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Eavesdrop Issue 07_04.20.2005

REMEMBER SUNNY CALIFORNIAA?
What's up with Los Angeles architects and their sun problems? First, there was Frank Gehry; the polished stainless steel that clads part of his Walt Disney Concert Hall has produced so much heat and glare that it's having to get sandblasted as we speak. And now Thom Mayne's much-praised Caltrans District 7 Headquarters in downtown L.A. is also proving to be solar-challenged. As reported in The Los Angeles Times, some Caltrans employees are complaining that the new 13-story building not only has too few water fountains and toilets (oops), but that the perforated and louvered metal screens that shield much of the glass structure, and that are among its most distinctive design elements, aren't always doing their job. Apparently, the sunlight still gets so bothersome inside that a source now tells us up to 900 new MechoShade blinds, joining an existing 200 to 300, will need to be installed at a likely cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. (Mayne's rep tells us that only a few areas of the building have glare issues, and only at certain times of the day and year. However, extra shades are being installed for visual continuity.) In any case, this seems to make Mayne's secondary metal skin somewhat redundant. At least it still looks cool.

ANOTHER CHANCE FOR BARUCH
We all but gave up on Baruch College when it built the bloated, beached whale between East 24th and 25th streets that it refers to as its Vertical Campus, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox. But now we hear that a new, more promising master plan is in the works by Gordon Kipping, the G TECTS principal who collaborated with Frank Gehry on Issey Miyake's Tribeca store. We're told Kipping's proposal, which would involve Gehry in some yet-to-be-determined way, includes inserting a new 17-plus-story atrium in the central bay of the college's 1929 building at Lexington and 23rd. That atrium would face the street in the form of a glass wedge housing a dramatic spiraling column of stairs that twists as the glazing tapers. In addition, a new through-block structure would connect the building with KPF's monstrosity while, hopefully, also blocking out one's view of it. If all goes well, construction could begin in 2007.

DESIGNERS OF CONSCIENCE
Last month, designers turned out for the launch of The Face of Human Rights, a 720-page book of images and essays from the Swiss publisher Lars MMller. Milling about the National Arts Club's intimate Accompanied Library to hear MMller, Yoko Ono, Nobel Laureate Torsten Wiesel, and U.N. Human Rights adviser Walter Kaelin speak were, among others, Steven Holl, Charles Renfro, landscape architect and preservationist Michael Gotkin, and graphic designer Keith Godard. Lars is a good friend,, said Holl, who also informed us that the construction giant Sciame just bought space in his own publication, the Beijing- New York architecture quarterly 32BNY. It's our very first ad,, he beamed.

ARCHITECTS IN TIGHT JEANS
Zaha Hadid did it for Vitra. Winka Dubbeldam posed for Panasonic. But soon, it's one of the boys who's modeling for a Levi's advertisement. We went on the look-out when we heard about the company's casting call for male architects, between the ages of 18 and 45, for a New York ad shoot. Candidates had to be Real-looking men with good bodies, handsome, interesting, rugged.. (Notice that wears chunky black eyewearr was NOT listed.) We can think of some architects who fit the bill. But we're not sure either of them is available. (Aw, we're just teasing.) Meanwhile, to see a fuller range of architecture's poster children, head to Rotterdam's NAi for Ads & Architects (up through May 15), which assembles 90 examples, from Norman Foster for Rolex to Massimiliano Fuksas for Mont Blanc.

LET SLIP:achen@archpaper.com

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Bright Lights, Big City

Though ethereal, light is one of architecture's most important materials. Whether natural or artificial, light can accentuate architectural genius, mask mistakes, grab attention, make a place feel sacred or safe. New lighting technology and educational programs are keys to keeping architecture's spark alive.

Technology
LEDs, the Latest Frontier on Architectural Lighting

LEDs are everywhere, and not just in traffic lights and digital alarm clocks where they started several decades ago. LEDs, short for light emitting diodes, have been steadily making their way into architectural applications around the world. Until recently, LEDs were considered impractical for widespread use in large environments but the technology has improved dramaticallyythey're smaller and brighter, use less power, can be computer controlled, and cycle through all the colors of the rainbowwenticing more and more architects and designers to integrate them in their work.

Many manufacturers (even those that only recently incorporated the technology into their lines) have now made LEDs, if not a core component of their product offerings, part of their R&D. We consider implementing LED technology for every new product under development,, said Ted Chappell, president of New Jerseyybased Erco Lighting, which did not bring LED-based products into its line until its 2002/ 2003 catalog.

Left and below: UN Studio and Arup Lighting, both based in Amsterdam, teamed up to give Seoul's Galleria West fashion mall a dazzling, Paco Rabannesque makeover. Concealing a nondescript 1970s concrete building is a layer of 4,330 frosted glass discs, shielding an equal number of LED luminaires. Each disc acts as a giant pixel; the building becomes a vast display screen. With Dutch company Xilver, Rogier van der Heide of Arup developed an RGB LED fixture that improves the color tone of the LEDs.
Courtesy arup lighting

The most common application of LEDssmany would argue to a faulttis in color-changing scenarios and as decorative details in a larger environment. If I need a saturated color, I look to LEDs,, said lighting designer Jim Benya, principal of Benya Lighting Design in Tigard, Oregon, who is currently creating a midnight sky scene for a hospital MRI room with blue LEDs. Another lighting designer, Ken Douglas, principal of Illumination Arts in New Jersey, is embedding the light source into the faaade of dark red brick building that lost its presence at night. In our designs, we are using it mostly as a secondary aesthetic element, to add a little flavor or as a highlighting element,, he said.

Courtesy arup lighting

Color-changing capabilities exist with other lamps like metal halide, which was used by Horton Lees Brogden to light the Met Life building in New York City with stunning results. But Douglas noted, With those lamps, there has to be a physical component moving around, or glass moving back and forth, or a color wheel, and every time you have a part that moves, you have a part that fails..

RGB fluorescent has traditionally been the source behind color-changing effects, and is still being used very successfully on certain projects, such as on the faaade of the 41-story Deutsche Post tower in Bonn, Germany, designed in 2003 by Helmut Jahn. However, more designers like Darren Nolan, an architect with Peter Marino + Associates, which recently completed an eight-story building for Chanel in Tokyo, turned to LEDs to illuminate its faaade. We made comparisons between fluorescent and LEDs, but issues of maintenance, heat generation, and consistency of color temperature convinced us to go with the latter,, he said. The architects were also charmed with the ability of the LEDs, imbedded on the modernist glass and metal faaade, to change light patterns each night, simulating for example Chanel's signature tweed. While the upfront costs of LEDs were higher, said Nolan, in the long run the architects felt LEDs would be more cost effective.

