Search results for "Public Design Commission"

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How The Far West Side Will Be Won

What will it take to develop Far West Midtown? All sides agree on the need for more residential and commercial development, as well as improved transportation and open space. But how the pieces come together is the stuff of political brinkmanship. Laura Wolf-Powers puzzles it all together.

Here are the indispensable pieces of the Far West Side development puzzle: an expanded Jacob K. Javits Convention Center; the westward extension of the midtown business district; the new residential development the market is craving; usable open spaces that connect the city with Hudson River Park; the vitality and scalar integrity of the South Hell's Kitchen neighborhood.

Here's the piece with the uncomfortable fit: a stadium facility that anchors the city's bid for the 2012 Olympics, linked to a major transit investment, the extension of the #7 subway line. The Bloomberg administration, digging in its heels, says plans to transform the Far West Side will go nowhere without it. Its opponents argue that a stadium-free solution, one that relies on zoning changes and the Javits expansion to spur phased growth in the area, will promote better development at lower cost to taxpayers and with far less disruption to the existing city fabric.

This is the backdrop for the jigsaw of design and politics that is Far West Midtown. Three solutionssone by Cooper-Robertson Architects on behalf of the Department of City Planning, one by Meta Brunzema Architects endorsed by Manhattan Community Board 4 and a neighborhood-based coalition, the Hell's Kitchen/Hudson Yards Alliance (HKHYA), and a third by Robert Geddes, which is sponsored by the Newman Real Estate Institute at Baruch Collegeewould produce different urban environments for those who live and work in the district. Because of the fiscal as well as the design ramifications of the city's proposal, which may go forward as early as this month, the debate over Hudson Yards has mushroomed into a super- issue that engages elected officials and citywide planning groups as well as local residents, developers, and property owners. A season of political brinksmanship awaits them all.

The city's Hudson Yards Plan is ambitious and monumental, full of large buildings and sweeping gestures that embody City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden's vow to get ahead of the curvee in anticipating and shaping new large-scale development. But this monumentality has also run the city's plan into trouble. Though it makes sense to place a large-footprint structure in what is already a super-block corridor from 30th to 34th streets between 7th Avenue and the river, the proposed stadium is so overwhelming as to diminish the quality of the streets and spaces that surround it, according to Rob Lane, director of design programs at the Regional Plan Association (RPA). [Though the plan does] a really good job of animating the base of the stadium,, he said, there is still a question of whether people can be comfortable in these spaces given their sheer walls.. The RPA dealt the city a blow in a report last week opposing the stadium on both design and fiscal grounds.>

The city's proposal to expand the Javits Center northward, blocking view corridors and waterfront access at 39th, 40th and 41st streets, has also drawn fire. But neighborhood groups are most upset about a rezoning of 10th and 11th avenues in the 30s, a move that would pave the way for a north-south wall of office towers that, with FARs of 24 or more, could result in buildings with as much as 2 million square feet, as high as 90 stories. The proposed rezoning is already a compromise: Under pressure, the city agreed to increase density only moderately in Hell's Kitchen east of 10th Avenue and maintain residential zoning in that part of the neighborhood.


Still, for the grassroots community group Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association (HKNA), the Cooper Robertson plan amounts to a template for uniform building mass, type, and program that would leave the community without the waterfront connection it has sought for so long, and choke out the residential and industrial uses that give the neighborhood its mixed, gutsy character.

Community responses to these concerns are expressed in Brunzema's scheme, a collaboration with planner Daniel Gutman. Brunzema, who lives and works in a five-story townhouse on West 35th Street, asserted, We see the neighborhood as a place with its own rhythm of scales and building programssnot a tabula rasa.. The plan adds only moderate density above 34th Street, putting most new bulk on the 34th Street east-west superblock, including the rail yards. (Both HKHYA and the city allow for about 40 million square feet of new development, though the community would prefer less).

To accomplish this, the HKHYA alternative excises the stadium from the western rail yards and expands the Javits Center southward in its stead. The plan accommodates desired development by allowing for residential and commercial towers atop the convention center extension, perched on the periphery of the building. A public park, on the rooftop amid the towers, provides a connection from the blocks to the east (also fully built-out commercially) through to the Hudson River. Critics have praised the plan's move to concentrate bulky new development on an east-west corridor that is already large in scale, and applauded its transformation of odd-shaped publicly owned sites into innovative, organic open spaces (including several abutting Lincoln Tunnel on-ramps). However, the idea of a 10-acre park on the roof of the south-expanding Javits has drawn skepticism. You would have these enormous towers meeting a vast open space without much relief in terms of massing,, said the RPA's Lane, who also points out that park users would have to ascend 32 feet from 11th Avenueeand 60 feet from Hudson River Parkkin order to access the space.

Brunzema's plan has a much simpler flaw in the eyes of the city: It rejects the stadium and the #7 extension, the official sine qua non for a new Far West Side. The city also maintains that, under the HKHYA-endorsed design, the Javits would lack needed contiguous floor space. The design is nonetheless a powerful statement of how Far West Midtown development could be more flexible and sensitive to context if City Hall's obsessionnthe stadiummwere removed from the mix.

A third alternative, a study sponsored by Newman Real Estate Institute at Baruch College, claims to let disputants have it all. This so-called dream scheme,, spearheaded by Robert Geddes, dean emeritus of the Princeton University School of Architecture, would demolish the existing Javits Center, reconnect the street grid to the river from 34th Street northward, and build an entirely new convention center on the superblock corridor, where it would cover both the eastern and western rail yards. According to architect Chuck Lauster, the newly appointed director of the Pergolis Gallery at the Newman Institute, both a sports stadium and up to 10 million square feet of office space could be built on the roof of the convention center. Advocates say that if city and state officials would jettison the Javitssa young building in good structural condition but an admitted eyesoreeNew York could have a waterfront greenway, high-density development potential, and a stadium all at once. Many view the Javits flipp as an outrageously expensive nonstarter, and the proposal does not prevent monolithic office development on 10th and 11th avenues. Nevertheless, stranger compromises have been struck in this town.

Far West Midtown's fate depends on the interface of design solutions with fiscal and political ones. RPA's opposition to the stadium has been damaging. Neighborhood activists now have powerful allies in West Side property owners, including Madison Square Garden owner James Dolan. But the city claims that if activists defeat the stadiummby persuading the State Assembly to block it or through litigationnthere will be no redevelopment, not even a rezoning of the area. A political observer close to the issue predicts a complete reshuffling of the deckk on the West Side if the city stops campaigning for a Manhattan stadium and sets its Olympic sights on Queens. In the aftermath of such a reshuffle, could former combatants sit across from one another and discuss the distribution of density, the role of east-west connectivity, the relationship of a city to a river? We may yet find out.  LAURA WOLF-POWERS teaches city and regional planning at Pratt.

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Invisible Memorial

After seven years of fits and starts, the United States General Services Administration's project to memorialize downtown's African Burial Ground is taking off again. But does the latest series of public forums really mean the process is back on track? Deborah Grossberg investigates.

