and that of his old friend Michael Graves were easily the two most successful, it amounted to a contest between modernist and postmodern approaches and a duel between friendly rivals.
Working as a critic in Ohio at the time, I was initially attracted to Graves' entry, which was eminently sensible, occupying an ugly underused site, elegant, and dignifiedda proper museum on a proper site. But Ohio State didn't need a museum. It didn't have an art collection and was not likely to get one. It needed an energizer, something to get people excited about the arts and about life on campus, and the Eisenman Robertson scheme did just that.
It slashed between two existing buildings (2,500-seat Mershon Auditorium and Weigel Hall, which has a 770-seat theater) at a 12 1/2-degree angle, aligning itself with the city grid beyond the campus confines instead of the campus grid, which is slightly ajarrtherefore, symbolically at least, tying together town and gown. It resurrected the crenellated towers from a medieval-style armory that had once occupied the site, but the scheme housed most of the facilities in a glass-walled cruciform grid where sloping corridors overlap with exhibition spaces.
The building definitely stands out on the campus, in an interesting and inviting way. And its wider impact was enormous. When it opened, schemes with shifted grids appeared on student drawing boards throughout the nation.
Although it was not suitable for the exhibition of many works of art, Syracuse University architecture dean Mark Robbins, who served as the Wexner's first curator of architecture and also showed his own work there, said, I liked the active quality of the space. As an artist, I liked being able to play off the errant structural system. The building was flexible when we mounted exhibitions that had been organized for more traditional spaces..
The only thing that rankled him was that there was not enough space for the staff. It had been cut from the budgettnot surprisingly. The original budget for the center was $16 million. By the time it was completed six years later, it had cost almost three times that.
Some of the practical problems at the Wexner are attributable to the fact that when it was built, it had no strong client voice, as represented by a museum director or curators to insist on appropriate light levels and other criteria.
Eisenman has often suggested that once he has finished a project, he is finished with it. New York Times reporter Robin Pogrebin seemed scandalized at his apparent lack of remorse for the many leaks and faults in the Wexner; an article dated September 18, 2005, quoted him as saying of his buildings, Once they're up, they lose any magic for me..
The energetic current director, Sherri Geldin, also finds it mysterious that the architects did not consider these things. But she said, Still, I love this building. It has made so many things possible.. It seemed essential to correct its deficiencies. And correct they have: some of the most important elements of the new Wexner are indistinguishable from the old. According to principal Nigel Nicholls of Arup, his firm went to great pains to make sure that the curtain wall, which is so central to Eisenman's design, looks no different from its predecessor, though it functions in a much more efficient fashion. They maintained the notational system Eisenman developed for the glass panels, in which the panes darken or lighten depending on what is behind them, but reduced the overall light levels inside. Nicholls explained, There was too much light inside from day one, so we kept the relationship of one shade to another while shifting them all down the scale..
The Wexner Center story dramatically raises the question: What does a building need in order to be considered great, important, or significant? Is it enough to be interesting, or does it also have to be, as Mies believed, goodd? Architecture, especially greatt architecture, really needs to be both.
Jayne Merkel was architecture critic of The Cincinnati Enquirer in the 1980s and reported on the Wexner Center competition for Inland Architect.
During its three-year renovation, the Wexner Center for the visual Arts' curtain wall (below) had to be redesigned to reduce light levels in the galleries and to stop water damage. Arup was charged with making it look as similar as possible to its 1989 appearance.
Architecture criticism, whether written for the profession or the general public, has one primary purpose: to parse the good from the bad. Of course, criticism involves much more than thumbs-up, thumbs-down assessments. Architecture is far too complex, demanding analyses on far too many levels. The critics interviewed here describe how their varied concerns—technological, political, ecological, cultural—have shaped their approach to a field they helped create. Meanwhile, a new generation of critics are joining ranks in what Ada Louise Huxtable calls "an uphill battle," setting out to prove that responsible criticism benefits not just the profession but society at large.
Ada Louise Huxtable
Born and educated in New York City, Ada Louise Huxtable pioneered the field of architecture criticism in the United States. In 1963, she became the architecture critic for The New York Times, a position she lobbied her editors to create, and which she held until 1982. She's still active today, at the age of 84, serving since 1997 as architecture critic at the Wall Street Journal. Over the course of her long career, she not only traced the trajectory of modernism, preservation, and urban development but influenced it.
Huxtable had worked as an assistant curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art from 1946 to 1950. She was a Fulbright scholar in Italy in 1950 to 1952, extending her research on modern Italian architecture, which she began as a master's student in architectural history at the Institute of Fine Arts. She emerged as a critic at a time when cities were in crisis, losing their built patrimony in the name of modernization and renewal. She built a mass audience for architecture criticism by bringing reason and passion together in straight-talking—sometimes sarcastic, always sophisticated—prose. When she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1970, her field was validated and papers across the country rushed to add architecture to their critical and journalistic beats.
Her newspaper columns are anthologized in Kicked a Building Lately? (Quadrangle, 1976), Goodbye, History, Hello, Hamburger (Preservation Press, 1986), and Architecture, Anyone? (Random House, 1986). She is also the author of The Unreal America (New Press, 1997), and Frank Lloyd Wright (Penguin, 2004).
What was the attitude toward architecture criticism when you were starting out?
There wasn't any! I'm proud of the fact that I convinced The New York Times that it needed to have an architecture critic. The very first thing I wrote for the Times, even before I started freelancing for them, was a long letter to the editor. This was 1959. The Sunday art section had a praising review of a photography show of a modernist housing project in Caracas. I had just been there and saw the project and the residents were having a terrible time—these were people from the countryside, having to deal with elevators and an alien type of architecture. The paper published my letter in full. Not long afterward, I got to do a cover story for the magazine, on the Guggenheim. I was terrified.
You were freelancing for the Times before they named you the critic. What shaped your story ideas and why do you think they grabbed your editors' attention?
I felt New Yorkers were entitled to more than they were getting from developers. There was so much building in the city but there was a total lack of understanding or care about architecture. I had just gotten married and my husband [industrial designer Garth Huxtable] was part of the team designing the interiors of the United Nations. I was just fascinated with architecture and construction.
The Times had plenty of real estate coverage. There were constant press releases about new buildings, all full of praise. These all came from real estate developers; at that time, there were no publicists for architecture. And I'd go to the editor and say, Good buildings don't just grow on trees, you know.
One day I walked in to see Lester Markel, who ran the Sunday magazine. I remember I had a notebook with a list of all the stories the Times was missing. Well, you tell an editor what he's missing, and he pays attention. I was a young, brash, believing woman. You have to be very naive. I was fixated on what I was interested in, so it didn't occur to me that you didn't barge in on an editor and ask for what you wanted. You have to give the Times a lot of credit.
How much input did your editors have in what you wrote?
Because they didn't know anything about the subject, they pretty much took anything I would suggest. And papers are always hungry for copy. Remember, too, this was a time of urban renewal and the total destruction of Lower Manhattan, when the beautiful warehouses on Front Street were being torn out for street-widening and Greenwich Village was being threatened. Most of the writing was crisis-oriented. You were crusading.
The paper didn't think we could do opinion pieces unless we first reported the facts of a story, so I would write news stories and appraisals that would appear in the daily newspaper. Then my critical columns appeared on Sunday. My criticism pieces were never edited because I was given the title of critic immediately. I don't know how it is at the Times today but back then, critics were edited for length and style. They never meddled with content.
After 10 years, they invited me to join the editorial board. I stopped writing for the daily paper and only wrote the Sunday opinion. That's when they hired Paul Goldberger to write for the daily paper.
How has the role of the architecture critic changed over the years?
The role is the same but the emphasis has changed. A critic has a lot of responsibility. It is largely informational and educational—to let the public know what's going on in the large and small issues and to let them know the difference between good and bad, how to distinguish a work of art. Today, I think the emphasis is too much on chasing celebrities, which has emerged all through society.
I want people to understand that architecture is an art. It's been my life's battle, to increase awareness of the field. But the way things have gone ...don't wish for what you ask for! Architecture is definitely more in the public eye today than before, but I don't think it's understood any better.
How do you deal with any controversy your pieces elicited?
It was always difficult but I'm not capable of doing anything else. I'm of a generation that was not brought up to work in a man's world, to deal with jealousies—I'm fairly thin-skinned. But the Times was always wonderful. There were times that powerful people demanded meetings with the publisher to protest my pieces.
One time, a developer pulled a big advertising section because of something I wrote, but I was never blamed. The publisher only asked me, "Do you have all your facts and are they right?" It's a great lesson for all critics. You've got to have all your facts.
My feelings of insecurity were always before I wrote. I would worry, "Am I going to be able to write this piece?" And I'd work doubly hard. I remember one the first pieces I wrote about Colonial Williamsburg. I wrote about how much of it was wishful thinking, how much was destroyed to build it, and how it was a false form of preservation that denigrated real history. I heard that later that they put up a sign there that read, "Ada Louise Huxtable is a Tory!"
Who do you consider your audience?
I don't really ask myself that question when I'm writing. If you have enough belief and pleasure in what you are writing, and write in an understandable manner, then an audience finds you.
One complaint I've heard from lay readers about architecture criticism—particularly of Herbert Muschamp's writings—is that they think they must have a background in the field to understand it.
That is the fault of the people writing it. A lot of writing has been self indulgent, really. You can imagine how I feel about it. The Times didn't know better, I suppose. It's as innocent about the field as anybody. Architecture criticism is still an uphill battle. That's why the responsibility of the critic is so great. It's the way my editor, Clifton Daniel, felt. He trusted me. He always said, "I knew if you got in trouble I'd hear about it soon enough."
I think my approach works for a changing field. I'm not dogmatic or doctrinaire. I stay open-minded. If you're rigid, you can't be a good critic. I wouldn't be in it if I didn't feel optimistic. I'm still full of wonder, I still love it. I like seeing what's going on with vernacular architecture now, for example. And the arguments over 2 Columbus Circle show that the preservation movement is upside down right now. When they compare its loss to that of Penn Station—I've got smoke coming out of my ears! It's not being lost, it's being transformed. I live and believe in the present. I don't live in the past and you can't live in the future. That's why I'm basically a modernist.
Cathy Lang Ho is an editor at The Architect's Newspaper.
In an attempt to legislate an impossible balance between a profitable city and a livable city, New York has created a monster—call it Frankenstein zoning. The process by which good intentions and innovative practice are turned into an urban nightmare has been gradual and technically arcane. But what has been happening, insidiously and overtly, is that the whole idea of zoning has been turned upside down. It has been subverted from a way to control building bulk and size to a method for getting bigger buildings than ever.
If that seems like an anachronism, it is; exactly the kind of overbuilding is being encouraged that the law was designed to prohibit. The result, which is just beginning to be visible, is the rapid appearance of ranks of oppressively massive, sun- and light-blocking structures of a size that we have never seen in such concentration before. Their outline and impact appeared first on Madison Avenue from 53rd to 57th Street, with the 42-story, block-long Tishman building from 53rd to 54th Street, another tower across Madison at 55th Street, and the gargantuan AT&T and IBM buildings, from 55th to 56th, and 56th to 57th Street. This enclave of blockbusters was joined by the huge Trump Tower looming on the Bonwit Teller site at 56th and Fifth.
When the first of these immense projects designed under the city's revised 1961 zoning regulations appeared, such as Olympic Tower on Fifth Avenue or Citicorp on Lexington, they seemed unique; as singular structures they were more interesting than overwhelming. As a standard to be replicated, however, they have become cautionary examples. What must be understood is that this wave of bigger-than-ever New York buildings is not some overreaching passing fancy. It is the new and future norm. The bottom line is that the developers build what they are permitted to by law.
These new buildings, therefore, are equally revealing of the manipulative, negotiable, and mutable art that New York's zoning has become. And because what New York does in zoning is emulated by the rest of the country, whether it is innovative and constructive or dangerous and foolish, other cities will probably follow an example that has evolved from a reasonably system of controls, including creative attempts to balance restraints with public amenities, to an ad hoc exercise in horse-trading that is a clear environmental disaster.
When Allan Temko started writing for the San Francisco Chronicle in the early 1960s, he didn't see himself as a regional critic, despite outsiders' perceptions to the contrary. Back then, the city was a fast-growing metropolis, the Golden State's financial capital. But Temko hardly limited his writings to the region. He wrote a book on Eero Saarinen and countless articles for Architectural Forum (he was its West Coast editor), Horizon, and other magazines. Still, Temko, now 81, is best known as an activist who unhesitatingly took on anything that threatened the Bay Area's soul—the first designs for the San Mateo Bridge, for example, and the horrendous plan to criss-cross San Francisco with freeways. Without Temko's voice, the Bay Area would be markedly different, and decidedly less beautiful, today. Fifteen years have passed since Temko left his post. One realizes, talking with him, that the people he wrote about were often his friends, despite his reputation for making enemies. He was admired, even by his targets, for his ability to place design in a cultural context he so clearly loved.
How did you become a critic?
When I left Columbia University in 1947, my professors helped me get an American Lectureship at the Sorbonne. I was in France, teaching American literature, for seven years. Most of this time, I looked at Gothic churches, which to me had everything—rational structure and daring new forms to suit new conditions. But I also saw modern architecture, like Le Corbusier's. Because there was no good book in English on Notre Dame, I wrote one. [It was published by Viking Press in 1955.] Lewis Mumford edited it. When I returned to the U.S., he suggested I do what he was doing for the New Yorker, but for a mass audience. I knew the executive editor of the Chronicle, Scott Newhall, so I went there.
What's changed since then?
In the 1950s and 60s, people talked about painters, sculptors, and politics. Now they talk about buildings, spaces, and important environmental problems. The need for good criticism has never been greater, but if you look around, it seems mighty sparse. There are some outstanding critics, like Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune, but not many writing today understand activist criticismm the need to get out there and fight with fang and claw. With a big metropolitan paper, you can accomplish a good deal. Looking back, we were much better at stopping bad things than creating good things, but we were far ahead of other metropolitan areas, especially when you consider our resources. One big difference between being the critic of the Chronicle and being one for a great newspaper like The New York Times is that New York is really unmanageable. Here, it was possible to have an effect—to stop the freeways and keep Fort Mason and the Presidio from being ruined.
How were you edited at the Chronicle?
Newhall read my things. So did the city guys, the assistant managing editors, and if they couldn't understand something, I'd rewrite it. They were good stand-ins for the public. Newhall encouraged me to be controversial and shielded me from the owners. When the architect of Pier 39, Sandy Walker, sued me for $2 million, the Chronicle defended me. Actually, Bill German, then the executive editor, told me that if I lost, the paper would pay half! The suit was thrown out, but Walker appealed. When I learned that the case was back in court, I asked Chronicle executive Phelps Dewey why I hadn't been told. "We want to win this thing," he replied. When you're trying to stop something, you have to go straight for the jugular. Most critics today don't have that instinct—but neither do their papers. I'm vain enough to think that I could have stopped the whole Bay Bridge fiasco if I hadn't been ill.
What influenced you as a critic?
My years in France led me to see art and architecture as expressions of great civilizations. I always cared about heightening the public's sensibility. I wrote for the educated public, but I wanted everyone else to be able to understand my articles and enjoy them. I saw my role as achieving better design for the whole region. I might have been the only architecture critic in this period who looked at cities at a larger scale—even as large as, say, the Bay Area's seashore, which became a national park. Today, you can walk on public land along the ocean for 50 miles north and south of San Francisco. That wouldn't have happened without people fighting for it, and stopping things like the nuclear reactor that PG&E wanted to put on Bodega Head. I played a big part in these initiatives, writing articles and then getting the Chronicle behind them. They were great victories. But I took on causes that ran the gamut—protecting Frank Lloyd Wright's store on Maiden Lane from retrofitting, sparing Market Street the mediocrity of the early design for San Francisco Center, taking Silicon Valley seriously, helping make the Presidio a national park. That's an appropriate range for a critic.
Did you make enemies?
Sometimes I was a bit harsh. People say I was brave, but that wasn't the point. It sold newspapers. It still would today but, despite media's resources, there's still not enough serious coverage of architecture and planning. One big difference is that when I was writing, I was often speaking for the paper as an institution. I would write a critical piece and then I would write an unsigned editorial for the Chronicle that supported my stance. Without that endorsement, there's no way I could have accomplished what I did.
What do you think of today's critics?
There are very few people writing things that you'd remember the next day. Part of our purpose, after all, is to be entertaining. Architecture is like tennis—there's a small group playing at Wimbledon, and the rest are playing on the neighborhood courts. Which is not to say that the small courts don't have big players. When I started as a critic, San Francisco was a magnet for good architects. Richard Rogers was among them—he appeared on my doorstep one summer, saying, " Lewis Mumford sent me,"—and I got Chuck Bassett to sign him on at SOM. That influx of talent gave us Bassett in my generation and Stanley Saitowitz in the next—architects whose work is original and unique but which also reflects what they found here.
John Parman co-edits "Commentary" for San Francisco's LINE.
All that is maddeningly incompetent, stupidly complacent, brutally insensitive and almost incredibly extravagant in San Francisco—a city that perhaps did know how to build in William Howard Taft's time, but would be hard-pressed to erect a decent municipal doghouse today—is epitomized in our New Era Airport, which in fact is one of the most old-fangled, inconvenient, and wastefully designed air facilities in the nation.