Chanel's new Tokyo headquarters, designed by Peter Marino, has a triple-glazed facade featuring view-controlled glass and LEDs that enable the building to be completely transparent by day and lanternlike at night. The building has art director who programs different patterns for the facade.

Courtesy peter marino + associates

The extremely long life of LEDs makes them a particularly sound solution in situations where fixtures are hard to maintain. Paul Gregory, principal of Focus Lighting in New York City, specified LEDs for the new Semiramis Hotel in Athens, Greece, for example, for areas where limited space would have made it hard to replace other lamp types. Gregory, who collaborated with Karim Rashid on the project, felt confident in the choice, having used LEDs on the Morimoto restaurant in Philadelphia four years before, which he says has been extremely low maintenance and still looks good. The questions is always, Can you do something complex and still have it look great in four years,, he said. Not with Par cans [theater lighting]; not with MR16s..

While the overall lumen output from available LED sources remains low, there are extremely bright LED products for small-area applications, such as display cases or enclosed spaces. The technology is also ideal for low-light-level outdoor applications, like step lights and pavers, because the technology operates under a wide range of temperatures, unlike fluorescents which do not respond well to cold, and HID lamps, which do not start or extinguish immediately. Also, since they use few watts, LEDs can be solar or battery powered, which makes them appropriate to situations where uninterruptible power is important. Erco Lighting began its foray into LED-based fixtures with products dedicated to this application. We marketed them as orientation' luminaires,, said Chappell. They serve as excellent marker lights for pathways as well as safety lights for entrances and step applications..

Paul Gregory of Focus Lighting worked with David Rockwell on FAO Schwarz's renovation, which features a ceiling with 80,000 LEDs that can be programmed into different patterns

J. P. Lira / courtesy focus lighting

Since they do not radiate heat, LEDs work well in environments where heat may damage the object being illuminateddart or chocolate, for example. For this reason, task lamps are incorporating the technology, since users are generally in close proximity to the light source and can therefore be burned by it. The Arketto lamp, which Luxo released in 2004, produces virtually no apparent heat and has a 50,000-hour life, according to the company. That LEDs do not produce any heat is a myth, however, according to Benya. An LED does not radiate heat, which actually means it cannot cool itself in this way, but still has to conduct the heat away from the source. The higher the wattage, the bigger the heat problem.. If an LED source is not cooled, he notes, it negatively affects light output and longevity. He believes this problem is the Holy Grail for the industry; if it can be resolved, then LEDs will enter more standard architectural applications like downlightsand spots.

This and other shortcomingsslow overall light output, cool white range (lacking the warmth of incandescents), high priceehave kept LEDs out of mainstream architectural applications, but have also been the focus of manufacturers' research. For example, Color Kinetics recently introduced IntelliWhite, which offers an expanded range of temperatures. And, according to Dave Shepard, national sales manager with lighting manufacturer Luxo, which recently released an LED task light, the price of LED components seems to come down every six months or so. He notes that the industry is currently in the middle of a pronounced decrease.

Gregory also worked with Karim Rashid on the Semiramis Hotel in Athens, where LEDs work with colored glass for decorative effect.

Jennifer alexander / courtesy focus lighting

>I've never seen a technology in our field evolve so much over so short a period of time,, said Benya. Every time you stop and take a snapshot, remember that what you specify today is going to become obsolete faster than the computer you just bought.. This is in direct conflict with what Benya considers the purpose of architectural lightinggto design something permanent and durable. We call them light fixtures for a reason,, he said. He maintains a healthy skepticism toward LEDs, pointing out that when the source does fail, it often means the entire system must be replaced, not just a bulb.. The diodes need to be soldered or otherwise connected to a complex electrical system; when one goes, the entire lighting system may have to go. It's a monumental paradigm shift,, he said. A luminaire is now a throwaway wrapper around an expensive light-bulb, as opposed to the other way around..

Perhaps indicative of how far LEDs have come is that primary complaint about the technology from designers is not about their performance, but about their architectural applications. My criticism is about how the technology has been used in the last few years,, said Douglas. In the early 1990s, everything had to be MR16s; it didn't matter whether they were the right fixture or not. LEDs are like that. People are making things flash and dance even if it isn't a building that should be doing that..
Emilie W. Sommerhoff is the editor-in-chief of Architectural Lighting.

 

Urbanism
A Lighter, Brighter Jets Stadium

As the battle over the development rights of the Hudson rail yards enters its next phase (March 21 was the MTA's deadline for competing bids), the most prominent contender and mayoral favorite, the New York Jets, unveiled a revised design for its proposed New York Sports and Convention Center (NYSCC) that brightens and softens Kohn Pedersen Fox's (KPF) original scheme.

KPF's first try was a clunky, closed box plunked down between 31st and 33rd streets, split by a central axis that ran down 11th Avenue. The Municipal Art Society (MAS) put its carefully considered two cents in, and the architects listened. In the revised design, the structure's height is reduced by 120 feet. The wind turbines that were supposed to line the rooftop were also eliminated. Shrinking the structure improved it, but it was still a big awkward box.

courtesy l'observatoire international

>One of the initial driving forces in the new design was the Municipal Art Society's desire to create a strong axis on 32nd Street,, Bill Pederson said. They felt that the plan would be strengthened by a strong east-west orientation.. The architects responded by creating an asymmetrical faaade and reorienting the complex toward a new pedestrian-friendly entrance plaza on 11th Avenue, a planned retail corridor.

The most dramatic revision by far, however, involves the skin of the building. The designers have wrapped the core volume in a translucent glass veil, giving the structure the appearance of floating.

Toronto-based graphic designer Bruce Mau, originally brought in to develop wayfinding and graphic imagery, got into the collaborative design spirit and contributed by conceptualizing the entire 60,000-foot exterior surface as a single image, with each 6-by-12-foot pane of glass dotted alternately with translucent and transparent film. If you think about a pane of glass as a pixel, you can make an image that reads on an urban scale,, Mau said. From far away, it's very soft, light, and diaphanous; on an intimate scale it's very pop and graphic..

