Search results for "Public Design Commission"

Usher's Revenge?

On April 13, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Thomas McKnew Jr. abrogated parts of LA’s SB 1818 ordinance, which compels local governments to craft their own rules rewarding density bonuses to developers who include a percentage of affordable housing units in residential projects. Former LA planning commissioner Jane Usher, who recently stepped down, had been an outspoken opponent of the measure.

In some cases, the LA ordinance provided bonuses 300 percent greater than those mandated by SB 1818. The ruling prevents the city from approving projects with density bonuses that exceed state law.

The ordinance has been the target of numerous lawsuits. One such suit, filed in April 2008 by a group of homeowners called the Environment And Housing Coalition Los Angeles (EAHCLA), argued that the city acted improperly by approving the ordinance, which allowed developers to increase density and height while reducing parking and open space requirements—all without environmental review. Judge McKnew agreed, and his decision throws an unknown number of proposed developments into jeopardy.

Proponents of the ordinance have said that it encourages affordable housing and limits sprawl. Foes have long argued that it was a giveaway to developers and speculators which would have resulted in a net loss of affordable housing as developers razed older apartment complexes to build profitable, market-priced condominiums with one or two affordable units.

In March 2008, then Los Angeles City Planning Commission President Jane Ellison Usher authored an email opposing the ordinance and inviting public action. In the now-famous missive, Usher pointed to language within the ordinance defining some projects seeking density bonuses as “ministerial,” thereby exempting them from review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Usher noted that the ministerial designation was at odds with a Categorical Exemption issued by the Planning Department, which stated that all projects filed in accordance with the ordinance be subject to CEQA review.

Not surprisingly, Usher is pleased with the judge’s ruling. “It did justice to the legal requirements of CEQA,” she said. Although she was critical of SB 1818, asserting that the bill had developers “licking their chops,” Usher nevertheless saw an opportunity for Los Angeles to draft an ordinance that embraced a smart growth formula. “The city didn’t follow that path,” she noted.

Will Wright, Director of Government and Public Affairs for the Los Angeles Chapter of the AIA, believes the city’s intent was to cut through the “bureaucratic bog” and make it easier to bring projects to market, thereby increasing opportunities for low-to-moderate housing. Still, Wright sympathizes with those who feared the ordinance would destroy the character and scale of their communities, citing the “low levels of sophistication” that have plagued many residential developments. “Over the last 15 years or so, you’ve seen massive condo projects go up that have no character and no connectivity to the neighborhood, and this represents the monster,” he said.

Ric Abramson, founder of Workplays Studio Architecture, points to another quandary, namely that of instituting SB 1818 over a broad range of jurisdictions, citing the turmoil it has caused in West Hollywood. “That’s a community that had a very proactive and progressive affordable housing program in place, and when the state passed SB 1818, it completely upset their balance,” he said.

Councilmember Ed Reyes, who chairs the council’s planning and land-use management committee, was unavailable for comment, as were representatives of the city’s planning department.

While the city council may appeal Judge McKnew’s ruling, Usher hopes they will instead redraft the ordinance in a manner that will promote smart growth rather than sprawl-inducing densification. “I think that the city has to grab hold of its future growth pattern for traffic and environmental reasons—here is an occasion where the city can be a leader,” she noted.

When asked if she is hopeful that an ordinance embracing those principles might eventually be adopted, Usher let out a hearty laugh, adding: “There’s always room for hope.”

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The Superdome's New Skin
With its anodized aluminum panels, the newly reclad Superdome maintains the original's monolithic appearance.
Courtesy Trahan Architects

Construction is currently underway on a complete recladding of the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, the final phase in a $200 million renovation of the massive sports and exhibition facility by Baton Rouge–based Trahan Architects. Designed by local firm Curtis and Davis, and opened to the public in 1975, the Superdome became a symbol of national distress thirty years later when it served as a shelter for thousands of residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. That same storm also damaged nearly 20 percent of the building’s anodized aluminum panels, necessitating the facade’s replacement, which is scheduled for completion in 2010.

The State of Louisiana, which commissioned the renovation, gave Trahan the option of aesthetically altering the Superdome’s exterior, but the architects decided to preserve the existing look while updating the system’s components. “Most people believed we should have looked at a painted-steel system,” Trey Trahan, principal of Trahan architects, told AN. “I felt painted steel would take the variety out of the skin and create a dead finish, instead of mimicking the variety of the original. Anodized aluminum has a beautifully diverse look.”


A system of louvers conceals club windows.

 
 

The new facade is a clipping rain screen system that provides increased insulation values while easing repairs.
 
COURTESY trahan architects

 
 

The Trahan-designed system comprises 16,000 12-inch-high by 25-foot-long aluminum panels—approximately 400,000 square feet of surface area—finished with an architectural Class 1 anodized finish and a custom, light-bronze color.

While the redressed Superdome will appear just as it has for the past 35 years, the new cladding system possesses the advantages of current technology. The original panels were riveted together and secured to the dome’s structure. If one panel was damaged, every panel above it had to be removed to replace it. The new system employs clips, allowing individual panels to be removed without disturbing their neighbors.

The new system also greatly increases insulation values, from an existing R-value of about 2 to 4 to an improved R-value of 16 to 18. While the original system had gaskets and caulking at the exterior, which quickly degraded from direct exposure to the elements and resulted in air and water infiltration, the new system is a rain screen. An outer leaf sheds most of the water, and beneath that is a sheltered inner system that serves as the final weather barrier. The new cladding also improves the skin’s structural capabilities, and was subjected to a series of rigorous wind and rain testing protocols to meet contemporary building codes.

In the previous two phases of the renovation, Trahan replaced the nearly ten-acre roof, and removed 4,000 tons of debris, 800,000 square feet of dry wall, and 600,000 square feet of ceiling tile. The architects also updated all of the suites, club level lounges and concourses, and concession stands.

THE restoration repaired SEVERE roof and facade DAMAGE from HURRICANE KATRINA.
COURTESY FEMA
 
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Comment: Worlds Away
Canadian architect Clive Grout has designed the U.S. pavilion for Shanghai's 2010 world expo, but the project may not be built.
Courtesy Clive Grout Architect

In May 1956, a young federal employee named Jack Masey was asked to create a pavilion for an agricultural exposition in Afghanistan. The United States embassy in Kabul had been lobbying for a pavilion ever since it learned that the Soviets and the Chinese were planning large shows of their own. With the fair scheduled to open in August, Masey had just three months to create a pavilion that would help the U.S. outshine its Cold War rivals.

Masey, an army veteran and graduate of Yale’s architecture school, contacted Buckminster Fuller, creator of the geodesic dome. Within days, Fuller had drawn plans for a 110-foot-diameter building, which was fabricated in the U.S. and airlifted to Kabul. There, it was erected by Afghani workers, who, according to Masey, were visibly proud of their involvement. (By contrast, the Soviet and Chinese pavilions were built by imported technicians.) Thousands of Afghans visited the dome, which contained a working TV studio and other displays of American know-how. A photo taken in the pavilion during the fair shows a group of young men in traditional garb, suitably agog.

Masey tells this tale in his new book Cold War Confrontations: US Exhibitions and Their Role in the Cultural Cold War (Lars Müller Publishers, 2008). The book, coauthored with Conway Lloyd Morgan, couldn’t be more timely.

Next year, the eyes of the world will be on Shanghai, where the Chinese government will host a world exposition (informally called a world’s fair) from May 1 to October 31. Nearly 200 countries are building pavilions, many by important architects chosen in national competitions. The host city will try to match the showmanship of last summer’s Beijing games, and, unlike the made-for-television Olympics, the expo will likely attract tens of millions of Chinese visitors.

But whether the U.S. will be at the fair is still an open question. Under a misguided 1999 law, the State Department is prohibited from spending money on international expositions. Last year, the department authorized a private group, headed by Washington, D.C. lawyer Ellen Eliasoph and California amusement park executive Nick Winslow, to solicit donations for a privately funded pavilion. Last fall, unable to find sponsors, they abandoned their quest. Now they are trying again, and the Obama administration, according to Winslow, is rallying behind them.

