Search results for "east new york"

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Farley Bound?
HOK's 2005 plan for Moynihan Station, designed with James Carpenter Associates.
Courtesy HOK

The late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s vision for a new transit hub in Midtown Manhattan took an unexpected lurch toward reality on September 13, when Amtrak president Joe Boardman agreed to move the carrier’s trains from their home at Pennsylvania Station into the Farley Post Office across the street. With that, the stage was set for a new round of design work, and possibly a new dawn for the reincarnation of New York’s legendary rail station.

The announcement was a sorely needed boost for the project, which has stalled in recent years in part due to the reluctance of Amtrak, which owns its current home, to move out of Penn Station and become a renter for the first time. But federal stimulus money for intercity rail made the idea seem newly feasible, and a persistent campaign from Senator Charles Schumer won Boardman over to the cause.

Still unknown at this point is whether any of the previous station designs, including Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s original 2001 version, will survive in this latest iteration. The Moynihan Station Development Corporation, which has not yet named an architect, has commissioned HOK to generate planning studies and possible designs. HOK had worked on a 2005 station plan with James Carpenter Design Associates, after the Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust proposed an $818 million mixed-use development scheme for the project.

For now, HOK’s plans envision Amtrak’s operations spanning both the original 1912 post office building and its 1934 annex, with the remainder of the program consisting of dining, retail (including potentially a big-box tenant like Target), and about 250,000 square feet for a post office. A grand main entrance would open onto 33rd Street, with two additional entrances on 8th Avenue and 32nd Street. In addition to moving Amtrak’s passengers into the Farley building, proposed renovations to the existing Penn Station would widen corridors and provide a pedestrian connection to a new station underneath 2 Penn Plaza, which will house New Jersey Transit’s planned Mass Transit tunnel across the Hudson.

Like many post offices of the era, the Farley was built with a low roof so managers could monitor their employees from catwalks under the trusses, said HOK principal Wayne Striker. To create a sense of grandeur reminiscent of the original Penn Station, HOK is proposing to remove the building’s first floor, and is considering three options for replacing or re-using the current roof. One option would retain the existing trusses but replace their opaque cladding with glass skylights, preserving the current floor-to-ceiling height of 50 feet. A second option would retain only the east-west trusses and top them with a glass ceiling, while a third possibility would remove the current ceiling and install glass skylights suspended from new trusses at a height of about 100 feet.

The completed project would advance the Department of City Plannings’s Hudson Yards redevelopment plan, with 32nd Street forming a pedestrian corridor that would extend into a retail arcade in the annex and then descend, via a grand stair, into the main concourse. “I think a very nice retail project could happen here, along the lines of Union Station in Washington, D.C.,” said Vishaan Chakrabarti, president of the Moynihan Station Venture, a joint venture of Related and Vornado. “As Maura Moynihan said to me, when was the last time you heard anyone say, ‘Let’s meet for a drink at Penn Station?’"

Officials at the Empire State Development Corporation, who declined to speak publicly about ongoing discussions, said the agency was waiting until after a decision on federal stimulus funds to select a designer for the project. "We're still weighing our options," one official said.

Receiving those funds will be critical to covering the station’s estimated $1 billion cost. “I’d say they’re probably short about half the budget,” said Chakrabarti. “It’s very contingent on making sure the federal stimulus money comes through.” However, with Amtrak now on board, and given the Obama administration’s commitment to funding intercity rail, insiders are optimistic.

“I’d say our chances are highly likely,” said Striker. 

A version of this article appeared in AN 10.07.2009.

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Code Warriors
On September 28, the first round in a series of debates on the future of computational design kicked off at Columbia University’s GSAPP. Under the heading Post-Parametric, the first debate was co-chaired by David Benjamin, partner at The Living design studio and director of GSAPP’s Living Architecture Lab, and Michael K. Reed of Columbia’s Department of Computer Science and Blue Sky Studios. Focusing on the subject of data, the event brought Casey Reas to the table with Chuck Eastman, and the result, one might say, was a technical knockout. Reas, a professor at UCLA’s Design Media Arts department and cofounder of the programming language called Processing, opened by demonstrating the power and versatility of Processing, with an emphasis on its role as a collaborative, open-source, and altogether egalitarian venture. Even to an audience familiar with his work, the fluidity with which he moved from code to geometry and back again was dazzling. This was a hard act to follow. A couple of slides into the presentation by Chuck Eastman, professor of architecture and computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology and author of the BIM Handbook, the BIM models of courthouse projects presented by Eastman had students slowly filtering out of the auditorium. Perhaps the inadvertent message of the students’ exodus suggests that scripting is perceived as spontaneous, exciting, and anti-establishment, whereas parametric modeling, stripped of its “wow factor,” is now becoming an extension of the corporate machine—the ideal tool for making the design of prison cells and judges’ chambers more efficient. (Eastman’s last slide was a collage of the design-office-turned-war-room of the future, where all data imaginable is displayed simultaneously on large monitors for ultimate control.) During the roundtable, co-chair Benjamin tried to head off this simplistic and polarizing reading by asking why the language of Processing couldn’t be a model for a more intuitive way of visualizing the kinds of data that BIM attempts to manage. Great question. But apparently a difficult one to answer. While Processing has made its way into a fair number of avant-garde architecture programs, the kind of code that Reas is interested in couldn’t be further from the building codes that BIM was designed to measure. Reas’ art is a personal and subjective exploration of the relationship between natural and digital language, computer simulations, and still images; Eastman’s work is focused on the objective assessment of data for the purpose of testing the efficiency of building systems. Bridging these two speakers would have required at least one or more additional panel members whose work straddles both worlds. I suspect that, from their absence, they are still hard to find.