The Jets' desire to make the project less monolithic and more appropriately scaled to the neighborhood is furthered by the contribution of lighting designer Hervv Descottes, founder of New Yorkkbased L'Observatoire International. We wanted to work with different degrees of transparency,, said Descottes, discussing the wrap-around LED screen to be installed at the structure's ground level. The lighting designer envisions seven distinct lighting schemes that can be deployed, changing the building's profile from day to night and event to event. At times, the stadium would reflect the Hudson River, while at others it would shoot two beams of lighttone straight into the sky and one right into New Jerseyyto communicate game-day excitement. It's subtle but strong signage,, he noted.

Will the NYSCC's inventive use of media and light be enough to win over its objectors? Time will tell. Eva Hagberg is a New Yorkkbased writer.

 

Education
Parson's MFA in Lighting, the Nation's First to Incorporate Design

When Peter Wheelwright took over as chair of the architecture department at Parsons in 1999, he also inherited an ailing Masters of Arts program in lighting design. Shortly thereafter, the proverbial light bulb went off: Why not take advantage of the inherent synergy between the three fields in the departmenttarchitecture, lighting, and interior designnand at the same time extend the depth and breadth of the study of lighting design, which historically has lagged behind as an academic discipline?

Parsons has been a leader in lighting design since 1975, when Jim Nuckolls, a pioneer in both the practice and education of the discipline, launched the first incarnation of its MFA. Originally, the program was an appendage of the continuing education department. In the early 1990s, it joined the architecture program, yet after a decline in student enrollment, the school decided to turn it into a vocational one-year Master of Arts degree in 1998.

Lighting study by Azusa Yabe

courtesy parsons school of design

Wheelwright began the revamp by hiring the program's first full-time director, Joanne Lindsley, who had been the president of the International Association of Lighting Designers, and then resolved to transform the degree back into a two-year MFA with a fresh slant. The resulting program, which kicked off its first semester last fall at full capacity with 24 matriculated students, puts lighting design and architecture students in the same studio space. They share faculty as well as history and theory courses, and even work in tandem on the same design projects. It's radical for an architecture program to have such a strong relation to lighting design,, said Wheelwright. Although they think they do, few architects today really know how to design with light..

Key players in launching the new MFA are David Lewis, director of Parsons' graduate architecture program and a principal of Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis, and lighting designer Linnaea Tillett. The program's advisory board includes lighting designer Paul Marantz of Fisher Marantz Stone. Since Lindsley left the program in 2004, Wheelwright has served as acting director, while talks of a search for a new head are in development. Said Wheelwright, The new MFA needs an academic to run it, someone who understands the relationship of design to social practice..

Lighting study by Jung Eun Park

courtesy parsons school of design

Extending his theory that cooperation yields greater benefits for related disciplines, Wheelwright has widened his students' access to educators and facilities by networking with Parsons' main competitor in the field, the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). RPI is doing something very different,, he said, explaining that their Master of Science is focused more on scientific research and development. They're inventing light bulbs; we're designing. So we've begun to strategize linkages.. Students from Parsons have already visited Rensselaer, and RPI faculty members have given lectures as Parsons.

Most other lighting design programs in the U.S., such as those at Illinois State, Florida State, and Carnegie Mellon, are concentrations within their schools' theater design departments. Wheelwright believes that Parsons is embarking on a program that is unique. I hope [this year's class] will be the first batch of students trained in the history and theory of lighting design, who will look at light from a phenomenological point of view, as well as learning its mechanics and techniques. If we do that,, he claimed, We'll be doing what no one else does.. Anna Holtzman is a New Yorkkbased writer.

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Emerging Voices
JEAN VONG

The Architectural League of New York has named its newest crop of Emerging Voices. Since its inception in 1982, the program has served as a coming out for architects and designers, giving promising new talents a platform to share their ideas and work. 2005's featured firms talk about beauty, vent pipes, blue trees, and asking whether or not a client actually needs a building.

March 17

Taryn Christoff
Martin Finio
Hadrian Predock
John Frane

6:30 p.m.
Scholastic Auditorium
557 Broadway

March 23

Claude Cormier
Douglas Reed
Gary Hilderbrand

6:30 p.m.
Urban Center
457 Madison Ave.

March 31

Pablo Castro
Jennifer Lee
John Ronan

6:30 p.m.
Urban Center
457 Madison Ave.

April 7

John Hartmann
Lauren Crahan
Zoltan Pali

6:30 p.m.
Urban Center
457 Madison Ave.

 

Christoff:Finio Architecture
Manhattan

Elizabeth Felicella

Taryn Christoff and Martin Finio founded their joint practice in 1999. The firm has since completed many New Yorkkarea projects at an intimate scale, including the Catherine Malandrino store (2004), the headquarters of the Heckscher Foundation for Children on the Upper East Side (2005), and a beach house in New Jersey (pictured below). Their design for an aquaculture center in Aalborg, Denmark (above), was included in the National Building Museum show Liquid Stone: New Architecture in Concrete.

While Taryn and I come from the culture of crafttit is part of our makeuppthe practice is evolving to the point where we want to test and even antagonize this sense of ourselves. Emerging technology interests us, but in the sense that we can use the formal possibilities of new modeling technologies to let us explore ways to make the world around us less familiar. It can make you question anew how buildings are built and how we live in them. We're interested in the way it compresses the line between drawing and the realities of fabrication, and while we haven't done as much of that yet, the promise is definitely there.

We don't put much focus on form-driven architecture but are looking for an architecture that works, solves the problems of the program, and looks good. We've also been called emergingg for a long time and are still evolving, so next year maybe our processes and work will be different. Martin Finio

 

Claude Cormier Architectes paysagistes
Montreal

Richard Barnes

Claude Cormier established his five-member landscape architecture firm in 1995. His work includes large-scale master plans for Montreal landmarks such as Place-des-Arts (2002) and Old Port (2000), urban plazas like Place Youville (pictured below), and small gardens such Blue Tree (above), an installation at the Cornerstone Festival of Architectural Gardens in Sonoma, California. Cormier is currently working on a project for the University of Quebec and an urban beach for Toronto.