Although the United States General Services Administration (GSA) has received high honors in recent months from the National Building Museum and the American Architectural Foundation for its design achievements, the organization stands accused by some New Yorkers of dropping the ball on a crucial project close to home: the African Burial Ground Memorial. After the high-profile discovery of the historic site nearly 15 years ago and the announcement of an RFP for a memorial design in 1997, the project has fallen off the GSA's and the public's radar. Basically, the GSA's been on vacation on this project,, said Mabel Wilson, an architect on the finalist team GroundWorks, whose design was selected along with four others in February 2003.

City councilmember Charles Barron, an active participant on the Committee of the Descendants of the African Burial Ground, voiced his dissatisfaction more forcefully: The GSA has been showing us the same kind of arrogance and disrespect as it displayed at the beginning of this project..

On a map from 1763 (left), a rectangular 6-acre strip just north of the Commons today's City Hall Parkkis labeled Negro Burial Ground..

Acknowledging that the memorial was, in the words of GSA chief of staff Karl Reichelt, long overdue,, the GSA stepped up the pace on the project last year. In September, the organization brought in the National Parks Service (NPS) as a consultant and public liaison, a role it often plays in work involving national historic landmarks. (The African Burial Ground was designated a landmark in 1993.) We're not necessarily in the business of building memorials,, said Mark Dremel, project manager for the African Burial Ground at the GSA. NPS knows monuments and memorials. They're taking the lead on this.. Dennis Montagna of NPS agreed. The GSA ran the competition much like its arts and architecture program, which primarily contracts design and construction services and commissions works of art for federal buildings,, he said. At a certain point the competition just ground to a halt.. NPS got the ball rolling in May, facilitating two small public workshops as a prelude to five larger, if under-publicized, forums held at schools, churches, and community centers in each borough in mid-June. The forums in turn set in motion a six-week revision process to be followed by final submissions and the selection of a winner, though the GSA has not set dates for those milestones. The memorial is slated for completion in December 2005, according to the GSA.

The African Burial Ground project fell into the GSA's hands in 1989 while it was conducting a cultural site survey for a federal office building at the corner of Broadway and Duane Street. The study, mandated by the 1966 Historic Preservation Act, uncovered 18th-century maps depicting a forgotten African graveyard occupying 6 acres just north of City Hall Parkkknown in colonial times as the Commonsscutting through the south side of the GSA's building site.

The find reversed centuries of hidden history for New York's African-American community. The African Burial Ground proved that Harlem is not the only black New York,, said Eustace Pilgrim, director of graphics at the Department of City Planning and one of the memorial finalists.

Preserved under 20 feet of landfill, the African Burial Ground occupies what was once a desolate ravine outside city limits. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Dutch and English settlers denied Africans permission to bury their dead in church graveyards within the city proper, forcing them to use this out-of-the-way, undesirable strip of land. Archaeologists estimate that approximately 20,000 Africans, both enslaved and free, were buried on the site from the late 1600s to 1794, when the burial ground was closed. Memories of its existence slowly faded after Dutch-Americans brought the site to grade in the early 1800s. In 1991 the GSA began archaeological site testing. The African-American community, already frustrated at its exclusion from the process, became enraged when The New York Times reported that the GSA planned to excavate the burial ground with the so-called coroner's method, a technique consisting of digging up graves with a backhoe. Waging a grassroots campaign, activists campaigned for increased oversight. In December 1991 Senator David A. Paterson established a task force to supervise the project. Soon thereafter, the GSA signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission outlining its responsibilities to the African Burial Ground, including the construction of a memorial on the site.

The African Burial Ground Memorial's five finalist designs attempt to tread lightly on a site many consider sacred.

At left & below: GroundWorks proposes greening the site, save a small clearing for a lanternlike spirit catcher,, a chamber for contemplation and mourning.

Below to bottom of page: Eustace Pilgrim and Christopher Davis have created a sloped berm with a curved wall adorned with Yoruba-inspired terracotta faces;

McKissack & McKissack's slave ship tells a literal tale of suffering;

Joseph DePace's proposal refers to African burial practices;

Rodney Leon draws from African architecture with its spiral path leading to a libation chamber.

The GSA completed construction of its $276 million building at 290 Broadway on a piece of the site deemed by archaeologists to contain no human remains in 1995. The memorial project was a mitigation of our responsibility for constructing a building on the burial ground site,, said GSA's Dremel. The MOA also required the GSA to fund a research project to study human remains removed from the site. Dr. Michael Blakey of Howard University led the research team whose findings have provided new insight into the brutal conditions of slavery in colonial New York City, which was the second-largest slave port in the U.S. in the 18th century, after Charleston, South Carolina. At the time, 10 to 20 percent of the city's population was of African descent. To date, the GSA has spent $30 million on archaeological and anthropological research. Dremel blamed the memorial competition's holdup on the lengthy research being conducted at Howard. But many wonder why the memorial project could not have gone forward at the same time as the research, as was originally planned. The initial RFP asked us to accommodate a future reinterment of human remains and artifacts,, said architect and finalist Joseph DePace. Reburial of the remains on the site took place at a ceremony last October. Now that the remains are back in the ground it's unclear whether further construction on this site poses the possibility of some kind of disrespect,, said DePace.

Tender treatment of the site, which many community members see as sacred, was a hot topic at the June forums. But dialogue was repeatedly bogged down by questions that were more suitable for a GSA delegate than the newly appointed NPS representative and designers who were present at the meetings. Community members also expressed disappointment at the forums' poor attendance, claiming they had not been well organized. Forums drew between 20 and 80 people in auditoriums capable of seating hundreds.

At the June 14 forum in Brooklyn, attendees debated whether building on the site would be sacrilegious. Ollie McLean of the Descendants of the African Burial Ground asserted, We don't build on a sacred cemetery. We want a green, landscaped space with an eternal flame on that land.. As an alternative, McLean suggested seizing abutting properties by eminent domain, one for the memorial and the other for a museum dedicated to African-American history. In Brooklyn, we're displacing thousands for a ballpark. It's the least GSA can do..

Rodney Leon, a finalist and principal of AARRIS Architects, looked at the issue differently. There's a difference between an occupied building and a memorial. The real question is how do you create a gravestone for 20,000 anonymous people? How do you undo their anonymity?? Leon derived his design's sequence of monumental formssa spiral ramp, a circular gathering space, and a triangular tapering towerrfrom West and North African architecture. The forms create a visible contrast against the grid of the city,, said Leon.

Other forum participants supported building on the site, arguing for the use of references to African burial practices. Said one, If you're looking for the place where we put buildings on our dead, then you'll find it in Africa.. The same speaker cited Egyptian pyramids and Dogon burials within the walls of houses as examples. DePace agreed, arguing, Paradoxically, [the Descendants' proposals] are referencing European burial practices.. DePace's project uses African symbols and materials like a pyramidal perimeter fence woven from copper strips and a groundcover of crushed white oyster shells, used to decorate graves in West Africa to symbolize the spirit living on the sea. Our design is respectful of the site's sacred nature, touching lightly on the ground,, he said. Eustace Pilgrim and Christopher Davis, a team of artists, also emphasized a light touch with a design that features a curved pathway dividing a landscaped berm from a reflecting pool.