Meanwhile, Clive Grout, a Canadian architect chosen by Winslow and Eliasoph, has designed a U.S. pavilion that may or may not get built. Time is running out. “The U.S. government can only commit to participating in the Shanghai Expo if the necessary funding from the private sector can first be secured,” a spokesman for the U.S. Consul General inShanghai confirmed by email last week.

That the United States wouldn’t attend a giant international gathering, at a time when so much is at stake in U.S.–Chinese relations, seems unimaginable. Sadly, though, it is not unprecedented. The U.S. embarrassed itself with a tacky pavilion at the Seville expo in 1992 (timed to the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage, with the U.S. meant to be the guest of honor). It ignored the next expo (in Hannover, Germany, in 2000), insulting a crucial ally. At the insistence of Toyota, whose retired chairman conceived the 2005 expo in Aichi, Japan, the U.S. did have a pavilion. But the building’s creators, who had to rely on corporate funding, put more thought into the VIP suite (where those sponsors could entertain clients) than into the main event, a film about Benjamin Franklin.

If the U.S. pavilion for Shanghai gets built, it, too, will have a lavish VIP suite, Winslow said. The exhibition will be by BRC Imagination Arts (the company behind the Franklin movie in Aichi). The building is by Grout, who designed a number of pavilions for the 1986 Vancouver Expo, and went on to masterplan the 2002 Swiss Expo.

According to Grout, the pavilion he has designed for Shanghai—where the theme is “Better City, Better Life”—will be “a celebration of an American metropolis in 2030, focusing on health, sustainability, and community.” The 60,000-square-foot building will employ “a very contemporary vocabulary of metal and glass,” he said. The glass will be covered in a decorative film made by 3M, a sponsor of the pavilion. Grout is waiting to see which other companies give money, so that—if there’s time—he can incorporate their products into the design as well.

As his clients scrounge for handouts, Grout is collaborating with a Chinese architecture and engineering firm, which is creating working drawings even as design development continues. “We are under tremendous pressure,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of time to study or investigate. I’m just focused on the fact that this is going to open in May of 2010, and we’ve got to get it into the ground. Until somebody tells me different, that’s my responsibility, to keep it alive.” He added: “We don’t yet know how much money is going to be available. It’s not the way to create a crackerjack pavilion.”
 


Fuller's dome landed at Expo '67 in Montreal, where the Soviet hammer and sickle made a definite statement.
Courtesy Lars Müller Publishers
 

That is a far cry from Masey’s day, when pavilions were symbols of national pride and funded by the government. Masey’s employer, the United States Information Agency (USIA), made its first foray into exhibition diplomacy with barge- and truck-borne displays touting the Marshall Plan, helping to win the hearts and minds of western Europeans, and it participated in hundreds of large expos and small trade fairs over the next five decades. According to Masey, it was the USIA that gave Fuller, George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames, Ivan Chermayeff, and Thomas Geismar their first peacetime commissions.

Among the highlights of Masey’s tenure was the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959. Best known as the site of the “kitchen debate” between Nixon and Khrushchev, the fair attracted 2.7 million visitors during its six-week run. The interest of Soviet citizens was, according to observers, palpable.

Even more poignant is the tale of the 1956 exhibition in Brussels. Though the fair had an atomic energy theme, the U.S. chose to present its human side in a stunning circular building by Edward Durell Stone. (Among other exhibits, there was a fashion show organized by Jackie Kennedy’s sister, Lee.) A separate building was designed to house an exhibition on race relations in America. The goal was to counter Soviet claims that the United States, with its history of segregation, was in no position to lecture the Soviets on human rights. Called Unfinished Business, it depicted progress being made toward racial equality.

The show created a furor at home, with Senator Herman Talmadge of Georgia writing to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that the pavilion represented “an unwarranted invasion of the rights and prerogatives of the states of the south,” where “segregated society has proved to be in the best interest of all races concerned.” The exhibit was replaced with one devoted to public health, which Masey calls “an unworthy end to one of the most successful examples of architectural propaganda ever attempted by the United States.”

But there were to be other successful U.S. pavilions, at Montreal in 1967 (a giant Fuller dome) and Osaka in 1970 (a fascinating, inflatable building). Indeed, since at least the 19th century, world’s fairs have produced important architecture, as the assumed temporariness of the structures frees designers to experiment. (Both the Crystal Palace and the Eiffel Tower were built for international expositions.) Recent fairs have been filled with estimable structures, from MVRDV’s startling Dutch pavilion in Hannover to Foreign Office Architects’ Spanish offering in Aichi. In Shanghai, expect great things from Denmark’s BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), Italy’s BiCuadro, and Spain’s Miralles Tagliabue EMBT. England’s pavilion was designed by Thomas Heatherwick, chosen in a competition over Zaha Hadid and London Eye designers Marks Barfield.

But the U.S. no longer turns to its top talent. Ironically, Shanghai officials commissioned Yung Ho Chang, head of the architecture program at MIT, and Edwin Schlossberg, a prominent New York exhibition designer, to create their pavilion for Shanghai. Chinese business leaders have chosen American experts to sell themselves on their own home turf. 

Congress should immediately end the ban on public funding for international expositions, and allocate the $100 million or so it will take to build a pavilion worth texting home about. Jack Masey, 85 and still working, might have a few ideas.

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Comment: Worlds Away
Canadian architect Clive Grout has designed the U.S. pavilion for Shanghai's 2010 world expo, but the project may not be built.
Courtesy Clive Grout Architect

In May 1956, a young federal employee named Jack Masey was asked to create a pavilion for an agricultural exposition in Afghanistan. The United States embassy in Kabul had been lobbying for a pavilion ever since it learned that the Soviets and the Chinese were planning large shows of their own. With the fair scheduled to open in August, Masey had just three months to create a pavilion that would help the U.S. outshine its Cold War rivals.

Masey, an army veteran and graduate of Yale’s architecture school, contacted Buckminster Fuller, creator of the geodesic dome. Within days, Fuller had drawn plans for a 110-foot-diameter building, which was fabricated in the U.S. and airlifted to Kabul. There, it was erected by Afghani workers, who, according to Masey, were visibly proud of their involvement. (By contrast, the Soviet and Chinese pavilions were built by imported technicians.) Thousands of Afghans visited the dome, which contained a working TV studio and other displays of American know-how. A photo taken in the pavilion during the fair shows a group of young men in traditional garb, suitably agog.

Masey tells this tale in his new book Cold War Confrontations: US Exhibitions and Their Role in the Cultural Cold War (Lars Müller Publishers, 2008). The book, coauthored with Conway Lloyd Morgan, couldn’t be more timely.

Next year, the eyes of the world will be on Shanghai, where the Chinese government will host a world exposition (informally called a world’s fair) from May 1 to October 31. Nearly 200 countries are building pavilions, many by important architects chosen in national competitions. The host city will try to match the showmanship of last summer’s Beijing games, and, unlike the made-for-television Olympics, the expo will likely attract tens of millions of Chinese visitors.

But whether the U.S. will be at the fair is still an open question. Under a misguided 1999 law, the State Department is prohibited from spending money on international expositions. Last year, the department authorized a private group, headed by Washington, D.C. lawyer Ellen Eliasoph and California amusement park executive Nick Winslow, to solicit donations for a privately funded pavilion. Last fall, unable to find sponsors, they abandoned their quest. Now they are trying again, and the Obama administration, according to Winslow, is rallying behind them.

Meanwhile, Clive Grout, a Canadian architect chosen by Winslow and Eliasoph, has designed a U.S. pavilion that may or may not get built. Time is running out. “The U.S. government can only commit to participating in the Shanghai Expo if the necessary funding from the private sector can first be secured,” a spokesman for the U.S. Consul General inShanghai confirmed by email last week.

That the United States wouldn’t attend a giant international gathering, at a time when so much is at stake in U.S.–Chinese relations, seems unimaginable. Sadly, though, it is not unprecedented. The U.S. embarrassed itself with a tacky pavilion at the Seville expo in 1992 (timed to the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage, with the U.S. meant to be the guest of honor). It ignored the next expo (in Hannover, Germany, in 2000), insulting a crucial ally. At the insistence of Toyota, whose retired chairman conceived the 2005 expo in Aichi, Japan, the U.S. did have a pavilion. But the building’s creators, who had to rely on corporate funding, put more thought into the VIP suite (where those sponsors could entertain clients) than into the main event, a film about Benjamin Franklin.