Janet Rosenberg

Three elements we think are important: that each project make good, logical sense; that it is visually interesting; and that it has a sense of humor. Everything is so serious! There is never a break anywhere, ever. Sometimes it's not bad to surprise people and show a touch of one's sensibility. We use a lot of color, since there is room for it in the public, urban landscapes we typically work in. Of course, it must be done with an understanding of the space around it, and that is where the logical common sense comes in. Sometimes there is a furorrpeople say A tree is not blue!!?but conflict is not always bad. It can challenge one's sense of perception. Art does this, and so why can't landscapes? Claude Cormier

 

Freecell
Brooklyn

courtesy freecell

John Hartmann and Lauren Crahan founded Freecell in 1998 and were joined by associate Corey Yurkovich in 2002. Recent projects include MOISTscape, an installation at Henry Urbach Architecture (2004), Reconfiguring Space at Art in General (2003, pictured above), and Type A Studio (2004). The firm is working on a roof deck on the Lower East Side, a house in Florida, and a brownstone
renovation in Brooklyn. Both Hartmann and Crahan teach design studio at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Photography, painting, and drawing are important parts of the background of our work. We're fascinated with the lure of cities, even if we can't explain the appeal of certain objects in them. Taking hundreds or thousands of photographs of things we are drawn to is a way of discovering what those things are and why we like them; the pictures reveal color and form, or density and sparseness, and those qualities inevitably inform the architecture created.

When people ask how we choose the colors in our projects, I think of pictures of the incredible saturation of the orange-yellow glow of sodium halide lights on the street. We wouldn't mimic the light, but we can draw on that atmosphere and its quality for a project. The repetition of vent pipes on a building is also appealing, so the same type of repetition shows up in the book cave we did for Shortwave Bookstore [pictured above].

With drawing and painting, it is as simple as strengthening your ability to observe and concentrate. Something about forced concentration leads to a much more detailed knowledge of a thing, and that knowledge then becomes a part of you and the way you think and work. John Hartmann

 

OBRA Architects
Manhattan

courtesy obra architects

Pablo Castro and Jennifer Lee left Steven Holl Architects in 2000 to found OBRA. Recent projects include an exhibition at the Rhode Island School of Design entitled Architettura Povera (2004, pictured above) and the Tittot Glass Art Museum in Taipei, China (below). The firm is currently working on three projects in New York: Rockville Center Apartments, Motion Technology Manufacturing Facility and Offices, and a residence in Long Island designed with Steven Holl Architects. A house in San Juan, Argentina, will finish construction in late 2005.

For us, competitions are the engines that propel us forward. While we try not to do the same thing each time,
we are always interested in things like trees, running water, and people, which can take either metaphorical or actual form.

We all live in a technological age, and sometimes design seems to come down to choosing from a series of products. We try to address, subvert, and finally transcend that. We're interested in laser-cutting, but not as an objective in itself. We want to use it in a way that looks beyond the limitations of the technology itself, and towards its unpredictability. Since so many things can be homogenized by technology, we want to look at the potential of architecture to bring back a sense of identity.

Architecture is a living thing, a strange mirror that can bring us back to our own forgotten condition. Pablo Castro

 

Predock_Frane Architects
Santa Monica

courtesy predock_Frane architects

Hadrian Predock left his father Antoine Predock's firm in 2000 to start a practice with John Frane. The duo's work was included in the 2004 Venice Biennale, and current projects include the Central California Museum of History in Fresno, and two projects for Zen Buddhist groups: the Desert Hot Springs Zen Retreat in California (pictured above) and the Center of Gravity Foundation in northern New Mexico (below). They are also collaborating with the elder Predock on an inn at the French Laundry in Napa.

jason predock

We don't like the word contextualism, because it is such a codified and constrained term. So often, when people use it, they are just referring to other architectures. You have to ask What is context?? It can be the culture of the people or an artificial, imposed landscape as much as anything original. At the French Laundry, there is both the culture of Napa, and also [chef] Thomas Keller's conceptual approach and set of tools. In the Mojave Desert [Zen retreat], we are dealing with a set of positive and negative environmental forces. There is always wind and usually people try to block that force or funnel it awayyit is a negative. But you can also use it to elaborate the spatial sequences you are creating. We think you find deeper meanings and more intricacy when you start to think about all of these relationships and interactions.

As for our process, there are two parallel tracks, the pragmatic and the conceptual. You have to know how many bathrooms there should be, but you can also question the programmdo they even need a building?  John Frane and Hadrian Predock

 

Reed Hilderbrand landscape architecture
Boston

courtesy reed hilderbrand
landscape architecture

Douglas Reed founded his landscape architecture practice in 1993, and was joined by principal Gary Hilderbrand in 1997. Recent projects include the Children's Therapeutic garden in Wellesley, Massachusetts (pictured above) and Hither Lane, a private garden in East Hampton (below). The firm is currently working on several projects in the Boston and Somerville area, such as the waterfront near the New England Aquarium, a commission from Harvard University, and, with Tadao Ando, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown.

We are increasingly working in brownfield sites, but while the term is a relatively new one, the idea is not. In the 19th century, Olmsted took abused parts of the city and made something extraordinary. We see ourselves as engaging
in a long tradition, but in contemporary terms and with contemporary expression.

In our work, we look for clarity, brevity, and simplicity. It is a process of reducing a complex series of elements to something apparently simple and serene, but not simplistic. To endow an urban site with those qualities is a big challenge, but I think a great thing. Some of these characteristics are really ancient things, and we aren't afraid of gestures that are emotive or mysterious.

We have always celebrated the richness of vegetation, and are interested in the expressive use of plants and grading as a medium to convey ideas.  Gary Hilderbrand

 

John Ronan Architect
Chicago

courtesy John Ronan Architect

John Ronan founded his solo practice in 1997. In 2004, he won the competition to design a 472,000-square-foot high school for Perth Amboy, New Jersey (pictured above, left), and completed an addition to the Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. Current projects include a youth center for the South Shore Drill Team in Chicago (above, right), houses in Chicago and on Lake Michigan, and a residential conversion of the Yale Steam Laundry in Washington, DC.

I tend to work from reality backwardssI start off by asking what can I do with this?? instead of developing a notion, and then making that idea conform to what is already on the ground. That is a part of my interest in programmatic sustainability, or how buildings change and evolve over time. That often means designing spaces that can be manipulated by their users; the focus is on space over form. I start with spatial exploration, but material investigation also comes in very early in the process, and can have a truly generative role.

I think that one forges meaning through the interdependency of structure, materials, and space. At a certain point, the three come together, and you can't change one without changing the others.  John Ronan

 

SPF:a
Los Angeles

courtesy spf:a

Zoltan E. Pali established Pali and Associates in 1988, and in 1996 Jeffrey Stenfors and Judit Fekete joined Pali to found Stenfors, Pali, Fekete:architects, or SPF:a. The firm's recent work includes barn at the Sharpe House in Somis, California (2004, pictured above, left), and the Bluejay Way Residence in Los Angeles (2005, above, right). SPF:a is working with the Nederlander Organization on a project to restore Los Angeles' Greek Theater in Griffith Park and is transforming a warehouse into a charter school, also in L.A.

