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Erie Basin Park
All Images: Colin Cooke
 
The park's recurring motif of crisscrossing lines (top and above) was inspired by shadows cast from the rigging of ships that once filled the harbor.
 
 

Erie Basin Park
Designer: Lee Weintraub Landscape Architecture
Red Hook, Brooklyn

When the Swedish furniture company Ikea took over the 22-acre Todd Shipyard property along Brooklyn’s Erie Basin, it inherited piles of ropes, winches, a forgotten shipyard log, and a hefty chunk of Red Hook history: a Civil War–era dry dock renowned as one of the harbor’s most important maritime sites.

The precise value of that history—its social meaning, its salutary grit—became a kind of currency in the tug-of-war over this freshly post-industrial swath of land. Zoned for heavy manufacturing, the site could not accommodate a retail use without planning commission approval, which allowed Ikea’s blue-and-yellow building only if the retailer returned to the public the very history it was about to displace.

The result, six years later, is Erie Basin Park, a nearly mile-long stretch of newly accessible public waterfront. Built and paid for by Ikea, the park is both a tribute and a tombstone to the industrial past—and a surprisingly optimistic statement about Brooklyn’s future.

The rezoning called for an esplanade keyed to the shipyard’s maritime flavor. “Whatever we could save, we tried to save,” said Lee Weintraub, principal of Lee Weintraub Landscape Architecture, the park’s designer. Most spectacular are four monumental gantry cranes, stationed around the site (two others collapsed into the basin, and were deemed too difficult to preserve). Also incorporated were sundry artifacts—cleats and bollards, heaps of rope—while concrete blocks, once used to stabilize ships, are inscribed with the names of vessels repaired there. A motif of crisscrossing lines recurs throughout, inspired by shadows cast from masts of ships.

All this texture is in some sense mitigation for the loss of other historic elements, notably the more than 700-foot-long dry dock, known as Graving Dock No. 1, filled in by Ikea for a parking lot. Amid the asphalt, the dock has been outlined in Belgian-block paving stones, while a small segment has been preserved near the water’s edge.

In its complicated role as the private owner of a public park, Ikea found an apt partner in Weintraub, who had worked on an early design for nearby Valentino Pier, and helped design Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City. For his part, Weintraub credits the support of planning commission chair Amanda Burden, as well as his team, including Anderson deMoraes, who together specified 558 trees, plus wildflowers and grasses—all of which Ikea must maintain. The store’s safety team also patrols the park, which is open from dawn to dusk.

Essential to the scheme was the separation of the 346,000-square-foot store from the park. “We were very insistent that we wanted this to be a public esplanade,” said Ikea spokesman Joseph Roth. Even the crane lighting, designed by Fisher Marantz Stone, avoids turning the industrial past into a blue-and-yellow Ikea logo. Meanwhile, Parks Department–style benches at the esplanade’s approaches signal the open-space fabric of the city. (The site also links with the route of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway.)

Opened in June, the park is still being discovered by New Yorkers with their own opinions about public-private trade-offs. “You have to make a judgment,” as Weintraub said, “whether Brooklyn has gotten equal value for the zoning change that yielded the blue box.” With its views of Erie Basin’s barges and wharves—enhanced by a new dock for free water-taxi service—Brooklyn’s maritime heritage, while it lasts, is in many ways more public than ever.
 






The landscape architects designed rugged site furniture (top), to complement the industrial vernacular of the preserved gantry cranes (above).
 
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Rod and Reel
Jeff Byles

This summer, Hudson River Park’s landscaping expanded beyond its popular jogging and biking path to make it a more immersive place. While most of the park’s improvements in the past few years have converted its rotting piers to playgrounds and lawns, the newest section—a 4.6-acre swath starting just above Chambers Street and continuing to the contested Pier 40 parking garage and playing fields at Houston Street—includes three sculptures by Williamsburg artist Mark Gibian that endow the segment with a fittingly nautical mood.

The three pieces, which Gibian sculpted in Plattekill, New York, twist galvanized pipe into shapes that bend like fanciful boats or enormous fish. The first, a short, 1,000-pound bench, was installed on June 16 and helps anchor the new section of the waterfront promenade, which includes a boardwalk just upland of the main walkway. The other two pieces, 12 and 16 feet tall, underscore the park’s celebration of local ecology.


COURTESY Mark Gibian
 
Gibian with his cantilevered, galvanized steel sculpture, which will be colonized by a varying palette of plants. 
 

“The idea was to have pieces relate to each other over space and time as you walk,” said Gibian, who designed similar work for the Northside Piers condo on Williamsburg’s waterfront. “We will eventually have plants growing on the units so they will change with seasons and have life,” he added.

Here, Gibian’s pieces serve an effort by the Hudson River Park Trust to lure visitors onto the piers that make the site unique (and uniquely expensive to build). “While the park attracts 17 million visitors a year, I think most people experience it as a strip of greenery adjacent to the West Side Highway,” said Trust chairperson Diana Taylor at a recent press event. So the new phases, including nearby Piers 25 and 26, still under construction, abound with activities, which Taylor listed: “a playground, practice field, mini-golf and snack bar, beach volleyball, historic ships, skate park, basketball, boathouse and café, estuary research center, dog run, tennis, and public art.”

The public art affirms the maritime roots of the park’s new, $16.3 million segment, which was designed by landscape architects Sasaki Associates and Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects. “They wanted to emphasize an estuarine environment,” Gibian told AN. “You don't have to do much to these forms I was already making, to make them evocative of fish forms.” 

While Gibian runs and bikes on the park’s path, he said his new work is oriented toward the water. “Those piers are a tremendous opportunity to reflect the needs of adjacent neighborhoods,” he said. The Trust plans to solicit development proposals this year for the 300,000-square-foot Pier 57, and settle on a mixed-use strategy for the 15-acre Pier 40. With millions to raise and a softening economy, it had better hope Gibian’s work strikes a chord.