If the U.S. pavilion for Shanghai gets built, it, too, will have a lavish VIP suite, Winslow said. The exhibition will be by BRC Imagination Arts (the company behind the Franklin movie in Aichi). The building is by Grout, who designed a number of pavilions for the 1986 Vancouver Expo, and went on to masterplan the 2002 Swiss Expo.

According to Grout, the pavilion he has designed for Shanghai—where the theme is “Better City, Better Life”—will be “a celebration of an American metropolis in 2030, focusing on health, sustainability, and community.” The 60,000-square-foot building will employ “a very contemporary vocabulary of metal and glass,” he said. The glass will be covered in a decorative film made by 3M, a sponsor of the pavilion. Grout is waiting to see which other companies give money, so that—if there’s time—he can incorporate their products into the design as well.

As his clients scrounge for handouts, Grout is collaborating with a Chinese architecture and engineering firm, which is creating working drawings even as design development continues. “We are under tremendous pressure,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of time to study or investigate. I’m just focused on the fact that this is going to open in May of 2010, and we’ve got to get it into the ground. Until somebody tells me different, that’s my responsibility, to keep it alive.” He added: “We don’t yet know how much money is going to be available. It’s not the way to create a crackerjack pavilion.”
 


Fuller's dome landed at Expo '67 in Montreal, where the Soviet hammer and sickle made a definite statement.
Courtesy Lars Müller Publishers
 

That is a far cry from Masey’s day, when pavilions were symbols of national pride and funded by the government. Masey’s employer, the United States Information Agency (USIA), made its first foray into exhibition diplomacy with barge- and truck-borne displays touting the Marshall Plan, helping to win the hearts and minds of western Europeans, and it participated in hundreds of large expos and small trade fairs over the next five decades. According to Masey, it was the USIA that gave Fuller, George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames, Ivan Chermayeff, and Thomas Geismar their first peacetime commissions.

Among the highlights of Masey’s tenure was the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959. Best known as the site of the “kitchen debate” between Nixon and Khrushchev, the fair attracted 2.7 million visitors during its six-week run. The interest of Soviet citizens was, according to observers, palpable.

Even more poignant is the tale of the 1956 exhibition in Brussels. Though the fair had an atomic energy theme, the U.S. chose to present its human side in a stunning circular building by Edward Durell Stone. (Among other exhibits, there was a fashion show organized by Jackie Kennedy’s sister, Lee.) A separate building was designed to house an exhibition on race relations in America. The goal was to counter Soviet claims that the United States, with its history of segregation, was in no position to lecture the Soviets on human rights. Called Unfinished Business, it depicted progress being made toward racial equality.

The show created a furor at home, with Senator Herman Talmadge of Georgia writing to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that the pavilion represented “an unwarranted invasion of the rights and prerogatives of the states of the south,” where “segregated society has proved to be in the best interest of all races concerned.” The exhibit was replaced with one devoted to public health, which Masey calls “an unworthy end to one of the most successful examples of architectural propaganda ever attempted by the United States.”

But there were to be other successful U.S. pavilions, at Montreal in 1967 (a giant Fuller dome) and Osaka in 1970 (a fascinating, inflatable building). Indeed, since at least the 19th century, world’s fairs have produced important architecture, as the assumed temporariness of the structures frees designers to experiment. (Both the Crystal Palace and the Eiffel Tower were built for international expositions.) Recent fairs have been filled with estimable structures, from MVRDV’s startling Dutch pavilion in Hannover to Foreign Office Architects’ Spanish offering in Aichi. In Shanghai, expect great things from Denmark’s BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), Italy’s BiCuadro, and Spain’s Miralles Tagliabue EMBT. England’s pavilion was designed by Thomas Heatherwick, chosen in a competition over Zaha Hadid and London Eye designers Marks Barfield.

But the U.S. no longer turns to its top talent. Ironically, Shanghai officials commissioned Yung Ho Chang, head of the architecture program at MIT, and Edwin Schlossberg, a prominent New York exhibition designer, to create their pavilion for Shanghai. Chinese business leaders have chosen American experts to sell themselves on their own home turf. 

Congress should immediately end the ban on public funding for international expositions, and allocate the $100 million or so it will take to build a pavilion worth texting home about. Jack Masey, 85 and still working, might have a few ideas.

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Zumthor Wins the Pritzker
Brother Klaus Field Chapel, Wachendorf, Germany (2007).
Walter Mair

Photograph by Gary Ebner

 
 

The Chicago-based Hyatt Foundation has named the revered Swiss architect Peter Zumthor the 2009 Pritzker Prize Laureate. Zumthor, 65, will receive the medal and a $100,000 prize at a ceremony on May 29 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He lives and works in the village of Haldenstein in Switzerland.

With an office of approximately 20, Zumthor is known to be selective about the commissions he accepts. His most recognized project remains the Thermal Baths in Vals, Switzerland, completed in 1996. A timeless building, with stark modern geometries that simultaneously recalls ancient precedents, it is faced in slices of local stone and has become an architectural pilgrimage site. Other prominent recent projects include a field chapel at Wachendorf, Germany and the Kolumba Museum of Art built atop the ruins of a late gothic church in Cologne, both completed in 2007.

Regarded as the profession’s highest honor, the Pritzker was awarded by a jury that commended Zumthor’s buildings for their “commanding presence, yet they prove the power of judicious intervention, showing us again and again that modesty of approach and boldness in overall result are not mutually exclusive,” according to a statement from the foundation. In his work, the jury added, “humility resides alongside strength.”

AN spoke to prominent architects, scholars, and design patrons about Zumthor’s work, his influence and contribution to the field, and his method of practice.

John Pawson
John Pawson Architects
People say he’s done well to keep his office under 20 people and to only do things that he thinks he’s got a good chance of making great. In any case, doing good buildings is as much about choosing good projects and good partners as about anything else.

He has an amazing portfolio. It may be only a few, but how many good buildings do you need? It seems to me that his career is exemplary. He puts that extraordinary energy into a rigorousness and an ability to keep on it. It’s what everyone should do. He just keeps going. The spa at Vals took 14 years, and he had a client and a town council that planned it that way. Usually clients are a lot less demanding of a project than architects themselves are.

If I could know only one living architect, it would be Zumthor. The thought, the materiality—his work is physically very pleasing and just gorgeous.


 
 

TOP AND ABOVE: THERMAL BATH VALS, GRAUBUNDEN, SWITZERLAND (1996).
HELENE BINET
 
 

Kolumba Art Museum of the Cologne Archdiocese, Cologne, Germany (2007).
HELENE BINET
 
 

Kunsthaus Bregenz, Vorarlberger Landesgalerie, Bregenz, Austria (1997).
HELENE BINET

 
 

Tod Williams
Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects
It’s great and inspiring news. There is a difference between his work and our work, but he does inspire us. He’s not commercial. It’s about an individual’s sense of his role as an architect. You have the sense that this is right, that this is good. He’ll continue to be kind of a cult figure. His work is hard for people to understand. It’s his blessing and his burden.

Brad Cloepfil
Allied Works Architecture
He is, unequivocally, the most important architect working today. He mines the realm of the spirit, of profound meaning. He works with the visceral elements of building, which is extraordinarily rare in contemporary architecture. Much of his work is a commentary on the poetics of making.

When I heard the news, I thought: My god, he hasn’t won it already? It’s an affirmation of a deeper investigation in architecture, one that is not so concerned with image and form. He’s had a greater impact than many, if not most, of the international superstars. His work is like a tuning fork in the chaos.

Barry Bergdoll
Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture & Design
Museum of Modern Art
In a certain way he’s very singular. But there is a certain history of a sensibility. He’s a sort of modern-day version of [British arts-and-crafts architect] Philip Webb, with the same incredible integrity and a desire to keep the office small.

Stylistically he fits into the school of austere minimalism, but he also understands effects of light and materials. When I went to the Thermal Baths, I thought, here’s someone who really understands what the Roman Baths were, as social environments and as public spaces.

It feels very much like a zeitgeist thing. But he’s not a new discovery. It’s an acknowledgement of a different kind of architectural superstar.