As a gateway to San Francisco, it should be blazoned with the inscription of Dante's Inferno: Abandon all hope, ye that enter. For if this is the best we can do in the way of large public works that, precisely because of their staggering cost, are supposed to serve long-time needs, we had better give up hope for the future environment in this part of the world.
Rather than inaugurating a new era, this sprawling assemblage of malconceived and coarsely executed structures is already obsolete. Almost certainly the entire terminal—which even in its unfinished state measures about half a mile from end to end, and may yet be extended farther—will have to be extensively rebuilt if not totally demolished when the supersonic jets go into operation. Yet by rough estimate the city has thus far sank $45 million in terminal and parking facilities alone, and the end is not in sight.
The Public Utilities Commission—a veritable citadel of mediocrity—is cheerfully prepared to spend as much again, or more, to complete the master plan, which to me is not a plan at all, but a gross improvisation at the taxpayers' expense.
Surely this colossal boondoggle warrants a Grand Jury investigation, such as the one which yielded such fascinating information concerning the genesis of the late Charles Harney's multimillion-dollar beauty, Candlestick Park.
But the public is entitled to know who, precisely, made the efforts which saddled the city with the most unwieldy airport of its size in the country, and why a comparable metropolis, Washington, D.C., obtained at substantially lower cost a resplendent terminal in every way vastly superior to our own. Above all, we should find out what is wrong with the building procedures of the city government, and try to set them right before more damage is perpetrated. For in recent years we have been suffering from an onslaught of architectural butchery that might be likened to a St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, administered by self-righteous hacks.
The airport, in truth, is merely one of a series of so-called civic improvements—the Geary Street expressway is another, and so is the new Hall of Justice, which is the most unjust building in town—which re really public excrescences.
Paul Goldberger joined the staff of The New York Times in 1972 at the age of 22, and a year later was named architecture critic of the daily paper. For nearly 10 years, Goldberger was the junior critic under the paper's esteemed senior critic, Ada Louise Huxtable. Shortly after ascending to the role of chief critic in 1982, he won a Pulitzer Prize (in 1984). As critic for nearly 25 years at the newspaper of record, Goldberger was often a champion for architectural values in the civic realm and at other times, an easy target for those who considered his views one and the same with the Times. During the heady 1980s, he was one of the few critics who wrote favorably about postmodernism, fueling a lively debate that pushed architecture further into the public's consciousness.
In 1997, Goldberger left his New York Times post to succeed Brendan Gill as the New Yorker's architecture critic, a position he holds today, simultaneously serving as dean at Parsons the New School of Design. Goldberger has proven to be one of the most prolific and long-standing critical voices in New York.
He is the author of several books, including most recently Up From Zero: Politics, Architecture, and the Rebuilding of New York (Random House, 2004).
How did you get started in criticism?
I had been interested in architecture since I was a kid. I remember when, once for my birthday, some family friends gave me a subscription to Progressive Architecture, which I found amazing. I didn't understand what was in it but I read most of it and found it very enticing.
I love architecture and I love journalism. And I wasn't very good at making up my mind about which of those professions I wanted to pursue because each one seemed to exclude the other. So I was lucky enough to find the place where they intersected.
Who influenced your criticism?
I went to Yale and studied architecture with Vincent Scully, who played a huge role in shaping my sensibility. If my eye was formed by anybody, it was Scully more than any other individual.
How did you end up at the Times?
I went to the Times first as an editorial assistant on the Sunday magazine. And I really missed architecture, and then I started to do freelance architecture pieces for the Times and elsewhere. But I was increasingly restless being away from architecture. And then I had an amazing opportunity, which was the chance to move within the Times, to become the architecture critic.
That's quite a leap.
It was quite a leap. I use the word lucky a few times. At the time, Ada Louise Huxtable was at the Times. She had been there for many years but she was moving to a new assignment—part time on the editorial board, and part time, she would continue to be the senior architecture critic. So they were very deliberately looking for someone who would be a number two to her. Not someone who had a huge independent reputation. If I had had a more established reputation, I might not have gotten the job. My guess is that she encouraged her bosses to choose somebody who would be quite junior to her, so there's no question who the senior voice was. And I fit the bill.
How did you go about picking your topics?
I was young, eager, loved the opportunity to put my passions into print and would do anything. And the Times had, and still has, a vast appetite for copy. The needs were enormous. I recall very few instances of being told, "No, it's not a good idea. Don't do it."
When you wrote a review, did they ever question your opinion?
I don't remember that happening too many times. The Times has traditionally been pretty good about backing its critics. I recall having two arguments with the executive editor while I was there. One was a piece about the Art and Architecture building at Yale. The editors thought it was too arcane. It was the only time I was ever told that. I was never told that about my writing any other time.
There was another thing that had nothing to do with the newspaper—a freelance piece in another magazine about the truly wretched design of the Times newsroom. This was the first time they re-did it to accommodate the first generation of computers. Big carpets, tile floors and horrible lighting, and fake-wood Formica furniture. It was really tacky. The executive editor was quite upset, and thought I was disloyal. As an employee, I was supposed to say positive things about the newspaper, no matter what.
When you were starting out, were you self-conscious about the role or responsibility of an architecture critic?
An architecture critic has a lot of authority but not much real power. Power is a much more raw and direct force. Authority is respect and trust. I don't think architecture critics have the power. It used to be said that The New York Times theater critic can close a Broadway show. Well, that's power. But nobody tears down a building if an architecture critic doesn't like it.
The most important responsibility of the critic is not to be stupid, not to be vicious, and not to be ad hominem. And I don't believe I've ever been any of those things as a critic. I was never interested in attacking people as people—I only wanted to discuss the work. Negative reviews are often interpreted as personal attacks, which obviously they are not.
Frankly, as I look back at what I did at the Times, I am proud of all of it. The things I might redo are not the times when I was too harsh on something, but situations where I think I was too kind and too generous, too patient and too forgiving.
You're willing to admit you're wrong?
I've been wrong on some things. I think I've been a little bit too generous about good intentions. Therefore what errors in judgment I've made over the years have come from the mistake of putting too much weight on good intentions, which can bring bad results.
What's the most important quality for a critic?
I would say a combination of a passion and a thick skin—two things that don't always go together. Angry responses or reactions are part of the territory. I am the happiest when people realize I'm just doing my job. I would hope [angry readers] would not personally direct their anger to me.
Speaking of having a thick skin, are you friendly with Michael Sorkin today?
Yes, we actually are. I have great respect for him. The issue on which we probably had our nastiest arguments was Times Square, many, many years ago. And that's probably—if I were going to give you any example where my inclination to think in terms of good intentions rather than results was most manifest—it was in my writing on Times Square. I was far too slow to realize how badly conceived that project was, and how bad [Philip] Johnson's design was initially. I don't believe I was wrong in thinking that the basic premise of the master plan was basically right—it was basically right. The basic design schemes were terrible, and I was much too forgiving of them.
Was it the thick of postmodernism that clouded your judgment?
I think that might be right. And I think I was probably a bit more forgiving of postmodernism in general, too, because that, too, was about intentions. In the end, most of that stuff was no more than transition architecture to wean us away from something. Now we've come to a much more mature modernism, a more intelligent modernism.
How has the role of the critic changed since you've left the Times?
Everyone interprets the role differently. I don't think the role or obligation changes very much. The critic of the Times plays a very central role in the civic dialogue of New York.
How is your job different now writing for a weekly magazine?
It's very different. At The New Yorker, we don't try or aspire to be exhaustive. We don't try to cover everything. The New York Times has an obligation to cover everything. It's like, "If a tree falls in the forest and Times is not there to write about it, does it make a sound?" It can tire you out after a while. But at the New Yorker, we just write about what interests us, and what, over the course of the year, would make interesting types of pieces.
Andrew Yang is an associate editor at AN.
The first thing you think when you see the new luxury apartment building at Astor Place—a slick, undulating tower clad in sparkly green glass—is that it doesn't belong in the neighborhood. The tone of Astor Place is set by places like Cooper Union, the Public Theatre, and the gargantuan former Wanamaker store on Broadway: heavy, brawny blocks of masonry that sit foursquare on the ground. Louis Sullivan once described one of Henry Hobson Richardson's great stone buildings as a man with virile force—broad, vigorous, and with a whelm of energy. The new building, designed by Charles Gwathmey, is an elf prancing among men.
Of course, cities are often enriched by architecture that seems, at first, to be alien: the pristine glass towers of Mies van der Rohe and the sylph-like bridges of Santiago Calatrava have brought grace to countless harsh, older cityscapes. But this new building, which is on one of the most prominent sites in lower Manhattan, does not have a transforming effect. If, as Vincent Scully proposed, architecture is a conversation between generations, this young intruder hasn't much to say to its neighbors. Its shape is fussy, and the glass facade is garishly reflective: Mies van der Rohe as filtered through Donald Trump. Instead of adding a lyrical counterpoint to Astor Place, the tower disrupts the neighborhood's rhythm.
In an inelegant way, Gwathmey's building has exposed a truth about this part of lower Manhattan: inside those rough-and-tumble old masonry buildings is a lot of wealth. By designing a tower with such a self-conscious shimmer, the architect has destroyed the illusion that this neighborhood, which underwent gentrification long ago, is now anything other than a place for the rich. The thirty-nine apartments inside the Gwathmey building start at $2 million.
It is a paradox of the New York real estate market that nothing breeds gentility like harsh surroundings. Once, it all happened indoors—grimy factory floors in SoHo became expensive lofts. Sleekness was a private pleasure, not a public display. But the pair of exceptionally elegant glass towers designed by Richard Meier that went up on the western reaches of Greenwich Village a few years ago changed the rules. High-gloss modernism, preferably attached to the signature of a famous architect and dropped into an old industrial streetscape, became the hottest thing in Manhattan apartment architecture since Emery Roth invented the foyer.
Michael Sorkin started his career in criticism writing for the Village Voice in 1978 and went on to write the alternative weekly's architecture column for ten years. In the Voice's permissive, freewheeling editorial environment, he developed an unflinching, pugnacious writing style—indebted as much to the gonzo journalists of the 1960s as to iconoclasts in the design fields, from Archigram to Jane Jacobs to Robert Venturi. He quickly became notorious as a silver-tongued antagonist of the architectural elite. Taking Philip Johnson to task for his Nazi past, as well as admonishing The New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger (one of his unforgettable pieces was titled "Why Paul Goldberger Is So Bad: The Case of Times Square"), Sorkin is the embodiment of the fearless critic, becoming a hero to many (and a thorn in the side of a few).
Since his Voice days, Sorkin, now 57, has continued to write, as well as practice and teach. In all his work, he has consistently championed environmental issues, sustainability, and social justice. With his regular contributions to the Critique column in Architectural Record, Sorkin continues to serve as the profession's voice of outrage—and of moral reason.
Currently, he serves as director of the Graduate Program in Urban Design at CCNY, a program that he founded. His New York-based architectural practice, Michael Sorkin Studio, continues to promulgate his idealist, socialist vision in both practical and theoretical projects. His Village Voice columns are anthologized in Exquisite Corpse (Verso, 1991) and most recent book is Starting From Zero: Reconstructing Downtown New York (Routledge, 2003) and he is currently preparing five other titles, including Indefensible Space: The Architecture of the National Insecurity State (Routledge), Work on the City (Monacelli), and Fifteen Minutes in Manhattan (Reaktion Press).
Why and how did you get started as an architecture critic?
I first started writing about architecture in college, but I had always been interested. My mother gave me a copy of [Lewis] Mumford's The City in History when it first came out, which was always a touchstone for me. For years I thought Vallingby [the Swedish sustainable New Town] was the omega point of urban civilization. Fortunately, I finally saw it! Having always been interested in both architecture and writing, criticism was a natural progression. When I got to New York I quickly started writing for the Village Voice, which allowed me to indulge another of my ardors, left-wing politics.
Do you feel that left politics was much more of a cultural motivator when you started? And did that carry over into the architecture writing of the era?
Absolutely. I was under the spell of the doughty Marxism of the day. But there was very little architecture writing at the time—almost none in the daily press. Ada Louise Huxtable was the major exception, but there was very little architectural journalism in general. There were a few influential documents around—Archigram magazine, The Whole Earth Catalogue, and Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture—that were beginning to unsettle the moribund architectural climate from very different directions.
Did you have any other influences?
My prose style was certainly influenced by an undergraduate subscription to Private Eye Magazine, which authorized a certain latitude for the ad hominem, not to mention egregious punning. And then there was the triple whammy of Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs, and Rachel Carson, who provide a lovely synthesis of architecture, city, and environment.
How do you choose your subjects?
I have no specific method for choosing my subjects. Part of it is looking for the social meaning of the formal. Part of it is settling scores. And part is just defending one's taste. I've always been a designer as well as a writer so part of my project has always been to advance the agenda of my fellow travelers. And the Voice is a local paper, so I wrote a lot about New York.
Speaking of the Voice, did your editors there have much input in terms of subject matter or the tenor or your articles?
Almost no input in terms of subject matter. It was quite a free situation. They were always happy when I went for the throat, of course.
Who do you consider your audience?
The profession, for starters. Many of my books are directed a little more broadly—to the remnants of the left as well as to a wider circle engaged in urban and environmental struggles. I do feel a bit parochialized, writing primarily in the architectural, rather than more broadly-based, media.
What do you see as the primary role of the architecture critic? And how has it changed?
I see my primary role as an advocate for urban civilization and the planetary environment. That's the big picture. The smaller picture is writing about people, objects, and places I love. That hasn't changed. Of course, the performance of critics fluctuates with the seasons. The majority of critics nowadays are simply flacks: There are too many fashionistas and too few street fighters. We've been taken up into the culture of branding. I think that it is possible for architecture criticism to embody resistance, but it seems in most cases that irony and analysis stops short of availing an original position. People are too accepting of the will of the leviathan and they want their piece of the action.
Do you think that the same can be said of architecture these days? In which case how do you feel about the state of architecture?
I have mixed feelings. Most architecture and criticism is driven by motives too limited, by the bottom line or branding. But both are public projects and my architectural practice and my writing are always concerned with their social effects, their contribution to a more just environment. While I don't believe that architecture creates democracy, architects aren't mindful enough of the distributive effects of planning, the way in which architecture organizes privilege and equity. I think it's important for architecture to make propaganda for a better life, to resist the horror of Bush-world. I truly loathe the smug surfer culture that seems to be in the saddle these days.
Aaron Seward is Projects Editor at AN.
Reports of the death of modern architecture appear to have been greatly exaggerated. This, at any rate, seems to be the drift of the Museum of Modern Art's newly hung Transformations in Modern Architecture. The show has been breathlessly awaited by the architecture set for many years. When, everyone wondered, would Architecture and Design director Arthur Drexler make his move? While fierce controversy roiled over the fate of the modern movement, the museum remained strangely quiescent, almost aloof. The factions raged furiously, each hoping to win the museum to its cause. After all, MoMA virtually made modern architecture in America with its famous show of 1932, and a likewise definitive stand could conceivably have a similar impact today. For Drexler, the opportunity was enormous.
But so was the pressure. Anybody with any sense knew that old-fashioned modern architecture, with all its imputed evils, had to go, but what would replace it? The megastructural maniacs seemed to have been suppressed but did that mean that we were to have the quaint eclecticists or the nouveau neo-classicists? All that was certain was that everyone, except the most unreconstructed Miesians, was yapping for a change...
Still, MoMA temporized, hedging its bets, keeping up but never summing up: All hope for clarification was pinned on Transformations. Designers trembled over drafting tables, pens nervously poised, waiting to be told what to do next. Expectation was apoplectic; fortunes hung in the balance. Seventh Avenue shows a collection every season and the air is electric every time. The Architecture and Design Department makes a major statement only a few times in a lifespan. What was the word to be?
Alas, MoMA copped out. The show is like Hamlet on matte-board: Drexler couldn't make up his mind. Instead of a Cultural Revolution we get "Let a Hundred Flowers Blossom." Instead of leadership, vacillation.
Of course what's really interesting about the compilations is who gets left out. Here, the choices get wiggy. Virtually Philip Johnson's entire oeuvre is included but not a single Alvar Aalto. Anybody could become Philip Johnson given the right historical circumstances but only Aalto could have been Aalto. Vulgarians like Harrison and Abramowitz of Albany Mall fame survive the last cut but Pier Luigi Nervi doesn't even get the court. Is this sensible? Where are those splendid Dutchmen Herman Herzberger and Aldo van Eyck? Where are Steve Baer's Zomes and Bucky's geodesics? Where is SITE? Wasn't the Guggenheim finished in 1959? Some of this seems just plain bitchy. The whole town is asking why John Hejduk's fine work is not to be found with that of the other members of the New York Five, inexplicably reduced for the occasion to Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, Richard Meier, and Michael Graves...Ultimately, though, what do Drexler's peccadilloes matter: Group shows always entail a certain amount of grievance. Let them form a salon des refusés if they want.
Since 1973, Robert Campbell has been architecture critic of The Boston Globe and for many years, has been a regular contributor to Architectural Record's Critique column. At 68, Campbell is a consistent, informed voice on the scene, his writing enriched by his backgrounds in journalism and architecture.
In a September 2004 Architectural Record column, Campbell wrote, "I've always thought that a good model for any critic is Alice, the heroine of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Alice is constantly running into creatures who are crazy—the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit—but they're crazy in a special way. They're obsessed by ideas, and they ignore real-world experience. Alice isn't fooled or overly impressed by her crazies, and neither should any critic be." Campbell's sobriety and unique insight, as one of the field's own practioners, earned him a Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism in 1996 and the medal for criticism from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1980.