California Dreamin'

In a recent New York Times article, Nicolai Ouroussoff argues that the New York Five—Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, and John Hejduk—rose to prominence in the 1970s when New York “was beginning to close itself off to innovative architecture.” Though the critic allows that New York could then still claim to be the country’s center of architectural thought, he suggests that the Five created out of that era’s vibrant culture “the last heroic period in New York architecture.”

In his story, titled “As Heroes Disappear, the City Needs More,” Ouroussoff goes on to reassert—with very little evidence—an often repeated claim. In the subsequent decades, he writes, “The country’s creative energy shifted westward, to Los Angeles, whose vibrant mix of urban grit and nature, abundance of relatively cheap land and lack of confining historical traditions allowed architects to experiment with a freedom that had become virtually impossible in New York.” California’s supposed freedom produced architects like Michael Maltzan, Kevin Daly, and Chris Genik, a cadre of talent, Ouroussoff says, with “no real equivalent in New York.”

However important these architects may be—clearly, like many other LA architects of their generation, they do impressive work—to suggest that New York has no comparable talent is absurd. Ouroussoff, long an admirer of Southern California architecture, turns even an article on the New York Five into an exercise in promoting LA’s “creative energy” and decrying New York’s dearth of “innovative architecture.” His claim that the most important contemporary works to rise in New York over the past decade were designed not by New Yorkers but by Angelenos (Thom Mayne, Frank Gehry), a Japanese woman (Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA), and a Frenchman (Nouvel) might actually be seen as a vote for the city’s confidence, strength, and openness—not something to be condemned.

But more consequentially, using a discussion of the New York Five to argue that the city has closed itself off to innovative architecture is simply wrong-headed. For example, when the New York Five first appeared in 1967 at an Arthur Drexler–curated exhibition at MoMA, they had just emerged from East Coast universities and built only a few private houses. It was New York’s architecture media infrastructure (magazines, publishers, museums, galleries, and critics) that created the group, and it is frankly still without parallel in this country.

In addition, the educational institutions in New York’s East Coast orbit, from whence came the Five, were and are still the most important in the world. These institutions educate and support architects with teaching positions at the highest level—including nearly every LA architect of any importance. Due in part to this unrivaled critical mass, the level of discourse, critique, and even experiment in New York can hardly be called staid. The type of architectural thinking that produced plans for the High Line and Fresh Kills landfill, to name only two recent New York projects, could only have come out of the East Coast architecture hopper.

The Times article concludes that in New York, “Real change will first demand a radical shift in our cultural priorities. Politicians will have to embrace the cosmopolitanism that was once the city’s core identity.” Yet a recent trip to Los Angeles to look at the city’s new high schools, including Coop Himmelb(l)au’s new Central Los Angeles High School, makes it seem that it is the politicians in that city that have something to learn.

They are creating gigantic new school buildings that despite their acclaimed architecture are as misguided about the direction of urban education toward small, intimate learning environments as anything in recent memory. In fact, it is in New York where design-savvy administrators like David Burney at the DDC and Janette Sadik-Khan at the DOT are creating new models of cosmopolitanism right under the nose of those who want to believe that “nothing has come out of New York in decades.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 09.30.2009_CA.

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Filling Downtown's Donut Hole
ARO and Beyer Blinder Belle have developed a new plan for an area south of the World Trade Center known as Greenwich South. They selected architects to test-drive their ideas, including Morphosis, which created Battery Park North.
Courtesy Downtown Alliance

One lament about the original World Trade Center was that its construction entailed the razing of Radio Row, the small neighborhood of shops around Cortlandt Street that specialized in electronics. While that bit of old New York has long been eulogized, many may not realize that a second swath of downtown has remained virtually on life support since the Twin Towers' completion: a 25-block area directly south of Liberty Street.