He’s such a great architect, the feeling is that it is his time. He’s had two exceptional projects recently [the Kolumba Museum and Wachendorf Chapel], and there’s a sense that there are incredible works yet to come.

Ian Schrager
Chairman
Ian Schrager Company
We tried working with him [at the Roxy Club site on West 18th Street] but it didn’t work out. He’s brilliant; he reminds me of Louis Kahn—not the work, of course—but the way he’s obsessive about details and stays with it. Like Herzog & de Meuron, every project is different and exciting; he’s the anti–Richard Meier. The fact that he’s aloof and doesn’t play the game has nothing to do with the work. And that he still gets the recognition and success, in spite of himself, is refreshing.

He’s built some multiple story buildings, all beautiful and all different, and I would really love to work with him. But on big projects that are already intense and politicized, it could be treacherous. I would consider him for an interior. Mostly I think that it’s just really great when someone like this comes along every once in awhile.

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Bronx Renaissance
In Mott Haven, a former warehouse was transformed into the Betances Community Center and Boxing Gym by architect Stephen Yablon.
Hypertecture for Stephen Yablon Architect

Not so long ago, if Neapolitans wanted to describe a place in ruins, they’d reach across the Atlantic for just the right simile: E’ come u Bronx—like the Bronx. That it came to represent urban chaos in Naples, a city renowned for the same, speaks volumes about the Bronx’s stubborn reputation, cast in the 1970s and fixed in pop-cultural memory for decades after.

Today, with the Bloomberg administration raining billions of public-private investment on the borough—a result of the South Bronx Initiative, an interagency effort launched in 2006 to encourage more housing, retail, and local jobs—there is no shortage of big-budget, star-quality projects. The new Yankee Stadium, a revamped Hunts Point Market, and the Gateway Center on the site of the former Bronx Terminal Market are all poised to make a dramatic impact on Bronx fortunes.


Courtesy at architects
 
Architect Ana Maria Torres worked with Sustainable South Bronx to include an extensive green-roof installation atop a former theater, which will serve as a new home for the Abundant Life Tabernacle.

 

Terry Chen
 
Ray Williams
 
Sustainable south Bronx worked with Columbia architecture students to develop plans for an eco-industrial park in oak point.

 
 
Courtesy whedco
 
on a former brownfield site In crotona park east, intervale green has been developed with apartments set aside for formerly homeless families.

 
 
courtesy hugo s. subotovsky Architects
 

Courtesy Dattner architects
 
A number of mixed-use, mixed-income housing models have sprung up in the bronx, including Boricua village (top) and Courtlandt Corners (above).

 
 

At the other end of the spectrum, smaller projects in the borough—receiving less media coverage and funding—have arguably undergirded much of this restoration, with impact far beyond their modest budgets. Be they green-roof entrepreneurs, supportive-housing visionaries, or boxing-gym designers, architects are transforming the borough one vacant lot or storefront at a time. Working alongside established architects such as Richard Dattner, whose 323-unit Courtlandt Corners is among the city’s larger affordable housing developments, they have made the range and reach of community-driven Bronx development more vibrant than ever. And by engaging Bronx residents, they’re connecting the dots between social, environmental, and economic sustainability.

Few grassroots groups understand the synergy between design and community goals as well as Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx). Miquela Craytor, the group’s director,said that the Bronx has become a magnet for green technology because so much of the borough’s negative press centered on its severe pollution and decay. As one of many efforts to reinvent the borough through green design, the group has collaborated with Columbia University’s GSAPP to explore turning Oak Point’s industrial waterfront—where the city had planned to site a new jail—into an eco-industrial park. In 2003, taking matters into its own hands, SSBx started a program to train students to build and maintain green roofs, and four years later founded its own green-roof company, SmartRoofs. That has opened the door to real architectural opportunities.

On a recent afternoon, Craytor and Jesusa Ludan, Smart Roofs’ director,visited a new client’s property: the Olympic Theater in the Longwood neighborhood. Once a cinema for Spanish-language films, the Olympic was bought by Abundant Life Tabernacle and will be remodeled as the church’s new home by architect Ana Maria Torres. Torres, principal of at architects, suggested incorporating more than 12,000 square feet of green roofs into the design, a boon for a neighborhood sorely lacking open space. “This is ambitious, yes, but we’re going to make it,” Torres said as she showed off the project. “The economy is more difficult, so we need to be creative.” She aims to complete the jobfor $2 million, a budget made possible through so many donations—both of money and labor—from church members.

Adaptive reuse was similarly successful in Mott Haven, a neighborhood south of the theater, where the New York City Housing Authority converted a basketball gym, once a warehouse, into the Betances Community Center and Boxing Gym. The bold design by Stephen Yablon Architect has garnered numerous awards, including a 2009 Merit Award from the AIA New York chapter. Set to open in May, the center consists of the first floor of a housing tower connected to the former warehouse space through an arcade. The central attraction is the ring itself, where children and teenagers are taught the art of boxing in what Yablon called a “glass-enclosed cube”: a triple-height space lined with clerestory windows. Adapting the building involved raising the roof and installing an underground drainage system, but in Yablon’s hands the complex job, as he put it, seems “almost childlike in its simplicity.

Other architects have literally roamed the gritty streets in search of opportunity. In the early 1990s, Jonathan Kirschenfeld, known for designing New York’s floating swimming pool, decided that the best way to secure commissions for publicly-funded housing was to find sites on his own, study their zoning parameters, and then approach nonprofit groups. “I did a lot of feasibility studies,” he said. “Ultimately, I got to understand who was looking for sites.” With so few parcels remaining, those available are often irregularly shaped and frustrating to work with. But the key, he said, “is to solve the public spaces first.”

His project for Bronx Park East, for instance, looks to be a row house from the street, with a double-height common space and adjoining roof terrace. But it’s connected to a seven-story unit set back at an angle, creating a central courtyard between the large and small volumes. The project’s almost sly jump in scale is part of Kirschenfeld’s effort to counter what he called “a lack of faith in urbanism” that marked much of the 1980s housing solutions, including Charlotte Gardens, the 90 single-family houses that make many architects livid. “It kills me, looking for sites in R7 and R8 [medium- to high-density zones] and passing vinyl-sided, one-family houses with wrought-iron fences,” he said.
 


Models of Jonathan Kirschenfeld's multiple infill housing projects currently underway in the Bronx.
Courtesy Jonathan Kirschenfeld Associates

Kirschenfeld now has company in his quest to urbanize the Bronx’s low-density pockets. The Women’s Housing & Economic Development Corporation was granted a triangular site at Intervale Avenue to build a 127-unit building, with a third of its apartments set aside for formerly homeless families. Dubbed Intervale Green, the building sits just a block away from Charlotte Street, where a 1977 visit from President Jimmy Carter brought worldwide attention to burned-out buildings andrampantcrime. Constructed on a former brownfield, Intervale Green’s three green roofs and two courtyards have already proven a hit. New resident Carolina Beltre plans to share her one-bedroom apartment with her ten-year-old son, whom she left in the Dominican Republic five years ago in search of better work. “It’s a new beginning for this area,”she said. “Everybody needs to know what’s happening in the South Bronx.”

Even some of the largest Bronx developments are taking cues from their smaller siblings. Though the neighborhood around Yankee Stadium has rarely shared its team’s success, planners are applying a whopping injection of urban acupuncture to the area: The new stadium will be followed by a big-box shopping mall called the Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market. Just down River Avenue from the stadium, the center juggles multiple roles as it links the neighborhood to a planned Harlem River park across the Major Deegan Expressway.“The project was conceived to accommodate two vastly different scales of experience,” explained Gregory Cranford, partner at BBG Architects. “You have the highway scale—as the building would be experienced from the Major Deegan—and then the pedestrian scale.”
 


The Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market features mid-block piazzas that will connect the residential neighborhood near River Avenue to a future riverfront park.
courtesy bbg

Though community groups criticized the project for displacing two-dozen wholesale produce merchants, the architects strove to knit what could have been another blank box into the neighborhood. The mass is broken into urban blocks, with two pedestrian passageways leading toward the river, and incorporates a historic market structure. “[City Planning Director] Amanda Burden was adamant about the pedestrian nature of this development,” Cranford explained. “We worked closely to really anchor the pedestrian experience.”