Why and how did you begin your career as a critic?
I was an English major and I didn't want to be a professor, so I went to Columbia University and tried journalism in New York for a few years, but I didn't like it. I decided to become an architect, and got my degree from Harvard's GSD in 1967. I had no thought of writing at that point, and didn't write for many years, while I was practicing. I met an editor from The Boston Globe and started writing for the newspaper in 1973. There was a great deal of enthusiasm about criticism at that time. There was an interest in preservation and the era of urban renewal was ending. Ada Louise Huxtable had begun writing for The New York Times in the 1960s and she essentially generated a career path for many others. Other papers were adding architecture critics to their ranks, like David Dillon at the Dallas Morning News and Paul Goldberger, who was already writing at the the Times as well.
What do you feel your role is, as an architecture critic for a major daily paper and at-large-advocate, observer, something else?
The architecture critic is not a consumer guide like other critics. The chief role of an architecture critic is to stimulate and participate in an ongoing conversation about the world we build and live in and what makes [projects] good or bad. When I started, as I said, there was a lot of interest. There have been periods of less interest. Today, it's hot again, but it is all about the star performer—characteristic of the media culture we're living in. This makes it incumbent on critics not to get sucked into the media whirlwind. We must weigh in on important issues. Blair Kamin does this well in Chicago.
What do you think of activist criticism, which Kamin, as well as Allan Temko in San Francisco, advocate?
I certainly think that activist criticism is appropriate and can be a positive force. Blair Kamin and Michael Sorkin, in different ways, are doing this. It is not my temperament to take that attitude, but it's certainly a valid strategy.
What are your feelings about what's going on in architecture today: the influence of computer technology on design, the rise of sustainable design, and other developments?
Certainly, computers are important. Young people are very good at them and they can make shapes that have never been made before. They are playing a game. It's easy to dream up new shapes, but it's difficult to give them meaning.
I am very interested in the growing importance of landscape architecture and the increasing integration of architecture and landscape. As for green buildings, many are largely symbolic. The bigger issues are sprawl and energy, I think. Certainly, symbols are important, and architects should take opportunities to make high-performance buildings that are also visually exciting in ways that are not just arbitrary. The only long-term green solution involves reorganizing the patterns by which we inhabit the earth.
How do you choose your subjects? How do you converse about a subject that many people may not understand?
I intuit what I think will be interesting. No one buys tickets to see buildings, so you have to think about what purpose you serve: to get people thinking and talking about the built environment. You might write about a building because it's great, bad, or otherwise important. I choose all my own topics. As for conversing about a subject that people care about but may not understand, I do the best I can. I enjoy making things clear.
What can be done to enhance the level of architectural literacy in this country, where only two percent of construction involves architects?
The level of architectural literacy is going up rapidly. The subject is in the magazines and newspapers more than before. Maybe people are more interested because more of them are moving from city to city, or because they are all traveling more.
Did you ever change your mind about anything you've written?
Of course I have; many times. But I don't go back to revisit. There's not much room at a paper to say, "I was wrong about that."
Do you think that having been a practicing architect gives you a special understanding as a critic?
Yes, in the same way that art historians or others bring special perspectives. I understand how collaborative architecture is, and the importance of time and money.
What critics have been significant influences for you?
Jane Jacobs was a huge influence, but beyond her, I can't really cite major architecture critics as my biggest influences. My models are from the English literature side of my background: Randall Jarrell, George Bernard Shaw, and Edmund Wilson.
You have talked about how the single-issue experts are to blame for poorly designed cities, and that generalists—such as designers and mayors—should be running the show. Why?
I don't think traffic experts and others should be deciding issues of city design. You need a broader perspective. The age of the expert is over. I think the worship of experts is way down; even doctors and lawyers don't get the respect they once did. But I'm not sure it's been replaced by healthy collaboration. In the the absence of experts, it is possible to get a kind of populist decision-making, or decision-preventing, in which every interest group or individual is consulted and, as a result, nobody can build anything that anyone dislikes. This leads to a kind of bland common-denominator world, punctuated by the occasional star icon.
Kira Gould is a Boston-based design writer.
A critic is supposed to stimulate a dialogue, not be one. So wrote the great Clement Greenberg. I seem to be one of only a few critics around who wasn't crazy about the new Museum of Modern Art in New York. Maybe I'll change my tune after a few more visits; Greenberg reversed his judgments sometimes, and it's greatly to his credittand if I do, I'll perform a mea culpa. But for now...
It isn't that MoMA's bad. There's nothing bad about it. It's just that it isn't good enough. It's elegant, but it lacks life and imagination, and those are qualities we used to associate with modernism.
New museums often open with a blizzard of hype. It's hard for critics not to be caught up in the excitement. Years ago, that happened with I. M. Pei's East Building for the National Gallery in Washington. More recently, it happened with Herzog & de Meuron's Tate Modern in London. I didn't like either of them at the time and I still don't. And I think a consensus opinion, over the years, has borne me out. I say this despite the AIA's recent Twenty-Five Year Award to the East Building. I recall when the East Building opened, the architect Jean Paul Carlhian, who founded the AIA's Committee on Design, said, "It is an airline terminal." It was and it is, with most of the art crammed into residual spaces around the edges of a vast, self-regarding, nearly empty concourse.
Anyway, here are my problems with MoMA:
There isn't any architecture. The design architect, Yoshio Taniguchi, was quoted more than once as saying that if MoMA gave him enough money, he could make the architecture disappear. Unfortunately, he's succeeded. Most of the museum consists of an endless rabbit-warren of more or less identical white-walled galleries with track-lit ceilings. Every attempt is made to remove any sense of the presence of architecture. A typical gallery wall, for example, appears not to touch the ceiling, the floor, or the adjacent walls. Instead all surfaces are divided from one another by a thin recessed shadow line. The effect is to make the wall appear to be floating, without substance. It looks not like a wall, but like a white projection screen. The paintings on it, as a result, begin to feel like projected images. You are in the placeless, timeless world of the slide lecture. Because the wall doesn't feel real, neither does the artwork. You begin to feel unreal yourself. Architecture has failed to create a place that either the paintings or you yourself can inhabit with a sense of presence.
MoMA argues that it was trying to avoid creating a destination building, like Frank Gehry's Bilbao, the kind of building that can upstage its contents. "It's all about the art," one curator told me. But this is a false dichotomy. The choice is not between no architecture and too much architecture. What's wanted is the right amount of architecture. Many museums—to cite a few, the Kimbell and Mellon by Kahn, the Maeght and Miro by Sert, the De Menil, Beyeler and Nasher by Piano, the Bregenz by Zumthor, the Pulitzer by Ando, the Dia:Beacon by Robert Irwin and OpenOffice—all find ways to articulate space clearly enough to give the artworks a place within which to exist.
Deyan Sudjic lives in an elegant Victorian house on the fringes of Regent's Park. In contrast to the opulence of the neighborhood, the room where we talk is rigorously stripped of detail, with austere white walls and a vast bleached wood table—not a book in sight. "Truth is," says Sudjic, " I'm between books right now." His latest, The Edifice Complex (just out in the U.S.) has, perhaps understandably, drained his formidable energies. The book, subtitled How the Rich and Powerful Shape the World, is a visceral, uncompromising analysis of the 21st century uber-architect, whom Sudjic criticizes as venal, opportunistic, only too eager to deal with tyrants.
This critical stance is characteristic of Sudjic, who co-founded Blueprint in the mid-1980s precisely to provide an alternative perspective on the profession. Sudjic also made time to write books, including the highly acclaimed 100-Mile City (Harvest/HBJ Books, 1992), a scholarly assessment of late-20th century urbanism. A supreme networker, Sudjic was named editor of Domus in 2000. His stewardship of the Milan-based magazine transformed it into a truly international forum for architecture, art, and design, which in turn made him an obvious choice to direct the 2002 Venice Architecture Biennale. He has also curated London exhibitions at the British Museum, the Royal Academy, and the Institute of Contemporary Arts. He is currently architecture critic for The Observer, the Sunday edition of the daily newspaper The Guardian.
How did you come to write about architecture?
My father was a journalist and my mother was hell-bent I shouldn't follow in his footsteps. I guess that's why I chose to study architecture in the first place but once at university I was forced to realize the dramatic limitations of my skills—not least during my year out in the Chelsea offices of Chamberlain Powell & Bon, architects of the Barbican complex in East London. I was also editing the student newspaper; Gordon Brown, UK Chancellor and Tony Blair's right hand man, was news editor at the time! Given a dearth of architecture work—this was the early 1980s—I reckoned that writing was, despite my mother's dire warnings, the way forward for me. Peter Murray, then editor of Building Design, gave me my first break. After a year I realized I was having a fantastic time. I certainly learned a great deal more about architecture as a writer than I had done studying it.
It wasn't long before you started Blueprint. What prompted you to do it? Did you feel architecture in the UK was too polite or clubby?
Blueprint was meant to be a bit of fun, a youthful sense that the existing UK magazines were run by managers with only a limited sense of what a magazine could be. It was meant to be a co-op, run collectively. We—the writers, designers, photographers and illustrators who got together to do it—all wanted a new, challenging outlet. I was also keen to broaden architecture's perspective, to make it a part of a wider visual culture, I guess influenced by Domus which dealt with art, industrial design, fashion, graphics, and urbanism.
Of course we were clubby too, but every generation succeeds by trashing their predecessors, so we just started another club. Encouraging good writing was also important.
Can you pinpoint key priorities you bring to your work as a critic?
If you are not entertaining, people will not read you. But that does not mean that you should be shallow. I think that you have a duty to be interesting, and interested, to use your eyes as well as your head. It's also important not to take architecture at face value. I would also rather not accept financial support from owners or architects to travel to see projects, but in the currrent climate of reduced budgets at newspapers and ever-more-far-flung projects it's hard to avoid it if you are going to keep up with the key buildings. Of course seeing them gives you a strange world view: Nobody else, not even the architects themselves, see Herzog & De Meuron in California one week, Daniel Libeskind in Tel Aviv the next, Norman Foster in Beijing the month after, followed by Rem Koolhaas in Porto.
What was the climate of criticism when you started out and how has it changed?
There were great people: Reyner Banham was a marvelous inspiration, in his style, and his range of subject matter, and I wanted to be able to write like that. I wanted to ensure that architecture could get into mainstream newspapers, and that meant having a direct approach—approaching the subject not from the preconceptions of architects or taking the work at face value.
You write today for both the general and specialized reader. How difficult is it to switch tone, frame of reference, et cetera? Do you feel a sense of responsibility to educate your lay audience?
The word "educate" really sets my teeth on edge when applied to journalism. You operate by seducing and surprising your audience into reading you. That means being as stylish a writer as you can, and trying to make sense of complex things in as direct a way as you can. I have not only written for specialists and a lay audience, but I have simultaneously been an editor and a writer—useful in terms of acquiring a sense of perspective.
Have you ever regretted a piece you've written?
I certainly regretted some headlines. By far the worst was for my obituary of Philip Johnson for which some bright spark came up with "A Nazi Piece of Work." There's no going back from that one!
Can you identify key differences between criticism in the UK and that of the U.S., or Italy, where you worked?
These are three very different cultures. Doing Domus I was acutely aware how different the Anglo-Saxon discussion was from the Italian—I could never be sure if it was the quality of the translation, or the sometimes maddening diffusion of the Italian language. Sometimes Anglo-Saxon directness translated into Italian offended people. I remember Mario Botta complaining to the magazine's owner that I had hired a gang of English mercenaries to disparage him. I suspect that Americans think that the British are a bit limited. We do not have the same intellectual rigor. In the newspapers, the U.S. gives its critics more space—2,000 words is common in The New York Times, whereas 800 is a standard length here. Personally I prefer not to write a detailed architectural description, I tend to talk about what a project means, rather than how it looks.
In a recent interview, Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, suggested that the basic principles of a museum should celebrate John Locke's civic humanism. Can you point to leading architects whom you feel champion the notion of civic humanism?
I believe great cities are the product of an exchange of ideas. What I fear most is no conversation, no discussion. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against shift-making buildings, but let's not just grab the next tower off the shelf, dust it off, and build it. There are inspired architects, great architects who want to engage in real ideas. The key thing is to create a forum where that's possible and it's the role of the critic to build that debate.
Do you believe that criticism has a direct effect on the evolution of architecture? Is there, or should there be, a tangible link?
No. As Charles Jencks says, critics are the messenger boys.
Robert Torday is associate director of ING Media, London, and contributes to Architects' Journal and ICON magazine.
Last week the East of England Development Agency launched what it described, with Pooterish grandiloquence, as an international competition to find a visionary plan for a landmark, or series of landmarks. The agency says it is looking for an icon that will foster a sense of identity for the region as a whole—to underscore its message that the East of England, is a region of ideas. All that was missing from its litany of threadbare received wisdom was a passing reference to its world-class ambitions.
No site has been specified, nor has the development agency committed any money to the project, which hardly inspires confidence, but Yasmin Shariff, an architect who is also a board member claims that this piece of wishful thinking is a fantastic opportunity for us to come together as a region and decide how to present ourselves to the rest of the world.
It's not hard to imagine what an Angel of the East might look like, or for that matter, a Lincoln opera house, faced with titanium fish scales, designed by Frank Gehry as a free-form blob, or an eccentrically exhibitionistic Santiago Calatrava footbridge across the Cam as being the sort of structure that the agency is after. Competitions such as this have become ubiquitous, leading all but inevitably to the kind of architecture that looks best reduced to a logo on a letterhead or to the confined spaces of one of those Eiffel-Tower-in-a snow-storm paperweights. It claims to be about inspiration but ends only in the obvious. The search for the architectural icon has become the ubiquitous theme of contemporary design.
Leaving aside the wounding possibility that the rest of the world is likely to remain just as indifferent to the fate of the Fens and Humberside, however they choose to present themselves, as it has ever since the collapse of the wool trade in the Middle Ages, the agency has a fight on its hands. If it is to stand out from an endless procession of decaying industrial backwaters, rural slums, and development areas that are equally star-struck, equally determined to build the icon that will bring the world beating a path to its door, then it must come up with something really attention-grabbing.
This is the way to an architecture of diminishing returns in which every sensational new building must attempt to eclipse the last one. It leads to a kind of hyperinflation, the architectural equivalent of the Weimar Republic's debauching of its currency. Everybody wants an icon now. They want an architect to do for them what Gehry's Guggenheim did for Bilbao, Jorn Utzon's Opera House did for Sydney, and Piers Gough's green-tiled public lavatory did for the Portobello Road.
Fewer than 45 of the approximately 140 newspapers in the United States, with a daily circulation over 75,000 have architecture critics, according to a 2001 survey by the National Arts Journalism Program (NAJP) at Columbia University and only a third of them pursue architecture criticism full-time. Amazingly, cities like Houston, Detroit, and Las Vegassplaces that have undergone huge building booms in recent yearsslack a regular architecture voice. Of the papers that do have critics, half feature fewer than two dozen stories a year; that's less than one every two weeks. And while architecture implicates not just aesthetics and culture but so much elseepolitical economy, ecology, social welfareethese stories are normally relegated to Arts, Style, or Home sections. Thus, as the NAJP study concludes, major buildings and developments routinely go up with no public discourse on their practical or aesthetic meritssthe most public of art forms receives the least amount of arts coverage.. (The study was overseen by Andrrs Szzntt, director of the now defunct NAJP.)
If this state of affairs is lamentable, it's necessary to acknowledge that architecture journalism for the mass public has long been a rarity in this country, with notable exceptions like Montgomery Schuyler at the New York World in the late 19th century and Lewis Mumford at The New Yorker during the middle decades of the twentieth. It was Ada Louise Huxtable, beginning her tenure at The New York Times in 1963 amid that decade's urban upheavals and preservation battles, who coalesced a wide audience for engaged and outspoken architectural criticism. Today, while the issues affecting the built environment are no less contentious or ripe for debate, architecture criticism in its various local venues inevitably finds itself inflected, and distracted, by a far more advanced and globalized culture industry.
The following brief survey of four contemporary critics at high-profile American newspapers is based largely on a reading of articles published over the last year:
Robert Campbell has been architecture critic at the Boston Globe since 1974. Trained as an architectthe received his MArch from Harvard's GSD in 19677Campbell, now 68, garnered the third architecture Pulitzer (after Huxtable and Paul Goldberger) in 1996 for his knowledgeable writing on architecture.. His short-ish articles are conversational, descriptive, and well-mannered. He complains about conservative Bostonn while at the same time betraying a constitutional mistrust of avant-garde pizzazzz; his taste runs to plain old-fashioned modernism.. This doesn't prevent him from acknowledging that Steven Holl's new Simmons dormitory at MIT, if perhaps too inventive,, is daring and beautiful; he likewise reserves final judgment on Gehry's Stata Center, which, despite appearances of being a big, arbitrary sculpture,, reflects serious thinking about how people live and work.. He frequently covers significant events outside Boston, but writes most often and generously about lesser-known architects at home. His interest in architecture as a register of urban and social history is reflected in a regular city sceness feature for the Sunday magazine section on which he collaborates with photographer Peter Vanderwarker.