Some people want to wake up and reinvent architecture every Monday morning, but many of the results disappear pretty quickly. I'm not interested in being a formalist. Playing around with form is an un-objective way of going about design. I try to be as clear, concise, and objective as I can, so that it is not just my ideas that define a project, but what is there. I also enjoy the interaction with creative clients, and finding out what is in their heads.

I am much more interested in new materials and technologies and how you incorporate them into built structures for the betterment of the environment. That process is what generates the formmit comes from the way you choose to solve a problem. I always want to find beauty along the way. If I had to make a choice, I would sacrifice the new for beauty, since architecture is not about being the next new thing.  Zoltan Pali

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Mall City

Critics have long cried foul over the construction of malls in New York City's densest borough, and in recent years developers have dropped the term in favor of euphemisms like vertical retail environment.. Asks Deborah Grossberg, are the indoor shopping mazes rising up across town really a different breed?

Malls are a menace to New York: they drain the life out of vibrant neighborhoods by siphoning customers away from street-level retail and repelling Manhattan residents, leaving behind chintzy eyesores crowded with vacationing suburbanites. Or at least that's the conventional wisdom. But in recent years, as big-box stores and glitzy mall developments planned and funded in the bull-market 1990s appear in high-traffic pedestrian areas from Union Square to Harlem, fears among urban planners and theorists have shifted focus. New York City developers and architects have improved on the old models for urban malls, and the rapid gentrification spurred on by Mayor Giuliani's city clean-up effort combined with the development-friendly policies of the Bloomberg administration have encouraged a mall-city merger on a broader scale. While the new urban malls are more profitable and better connected to the street, small-scale street-level retail has started to look increasingly homogenized, chained-out, and mall-like.

 

uwe ditz photography,
courtesy the related companies

When Manhattan's first enclosed shopping malls opened in the 1980s, urban planners and theorists worried that the new megaplexes might herald an era of suburbanization for New York. Everyone was enraged when Trump built his mall 20 years ago and now it seems relatively benign,, said architect and critic Michael Sorkin. I'm a bit agnostic about these new developments.. Other critics have been less tentative. In December, one of the most popular new developmentssThe Shops at Columbus Circleewon the Municipal Art Society's (MAS) 2003 MASterwork Award in Urban Design for the best new privately owned public space. Rick Bell, executive director of AIA-NY and one of the award jurors, said, Since 9/11, many of the city's great public atriums have been closed off to pedestrians due to security concerns. The entrance hall at the Shops is an indoor-outdoor space with spectacular Central Park views that's open to all New Yorkers..

Malls have always been the domain of the middle class, and though the new Manhattan developments vary from bargain-basement to the height of luxury, they still represent a populist influence on the city's retail. Politicians and planners usually use malls as lures for the white middle class, but for Manhattan it's been reversed,, said Jeffrey Hardwick, author of Mall Maker: Victor Gruen, Architect of an American Dream (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004). The middle class has come back to Manhattan and malls have followed..

Some say that the relative silence of mall-haters is the result of a wising-up on the part of the city's retail developers. Developers and retailers have gotten smarter about building in Manhattan,, said Peter Slatin, creator of the real estate news website The Slatin Report. They're working together to make more integrated vertical malls..

In attempting to redefine the urban mall, today's developers begin by banishing the term itself. Early shopping centers like the Manhattan Mall, which opened in 1989 at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 33rd Street, stuck to straightforward names and standard mall design. Introverted shops and cheap ddcor marked them for what they were. Those malls never resonated with New Yorkers,, said Bell. New mall developers avoid that negative image, instead conjuring jargon like vertical retail environment,, which is The Related Companies and Apollo Real Estate Advisors' preferred tag for their Columbus Circle shopping development.

courtesy manhattan mall

Historically, making vertical retail work has been impossible in a city where land values are too high to give the classic two-story mall model financial feasibility. In order to draw shoppers up to higher levels, architects and developers have improved connections to the neighborhood outside, executing transparent, extroverted designs.

Harlem USA, the shopping development at the corner of 125th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard that opened in 2001, emphatically rejected the typical introverted suburban mall style invented by Viennese architect Victor Gruen in his 1956 prototype for the modern mall, The Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota. At Southdale, Gruen closed off stores from the street, taking total control of the retail environment. When SOM was commissioned by Grid Properties to design Harlem USA, the firm focused on turning the Gruen model inside out. We created an anti-mall,, said Mustafa Abadan, the project's manager at SOM. The roots of New York retail are at the street level, and the idea was to engage that energy, to draw it in by orienting out.. SOM did away with internal circulation; The upper floors of individual stores are only reachable through escalators within the stores, and the lobbies of the third floor movie theater, accessible via an independent street-level entrance, face outwards. Even though the stores are bigger, they maintain the essential New York street typology,, said Abadan.

bob zucker courtesy som

Harlem USA has drawn much more negative press than the Shops due to its location in an historic neighborhood. Area shop owners make the standard arguments that chains have drawn business away from mom-and-pops, and that the character of the neighborhood is suffering. Others see the development as an important step in Harlem's economic renaissance. Harlem USA brought customers to the neighborhood who would otherwise have shopped on 34th Street or Downtown,, said Abadan.

The Vornado Realty Trust shopping development at the southwest corner of Union Square also used transparency to ensnare shoppers. In Manhattan, people see shopping as sport,, said JJ Falk, principal of JJ Falk Design, the firm that designed the Filene's Basement, DSW Shoe Warehouse, and interior circulation for Vornado's Union Square development. It's like visiting a museummif people like what they see, they'll stay in the space longer.. A glass towerr of circulation is meant to draw street traffic up from the Union Square transport hub, and Falk located the escalators within the three-story Filene's Basement flush with floor-to-ceiling glass walls facing Union Square. It's like you're in the park,, said Falk.

 

courtesy jj falk design

DSW and Filene's opened at the Union Square location in October and a Whole Foods Market is slated to open later this year. Although preliminary sales data for the stores were unavailable, Falk said that the entire construction cost for the project would be recouped in six months should current sales trends continue.

Neighborhood tie-in was important to developers of The Shops at Columbus Circle as well. It was first a matter of creating great spaces for pedestrian passage to tie the city together,, said Howard Elkus, a principal at Elkus/Manfredi, the Boston-based firm specializing in retail architecture that designed the Shops. Their design weaves the retail space of the Shops into the city grid with two axes of circulation, one curving around Columbus Circle's arc, and the other sweeping up 59th Street into a five-story, 150-foot-high great room.. The minimal boundary between mall and street was emphasized through James Carpenter Design Associates' design for the entryway's faaade, an 85-foot-wide, 150-foot-tall cable net glass wall that boasts the title of largest in the world.