A similar debate over an influx of new retail has played out in the east side of the borough, where the Bloomberg administration aims to make the Third Avenue corridor an economic catalyst, anchored on the north by Boricua Village, the mixed-use project built around a vertical campus for Boricua College. The area is also home to Melrose Commons, a housing development that galvanized the neighborhood in 1992 when local residents deemed the initial plans unresponsive to their needs.This resulted in the community group Nos Quedamos (We Stay), formed to counter the shortcomings of the Melrose project—whose finished form is now seen as a model of cooperative design. The city aims to attract more name retailers to the area, a goal that Yolanda Gonzalez, executive director of Nos Quedamos, said is reasonable, but not at the expense of what she called the mama-and-papa stores that have long been neighborhood mainstays.

The most successful projects,Gonzalez stressed, are those that give community groups a strong voice in the design process. That’s what has made the borough’s smallest new developments its most exuberant, a lesson planners would do well to heed as the Bronx continues to rebound. “There hasn’t been a lot of sit-down and get-together, and that is an issue,”Gonzalez said about the city’s Third Avenue plans. “It should be a collaboration that creates cohesiveness. It’s important.”

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Shovel Oh So Ready
Architect and friend of AN Jeremiah Joseph writes in with this report of the March 27 WORKac lecture, "Shovel Ready," at Parsons. Amale Andraos and Dan Wood, of the 2008 PS1 Warm-Up pavilion fame, tag team presented their work to a standing room only crowd. With a range of projects, from buildings to urban proposals, the duo showed the office's penchant for both intelligence and wit. Like many young offices most of WORKac's work is still in the realm of unbuilt projects, but with five competitions already completed in 2009 this office has no intention of waiting around casually for the work to knock on their door. Of the work presented, two New York buildings showed off the office's intelligent concepts executed through reduced forms. They push the ideas, but are careful to not allow overly exuberant design blur the intent of their work. The Headquarters' for Diane von Furstenberg in the Meatpacking district showed their aptitude for laying out simple concepts that are translated, quite directly, into built reality. The project uses the stair, one of the most commonplace and yet ceaselessly studied elements in architecture, to turn what could be a mundane office building into an object of both clarity and poetry. Starting at the ground floor entry the stair slips up through the old warehouse building to reveal in single moment the sky above. A relatively simple move, but deftly handled, it flips the reading of the building's dark brick exterior by lighting the interior and yet at the same moment pulls visitors sense of the space up, through, and out the roof. In their proposal for the Kew Gardens Library in Queens (a project soon to start construction) WORK ac inverts the interior methods of the Diane von Furstenberg HQ by wrapping an existing building with a new facade and roof. Expanding the building's footprint towards the street they apply a new double-bent gull wing roof covered with flora. The new form, boosting the height of the building and allowing clerestory lighting into the interior, is clad at the upper portion of the facade with pre-cast concrete panels and new, open curtain wall down to the street. It is important to credit New York City's Design and Construction Excellence program for allowing WORK ac produce a project like this. It may be a bit self-serving to suggest this project gives hope to the architecture community that it will be able to continue producing good/smart/important work during a time of economic turbulence. But with the likely (and potentially healthy) collapse of the opulent condo market, the program sends a positive message to the community-at-large that quality design benefits everyone, not just the wealthy few. Of the work shown it was interesting to see that to date WORK ac is strongest in their urban proposals. The Green Belt City competition for Las Vegas started off with clear-minded analysis of the site issues. By the middle of the presentation they revealed their OMA pedigree, a tendency to tackle problems as the witty prankster who actually does know best. Yet at the end they zoom past overly reduced forms and slight of hand design moves to produce something both smart and beautiful. With their final project, a preview of a competition yet to be made public, they showed an amusing foray into the world of paper architecture. The project, a tower in lower Manhattan, was commissioned as a real world study of an urban condition, but the architects believe they, the client, and the architecture community are best served by going for broke. With an appropriate suspension of disbelief they stack and pin-wheel a series of slabs composed of archetypal sections of the city's urban fabric onto a hyper-eco-energy-friendly core. Although little of this piece itself is feasible, WORK ac likeably reveals untapped potentials in tower design and brings to light the potential for subtler, real-world solutions that would be just as relevant and powerful. With the amount of work produced so far it is a good bet WORKac will continue to generate engaging architecture. A risk the office faces is becoming typecast as new eco-architects. Although this may help bring attention, and put work on their boards, it would be too narrow of a category for their talent. An exhibition on WORKac is on view at Parsons The New School for Design, 25 East 13 Street, Second Floor, through April 18. A second exhibition, called 49 Cities, will be on view at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, 97 Kenmare Street, starting on April 14.
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Q&A: Gehry at 80
Courtesy Bustler

A few days before his 80th birthday on February 28, Frank Gehry sat down with his good friend, the author and historian John Pastier. The two ranged widely over the architect’s life and work, touching on how he’s been hit by the economy, energized by Obama, and inspired as ever by new technology. They speak candidly about Gehry's frustration with his postmodern peers and the fate of favored projects, among them Brooklyn's controversial Atlantic Yards.

John Pastier: Looking back, did you ever hope or imagine that you would get this far professionally?

Frank Gehry: No, and even though I’m conscious of where I am professionally, I’m actually unconscious of it because psychically I don’t feel any different from where I’ve always been—I’m always nervous, insecure, etc. I think it’s a positive thing, it helps keep you grounded. I’m just more comfortable there, so I do that. But it’s pretty exciting, much of it.

Originally I wanted to do city planning and big-scale urban design projects and social housing. But there was no interest in having architects involved in that. The social housing projects all stopped—HHFA, NFA, etc., didn’t continue.

You started your career working for Victor Gruen. What prompted your leaving in 1960?
 
They were promoting project managers while the design types were being marginalized. I wasn’t the same Frank Gehry back then. I couldn’t get up and do public presentations. I was very shy and had a hard time with all that. The guys that could do it were promoted and made associates of the firm.

I was productive, but they weren’t promoting me. In hindsight I think they felt that I was angry. I went through a period where I was always angry and they didn’t know what to do with that. They wanted me to be happy and I couldn’t be, I couldn’t fit in. I wasn’t comfortable even though I often got to work with Victor very closely, and with Rudy Baumfeld, and Edgardo Contini, people who I adored and respected.

The office had people like Fred Usher, Marion Sampler, Gere Kavanagh, Kip Stewart, Greg Walsh, and John Gilchrest. It was a place that was interested in art and culture and design. Some of them came out of the Eames office. There was a lot of energy and it felt good. It was a very vibrant group and Rudy loved it, he loved all the younger people, as did Victor. They all used the energy of it, they loved the meetings and would have evening parties, inviting all of us. They were us and we were them. But then it became corporate because they weren’t making money I suppose. Suddenly all of us were marginalized for these manager types, so I decided it was time to go.
 
I see a great watershed between the earlier and later parts of your career, when you went from straight, angular, diagonal—linear skewed geometries—to compound asymmetrical curves. That was a huge change.

Well, what ushered in that change was more what happened in the design world. People had turned to postmodernism, so all my friends were doing historicist buildings. Venturi, Johnson, Graves, Moore—I always considered them important friends, people I loved very dearly. But I was pissed off that they were going backwards. We’ve just gone through the modern thing, and before that the Beaux Arts, now do we have to go back to the Beaux Arts just because the architecture curator at the Museum of Modern Art decided that it’s time to go back?

This made me angry, and I thought, “If you’re going to go back, then go back 300 million years before man, to fish.” That’s when I started to realize the forms. Earlier, in the Norton Simon House, I was trying to create a sense of movement because he had a Shiva dancing figure on his dining-room table, and you’d look at it and turn around, and you’d swear it had moved! It was made of bronze and had a sense of movement. I was trying to capture that in wood with a tumbling trellis, but he said, “This looks like it’s your unfinished symphony.” I protested: “But Norton, Schubert died, and I’m still going strong.”

I kept searching for that motion and one day started looking at fish. They were architectural to me and had movement—that’s when I did the big wooden GFT Fish in Italy, the “kitsch” fish I call him. Standing beside it you felt the movement of the tail. So I asked how much of this kitsch stuff can you cut off and make abstract, yet still get the sense of movement? That’s when I did lead-clad fish for the Walker Art Center and for Jay Chiat in Venice, continuing to develop the forms and began to understand how to do it. Finally, I used the computer to help me—that’s when I cut loose.

