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Yesterday, New York City Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri released the official findings of a yearlong investigation into the March 15, 2008 crane collapse on East 51st Street that killed 7 people. Conducted by Arup, the investigation combined structural laboratory testing and computer analyses with the review of photographs and eyewitness testimony to produce a 339-page report [PDF] that placed blame firmly on poor rigging practices.
In brief, the report states that the jumping crew disregarded a number of the crane manufacturer’s recommendations in their use of polyester web slings to hoist and hold an 11,000-pound steel collar in place. They used four slings as opposed to eight, connected them not at the recommended collar points but in the crook of the tower’s legs, and did not pad them against the sharp edges of the steel. In addition, one of the slings had suffered previous damage, greatly reducing its bearing capacity. The slings broke, the collar fell from the 18th floor—severing lower connections to the building—and the crane toppled. In January, a grand jury indicted William Rapetti, the master rigger in charge of the jumping operation, on charges of manslaughter.
Arup’s investigation also found that the DOB crane inspection and permitting protocols in place at the time would not have identified the rigging errors that caused the collapse, highlighting the need for more vigilant construction oversight. “This investigation shows the consequences of taking shortcuts on the job site,” said Commissioner LiMandri. “In the coming days, we will convene a series of meetings with the construction industry to review the report’s findings and identify ways to prevent tragedies like this from happening again.”
The DOB has already taken several steps to tighten safety regulations at construction sites. Since the collapse, the department has worked with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn to enact 12 new laws to this effect. Among these are laws that mandate the presence of more safety managers on site, the drafting of specific safety procedures for jobs, an increased amount of training for rigging crews, and the restricted use of nylon or polyester slings unless specifically indicated by crane manufacturers. There is also a law that requires notification to New York State of disciplinary actions that DOB takes against licensed architects and engineers, so that the state can determine whether those disciplined need either remedial education or further disciplinary action.
Curiously, though, no law has been passed that addresses one other important factor that, while it did not cause the crane collapse, could very well have prevented it: the crane’s foundation. The base of the crane sat on dunnage beams, which in turn rested on concrete foundation walls. But the beams were only secured laterally by friction from the vertical load. According to the report, Dale Curtis, a member of the Crane Certification Association of America who was brought on as a reviewer, “observed that such a base frame is preferred to be positively restrained at the concrete below to prevent lateral movement during disassembly of the tower sections when only the lowest tie is attached to the completed building.”
During the collapse, only one tie remained attached to the building—the lowest, at the third floor. The base of the tower and the dunnage beams, however, suddenly exposed to the increased lateral loads, slid out from under the crane and allowed it to fall across 51st Street. As an industry insider who preferred to remain unnamed told AN in March 2008, “In this foundation there was no ability to withstand the lateral loads. When the ties failed it couldn’t handle it. There was no redundancy.”
DOB is aware of the issue, however. Among the 41 recommendations that resulted from the department’s recent $4 million dollar study of crane, hoist, excavation, and concrete operations was one that mentioned crane foundations. It recommended that the city require a New York State–licensed engineer to provide design drawings for a tower crane foundation and require notification to DOB prior to pouring the foundation. It also suggested requiring the engineer of record to conduct a special inspection of the tower crane foundation before and after the concrete is poured.
CARPET & TEXTILE
Quinze & Milan
Valley City Architectural Furniture
Vitra Los Angeles
Western Office Interiors
Lost and Found Etcetera
KITCHEN AND BATH
Boffi Los Angeles
Duravit Bathroom Furniture
John Boos + Co.
“Western Office Interiors and Vitra provided all of the workstations and most of the ancillary furniture for the Disney Store Headquarters in Pasadena. There was a huge amount of custom work and this team provided virtually every piece on time and with impeccable quality. We worked exclusively with Melanie Becker from Vitra and Dawn Nadeau of Western Office, who worked tirelessly to provide the highest level of product and support, and produced an excellent result.”
Clive Wilkinson Architects
“Lost and Found Etcetera is a big decorators’ secret for enlivening modern interiors.”