Besides an emphasis on transparency, Related and Apollo banked on the position of the 365,000-square-foot Shops at the heart of the 2.8-million-square-foot mixed-use Time Warner Center (designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) to offset the enormous cost of building in New York (The Time Warner Center cost a total of $1.7 billion) and to justify the astronomical annual rents for prime retail space ($300 to $400 per square foot). The classic anchor store model was supplemented with luxury residences, high-end office space, five top-tier restaurants, and a concert venue for Jazz at Lincoln Center (designed by Rafael Viioly Architects). The Shops therefore have a better chance to become a destination for shoppers from New York as well as farther afield.

Moreover, the development's high-end mix of shops is as good a fit for Upper West Side shoppers on the way home from work as it is for tourists making a beeline from Times Square to Central Park. One big attraction has been the 60,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market in the complex's basement. Although some complain about the grocery store's high prices, most have seen it as a godsend. Cities don't need malls to function as community centers as they do in the suburbs, but when they're combined with the things that people loveeand in New York that begins with fooddthey have greater potential for success,, said Bell..

The approach to luring customers with extensive mixed-use developments comes closer to realizing the utopian dreams of early mall designers like Gruen. At Southdale, Gruen planned apartments, a park, a medical center, even schools to accompany the mall. It looked like a Corbusier plan with towers and green space,, said Hardwick. Gruen's fantasy suburban city was scrapped for lack of budget, a fact to which he often attributed the ultimate decay of his vision.

The question now is whether the inclusion of residential, cultural, and palette- pleasing elements will function as planned. It's unclear whether it will actually pay off, or whether it's just a new PR spin,, said Hardwick. Now nearing its first anniversary, the Shops report promising numbers, with higher sales than expected and 99 percent of its 347,000 square-feet of leasable space occupied.

The South Street Seaport mall is one decades old development that has consistently struggled to turn a profit.

courtesy south street seaport

As malls adapt to embrace city life, planners seem more concerned about what urban historian and professor at Harvard's GSD Margaret Crawford termed spontaneous malling,, the process by which an urban space starts to take on the qualities of a mall without the aid of developers. At this point, Broadway in SoHo is a total mall,, said Crawford, who wrote the essay The World in a Shopping Malll published in Sorkin's Variations on a Theme Park (Noonday Press, 1992). Broadway, which used to sport hip boutiques and galleries, is now lined with chain outlets like Old Navy, Crate & Barrel, and Sephoraathe same stores found in suburban malls. Spontaneous malling is happening more and more, and cities consider it desirable since it attracts suburban shoppers, in this case from New Jersey..

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are often the culprits in emerging street-as-mall phenomenon in New York. By organizing signage, street furniture, wayfinding, and even the uniforms for garbage collectors, BIDs often induce mall-like situations. Said Slatin, It's a constant tug-of-war over whether to homogenize a neighborhood or leave the jumble. There's value in the order, especially in terms of security and comfort for tourists, but at the same time the city has a way of making its own order..

Manhattan has managed to remake malls in its image, while the traits that make up malls have quietly bled into the city's fabric. There have always been cries that the mall is going to kill things or that it's dying,, said Hardwick. The amazing thing is how flexible the form actually is.. Even in a city with such a vibrant retail culture, the mall has found ways to penetrate. The end result in Manhattan has been two surprisingly similar variations: the mall as city and the city as mall.

 Deborah grossberg is an associate editor at an.

Eavesdrop Issue 02_02.02.2005

LOVEGROVE IN ACTION; GOVERNMENT INACTION
It seems that Ross Lovegrove has learned that no good deed goes unpunished at least in cases where national pride is involved. We happened to find out that, when the recent tsunamis hit Phuket in Thailand, the well-known British designer and his architect wife, Miska Miller, were staying at the island's plush Amanpuri resort. Left physically unscathed, they sprang into action, helping to raise money from other guests for the relief effort. However, other attempts at providing assistance were less successful. While none of the parties directly involved could be reached for comment, we're told that Lovegrove also contacted some of the manufacturers he designs for, including Vitra, and secured pledges of furniture to help refurbish local schools. However, the Thai government refused the offers. They didn't want to be considered a third world country in the eyes of the world,, a friend of the couple reports. They said, Offer the stuff to Sri Lanka, we can take care of ourselves.'' That's odd, considering that, in the tsunami's aftermath, the Thai government has been widely accused of taking better care of tourists than its own people.

EAU MY!
Leave it to Herzog & de Meuron to tackle the froufrou world of fragrances and come out with a conceptual meditation. The Swiss master architects have released a limited edition, unisex perfume that includes tangs of, among other things, patchouli, cinnamon, and Rhine water, dog, and shit. We want to destabilize our prejudices about smells, just like we try to do with our architecture,, Jacques Herzog told us when we met him for breakfast at some ungodly hour and were feeling a bit destabilized ourselves. Named after Rotterdam, where it's being debuted in conjunction with the firm's current retrospective at the Netherlands Architecture Institute, the fragrance is the first in a planned series that will each take after a different city, with an emphasis on the role scents play in memory and perceptions of space. We shudder to think what our beloved New York might inspire, though we sure have enough buildings that truly stink.

A PRODUCT PLUG
Tom Dixon has done it. So has Marc Newson. Now, in time for Valentine's Day, add Matali Crasset to the list of star designers who have had their hand at, um, male anatomical substitutes. We were caught off guard when we visited Crasset's Paris studio several months ago and first saw renderings of the (non-motorized) red silicone dohickey she created for the Paris retailer Point G. With blobby contours, and the expected proportions, it's meant to double as a bedside sculptural object for those who know what they want and aren't ashamed to show it.

THE OFFICE WIND TUNNEL
Let us first say that we did not solicit this information, and we apologize for passing it on, so to speak. But which namesake partner of a prominent three-surname firm has been grossing out his employees with his out-of-control flatulence problem? It's as if the long hours and meager salaries weren't cruel enough. Every time we spot him coming,, one staffer reports, practically dry heaving, we try to get away as fast as we can..