WorkAC designed a "plug-in building" to accommodate the area's oddly laid out buildings. 
 
That stretch of commercial, retail, and residential buildings is now poised for a resurrection, spurred in part by new development and the imminent return of Greenwich Street through the World Trade Center site-along with a new visioning plan, unveiled yesterday by the Downtown Alliance, aimed at stitching the area back into the city.

Newly dubbed Greenwich South, the neighborhood has been something of cipher since the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel took a chunk out of its core, not to mention the accompanying parking garage and a warren of Revolutionary-era streets that make navigation difficult even for veteran New Yorkers.

“Right now, it's the hole in the donut,” said Elizabeth Berger, president of the Downtown Alliance. “But if you look at a map, it's at the heart of the action. We want to take a moment to explore this area and make it really integral to everything surrounding it.”

To that end, the Downtown Alliance selected Architecture Research Office in early 2008 to spend a year developing a master plan for the area. Stephen Cassell, ARO's partner-in-charge, said that in light of the many previous plans for the area-one of which called for 30-foot-high skywalks between buildings-designers took a more flexible approach.

ARO chose the plum assignment of decking over the approach to the tunnel, a dream of planners for decades.
 
Open has designed a new wayfinding system that combines art, history, and information to draw people into and direct them through the neighborhood.
 
Beyer Blinder Belle Proposed transforming the old American Stock Exchange Building into a new destination museum.

“It really operates on multiple scales,” Cassell said of the plan, “and the key is you don't need one or the other to be successful. It's not averse to megaprojects, but it's not dependent on them, either.”


Simple art installations have been proposed to draw people in, such as this one by DeWitt Godfrey.
 
IwamotoScott designed a tower with holes in its base to restore the street.
 
 
ARO teamed up with Beyer Blinder Belle, which provided its master-planning expertise, and Open, a graphic-design firm charged with making Greenwich South more visible and accessible. The team came up with five principles: Reconnect Greenwich Street, transform the neighborhood into a magnet, create east-to-west connections, encourage an intensive mix of uses, and promote a mix of densities with a human scale.

Each principle works both in the immediate and long terms. Beyond the literal reconnection of Greenwich Street-to be completed by 2011-the plan seeks to turn the byway into a connector for southwestern Manhattan, as it will now be the only other street besides Broadway running the entire length of downtown (the plan considers West Street and FDR Drive as essentially freeways). In fact, the hope for the long term is to create a bike-, transit-, and pedestrian-friendly boulevard superior even to Broadway.

To ensure that the planning principles work, ARO tapped ten designers and artists, who provided their work pro bono to implement pieces of the plan during a six-week charrette. Lewis.Tsuramaki.Lewis created a vertical park that bridges the Battery Park tunnel, offering east-west access while helping scrub the district's noxious air. Coen + Partners proposed vertical landscaping for the tunnel's exhaust shaft, neighboring buildings, and other access points to the neighborhood. DeWitt Godfrey created a sculpture as a gateway at Exchange Place, while Open devised flexible wayfinding solutions, and Beyer Blinder Belle created a new museum at the American Stock Exchange building.

On the grander scale, WorkAC devised a “plug-in building” designed to fit within the puzzle of structures that already fill the district. Morphosis proposed Battery North, an extension of the park into the district. IwamotoScott developed a swirling tower with openings at its base to encourage pedestrian flow. And ARO decked over the approach to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, replacing it with a tiered park and public market.

The Downtown Alliance has created an installation designed by Open located in Zuccotti Park that helps bring attention to the plan.
 

Proposals for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel by Lewis.Tsuramaki.Lewis and Coen+Partners were among those displayed in the park.
photos by matt chaban

“In the long view, after the World Trade Center is completed, there's not that many places left in Lower Manhattan,” said Neil Kittredge, director of planning and urban design at Beyer Blinder Belle. “For development, Greenwich South is one of the last places that's left. But we want to make sure it is unlike anything else before it.”

The Downtown Alliance has installed an exhibition of the plan at Zuccotti Park, with a show of the 10 proposals due to open at the Center for Architecture Friday.

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Go East
The towers of Pudong rise across the Huangpu River.
Courtesy Skyscraper Museum

China Prophecy: Shanghai
Skyscraper Museum
39 Battery Place
Through March 2010

During a visit to Shanghai in 2007, Paris Hilton—that noble sage of our times—gushed to reporters repeatedly throughout her visit that “Shanghai looks like the future!” This caused her quote to be splashed across headlines around the world, with the line often appearing next to photos of her eating dumplings in old tea houses, or wearing traditional Chinese qipaos while sauntering through historic villas.