The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta has announced five architecture teams and possible designs for its new home. The finalist teams include: Diller Scofidio + Renfro of New York with Stanley Beaman & Sears of Atlanta; Freelon Group of Durham, NC with HOK of Atlanta; Huff + Gooden Architects of New York with Hammel Green and Abrahamson of Minneapolis; Moody•Nolan of Columbus, OH with Antoine Predock Architect of Albuquerque, NM and Goode Van Slyke of Atlanta; Polshek Partnership Architects of New York with Cooper Carry and Stanley Love-Stanley of Atlanta.
The center, organized in 2005 by Mayor Shirley Franklin, plans to open in 2012 on a 2.2 acre site on the edge of Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta. “We will be located next to two more entertainment oriented institutions, the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium, that generate a lot of foot traffic. We asked the teams to create a space that will help visitors transition to a more contemplative state,” executive director Douglas Shipman said.
After issuing a RFQ in November 2008, which garnered interest from dozens of firms, according to Shipman, the Center and its design jury narrowed the list down to twenty firms. They then asked the firms to submit a “design narrative” and complete team roster. “We didn’t want them to draw anything. We wanted them to demonstrate their way of working,” he said. That group was then narrowed down to the final five teams, who were then given a small design stipend as well as a detailed exhibition design program.
The five teams have responded in strikingly different ways. Diller Scofidio + Renfro/Stanley Beaman & Sears created a layered design, with much of the exhibition space below grade and a thin cantilevered roof hanging over an outdoor garden. Freelon/HOK designed a pair of interlocking L-shaped volumes topped with green roofs. Huff + Gooden/Hammel Green and Abrahamson presented the most austere scheme, a low-slung horizontal volume with wide expanses of glass, which hangs over the sloping site supported by a massive truss. The Moody•Nolan/Predock/Goode Van Slyke engaged directly with the park-side setting with a building-as-landscape design and a glazed entrance carved out of the middle. The Polshek/Cooper Carry/Stanley-Love-Stanley design calls for a collection of glazed flat roofed wings with projection screens, accented by a tall, thin concrete entrance portal.
In addition judging the degree to which the designs fulfill the institution’s esthetic and programmatic goals, the jury will also consider the environmental sensitivity of the projects and the level of participation by women and minority owned firms. The jury of 13 including civil rights leader Juanita Abernathy, Chelsea Piers founder Tom Bernstein, filmmaker George C. Wolfe, and architects Alan Balfour, Deborah Berke, and Craig VanDevere—will make its recommendation to the Center’s board in late March. Ground is expected to be broken late this year.
On February 4, eight hundred AIA chapter presidents, vice-presidents, executive directors, and board members from around the country descended on Washington, D.C., to urge their Congressional members and Senators to direct stimulus funding toward well-planned, sustainable construction and development, and not merely "shovel-ready" projects. Throughout the four-day "AIA Grassroots" event, the attendees were trained by professional lobbyists and political leaders about the importance of concerted and enduring lobbying efforts in effecting change, how a proposal moves from an idea to proposed legislation, and how one "makes the ask" of an elected official.
Most delegates of the AIA New York chapter arrived on Wednesday afternoon, in time to assemble in the subterranean conference center at the Grand Hyatt Hotel to hear the AIA National leadership detail advocacy positions that AIA members would take to Congress. In short, the positions were aimed at creating more work in the construction industry and, by extension, in the architecture industry, and on improving existing legislation affecting architects. In addition to encouraging Congress to approve funding for projects that would have a more enduring impact on the quality of life in our communities and provide longer-term opportunity for employment in the construction industry, the AIA platform also recommended an increase in the federal tax deduction already available to incentivize investment in energy-efficient commercial buildings, an increase in funding to public transportation planning initiatives, and the elimination of fee-retainage rules as applied to architects for federally-funded projects.