LET SLIP:achen@archpaper.com

Eavesdrop Issue 18_11.02_2004

HERE WE GO AGAINN
Geesh, will people please stop sending us gossip about the Cooper-Hewitt? Just to recap, there was that tidbit we reported about a Dennis Kozlowskian $159,000 that the museum spent on a new admissions desk. And a proposed karaoke night that was meant to boost employee morale (yikes). Then there was that in-house PowerPoint presentation on e-mail etiquette (example: E-mail is NOT an outlet for emotionn), a copy of which happened to land in our inbox. And now we're told that, in an effort to stop further leaks, the museum temporarily shut down the e-mail accounts of at least two employees, simply because we were listed in their address books. We wonder what that did for morale. Apparently not much, because the stories keep comingglike about how the new Chief Financial Officer, Ellen Ehrenkranz, allegedly insists on being called Ms. Ehrenkranz.. Just as sassy is curatorial director Barbara Bloemink, who we've learned has a Vegas showgirl-style makeup table (with lighted mirror)) in her office, along with shelves of shoes for which museum workmen recently built concealing cabinet doors. We actually think this makes them both kind of fab. But we were disturbed by the museum's Orwellian crackdown on those e-mail accounts (and not because we got our scoops from themmwe didn't). That's just creepy.

NOTABLE NUPTIALS
The die-cut flowers were brought out for the October 16 wedding of Dutch-born design superstar Tord Boontje, 36, and his longtime partner and collaborator, glass artist Emma Woffenden, 42. With the help of a double-decker bus, guests at the London civil ceremony, at the Peckham registry office, were shuttled to a reception at the Royal College of Art, where the two met in 1994. That was followed by a shindig at an art gallery which, according to friend and hip London designer Ab Rogers, was full of their work, as well as a live band, lots of champagne, dancing and children. It was a very daytime affair.. He continues, I could send you very torrid photos of Tord's stag party, but he would never speak to me againn?If you've noticed an inexplicable bounce in Julie Lasky's step, it's because she also got marrieddthough secretly. That's right, on August 25, the 44-year-old I.D. Magazine editor-in-chief eloped with former Wall Street Journal reporter and freelance writer Ernest Beck, 52. The two clandestinely tied the knot, both for the first time, at City Hall. We got married to expedite the adoption process,, Lasky explains. Yep, they're also in the process of adopting a baby girl from China. But why elope? There's no amount of pomp and circumstance that beats the pleasure of a two-minute ceremony,, Lasky sayss Meanwhile, we've learned that the previously confirmed bachelor and golden-maned man-about-town Christopher Mount, 41, is finally engagedd or, rather, engaged to be engaged. The former Museum of Modern Art design curator and current Parsons director of public programs is planning to pop the question to girlfriend Stephanie Emerson, 36, who will leave her job ashead of publications at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to move to New York. I don't know,, Mount said when we asked when he would make it official. Soon. By Christmas. Yeah, by Christmas..

LET SLIP:achen@archpaper.com

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THE NEW, TRUE SPIRIT

Singular glories are a thing of the past, writes Andrew Yang. Architecture firmssbig and small, young and established, independent and corporateeare collaborating to create new design models, in project and in practice.

This past summer, Sir Richard Rogers arrived in New York, where his firm, Richard Rogers Partnership, had just been awarded a contract to redesign New York's East River Waterfront from Battery Park to the Lower East Sideea commission landed with SHoP Architects. We're not really about conquering,, he told The Architect's Newspaper at the time. We're more about collaboration.. Rogers, whose first major project was a collaboration with Renzo Piano to create the Centre Georges Pompidou, is echoing a level of openness that has helped his 30-year-old practice integrate its resources with the young upstart SHoP, an office that is less than ten years old and heavily influenced by new technologies.

As the competition for plum projects becomes more cut-throat, firms are increasingly taking less of a divide and conquer attitude, and opting for an approach that is more open to exchange and sharinggeverything from office space to design fees. Since the competition to design Ground Zero resulted in ber-teams like Steven Holl, Richard Meier, and Peter Eisenman; United Architects (UN Studio, Foreign Office Architects, Greg Lynn), and THINK (Frederic Schwartz, Rafael Viioly, Shigeru Ban), SHoP and Rogers is only one of many high-profile design teams that have emerged to take on large, complex public projects. When competing for large-scale urban redevelopment undertakings such as the High Line, the East River Waterfront, speculative projects for New York's Olympic bid, and others, pooling talent has become de rigueur, if not en vogue.

The idea that architecture is shaped by one all-powerful creative geniusssuch as the mighty hand of Corbbis slowly starting to dissipate as built realities become more complicated. While contributions to large projects have always necessitated a variety of different playerss structural engineers, architects of record, lighting specialists, interior designers, graphic design consultants, landscape architects, et ceteraanever before has the role of design lead been so open to interpretation by designers themselves.

Landscape designer Diana Balmori and architect Joel Sanders' collaborative design of the equestrian center for NYC2012 (top). Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Olafur Eliasson, Piet Oudolf, and Buro Happold's winning entry in the High Line competition (left).

The practice of stacking a team to include the expertise or profile required by a particular RFQ or RFP is nothing new. It's also common for firms with international work to bring on local partners to help realize projects in contexts with which they are unfamiliar. After winning the competition to design the new headquarters for The New York Times, Renzo Piano tapped Fox & Fowle Architects for its experience building skyscrapers in New York City (Fox & Fowle is behind many of the tall buildings in Times Square, including the Condd Nast Building, not far from The New York Times site). When the two firms started working together, the project really started over again,, explained Bruce Fowle. As the firm began to integrate Piano's design with the restraints of New York's Byzantine building codes, the design altered drastically. Along with other details, a dramatic cantilever in the base was eliminated in favor of a more realistic structure. Previously, many collaborative arrangements have seen one firm leading the others, and the others working in the service of the lead firm. The nature of collaborations might be shifting, however, with firms seeking collaborations not out of necessity but out of desire to enrich their own design processes and, ultimately, the final product.

Zaha Hadid Architects with Balmori Associates, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, and Studio MDA's finalist design for the High Line competition (left).

When the firm Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer disbanded last summer after 37 years of practice, partner Hugh Hardy named his new venture H3 Hardy Collaboration. We're not making an exclusive practice of just working with other architects. We think of collaboration as a big idea,, said Hardy, who is working with Frank Gehry on a new theater for the Brooklyn Academy of Music cultural district, as well as entering into a competition with Enrique Norten for a new theater at Ground Zero. The collaboration involved with each projectteven when it's your own firm projecttinvolves everybodyyclients, consultantsseverybody..