I often wonder who gave Paris the idea that Shanghai was a futuristic place, especially since she spent most of her time in the city’s historic core and colonial districts. This duality of Shanghai is ever-present, because despite the art deco villas, old Chinese lane houses, and omnipresent bicycles, the city currently enjoys an image in the popular culture as a place of Dubai-esque urban ambitions.




The once and future shanghai skyline. 

courtesy skyscraper museum
 
 

China Prophesy: Shanghai, a show curated by Carol Willis at the Skyscraper Museum, threatens to deliver just that image, but ends up giving so much more. The last in a series that earlier focused on New York and Hong Kong, the core of the show consists of three super-tall skyscrapers designed for Luijiazui, the new commercial epicenter in Shanghai’s Pudong, or “east of the river,” district.

In the early 1990s, when the city government was developing this farmland tract across from the city’s historic riverfront Bund district, it decided that three mega-tall skyscrapers would rise, each successively taller than the other, in a spiral-like arrangement. In 1998, Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill designed the 370-meter (1,214 feet) Jinmao Tower, while Bill Pedersen’s Shanghai World Financial Center, completed last year, reached a height of 492 meters (1,614 feet). In 2014, Gensler’s Shanghai Tower will rise to a height of 632 meters (2,073 feet).

China Prophesy is an excellent show, not simply because it tallies up the building heights. It doesn’t feed the stereotypical image of Shanghai. Instead, the exhibition is thorough, incredibly well researched, and surprisingly balanced. I say “surprising,” because for an exhibition on Shanghai skyscrapers, there’s an awful lot of consideration given to the historic development of the city by the British and the French in its colonial era, and to the sweeping governmental policy changes in the 1980s and ‘90s that have brought about these colossal corporate and civic monuments. That’s the right way to do it, and is also what makes this exhibition—small in size but not in stature—a truly exceptional study of Shanghai as it relates to the world landscape.

Willis presents a few practical but essential visuals, including two wall-sized aerial views of Manhattan and Shanghai, images that face each other and offer a basis for understanding the cities’ respective geographies. Other well-placed gems include a glimpse of the now-discarded masterplan by Richard Rogers for the Pudong area, and American architect Ben Wood’s transcendent question, scribbled in his plan for Xintiandi, “What is Chinese?”


Pudong's trio of towers, including KPF's Shanghai World Financial Center (right), completed last year. Gensler's Shanghai Tower (left) will rise to 2,073 feet, dwarfing SOM's Jinmao tower (center).

Courtesy Skyscraper Museum

What a treat to see Shanghai juxtaposed against New York, because the comparisons are spot-on. Even if you weren’t a New Yorker living in Shanghai as I am, New York has always been the standard for a classic skyscraper city, and the city to which many cities already compare themselves. My favorite moments of the show include a scale model of John Portman’s Deathstar-esque Tomorrow Square shown with a charcoal Hugh Ferriss etching in the background, or KPF’s mixed-use Jing An Kerry Centre with another charcoal etching of Rockefeller Center in the background. History and lineage are paramount here.

Knowingly or unknowingly, these references have always lurked in the background of Shanghai’s urban development. After all, many of the prominent buildings on the 1930s Bund were built in the same stylistic language of 1930s New York. If all the architects working in the city today shared Willis’ mastery of both history and contemporary design, Shanghai would indeed represent a more complex and layered vision of the future.

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You Are Here
The Beursplein in Rotterdam, designed by the Jerde Partnership, won an AIA Honor Award in 1997. Where a postwar traffic artery had split downtown in two, the plan placed a pedestrian street under glass canopies, with a 30-story apartment tower and metro station to help resurrect the neighborhood.
Christian Richters

A precise definition of urban design is elusive, as it has been since the term’s first articulation over 50 years ago at a Harvard GSD conference spearheaded by José Lluis Sert. Today the term, like sustainability, is batted about by architecture firms and the media, pointing toward an interpretation that favors architects and their super-sized projects. While practitioners of the quasi-discipline are typically seen to fall somewhere between planning’s public policy and architecture’s formal concerns, the urban designer’s role in the process of development is often misunderstood and many times questioned. Urban Design for an Urban Century sets itself the task of clarifying the role of urban design in shaping urban places.