A host of motivational speakers offered pointers on what we should expect at our meetings with Congress. In particular, they explained that we were unlikely to meet with officials directly, as House Democrats had been called unexpectedly to attend an emergency “retreat,” presumably to discuss the stalled stimulus package. Instead, and perhaps to greater benefit, we would meet with the aides and chiefs-of-staff of the electeds, who were likely to be well-informed about the areas we would be discussing with them, would take copious notes, ask intelligent questions, make useful suggestions, and report all that they had learned from us to their Congressperson. We were especially cautioned not to be surprised to find that most of the people with whom we would speak, indeed, possibly the entire staff in the Congressperson’s office, would be eager, intellectually advanced, recent college grads.
Finally, we were educated on the method of “the ask”: on the importance of precisely articulating, after a short explanation and background, what specifically we were requesting that the Congressperson do (sponsor a bill, change a rule, make a revision to a bill already under consideration on the floor) and how such action would benefit the officials’ constituency. A few role-playing practice efforts by Grassroots attendees revealed plenty of work to be done before most of us would be convincing in “the ask” portion of our presentations.
Futurist David Zack encouraged us not to “think outside of the box,” which would leave us weary and alone, but to “get inside of someone else’s box” as a way of linking and communicating seemingly disparate and divergent ideas. Over the course of the event, we were scolded often about the profession's inability to convey its broad knowledge and understanding to anyone beyond the cognoscenti. To be effective advocates, we would have to sharpen new communication skills.
The New York chapter delegation, which included current chapter president Sherida Paulsen, Tony Schirripa, Rick Bell, Laura Manville, Margaret Castillo, Venesa Alicea, Mary Burke, Terrence O’Neal, Burt Roslyn, and myself, debated separately how our presentations to elected officials might be modified to appeal more specifically to each official’s particular interests and Congressional committee foci.
At breakfast on Thursday morning, speakers from the AIA Advocacy Federal Relations team (who knew they existed!) brought us up to date on the status of the construction-spending aspects of the stimulus package that had been debated on the Senate floor the night before. Occasionally, “calls to action” were announced, advising AIA advocates to call and send emails to their Senators urging them to ensure that construction-related funding remained
in the package. News was out that green initiatives and education spending, in particular, were at risk and it was our job to do something about it. Throughout that day and the days that followed, similar announcements were made.
After breakfast, nearly eight hundred of us headed to the Capitol to begin the day’s pre-scheduled appointments with our regional representatives. Passing other AIA delegations with similar missions along the corridors of the Rayburn House Office Building, the New York Chapter’s 12 delegates assembled for their first meeting at Representative Nydia Velazquez’s office. Velazquez, Democrat from New York’s 12th Congressional District (Lower Manhattan, portions of Brooklyn and Queens) is chair of the House Small Business Committee and senior member of the Financial Services Committee, which concerns itself with housing and community development. Our presentation to Velazquez’s extremely able and attentive aide covered as many points as possible, with nearly everyone contributing a few words to reinforce our message and responding to her many questions: Construction of well-planned, well-considered projects will create jobs over the long term for more New Yorkers and more small business owners; funding should be directed toward affordable housing development, school construction, and sustainable development; tax incentives should be increased significantly to encourage owners to retrofit existing office buildings to meet sustainability standards; existing AmeriCorps programs should be expanded to include a DesignCorps to employ architects and engineers to assess and plan the retrofitting of federal buildings. Since small business development and affordable housing are of particular interest in Velazquez's district, most of our points resonated with her aide. She encouraged us to invite Velazquez to upcoming events at the Center for Architecture (located only a few blocks outside of her district).
When we spoke with the aides to Anthony Weiner (Democrat from the 9th District, parts of Queens and Brooklyn; health and the environment) and Eliot Engel (Democrat from the 17th District, Bronx and parts of Westchester; particularly interested in energy issues), we delivered similar messages, though admittedly found ourselves losing steam toward the end of the day. Our discussions about the DesignCorps were of particular interest to Weiner’s and Engel’s aides, and both asked us to provide them with more detailed information on the program.