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Revival of the Swingingest
Lautner's Beyer Residence, Los Angeles (1969).
Joshua White

Between Earth and Heaven: The Architecture of John Lautner
Hammer Museum
10999 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
Through October 12

The great limitation of architecture exhibitions is that they generally display only representations of buildings through two-dimensional images and models—pale shadows of the original work. This diminishes the impact of any building, especially work that is dynamic and multifaceted. Between Earth and Heaven: The Architecture of John Lautner, a landmark exhibition at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, boldly challenges that constraint by recreating the experience of walking through the architect’s studio and the visionary spaces he created, juxtaposing video projections, large cutaway models, and drawings of six houses, all selected to illustrate themes the architect explored. These are the highlights of an engrossing exhibition that chronicles Lautner’s six decades of practice, from an apprenticeship at Taliesin in the 1930s to his death as a proudly independent though embittered master in 1994.

Historian Nicholas Olsberg curated the exhibition jointly with Frank Escher, a principal in the LA firm of Escher GuneWardena Architecture and a former Lautner associate. Escher also designed the installation, placing the drawings under sheets of Plexiglas, taped onto tilted MDF boxes at the height and angle at which they were originally created in Lautner’s studio. “Lautner considered himself a terrible draftsman,” said Olsberg. “He would hold a thick pencil in his fist, but what results is magical because it’s three dimensional. The line is bold and decisive, the plans and perspectives match exactly. The drawing is effectively a model.” The six cutaway models were fabricated by a company known for creating sophisticated maquettes for the aerospace industry. These are displayed at eye-level to draw you into their volumes, and the videos are projected high on the walls so that they can be viewed from across the room.


JOSHUA WHITE
 
LAUTNER'S WALSTROM RESIDENCE, LOS ANGELES (1969).
 

Murray Grigor, who won acclaim for films on Mackintosh, Wright, and other masters, made the six video loops in parallel to his documentary feature on Lautner, Infinite Space, premiering at the Hammer’s Billy Wilder Theater on September 18. Using a 27-foot crane, Grigor takes the viewer up and over these houses with the lazy grace of the hawks that sail over the Marbrisa house in Acapulco. He is equally adept at capturing the view of a first-time visitor walking through the interior. Unlike many documentarians, he uses no zooms or jump cuts, and his compositions have the same spatial balance in two dimensions that one’s eyes can appreciate in three. He’s an invisible presence, analyzing the shifting perspectives and the play of light and reflections without drawing attention to his camera. In the glass-walled mountain cabin of Idyllwild, the Rubik’s Cube of the Schaffer house in the Hollywood Hills, and the soaring aerie of the Chemosphere, he is able to compress an hour of experience into two or three minutes of imagery. The grand sweep of Marbrisa, the Elrod House in Palm Springs, and the Turner House in Aspen are caught with the same fidelity as the intimate spaces of earlier work.

The Hammer exhibition shows how drawings, models, and images can be woven together as seamlessly as Lautner combined wooden slats, expanses of glass, and soaring concrete vaults. It will delight aficionados and broaden understanding of an architect who was, in his lifetime, ignored and even denigrated by many of his peers. If Lautner, an expressionist and apostle of organic architecture who swam against the mainstream of cool rectilinear modernism, had been as widely published and sympathetically reviewed as Richard Neutra, he would probably have realized some of the 50 daring projects that remained on his boards. As with Rudolph Schindler, his genius was appreciated by a discerning few, gaining wider currency after his death. Neither was invited to build a Case Study house, for John Entenza was unable to see beyond the flat roof and the right angle, and his program embraced only the mainstream of postwar modernism.

“What if?” is a question that hovers over this exhibition as one encounters Lautner’s proposal for the Midtown School, a cluster of tent-like structures, or the stacked hillside apartments of the Alto Capistrano project. Suppose Bob Hope had approved the first version of his house, which Lautner designed with Felix Candela as an undulating concrete shell. But for all the regrets, we should be thankful that 50 extraordinary houses were realized, mostly in LA. Nearly all are cherished by their owners.

You Get What You Pay For

For the last year-and-a-half, the New-York Historical Society has been locked in a bitter feud with its neighbors around Central Park West over plans for a 23-story condominium tower that would help finance the project. But in early July, it changed tack. “We don’t have plans for a tower,” Louise Mirrer, the society’s president, told The New York Times. “We think we can meet our needs over the next few years by focusing on our building.”

It is a rare sentiment these days, and while it may be changing in light of economic realities, the trend of governmental and not-for-profit institutions relying on the private sector for the financing or construction of capital projects has continued apace. As the number of such public-private projects continues to rise, touching everything from schools to parks to hospitals, so too does the debate over which side benefits more.

Don Elliot, chairman of the City Planning Commission during the Lindsay administration, when such programs became more popular as the city’s fiscal crisis grew, said it is an issue of political math. “If it means less public money to get the same building, that’s what politicians will do,” he said. “The question is, are you getting the same building?”

Then again, what if the alternative is no building at all? “The city and the private institutions, if they were able to do it efficiently and in a timely way, they would have done it themselves,” said Michael Slattery, vice president of the Real Estate Board of New York, the powerful developers group.

A prime example of this dichotomy is the current fight in Greenwich Village over St. Vincent’s plans for a new hospital. Short on funds, hospital administrators partnered with the Rudins, one of the city’s storied real estate families, to swap its old facilities on 7th Avenue for a new hospital across the street. Of the project’s estimated $850 million budget, $310 million would come from the sale of those facilities. The Rudins would then adaptively resuse some buildings as condos while tearing down others.

On the other end of the city, in East Harlem, Mount Sinai Medical Center is pursuing a similar plan, and partnered with the Durst Organization, which agreed to contribute $250 million toward a new research facility in exchange for the new building’s air rights, which in turn would make way for a 540-foot luxury tower. Community opposition was swift and immediate, especially considering local dislike of the hospital’s Annenberg Building, the 436-story, blockwide black monolith that many see as a blight on the Central Park skyline.