The book is the product of New York–based professor and practitioner Lance Jay Brown, David Dixon of Boston-based Goody Clancy, and the late architect and planner Oliver Gillham. The authors begin the book by acknowledging the ambiguity of the urban designer’s job, determining that a shared emphasis on “finding the right fit between people and place” predominates. To illustrate this thread, they collect all 70 winning projects of the AIA Institute Honor Awards for regional and urban design over the last ten years, commenting on these with respect to principles such as building community, advancing sustainability, expanding individual choices, enhancing public health, and making places for people.



 
 

Case studies are grouped into seven areas: regional growth, downtowns, older neighborhoods, new neighborhoods, waterfronts, the public realm, and campuses. It is clear from these divisions that one long-held purview of the urban designer, the public realm, is not the sole area of concern. Streetscapes and plazas and their accessory elements like furniture, signage, and trees are still addressed by urban designers, but so are land use, bulk, density, form, transportation, and ecology. Much of this expanded scope normally falls to planners and local jurisdictions, suggesting the urban designer’s role in giving form to public policy and private development at an early stage. Chicago’s award-winning Lakeshore East Master Plan by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) is a fitting example of urban design’s malleability. The plan is a guideline for future action by other actors, namely architects and their clients, following developed rules of land use, massing, and site coverage. Most notable among these is Studio Gang’s 80-story Aqua Tower, a design marked by undulating terraces hardly foreshadowed by SOM’s Rockefeller Center–esque imagery.

Preceding the case studies and principles are an excellent, concise history of urban morphology and the decentralization of cities; a call for recentralization, echoing Sert’s assertion for the same a half-century ago; and finally, the authors’ crack at defining urban design. To that end Brown, Dixon, and Gillham’s definition outlines three characteristics: multi-disciplinary collaboration, outreach to stakeholders, and the enhancement of economic, social, and environmental realms. These broad concerns insufficiently portray what an urban designer actually does, but a review of the case studies points to placemaking generated by buildings, particularly via their form, size, and style. But instead of falling prey to ever-popular form-based codes, the authors attempt to steer the reader away from aesthetics and toward sustainability, social equity, the health of the common realm, and other concerns.

Defining urban design is difficult primarily because the discipline has one foot planted in policy and the other rooted in physical form. The pull one way or the other depends upon the actual situation in which the urban designer works. Kevin Lynch’s assertion, quoted in the first chapter, that urban design “comes down to the management of change” points us in the right direction. Attentive to the impact of policies on a diverse public and equally to design’s role in placemaking, urban designers are able to synthesize the competing forces shaping cities today. Ideally, with an emphasis on process and change, many of the traditional concerns found here will give way to issues like questioning consumption’s role in the social life of cities, and our relationship to nature and its processes. Brown, Dixon, and Gillham are aware of the need for social and ecological balance, but their admirable book-length explication remains grounded in practice, as are the case studies that compensate in diversity for what they lack in vision.

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Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture
Photographs by Bruce Damonte

More than a decade of planning, bidding, and construction finally concludes this month with the dedication of the $52 million, 135,000-square-foot Architecture, Urban Design, and Landscape Architecture school at the City College of New York, designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects around the bones of one of CCNY’s former libraries.

That late-1950s structure—known as the Y Building—had presented a largely windowless face to the street, with a main entrance at grade that was little more than an elevator lobby. Now a stairway orients the building toward one of the campus’ central arteries, leading up from the corner of 135th Street and Convent Avenue to a new main entrance above grade that opens onto the school’s gallery, library, and classrooms.




suspended, criss-crossing stairways animate the central atrium (top), while the dramatic, rooftop amphitheater (above) offers views south toward midtown manhattan.  
 
 

Of the original structure, Viñoly preserved only the skeleton of concrete columns and floor slabs, and hollowed out its core to create a five-story atrium. Metal bridges and stairs crisscross the atrium, connecting alternating floors and stretching into surrounding studios. Two mezzanines offer views down the wide hallways below, which are open to the atrium on one side and lined with homasote on the other, making them a popular place for classes to pin up work for critiques.

The exhibition space—”the soul of the building,” said project director Fred Wilmers—lies at the bottom of the atrium, keeping it continually animated by people crossing the bridges overhead. Doors at opposite corners of the gallery ensure a steady stream of foot traffic. “We anticipated that people would cut diagonally through the gallery, and they do,” said Wilmers. The gallery’s exterior walls are lined with the same recycled rubber as its interior, doubling the amount of pin-up space and extending exhibitions into adjacent hallways.

A saffron-yellow clerestory at the top of the atrium directs and controls the flow of natural light, one of the pillars of Viñoly’s design strategy. Its underside is angled inward to refract incoming rays so that they diffuse throughout the building. Extended edges around exterior windows also help block sun without hampering views. By next year, said Wilmers, those window boxes will become the frame for perforated aluminum louvers with vertical slats on the east and west walls, and horizontal slats on the south wall. (Though originally part of the design, the louvers had been shelved during the bidding process to cut costs, but were reintroduced after a large donation from Bernard and Anne Spitzer.)