Herbert Wilson, III, of McKissack & McKissack, one of the finalists and principal of the oldest minority-owned architecture firm in the nation, defended his team's plan to put a more substantial building on the site. We need to mark the site with a symbol that stands out for years and is emblematic of lives lost.. His firm's project references the middle passage with a ribbed structure in the form of a slave ship surrounded by reflecting pools, waterfalls, and a sound installation of screams meant to recall the terror of slaves flung overboard.

Constructive public design dialogues notwithstanding, the projecttnow in its seventh yearrremains crippled by lack of managerial continuity. Consistency has been an issue,, conceded Dr. Sherrill D. Wilson, director of the Office of Public Education and Interpretation of the African Burial Ground (OPEI), an informational center funded by GSA. We're the only functioning part of the project that's been here from the beginning..

Adding to the confusion is the issue of the project's budget, which, according to the GSA, may get a boost from its initial cap of $1 million to account for inflation. But GSA has not released an estimate of the exact increase, forcing finalists to guess for themselves. As it stands, some hope for $2.5 million while others are attempting to stay within the original budget. Mabel Wilson sees the project's delays as unsurprising continuations of the site's history of invisibility. Slavery is the blind spot in America's eye,, said Wilson. The government and the general public don't see this site as visible and relevant..

Wilson intends to combat the site's invisibility by greening the memorial site as well as the landscape surrounding the buildings on the entire burial ground. The centerpiece of her team's project, a glowing, tapered glass shelter, appears in a clearing within the larger grove. Wilson said, Though the plan goes beyond the scope of the competition, it's a relatively feasible way to make visible an area of the city whose history has been systematically erased and forgotten..

With no date set for the announcement of the winning design, no jury publicly named, no clear budget, and no disclosure of what the remainder of the memorial-building process would entail, it remains to be seen whether the GSA and the NPS will give the African Burial Ground Memorial the visibility it deserves.

Deborah Grossberg is an assistant editor at AN.

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The Stealth Designers

For years, avant-garde darlings Diller + Scofidio have kept fresh with art projects, technologically innovative media installations, and paper architecture. However, writes Andrew Yang, what's propelling the firmmnow with partner Charles Renfrooare two major urban planning projects that may transform the face of New York City.

In contrast to the explicit directives of their work for Lincoln Center, above, Diller Scofidio + Renfro's (with OMA) master plan for the BAM Cultural District, is a conceptual framework for development. The early site plan, below, which has evolved with the needs of BAM, shows how different programs can be interwoven. The urban beach, and vertical garden, describe an attitude toward the public realm more than any actual building proposal.

According to Rebecca Robertson, the executive director of the Lincoln Center Redevelopment Corporation, there was a moment in 2002 when she was really doubtful that she could get Diller + Scofidio on the final list of competitors to redesign Lincoln Center's public spaces. The others were all major players with several large public projects under their belttNorman Foster, Cooper Robertson, Richard Meier and Santiago Calatrava. At that point, Diller + Scofidio had a handful of installations and a much-loved restaurant interior, the Brasserie. That summer, their conceptual architecture-cum-art piece, Blur, a mist-filled cloud-making apparatus over Lake Neuchhtel in Switzerland opened to the public. While Diller + Scofidio clearly had the intellectual acuity to go toe-to-toe with these architects, their lack of built projects meant the firm would be a tough sell for Lincoln Center's board.

Robertson had worked with the duo in the early 1990s, when she was the director of the 42nd Street Redevelopment Corporation. As part of a plan to animate the closed theaters and other dead spaces in the district, the corporation worked with the public-art organization Creative Time to commission projects from the likes of Jenny Holzer, Tibor Kalman, and Diller + Scofidio. She knew of the designers' knack for multidisciplinary design, and the strong element of performance and surveillance in their workksuch as the monitors at the bar of the Brasserieeand knew they would be a good fit.

>For us, Lincoln Center was about more communication between the arts,, said Robertson. By focusing on that element of Diller + Scofidio's work, she was able to get the firm on the list, and the rest is history.

Now renamed Diller Scofidio + Renfro, to reflect the addition of partner Charles Renfro, the firm still shows up on the shortlists of major competitions, but they are no longer the long shots. Two of their recently completed projectssthe redesign of Lincoln Square's public spaces and a master plan for the Brooklyn Academy of Music Cultural Districttre-envision two of New York's cultural epicenters, and put the designers in a position to shape not just the buildings of New York, but aspects of the city itself.

It's like they've absorbed Lincoln Center into their DNA, and the outrageousness of what they have done is subtle,, said Robertson.

The most drastic and controversial part of the plan calls for the eradication of the Milstein Plaza, a raised platform designed in 1965 by Harrison & Abramovitz, and which covers much of 65th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. Their plan also calls for slicing through a corner of the hard, brutalist Pietro Belluschii designed Alice Tully Hall, also home of the Julliard School. Along with an elevated lawn in the plaza behind Avery Fisher Hall, the firm aims to integrate the different topographic levels of Lincoln Center into a public space that's more transparent and functional. If subtlety is the mark of this project, then the designers' masterplan for the BAM Cultural District may be so subtle it's downright invisible.

When the BAM Cultural District, designed in collaboration with Rem Koolhaas/OMA, was completed in 2002, very little in the way of fancy renderings was released to the press. That's because there weren't any. According to the firm, the masterplan really isn't a masterplan at all. It is a series of programmatic and building recommendations for a network of systems and spaces that will maximize the dynamic interplay between the district's different cultural institutions. We wanted them to understand that the project [had to be implemented] in phases, and could change, and affect what followed,, said Scofidio.

The plan for BAM, unlike Lincoln Center, is more of a conceptual schematic for the buildings in the district, and less of a stringent plan for buildings. While it recommends spatial programming like artists' live/work lofts, retail, administrative offices, residential buildings, and a hotel, its salient feature is a plan for acculturation.. Because the area is several blocks away from still-gritty downtown Brooklyn, a period of reinvestment and renewal could make the artistic aspects of the neighborhood more visible. The plan recommends installing temporary public art projects and even an urban beachh in order to draw in passersby and raise interest in the area. By incorporating the BAM ethos into the very sidewalks, it would attract more foot traffic and other cultural organizations, thus encouraging a more organic type of development.

>The essence of this plan is mixing,, said Jeanne Lutfy, president of the BAM Local Development Corp-oration (LDC). The streetscape will be the connective tissue that ties the district to Fort Greene,, she said, noting that the programming of visual art into the public infrastructure is already happening.

And the chips are falling into place. Enrique Norten's Library for Visual and Performing Arts, which was unveiled in 2003, will fill out a triangular block south of the BAM Opera House. The Manhattan-based Theater for a New Audience recently announced that Hugh Hardy and Frank Gehry will design a 300-seat, $22 million theater adjacent to the visual arts library. In between the buildings will be an open public space, which follows the Diller Scofidio + Renfro plan. Twelve new cultural organizations, including Bomb magazine and the Museum of Contemporary Diasporan Art, have just recently been announced to fill 80 Arts, an eight-story building that will be renovated by the BAM LDC. Because of the sharing of various amenities by the different groups, 80 Arts is in many ways a microcosm of what this district is going to be about,, said Lutfy.