“It’s a complex problem and we’re really alert to that,” said T. Gorman Reilly, president of Civitas, a local planning advocacy group that opposes the project. “The problem is, these community facilities do provide a lot of public good. But it’s gotten out of control because there are so few sites left.” But Brenda Perez, a spokeperson for the hospital, said it had no choice. “Mount Sinai considered multiple options,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Selling the air rights was the only option to make the financial equation work.”

No one questions the need for more hospitals. The question instead is one of public financing for such projects, or lack thereof. “There’s been an attraction in government to think that you can get the private sector to build infrastructure without having to pay for it,” said Kent Barwick, the outgoing president of the Municipal Art Society who also worked in the Lindsay administration. “The idea was, you’d pay for it with development rights, but we quickly learned that there are costs associated with such deals, as well.” Barwick points to the Education Construction Fund, which was created by Lindsay to offer bonds and air rights transfers in exchange for school construction. The fund created 18,000 school seats in a dozen schools, 4,500 units of housing, and 1.2 million square feet of office space, according to the city’s Department of Education. But Barwick highlighted its first project, the AT&T exchange tower (now Verizon) at 375 Pearl Street, which he called one of the city’s ugliest buildings, in part for the way it looms over the Brooklyn Bridge. “We have come to learn there can be hidden costs on the public realm that can negate the public gains offered by these projects,” he said.

Slattery countered that with developers’ experience, it is irresponsible of the city to otherwise use taxpayer dollars trying to complete these projects. “Developers have the kind of requisite experience to do this business, whether it’s schools or hospitals or parks,” Slattery said.“It’s compatible with what they do everyday.” He cited Battery Park City as a prime example of the private sector undertaking a project with public support that the government would have struggled to complete on its own.

The city, or at least the Bloomberg administration, seems to agree.“That’s our bailiwick,” said Janel Patterson, a spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corporation. “We take underutilized public land and work with the development community to develop it into something that benefits both parties.” She was also quick to emphasize the deep community involvement in creating such projects, which she said ensures local support and approval.

Still, some question whether the city is being taken advantage of, especially during the real estate bonanza of the past half-decade. “It’s not a positive trend,” said Tom Angotti, a planning professor at Hunter College. “It’s the neoliberal dream and what it leads to is the weakening of the public sector.”

Ron Shiffman, director emeritus of the Pratt Center for Community Development, believes such deals can work, though they require a balance that may be missing. “It’s a tool,” he said. “Tools can be used properly and improperly. At the moment, it’s being overused and misused. It’s not something I would throw out, it just needs to be used responsibly and accountably.”

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Profile: Dawanna Williams

Yoko Inoue
 
 

Dawanna Williams
Founder and Principal
Dabar Development Properties


From the perspective of an airship or an urban planner’s PowerPoint, the city may look like swathes of unified development along major avenues and big-acre sites like Rockefeller Center, Stuy Town, and Battery Park City. But on the street, urban dwellers experience the city block by block, building to building. It’s that smaller scale that appealed to Dawanna Williams, so much so that she left off lawyering to become a developer in what she calls “signature neighborhoods,” including Harlem, Fort Greene, and Bushwick.

In a field dominated by extensive family clans and an apprentice-eat-apprentice ethos, Williams, 38, comes from an atypical background. Raised in Atlanta by a single working mother, she went on to study economics and government at Smith College. She came to New York in 1997 and started working for law firms with a hand in corporate real estate. That led her to get involved in deals like the sale of the 1921 skyscraper 30 Wall Street and financing the rehabilitation of the Starrett-Lehigh in Chelsea. “I liked the idea of putting together projects that people would later enjoy,” said Williams and so, while still working as a lawyer, she started buying up townhouses in her own Clinton Hill neighborhood, renovating them into rental apartments and using the assets to make more purchases. “One of her strong qualities is Dawanna’s ability to address and resolve gracefully unforeseen issues,” said Hilary Weinstein, a vice president at the Community Preservation Corporation that financed Williams’ first Harlem project. “She has a great temperament for dealing with things, and that’s rare in developers.”

In 2003, Williams founded Dabar Development Partners and set out to work on small and medium-scale developments in emerging communities. The name Dabar comes from the Hebrew for “words from God,” which Williams came across while reading Deuteronomy in the Torah. “In the late 90s, I had seen how the big developers went for older buildings and vacant sites, and I thought I could apply that same approach in signature communities with undervalued assets.” Williams started scouting properties marked by what she calls “tangible and intangible hallmarks,” including historic resonance, architectural distinction, thriving churches, intellectuals, and artists. She found those qualities in Fort Greene and Bedford Stuyvesant where, while still a lawyer, she started working on townhouse deals with four to six units. It grew quickly into something she hadn’t really expected: a niche in high-quality housing in historic but undervalued communities.

The first significant project on her own was the $6.2 million Marshall building in Harlem. Taking two 1920s townhouses that had been vacant for some 40 years, Williams gutted them, added 34 feet to the back, and transformed them into ten one-, two- and three-bedroom condos with 11-foot ceilings, granite kitchens, and fireplaces. With the most expensive unit going for $872,600, the project sold out quickly.

Up until then, Williams worked for the most part with contractors, but then she met Paola Antonelli, a senior design curator at the Museum of Modern Art, and Thelma Goldin, director of the Studio Museum Harlem. Both encouraged her to take it up a notch and engage with more adventuresome architecture and emerging architects. Antonelli wrote in an email that Williams has “a deep understanding of the context where she is operating and on pushing herself always a bit beyond her own comfort zone in order to deliver not simply buildings, but meaningful additions to the urban and social landscape.”