We were extremely fortunate, however, to meet with Representative Carolyn Maloney herself (Democrat from the 14th District, East Side Manhattan and Queens; chair, Joint Economic Committee). Despite a flustered start as a result of this unexpected audience, our delegation focused its message on its belief that our proposed initiatives would create the greatest number of jobs, not just in New York, but throughout the country. Maloney was sympathetic and already well-acquainted with the number of construction-related jobs that have been and will be produced by the Second Avenue subway and the East Side Access “mega-projects.” She encouraged us to provide her with more specific data on the DesignCorps, sustainable retrofit incentives, and federal retainer issues.
At the end of this long day at beginners’ advocacy, we dispersed for tours of the Capitol and to take in some new architecture, including Polshek Partnership’s Newseum and the new Capitol Visitor’s Center (RTKL and Ralph Appelbaum). Although the stimulus bill that Congress eventually approved did not fund the scope of construction projects we had rallied for, we remain charged by that day in February when the architects stormed the Capitol, and ever-hopeful that our continued efforts will make a difference.
In 1931, New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt sat in on a roundtable conversation with the Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA) in Charlottesville, Virginia. There, RPAA members including Lewis Mumford, Benton MacKaye, and Clarence Stein presented the future president with a powerful argument that fallout from the economic collapse of 1929 might be best attacked by following a “new road” of regional planning at a national scale. The governor seemed sympathetic to their ideas, and helped MacKaye launch his ambitious plans for the Appalachian Trail, which began in New York State.
Two years later, when FDR began the historic 100 days of legislation that kicked off the New Deal, the RPAA’s lobbying seemed to have paid off. Roosevelt placed MacKaye in a planning position with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and selected Stein’s partner, Robert Kohn, as the first head of the Housing Division of the Public Works Administration (PWA). But while the RPAA’s progressive goals were embodied in these programs, as the New Deal wore on, its idealism and the scale of its ambition became muddled through political compromises.
The Greenbelt Town program, which was supposed to change the face of America with a series of highly rational garden cities, was whittled down to three small projects. And the TVA’s initial steps toward creating a “dynamic regional and interregional economy” were soon shed by its director, Arthur Morgan, who steered the authority toward becoming merely a source of electricity for the industrializing south. This tension—between those with plans to use government action and money to transform the country and those who prefer a more laissez-faire approach focused purely on temporary job creation—is very much alive today as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) works its way through Congress. Like today’s stimulus package, the New Deal started as a jobs-creation program, but it gave rise to profound changes in the landscape and culture that were a natural outgrowth of the era’s newfound belief in the federal government’s ability to play a transformational role. As we debate what many call “the New New Deal,” the lessons of the 1930s remind us that a focus on job creation need not preclude a commitment to the broader progressive agenda that made the New Deal so far-reaching.
The New Deal’s largest and best-known agency, the one that became synonymous with the entire program, was the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Enacted in 1935, it received more money and attention than any other of the Roosevelt administration’s initiatives. By 1941, the WPA had spent approximately $11.4 billion ($169 billion in today’s money). Of this massive investment, $4 billion went to highway and street projects; $1 billion to public buildings; $1 billion to publicly owned or operated utilities; and another $1 billion that funded initiatives as varied as school lunch programs, the famous Federal Writers Project, and sent photographers like Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans out to document the American landscape. By the time it was disbanded by Congress in 1943 as a result of the manufacturing boom created by World War II, the WPA had provided some eight million jobs and had left its mark on nearly every community in America by way of a park, bridge, housing project, or municipal building.
The magnitude of the change created by the WPA’s modernization program was unprecedented among direct federal interventions, and the current recovery bill has the potential to be as, or more, effective. At this writing, ARRA promises $825 billion in economic stimulus, $275 billion of which is tax cuts and $550 billion of which is actual investment. Much of this $550 billion will go to construction projects to bring America’s flagging schools, health care facilities, and infrastructure up to standard and beyond. A recent analysis of the bill from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the following run-down on infrastructure spending: $30 billion for highways, $9 billion for transit, $1.1 billion for Amtrak, $10 billion for science facilities, $3 billion for airports. The list goes on, including appropriations for clean water and restoration of brownfields, but also money for other architecture-related building work: $16 billion for school modernization, $9 billion for Department of Defense projects like VA hospitals and child care centers, and $2.25 billion for rehabilitating public housing.