Just as ideas of performance, technology, surveillance, and the public domain are central to Diller Scofidio + Renfro's conceptual work, they are proving to be a trademark of the firm's public planning projects as well. We didn't think of it as a masterplan as much as There is a performance on the inside of the building and we want to bring that quality out,'' said Scofidio. And we wanted to add the aspects of street performance and bring them in.. None of the blocks in the district as proposed are solid, but instead composed of varied units with public spaces cutting through.

By the time this long-term process is complete, the entire cultural area may be eclipsed by developer Bruce Ratner's proposed new Frank Gehryydesigned basketball arena a block away. Its monstrous proportions and planning are the antithesis of OMA and Diller Scofidio + Renfro's delicate, piece-by-piece, neighborhood-building strategy. The invisibility of the BAM Cultural Districttand how it unfolds over the next several yearssis just how the firm wants it.

Our interests are really broad and not about an image,, said Renfro, who is a generation younger than his partners and has witnessed the transformation of the office since he arrived seven years ago, after four years with Smith-Miller + Hawkinson. Brasserie was their first permanent work in this country,, he said. That project really changed the way people think about the firm. And it helped promote the development of the work into larger and larger scales,, he says.

Just as Lincoln Center is a dynamic interplay of buildings designed by heavyweights like Philip Johnson, Belluschi, and Wallace K. Harrison, Diller Scofidio + Renfro's intervention is subtle and respectful. And the BAM district is also proving to be a fruitful collaboration of architectural visionaries, the public can take it as a sure sign that the built reality will finally match the imaginations of the firm guiding it.
Andrew Yang, an editor of 306090, contributes to Wallpaper, Men's Health, and Surface.

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Towards A New Modern

As the Museum of Modern Art's eagerly anticipated new home nears completion, Aric Chen revisits the project and offers a preview.

The new MoMA orients visitors' views of the garden courtyard along its length. The interior is a volumetric puzzle of rectilinear compositions, floating planes, and interlocking spaces.

One might not think Philip L. Goodwin was an obvious choice to design the first permanent home for the Museum of Modern Art when, in 1934, the five-year-old institution decided it had outgrown its cramped 53rd Street townhouse. In fact, its legendary (and soon-to-be furious) founding director, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., had already set his mind on Europe and the likes of Mies when he learned that the museum's board of trustees had all but awarded the commission to Goodwin, a onetime Beaux Arts designer who also happened to be a fellow trustee. Barr then did his best to arrange a collaboration with Mies but Godwin refused to work with a foreign architect and chose instead to partner with a 29-year-old who had worked on Radio City Music Hall named Edward Durrell Stone.

Fortunately, nepotism, nationalism, and backstabbing don't seem to have played a noticeable role in MoMA's also-unexpected selection of Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi for its latest, and most ambitious, expansion. With the bulk of construction expected to be completed in July anddafter installation and other final touchessits opening day scheduled for November 20th, the $858 million project will nearly double the midtown museum's total size to 630,000 square feet while increasing its gallery space by 50 percent, to 125,000 square feet.

With the building almost finished, it's become apparent that what Taniguchi's first models and drawings may have lacked in showmanship when they were unveiled in 1997 will likely be compensated for by the finished building's impressive proportions, architectonic poise and excruciatingly deft detailing. To be sure, this is not an architecture of bells and whistles but rather one that reflects the museum's self-enforced ethos of august sobriety. When I first saw Taniguchi's work in Japan, it made quite an impression on me because, while it's rooted in this very modern language, it's also quite singular,, said MoMA architecture and design chief curator Terence Riley (who is also a member of this publication's advisory board). I hope there weren't too many people holding their breath,, he added, thinking we were going to throw out 75 years of what we've been doing to go in a completely different direction..

Indeed, one thing that Taniguchi does share with Goodwin and Stoneewhose 1939 International Style design remains, of course, beloved to manyyis his selection over more looming figures. Comparatively unknown in this country Taniguchi emerged from a field of such overshadowing names as Rem Koolhaas, Bernard Tschumi, and Jacques Herzog and Pierre De Meuron in an invited competition first announced over seven years ago. While other museums, hoping for some kind of Bilbao redux, were (and are still) clamoring for donor and press-baiting buildings by flashier architects, MoMA had the luxury of particularly deep-pocketed and generous trustees (and $65 million in city funds), as well as an institutional confidence that often lends it an above-the-fray disposition. If you're not dependent on publicity or fundraising mechanisms, you can focus more closely on deciding what's best for this institution,, Riley continued. And trendy architecture was not, MoMA determined, in its best interests.

When it returns to midtown after a two-year hiatus, the museum, which closes its temporary MoMA QNS facility to the public on September 27th, will be both familiar and virtually unrecognizable. Its Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden and Goodwin and Stone faaade will be restored to their original designs, with Philip Johnson's 1965 street faaade preserved as well. Beyond thattand with the exception of other elements like its Bauhaus Stair, and certainly Cesar Pelli's 1984 Museum Towerrvery little will look the same.

The lumbering, 20-year-old Museum Tower, a 52-story condominium that resulted from the museum's earlier sale of air rights, actually proved to be one of the redesign's main obstacles. Embedded within the fabric of the complex, it was something to be literally worked around, though in the end, it was embraced by necessity. Rather than simply fight it, Taniguchi more visibly anchored it to the ground by peeling back the glass structure that once obscured it from the garden, and cladding its now-exposed base in black granite and black glass. We wanted to take the Museum Tower and use it as a central element,, museum director Glenn Lowry said on a recent hardhat tour, since we really couldn't hide it..

At the same time, new wings for galleries and educational facilities now flank the garden on its west and east sides. A new lobby, connecting 53rd and 54th streets, leads up to a soaring 12,400-square-foot, 110-foot-high central atrium. Sprawling contemporary art galleries on the second floor, and more intimately scaled spaces for historical collections above, invert the former hierarchy to allow the museum to place renewed emphasis on its original vanguard mission while still showcasing, in more flexible quarters, the masterworks that established it. The new architecture and design galleries will reside on the third floor. And all have been sheathed by an impossibly precise exterior of black granite, aluminum panels and crystalline, diaphanous glass.

There have been challenges, to be sure, including the neighbors. Empowered by city planning requirements, St. Thomas Episcopal Church insisted that new construction not obstruct pedestrians' views, from 54th Street, of the stained glass clerestory windows of its Bertram Goodhue building, a demand that was resolved by cutting a notch into Taniguchi's design. In addition, loading docks and storage had to be moved for residents of the Museum Tower, who were also enticed by views of a still-pending garden by Ken Smith that, in one suggested iteration, might cover much of the museum's roof with an over-scaled camouflage pattern in gravel, crushed glass, and plantings.

There have also been pleasant surprises, like an eighth-floor mechanical area that proved so structurally robust that engineers realized it could act as a truss from which lower floors could be suspended, thus allowing column-free spans of as much as 180 feet in the 20,000 square-foot contemporary galleries.

Most of all, however, there is the detailing. As a volumetric puzzle of rectilinear compositions, floating planes and interlocking spaces, everything ends up being resolved in details and expressed in details,, said Stephen Rustow, a senior associate principal at Kohn Pedersen Fox, the project's executive architect. What can already be seen is a clarity and precision, as with the curtain walls, where all the panel joints have been reduced to the absolute practical minimum..