On the open-air roof, the clerestory segues into one of the building’s most popular features, a luminous yellow amphitheater that was not part of the project’s mandated program but has become such a crowded gathering place that the school has had to start rationing usage. From the vantage of its south-facing bleachers, the amphitheater’s frame turns the Midtown skyline into a suitably inspiring backdrop.

California Dreamin'

In a recent New York Times article, Nicolai Ouroussoff argues that the New York Five—Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, and John Hejduk—rose to prominence in the 1970s when New York “was beginning to close itself off to innovative architecture.” Though the critic allows that New York could then still claim to be the country’s center of architectural thought, he suggests that the Five created out of that era’s vibrant culture “the last heroic period in New York architecture.”

In his story, titled “As Heroes Disappear, the City Needs More,” Ouroussoff goes on to reassert—with very little evidence—an often repeated claim. In the subsequent decades, he writes, “The country’s creative energy shifted westward, to Los Angeles, whose vibrant mix of urban grit and nature, abundance of relatively cheap land and lack of confining historical traditions allowed architects to experiment with a freedom that had become virtually impossible in New York.” California’s supposed freedom produced architects like Michael Maltzan, Kevin Daly, and Chris Genik, a cadre of talent, Ouroussoff says, with “no real equivalent in New York.”

However important these architects may be—clearly, like many other LA architects of their generation, they do impressive work—to suggest that New York has no comparable talent is absurd. Ouroussoff, long an admirer of Southern California architecture, turns even an article on the New York Five into an exercise in promoting LA’s “creative energy” and decrying New York’s dearth of “innovative architecture.” His claim that the most important contemporary works to rise in New York over the past decade were designed not by New Yorkers but by Angelenos (Thom Mayne, Frank Gehry), a Japanese woman (Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA), and a Frenchman (Nouvel) might actually be seen as a vote for the city’s confidence, strength, and openness—not something to be condemned.

But more consequentially, using a discussion of the New York Five to argue that the city has closed itself off to innovative architecture is simply wrongheaded. For example, when the New York Five first appeared in 1967 at an Arthur Drexler–curated exhibition at MoMA, they had just emerged from East Coast universities and built only a few private houses. It was New York’s architecture media infrastructure (magazines, publishers, museums, galleries, and critics) that created the group, and it is frankly still without parallel in this country. In addition, the educational institutions in New York’s East Coast orbit, from whence came the Five, were and are still the most important in the world.

These institutions educate and support architects with teaching positions at the highest level—including nearly every LA architect of any importance. Due in part to this unrivaled critical mass, the level of discourse, critique, and even experiment in New York can hardly be called staid. The type of architectural thinking that produced plans for the High Line and Fresh Kills landfill, to name only two recent New York projects, could only have come out of the East Coast architecture hopper.

The Times article concludes that in New York, “Real change will first demand a radical shift in our cultural priorities. Politicians will have to embrace the cosmopolitanism that was once the city’s core identity.” Yet a recent trip to Los Angeles to look at the city’s new high schools, including Coop Himmelb(l)au’s new Central Los Angeles High School, makes it seem that it is the politicians in that city that have something to learn.

They are creating gigantic new school buildings that despite their acclaimed architecture are as misguided about the direction of urban education toward small, intimate learning environments as anything in recent memory. In fact, it is in New York where design-savvy administrators like David Burney at the DDC and Janette Sadik-Khan at the DOT are creating new models of cosmopolitanism right under the nose of those who want to believe that “nothing has come out of New York in decades.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 09.09.2009.