While the rough balance of funds in the current bill and the WPA evinces a kinship, they will be disbursed in a very different fashion. Harry Hopkins, FDR’s handpicked director of the WPA, worked directly with the states to evaluate and select projects. Other agencies, such as the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and the Public Works Administration (PWA), also had their own directors, their own budgets, and the power to choose how best to spend them. The money in the current stimulus package will be apportioned to the states not through newly created agencies based in D.C.— as was the case in the 1930s—but by existing formulas. These formulas evaluate the needs of various localities by calculating factors that range from demographics, to income levels, to official reports on structures and efficiencies. The formulas have the benefit of distributing funds by objective measures rather than political ones, as goes one criticism of the WPA. However, these measures change little from year to year, and a formula-based system has done little to address infrastructure failings at a regional or even national scale.
What has not changed between now and then is the imperative to choose projects that are ready to start construction immediately. What we might call “shovel-ready” projects were a big part of the WPA agenda, and there were a number of regional plans in place, notably those developed by Robert Moses in New York, that captured an enormous share of federal funds. By 1936, New York City was receiving one seventh of the WPA allotment for the entire country, employed 240,000 people with this money, and was considered “the 49th state” within the WPA. Meanwhile other municipalities floundered in their attempts to draw up plans, and the WPA canceled more than 100 major grants to 11 northeast cities because the blueprints for those projects were not ready. Today’s analog is the “Use it or Lose it” provision in the bill that demands the return of funds if they are not put to work within 120 days. Because of this urgency, many are wary that we will spend $100 billion filling potholes.
There are a few significant projects in New York that promise to make a real difference to the region. One is Access to the Region’s Core, or the ARC tunnel, which will improve transportation between New Jersey and Manhattan. East Side Access, a project that will do the same thing for commuters coming from Long Island, is already under construction, but in dire need of funds. The same can be said for the MTA’s 2nd Avenue Subway project. And then there’s the Fulton Street Transit Center, which promised to become a central element of downtown’s redevelopment before the MTA’s own parlous financial situation put it in jeopardy. These projects, which stand to receive substantial stimulus funding, will undoubtedly improve transportation in the New York region and lay the groundwork for increased demand in the future. But what about transportation between New York and Boston, or New York and Chicago? What about developing a framework for wind power in the tri-state area? What about a comprehensive plan for regional watershed management?
There is no agency to think about the changing infrastructure needs of the country as a whole. In 2007, a bill was put forth to do just this: The Infrastructure Investment Bank Act would have established a national institution to evaluate project proposals and assemble investment portfolios to pay for them, much like the World Bank does on a global level. The fact that it did not pass Congress speaks to a reluctance in the U.S. to put planning power in the hands of the federal government—the same reluctance that the RPAA came up against in the 1930s.
One of Roosevelt’s first acts of the New Deal, an act some say he first mentioned at that RPAA roundtable meeting in Virginia, was the creation of the TVA. This ambitious project targeted the poorest part of the country, the one hardest hit by the Depression, and took it upon itself to modernize and reinvigorate it. Through a comprehensive regimen of education and infrastructure building—including the construction of 29 hydroelectric dams and even the building of one town—the TVA turned this rural backwater into the nation’s biggest producer of electricity, and one of the backbones of mobilization during WWII. Though it faced determined opposition, and proposals to implement similar regional plans were shot down across the country, the TVA stands as a high water mark.
The only time in American history that the federal government has been able to enact a national plan was through the Federal Highway Act of 1956, a project whose skeleton was drafted by the NRA during the Depression. While many today dispute the merit of this program, it is instructive to note that the only way Eisenhower was able to sell the highway act to the country was by declaring it vital to national security.
Today we face not nuclear Armageddon but a danger that could, in the long run, prove all the more crippling: our national infrastructure on the brink of collapse. It seems time to draft our own “new road,” one designed not just to pull us out of economic crisis, but also to lay the groundwork that will carry us undiminished into the future.