Indeed, not only are these joints a mere three-eighths to a quarter of an inch, but the curtain walls themselvessas well as exterior canopies and even many of the interior wallssare hung by redundant structural systems that allow any imprecision in the building's skeleton to be corrected on its surface. Meanwhile, custom extrusions were created that fit regular drywall while providing a consistent and exacting reveal around the walls at the floors and ceilings. The overall result, one might be led to believe, is a building so plumb and level as to feel almost unreal. In this day and age when you're not supposed to be able to move people with straight lines, there's not a curve in this building,, Riley said. But everyone I bring through it now tells me it's so perfect and so right, as if it was so inevitable..  ARIC CHEN LIVES IN NEW YORK AND WRITES FOR ID, METROPOLIS, GQ, ART & AUCTION, AND OTHER PUBLICATIONS.

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NYC Design Focus

Sitting Pretty
Frank Gehry: Emeco and Heller


Taking some time off from titanium, Frank Gehry has been dabbling with some new materials. Collaborating simultaneously with two notable furniture manufacturers, the blockbuster architect has created distinctly different designs. For Emeco, he has designed the all-aluminum Superlight Chair, which is super-strong, super-flexible, and super-comfortable. Inspired by Gio Ponti's Superleggera Chair, Gehry's simple design, a bent sheet draped on tubular frame, weighs in at 6.5 pounds. Since both skin and frame are light and slight, there is no way around his straightforward intent that "the sitter activate the chair." Productions experts at Emeco, best known for its indestructible aluminum Navy Chair, enjoyed the challenge of making the material as light and flexible as possible while maintaining its strengthhthree times that of steel. For those interested in collecting a set, the Superlight is stackable in an unconventional sense: the skin/seat unclips from the frame and can be piled, like Pringles potato chips. The chair will retail for about $350.



Gehry's line of furniture for Heller, meanwhile, is almost the inverse of Superlight in appearance. Ultra-sculptural and monolithic, the seven-piece collection follows both the heft and curving fluidity of his recent buildings, while referencing their materials. Heller's founder and CEO Alan Heller touts the line as architecture as furniture,, pointing to the recognizable shapes and lines carried over from projects like Bilbao and the Disney Concert Hall. Made of metallic silver resin, the roto-molded sofa, easy chair, bench, coffee table and three different sized cubes are designed to be used either indoors or out. The sleek surface of the hollow forms has been formulated so that the sofa and the easy chair will have more give than the twisted cube units. Heller explained that both the company and the architect were very interested in process and working with the newest technology to determine what you can invent, just as Frank does with his buildings..

Both Emeco and Heller displayed prototypes of Gehry's designs at Milan's 2004 Salone Internazionale del Mobile, and will present them at ICFF. The real articles will be available to design-hungry consumers this summer.

A documentary on the design process of the Superlight Chair, Ping Pong by Eames Demetrios, will be shown on Friday, May 14th, at 8:30 p.m. at the Center for Architecture, 536 La Guardia Place.
Tracey Hummer is a New Yorkkbased writer and editor.

Show Pieces
Harry Allen, Sergei Hasegawa, and Magne Magler Wiggen:
ICFF Commissions


For the past several years, the organizers of ICFF have commissioned hot designers to spruce up the 110,000 square feet of the Javits Center during the four-day event. This year, in addition to displays by 450 exhibitors, visitors will see a newsstand designed by New York industrial and interior designer Harry Allen; a bar by industrial designer Sergei Hasegawa of Brooklyn-based pure-kitchen; and the ICFF Connector,, a passageway linking showroom floors, designed by multidisciplinary design firm Magne Magler Wiggen (MMW) of Oslo. Allen's newsstand, a bulbous 16-foot-tall, 18.5-foot-wide heptagonal pavilionndubbed the iglooo by his studioowill be constructed out of expanded polystyrene foam panels Allen spotted at Home Depot. He picked the panels for their high strength-to-weight ratio as well as their humble origins as wall insulation. The form followed the material and the function,, he said. The structure needed to have six stations for magazine sales reps to interact with the public and a door to get inside, hence the seven sides.. Allen's construction methods were also straightforward. The panels are light enough to be hand-carried through the front entrance and structural enough to require a minimum of joineryyonly tape and biscuit joints will be needed for its assembly.

Meanwhile, Hasegawa has designed a bar with a countertop made of Richlite, a paper-composite board with a high recycled material content. The board is sturdy enough to be used in boats and skateboard ramps. Hasegawa's design incorporates a curved surface, echoing a skater's beloved halfpipe. MMW took a jet-set prefab approach in its design for the ICFF Connector. The firm created a white wormlike form made of fabric and ringed with orange pneu-matic pipes. Shaped by air pressure, the three-piece structure knocks down easilyyso easily, in fact, that the designers report that they will transport the structure's three pieces from Norway in their personal luggage. The special textiles workshop of outdoor clothing manufacturer Helly Hansen provided the materiall a watertight canvas typically used for offshore diving suitssand will fabricate the structure's sections. The project's concept derives from Per Gynt, Henrik Ibsen's play about travel,, said Hallstein Guthu of MMW. Each of the structure's three sections has a sound and lighting theme inspired by the play.

Raising the Roof
Graftworks: West Village roof deck

Architecture morphs into furniture in a roof renovation by Graftworks Architecture and Design, a New York firm founded in 1999 by Lawrence Blough and John Henle. The architects skinned the 1,100-square-foot roof of this West Village brownstone with strips of cedar slatting that peel up to form a hint of a canopy and curvy chaise lounges. The same slats continue toward the roof's edge, twisting out to conceal planters and to offer a subtle safety barrier. Blough and Henle arrived at this strategy as a way to avoid cluttering the small terrace with traditional porch furniture. For Graftworks, the deck's ruled surfaces relate to the city's skyline typology, specifically to the slatted wooden water towers that perch upon roofs across Manhattan. The deck surfaces look like they've been unfurled from vertically sliced water towers,, said Blough. The contents of the towers also plays into the design: Water sprays through wood slats at various points, providing a cooling mist just in time for summer. DG

Feel the Burn
Maarten Baas: Smoke

In past years, furniture at ICFF has been available in a range of flavorsscotton candyycolored, crunchy granola, spicy and Brazilian, stark and Swedish. This year, add BBQ to the list. On May 16th, Moss in SoHo unveils the exhibition Where There's Smoke, a solo show of new works by 26-year-old Dutch designer Maarten Baas who takes modern classics and burns them to a crisp. The series at Moss will consist of furniture from several time periodssbaroque chairs from the 18th century to 20th-century chairs by Gerritt Rietveld, Charles and Ray Eames, and Isamu Noguchi. The chronological journey continues with a Memphis shelf from the 1980s by Ettore Sottsass, works by Droog Design from the 1990s, and the 2002 Favela Chair by Humberto and Fernando Campanaaall pieces Baas considers seminal in his education. Moss acquired each piece to to be subjected to Baas' hand-torching and epoxy-coating treatment. Sounding almost Loosian, the Eindoven-based designer explains that the burning is his way of stripping away ornament and returning an object to its original function. If I burn away the ornaments, the structure will still [function as a] chair,, says Baas. By rendering such perfect objects imperfect, he diminishes their hands-off preciousness and brings them closer to their true purpose, as common tables and chairs. When [these pieces are] thrown on the fire,, said Moss, they release energy and propel us forward.. While it remains to be seen whether Baas' blackened works are modernist interventions or pyromaniac obsessions, Smoke is sure to get people all fired up.  ANDREW YANG IS AN EDITOR AT PRINT AND WRITES ABOUT ART AND ARCHITECTURE.