Blair Kamin is strongly civic-minded and devoted to nurturing architecture culture in his home city. A self-proclaimed activist critic,, he uses the platform he has held at the Chicago Tribune since 1992 not as a bully pulpit so much as a lectern from which to educate the public and to prod architects and municipal officials in socially constructive directions. A graduate of Yale's Master's of Environmental Design program and, like Campbell, a Pulitzer Prize winner (in 1999), the 48-year-old critic has collected his articles of the last decade in a book, Why Architecture Matters: Lessons from Chicago (University of Chicago Press, 2001), that reflects his broad-based but Chicago-centric concerns. Didactic, thoughtful, and judicious, he is given to relative judgments and careful distinctions. Less concerned with architectural form-making as such than its impact on people, he dwells on how skyscrapers meet the ground, the livability of tall buildings, the urban vibrancy produced by the clash of styles in Chicago's downtown. At the same time, in a city dominated during the 1990s by its mayor's retro tastes in civic improvement, he often finds himself arguing for contemporary aesthetics. But the shoddy detailing at IIT's Campus Center irks him, notwithstanding the brilliance of Rem Koolhaas' conception.
Nicolai Ouroussoff is younger than Kamin, at 43. Educated at Columbia's architecture school, he was anointed Herbert Muschamp's successor at The New York Times in the summer of 2004. Muschamp's departure was accompanied by demands for a less star-obsessed, more ecumenical replacement. Ouroussoff was quickly presumed to be in the same mold as his predecessor, however, albeit not as self-involved or flamboyant. Indeed, one of Ouroussoff's debut articles, entitled The New New York Skyline,, applauding a trio of luxury towers by Richard Meier, Santiago Calatrava, and Frank Gehry, picked up seamlessly, jumping on Muschamp's favorite hobbyhorse: Manhattan's skyline was once a monument to the relentless forces of modernity, but for decades now the city's reputation as a center of architectural experimentation has been losing ground to London, Barcelona, Beijing, and Shanghaii? Similarly Muschampian was a shrill attack on MoMA's architectural leadership and, in a tribute to Philip Johnson, a description of the Four Seasons as one of the sexiest rooms in the city, with beaded steel curtains that conjure up a woman's slipp?an embarrassing echo of Herbert's evocation of the Guggenheim Bilbao in terms of Marilyn Monroe's skirts. If Koolhaas for years dominated Muschamp's fevered imagination, Ouroussoff's admiration for Gehry and Thom Mayne has likewise already occasioned a lot of New York newsprint. Nor have international celebrities like Herzog & de Meuron and Coop Himmelb(l)au escaped his appreciative attention as, befitting a paper that sees its beat as the whole world, Ouroussoff has begun to file from offshore datelines. At the same time, a string of recent pieces reflecting a firsthand look at New Orleans, and more generally on preservation and urban revitalization issues from Cairo to Columbus Circle and Ground Zero, are evidence of his willingness to take on challenging issues beyond aesthetics.
Christopher Hawthorne, the youngest of the four critics at 35, was appointed to his post at the Los Angeles Times after Ouroussoff's elevation to New York. A graduate of Yale architecture school, he was previously architecture critic a Slate.com. Hawthorne writes lucidly and forcefully, appreciates the complexities of urban planning and the pragmatics of building construction, and doesn't hesitate to tackle intractable issues like the politics of sprawl. He is interested in the back story, and not afraid to state his opinion, even if it's unlikely to win friends. He reserves a certain irony with respect to high-wattagee architecture, as he calls ittnot that he's hostile to it, just streetwise enough not to swallow it whole. Hawthorne effortlessly combines smart visual commentary with informed historical contextualization. It's hard to say whether his greater-depth approach is sufficiently accessible to the general readership. I'm impressed, though, and look forward to following his writing more closely.
It is hardly surprising that in each case the critic reflects the newspaper and city in which he writes. It is also the case that, while all four write professionally, fluently, and at times with passion and verve, none approaches the commanding intellect and culture of, say, a Mumford, or the witty acuity of a Reyner Banham. Huxtable, in her classic Will They Ever Finish Bruckner Boulevard?? period, used her podium to galvanize a broad base of support for urban improvement, as Jane Jacobs did during the same epoch with her blockbuster Death and Life of Great American Cities. More recently, Muschamp, for all his excesses, was able to grab the public imagination with a maverick style that interspersed flashes of genuine insight and originality. In a more political vein, sharp critics like Mike Davis and Michael Sorkin, contributing to publications like The Nation and the old Village Voice, have attracted loyal adherents, although it's difficult to imagine either of them writing for a mainstream newspaper.
The architecture critic at the general-interest publication has the obligation to write for both a specialist and nonspecialist audience, walk a fine line between advocacy and partisanship, and do more than register new trends. Writing without benefit of historical retrospectionnmost of the time before the project has ceased to be a construction site or computer renderingghe or she has the job of exposing the conditions in which architecture is produced and consumed; to paraphrase Manfredo Tafuri, it's a matter of going backstage rather than continuing to observe the spectacle from a seat in the audience. Beyond this, it helps to love architecture and cities, and to write with a deep knowledge of history, a strong commitment to the public and environmental good, a precise understanding of how buildings are constructed, and (not least) a discerning eye.
Joan Ockman, an architectural historian, teaches at Columbia University and is the director of the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture.
Marisa Bartolucci reads the trades and special-interest magazines,
and sympathizes with architects who say they don't.
This era of kaleidoscopic change shouts out for sagacious critics. We need them to parse the shifting scene and discern imaginative and ethical arcrhitectural esponses. Yet the critical offerings in general interest magazines and the architectural trades are scant. Why some choose to feature criticism, and others don't is bafflinggand depressing. With so much development going on in the city, how can New York magazine be without a critic?
Of what's available, according to this writer's informal poll, little of it is read by architects. Why? Insipid and irrelevant is a common claim. Maybe that's why not long ago a readers' survey at Architecture magazine revealed that its most widely read sections were the editorial and protest pagessthe only places serving up opinion on topical matters.
After perusing an admittedly haphazard sampling of criticism in trade and other special-interest media (i.e., literary, shelter, or weekly publications), I contend there is work out there that's penetrating in analysis, even pertinent to private practice, although little is exhilarating in vision.
Alas, there's no Lewis Mumford on the horizon. (And that may be the fault of magazine editorssgood critics need nurturing.) The Skyline column in The New Yorker long served as the podium for that great thinker. From its heights, he championed Frank Lloyd Wright when others declared him dated; warned against technology dominating human purpose; and railed against the mediocrity of the design for the United Nations Headquarters. (How little things change.)
Today a critic dubbed the great equivocatorr occupies that podium. Although he wields great power, Paul Goldberger seldom strays from consensus views. On occasion, when he does advocate, people listen. A recent article urging that the present plan for Ground Zero be dumped in favor of incorporating cutting-edge residential architecture may have helped galvanize Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to make noises about wresting control of the project.
But if we are not to find challenging architectural criticism in The New Yorker, where else can we look? To the online opinionmaker Slate.com? There, the professorial Witold Rybczynski regularly teaches Beltway readers how to evaluate buildings and understand the forces that shape them. His brief essays range from book reviews to project critiques. An article on why architect-designed emergency housing seldom works was right on the money. But his taste is stale: He applauded David Child's latest version of the Freedom Tower as the best yet.
Until recently, Martin Filler held forth at The New Republic. Why he has absented that post is a mystery and a loss. He is a terrific critic. Flinty principle sparks his writing, which is subtle, but mordant. He insists that great architecture encompasses more than aesthetics. He doesn't shirk from attacking big names.
If the decision makers at Ground Zero had read his review of Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum they might not have mistaken schmaltz for architecture. In a prescient line about the museum, Filler summed up all that would be wrong with Libeskind's Freedom Tower plan: There is such a thing as architecture being too artful for its avowed function, and the Jewish Museum in Berlin is a fine illustration of that conundrum..
While at The New Republic, Filler tackled the usual celebrity suspectssprobably the only ones his Washington-focused editors considered worthy. Every so often, for The New York Review of Books, he contributes long, probing essays on subjects like the rebuilding of Berlin or the rebuilding of Ground Zero. These pieces allow him to show off his ample erudition and his fine eye. Architects, take a subscription.
Meanwhile, in his bimonthly column for shelter magazine House & Garden, his choice of subjects has been eclectic, ranging from a celebration of the planned community of Radburn, New Jersey, to a trenchant critique of Yoshio Taniguichi's Museum of Modern Art. The big new MoMA amounts to little, architecturally,, he writes. It is no small irony that the museum that codified the International Style and thus exerted a profound influence on 20th-century architecture again finds itself in a building markedly less distinguished than the unequaled modern treasures it contains..
Filler's unflinching assessment is noteworthy in light of the vacillating judgments of his peers. In Architectural Record, Suzanne Stephens intrepidly enumerated the $450 million building's numerous flaws, but in the end, still heaped on the praise: It's what the Modern always wanted to be.. Is it any wonder why practitioners don't read these journals? Reportedly, even Taniguchi is disappointed.
At this architecture tabloid, Julie Iovine brings bracing realism to her new Crit column. Last July, she took a detached look at the sudden wave of wildly ambitious urban development schemes being proposed for the city and their suspiciously enthusiastic civic and critical embrace. If such clear-thinking, straight-talking works are what's ahead, this column may become a must-read.
But few publications provide the gritty evaluations of what works and what doesn'ttthe information architects crave because it relates to their practices. This should be a service of the trades, as important as their reporting on the latest developments in materials and building science. Instead, they focus only on presenting glossy images of flashy, big-name projects. These are carefully described, but only superficially assessed. Rushing to publish as soon as the last nail is hammered, as if buildings were the latest Paris fashions, leaves little time to gather reports on how a building functions. Without such information how can true judgments be made of an architect's achievements, both aesthetic and technical?
Architectural Record's regular Critique column features alternating essays by Robert Campbell and Michael Sorkin, which ruminate more than provoke. But sometimes sparks do fly. Last April, Campbell carped about the notion of architecture as symbol. Two issues later, Sorkin ambushed him. It wasn't sporting, but in a series of dazzlingly erudite thrusts and parries, he shredded Campbell's argument.
Face-offs like these energize everyone's critical thinking. Last June, The Prospect, a British monthly, published a series of letters between Deyan Sudjic and Charles Jencks debating, coincidentally, the merits of iconic architecture. Following the divergence and convergence of their views on subjects ranging from aesthetics to professional ethics was fascinating.
The most brilliant critic on our shores may be Sorkin. His essays can take you on a thrill ride through learned discourse, lefty idealism, pop culture, and occasionally, Jewish shtick. Why he never won a Pulitzer when he was at the Village Voice is a scandal. (Huxtable, Temko, Goldberger, Campbell, and Kamin all have them.) Sorkin may be a smarty pants, but he is fearless. He skewered Philip Johnson when he was architecture's minence grise. (Most critics waited until after his death to bury him.) A year ago, Sorkin called Frank Gehry on the moral incongruity of designing a satellite to the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalemma city with little tolerance for its own Palestinian citizens and neighbors. Eminence has its responsibility,, he observed, which extends beyond the realm of professional practice.. An intrepid thinker, a joker, a scholar, a moral iconoclast, Sorkin represents what every young architecture critic should aspire to be.
Certainly, he is a model for Philip Nobel, who has enlivened the pages of Metropolis for the past few years. Nobel sure writes well. Like adolescent love letters, Nobel's columns can ache with emotion. And that's not a bad thing. He makes you believe great buildings matter. But the trouble with adolescents, who like Nobel swing between idealism and cynicism, is they're self-absorbed. No matter what Nobel writes about, it always comes back to him. At times he verges on slipping into Muschampian territory, which can lead, as we all know, to critical oblivion.
Architecture needs smart, brave voices. Nobel's got one. If he can concentrate on substance, he might make more architects into readers. And just maybe improve the profession.
Marisa Bartolucci lives in New York and writes about design.
Vittorio Gregotti ruminates on criticism in Italy, the epicenter of
architectural publishing, and asserts its inextricable link to history.
The state of architectural criticism in Italyyand probably in much of Europeeis rooted in a theoretical attitude that belongs to the tradition of architectural history. The members of this tradition include the critics and historians of my generation, whose most important representative was Manfredo Tafuri, who was a follower of Giulio Carlo Argan, a Marxist and one-time mayor of Rome, and the most important critic and historian of modern architecture between 1930 and 1960. Two other important critics of the 20th century, albeit ones coming from a different and opposing point of view, are Leonardo Benevolo and Bruno Zevi, who despite their scholarship, were inclined to write occasionally for non-specialized public- ations, such as daily newspapers and weekly magazines. A special position within this generation was occupied, too, by Ernesto Nathan Rogers, known for his accomplishments as an architect, editor of Domus, and Casabella, and cultural polemicist.
In Italy, architecture critics, in the strict sense of the term (thus excluding historians and university professors of history), operate in a relatively narrow field because the mass media are not interested in the specific problems of architecture as a practice and culture. Only two daily newspapers in Italy express an ongoing critical interest in architecture: the economics newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore and the general interest La Repubblica. Fulvio Irace writes for the former, while I myself have been contributing to the latter for about 10 years. Of the general-interest weekly magazines, only L'Espresso publishes a regular column dedicated to architecture, which was written for many years written by Bruno Zevi and has been written by architect Massimiliano Fuksas since 2000. Printed articles in other daily newspapers and weekly magazines are both rare and infrequent. Italian television offers few opportunities to speak about architecture; when it does, it is usually in relationship to exceptional exhibitions or events, and done in a very general and superficial manner. When mainstream media does look at architecture, it is to gawk at technical marvels, scandalous episodes of building speculation, and sometimes sociological issues, for example, concerning housing. In recent years, the aesthetic novelties proposed by architects have also generated interest, with special focus on bizarre elements, justified by a generic idea of creativity. Such coverage tends to make architecture resemble objects of mass consumption and entertainment.
Italy naturally boasts a vast range of specialized architectural magazines: Area, the newest and most luxurious publication, is solidly focused on architectural construction; Architettura, cronaca e storia, founded by Bruno Zevi, is now decisively on the wane; Parametro and Abitare, suspended somewhere between interior design and architecture; and Rassegna, which has recently returned with a more aesthetic and technological focus. Op. Cit is a small magazine full of critical reflections that is published in Naples. Lotus occupies a special position because of its thematic format and its attitude towards confronting various issues on a more theoretical level. Giornale dell'Architettura, directed by Carlo Olmo and published every 15 days, appears to be more innovative and aimed at uniting the criticism, discipline, and politics of architecture.
Italy can boast no relevant publications by any architecture school, despite the exorbitant number of studentssroughly 60,0000which is far out of proportion to the actual demand for architects in the country. There are more fashion, furniture, and design magazines that cover the middle ground shared by architects' activities and the problems of architecture.
The saddest story affects the country's two most important architectural magazines, which were once so influential. On the one hand, Casabella (which I myself edited from 1982 to 1996) has lost its traditional critical influence and position in the debate about architecture. On the other, Domus has assumed a conventional and modish take on architecture as fashion. Domus has opened itself to the strong influences of the visual arts or those who wish to substitute buildings with events,, influenced by Koolhaasian sociology of spontaneity.
If we exclude the publications that deal strictly with the history of architecture, even the history of modernist architecture, the architectural essays typically produced in Italy can be divided into two major types: monographs on currently practicing architects (Italian and non) and specifically critical essays. While the specimens in former group are over-abundant, even in the rhetoric of their editorial presentation, examples of the latter are quite rare and tend to receive much less attention. A third type of publication is the architecture exhibition catalogue. In this category, particular importance is helddin my opinion, entirely negativeeby the architectural exhibitions of the Venice Biennale, the Triennale di Milano, or other elaborate, event-like productions, such the 2004 Arte e Architettura exhibition organized in Genoa by Germano Celant, who contributed to confusing architecture and the visual arts, attempting to reduce the first to the second.
Naturally, plenty of writers are producing treatises about fashionable topics, such as computer-generated design, the politics of urban planning, ecology, or general aesthetic trends. These theoretical philosophies are, in general, hurried deductions and poorly interpreted.
The debate between ancient and modern is particularly relevant in the Italian historical-geographical context. It is contested on the one hand by the globalist and anti-contextual ideology that tends to make any work of architecture an enlarged design object, and on the other by institutions that tend to concentrate debate on single, monumental examples rather than dealing with the design of the urban environment or the landscape as an essential part of the actual construction of architecture. In this arena, Salvatore Settis is undoubtedly one of the most seriously involved figures operating at the critical level. The professor at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa and former director of the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art writes for diverse publications, including Il Sole 24 Ore.
Practicing architects write very little, unless it is for reasons of self-justification. If I had to name two writers who are dealing intelligently with theoretically-based issues, I would limit myself to mentioning Bernardo Secchi, who teaches urban planning at the University Institute of Architecture of Venice, for his investigations into urban and territorial issues related to the city and the landscape; and architect Franco Purini for issues dealing with the logic ofarchitectural morphology.
In any case, Italian architecture currently lives a general crisis of uncertainty. It is totally dependent on the ideologies of the global market, marginally concerned with technique and science, and hiding behind the neo-avant-gardism of the diffused aesthetic of consumerism. As a result, critical voices who understand architecture as capable of serving as the foundation for a civil society have become increasingly rare.
Architect, city planner, and author, Vittorio Gregotti is the principal of Gregotti Associati. He contributes the regular architecture criticism column to La Repubblica.
Because the entitlements of loss and grief are the third rail of the [WTC] rebuilding effort, no one has challenged the subversion of the aims and intent of the plan. The parts that speak of hope and the future have not been able to survive the pressure for a single-minded commitment to the tragic past ... No one has had the courage, or conviction, to demand that the arts be restored to their proper place as one of the city's greatest strengths and a source of its spiritual continuity. We have lost what we hoped to gainna creative rebirth downtown. At Ground Zero, what should be first is last. An affirmation of life is being reduced to a culture of death.