She started working with Galia Solomonoff, an architect who designed, as part of OpenOffice, the Dia:Beacon museum and has also done time in such prestigious firms as OMA in The Netherlands and Bernard Tschumi and Rafael Viñoly in New York. For Dabar Development, Solomonoff is currently designing an unusual $26.5 million project on an enviable site smack in the middle of Central Park North. It’s a joint venture with the New York United Sabbath Day Adventists to rebuild a church on the site with a 15-story setback condominium tower. “Dawanna’s dual talent is her patience in bringing together seemingly opposite stakeholders—bankers, community, church—and her ability to seize on rewarding yet underestimated urban situations,” said Solomonoff. “She’s a dealmaker extraordinaire.”

Williams has also tapped Danois Architects, a firm with a background in sustainable design, including the completion of Melrose Commons in the South Bronx that won a top award for affordable green housing from the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association in 2003. Williams turned to David Danois in 2006 when Dabar was selected as one of 25 teams to participate in Mayor Bloomberg’s New Foundations Initiative for developing 236 city-owned abandoned or vacant lots. Dabar will build 22 town- and multifamily buildings on 17 sites in Bushwick and East New York, one-third of which will be affordable and all LEED-certified.

Casting an eye beyond the city, Williams discovered the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia, a kind of sixth-borough Dumbo that has drawn artists to its warehouse conversions and new construction. With rapper/ producer Jay-Z as an investor, she is well underway constructing a 24-loft, eight-story condominium designed by the Philadelphia firm EM Architecture on a site with views of Ben Franklin Bridge and a block over from the 11-story American Lofts building designed by Winka Dubbeldam.

So far, Williams said that the biggest challenge she has had to face as a developer of projects over 15,000 but under 60,000 square feet is financing. “New York is loaded with tenement developers and visionary project developers,” she said, “but there’s not a whole lot in between. The banks are better set up for those extremes, while midsized developers tend to be undefined and have to structure deals case by case.”

One by one suits Williams just fine, and she is even sanguine about the current economic downturn. “I believe in, I am even thankful for, corrections because I believe that in the end, the most qualified will remain in play.”

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If You Plant It, They Will Learn
Courtesy Rafael Vinoly Architects

While he was working as the first Research Fellow at Rafael Viñoly Architects in 2005, Joseph Hagerman spent his time devising a more efficient, effective, and affordable green roof. When it came time to test Hagerman’s ideas, the firm considered building a prototype on the 5,000-square-foot roof of its Hudson Square loft. “We decided, why not do something for the community,” Ned Kaufman, Director of Research and Training, told AN. “That’s when we hit upon the idea of a school.”

The school in question is the Adlai Stevenson campus in the Unionport section of the Bronx, an incubator that houses eight boutique high schools. The architects partnered with the Salvadori Center, which embraces education through the built environment and is also located in the Bronx, to choose a school and build a network to help with design, financing, and construction.

Putting a green roof on a public school would be a civic contribution in and of itself, but Viñoly wanted to do even more. “The key thing with this green roof is that it’s not just a green roof, but also a classroom,” Kaufman said. “That’s why we call it a ‘learning landscape.’”

Not only will students be able to tend the plants for botany classes at the environmentally-focused school, but all the data from the monitoring instruments, which are being supplied and installed by Columbia, will be used in math classes and the architecture-themed school will study its construction and function. To jumpstart the process, test boxes were erected on the roof Tuesday to allow students to play—make that learn—in the dirt.

Materials came from Pittsburgh Corning, which provided the Foamglas base, and Tremco, for the sealant. The Gaia Institute helped choose the 30 species of native plants, 20,000 of which will eventually cover the 70,000-square-foot roof. In the crucial area of funding, $800,000 was contributed by Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. and Councilmember Annabel Palma. Kaufman estimates another $1 million will be needed to complete the first phase of 25,000 square feet.

Upon its completion, the hope is the city’s School Construction Authority, which oversees the construction and maintenance of schools citywide, will be swayed to complete the project and even spread it to other schools. “It would have been a whole lot easier just putting the thing on our roof, which we considered,” Kaufman said. “Our feeling was that we could show the School Construction Authority that it could be done. Once it’s been done once and is shown to be affordable and effective, then they can replicate it going forward.”

“And when you consider the size of the SCA and everything it controls,” Kaufman added, “that’s a real path to system-level changes.”

Matt Chaban

An aerial view of the existing roof (left) and the proposed green roof.
All images courtesy Rafael viñoly Architects
 
Students and teachers discuss the fauna to be planted in mock ups of the green roof on June 10.
all phots by Tobias everke
 
a group of students planting in one of the boxes.
 
students inspect renderings of the proposed green roof.

 

 

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Rudolph Revisited
The restored Rudolph Building, above left, includes improved mechanical systems and new sustainable features. Gwathmey Siegel's addition, above right and rendered below, will house the History of Art department.
Courtesy Gwathmey Siegel & Associates

 

Paul Rudolph’s 1963 Art & Architecture Building at Yale University may be the most hapless masterwork in the canon of modern architecture, but its fortunes appear to be changing. This early example of brutalism is being restored to Rudolph’s original intention by one of his students, Charles Gwathmey, who received his Master of Architecture degree there in 1962. He has also designed a reverent addition, linked in name to a key donor from the same class and to be known as the Jeffrey Loria Center, which will house the university’s history of art department. The client is another student of Rudolph’s, Robert A. M. Stern, class of ‘65, currently the dean of the Yale School of Architecture. The entire project, budgeted at $126 million, is due to be completed by mid-August.

Paul Rudolph designed the building, known on campus as the A&A Building, while he was chair of the Yale School of Architecture. An intricately conceived, grooved, bush-hammered concrete structure with 37 levels on 10 floors, it was hailed by critics as a marvel of space, light, and mass. But its fortress-like appearance, rigid plan, and indifference to its neighbors won few campus admirers. In that era of political uproar, students saw it as an emblem of establishment arrogance. In 1969, it was severely damaged in a fire, the cause of which was never determined.