Clearly, doing these curvilinear forms by hand limited how far you could go.
 
Yeah, I just couldn’t do it. If you were to think of Erich Mendelssohn with his beautiful drawings, he couldn’t do it. If he had the computer these things would have been easy. When you look at the Einstein Tower, you realize how incredible that is.

Exactly how did you come onto the computer?


The turning point was the spiral staircase at the Vitra Furniture Museum. I drew it using descriptive geometry, but since there was a kink in it, the contractors couldn’t build it from my drawings, so that’s when I asked the people in the office, “Isn’t there a way to describe it digitally?” They took us to IBM, who took us to Dassault [creators of the CATIA], and that’s how it happened. In the end I had to build a company around it so they could serve me and now the company is doing other people’s work, and so it spun off into something totally independent.

Your two greatest monuments have arguably been Bilbao and Disney Hall. Obviously you’ve done a lot of other work. One favorite of mine was the New York Guggenheim on the East River in the Financial District.

Yeah, but that was never real. I knew you couldn’t build out over the water there. The Corps of Engineers would never allow it.

What impressed me about that project was its immense scale. More recently it’s struck me that Disney Hall and Bilbao are not just radically different form departures, but also represent a major jump in scale for you—not physical scale so much as aesthetic scale. They’re very monumental but still very accessible. They’re not off-putting. The first time I visited Disney, I rounded a corner and saw it all at once. I thought, “My God, how did he do that?” It was immense and looming like a mountain range, yet was also something very intimate, very human-scaled, even friendly. How do you do that?

You’ve got to want to do it, consciously.

What gave you the idea that it was even possible?

Well, if you look at antiquity it’s possible. Great buildings of the past had it. Borromini did it, Bernini did it.

But those buildings were full of fine-scale detail.

I know, but that’s the point. By using the sense of movement you replace the details.

That’s a major insight.


That’s why I did the whole thing with the fish and then moved into this, because once I understood how to characterize movement at a big scale then I knew I had something. I could play with it, and I let it evolve, that’s all. It was a real breakthrough for me.

But during the design process, even working with really big models, how do you make that jump? How do you know what it’s really going to be like at full scale? Is it a leap of faith or can you actually visualize it that precisely?

No, I visualize it because we make models at several scales, which forces me to shift scale. It makes me think, “Real.” So I don’t let the model become the object of desire. I continually challenge myself about that, to keep myself in “real scale.” It’s worked for me a lot. And then we also build full-scale mockups of parts of the building before I “print it,” so to speak.

I’ve spent a lot of time with that idea because during that same period, Michael Graves had the great trouble with it, and we’d talk about it. The drawings were beautiful and a lot of my colleagues’ drawings were beautiful, the models were beautiful, but then the building didn’t deliver. I do lots of drawings, too. They are exciting to people because they’re so scribbly and free, but the important thing is to deliver that feeling to the final building. You have to focus on it and want to do it, you can’t just let it happen. You have to really control it from beginning to end.

Looking back on your work, which projects do you like the best and which have been especially significant to your development? Let’s consider residences.

They allow freedom because they were easier to play with—the scale is easier. The Smith House, a little addition to the first house I did [in 1959], that let me do my first “still life” village. Then the house for the filmmaker where I separated the pieces and you had to go outside to go to the bathroom—that kind of thing. But I was thinking of production houses then—tract houses—and got the idea of separate pieces so you could put the shapes in the computer, and somebody could pick four shapes and then, on the computer, place them on their lot. They could be mass-produced and delivered to your site. I still think it’s a good idea, but nobody did it. 

That all came out of houses, and it led to the still-life strategy that I’ve used in many buildings. It’s present in a lot of things, not so much in Bilbao and Disney but many other projects use that idea. But I don’t like doing houses because I don’t feel like I’m doing anything for society. Although it’s nice doing it for a friend. I even have trouble doing it for myself because it gets into closets and things like that. I played with it over and over—after 60 versions I gave up.

Which other unrealized commissions do you most wish had been built?

The Corcoran Gallery in DC, the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn—I don’t think it’s going to happen. There are projects underway that are being threatened, and may not be completed. That would be devastating to me. Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles is also on hold.

But now we’re working on the Louis Vuitton Foundation Museum in Paris, and that’s exciting. It’s a pretty big building, bigger than Disney Hall.

Do you feel some need to adjust to age now that you’re hitting 80? Will you give up playing hockey?
 
Well, I gave that up a couple of years ago. I had a back operation and I was having trouble.

Will you cut back on working and heavy travel?

I talk about that, but in fact I don’t, and now I’m more excited. I guess you might say I’m Obama-ized—watching him before Congress last night was amazing. It’s not about black or white anymore, it’s about how he’s a real president. He’s the real thing and what he’s talking about is a new revolution in technology—I’m really excited about that. The world’s energy concerns can lead to new architectural models, and not just by that part of the profession that’s using it to get business, putting on their Boy Scout uniforms and doing terrible buildings in the name of “greening.” Now there’s finally traction on this issue, and it’s become something that clients are asking for. We’ve tried it for years and nobody would pay for it—they just wouldn’t do it.
 
So you’re sensing a change in that perception.

I really think there is. What Obama is talking about is certainly going in that direction. There’s a lot of technology out there. I was recently called by somebody asking if I could play with new materials that could become photovoltaic. I said yes, and I’ve been very interested in it.

I can see you experimenting with that and having a lot of fun, so you’re in no danger of burn out there.


No, I’m not going to go there at all, and I’m having fun with the young people in the office. The only problem I’m dealing with is how do I exit. What do I leave here, and should I worry about it?

You’ve cut back on staff size—what was the peak?

About 250, about a year and a half ago. We were doing Brooklyn and Grand Avenue, they were big staffs, 40 to 50 people each. Now we’re at about 120 to 125.
 
Will you keep shrinking until the economy improves?

No, I think we’re pretty steady there unless Abu Dhabi were to stop. You never know about that. I’m doing a Guggenheim museum there with Tom Krens and it’s really exciting to work with him.

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In The Swim
Not your parents' waterfront: 184 Kent Avenue, a conversion of the former Austin Nichols warehouse, will include landscaping and a promenade.
Courtesy Scape

New York’s waterfront building boom has been a bonanza for developers, but the resulting public space has often been a letdown: monotonous promenades, rigid bulkheads, ever-present guardrails, and nary a spot to quaff a beer.

And so after getting an earful from landscape architects, developers, and environmental engineers, the City Planning Commission has drawn up its first waterfront public access zoning overhaul in 15 years, aiming for higher-quality public space that’s more flexible and sustainable. The outlines of the plan, which was the subject of a March 4 public hearing, have been widely embraced as a badly needed update to the existing code.

“In super-broad stroke, it’s a great step forward,” said Roland Lewis, president of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance. “In New Jersey, a lot of their esplanade functions as a front yard for luxury condominiums. This new addition to the zoning code is a step away from that. They’re trying to make the waterfront a communal resource for all of us.”

Toll brothers' new northside piers condo complex in williamsburg includes new waterfront landscaping and a pier.
COURTESY FXFowle
 
 

The main thrust of the 117-page amendment is to break down the uniform quality of many new waterfronts and allow for more creative uses of the edge. “In standard New York City zoning, there is one water’s edge, and it has to have a 42-inch-high railing,” said Donna Walcavage, principal at EDAW and landscape architect for Williamsburg’s Northside Piers complex, designed by FXFowle. By contrast, the new code permits a variety of edge options such as boat launches, get-downs, and tidal areas. Other improvements include more meandering pathway configurations, moveable seating, and fewer visual barriers. The plan also dispenses with an unimaginative list of plants that had been deemed fit for waterfront use, and allows landscape architects to make their own more sustainable choices that include native plants. “It’s much easier to create an ecosystem that responds to water,” Walcavage said.

Under the new code, developers would have the option to transfer public waterfront land to the Parks Department, and make annual payments to the city for site maintenance. The North 5th Street pier and esplanade at Northside Piers is the first transfer of this kind, which would seem appealing to developers, who also get to transfer the public space liability. In return, the Parks team is brought into the design process at an early stage. “To get our plan approval, we had to come to an agreement with the city about the transfer of the whole waterfront,” said David Lee, project architect at FXFowle. The result is theoretically a public space more tightly woven into the open-space fabric of the city.