The Office for Metropolitan Architecture has learned that there has been a serious fire at the Television Cultural Centre (TVCC), the building adjacent to the headquarters of China Central Television (CCTV). The TVCC building was due to open in mid-May and contained a hotel, a theatre, and several studios. As we learn more about this tragedy, we will advise the public further.In a podcast on the Times's website, reporter Andrew Jacobs essentially ruled out the fireworks thesis he initially posited on the paper's website, as well as surmising that the building was almost certainly damaged beyond repair. He also said the fire was creating quite a psychic stir in the city:
I think it’s very symbolic for Beijingers as an architectural pair. And then the other kind of layer that is the fact that it’s happened on the last day of the New Year. The fire’s still burning, and it’s just about midnight here, so ringing in the new year with this kind of disaster is very inauspicious, at least in the view of many Chinese. A lot of people in the crowd couldn’t help note that and this was just not a good omen for the new year.He also questioned the Beijing fire department's ability to fight high-rise fires, though as we've noted above, that is even a difficult proposition here in New York. The Times is also reporting now that the fire is believed to have started around 8:30 p.m. local time, though possibly as early as 7:45 p.m. Bloomberg is reporting a representative for Mandarin Oriental--the operator of the 241-room, 522-foot tall hotel--saying that no one was injured. The AP quotes a gloomy OMAer at the site:
Erik Amir a senior architect at building designers OMA said the fire had destroyed years of hard work. "It really has been a rough 6-7 years for architects who worked on this project," said Amir, who rushed to the site after hearing of the fire. "I think it's really sad that this building is destroyed before it can be opened to the public," he said.UPDATE 2: AN contributer Aric Chen reports. UPDATE 3: Little new news thus far, though people continue to push the fireworks allegations, including the Washington Post. Its report does include a good deal of news from the state news agency, chinanews.com, including that there are still no confirmed casualties, though seven firefighters have been hospitalized. The Post also reports that while fireworks are normally illegal in downtown Beijing, a reprieve was given for this year's New Years celebrations, though no explanation is given as to why this year was any different than those in the past. The Post also carried this rather poetic firsthand account:
"The building was like an oven, red inside," said Hu Jing, a 26-year-old paralegal who works in a building opposite the CCTV tower and noticed it burning just after 8:30. "In less than twenty minutes, the fire had engulfed half the building. Within half an hour, all of it was on fire. I thought, there goes billions of dollars, just burning."Jeff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG airs an idea we'd been thinking of for much of the day, as well, that this was the rather literal pop of the construction bubble that has patronized architects, for better or worse, over the past few years:
Amongst many, many signs that the building boom has come to an end, from gridlocks of cars abandoned at the Dubai airport by fleeing workers to massive holes in the urban surface of Chicago, to entire architectural firms going out of business, to delayed towers and theme parks on pause, none seem quite as explicitly apocalyptic as the sight of OMA's CCTV complex – that is, the part of it known as TVCC, containing a luxury hotel – roaring with flames.We still think it was the crane accidents last year that signalled the end, but this certainly comes in a close second. And LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne makes two interesting points on the paper's arts blog:
The architectural composition of the complex as a whole -- which I toured with Scheeren over the summer, and which I argued in a year-end piece "already ranks as the most significant piece of architecture of our young century" -- depends on the shorter hotel tower, which is known as TVCC. It is the hotel, in fact, that helps give the main tower its strange, shifting sense of scale. From certain angles the smaller section -- no shrimp itself at 34 stories tall -- looks like the tail of the big tower's dragon, from others like a fleeing creature about to be devoured by the CCTV's gaping mouth. [...] Potent symbolism aside, though, I'd be very surprised if the hotel weren't instantly rebuilt. The Chinese leadership has understood the graphic power of the CCTV complex -- the way it suggests a modern, ambitious and innovative new China -- from the earliest stages, and it seems highly unlikely it would allow the charred remains of the hotel to stand for any extended period. This is particularly true given Chinese sensitivity around the idea that its economy is rapidly losing steam. So there's likely to be no drawn-out, painstaking investigation of the wreckage by some Chinese version of the FBI or ATF. As soon as the last ember is out, I'd guess, the bulldozers will be clearing the site to begin again. Even in a global slowdown -- perhaps especially in one -- construction in China can operate at lightning speed.UPDATE 4: Agence France Presse is reporting that one of the seven injured firefighters died in the hospital tonight: "Zhang Jianyong died early on Tuesday morning at a hospital in Beijing from toxic gases he inhaled while fighting the fire, Xinhua said, citing the city's fire control authorities." The Chinese authorities are now also suggesting fireworks, and not workers, may be to blame for the fire:
The official news agency quoted a city government spokesman as saying initial reports indicated firecrackers set off to celebrate the Lunar New Year, China's most important annual festival, has caused the fire. Firefighters found remnants of firecrackers on the roof of the burning building, Xinhua said. The agency had earlier quoted a witness saying the blaze appeared to have been sparked after fireworks landed on top of the hotel building.According to the AP, the fire was put out "early Tuesday morning. And with the sad and happy news that the fire has been extinguished, it is hopefully time to build again. I can't help but think about a conversation I had earlier today with Alan. I asked if this was really as big of news as it seemed, or if we were simply particularly attuned to it because some big-name architect was involved. Would this still be making all the front pages were it just some regular old building, one in which almost no one was hurt? Of course not, Alan replied. Just look at The Huffington Post, he said, where the headline screams, "Rem Koolhaas Tower In Beijing Goes Up In Flames." Design hasn't been so notable since Philip Johnson was on the cover of Time. Just look at some of the 225 (225!) comments on HuffPo:
- This is terrible for the people injured and Rem Koolhaas who is the consummate professional architect.
- Holy balls that looks insane.
- Notice how it did not collapse like WTC #7 which was the same size. Thats because it was brought down with demolitions. On BBC and CNN they said it had collapsed but it was still standing and not 'pulled' yet. More proof 9-11 was an inside job and that demolitions had been set up in the towers for weeks. Unbelievable the media establishment is afraid to tackle this...or is it?
- this must be a testament to the extremely high building standards they have in china, just like the high standards they maintain for food, drugs, manufacturing, environmental and agriculture.and to think that's where some are planning to send the last american manufacturing jobs while the 'brainier' jobs go to india.
It was really gut-wrenching to see TVCC burn like that, itself like a firecracker. I woke up to read that one firefighter was killed in the blaze and several others injured. The Chinese media are so far not even reporting it. According to Shanghaiist.com, a notice was sent to all major organizations by the government to stop reporting the fire last night. As to the cause, a lot of people are speculating that it was caused by fireworks. There are three major firework nights during the Chinese New Year--one on the eve of Chinese New Year, one five days in, and the third was just last night, on the first full moon of the cycle. During the festival, people can buy July 4th-grade fireworks all over China, and fire them off, literally next to buildings, on roads, on sidewalks--they light them up just about anywhere. Of course the cause of the fire is still not known, and may not ever ascertained, since this matter is something that the Chinese government is going to be controlling very closely.UPDATE 6: Day Two round-up, including an apology from CCTV, whose fireworks celebration--rather ironically celebrating the new buildings--caused the fire; reports of a local media blackout on the issue; and some critical takes on the fire.
Architects have been on alert ever since Obama declared on December 6 that he aspired to a building plan as ambitious as any the country has ever known—or at least that is what architects wanted to believe they heard. In reality, it wasn’t actually so much about new buildings as possibly new transportation, and not even so much about new railroads or high-tech mag lev—with their attendant stations and hub development—so much as about prosaic road and bridge repairs.
The high hopes for a vast and visionary infrastructure push that would translate into a wave of architectural design have gradually faded. A January 20 article in The New York Times put it bluntly: “Big transformative building projects seem unlikely.”
And still the air of opportunity persists, bolstered by the lists of 10,000 schools to be updated, 90 ports to be secured, 75 percent of federal buildings to be weatherized, and 1,300 waste-water projects to be built. (Remember what stunning work Steven Holl and Yoshio Taniguchi did with those water and waste plants?) At some point the “private sector” is also supposed to kick in with a $100 billion investment in clean energy projects, some of which will have to be three-dimensional.