Ada Louise Huxtable, Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2005
Rem Koolhaassnow the most overexposed architect since Frank Gehry, is likely to be the token avant-garde contestant. He has already declared his interestt?I seem to be one of the few architects who liked enormously the World Trade Centerr? Self-serving though that tribute to Minoru Yamaski's behemoths may sound, Koolhaas has indeed always indulged a perverse weakness for Nelson Rockefeller's most bombastic architectural boondoggles, particularly those designed by his court architect Wallace K. Harrison, to whose chilly 1950s-style urbanism he paid homage in his retrograde master plan for the French city of Lille.
Martin Filler, The New Republic, September 6, 2002
How skyscrapers meet the ground is as important as how they scrape the sky. It is not encouraging that Calatrava's tower will emerge from a tiered, four-story podium like a stripper popping out of a cake. That is a crude way to bring a skyscraper to the street. It makes this tower resemble a piece of sculpture on a pedestal, fit for an on-the-make, look-at-me Persian Gulf boomtown like Dubai. But this is Chicago, where we don't need to put ourselves on the map. We need great architectureeand the thoughtful civic debate that is essential to creating it.
Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune, July 27, 2005
We have high expectations of our best artists because their work and words carry special weight. It is not possible to build this project [Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem] without an opinion on larger issuessreal issues of toleranceein the region. What is Gehry's? This is not a question of the use of titanium versus Jerusalem stone. It is one of justice.
Michael Sorkin, Architectural Record, June 2004
What twins [Marilyn Monroe] and the [Guggenheim Bilbao] in my memory is that both of them stand for an American style of freedom. That style is voluptuous, emotional, intuitive, and exhibitionist. It is mobile, fluid, material, mercurial, fearless, radiant and as fragile as a newborn child. It can't resist doing a dance with all the voices that say ''No.'' It wants to take up a lot of space. And when the impulse strikes, it likes to let its dress fly up in the air.
Herbert Muschamp, The New York Times, September 7, 1997
If the very idea that has, arguably more than any other, helped define Southern California for a century has been rendered obsolete, what does that mean for the region's vision of itself? Will density spell the end of the unique relationship between Angelenos and their houses? Will residential architecture simply fade as a factor in defining the city in the coming century? The great challenge for the city's residential architects over the next couple decades will be making the old model of affordable charisma fresh and relevant again for a post-sprawl (or even a post-post-sprawl) Los Angeles.
Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times,
July 7, 2005
Even at this early stage, the [planned East River] esplanade is one of the few current projects to give voice to a young generation of architects intent on redefining our vision of the contemporary metropolis. Along with the High Lineewhich transforms a section of gritty elevated tracks in downtown into a public gardennit represents a clear and much-needed break from the quaint Jane Jacobssinspired vision of New York that is threatening to transform Manhattan into a theme park version of itself, a place virtually devoid of urban tension. It proves that there are still some in the city who are culturally daring, even if their numbers at times seem to be dwindling.
Nicolai Ouroussoff, The New York Times,
June 28, 2005
Lincoln Center has sometimes seemed less the vibrant source of the neighborhood's energy than the empty hole in the middle of the doughnut. Often there is more buzz on the sidewalk in front of the multiplex theater a couple of blocks north, or amid the parade of mall-like retail stores that now line Broadway, than there is at Lincoln CenterrLincoln Center needs, desperately, a shot of adrenalinee
Paul Goldberger, The New Yorker, July 7, 2003
Rogers Marvel shows that security design needn't be defensive and formidable. With a holistic design approach, they prove that that there's more to safe streets than bollards and bomb dogs. Sara Moss reports.
Addressing post-9/11 security requirements is now a central part of designing any major urban project. The obvious, and disheartening, reflex is to beef things uppto thicken walls, install barriers, widen distancessa trend most visibly seen in the redesigned Freedom Tower. But building fortresses and barricading streets aren't the only solutions. In two recent projects, Rogers Marvel Architects (RMA) has shown that safety can be integrated in subtle, multidimensional, and even beautiful ways.
In 2002, the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) hired the RMA team after an open RFP process to oversee the streetscape improvement project, which included designing street lighting, furniture, and landscape features, as well as traffic planning. The project was prompted by both the congestion from last stages of building out the neighborhood as well as post-9/11 security activity (such as truck screening), which was making pedestrian and vehicular traffic worse. Security measures were an implicit part of everything they did. It's not healthy to feel like you're a target all the time,, said Rogers. From the beginning, we were talking about streetscapes as the thing to look at and the thing to start with.. The project team also included Sam Schwartz (traffic consultant), Ducibella Venter & Santore (security consultant), Weidlinger Associates (blast and security engineer), and James Carpenter Design Associates (art elements).Rogers Marvel designed a series of bus shelters and glass benches that double as security measures in Battery Park City
|A core of collapsible concrete in front of the bench prevents heavily loaded vehicles get too close to the World Financial Center.|
Addressing how Battery Park City meets its surrounding neighborhood, the designers found themselves deep in solving urban design problems that required large-scale decisions. Improving vehicular and pedestrian trafficcwhich would lessen potential threatsswas a paramount concern. With Schwartz, RMA devised a plan that called for adding raised crosswalks on North End Avenue (between 6 and 8 inches high, they make the street level with the curb). Further down the North End Avenue at Murray Street, they added neck-downss (curb extensions at intersections to slow down vehicles) to eliminate long, unimpeded approaches to Battery Park properties. These keep cars from picking up too much speed as they near the area. They also added truck and taxi lay-bys, areas where the vehicles could wait while separated from the street by barriers.
Even the sidewalks assumed protective powers in Rogers Marvel's scheme. RMA used the existing cobblestone band that surrounds much of the World Financial Center to install a special collapsible fillla kind of concrete that's ordinarily used at the end of airport runways. The fill is sturdy enough for pedestrians but is designed to give under the weight of anything heavy, like a truck bomb. The firm sought advice from the Army Corps of Engineers on the urban use of the material and eventually entered into an agreement to share their research. So many architectural projects start out with form but this is real science,, enthused Marvel. It feels great to be working on this level..
|At night, LEDs illuminate the benches and shelters.|
RMA also infused security qualitiessand hence multifunctionalityyin other elements, like cast-glass and stainless steel benches that are both furniture and illumination. Working with James Carpenter, the bench is luminescent depending on the angle of the sun; at night, it is lit by LEDs. The benches form an axis a quarter-mile long, from the site of the future Ferry Terminal to the World Trade Center site. The elements on the other axis, along North End Avenue, are lightweight stainless steel and structural glass shade structures that are lit from below, also designed with Carpenter. Interlayers in the glass bounce the light back down at night so that light pollution is minimized. One structure provides a shelter at the new dog run; another provides a structure for security workers checking trucks in the street.
After presenting their Battery Park City work to city agencies, RMA asked to consult for designing security for the New York Stock Exchange, which led to a larger projecttNew York Financial District Streetscapes + Security, started in 2003. There, RMA were presented with a very different situation: a landmarked district with many clients (the DCP, LMDC, and EDC) and stakeholders (the New York Stock Exchange, Alliance for Downtown New York, and Bank of New York))all with serious concerns about safety.
|A fountain in front of the New York Stock Exchange (top) which would separate NYSE employees with security clearance from pedestrians.|
Many of the streets in Lower Manhattan have been closed off since 9/11, creating traffic nightmares and logistical headaches for businesses. At the Wall Street intersections, RMA used retractable bollardssa sort of trap-door system that will allow bollards to drop below street grade. However, at Broad Street, tangles of utility lines below the street made this solution nearly impossible (and prohibitively expensive). RMA needed a solution that could be installed quickly and sit within a shallow depth. As in Battery Park City, RMA found their solution on the ground plane. Working again with security experts Ducibella Venter & Santore, and with Quennell Rothschild & Partners (landscape architect) and Philip Habib & Associates (traffic engineering), they came up with a rotating disc that sits level with the ground. With bollards lined up across it, the 20-inch deep disc rotates to allow vehicles to pass by when necessary. In a nod to some of the surrounding historic buildings' heavy old doors, the faceted bollards (which are in MoMA's Safe show) are made of bronze. RMA patented the crash-test rated turntables.
This patent, along with ones for other RMA designs, will be handled by the office's newest spin-off, Rock Twelve, a division for research and patenting of security architecture. Rock Twelve will share resources with TRUCK, RMA's product architecture division. These other divisions permit development of side projects while keeping the firm's main focus on architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design. Rogers stresses that in the end, he and his colleagues are architects, not security experts. Their holistic approach, however, is proving to be popularrboth the Battery Park City and Financial District projects have won numerous awards in the past year.
|Rogers Marvel has taken the sting out of security measures in the Financial District with bronze bollards that double as benches on Wall Street.|
And both are being used as demonstration projects for the development of new FEMA security guidelines. And the firm was recently invited to work on a pedestrian open space project for the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C. We have no ambition to be security guys,, said Rogers, but what we like to do is to be incredibly inventive and solve problems. That's what good architects do..
Sara Moss works on the Fulton Street Transit Center project.
Universities have long served as strong architecture patrons, though the best-known examples have often been secluded, pastoral set pieces for idyllic, semi-monastic educational enclaves. As Sharon Haar observes, however, with the rebirth of the city has come the revitalization of the urban campus. Though urban campuses are confronted with unique problems, such as limited, expensive real estate, they are proving to produce architecture that is provocative both intellectually and urbanistically.
Ask students: The city is in. If at one time America's college-age population was sentt away to school in a cornfield, small college town, or hillside enclave, today they flock to cities, where urban campuses are growing and prospering, making new commitments to their cities, and at the same time enlarging their domain into neighborhoods scarred by urban renewal, urban abandonment, or both. Universities are occupying spaces in the skyline, taking over spaces vacated by businesses that have fled to the suburbs or relocated to more technologically equipped, 21st-century office buildings; they are building new housing and retail developments; and they are finding new ways of partnering with neighboring communities with an aim to avoid the territorial and intellectual antagonisms of the past. And yes, they are building new buildings, many by signature architects.
As towns and their institutions of higher education grew, most often toward one another, the abstract intellectual conflict of town-versus-gown was actualized in physical conflict over space. New York City incrementally chased the fledgling Kings College (established in 1754, which later became Columbia University) to the northern reaches of Manhattan Island, until finally, lodged in Morningside Heights in the late 19th century, the university commissioned McKim, Mead & White to design a campus to protect itself from future onslaught. Many other colonial institutionssHarvard University, founded in 1636 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Yale University, established in 1701 in New Haven, Connecticuttgrew to become inextricably intertwined with their urban contexts. When these schools transformed into research powerhouses a century ago, they set the stage for the enormous boom in campus construction and of student populations. Student bodies have spiked steadily since World War II as a result of veterans' enrollment programs, a shift to a service economy, and later, the baby-boom, the expansion of opportunity for women and minorities, and more recently to accommodate non-traditionall (older) students and the echo-boomerr generation.
Many universities' current urban strategies are the result of hasty decisions, failures of modernist planning and some of its architecture, and universities' awkward participation in urban renewal a half-century ago. Yale and the University of Pennsylvania are hoping that their current participation in community renewal will reverse the urban devastation that occurred in part because of land banking in the 1960s. During that period, many schools cleared land in inner-city neighborhoods for buildings that did not materialize or expanded in ways that disrupted the urban fabric and neighborhood cohesiveness.
In contrast, Columbia University has reached out to its community in the process of planning its expansion into Manhattanville, promising new commercial prospects for the neighborhood and architectural transparency. Its president, Lee Bollinger, contrasts the proposal to the blank walls that the university presents in Morningside Heights. But the process must also be understood in relation to the debacle of 1968, when the school's proposal for a new campus gym in Morningside Park fueled a massive student strike. Student activists linked U.S. involvement in Vietnam with the university's attempt to annex neighborhood public space.
Harvard is banking on its ability to design an entire piece of Boston with its plans for expansion in Allston. New York University and Cooper Union know that the neighborhood of residential spaces they are building or leasing downtown is necessary to keep students streaming in, in spite of impossible real estate conditions that would keep them out.
How do sites that were once anathema to higher education find themselves now so intertwined in the future of American pedagogy? A major factor is the revival of cities themselvessnew strongholds for public architecture, cultural institutions, and models for working, living, and playing. In the 1980s PBS series Pride of Place, Robert A. M. Stern extolled the American campus for being a place apart,, and the New York University cultural historian Thomas Bender stated in his book The University and the City: From Medieval Origins to the Present (Oxford University Press, 1988), The university has always claimed the world, not its host city, as its domain.. But more recently social theorist and New School University provost Arjun Appadurai noted in an interview published in Items and Issues Quarterly 4 (Winter 200332004) that the blurring of the line between universities and corporations and the increasing globalization of students and research networks make cities such as New York ideal locations for higher education. Today's academy is rarely a solitary retreat, despite a losss felt by some faculty.
Perhaps echoing the thoughts of Thomas Jefferson when he was designing the University of Virginia, the architectural theorist Kurt W. Forster wrote in From Catechism to Calisthenics: Cliff Notes on the History of the American Campuss in the May 1993 issue of Architecture California, Lasting institutions like colleges and universities invoke a social rationale for their physical installations, a rationale that speaks to their overarching purposes and helps elucidate the ideas behind their operations. In our culture, we are educated to find in our surroundings the manifestations of character and purpose, particularly when those larger abstractions such as character, purpose, and meaning would tend to escape our immediate grasp.. Architecture is critical to pedagogy. From Jefferson to Henry Ives Cobb, McKim, Mead & White, Louis Kahn, and Eero Saarinen to today's campus designers, the ideals of the campusswhere tradition and innovation, solitary contemplation and global interaction meet and debateemake it an ideal site for inspired architecture.
Sharon Haar is an architect and associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is completing a book, City as Campus: Siting Urban Pedagogy.
Location: 23rd to 26th streets along Lexington Avenue, Manhattan
# of students:15,500 (13,000 undergrad.; 2,500 grad.)
Campus Master Plans:
Davis Brody Bond, 1986
Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, 2001
G Tects, 20044present
|Proposed renovation of Field Building at 17 Lexington Avenue and 23rd Street. A new glass wedge encloses a sculptural stair.|
|courtesy Gordon Kipping / G Tects|
An elegant tower at Lexington and 23rd Street began in 1847 as the first free higher-education establishment in the republic. Over time, it became the anchor of Baruch College. In 2001, when Kohn Pedersen Fox's Vertical Campuss unsheathed 14 sloping stories above Lexington Avenue, Baruch suddenly evoked the fusty philosophy major who'd bulked up over the summer. The Vertical Campus, with running-board details at sidewalk level and glass and brick wings, drew critical praise for giving students a central kibitzing point. In the opinion of Vice President of College Advancement David Gallagher, the sloping tower fulfilled a 1986 Davis Brody Bond master plan by giving the scattered buildings a discernible heart.
Now the school wants to concentrate its burgeoning campus further, and give it a bolder identity. A masterplan, to appear by spring 2007, will chart the unification scheme. The new Baruch, said Gallagher, will weave that building more closely with the old oneesomehow. Whether it's an underground passage or acquisition of buildings, the masterplan will tell,, he said. (Since CUNY relies on annual funding from Albany, Gallagher hedges on Baruch's entering the real estate market.)
Baruch also wants its students (it has 15,500 of them, full- and part-time) to hew closer to campus, potentially with campus dormitories. The school commissioned Gordon Kipping of New York firm G Tects (and Frank Gehry, whom Kipping assists at Yale) in fall 2004 to suggest a format in which buildings might connect. Kipping proposed filling the path between 17 Lexington Avenue and the Vertical Campus with new crowns on two existing courthouse buildings and a new structure with fluid setbacks. His sketchhwhich has no authority over the eventual plannsandwiched 17 Lex's limestone skin in curvaceous glass sheaths. If Kipping's study influences trustees, the new 23rd Street lobby could offer a triple-height atrium space for students. To the public, it would offer Jumbotron views of lectures, with closed-captioning, to let any stroller spend 50 minutes as a student. Let's restore the idea of a free academy,, Kipping said.
On September 15, Baruch named the building for donors Lawrence and Eris Field. Gallagher said the college will issue an RFP for a masterplanning firm on CUNY's approved list, then wait 18 months for the plan. Budgets from Albany and City Hall would dictate the pace of expansion. Gallagher estimated that the unification will take 10 years. By then, Baruch could need another expansionnin cyberspace or Gramercy.
State University of New York
Location: Buffalo and Amherst, New York
# of students:27,276 (17,838 undergrad.; 9,438 grad.)
Campus Master Plans:
Amherst Campus: Sasaki, Dawson and Demay, 1970
Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus: Chan Krieger and Associates, 2002
|Courtesy Cannon design|
The State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo occupies the heart of New York's second largest city. But the school, whose original buildings straddle the city's Main Street, also has a suburban identity: SUNY created a second campus in 1970 in Amherst, just 3 miles north of Buffalo, following the trend of urban flight that shattered most American cities in the 1960s and 70s. The school rejected the idea of expanding its main campus, including a megastructure proposal by native son Gordon Bunshaft and a downtown waterfront annex, instead commissioning Sasaki, Dawson and Demay to create a compact, inward-looking master plan at Amherst.