While many designers support the plan’s goals, some wonder whether the amendment’s fine-grained design standards are the best way to achieve them. “I think the biggest concern about these regulations is that they’re incredibly prescriptive,” said Elena Brescia, partner in the landscape architecture firm Scape, whose waterfront design for Williamsburg’s 184 Kent Avenue, next door to Northside Piers, is now under construction. “It’s design by calculation. A certain number of benches are required per square foot, a certain number of trees are required per square foot,” she said, concerned that the result may not add up to the intended effect. “Even though there may be a boat launch thrown in, much of what is prescribed here is about having the same experience everywhere.”

On the bright side, the new rules do encourage the holy grail for many waterfront boosters: more cafes. “They’re allowing for more flexibility, and more commercial viability on the waterfront,” Lewis said. “It’s remarkable how few waterfront eateries there are in New York City. It’s almost shocking.”

Editorial: Pedlocking Broadway

General gladness and near unanimous support greeted Mayor Bloomberg’s February 27announcement that he was malling Times and Herald squares by closing off portions of Broadway in the interest of easing traffic, widening sidewalks, and reclaiming some three acres for pedestrian use. The Regional Planning Association has been pitching the idea since 1974, and so the group’s president, Robert Yaro, was triumphant: “This plan is a win-win-win strategy for New York’s motorists, its residents, workers, visitors and property owners. All will benefit as the City’s Broadway plan is brought quickly to reality.” Streetsblog called it “a bold transformative new vision.” And what’s not to like? The $1.5million plan is supposed to reduce southbound motor vehicle travel times by 17percent on 7thAvenue, and northbound travel times by 37percent on 6thAvenue. And the Naked Cowboy will have someplace to sit down.



The notion of banning cars on Broadway has reared up every decade or so since the 1960s, when a malling craze seized the entire country from Kalamazoo (where the first downtown pedestrian zone opened in 1959) to Atlanta. Only 15percent of 200pedestrian malls survived, according to Sam Staley, director of urban and land use policy at the Reason Foundation; the ones that did not were absent two essential ingredients: plenty of pedestrians and a unique sense of place, with viable retail. Those two are resoundingly on hand in Times Square, and always have been, along with efforts to subtract the traffic. In 1977, a $500,000federal grant was paid to the city to create an “experimental pedestrian mall” with trees and potted plants that—just like the one announced by Bloomberg—would become permanent if it worked. And that was the last we heard of a plan that made local businesses fear they’d lose curbside traffic; annoyed taxi drivers for the inconvenience; and flew against the city’s thinking at the time that only more and wider roads could make traffic flow faster. This time around, things are different, not least because the plan seems motivated in part by the mayor’s determination to have something highly visible go his way after congestion pricing went so wrong. The attitude of other stakeholders has also changed—except perhaps the taxi drivers—reflecting more enlightened thinking about public amenities and transportation. They get it now: Cars in the city are headed for extinction.



And yet as radical as the plan is, it was disappointing to see it quite so completely devoid of design. As Deborah Marton, executive director of the Design Trust for Public Space, pointed out, “No one thinks these plazas should look this way. Just claiming the ground was kind of heroic; they can always go back and rethink the detailing.” That’s true, but why doesn’t the Department of Transportation, which is spearheading the plan, have a landscape design consultant on call to sketch up a vision that’s a little less ad hoc, more layered, and not so isolated from side streets? The agency’s so-called piazza islands—like the new pedestrian spaces at Madison Square and 14thStreet—are risible for their smatterings of cafe tables and glued-in-place gravel. Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan deserves enormous credit for shaking the lead off this decades-old plan and making something happen that this time might stick. It’s still a shame, however, that landscape designers seem to belong to the second wave of the solution, not the first.

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The A-Lists
Completed in 2008, the STV-designed Engine Company 277 in Bushwick is one of the first built works of the city's Design and Construction Excellence Initiative. The design won an Art Commission award in 2004.
Bernard James/City of New York

As a peer-review architect for the U.S. General Services Administration’s Design Excellence Program, Karen Bausman of Karen Bausman + Associates is enthusiastic about public work. “From my perspective, the barrier between public architecture and all other architecture is closing,” she said. “Public architecture is now at the forefront of developing the design ideas that will fulfill our 21st-century needs.” The New York–based architect has herself plunged into the public realm, designing two projects at Ferry Point Park in the South Bronx for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Her views may sound a little too optimistic to some. Over the past several decades, the legacy of public architecture has been such that municipally released Requests for Proposals have more likely caused design firms to hide their heads in despair than jump at the chance. Known primarily for modest budgets, Byzantine bureaucratic proceedings, and poor construction quality, the public realm has remained the domain of the ideologically dedicated—or of large firms looking to burnish their public image after profiting handsomely from private developer jobs.


Designed by arquitectonica, the Bronx Museum of the Arts won an art commission award in 2003 and became the model for the city's dce program.
norman mcgrath
 
 

But that trend, in New York City at least, is changing fast. The number of architects of all stripes competing for public contracts (involving nearly 100 projects per year) has more than doubled in the last five years. With private developer work about as plentiful as the saber tooth tiger, billions of dollars are set to flow into the public realm. Part of this tectonic shift can also be attributed to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s Design and Construction Excellence Initiative (DCE), which has turned what was once the ugly stepchild of the profession into a hot date.

Bloomberg first announced DCE in 2004, along with the 22nd annual Art Commission Awards for Excellence in Design, which recognized eight city projects that exemplified the highest design standards, including Polshek Partnership’s entrance pavilion at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The purpose of DCE, the mayor stated, was “to expand our city’s pre-eminence as the design capital of the world,” by encouraging city agencies “to strive for the same level of excellence in design for all public works—large and small—that is recognized annually by the Art Commission’s Awards.” While DCE is a citywide initiative, the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), headed by Commissioner David J. Burney, was placed in charge of spearheading it. The Parks Department, which manages its own design and construction projects, also took an active role. The first step was to revamp the city’s method of procuring design services.

Since time out of mind, public architecture projects have been awarded based on one driving factor: the lowest bid. This has proven an effective method for politicians wishing to exhibit their thrifty application of taxpayer dollars, but for obvious reasons, hasn’t always attracted the best architects or resulted in the finest work. DDC turned the tables on this method by removing price competition as the prime motivator in procurement, instituting a quality-based selection process. “I think that the perception, for better or worse, was that the city had a tendency to focus on schedule and budget. One measures those and defends the taxpayer’s dollar, and quality takes a back seat,” Burney told AN. “The idea was to reinstate quality in the minds of every project manager. We now have a series of initiatives to make that happen.”

DDC developed two new methods of procurement, streamlining the RFP process to attract the right architect to the right project and to allow a greater range of firms the opportunity of winning public commissions. (Not all designers have marketing departments at the ready to fill out 90-page competition forms.) The first method is for large projects of $25 million or more, such as the Brooklyn House of Detention or the new Police Academy to be built in Queens. In this method, two-stage RFPs are issued for each project. During the first stage, a committee that includes at least one outside professional peer evaluates respondents and ranks them based on their sub-consultants, the education and experience of their project team, and their design record. The top firms are then invited to submit detailed proposals during stage two. At the conclusion of the second stage, the city begins fee negotiations with the highest technically ranked firm. “The DDC’s new selection process guarantees a level of attention to architecture,” explained Todd Schliemann, a partner at Polshek Partnership Architects, which has completed countless projects for New York City. “It wasn’t so long ago that they insisted on practicality over design.”


dce projects now beginning  construction include the ocean breeze indoor track facility on Staten Island by Sage and Coombe...
COURTESY Sage and Coombe
 

... And Bushwick inlet park in williamsburg by Kiss + Cathcart
COURTESY Kiss + Cathcart
 
 

The second method, for projects of less than $25 million, involves the selection of a panel of consultants who become the city’s go-to architects for projects in this budget range. As with the first stage of the RFP process in method one, architects are invited to apply to be on the panel and are evaluated based on their relevant experience and the quality of their portfolio. Firms that are selected are awarded 24-month on-call contracts with the city and are given the option of submitting proposals to projects as they become available. To keep the submission process fair and distribute the work evenly to large and small firms, this category is further subdivided into projects of less than $10 million and projects of $10 to $25 million. In the less-than-$10 million range, which thus far has accounted for approximately 50 projects every year, the city selects a panel of 24 small firms (defined as having ten or fewer employees) for each contract period. These have included firms like Andrew Berman Architect, Lyn Rice Architects, and Toshiko Mori. The remainder of the work, in the $10 to $25 million range, is offered to a panel of eight larger firms, such as Polshek Partnership, Smith-Miller + Hawkinson Architects, and Grimshaw.