Wonder Woman
Dune: 12 New Works

Dune, a contemporary furniture design collective founded in 1996 with a showroom in Manhattan and a manufacturing studio in Brooklyn, will introduce an all-female line-up for its 2004 collection, Wonder Women. The ensemble, on view during the ICFF at the Waterfront in Chelsea (formerly the nightclub the Tunnel), will feature furniture by a mix of 12 accomplished designers and architects.

Winka Dubbeldam contributed Cumulus, a smoky acrylic coffeetable with translucent storage compartments for everything from magazines to fruit to wine bottles. Laurinda Spear of Arquitectonica designed Hollow Bed, a light and airy molded fiberglass form. Architects Victoria Meyers and Emanuela Frattini Magnusson will also unveil pieces for the collection, along with industrial designers Eva Zeisel, Lauren Leon-Boym, and Matali Crasset.  DG

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Fresh Thrills

Once the world's largest landfill, Fresh Kills is on its way to becoming the city's newest playground. Aric Chen reports on how a concept becomes a master plan.

In late 2002, the landscape architecture and urban design firm Field Operations publicly unveiled its schematic entry, alongside those of five other finalists, in a competition to transform Staten Island's Fresh Kills landfill into New York City'ssindeed, the country'sslargest urban park. Back then, the office (which moved to New York from Philadelphia last year) was criticized for describing its plan in obscure language, for example, explaining it as not a loose metaphor or representation [but] a functioning reality, an autopoietic agent.. However, last month, at a city-sponsored community meeting to review Field Operation's winning submission, called Lifescape, the enigmatic lines (threads),, surfaces (mats),, and clusters (islands)) gave way to more proletarian propositions as attendees suggested everything from dog runs and boathouses to windmill farms and, oddly, a working cattle ranch for the master plan now being cobbled together for the sprawling, 2,200-acre site.

Held at Holy Trinity-St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in the Bulls Head section of Staten Island, the March 24th gathering, also attended by city officials and Field Operations principal James Corner, brought together more than 300 members of citizens groups and enthusiasts of apparently every conceivable inclination. Representatives of local bicycling, tennis, and other amateur sporting interests, nature buffs, and family members of World Trade Center victims chimed in on the activities, amenities, and (yes, another) 9/11 memorial that will eventually occupy the site. Their proposals ranged from the odds-on tennis courts, ball fields, and bike paths to a less-promising horticulture school and a landfill museum that would enshrine the earthmovers that have sculpted Fresh Kills' topography for the past half century. The key to the success of Fresh Kills' transformation is the engagement of the community,, said city planning commissioner Amanda Burden, whose agency is overseeing the master planning process. A lot of people showed up to the meeting and I was delighted with the range of suggestions..

Indeed, Corner's original planna collaboration with Princeton architecture dean Stan Allen, whose involvement is now subsidiaryyhas already taken on a more accessible vocabulary, broken down to the neatly understood categories of habitat, circulation and, especially, activity. With housing specifically precluded, the finished park will be some combination of wildlife preserves, roads and trails, and recreational and cultural facilities. And while it's easy to imagine that many of the ideas put forth at the recent forumma cemetery for New York state servicemen, for example, or the inexplicable cattle ranchhwon't be realized, it's likely that many others will. There is, after all, plenty of space.

At more than two and a half times the size of Central Park, the proposed park will nearly double the size of Staten Island's existing and adjacent greenbelt. At the same time, it will recast the world's largest landfilllfamously visible from spaceeas the world's largest landfill reclamation project. While Corner, who also chairs the landscape architecture and regional planning department at the University of Pennsylvania, cites several precedents for such a conversionnformer landfills around San Francisco, in Seoul, Korea, and Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queenssnone quite match the scale and scope of this one. It's a big site,, he said, undaunted, and there are many challenges, both ecologically, politically, and in terms of implementation..

Fresh Kills, which takes its name not from its contents but the Dutch word for the creeks that meander through it, is, beyond its stigma, an ecosystem of woodlands and tidal marshes carved out by an Ice Age glacier. It was opened in 1948, intended as a temporary, three-year dumping ground. Despite over 50 years of accepting the bulk of New York's household garbageea tenure that ended in March 2001 in a gesture by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani to solidify the island's conservative voting baseeit remains home to a diversity of wildlife and vegetation. Six sizable landfill mounds, ranging in height from 90 to 225 feet, comprise 995 acres, or around 45 percent, of the total site. All are, or will be, capped with an impermeable plastic liner and topsoil, as well as drainage and other systems to collect methane released from the decaying waste, which will be sold as heating gas. Public use of these mounds, however, will have to wait until such gases and other byproducts have dissipated and the decomposing heaps have settled. For the larger mounds, this could mean a reduction in height of up to 100 feet over as many as 30 years.

In the meantime, dry lowlands make up 35 percent of the site and much of it is available for more immediate use. In addition to the types of recreational functions already mentioned, these areas are being considered as potential homes for equestrian and other facilities in the city's bid to host the 2012 Olympics. Concurrently, a central drive is in the works that will loop around the main fork in the Fresh Kills estuary. This artery, which will connect Richmond Avenue to the West Shore Expressway, will relieve existing traffic congestion while drawing people into the heart of the park just as a network of walkways, paths and ancillary roads disperses them throughout. In the original scheme, we had more centralized activity areas,, Corner says, and now they're more widely distributed, which makes the plan easier to phase in, and in smaller pieces..

The veterans' cemetery proposal notwithstanding, Fresh Kills in fact became a cemetery of sorts when it was temporarily reopened after September 11th to accommodate remnants from Ground Zero. A memorial is being planned as well. Corner has designed two earthworks, 40 feet high and in roughly the dimensions of both World Trade Center towers, next to the 48-acre area where the debris, and the victims' remains within, are buried. The simple, poetic design has already been well received, though it's still subject to debate and at least one group, the World Trade Center Families for Proper Burial, may see it as altogether unnecessary. Its members are arguing that the debris should instead be resifteddat what would likely be enormous expenseeand the separated remains reburied at a more appropriate site.

Though the feasibility of this request is questionable, it nevertheless points to the exorbitant complexity of the task at hand. Politicallyy and now emotionallyycharged, the site faces formidable obstacles in its own evolution from being a colossal, fetid eyesore to becoming a thriving, even idyllic, example of land reclamation. Further public meetings are being held this and next month (details are posted on the city's Fresh Kills website,, with a final master plan scheduled for July 2005. Small portions of the new park may open as early as 2007. However, even if the plan sails through the often-thorny processes of community and regulatory involvement, the park will take decades to phase in. There are the technical, environmental and even psychological challenges in turning a former garbage heap with poor soil into a verdant haven for picnickers, not to mention the fact that cost, funding, and final jurisdiction have yet to be determined. Indeed, Fresh Kills' redevelopment will require a will matched only by an ambition that is as expansive as the site itself. ARIC CHEN LIVES IN NEW YORK AND WRITES FOR ID, METROPOLIS, GQ, ART & AUCTION, AND OTHER PUBLICATIONS.