The Amherst campus features buildings by some of the leading designers of the 1970ssHarry Weese, I. M. Pei, Ulrich Franzen, Marcel Breuerrand it even has a Birdair sports dome. Despite this impressive list, the effect of these buildings on the area was, according to Reyner Banham in his 1981 book Buffalo Architecture: A Guide, has hardly galvanic, nor their style especially Buffalonian..
But the school is trying to reinvigorate Buffalo, according to dean of SUNY's architecture department Brian Carter, by bringing good architecture back to the city center.
In 2002 the university commissioned Boston firm Chan Krieger to create a third center, called the Buffalo Niagara Medical campus, on a 100 acres of downtown land surrounding the university's Roswell Park Cancer Institute. This complex has just seen the completion of the first of two new buildings: Last May, the school opened the Hauptman Woodward Laboratory building designed by Mehrdad Yezdani of Cannon Design in Los Angeles, a 70,000 square foot medical research facility (pictured). This laboratory will connect via a bridge to a second research facility, the 290,000-square-foot Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics designed by Francis, Cauffman, Foley Hoffman of Philadelphia, which opens in December. Both buildings give Buffalo what Banham suggested it needed for a full architectural recoveryynew buildings for economic and functional reasons, but one that are psychologically of high architectural quality..
The campus has also inspired SUNY's school of architectureewhich is located just two subway stops awayyto launch a series of design initiatives on issues dealing with universal design and childhood obesity, for example. This interaction is something that Carter believes can work effectively on an urban campus, where diverse fields can come together to collaborate on research projects.
The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Location: Astor Place, New York City
# of students:900
The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art's unusual tuition-free educational model is the driving force behind the architecture, engineering, and art school's current building initiative. Most colleges rely on tuition as a steady source of income, but since all of the school's 900 students attend at no charge, administrators are always looking for other financial resources to fill the gap. It's a magnificent vision but a terrible business model,, said Ronni Denes, Cooper's vice president of external affairs. Our current plan is geared at leveraging our real estate assets to ensure the school's future financial stability..
The school's real estate portfolio includes desirable properties such as the Chrysler building, whose rents provide more than half of its operating budget. The master plan, devised by a planning committee made up of trustees, aims to increase that percentage by cashing in on its properties concentrated around Astor Place.
Cooper is not expanding like most universities with new master plans, but rather consolidating and modernizing its facilities. Said Denes, It's in our interest to keep the school small and efficient.. Its engineering school will be moved out of an obsolete building from the 1950s and into a sleek, high-tech, nine-story building designed by Morphosis' Thom Mayne (pictured) on the site of the old two-story Hewitt Building at 3rd Avenue and 7th Street, which Cooper leases from the city. The new building will also house the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and a public gallery and auditorium on the ground floor.
The vacated property between 3rd and 4th avenues and 8th and 9th streets will be razed and leased to developers, in much the same manner as the nearly completed condominium designed by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates and developed by the Related Companies at Astor Place. The school will reach out to developers for the project, anticipated to be 14 stories high, once the Morphosis building breaks ground in June. The new building will house Cooper's administrative offices as well as other private businesses. The school's master planning committee hopes to have some review of the commercial development's design, as it did with the Gwathmey Siegel building, and even its clients. According to Denes, Cooper would like to attract businesses with some kind of synergy with the school's academics, such as architecture firms, artists' studios, and biotech companies..
Cooper's master plan does not include any gestures to unify the new buildings with their predecessors like the Foundation Building into a more recognizable campus. Our students don't want to be walled in,, said Denes. We think of New York City as our campus..
City College of The City University of New York
Location:138th Street and Convent Avenue, Manhattan
# of students:12,108 (9,117 undergrad.; 2,991 grad.)
Campus Master Plans:
George Post, 1905
George Ranalli, Architect, 2004-present
|Courtesy of Rafael Viioly Architects|
In recent years the City College of New York has deepened its commitment to architecture and design, recruiting impressive faculty, creating new degree programs (such as the Urban Design Program, started in 2000 under Michael Sorkin), and most notably, building a new School of Architecture, Urban Design, and Landscape Architecture. The $37.4 million building, designed by Rafael Viioly and slated for a 2008 completion, is a gut renovation and expansion of an existing modernist glass box building that houses administrative offices.
With so much ambition and activity, a campus master plan seems long overdue. In fact, a year and a half ago George Ranalli, dean of the architecture school since 1999, was commissioned to produce one. His plan calls for closing Convent Avenue to create a more sheltered campus center, around which administrative offices would be dispersed, rather than lumped together as they are now in one of the college's two large 1970s block-buildings, described by Ranalli as megastructures that need to be broken up..
To Ranalli's frustration, however, his plan is on the back burner while the campus expands, as it has throughout its history, based on immediate needs rather than long-term vision. (In reaction to the school's ad hoc development, Sorkin, who was a member of Ranalli's planning team, has created his own alternative scheme.) We started working on a master-planning process four years ago, with open forums to talk about current conditions but things have not proceeded in a typical way,, said Lois Cronholm, chief operating officer of City College. For example, with the dormitory building [now under construction], we had a need, so we found a way for to fill it, quickly.. The dormitoryythe first for the traditionally all-commuter schoollis being designed by Design Collective, Inc., of Baltimore, and should be completed in 2006. Capstone Development Corporation is the school's development partner; it will manage the facility for 30 years before ownership is transferred back to the school.
In addition to the architecture building and dorm, the school is presently pushing forward with the construction of two additional science buildings, both designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates.
The four new buildings are all located on the college's south campus, a medley of architectural styles that stands in contrast to its historic north campus, a collection of buildings designed in 1905 by George Post. The biggest challenge is putting the south campus together in an integrated way, as soon as possible,, said Cronholm, who foresees no more new construction for the college in the near future, unless the dorms are successful, in which case, we'll see.. The wait-and-see approach to planning appears to be the closest thing to a master plan the college has, and will likely continue to shape the campus.
Location:Morningside Heights and Manhattanville, New York
# of students:23,650 (7,114 undergrad.; 16,536 grad./professional)
Campus Master Plans:
McKim, Meed & White, 1893
I. M. Pei, 1970 (not implemented)
Renzo Piano Building Workshop/Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 20033present
|A view west on 131st Street to the Hudson River.|
|courtesy columbia university|
Of the major expansion plans being undertaken by schools in the New York City area, only one is planning to build an entirely new campus: In 2003 Columbia University hired the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) and Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) to create an ambitious master plan to guide the development of nearly 33 acres in Manhattanville, the neighborhood north of Columbia's McKim, Mead & White campus. The $4.6 billion Manhattanville Expansion Project encompasses the blocks between 12th Avenue and Broadway, and 125th and 133st streets, and will be phased in over the next 30 years. The university owns 53 percent of the land within the proposed development site and the MTA owns about 20 percent. Columbia promises to work with residents to acquire the remaining property.
Perpetually growing and space-constrained, Columbia has developed about one million square feet every five years since 1994, though it still lags behind all other Ivy League schools in terms of square-footage-per-student. Columbia has about 326 square feet for each of its more than 23,000 students, while Yale has 866 square feet for each of its 11,359 students and Harvard has 673 square feet for each of its 19,650 students.
Throughout its history, Columbia has had a tenuous town-gown relationship with its neighborhood. The 1968 controversy over the school's proposal to build a gymnasium in Morningside Park was a key turning point in the planning of the university. Nearly 40 years later, the planning process for Manhattanville is transparent, cautious, and considerate. We've learned a lot from our past mistakes,, said Jeremiah Stoldt, director of Columbia's plan for facilities management. We've met with block associations, the community board, and other local groups to present our thinking and gain feedback. A lot of aspects of the plan came from this feedback, such as preserving east-west axes and open space..
Transparency and urbanity are the main goals of the plan,, said Marilyn Taylor, who is leading the project for SOM. We felt from the beginning that the campus had to be open and invite the public in, and that it relate to the neighborhood, which has a rich history and physical legacy.. The area is zoned for manufacturing and one of its most noticeable features are the rugged aqueducts that define its edges.
|A rendering of the new campus and streetscape, looking west from Broadway on 125th Street.|
Now in precertification (pre-ULURP), the master plan shows a deep respect the existing urban grid, with east-west streets left open and sidewalks widened in strategic places to stimulate pedestrian life. The designers have called for buildings to be programmed, scaled, and designed in ways that both announce a unified campus and fortify the character of the neighborhood. The master plan encourages university buildings to devote street levels to uses that are needed by or accessible to the public, to be spaces they feel invited into, whether to grab a sandwich, look at art, or find out about university jobs,, said Taylor.
Like most universities today, Columbia is in need of more modern research facilities, which are often large-scale, defensive buildings. But the Manhattanville master plan explores the idea of open plan and nontenured buildings,, as Taylor described them, which have a flexibility that can encourage more multidisciplinary study as well as a greater possibility of being a part of their community. Design guidelines call for a material palette that includes glass for transparency, terra cotta brick to echo the past but with a more progressive look, and steel, relating to the nearby viaducts while providing a clarity of expression.
The first phase, which will be realized over the next ten years, includes the preservation of several prominent buildings, including Prentis Hall on 125th Streettcurrent home of the School of the Arts and formerly a milk-bottling plant. SOM will oversee its conversion into a public art space. The New Yorkkbased Switzer Group will renovate the Studebaker Building at 615 West 131 Street, a former automobile assembly plant. Another first-phase project is the construction of a new School of the Arts and a new research building on Broadway, both by Piano.
One of the plan's strongest features is its call for improved links to the nearby Hudson River, which is now cut off by the West Side highway viaduct. The architects envision a park or other potential recreational sites. Taking inspiration from Fairway market, a neighborhood institution located between the neighborhood and the waterfront, Taylor envisions the creation of a marketplace or other compatible uses. You could close it down at night, for concerts, festivals, or fairs,, suggested Taylor. But it would have to be a community initiative. What we can do with our plan is include an active urban layer, such as retail on 12th Avenue, that would contribute to these sorts of possibilities..
The current focus of the university and local community boards is to come to an agreement on rezoning Manhattanville. While the city is receptive to rezoning , how dense or commercial the area will be come remains to be seen.
Fashion Institute of Technology
Location:26th to 28th streets along 6th Avenue, Manhattan
# of students:10,513 (10,378 undergrad.; 135 grad./professional)
Campus Master Plans:
Kevin Hom and Andrew Goldman Architects, 1995-96
ShoP Architects, 20055present
|Courtesy SHoP Architects and Fashion Institute of Technology|
When the Educational Foundation for the Fashion Industries opened in 1944, it was housed on a few floors of the High School for the Needle Trades at 24th Street and 8th Avenue. As the needle tradess evolved, so too has the school that became the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), which is now a part of the State University of New York system. FIT moved into its current complex of buildings (designed by DeYoung and Moscovitz and bound by 26th and 28th streets and 7th and 8th avenues) in 1975, and had periodic smaller campus additions in the 1980s.
All schools in the SUNY system must have a master plan before they can receive public funding for construction projects, so in 1995 FIT hired Kevin Hom and Andrew Goldman Architects, which identified five major projects: the construction of a conference center and dining hall; the creation of more classrooms in an existing building, the expansion of the student center; and perhaps most dramatically, the conversion of the block of 27th Street already straddled by FIT buildings into a pedestrian mall. In addition to this, Wank Adams Slavin Associates is renovating a building on West 31st Street that will provide 1,100 FIT students with housing.
The first two projects in the master plan were completed in 2004 and 2005 respectively, by Hom and Goldman, and the classroom and student center projects are in the planning stages. The pedestrian mall has proven to be more controversial, however, and has twice been voted down by Community Board 5. According to Brenda Perez, director of media relations at FIT, the school has put the project on hold until all the other elements of the plan have been completed, which may not be until 2009.
At the same time, FIT is in the early stages of developing a new master plan with ShoP Architects, the architects who designed the expanded David Dubinsky Student Center, dubbed C2 (pictured). According to principal William Sharples, the master planning work grew out of the firm's 2004 competition-winning entry for the student center, and is still in its preliminary stages. AG
New York University
Location:Greenwich Village, Manhattan
# of students:40,000 (20,212 undergrad.; 15,884 grad.)
Campus Master Plans:
Johnson and Foster, 1962 (not implemented)
|woodruff/brown / courtesy kpf|
In March, New York University (NYU) hired Sharon Greenberger, former New York City chief of staff to the deputy mayor for economic development, to fill a new post at the university: vice president for campus planning and real estate. According to Greenberger, the office she heads, which is divided into four sectionssplanning and design, space management, residential services, and real estate developmentt is still in its start-up phase. I've just started the hiring process, and the intention is to have a full staff in place by the end of the year.. Greenberger will be looking for architects and designers to fill positions, especially in the planning and design unit.
According to Greenberger, the new division will not make any decisions about campus planning or architecture until the hiring process is complete. But the office is sure to be extremely busy in 2006. Created by university president John Sexton, who took office in 2001, the division serves in large part to unify the school's scattered planning divisions in the face of an ambitious growth initiative which includes faculty recruitment and an expanding student body. This administration has ambitious plans for the university, which will put more constraints on space and provide more ambitious thinking about its growth,, said Greenberger.
NYU is no stranger to large building initiatives and their complexities. In the 1980s and 90s, the school, then led by president John Brademas, underwent a massive campus expansion in Greenwich Village, which raised the hackles of many local residents and made it the city's third largest landowner (the city is the largest; the Catholic Church the second). (NYU's newest building is the 2003 Furman Hall, bordering Washington Square Park, by Kohn Pederson Fox, pictured left.) The creation of Greenberger's post was meant partly as a gesture of openness toward the community. Figuring out how a school can expand in an urban environment while also being good neighbors to the community can be challenging,, said Greenberger. The administration recognized that it requires more expertise in the fields of campus planning and real estate to make that happen successfully..
Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), agreed that the university could do better in its community outreach. We often find that we don't know what's going on at NYU,, he said. There's always been a great effort to push the university to release information about its long-term planssto no avail.. One contentious issue has been the university's 2001 purchase of a site in the Silver Towers super-block that currently houses faculty apartment buildings by I. M. Pei and and a supermarket. GVSHP lobbied to have the entire block, bordered by Washington Place, LaGuardia, Mercer, and Houston, designated a landmark. NYU did not support the effort, which would limit its ability to alter or further develop the site. DG
Parsons The New School for Design
Location:Greenwich Village, Manhattan
# of students:3,000 (15,800 total enrolled in The New School)
Campus Master Plans:
Helpern Architects, 1995
Cooper, Robertson & Partners, 2004.
|courtesy lyn rice Architects|
You might feel tempted to flaunt technique when reinventing a design school. If that school sat smack between Union Square and Washington Square, though, you might seek a civic icon. At Parsons, Lyn Rice did both. His newly unveiled design for the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center (pictured) opens students' doings to the street with triple-height lobby glass.
Showcasing had been somewhat bass-ackwards throughout the eight-part New School, Parsons' parent, which occupies 19 buildings strewn about the Village and now seeks a firmer identity along lower Fifth Avenue. The design school serves as its lodestar, now that Rice has rearranged it. The school's most valuable real estate,, said Rice, at 13th Street and 5th Avenue, housed maintenance and trash collection. Rice decided to scoop outt the janitorial services to the basement for an upgrade. Replacing it, he installed 3-foot window frames with one long bench. The boundary between salon and sidewalk becomes a place for students to hang out..
It's also, Rice said, a place for students to confront their mandate. The architect uses a glazed roof to create a light-filled urban quadd between seven banks of elevators. Rice describes this as tipping the classic college green on its side so that it fits in a highrise. In an urban quad, circulation is vertical in these elevator cores,, he said. The graphics lining the walls could rotate each semester, Rice suggested, giving students instant sidewalk critics.
The New School's quest for a more cohesive urban identity comes after decades without a master plan. Lia Gartner, its director of design and construction, is overseeing a suite of brand-boosting capital projects. She said the university seeks to show pedestrians the sense of this place being untraditionall and give students and faculty the best use of this miscellaneous collection of buildings..
Gartner said pedestrians can expect more exposure. Cooper, Robertson & Partners is developing a master plan whose focal building, 65 Fifth Avenue, figures to get a new faaade. Another building, around the corner from Parsons, will get interior upgrades beginning this year. Rice's extroversion promises to resound. A lot of students aren't from New York City,, Rice noted. So this will be a great reminder of where they are.. AA
Location:Clinton Hill, Brooklyn
# of students:4,540 (3,068 undergrad.; 1,472 grad./professional)
Campus Master Plans:
Whittlesey and Conklin, 1962
Cooper, Robertson & Partners, 20033present
|Courtesy Pratt Institute and Steven Holl Architects|
Pratt Institute's greatest asset, in architecture dean Thomas Hanrahan's opinion, is its location in Brooklyn's lively Clinton Hill neighborhood. Aptly, the new campus plan by Cooper, Robertson & Partners looks outward, with some major plans to expand the campus borders,, said Robert Scherr, director of Pratt Institute's Facilities Planning and Design. Anticipating the school's growth within the area, Pratt's president Thomas Schutte took a leading role in the recent formation of the nearby Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Business Improvement District (BID). Like many local schools, Pratt owns a significant number of buildings outside of its main campus (Higgins Hall to the south, for example, and Myrtle Avenue to the north), and wants to strengthen their connections to each other and to the neighborhood and community as a whole.