To make matters worse, Rudolph’s successor as chair of the architecture department was the postmodernist Charles Moore. He oversaw the building’s reconstruction, including the removal of asbestos insulation throughout. To address students’ needs, Moore permitted the ad hoc partitioning of the interior, significantly altering its spatial integrity. Over the years, other alterations further diluted Rudolph’s vision, causing him to ultimately disavow what had once been considered his crowning achievement. “The building was a victim,” said a rueful Gwathmey, who was a leading defender of modernism in the style wars of the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Ironically, one of his chief antagonists was the young turk postmodernist Stern. While Stern calls Rudolph “the most talented architect of his generation,” his commitment to renovating his professor’s landmark is as a historicist.

While there is a renewed critical interest in Paul Rudolph, Stern notes that getting Yale to restore the much-derided building was “a hard sell.” The university only agreed because tearing it down would have been more expensive. While Gwathmey proudly recalls evenings in grad school “spent hunched over a drafting board with my rapidograph, working on the building’s plans,” he was not the original choice for the task. Stern first selected Richard Meier to design the addition and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s David Childs, class of ‘67, to undertake the renovation. But dividing the project between two architects proved unfeasible. Rumor has it that the collaboration between the teams was less than smooth, and that Meier’s addition blocked the panoramic views from the building’s upper-floor studios, one of its few cherished features, irritating the architecture faculty. Apparently in response to all this dysfunction, the renovation’s patron, Yale alumnus Sid Bass, whose Fort Worth home is one of Rudolph’s most celebrated residential designs, pulled his pledge of $20 million. More evidence, it seemed, that the building was jinxed.

Gwathmey professes ignorance of what exactly prompted the earlier team’s dismissal or Bass’s displeasure, conceding only that “it’s a challenging commission because the clients are all architects.” He added that Meier graciously provided him with his model of the building when he took over the project in 2005. Happily, when Bass saw Gwathmey’s new scheme he reinstated his gift, along with the stipulation that the renovated structure be known henceforth as the Rudolph Building.


EZRA STOLLER/ESTO


EZRA STOLLER/ESTO


COURTESY GWATHMEY SIEGEL & ASSOCIATES

The A&A Building as it appeared in 1963 (top), in bold contrast to Louis Kahn’s Yale University Art Gallery (center) across the street. The Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library (above) links the original structure to its addition.
 

Gwathmey’s firsthand knowledge of Rudolph’s design was of little use during the renovation. Intimidated by building next door to Louis Kahn’s Yale University Art Gallery, Rudolph not only designed numerous iterations of what he hoped would be the greatest modernist building of its day, but he also continued to tinker with his design even during the construction process. This was possible because the university had negotiated a time and materials contract with the builder. “The more complicated it got, the better he liked it,” Gwathmey chuckled. “Almost every day we discovered conditions that were not in the plans.” Unfortunately, Rudolph’s ambition surpassed the construction technologies of the time, and by the time the university was ready to renovate, the building was in poor condition, with rebar poking through the concrete in some places.

For Gwathmey, one of the worst indignities to Rudolph’s building was the installation of insulated fenestration composed of small busy panes, which detracted from the building’s spatial rhythms. He rectified matters by installing what are the largest panes of Viracon insulated panes ever fabricated. He has also restored Rudolph’s clerestories, his dramatic open spaces on the main floor and between the fourth and fifth floors, and the internal bridge. Gwathmey’s scrupulous attention to detail has extended to commissioning an orange carpet based on the exact specifications of a two-inch-wide swath of rug rescued from the original building, and to designing lighting fixtures fitted with energy-efficient metal halide bulbs that mimic the exposed incandescent ones in the suspended lighting system Rudolph conceived for the building.

One of the reasons students deemed the building arrogant was that while Rudolph fussed over architectural details like custom lighting, he neglected creature comforts like air conditioning, which made the building insufferable in summer. Remedying this situation posed a challenge because there was little tolerance in the ceiling for wiring and ducts. Gwathmey opted for an energy-efficient radiant ceiling panel system, which cut the ductwork by two thirds. (The project has a LEED Silver rating.)

Accessibility posed another contemporary challenge for designers. Few buildings could be more hostile to the disabled than the A&A. So that it would comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Gwathmey placed additional elevators in the tower at the A&A’s north end, which he transformed into the fulcrum between the building and its addition. The tower also houses a handicap-accessible lobby and entrance for the main lecture theater, Hastings Hall. While there are still multilevel passages that are not accessible by wheelchair, there are now alternative routes.

Gwathmey has sought to give the adjacent zinc-paneled Loria Center an identity of its own, while engaging the A&A in a visual dialogue, matching the glazed void of its facade with a protruding limestone solid that similarly has three rows of windows. His addition consists of a three-story base with a tower rising to the same height as the Rudolph building. Its outdoor terraces on the fourth and seventh floors offer views of the building never before seen. Linking the two on the ground floor is an expanded glass and aluminum library, which for the first time brings together the university’s art, architecture, drama, and arts of the book collections under one roof. Gwathmey’s use of zinc and limestone is an attempt to remedy Rudolph’s supposed contextual indifference. Louis Kahn’s nearby Center for British Art is also clad in zinc, and the limestone not only picks up the hue of Rudolph’s concrete, but is also a material used throughout Yale’s old campus.

Ornery but brilliant, much like the man himself, the Rudolph Building will doubtless provoke and inspire many generations of Yale students to come. However, once a statement of a defiant modernity, it is today an architectural relic, making it an instructive icon as well.

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NYDEP Blue
The blue light used on the eggs and elsewhere in the complex contrasts with the city's predominantly amber and white light, instilling a sense of calm and cleanliness.
Carl Ambrose/Courtesy NYCDEP

Last night, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) lighted the new digester eggs at its Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The lighting scheme, designed by L’Observatoire International, subtly casts a halo of blue light around the 145-foot-high, stainless steel–clad eggs, which process as much as 1.5 million gallons of sludge every day.

The lighting of the eggs marked the latest milestone in a 20-year plan, initiated in 1998, to expand and update the Newtown Creek facility, which is New York City’s largest wastewater treatment plant, processing the flow of 1 million residents in a 25-square-mile area including parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Polshek Partnership, which is providing master planning for the project, also designed the cladding, arrangement, and parapet atop the eggs. In addition to expanding the capacity and efficiency of the complex, the DEP is attempting to make it a better neighbor by reducing the plant’s odor and opening up portions to the public.