Whetting the Olympic Dream

New York City's Olympic bid committee, NYC 2012, has made some great design decisions including the choosing of finalists for its Olympic Village. However, as the very powerful private organization prepares to make its final push, Andrew Yang asks, How much does the city really need the Olympics?

While the International Olympic Committee won't be announcing the host city for the 2012 Olympics until July 2005, NYC 2012, the non-profit private organization funded by large corporations and private donors that is initiating New York's bid, is commissioning enough work to build a small city. In fact, a small city is what NYC 2012 has most recently announced.

After an initial round of RFQs, NYC 2012 selected five architects to submit designs for an Olympic village in Queens West, near Long Island City: Henning Larsens Tegnestue, Zaha Hadid, Morphosis, MVRDV, and a mostly hometown team consisting of Smith-Miller + Hawkinson, Ralph Lerner, Shigeru Ban, Julie Bargmann and others.

The plans, which will be presented publicly this March, will be both a building and an urban plan. The architects will be concerned with fulfilling the Olympic program, but also creating market-rate (read: non- dormmstyle) housing on a site near Long Island City. While the village will house 16,000 athletes and coaches during the Olympics, it could house nearly 18,000 residents after the Olympics are over. They appropriately put a very high premium on design,, said Ralph Lerner. The Olympic (and post-Olympic) Village would be the first residential complexes for many of the designers. Because New York City is competing to host the Olympics, the architects are not guaranteed a commissionn yet. However, the quality of proposals and designs will be contributed into New York's candidature file, from which the ultimate decision will be made.

From the start, NYC 2012, founded by Daniel Doctoroff, now the deputy mayor for economic development, has been courting good design. It has already commissioned biggies like Hardy, Holzman and Pfieffer, Deborah Berke, and Rafael Viioly for speculative designs into the all-important candidature file. I'd like to think that the tide is turning [for good design in New York],, said Laurie Hawkinson.

Beyond the Olympic Village, there are much heralded infrastructure improvements including the Olympic XX plan, which extends east-west from Queens to Midtown to the Meadowlands, and north-south along the East river. The main elements of the Olympic proposal consist of fortifying existing sporting sites in all five boroughs, building new venues in key places like the Queens and Brooklyn waterfronts, and developing the west side of midtown Manhattan.

The linchpin of the plan is, and has been from the beginning, the development of a stadium for the New York Jets to be used as the official Olympic stadium, along with an anticipated extension of the number 7 subway line from 8th Avenue to 12th Avenue along 42nd Street. NYC 2012's estimate is a cost of $3 billion, not including West Side development, a city priority. In all, the Olympics may cost $6 billion.

Such a staggering sum and a complicated and nuanced vision has required cooperated planning between the private NYC 2012 and many city departmentssa difficult feat, or so one would think. While NYC 2012, the mayor's office, and the Department of City Planning are discreet entitites, the players involveddDoctoroff and Alexander Garvin, NYC's director of planning and a city planning commissionerr give every impression that the Olympics and the city's priorities are in tandem.

Doctoroff currently maintains no official association with NYC 2012, and Garvin has voluntarily submitted his positions for review to the city's very active and very pedantic Conflicts of Interest Board, which has very publicly given its permission. In fact, while there is nothing whatsoever to suggest that Garvin or Doctoroff's public and private roles are in conflict, The priorities between NYC 2012 and the city are completely aligned,, says Marcos Diaz Gonzalez, director of events for NYC 2012. (Incidentally, one of the private companies sponsoring NYC 2012 is Bloomberg, LLP.) However, the very massive and private efforts of NYC 2012, and the very public and civic-minded roles occupied by these two officials necessarily make the private and public boundary a delicate one.

Currently, several of the city's planning efforts, including Doctoroff's exploration into financing options for the West Side, are not being pursued solely for the sake of economic development, but are tailored to be especially accommodating should the Olympics happen. The Mayor's office recently opposed a power-plant proposal in Williamsburg, on the grounds that it was improperly situated in a residential area, anddmany speculatee that it interfered with the administration's plan to use the site as an Olympic sporting venue.

The Olympic Village site, Queens West, currently a four-phase development initiated by the Empire State Development Corporation, and involving such players as the Rockrose group, Kohn Pedersen and Fox, and Arquitectonica, would be significantly altered if NYC 2012 has their way. Even after borough president Helen Marshall told the Gotham Gazette last year that she thought the Olympics might delay Queens West development, which could potentially be completed before 2012, her office is now maintaining a careful stance. We have no problem with the [Olympic] village as long as it's done right,, said spokesman Dan Andrews.

Even if the convergence of city priorities and Olympic-planning priorities weren't an issue, what, exactly, would the Olympics bring that would be of long-term value to New Yorkers? NYC 2012 is heavy on talk of Olympic legacyy?the long- term effects of frenzied, multi-year preparation for a two-week eventt and what it will contribute to the city of New York. Since the West Side and Queens West are under-utilized areas that are transportation-rich and in attractive locations, their development would be beneficial for the city, and many of these projects have been on track and would be happening anyway, sans Olympics. The best and most original part of the proposal would be the acres of parks that it would add to the city (including the greening of Staten Island's Brookfield landfill). However, the importance of a state-of-the-art equestrian center is questionable for a city that prides itself on industries like finance, media, nightlife, and entertainment.

There can be a case made for the transit system, which has been engineered to link sporting venues. Those hubs will ostensibly link neighborhoods in the boroughs, despite the fact that neighborhoods aren't traditionally anchored by sporting venues. Organizations such as the Regional Plan Association are not studying the impact of the Olympics because, according to a spokesman, the Olympic proposal really isn't adding any kind of infrastructure, except for the extension of the number 7 [subway] line..

Additionally, the economic benefits of the Olympic Games have never been quite clear. The 1976 games left Montreal in long-term debt, while Barcelona thrived after the 1992 games. Athens is using the 2004 games to build a much-needed transit system, while Beijing is giving itself a total overhaullcomplete with a city master plan and a new skyline for 2008. Many of those cities will no doubt benefit from being in the purview of the rest of the world. However, does New Yorkkcurrently competing with London, Paris, Moscow, Madrid, Istanbul, and Rio de Janeirooreally need to be in the world spotlight more than it already is?

Beyond economics and value, then, the Olympics may just be a clever way of getting all of New York's improvements under one plan, and getting it done by a certain date. [The Olympic bid] is deadline-driven,, says Diaz Gonzalez. Financing, designing, and construction will have to follow a definite scheduleewhich would be an achievement. And that's difficult to achieve, especially in New York.. It's reasonable to assume that without a deadline of 2012, many of these capital improvements might take longer than necessary.While many organizations may be willing to help make the big push for the Olympics, there is one non-New York resident who makes a strong case against pouring the time and energy into such a massive undertaking. Last spring as a visiting professor in Geneva, Smith College economics professor and sports journalist Andrew Zimbalist spent some time talking to the IOC in Lausanne. Good bid cities, he said, are places that could benefit the most from improved public infrastructure, and are located in countries and continents that have not hosted it recently before. (North America will have been host five times since 1980, which is a huge strike.) Considering those factors, compounded by the global hostility towards the U.S. over the war in Iraq, his odds: 1 to 50.
Andrew Yang is an editor at PRINT and writes about art and architecture.