Although the Cooper, Robertson plan, which calls for the development of a digital art center, a student union, and a student services building, has not yet been fully ratified by the school's board of trustees, the implementation of several initiatives is moving forward. A couple of projects were the result of large private donations, such as Juliana Curran Terian's $5 million donation for the Design Center Entrance Pavilion, and Hiroko Nakamoto's $50,000 donation for the new Pratt security kiosk. Years of deferred maintenance were the impetus for campus-wide upgrades: Many of the student dormitories, faculty housing, administrative facilities, and the Main Building are currently finishing major renovations.
The largest current project on campus is the Design Center Entrance Pavilion by dean Hanrahan's firm, Hanrahan + Meyers Architects. In an effort to combine all the principal design programs into what will be the largest design center in the United States, the new entrance and gallery will create a connection between Steuben Hall and the Pratt Studios. The entrance is currently under construction and will be completed in 2006.
The largest project outside of the fence involves the Higgins Hall complex, which houses the School of Architecture. Rogers Marvel Architects is overseeing major interior renovation while Steven Holl Architects designed a new central wing (pictured) which brings together the hall's north and south wings in a single entrance and exhibition space. The Pratt Store, designed in-house by Pratt's office of Facilities Planning and Design, located on Myrtle Avenue and Emerson Place, was completed in December 2004. This design reflects the institute's goals of strengthening the surrounding community by bringing new services and activity to the neighborhood.
As for what to expect from future Pratt development? The Clinton Hill neighborhood is totally gentrified,, said Scherr. Our only growth potential lies to the north toward Myrtle Avenue and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway..
Location:New Haven, Connecticutt
# of students:11,000 (5,242 undergrad.; 6,040 grad.) John Russell Pope, 1919
James Gamble Rogers, 1921
Cooper, Robertson & Partners, 2000
|matt wargo / venturi, scott brown and associates|
Yale has long been a patron of great architecture, commissioning important works from Eero Saarinen, Gordon Bunshaft, Paul Rudolph, and Louis Kahn. The university's current building initiative continues this legacy. Gwathmey Siegel & Associates recently took over the job of designing an addition for Rudolph's famed Art and Architecture building. The addition will house an arts library and classrooms for the art department that are currently located in the Rudolph building, allowing the architecture school to expand into the newly-freed space. (The addition was originally commissioned to Richard Meier & Partners in 2001 but in December 2003, the project was sidelined with the loss of a major donor. The project picked up steam again this summer when a new donor emerged. Though Meier's scheme was complete, Gwathmey Siegel will begin the project from scratch.) Skidmore, Owings & Merrill is overseeing the renovation of the original Rudolph building while Polshek Partnership Architects has recently been retained to renovate Kahn's Art Gallery.
The arts campus expansion is only a portion of a much larger group of projects recently completed or underway at Yale. Some just-finished buildings include an engineering building by Cesar Pelli & Associates, a chemistry laboratory by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, and a medical research center by Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates (pictured). According to Laura Cruickshank, who became Yale's director of University Planning, Facilities Construction, and Renovation in July, The university is improving multiple areas of the campus simultaneouslyyScience Hill, the arts buildings, the central campus, and the medical school.. Projects currently in design include another building by Venturi, Scott Brown building for biology in the Science Hill area and a forestry and environmental studies building by Hopkins Architects.
The massive building initiative is all part of a campus plan completed in 2000 by Cooper, Robertson & Partners, which outlined the development of new construction as well as landscape architecture, circulation, signage, and traffic. The so-called 20-year Framework for Campus Planning was Yale's first attempt at creating a university-wide plan since the 1920s, and addressed the campus' poor integration with the surrounding city of New Haven. With its gated courtyards and inward-facing Gothic building blocks, Yale's campus plan, proposed by John Russell Pope in 1919 and revised in 1921 by James Gamble Rogers, originally contained a number of connective axes and public spaces that may have served to open the campus but were ultimately scrapped. Cooper, Robertson's plan suggested that the university pay particular attention to places where its campus meets the cityyon its streets and sidewalks, and through its landscaping, lighting and signageeto help weave Yale and New Haven into a more cohesive urban fabric..
Plenty of things make us queasy. David Childs' Time Warner Center, Charles Gwathmey's Astor Place tower, and pretty much anything said by Daniel Libeskind unfortunately come to mind. But while our stomachs may occasionally churn with dismay, disbelief, and disappointment, we have yet to experience the kind of architecture-induced nausea caused by Santiago Calatrava's new Turning Torso tower in Malmo, Sweden. That twisting residential and commercial skyscraper looks nifty enough. But last month, we hear attendees of a press conference on its 54th floor were cursing Calatrava's engineering prowesss as high winds caused the building to sway in a manner that put many on high bathroom alert. The design of the windows, which are tilted slightly off the vertical axis, didn't help. Everyone was like, Ooh, aah, I feel sick,, one attendee, still green-faced, tells us. Another acknowledged the disquieting movement but was hesitant to render final judgment, as the building isn't quite finished yet. Nevertheless, there is growing concern for its future residents, who will start moving in this November. Water's going to be sloshing out of their bathtubs,, our source predicts, while they're barfing into the toilet..
GLUCKMAN'S HERMITAGE; THE VILLAGE PORTZAMPARC
Last month, we were in St. Petersburg (as in Russia, not Florida). Between shots of Russian Standart vodkaaa miracle drink, not yet available on these backward shores, that consistently left us with no hangoverrwe learned that the Hermitage museum, with the Guggenheim consulting, has retained Richard Gluckman to design up to 30,000 square feet of contemporary art galleries as part of its proposed expansion into the nearby General Staff Building. That project is, of course, the same one that Rem Koolhaas is conceptualizing, or whatever it is he does. But will any of it actually happen? That remains a riddle wrapped in a Gluckman inside a KoolhaassMeanwhile, we hear French architect Christian de Portzamparc has been tapped to design a new building on the site of Diane von Furstenberg's current store and studio in the West Village (she'll be moving into the Meatpacking District). However, there's a catch. The developers want to convince us that the plan would be so beautiful that we might support their request to have the zoning for the site increased or exempted from [the downzoning currently under consideration],, says Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. Needless to say, that support seems unlikelyyand not just because Village preservationists are pissed about having to travel further for their wrap dresses.
ANOTHER AMERICANO ESTUPIDO
Which dean of a New York architecture school, with a significant number of Latino students, gets an F in both world history and geography? Asked if he offered any programs or classes relating to Latin American architecture, we're told he struggled a bit before mentioning a summer course in Barcelonaa
proving, once again, that all straight white men are stupid.
With the real estate market up and public appreciation for design surging, residential buyers are willing to pay more for the cachet of a big-name architecttand developers are catering to the new demand. But are designer buildingss adding quality to New York's urban fabric or just padding developers' pockets? Anna Holtzman finds it's a little of both.
Is residential real estate in New York finally catching up to its stylish inhabitants? The city seems to be going through a design boom: Richard Meier, Santiago Calatrava, Philippe Starck, Tsao & McKown, Winka Dubbeldam, Gwathmey Siegel, and Michael Graves have all recently made, or will soon make, their mark on the lower half of Manhattan. And there's talk of on-the-boards residential buildings by Frank O. Gehry and Christian de Portzamparc. The projects come with swanky names (the River Lofts, the Downtown), luxury amenities, and high-end price tags to boot.
If you suspect this designer craze is all about name-branding, you're right. The draw of well-known architects for developers is obvioussthey establish a certain price-point, like a designer label; they add status to a project,, said Bassie Deitsch of Boymelgreen, the developer responsible for the Starck and Tsao & McKown buildings, both on the lower west side. But before dismissing this phenomenon as a superficial trend, one must take into consideration the bigger picture. As New York architect and developer Peter Moore put it, any builder taking the risk of high design is a good thingg?whatever the initial motivation. And motives evolve. As Izak Senbahar, developer of the new Richard Meier tower on Charles Street, said, It raises the bar. Everyone is working for profit, but when you drive around the city and see something beautiful and elegant, you're encouraged to do more of that..
|For Frank Sciame's first real estate development, 80 South Street, Santiago Calatrava proposes townhousess floating in the air.|
Opinions vary on what has spurred this recent interest in design. Perry Street, and the amount of press it generated, did a lot to create that awareness,, said Meier, referring to the pair of gleaming residential towers he designed. Others see it as the result of broader influences: The time was right for this,, said Frank Sciame, developer of the Calatrava-designed South Street tower, currently in the works. Five years ago, we would have done a conventional tower.. Ironically, it was the tragic events of September 11 that indirectly led him to select a visionary architect for the project. After 9/11, given the great buildings that were going up at Ground Zero and the fact that this site was [relatively nearby and] at the river's edge, we decided that it should also be a tangible symbol of Manhattan's recovery.. What emerged was an unusual design by Calatrava comprised of 10 boxlike units that seem to float independently in the air.
Senbahar agreed that post-9/11, New Yorkers have a greater appreciation of good architecture. So if you create something of quality, people will pay more for it,, he said.
So why has it taken New York this long to wake up to design, when cities such as Miami and London started using architects to market residential buildings years ago? Senbahar posited, In New York, apartments sell from the inside out. Layout is important.. Meanwhile, faaade is secondary. There's also a greater demand for real estate in New York, so you have a captive audience,, said Senbahar. In Miami, you're talking about mostly second homes, so you have to entice the buyer with attractive buildings.. He continued, In construction, if you keep it simple, it's a lot easier.. So when the real estate market was lower, developers preferred to play it safe by sticking with conventional designs that were cheaper to build. Now that the market is up, developers are taking advantage of the fact that buyers won't blink at higher price-tagssand are using the added value of design to compete with one another.
Dubbeldam, who designed the interiors and undulating curtain wall of the Greenwich Street Project, cringed at this sort of thinking. Quality is not more expensive,, she stated emphatically, because it pays out more in the long run. It's better for the developer in the end.. Dubbeldam is appalled by the majority of American developers, saying that they have no consciousness about energy, no thinking about ecologyythey think that architects are just fancy picture-makers..
|The glazed curtain wall of the Greenwich Street Project by Winka Dubbeldam of Archi-Tectonics cascades to the street.|
Just how far developers are willing to involve architects in their grand plans varies from project to project. In many cases, as with the now two-year-old 425 Fifth Avenue designed by Michael Graves for developer Trevor Davis of Davis & Partners, the exterior and interior designs are done by a high-level architect, but considerations such as floor layouts and interior detailing are determined by a combination of real estate consultants and contract architects. The Sunshine Group is one such consulting firm. In addition to marketing, the group consults developers on pre-development planning, which architects to work with, apartment layouts, ceiling heights, number of bathroom fixtures, closet size, et cetera. Boymelgreen brought in Sunshine to consult on the Downtown, which in turn selected Starck to infuse the interiors and entryway with his signature playful style. Layouts and faaade, however, were left to project architect Ishmael Leyva.
|Terraces, French doors, skylights, fireplaces, Sub-Zero and Miele appliances, and spa-like bathrooms are among the amenities at the River Lofts, a combination restoration and new construction project by Tsao & McKown.|
Some architects are pushing to increase the scope of their roles, however, and changing developers' minds in the process. In the case of Tsao & McKown's River Lofts, for example, Sunshine initially invited the architects to work on the project to add our particular brand of lifestylee to the interiors of the apartments, said Calvin Tsao. However, Tsao & McKown ultimately convinced the developer, Boymelgreen, to let them have a hand in the faaade as welllwith the support of Sherida Paulsen, then chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. When it came to the firm's next project with Sunshine and Boymelgreen, the Spring Street Lofts in SoHo, the architects were brought in at an earlier phase and were able to collaborate with the client in a much more organic way. Rather than look askance at being called in as lifestyle gurus,, said Zack McKown, we saw it as an empowering position..
|The newest Meier tower, still under construction, echoes the first two completed in 2002, in design, luxury amenties, and price points.|
A rare few architects are getting in on development at the ground level. Dubbeldam was brought onto the Greenwich Street Project by developer Jonathan Carroll of Take One before he even had a site in fact, Dubbeldam wound up find ing its location. In the case of Charles Gwathmey's Astor Place tower, the architect found himself in the unusual situation of starting out on the client side, as a board member at Cooper Union. Before signing on as the designer, he hired the developer, Related Companies, and selected the site himself. It was only later, after a series of unscripted events including Gwathmey leaving Cooper's board, that he was brought on as architect and was thus able to shape every part of the project, from the footprint to interiors.
What truly smart developers have come to understand is that taking architecture into consideration from the get-go can only benefit the value of their building in the long run. Senbahar chose Meier for Charles Street in deference to the Perry Street Towers, which were already built by developers Ira Drucker, Charles Blaichman, and Richard Born when he came on the scene. He wanted to maintain a consistent aesthetic among a grouping of buildings that he believes may someday be landmarked. In improving the neighborhood, this move also improves that which remains a developer's main concern: real estate values.
|Charles Gwathmey's Astor Place is being touted by its developer, the Related Companies, as Manhattan's first rotational, asymmetrical, sculptural building..|
Unfortunately, as Dubbeldam pointed out, the vast majority of developers are still stuck in the dark ages in terms of design. I think [these high-design buildings are] just isolated projects,, said Dubbeldam, but I hope they can inspire overall change.. Yet when it comes to the realm of affordable housing, even the optimistic have little hope that these high-end projects will inspire change. Unfortunately,, explained Senbahar, whenever design requires a higher level of construction, it's reflected in the cost, and therefore it would be very difficult, especially with the high land prices in New York.. Developer Moore lamented, We still have a long way to go [towards better design for the city as a whole]. That's where the city should get involved. There's no even-handed aesthetic control. We need an aesthetic cop..
ANNA HOLTZMAN, A FORMER EDITOR AT ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE, IS PRODUCING A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT SUBWAY MUSICIANS.
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Once the world's largest landfill, Fresh Kills is on its way to becoming the city's newest playground. Aric Chen reports on how a concept becomes a master plan.
In late 2002, the landscape architecture and urban design firm Field Operations publicly unveiled its schematic entry, alongside those of five other finalists, in a competition to transform Staten Island's Fresh Kills landfill into New York City'ssindeed, the country'sslargest urban park. Back then, the office (which moved to New York from Philadelphia last year) was criticized for describing its plan in obscure language, for example, explaining it as not a loose metaphor or representation [but] a functioning reality, an autopoietic agent.. However, last month, at a city-sponsored community meeting to review Field Operation's winning submission, called Lifescape, the enigmatic lines (threads),, surfaces (mats),, and clusters (islands)) gave way to more proletarian propositions as attendees suggested everything from dog runs and boathouses to windmill farms and, oddly, a working cattle ranch for the master plan now being cobbled together for the sprawling, 2,200-acre site.
Held at Holy Trinity-St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in the Bulls Head section of Staten Island, the March 24th gathering, also attended by city officials and Field Operations principal James Corner, brought together more than 300 members of citizens groups and enthusiasts of apparently every conceivable inclination. Representatives of local bicycling, tennis, and other amateur sporting interests, nature buffs, and family members of World Trade Center victims chimed in on the activities, amenities, and (yes, another) 9/11 memorial that will eventually occupy the site. Their proposals ranged from the odds-on tennis courts, ball fields, and bike paths to a less-promising horticulture school and a landfill museum that would enshrine the earthmovers that have sculpted Fresh Kills' topography for the past half century. The key to the success of Fresh Kills' transformation is the engagement of the community,, said city planning commissioner Amanda Burden, whose agency is overseeing the master planning process. A lot of people showed up to the meeting and I was delighted with the range of suggestions..
Indeed, Corner's original planna collaboration with Princeton architecture dean Stan Allen, whose involvement is now subsidiaryyhas already taken on a more accessible vocabulary, broken down to the neatly understood categories of habitat, circulation and, especially, activity. With housing specifically precluded, the finished park will be some combination of wildlife preserves, roads and trails, and recreational and cultural facilities. And while it's easy to imagine that many of the ideas put forth at the recent forumma cemetery for New York state servicemen, for example, or the inexplicable cattle ranchhwon't be realized, it's likely that many others will. There is, after all, plenty of space.
At more than two and a half times the size of Central Park, the proposed park will nearly double the size of Staten Island's existing and adjacent greenbelt. At the same time, it will recast the world's largest landfilllfamously visible from spaceeas the world's largest landfill reclamation project. While Corner, who also chairs the landscape architecture and regional planning department at the University of Pennsylvania, cites several precedents for such a conversionnformer landfills around San Francisco, in Seoul, Korea, and Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queenssnone quite match the scale and scope of this one. It's a big site,, he said, undaunted, and there are many challenges, both ecologically, politically, and in terms of implementation..
Fresh Kills, which takes its name not from its contents but the Dutch word for the creeks that meander through it, is, beyond its stigma, an ecosystem of woodlands and tidal marshes carved out by an Ice Age glacier. It was opened in 1948, intended as a temporary, three-year dumping ground. Despite over 50 years of accepting the bulk of New York's household garbageea tenure that ended in March 2001 in a gesture by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani to solidify the island's conservative voting baseeit remains home to a diversity of wildlife and vegetation. Six sizable landfill mounds, ranging in height from 90 to 225 feet, comprise 995 acres, or around 45 percent, of the total site. All are, or will be, capped with an impermeable plastic liner and topsoil, as well as drainage and other systems to collect methane released from the decaying waste, which will be sold as heating gas. Public use of these mounds, however, will have to wait until such gases and other byproducts have dissipated and the decomposing heaps have settled. For the larger mounds, this could mean a reduction in height of up to 100 feet over as many as 30 years.