Standing atop one of the eggs, which converts human excrement into fertilizer through a process of anaerobic digestion, DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd gestured to a stand of row houses immediately abutting the plant. “Any good town planner would locate a facility like this as far away from residential areas as possible,” said Lloyd, “but because this is New York City, these functions have to exist cheek-to-jowl.”

Last September, the DEP opened the George Trakas–designed Waterfront Nature Walk, which provided the first public access to the Newtown Creek waterfront. This fall it will open a visitors’ center at the site, designed by Vito Acconci, which will feature installations describing how the city’s effluent is treated.

L’Observatoire’s lighting scheme does its own part in making Newtown Creek a better neighbor. Backlit by four batteries of four 2,000-watt metal halide lamps, the eggs, which possess an elegant sculptural quality of their own, serve as a local landmark for travelers on the Long Island Expressway and Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. (Four of the eight eggs went online on May 23, and the rest are expected to be in service by the end of this year.) The firm provided lighting design for the entire 52-acre facility as well, strategically placing white and amber lights for functional purposes while liberally sprinkling the plant with touches of blue. 

Speaking of that color’s role at the site, L’Observatoire founder Hervé Descottes said, “The color is a symbol for calm, cleanliness, and purity, but it also serves to contrast the light of the city, which is predominantly amber or bright white.”

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Not Again
The damage done.
All Photos by Matt Chaban 

There is no question that today’s crane accident—the second in about as many months, leading to the 14th and 15th construction fatalities so far this year—is a horrible tragedy. And yet from his remarks today at the site of the collapse, Mayor Michael Bloomberg seemed to be suggesting that what happened was merely the cost of doing business.

“Keep in mind construction will always be a dangerous business,” Bloomberg said at a press briefing only a few hundred feet from the tangled mess of debris that lay broken in the intersection of First Avenue and East 91st Street. “Now two crane collapses may look like a pattern, but there is no reason to believe so. We have to have a balance [between safety and expediency] to be able to build in this city.”

Two days earlier, the Department of Buildings released [.PDF] “Revised Protocols for Erecting and Dismantling (Including Jumping) Tower Cranes.” It was a revision of new regulations put in place on March 25, following the first crane accident ten days earlier. The thing is, it did not help much. As Robert LiMandri, the acting commissioner of the increasingly beleaguered DOB, said earlier this morning, all protocols had been followed.

“There was a pre-installation meeting of all the parties concerned, that was on 4/17,” LiMandri told the press. “Three days later, erection began, and department engineers and inspectors were on hand as the crane went up on 4/20 and 4/21. The crane was jumped twice, on 4/22 and 4/27, and it was inspected both times by our engineers.” A flurry of questions followed, the refrain remained, “We’ll have to look into that.”

Everyone—an army of officials and politicians, hordes of local, national, and international reporters, and onlookers both from within the damaged building, 354 East 91st Street, and without—were left scratching their heads. If everything was up to code, then what went wrong?

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer was short on explanations but long on solutions. “I think the Buildings commissioner has done a good job, but he needs more help,” Stringer told AN, just as a woman passed by wearing a dust mask. “We need to have an agency-wide strike force to address these persistent issues.”

Many who lived in the building wore masks in an apparent state of constant fear, or at least uneasiness. One woman, who gave her name simply as Carrie and was leaving the scene with her boyfriend, said that when they felt the building, 354 East 91st Street, shudder from their bedroom on the 18th floor, they immediately knew the cause. “We stare every day out our window at that thing,” she said, referring to the crane. “We used to wave to the guy in the cab. We all knew it was only a matter of time before it came down.”

Another woman, who lives on the seventh floor and was wearing a Princeton ’94 baseball cap, took a slightly more sardonic view of the situation. “I look at it like in The World According to Garp,” she said. “You know, where the plane flies into the building, and he says, ‘We have to live there. It’ll never happen again.’” She added that her biggest concern was making sure her pets and those of her neighbors were okay.

While the deaths of the two construction workers is terrible news, it is also fortunate the accident was not more devastating, like March's, which destroyed an entire five-story walk-up and killed seven. At one point, LiMandri was quick to point out that the crane spared busy First Avenue and countless lives as a result. Then again, and for the second time, it also spared the building that led to the accident.

Tony Avella, the Queens City Council member and frequent critic of the Department of Buildings and the Bloomberg administration, said in a phone interview that nothing had changed since the last accident, and he remains skeptical that it ever will.

“We have to send a message to the construction companies and the developer that we’re not going to stand for this anymore,” said Avella, a candidate for mayor for whom development reform is at the heart of his candidacy. “I don’t know what else to do at this point. I really think we just have to shut everything down. Shut them down until they can prove that this will never happen again.”

Such a proposal could be considered anathema to the development-first Bloomberg administration, but that is pretty much what happened, when LiMandri requested that all tower cranes forgo work over the weekend, with all Kodiak models—the same as the one that fell today—ceasing indefinitely. He also called an emergency meeting of industry leaders for tomorrow morning.

Before he arrived on the scene, Mayor Bloomberg was hosting his weekly radio show. While discussing the accident, he declared, "Nobody wants this economy to grow more than me, but we’re not going to kill people." Maybe there is hope for change after all.

Matt Chaban

The streets surrounding 335 East 91st Street, a development known as the Azure, were swarming with emergency responders after the cab of a crane working on the project fell into a neighboring building, 354 East 91st Street.
 
A half-dozen news helicopters were dispatched to survey the damage.
 
Across the street, two inspectors have a look of their own.
 