“For each project that becomes available, the DDC issues an RFP to the 24 firms,” said Adam Marcus of Marble Fairbanks, which has been included in the DDC’s $10 million-and-under on-call list since 2005. “We usually submit proposals for each one, but it’s not required.” The firm’s diligence has paid off, and it currently has four projects under DCE: a cultural center and a fire station on Staten Island, an arts center in the Bronx, and a library in Queens. “DDC is very involved throughout the process. Their input usually is helpful and they’re right about a lot of things. There’s definitely additional work dealing with the bureaucracy, but in general it’s been pretty good and we’ve found their reviewers easy to work with.”

This method of procurement, along with the completion of a string of high-profile public projects including the Bronx Museum of the Arts by Arquitectonica, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum by Rafael Viñoly, and the Queens Botanical Garden by BKSK Architects, has had the effect that Bloomberg desired, and an increasing number of firms are showing interest in city work. In 2005, when the first round of contracts was issued, the DDC received applications from 178 firms. In 2007, the second round of contracts, DDC received 237 applications—a 33 percent increase. A similar increase in applications is expected when the next round of RFPs goes out late this summer, and the competition will be all the more fierce as the city expects to complete less work as a result of the faltering economy. “This round, we’re only going to issue on-call contracts to 20 firms,” said Burney. “We have less work now, due to budget cuts.”

The news is not all bleak, and there is still ample hope for high-design architects to find satisfying work in a city that values design. The Parks Department, the only other city agency that issues its own series of on-call contracts using the same methods as the DDC, has a $3 billion budget to spend on capital improvements over the next ten years. The first generation of Parks DCE projects is now going into construction, including the Bushwick Inlet Community Center by Kiss + Cathcart Architects, the McCarren Park Pool renovation by Rogers Marvel, and the Union Square Comfort Station by ARO. The agency is actually increasing the number of architects it will hire from six firms to eight. In addition, Parks also issues eight contracts to landscape architecture firms. RFPs for Parks’ latest round of contracts were due at the end of February, and while official numbers were not released as of press time, the number of applications has nearly doubled from the last count of 115 submissions.

The Marble Fairbanks-designed Glen Oaks Branch Library in Queens was commissioned by the DDC and is currently under construction.
Courtesy Marble Fairbanks

The fact that New York City values design and has implemented strategies to increase its weight as a factor in public works is heartening, but the question that must be on the minds of many architects right now is whether pursuing these jobs can keep them afloat. While the city’s process of finding architects has changed, its fee structure has not. The city has a sliding fee curve—based on percentage of overall construction cost—that is derived from a combination of previous contracts for the same services, adjusted for inflation, and information from a New York State analysis of contract fees. The lower the construction cost, the higher the percentage the fee accounts for. For example, a $100,000 project offers a 15.13 percent design fee, or $15,129. A $25 million project, on the other hand, offers a 6.08 percent design fee, or $1,520,375.

Without doing a detailed economic analysis of architecture firms, their fees, and their profit margins, it seems that this pay structure is more beneficial to the smaller fish in the architecture pool. Speaking about his firm’s extensive public work for New York, Schliemann said, “I’m not going to tell you that we make a great deal of money, but it’s a great contribution to the city.” On the other hand, city commissions account for approximately one third of Marble Fairbanks’ work.

DCE is an admirable addition to the administration of New York City, but it is just one part of a greater initiative to make this town a better designed, more egalitarian, and more sustainable place. The city’s overall 2030 strategy also includes requirements for green design and a degree of diversity among those hired to complete public work. “What has been very satisfying to me,” said Bausman, “is that my voice is listened to and I have an opportunity to help re-imagine the city. The city is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year. It’s great to finally have a seat at the table.”

Q&A: Emily Gabel-Luddy and Simon Pastucha

Launched in 2006 by LA planning director Gail Goldberg, the Urban Design Studio was created to address the city’s lack of urban design standards and to create a more pedestrian-friendly city. The small studio, headed by planners Emily Gabel-Luddy and Simon Pastucha, has already spearheaded the recent creation and approval of a set of Downtown Street & Urban Design Standards and Guidelines, which encourages wider sidewalks (at least 15 feet on some downtown blocks) and the possibility of street life, and a set of Walkability Guidelines. The Architect’s Newspaper sat down with the duo to discuss these, as well as their most ambitious endeavor: 11 Urban Design Principles, a set of values to which developers would be required to subscribe when seeking entitlements.

The principles range from “reinforce walkability and well-being” to “nurture neighborhood character” to “bridge the past and the future.” They are intended as “the first step to the creation of great streets, open spaces, and a more livable city.” If adopted by the City Council, these principles will be included in the city’s general plan, become part of the findings required for any discretionary action by the city, and eventually be interwoven with the 35 community plans throughout the city. The Planning Commission will consider them within the next two months.

AN: The truth underlying the Urban Design Principles is that all the great cities of the world came into being based on the human scale and prior to the advent of automobiles, and it’s the design studio’s intent to focus back on the human scale. Give me a practical example of what sort of implementation that might entail.

Emily Gabel-Luddy: Let me go to the Street Standards in Downtown Los Angeles. It was our goal that the city move away from an auto-centric proposition to one that emphasizes the pedestrian and mass transit. And so we spearheaded the idea of 15-foot-minimum-wide sidewalks in the dense urban core of our city. The reason this is so significant is because it lets all the developers and property owners have so much more room to put their outdoor cafe accessories—their tables and chairs—which in turn begins to cultivate the kind of social commerce among neighborhoods, residents, and office workers that was really part of cities prior to the automobile playing such an overriding part in how the public realm is defined and utilized.

How will the Urban Design Principles dovetail into existing neighborhood plans? Don’t architects have enough regulations on their plate already?

Simon Pastucha: Both the Urban Design Principles and the Downtown Design Standards are set up as a set of ideas to incorporate into your design. They’re not a set of standard requirements saying that you have to have “this” at a certain point or a certain place. They just say: How do you meet the intent of these?

EGL: It’s not a design review, it’s not an ordinance. It says: Here’s the value, now tell us how your project has achieved that value. I don’t think true design comes from telling architects how to design their buildings. True design comes from having the architect reflect on how that building achieves value that is expressed in a way that is appropriate to a local community.

When we talk about design that reinforces a neighborhood’s character, aren’t we entering the realm of the taste police?

EGL: I disagree with you on that. To me, what we’re talking about when we’re nurturing neighborhood character is, when a new project comes in—and sure, it may be a little higher- density, because that’s what the zoning allows—but the articulation of the houses and the townhouses, they still face the street. Because we still want that street to have the sense that there are people in relationship to one another when they come out of their doors in the morning. Now, to me, that’s not the design police. That’s wading into a larger issue of community building or community sustaining without saying you must do absolute replicas of bungalows or absolute replicas of what’s across the street or on the other side of you.

Each of you has a strong connection to design and yet both chose to be planners. Why is that?

SP: I love going to other cities and exploring cities that are not aesthetically so pretty but the streets are full of life. And the people are using the buildings just like they would a really pretty building. It’s still about the bones and functioning well. People can adapt the building. I look at it and go, “my role as an urban designer is to make the street successful and the buildings relate to the street” and that makes people use it.

EGL: And that is 98 percent of the kinds of development we see in the city. The two percent are going to be the Rem Koolhaas-es, the architects that are going to be afforded a big commission to do a significant piece of architecture like a Broad Museum. Those come along two percent of the time. And I think architects and architectural critics tend to focus on those. One of the dangers of that is having architecture continue to be irrelevant to the masses of folks who actually use and appreciate buildings that function on their behalf.