The brute fact is that—like the shot of adrenalin to Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction—the $825 billion stimulus package has to be delivered fast and straight to the heart of the problem: joblessness. Even fast-track architecture doesn’t normally operate at that speed. Some advocacy groups, namely America 2050, a national coalition of regional planners, scholars, and policy-makers focusing on innovative ways to solve infrastructure, economic development, and environmental challenges, is warning that the money must not be spent all at once, but rather in phases that allow for strategic planning, job training, construction, and engineering evaluations.
And that’s where architects can regain some ground. In a timely book about the relevance of architects, Architecture Depends (MIT, 2009), Jeremy Till, the dean of architecture and built environment at the University of Westminster in the UK, says that architects have to shelve the notion that they are in the business of solving problems where the answer is almost always new construction.
For if architects are not part of first imaginings, he writes, they are already hopelessly out of the game: “It is normally assumed that the most creative part of design is concerned with the building as object, hence the fixation with formal innovation, but it may be argued that the most important and most creative part of the process is the formulation of the brief.”
Many architects are already aware of this and have reprogrammed their practices to address a wider spectrum of analysis—of social usage, of historical relevance, of fiscal viability or even geological context—well before design takes place. More architects, the whole profession actually, needs to become better known for what planning theorist John Forester calls “sense-making” rather than form making. Cedric Price famously said that the best solution to an architectural problem may not be a building. And never has it seemed more imperative to the welfare and survival of the profession that architects make themselves known as designers of options, instead of icons.
AN is thrilled to deliver the Eavesdrop baton—oh, dare say cudgel, do!—into the dextrous hands of Sara Hart who has long impressed many with her wickedly apropos sense of humor. We count on you all to slip her innuendo-loaded emails, secret handshakes, and any floating info aching to land in print.
PENGUINS IN THE POOL ROOM
The Penguin Club lives! Seen at the Four Seasons on inauguration night was a reconvening of the so-called Penguin Club, the group of once-young avant-garde architects whom Philip Johnson had regularly hosted for all-male, black-tie dinners at the Century Club from the mid-1970s onward. The lineup of aging superstars included, among others, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, Charles Gwathmey, Harry Cobb, Jacquelin Robertson, Bob Stern, Steven Holl, Bernard Tschumi, and Jorge Silvetti. Conspicuous by his absence was charter-member Penguin Peter Eisenman, but conspicuous by his presence was Graves, whose enormous motorized wheelchair necessitated the group’s dining at a long table in the northeast corner of the Pool Room, rather than in the private space they had requested. According to Four Seasons co-owner Alex von Bidder, these events are an ongoing series, though they are not bankrolled, as had been widely speculated, by a bequest from Philip Johnson, whose entire estate along with the art-auction proceeds of his late longtime partner, David Whitney, went to the endowment for the Glass House.
NEW BLOGS IN TOWN
A new architectural/design blog has arrived to entertain and inform you. Edited by design writers (and AN contributors) Eva Hagberg and Ian Volner, Edificial (edificial.com) is the latest addition to Breaking Media’s stable of sharply written industry-specific blogs, which includes Above the Law, Fashionista, and Dealbreaker. The content will be gossipy, but it will also include back stories about projects, people, deal-making, and all kinds of design extranea. According to Hagberg, the editors plan to critique the critics and introduce new voices. “We’ll present the up-close play-by-play and the long view,” she said. “There will be roundups, link dumps, and essays. Edificial will be personal, political, and polemical.” No doubt it will be all of those things and, if successful, make money for Breaking Media. Best of luck! Meanwhile, over in the serious and sober nonprofit world, the Architectural League of New York went live with its own blog on January 5. Underwritten by the NYC Cultural Innovation Fund of the Rockefeller Foundation, Urban Omnibus (urbanomnibus.net) will feature “multimedia content to showcase design innovation, critical analysis, and local expertise” with the aim of encouraging “a more inclusive, more sustainable, more beautiful city that could be.” Bring on the multimedia. We’re parched!
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