 
 

 

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St. Vincent's Hail Mary
An aerial view, with the hospital at left and the development at center right.
Courtesy St. Vincent's

“If O’Toole had to go, this is a much better option,” Gil Horowitz said. The former member of Community Board 2 and Greenwich Village resident of more than 50 years was referring to St. Vincent’s Hospital’s revised plans to build a new 21-story hospital tower at the western corner of 7th Avenue and 12th Street, demolishing the distinctive, saw-toothed landmark O’Toole Building in the process.

St. Vincent’s, along with its development partner the Rudin family, presented the new plans to a board committee last night, where many community members and preservationists seemed to agree with Horowitz. “They really listened to us and took our suggestions and criticisms, as well as those of Landmarks, to heart,” Horowitz said.

It was a stark turnaround from two weeks earlier, when the Landmarks Preservation Commission said that it could not support the plans as designed, and the development team insisted there were no alternatives.

In addition to the hospital, those plans involved the sale and demolition of eight buildings on the eastern side of the hospital campus, to be replaced by the Rudins with a condo tower and townhouses designed by FXFowle. The $310 million sale would pay debt service on the campus and help finance the $835 million hospital, which is designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.

The new plans call for restoring and adaptively reusing four of the easterly buildings for residential use. (The commission recommended retaining five of the eight buildings,  which, along with the O’Toole Building, lie within the Greenwich Village Historic District.) The condo tower will shrink in height by 30 feet and in width by 60 feet, and the number of townhouses will be reduced. “This really locks back into the architecture of the neighborhood,” FXFowle partner Dan Kaplan said.

The hospital will lose two stories, falling from 329 to 299 feet, as well as a 53-foot prow that was proposed for its southwestern corner. “This should really open up the sky on the west side,” Ian Bader, the project architect for Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, said. The bulk will remain the same, however, by raising the five-story podium base to six and expanding the elliptical tower by four feet on each side.

Some in the audience were vexed by the hospital’s quick trip back to the drawing board, though they were generally happy with the results. “You should be congratulated for coming up with a plan so quickly after you told us last time you couldn’t reuse any of the buildings,” said Carol Greitzer, a member of the board’s Omnibus St. Vincent’s Hospital Committee, which was expressly created to oversee the hospital’s expansion for the board. “But there is no doubt the result is a better contribution to the streetscape.”

While they shared the optimism of the community, preservationists remained cautious. “It’s amazing how much better it looks with the buildings still present,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “But there may still be some major concerns.”

“I’m not yet sure what to think,” added Nadezhda Williams, a preservation associate at the Historic Districts Council. “There’s a lot to digest.” Meanwhile, roughly a dozen hospital workers and unionists showed up, waving signs that declared, “Lives Not Buildings.”

The plans now return to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for a new round of public review on June 3. Though the appropriateness of the designs will be vetted as usual, the focus will likely be St. Vincent’s hardship application.

Last invoked in 1993, this provision of the city’s landmarks law allows landlords hamstrung by the commission’s findings—in this case, the determination of historical importance for the O’Toole Building, one of Albert Ledner’s four 1960s buildings for the Maritime Union in the city—to argue that they cannot maintain the landmark and either turn a profit or, in the case of a nonprofit like Saint Vincent’s, serve its charitable purpose.

“At the end of the day, the O’Toole building is the only site St. Vincent’s can move into,” Shelly Friedman, counsel to the hospital, said. In the end, that will likely be the case: Only three of 15 hardship applications have been denied.

Matt Chaban

The O'Toole Building will be torn down to make way for a new hospital tower, assuming the Landmarks Preservation Commission allows it.
Matt Chaban
 
The height of the hospital has been reduced by 30 feet and a 53-foot prow has been removed. The previous building envelope is outlined in red.
All images courtesy St. vincent's
 
As the renderings, which look north up seventh Avenue, show, the changes greatly open the building's western side to the sky.
 
The current hospital will be replaced by a condo tower while the historic buildings that line 12th Street will be repurposed as residences.
 
north Elevation of the current and previous plans and the existing condition.
 
West eleveation of the current and previous plans and the existing condition.
 
South elevation of the current and previous plans and the existing condition.
 
 

Eavesdrop: William Menking

 

For the design press, the second thing in April means but one thing: hotel rooms in gray and rainy Milan; and long, jetlagged subway rides to the Rho fairgrounds to tramp through dozens of pavilions, each the size of the Javits, in search of the latest and hottest in $150,000 kitchens and high-end plastic chairs. Yes, dear readers, we went to the annual I Saloni del Mobile—tough work, we know! There was design on display everywhere in the Lombard city, from public buses with pictures of great-looking Flos lamps to the cover of Italian Men’s Vogue, with Rem Koolhaas in a red double-collar shirt on the cover. We knew he was never a stickler for the old form-follows-function notion, but two collars?

For the foot-weary journalist, the days do not end when the fairgrounds close and we jostle past 340,000 other attendees to get back on the subway. (N.B.—thin Italian designers have very sharp elbows, so beware.) The real action at I Saloni happens after hours, at the parties. Andiamo! There’s prosecco to toss back, focaccia to nibble, and gossip to trade! Many of these parties are in the Zona Tortona, which used to be where young designers showed one-offs, hoping to interest a manufacturer, but these days, huge companies like Swarkoski and Corian play host. There is still lots to see, though, perhaps too much: MAP principal Laurent Gutierrez joked to us that “in the art world, people need to understand a work before they like it, but in design, they just need to like it.” This wise observation may help explain the scores of barely functional chairs, over-the-top shower heads, and similar objects destined either for the pages of glossy magazines, the dustbin of history, or both. But how to explain the work of the Czech design studio Koncern from Prague? It showed a line of broken glass carafes and goblets called “Domestic Violence” with publicity shots depicting a mad Czech designer attacking a young woman with a meat clever at her neck. Sex sells, sure, but uxoricide?