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High Speed Ahead
We've been paying an awful lot of attention to high-speed rail of late. That's partly because it's a pet project of the president, as well as the various regions we cover. Well, bids were due last month for the $8 billion to be doled out in stimulus funds for high-speed rail development (after all, that kinda money isn't going to go very far toward building any one system, let alone the dozen or so needed to begin supplanting planes or cars), and while the money will likely get split up amongst different states and localities so as not to anger any constituency, the infrastructure-oriented, RPA-affiliated group America 2050 released a report today recommending where best to spend that money, and we've got bad news for our colleagues on the West Coast and Great Lakes—it should go right here in the Northeast Corridor. (It should be noted the RPA, like AN is headquartered here in New York, so maybe it's just bias at play.)
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Eavesdrop NY 14
THE PLOTS THICKEN Did The New York Times learn nothing from its error-riddled obituary of Walter Cronkite this summer? The famous newsman was 90 years old and in failing health for some time. His obituary should have been in the can for years. And yet there were seven inexcusable errors, which prompted a lengthy correction, which prompted a lame mea culpa from the public editor, which prompted an avalanche of snarky comments from readers. Back to the question, did the newspaper learn from this embarrassment? It did not. The obituary for Charles Gwathmey, who died on August 3 (according to the Times), was revised with a correction regarding the architect’s education. Turns out, that correction was incorrect and therefore had to be corrected. A correction of a correction spun the needle right off Eavesdrop’s Cringe-O-Meter. Gwathmey was interred at Green River Cemetery in the Springs hamlet within East Hampton town—famous as the final resting place of many artists, including Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Stuart Davis, and the poet Frank O’Hara. Steven Ross, the former Time Warner chief executive, is buried in a section added in 1987. According to a 2002 Times article (no corrections cited), his widow, Courtney Sale Ross, “paid $77,000 for 110 of the 400 plots left in the new section, creating a wide buffer between her husband and less affluent residents. The [cemetery] trustees later instituted what is known as the ‘Ross Rule,’ which permits no one to buy more than eight plots.” Eavesdrop is pleased that Mrs. Ross deemed Charlie worthy of eternal exclusivity. Most worthy. TRIPPINGLY OFF THE TONGUE While we’re reporting from the Hamptons, we’d like to bring your attention to more corrections needed, as yet not made. Dan’s Paper—”the largest weekly community newspaper in the Hamptons”—covered an event in East Hampton recently. According to the author, Dan himself, the people gathered “to hear a discussion about architecture in the Hamptons... featuring panel members Richard Meier, Robert Stern, and Paul Goldenberger.” Goldenberger, eight times. “Goldenberger is the longtime architecture critic for The New York Times,” Dan continued. Don’t tell Ouroussoff or Remnick. And on he goes. Meier “mentioned the home built by Robert Gwathmey for his parents in the 1950s, which he said, was a masterpiece.” The house Charlie Gwathmey completed for his parents in 1966 was also a masterpiece. Dan must have been on a tight deadline. Eavesdrop is on one, too, and apologizes in advance for all idiocies in the here and hereafter. Send corrections and columbaria to shart@archpaper.com
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Charles Gwathmey, 1938-2009
Gwathmey at the de Menil Residence, East Hampton (1983).
Norman McGrath

Charles Gwathmey, a member of the New York Five and a principal of Gwathmey Siegel & Associates, died on August 3 at age 71, leaving a legacy of meticulously conceived modernist designs. Gwathmey launched his career with a house for his parents, completed in 1966, and went on to win major New York projects including the 1982 renovation and addition to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, and the International Center for Photography in 2001. Here, his longtime colleague and friend recalls an architect with passionate convictions, a keen sense of form, and a generous spirit.

Robert Siegel, principal, Gwathmey Siegel & Associates
The High School of Music and Art, where Charles and I met in the 1950s, was a natural place for an aspiring architect, particularly one who was surrounded by artists—friends of his father Robert Gwathmey, a painter, and of his mother Rosalie, a photographer and textile designer—throughout his West Village childhood. Early in his years at Music and Art, during a summer break, Charles’ parents took him on an extended trip through Europe, where he was encouraged to look carefully, to sketch, and to think about the things he was exposed to. Charles brought these lessons back with him, and during his senior yearhe selected a class in architecture. He went on to produce the most amazing architectural drawings. He somehow knew all the symbols, the way to hand-letter, how to arrange a technical drawing, and his documents became models that others would try to emulate. Charles was committed to becoming an architect at a very early age.

His passion for the arts and for architecture developed along with another personal aspect that was hard to ignore: Charles’ physical nature. Just as his mind craved a sense of formal order and attention to the smallest detail related to the creative process, it transferred over to his body. He developed a perfectly sculpted physique. Charlie had muscles; I mean impressive, perfectly proportioned muscles. He was very strong, could lift enormous weights, climb a rope to the ceiling in a sitting position, do 1,300 sit-ups in 10 minutes. He dressed impeccably, never wanting to carry a cell phone or wallet that would disrupt the line of the garment. And he was very handsome and charming.

After completing our architectural education, Charlie and I met up again in the office of Edward Barnes, during the time that Ed was receiving wonderful commissions. Our work there ultimately resulted in our coming together as partners, initially with Richard Henderson, and subsequently as our own firm. For the past 41 years, Charles and I have collaborated, often sharing a desk, sitting face to face drawing and discussing design ideas.