Moving Pictures

With clients' (and the public's) expectations rising after 9/11, Fred Bernstein finds that architectural animations are a tool designers can no longer pass up. Options range from New Yorkkbased video artists to low-cost foreign firms.

In the field of architectural animation, as in so many other things, one date separates then and now: September 11, 2001. The direct effects of 9/11 on companies that make architectural videos are vast..Michael is out in California with Peter Walker,, said Matthew Bannister, principal of New Yorkkbased dbox, referring to the Ground Zero memorial designer Michael Arad. When he comes back, we'll have five days to do the animation. It'll mean working some extra-weird hours..

Bannister's company had already done four other Ground Zeroorelated projects before it was asked to animate the winning design in the memorial competition. The LMDC, Bannister said, wanted it to be very realistic for the public presentation.. At least half a dozen other firms that specialize in three-dimensional renderings have been involved in redeveloping the World Trade Center site. There have been animations of the proposed master plans, the designs for Freedom Tower and other structures, and most recently, the memorial finalists (who were given a list of renderers by the LMDC, which picked up the tab for the animations).

But the indirect affects of 9/11 are greater. Technologies have a way of making themselves indispensable, especially after a splashy public showing. It's akin to what happened in the wake of the O.J. Simpson trial: Prosecutors say that jurors now expect DNA evidence in every case. Since 9/11-related architectural videos began appearing on the television news, consumers of architectureedevelopers, tenants, city planning commissions, and not least the publiccexpect projects to be presented with walk-throughs or fly-throughs, usually with background music, trees blowing in the wind, and people walking up and down virtual stairways.

Luckily for architects, the range of options for creating animations is multiplying. For firms doing the work inhouse, a website,, offers advice on the latest products and techniques. At the same time, the ease of transferring data over the Internet has made it possible for some large firms (including Manhattanbase Kohn Pederson Fox) to save money by having animations produced overseas. As a result, architects say, the days when a video was a luxuryyand one completed only after the design was finishedd are over. Videos are prepared at every stage of the process, and can serve as design tools.

Bannister said that in one case, his firm was asked to make animations of spaces that hadn't even been rendered in two dimensions. After the client approved the video, the architect would do the drawings,, he said. Ed Manning, another New Yorkkbased architectural animator, said one of his clients was planning a renovation that, in Manning's mind, would produce awkward spaces. On his own time, he produced an animation that convinced the owner to rethink the design. He could see exactly why the spaces wouldn't work,,Manning recalled. He added that traditional two-dimensional renderings, given their capacity to hide or highlight whatever a designer wants, can be misleading in a way that 3-D renderings are not.

Bernard Tschumi, who recently stepped down as dean of Columbia's architecture school in order to focus on his increasingly busy practice, said that he, too, is using animations more and more as an in-house design tool. An animation confirms things about a space, or opens avenues you didn't think about.. Manning freelances for Imaginary Forces, a company that until now has been known for movie and TV animation. Two years ago, the firm opened a New York office dedicated to serving the architectural market.What's happened, he said, is that rising standards of visual literacy, along with advances in technology and lower costs in applying it, make it possible for architects to think about creating images that are as detailed and realistic as the images that have been used for entertainment and advertising..

Said Bannister of dbox, We're a relatively new business model in the United States, where, until recently, hightech renderings were mostly done in bedroom shops.'' By contrast, he said, this has been an established business type for many years in Europe,, where concern for historic city centers meant that photorealistic renderings of proposed new buildings were de rigueur. But in New York, he said, after 9/11 there was a sudden expectation for computer visualizations, which led to a rise in businesses like ours..

Another entrant is Screampoint, a California firm represented in New York by Wendy Cohn, an urban planner. For years, Cohn worked for the Manhattan borough president on such mega-projects as the redevelopment of Times Square.When Hsiao-Lai Mei, a West Coast entrepreneur, showed Cohn his photorealistic animations, she realized that developers could use them to present their plans to New York's community boards and Planning Commission. (The commission itself has since become a Screampoint client.)

On a laptop at the firm's office in Rockefeller Center, Cohn offers the proof: In one caseea video of a proposed mall in Honoluluuit's impossible to believe the animation isn't a movie. According to Cohn, the client liked the animation so much, he took it to Italy to pick out marble paving that matched the effect created by Screampoint's artists. But Screampoint's selling point isn't just verisimilitude. Founder Mei developed a system that links 3-D images to a multitude of data: Click on a wall in an animation, and you may find out when it was painted, and what color. Click on a floor of an apartment building, and you may find out how much rent the tenant has been paying. According to Mei, his system makes 3-D imaging a tool that can be utilized throughout the life of a project. Our typical clients are large owners and developers, though we work alongside architects and engineers,, he said. The interaction with the designers is very tight..

Though Cohn occupies a Rockefeller Center office, most of Screampoint's work is done outside the country. It's 24-7. Someone is always working in China or in Egypt or in Yugoslavia or Mexico,, she said. Indeed, the value of sending work overseas, apparent in so many other fields, is quickly becoming recognized in the world of architectural animation. Kohn Pederson Fox (KPF) has all but its simplest animations made in Beijing. Architect Richard Nemeth discovered the high qualityyand low costtof Chinese renderings when he was working with a client in China several years ago. He tracked down the Chinese renderers and began giving them work. People in the firm would say, These renderings are really nice, where do you get them done?'' Nemeth recalled.

Until then, KPF had used New York animators. Now the firm posts its data on a password- protected website, where it is downloaded by Chinese workers. We call every evening and talk to them about what changes need to be made. The next morning, we have a draft,, said Nemeth.

He said the typical animation, such as a fly-through of Songdo, a new city in Korea that KPF is master-planning, takes seven or eight drafts. But that's because the people doing the work in China have a very good sensibility,, he said. If they didn't, you could do 15 drafts and still not be happy with the results..

Not every firm is ready to outsource its animation. Tschumi, for his part, has three fulltime people doing videos in his loft office on 17th Street (out of a total staff of 30). Lately, he has been winning one high-profile competition after another and the videos produced under his roof, he acknowledged, are one of the reasons. Increasingly, the animations are part of the competition entry,, he explained.

Other architecture firms give animation work to companies like dbox, which employs 13 artists in its studio on West 14th Street. The firm was founded, according to Bannister, in the computer lab at Cornell's architecture school in the 1990s, where he and his founding partners studied. He is proud to note that their influences include pre-computer-age works of architectural representation, such as the mid-20th-century photographs of Julius Shulman and, going further back, the 18th-century view-paintings of Venetian Giovanni Canaletto. The Canaletto book is always out somewhere, always open,, he said. These elaborate animation services don't come cheap. ((If I sense that we're bidding against someone, they're probably not coming to us for the right reasons,, said Bannister.) Dbox, according to Bannister, has not yet felt the impact of its overseas competitors. We're always booked up at least a month in advance.. The firm also produces art videos that have been shown in a number of museums.

With computer animation software becoming more widely available, most firms have at least one person on staff who knows how to use it. But,, said Bannister, buying a Les Paul guitar doesn't make you Eric Clapton..