We were feeling very special and insider-ish when we got handed a VIP card by a fellow from Established & Sons (the London company run by Alasdhair Willis that produces the work of designers like Amanda Levete and Jasper Morrison) inviting us to skip the queue at their party at La Pelota. We were delighted by the idea of putting aside our strongly held democratic principles for a moment—the polloi can wait!—and cutting the line for some prosecco. Unfortunately, every journalist in Milan seemed to have the same card. Hopeful partiers would flash their VIP credential, only to be told to stand in line with all the other cardholders. We put a good face on things, rediscovered our principles, and waited with the crowd.

Send tips, euros, and anything prada to eavesdrop@archpaper.com.

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The Storytellers
At the Park Avenue [Season] Restaurant, snap-on upholstery, mountable wall panels, and pendant lamps can all be easily changed and stowed away until next year.
Michael Weber/Courtesy AvroKO

“We like to think of ourselves as the most open-minded clients we’re going to have,” said Greg Bradshaw, principal of the downtown architecture/interiors/fashion/book/concept/ ethos/lifestyle/design firm AvroKO, which he heads along with Kristina O’Neal, Adam Farmerie, and a very tired—that evening, at least—William Harris. The four of them were sitting at the end of the bar at PUBLIC, their first venture as their own clients, and were talking about everything from the just-completed transformation of the restaurant Park Avenue Winter into Park Avenue Spring (on which Harris has been working non-stop), to their plans for a new restaurant on the rapidly gentrifying Bowery, to joking about what exactly O’Neal’s SAT scores were, and what exactly they mean.

The four, who met when they were eighteen, each have different approaches, personalities, and skills, but together they make up a coherent and collaborative whole. Initially, however, they operated as two firms, Avro Design (Bradshaw and Farmerie) and KO Media Studios (O’Neal and Harris). After many years of collaborating, the two firms merged while working on PUBLIC. Their ethos is research-driven as much as it is fantastical, interpretive as much as creative, and conceptual as much as style-conscious. The firm has become known mostly for its historically referential restaurant design, clear in everything from the Lower East Side’s Stanton Social, which adopted the neighborhood’s long history of tailoring with a herringbone-riffing wine wall, to PUBLIC—the restaurant they own and above which they work—where they took the discarded fixtures of municipal buildings from the 1930s and recast them, so that an old library card catalog is used to store old menus.

Bradshaw talks about the process of collaborating (on a good day) and struggling (on a bad) with a client. “Most clients don’t have briefs, or an idea of what they want to do,” O’Neal explained. “If they’re coming to us, it’s often because they’re looking for a concept or a name—for the tabletop, the interior design, architecture.” So how do they make something—the boudoir-inspired upstairs dining room at Stanton Social, the gastropub-meets-manor-kitchen of E.U.—from nothing? “We try to apply information based on what we’re feeling on the location, space, and chef,” O’Neal said. “And then we find the seed idea.”

The seed for Stanton Social, then, was a gender-specific interpretation (silk florals upstairs, manly leather downstairs) of the neighborhood’s fashion history. The seed for E.U. was to turn the kitchen inside out, embracing the theater that restaurants have become in the last few years.


YUKI KAWANA
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And for Park Avenue [Season], the seed was a cheekily literal take on the current craze for food that is fresh, seasonal, and local, and a recognition of the fact that people like to eat differently in different weather. Switching from one season to another is a 72-hour process that completely transforms the space at the same time as the chef is transforming the menu. In the most recent transition from Winter to Spring, AvroKO replaced a spare white motif with one that Bradshaw described only as “Green!!!” Not literally, they all jumped in to explain, but more the idea of what “green” could be—by swapping out cushions, changing the lighting and fixtures, and re-coloring the wall. “Everything had to be flexible,” Farmerie explained of the firm’s design, which was as much about creating the details—quick but stable snaps, packing systems, storage ideas, and an installation plan—as a look.

AvroKO’s adoption of restaurant-as-stage is one sign of the way in which the firm co-opts the contemporary ethos without adopting the current trend. It’s easy to see the horse head jutting out of one of PUBLIC’s walls as just another example of the urban-rustic style currently fashionable in restaurant design—weird taxidermy, rusty farm implements, and un-ironic waistcoats—until it’s just as easy to remember that not only did AvroKO come first, but they’re already onto the next thing. “The design that we’re doing in New York now is shifting away from that,” O’Neal said of the craze for old brick and dark wood. “It starts as an ethos and then gets translated down as a trend,” she pointed out. “So what you wind up with is a flat version of what should be a dynamic experience.” 

So. How to keep things moving? 

“Neon!” Farmerie said, and it’s a sign of how thoroughly defined AvroKO’s overall aesthetic is that none of the group—especially him—took it seriously. “Our design is driven by our desires and wants and needs, and that’s driven by the landscape,” Harris said. “And if that landscape starts to shift, then we’ll shift as well.” Their Bowery restaurant is a perfect example. When the Bowery Hotel was under construction two years ago, homeless men took shelter under the scaffolding; by the time it opened, the glitterati that fill it every night had forgotten this. “It has so many histories—its rock-and-roll history, its life as a restaurant supply center,” Farmerie said of the neighborhood. “But I think there’s a sensibility of invention that’s always been on the Bowery.”

“It’s about not making things too precious,” Harris added. “Many designers can get very wrapped up in quote-unquote design.”

Instead, the four are looking to push things as far as they can. How far? “It’s like the title of the book; it’s the best of the worst,” Harris said, talking about Best Ugly, a book on the firm’s design philosophy that has just been released by HarperCollins. “It’s not conventional, it’s not traditional, it’s not so self-conscious—you just have to let things float and trust yourself enough.” How do they know when they’ve pushed it too far? “It’s when all four of us are looking and we all say ‘that doesn’t work,’” O’Neal said.

It’s clear, talking and listening to them, that the way they work together can’t be easily broken down into Bradshaw and Farmerie: architect or Harris: designer—much as they like to break it down into personalities like, “Kristina: smart one.” The number of sentences that go unfinished and the ones that go lovingly heckled is a sign of just how entrenched these four are in working together. “Before PUBLIC, we were like individual cowboys working together,” Harrison said. “And with PUBLIC, we were like a gang!”