We have completed over four hundred projects, but more than any other building type, it was the exploration of the single-family residence, initially summarized in the Amagansett home for his parents, which Charles and Richard completed in 1966, that set the foundation for and shaped many of the architectural principles around which the work of our firm revolved. The original, 1,200-square-foot residence, designed on a tight budget, began with primary geometrical forms and inventively carved them away, responding to the needs of site, program, and structure. The result, with a double-height living space on the second floor, was a great learning project and a groundbreaking work of rural house architecture.

Charles refined his residential work in projects like the Taft Residence in Cincinnati (1977), which consolidated his discoveries about program and volume in a sequence of open and unfolding exterior spaces and dramatic, frame-like devices. These projects led to the standout de Menil Residence in East Hampton (1983). A much larger and richer project, the house features skylit, cross-axial spaces and an ingenious brise soleil, which acts variously as frame, screen, and scale device, anchoring the house in the landscape.

Charlie had strong convictions, was passionate about certain things, and was not the type to walk away from confrontation. This characteristic followed him throughout his career with mixed results, but one always knew where he stood on important issues. At heart, Charles was a very kind and caring person. He detested prejudice of any type. He was a mentor for aspiring architects, and he extended financial help to those less fortunate, and who were trying to do something that he thought worthy. He was a friend you could count on.

Above all, Charles and I looked forward to and enjoyed being with each other every day, despite the complexities of life and the pressures inherent in the practice of architecture. Architecture was his life, and it was what he cared about until the last moment. I will miss him dearly.

A version of this article appeared in AN 09.09.2009.

California Dreamin'

In a recent New York Times article, Nicolai Ouroussoff argues that the New York Five—Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, and John Hejduk—rose to prominence in the 1970s when New York “was beginning to close itself off to innovative architecture.” Though the critic allows that New York could then still claim to be the country’s center of architectural thought, he suggests that the Five created out of that era’s vibrant culture “the last heroic period in New York architecture.”

In his story, titled “As Heroes Disappear, the City Needs More,” Ouroussoff goes on to reassert—with very little evidence—an often repeated claim. In the subsequent decades, he writes, “The country’s creative energy shifted westward, to Los Angeles, whose vibrant mix of urban grit and nature, abundance of relatively cheap land and lack of confining historical traditions allowed architects to experiment with a freedom that had become virtually impossible in New York.” California’s supposed freedom produced architects like Michael Maltzan, Kevin Daly, and Chris Genik, a cadre of talent, Ouroussoff says, with “no real equivalent in New York.”

However important these architects may be—clearly, like many other LA architects of their generation, they do impressive work—to suggest that New York has no comparable talent is absurd. Ouroussoff, long an admirer of Southern California architecture, turns even an article on the New York Five into an exercise in promoting LA’s “creative energy” and decrying New York’s dearth of “innovative architecture.” His claim that the most important contemporary works to rise in New York over the past decade were designed not by New Yorkers but by Angelenos (Thom Mayne, Frank Gehry), a Japanese woman (Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA), and a Frenchman (Nouvel) might actually be seen as a vote for the city’s confidence, strength, and openness—not something to be condemned.

But more consequentially, using a discussion of the New York Five to argue that the city has closed itself off to innovative architecture is simply wrongheaded. For example, when the New York Five first appeared in 1967 at an Arthur Drexler–curated exhibition at MoMA, they had just emerged from East Coast universities and built only a few private houses. It was New York’s architecture media infrastructure (magazines, publishers, museums, galleries, and critics) that created the group, and it is frankly still without parallel in this country. In addition, the educational institutions in New York’s East Coast orbit, from whence came the Five, were and are still the most important in the world.

These institutions educate and support architects with teaching positions at the highest level—including nearly every LA architect of any importance. Due in part to this unrivaled critical mass, the level of discourse, critique, and even experiment in New York can hardly be called staid. The type of architectural thinking that produced plans for the High Line and Fresh Kills landfill, to name only two recent New York projects, could only have come out of the East Coast architecture hopper.

The Times article concludes that in New York, “Real change will first demand a radical shift in our cultural priorities. Politicians will have to embrace the cosmopolitanism that was once the city’s core identity.” Yet a recent trip to Los Angeles to look at the city’s new high schools, including Coop Himmelb(l)au’s new Central Los Angeles High School, makes it seem that it is the politicians in that city that have something to learn.

They are creating gigantic new school buildings that despite their acclaimed architecture are as misguided about the direction of urban education toward small, intimate learning environments as anything in recent memory. In fact, it is in New York where design-savvy administrators like David Burney at the DDC and Janette Sadik-Khan at the DOT are creating new models of cosmopolitanism right under the nose of those who want to believe that “nothing has come out of New York in decades.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 09.09.2009.