In the meantime, dry lowlands make up 35 percent of the site and much of it is available for more immediate use. In addition to the types of recreational functions already mentioned, these areas are being considered as potential homes for equestrian and other facilities in the city's bid to host the 2012 Olympics. Concurrently, a central drive is in the works that will loop around the main fork in the Fresh Kills estuary. This artery, which will connect Richmond Avenue to the West Shore Expressway, will relieve existing traffic congestion while drawing people into the heart of the park just as a network of walkways, paths and ancillary roads disperses them throughout. In the original scheme, we had more centralized activity areas,, Corner says, and now they're more widely distributed, which makes the plan easier to phase in, and in smaller pieces..
The veterans' cemetery proposal notwithstanding, Fresh Kills in fact became a cemetery of sorts when it was temporarily reopened after September 11th to accommodate remnants from Ground Zero. A memorial is being planned as well. Corner has designed two earthworks, 40 feet high and in roughly the dimensions of both World Trade Center towers, next to the 48-acre area where the debris, and the victims' remains within, are buried. The simple, poetic design has already been well received, though it's still subject to debate and at least one group, the World Trade Center Families for Proper Burial, may see it as altogether unnecessary. Its members are arguing that the debris should instead be resifteddat what would likely be enormous expenseeand the separated remains reburied at a more appropriate site.
Though the feasibility of this request is questionable, it nevertheless points to the exorbitant complexity of the task at hand. Politicallyy and now emotionallyycharged, the site faces formidable obstacles in its own evolution from being a colossal, fetid eyesore to becoming a thriving, even idyllic, example of land reclamation. Further public meetings are being held this and next month (details are posted on the city's Fresh Kills website, www.nyc.gov/freshkills), with a final master plan scheduled for July 2005. Small portions of the new park may open as early as 2007. However, even if the plan sails through the often-thorny processes of community and regulatory involvement, the park will take decades to phase in. There are the technical, environmental and even psychological challenges in turning a former garbage heap with poor soil into a verdant haven for picnickers, not to mention the fact that cost, funding, and final jurisdiction have yet to be determined. Indeed, Fresh Kills' redevelopment will require a will matched only by an ambition that is as expansive as the site itself. ARIC CHEN LIVES IN NEW YORK AND WRITES FOR ID, METROPOLIS, GQ, ART & AUCTION, AND OTHER PUBLICATIONS.
The world's most glamorous cities are vying for the 2012 Olympic Games. Here's a look at New York's competition.
The 39 cities that have hosted the summer and winter Olympic Games for the past century have taken a mixed approach to the task, reflecting the issues of their times more than the particularities of place or the universality of the event. The famoussor infamoussBerlin Olympics of 1936, awarded to the German capital before the Nazis came to power, became an opportunity for Adolf Hitler to demonstrate to the world, in an Albert Speerrdesigned stadium, the efficiency of Nazi Germany. In 1984 Los Angeles reused many facilities built for its 1932 Olympics, dressing up the city in banners and public art projects, like an Archigram Instant City. With its real urban problems papered over for two weeks, L.A. pulled off an event that was considered a triumph of corporate sponsorship and patronage, reflecting the Reagan era as much as the movie Wall Street. The organizers of the L.A. games predicted theirs would become the model for future Olympics, since it made a profit of $223 million, but other cities haven't been as lucky. Atlanta barely survived its 1996 stint, reportedly losing hundreds of millions of dollars, though it did add over 5,000 units of low-cost housing to the city in the process.
Today, the competition has become a war of battling trophy buildings by star architects, with New York City leading the way (see page 1 and Issue 2.3.2004). Historically, the Olympics have proven to be capable of spurring the creation of public amenities like parks, housing, and sports facilities. The latest strategy is the use of celebrity designs as a wedge to open neighborhoods to gentrification, for example, bringing spectacular housing by the likes of Zaha Hadid and MVRDV to Queens, one of the most mixed-income residential and manufacturing areas of the city. It's worth noting that all the 2012 bids (except Havana's, which has not been made public) call for 70 to 80 percent of their budgets to come from private investment and 20 to 30 percent from public resources.
Leipzig's bid includes an 80,000-seat stadium designed by Peter Eisenman that can break down and be downsized or carted away, leaving open space and parks more appropriate to the scale of the small Saxony village. Leipzig is the anti-Los Angeles of the Olympics, offering a pleasant, small town experienceea new approach that may prove that the Olympics does not have to be the great invasion feared by residents. Havana is also playing up the modest Olympics angle, carrying its anti-commercial, anti-big platform to the extreme by barely publicizing its bid. Every plan, in fact, is notably restrained, responding to the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) call for quick commutes and sustainable development.
|Module parts of Peter Eisenmann's Stadium for Leipzig||Dominique Perrault's "the Magic Box"|
On May 18th, the IOC will announce which of the nine bidding cities have been accepted as official candidates. The host city for the 2012 games will be named on July 6, 2005. The contenders:
Nowhere near able to match its rivals' investments in architectural or infrastructural projects (or even a website) to enhance its Olympic bid, Havana is, unsurprisingly, banking on high-minded social ideals to make the cut. The Cuban Olympic Committee (COC), headed by Jose Ramon Fernandez, who is also the vice-president of Cuba, points out that the Olympics have never been held in the Caribbean and only once before in Latin America (Mexico City, 1968). Many feel it's about time the games are awarded to a developing country.
Furthermore, Fernandez argues that the country deserves to be awarded the Olympics for its sporting achievements. Cuba consistently performs well at international sporting events (for example, winning 11 gold, 11 silver, and 7 bronze medals at the Sydney Olympics))far out of proportion to the size of the island's population of 11 million. The priority should be athletic merits, not a nation's wealth or sponsors or television,, he said in a press conference announcing the city's bid. Cuba is promising a modest, dignified, non-commercialized Olympics that restores emphasis on athletes.
Cuba uses sport, like the former Soviet bloc countries did, as a way to promote its socialist ideals. For this reason, the country actually has decent existing sports facilities. It even has an Olympic Stadium, built for the Pan American Games in 1991. Havana is the frequent host of conferences, is well experienced at organizing large-scale events, and has quality hotel accommodations as a result of its thriving tourist trade.
Havana's downfall will be its weak transportation system. The charm of the 1950s tail-finned Chevys, well-educated taxi drivers, and diverse buses (donated from countries around the world, still bearing original destination signs such as Oslo, Maastricht, Edmonton) will surely not be enough to convince the IOC to make the dream of Fidel Castro, an avid sportsman, come true.
|Peter Eisenmann's Stadium for Leipzig|
Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents, and its 2012 Olympic bid, themed The Meeting of Continents, plays up this unique condition. The city's bid argues that Istanbul's symbolic role as a bridge between Islamic and Judeo-Christian culture is especially appropriate given the current state of world affairs.
Istanbul yearns to reclaim its status as a superpower city. Its bid marks the city's fourth consecutive attempt at hosting the Olympics. An 89 percent approval rating further proves Turkey's determination, but the city's relatively weak infrastructure continues to place Istanbul as a long-shot contender. The city's chances have improved since its last bid, however, due to the 2002 completion of the 80,000-seat Ataturk Olympic Stadium and a brand new subway system that is still in the process of expanding.
The $120 million Ataturk was designed by Michel Macary and Aymeric Zublena, the same French architects responsible for the Stade de France, Paris' key Olympic stadium, in collaboration with local architect Doruk Pamir. The architects opted for an open top to the concrete brut design after the Stade faced serious humidity problems due to its closed-roof construction. Still, the stadium shelters 54,000 spectators, 36,000 of whom are protected on the west side by a monumental canopy in the shape of a crescent, the symbol of Turkey. The dramatic semi-circular roof is suspended between two 60-meter poles set over 200 meters apart, serving as yet another metaphor for Istanbul's role as the link between Europe and Asia.
|The Ataturk Olympc Stadium designed by Michel Macary and Aymeric Zublena|
Leipzig, a city in Saxony known for its Renaissance and Baroque buildings and classical music venues, is an unusual Olympic contender. Its compact historical center and quiet residential suburbs could be a plus for the 2012 bid, though. The IOC wants simple and compact games and we are perfectly suited for that,, said bid manager Peter Zuehlsdorff.
The Leipzig proposal, which is based on a 2001 feasibility study by Albert Speer, Jr., features flexible designs by a number of big-name architects, including Peter Eisenman, Dresden-based Peter Kulka, and Berlin-based Barkow Leibinger Architects. Kulka's project connects various sports arenas with transparent, cloudlike structures and numerous bridges crossing Leipzig's river basin. After the games, Kulka's stadium will be melted down,, leaving a smaller arena. Eisenman's stadium is also designed to be downsized after the games, leaving an arena more appropriate for Leipzig's population of 500,000. Assembled out of movable modules, the stadium will provide seats for 80,000 during the Olympics, and can be downsized to a stadium for 20,000 once the games are over. Or the whole thing can be taken apart and relocated after the games.
The Olympia Pavilion, designed by Barkow Leibinger, will function as a signn and traffic knot,, according to the architects, a highly visible marker located on an important thoroughfare leading to the main Olympic grounds. The pavilion, which will house exhibitions during the games and later serve as a sports museum, has a dynamic, irregular faaade, wrapped with textile ribbons.. If Leipzig wins the Olympic bid, the facility could be built as early as 2006, to act as a media center for the FIFA World Cup.
|Barkow Leibinger's information center, Leipzig (above) Foreign Office Architects, EDAW, HOK Sport, and Allies and Morrison's master plan for London 2012||>|
London's 2012 bid follows the Barcelona model of Olympic development. The bid proposes a scheme in which the games serve as an engine to spur city improvements, leaving behind a sustainable legacy after the games. Keith Mills, chief executive of the bid, was quoted in the Telegraph as saying, There will be no white elephants at the London games. We'll build what we need and no more..
Though London's planned new venues have not yet reached the design stage, Foreign Office Architects completed the master plan for the project, situating 70 percent of all venues within a 500-acre park 13 kilometers outside central London in the Lower Lea Valley, a river flood plain and run-down light industrial area. The park, designed by EDAW, an international urban design and planning firm, will restore the flood plain by removing existing river walls. London-based Allies and Morrison Architects and HOK Sport are also involved with the London bid.
An Olympic stadium, velodrome, aquatic center, and media center will be built along the valley in a plan that takes into account Richard Rogers' Millennium Dome, situated 5 kilometers away, which will be recruited to serve as an Olympic venue. Norman Foster's new Wembley Stadium, dubbed The Church of Footballl with its curved, partially retractable roof, will be completed in late 2005 and will serve the 2012 games.
The key to the success of London's plan will be a reorganized transport system capable of shuttling visitors from central London out to the valley. Rail infrastructure already exists but new stations will be needed. The city's bid hopes that 90 percent of visitors to the Olympics will be able to commute by train, given London's congestion problems and corresponding steep tolls for motor transport. Athletes will be housed within walking distance from most venues in the valley, though commutes to distant venues like Wembley could be daunting.
|Cruz & Ortiz's design for the enlargement of La Peineta stadium in Madrid|
Madrid's bid for the Olympic Games of 2012 comes at a time when the city is already immersed in an extensive process of urban transformation, spurred by economic prosperity and heavily dependent on designs by signature architects. Pei, Cobb, Freed & Partners, Foster and Partners, Rubio & lvarez Sala, and CCsar Pelli are building new office towers. The city's cultural institutions are being enriched by Herzog & de Meuron's Caixa Forum, Jean Nouvel's addition to the Reina Soffa Museum, and Rafael Moneo's extension of the Prado Museum. And more projects are working toward fortifying Madrid's historic urban center, such as the reconstitution of the Prado axis by lvaro Siza and the expansion of open space with new parks such as La Gavia by Toyo Ito. Finally, Madrid is seeing its residential panorama enlivened with new dynamic proposals by international architectural studios like MVRDV, David Chipperfield Architects, and Morphosis, in collaboration with local Spanish teams.
As is the case with other bidding cities, staging the Olympics will give Madrid the chance to develop new sporting facilities and upgrade existing ones. Won by an international competition in 2002, the new Olympic Tennis Center by Dominique Perrault is conceived as a multipurpose magic boxx with dozens of indoor and outdoor courts, and cultural spaces. Seville-based Cruz & Ortiz is expanding La Peineta stadium, which they designed in 1994. The stadium's new neighbor will be an aquatic center by Juan Joss Medina, also won by competition.
The proposed projects are supported by Madrid's highly developed transportation networks, soon to be enhanced by the new terminal of the Madrid-Barajas Airport by Richard Rogers and Estudio Lamela. Though the airport is just 12 minutes from the city center via the underground metro, the airport expansion includes plans to link it to all the Olympic venues, as well as the commuter train system and the regional High-Speed Train (AVE).
|Dominique Perrault's design of the Olympic Tennis Center in Madrid has been nicknamed "the Magic Box"||>|
The year 2012 would mark the 100th anniversary of Russia's participation in the Olympics. According to the Moscow bid, the city hopes to use the opportunity to introduce a new and democratic Russiaa to the world. The city last hosted the games during the Communist era (1980). The city's previous experience could benefit its bid by proving it is capable of hosting the games, but it could also be damaging if the IOC considers the 32-year interlude as too short to merit a double-play.
Moscow's bid concept, Olympic River, builds on the social and cultural importance of the city's river by situating many of its developments along its waterfront. Most of the city's venues served as Olympic facilities in 1980, like the Luzhniki, Krylatskoe, and Olympiskiy complexes, but some new projects are planned as well, including a new 200-acre Olympic Village and a 17,000-suite residential-style Media Village. Moscow also boasts a strong transportation infrastructure, starring an excellent subway system that meets 90 percent of the city's commuting needs, carrying six to eight million passengers daily. The city also plans to create a fourth ring road and a number of new expressways before 2012.
|The Stade de France built for the 1998 FIFA World Cup anchor's the Paris proposal. Designed by French Architect's Michel Macary and Aymeric Zublena, who also designed The Ataturk Olympic Stadium|
With its compact plan, high-quality transportation facilities, and substantial experience with hosting world-class sporting events, Paris is the bookmakers' favorite for the 2012 Olympics, even though public approval for the project is low (compared to other cities), at 75 percent. The Parisian plan situates the majority of its Olympic venues in two clusters, one to the north of Paris, centered on the Stade de France in St. Denis, built for the 1998 World Cup; and the other in the 16th Arrondissement, home to the Roland-Garros Stadium, built in 1928 and upgraded in 2000. The Olympic Village, to be designed by French architect Frannois Grether, is situated in Batignolles, on a 50-hectare site that is 6 kilometers from each cluster. It includes a 10-hectare park, which will be constructed regardless of the success of the city's bid.
Most of the sports venues Paris plans to use for the Olympics already exist, though the city is planning to start construction on five new stadiums in 2009. Three of them will be located within the two clusters: the Dome, for volleyball, the SuperDome, for artistic gymnastics and basketball, and the Aquatics Centre. The other two will be outside the city: the Velodrome, in St-Quentin-en-Yvelines, and the Shooting Centre in Versailles. The plan also makes clever use of historic landmarks. The Eiffel Tower's foundation is slated to be transformed into a beach volleyball court, the Chhteau de Versailles' grounds will become a cycling track, and the historic Longchamp racecourse, built in 1857 and upgraded in 1966, will house equestrian events. According to the Paris 2012 bid, the rest of its new construction will be for temporary use only.
Rio de Janiero
Rio's bid claims passionn is the most abundant resource the city can offer the Olympic Committee: Passion for nature, the environment, life, sport, excellence, and the future.. Indeed, Rio 2012 is playing up the city's festive reputation, emphasizing music, dancing, street performancess[and the] spirit of celebrationn on its website.
Rio's Olympic theme, One Village, One City, One World, alludes to the city's planning strategy which fits all of its venues within the city limits, not more than 20 kilometers apart, in four separate zones: Barra, Sugar Loaf, Maracann, and Deodoro.
The Barra region constitutes the jewel in Rio's Olympic crown,, according to the Rio 2012 website. Situated on one of Rio's lagoon beaches, the area is one of the city's fastest growing, which means developers will have no trouble marketing its residential and commercial real estate after the games are over. Barra will house a number of new venues which are already under construction for the 2007 Pan American Games, including a new Olympic stadium with an 80,000-seat capacity. A linear park, the Olympic Boulevard, will extend along Barra's beachfront, linking the new Olympic Village with the ring road to Sugar Loaf and Maracann. Sugar Loaf, another white sand, clear water paradise 20 kilometers away from Barra, will house mostly outdoor events like beach volleyball, canoeing, cycling, and sailing in mostly existing or temporary facilities.
Deodoro and Maracann are both inland sites in need of the type of economic rejuvenation the Olympics can ignite. Deodoro offers 5 million square meters of green rolling hills, which will be used for equestrian and shooting. Maracann Stadium, the largest in the world and the soul of Brazilian football,, according to Rio's bid, will play a significant role in the region's plans, along with two new arenas. One of them, the $166 million Jooo Havelange Stadium designed by architect Carlos Porto, is currently under construction, also for the Pan American Games, and is scheduled for completion in 2005. The developers of the Havelange hired Minneapolis-based Ellerbe Becket as engineering consultants. The 45,000-seat enclosed structure will focus on environmental friendliness, with a roof designed to capture rainfall with which to water the grass field.
PRODUCED BY DEBORAH GROSSBERG, WITH CONTRIBUTIONS FROM ALEXANDER EISENSCHMIDT, CATHY LANG HO, WILLIAM MENKING, LAURA MULAS, KESTER RATTENBURY, BBKE URAS, AND JAMES WAY.