The close circles of the architecture profession often dictate the many reciprocal relationships that now crowd the competition scene. While Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos have built their practice, UN Studio, on a model of collaborations between various specialists for years, the United Architects team is one of the most visible and memorable collaborative efforts within recent years. The relationships among its membersswhich include New Yorkkbased designers Reiser+Umemoto and Kevin Kennon and Mikon von Gastel of the motion-graphics studio Imaginary Forcesshad been in place for many years when they all decided to participate in the WTC competition together. In our case, we were teaching and became friends, and slowly began to influence each other's work,, explained van Berkel. Some members of the group had met at a conference years ago that was organized by Jeffrey Kipnis at Ohio State University. There were heavy brainstorms of the quality of each other's work,, said van Berkel. The relationships were beginning to form. Nobody knew it at that time, but we called ourselves The Ohio Group.' We were invisible at the time..

Meanwhile, SHoP's partnership with Rogers' firm resulted from a simple cold call. According to Chris Sharples, one of the five partners of SHoP, the firm had wanted to go after the East River project, but did not have enough significant civic projects under its belt. SHoP had always wanted to work with Rogers. So they called London, and the rest is becoming history.

Regardless of how collaborations are formed, many architects are finding the experience rewarding. Since winning the job earlier this year, both SHoP and Rogers have learned to integrate their operations, despite the dramatic difference in each office's size. We've gained a tremendous amount of knowledge working with their team,, said Sharples. There's a lot in their partner structure that we'd like to integrate into our office in the futuree?for example, weekly directors' meetings (at Rogers, partners are titled directors) to review each other's projects.

The Arnhem Central Station by UN Studio and engineer Cecil Balmond

However, not all collaborative relationships are as rewarding and collegial as they may seem. There have been several reports that, within both the Holl/Meier/Eisenman and United Architects teams, one architect's vision eventually came to dominate that of the others. The issue of credit, too, is (as it's always been) a potential minefield, with participantssand perhaps more problematically, the mediaaeager to point out individual contributions. There's also the threat of one party running off with the commission, or controlling it to the extent that it can dump other collaboratorsssomething that architect Michael Sorkin unfortunately experienced when he teamed up with landscape architect Margie Ruddick for the Queens Plaza project earlier this year.

Landscape architect Diana Balmori, a finalist for the High Line competition, a team consisting of Zaha Hadid, Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, and Studio MDA, warned that working relationships need to be carefully considered, and that collaborations often don't work the way they seem to. Speaking from her own experiences, she said, Right now, the model is very different than it was in the past [for landscape architects]. Collaboration didn't workkand doesn't work,, she said, since most collaborations come in the wake of a scramble for RFPs that doesn't allow the time for proper exchange. Teams are built for the sole purpose of assembling an image, and that really doesn't give you the time to put the different pieces together..

The High Line project, which was eventually awarded to the formidable team of Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Olafur Eliasson, Piet Oudolf, and Buro Happold, was heavily sought after by teams that consisted of not only structural engineers and landscape architects but also graphic designers, artists, and consultants for elevators, lighting, and historic preservation. The High Line was one of those rare cases, a very satisfying experience,, said Balmori. As a team, we were able to put the pieces together and start integrating something with much greater vision. The problem is, we lost the competition before we got to that part.. In the end, she reflected, the architecture remained totally by itself and we were never able to put it in the big image..

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The New York Times headquarters has been a collaborative effort by Renzo Piano Building Workshop and Fox & Fowle Architects.

Image, however, might have everything to do with trend toward collaboration. Beyond the expectation of super-teams producing super-projects, a star-studded team is a marketer's (and developer's and politician's) dream. Never mind the actual results. A project could be considered a blockbuster on the basis of its cast alone (think of Ocean's Eleven).

A less skeptical reading of this trend, however, is the genuine interest that many architects express in expanding process and sharing ideas. The assembly of architects as a true union of peers is a heartening development in a field where a big ego is a survival tool and in a world that has not yet lost its taste for signature architecture. For some, eschewing the star vehicless of the past in favor of collaboration is the best expression of the balance of ideas that design should embody.

Since the High Line experience, Balmori has made a permanent commitment of sorts to working with architect Joel Sanders to pursue projects, an effort that has required reorganizing each office. Their first joint project was the design of an equestrian center for New York's Olympic bid. The alliance between a landscape architect and an architect is hardly unusual but this sustained and equal collaboration is telling of how Balmori and Sanders approach their work. They see contextthow a building fits into its surroundingssas a paramount concern and don't regard one aspect of a project as any more or less important than another.

Collaborations must be carefully considered, however. Because we're not a style-based practice, we're not trying to protect something or impose something on a project that doesn't want it,, said Sharples. If we were working with someone with a strong style, they would want to make sure that their style is in there.. They found a perfect match. According to Ivan Harbour, a director at Richard Rogers Partnership, Our approach is very fluiddit's not We want this, this, and this.''

This collaborative mode of practice may not be possible or even desirable for every projectt?I don't think you'll be putting together five architects to design an Alessi teapot,, joked van Berkel, who is working with engineer Cecil Balmond on the Arnhem Central Station. However, there is an increased demand and conscientiousness on the part of the client, according to van Berkel. Now we've noticed that clients are becoming more sophisticated. They have their own specialists, including marketing people,, said van Berkel. As long as they get a good product, he explained, they don't care about how many names they have to put on the press release..

This is really about creating ways to allow the profession to evolve,, said Sharples, who, along with his colleagues, set out as young architects to explore the feasibility of a decentralized five-way partnership. We're finding that [in larger projects], it requires a collective enterprise.. Given all the factors now at play in designntechnology, sustainability, contextualismmthe answer is rarely going to come from one place. And that's how architects have to sell themselves,, he said.  ANDREW YANG IS A CONTRIBUTOR TO AN, AND ALSO A WRITER FOR WALLPAPER, DWELL, AND THE NEW YORK TIMES

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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 Shipping News
 
 

As shipping containers begin to break out of Red Hook, Elizabeth, New Jersey, and the outer-borough rail yards that are their natural habitat, and show up on the Upper East Side's museum row, it is fair to ask: Why containers, and why now? The architectural zeitgeist has settled -- at least for the summer -- on the container as the building material of moment. In New York City, two projects are on display: Sean Godsell's Future Shack is currently in the garden of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and LOT-EK's Mobile Dwelling Unit will open on July 1 in the Sculpture Court at the Whitney Museum of American Art. (Another container-based project, Adam Kalkin's Quik House, was installed this spring at Deitch Projects in SoHo as a part of the gallery's exhibition, Suburban House Kit. It closed on March 27.)

LOT-EK's Mobile Dwelling Unit (MDU) is the prototype of what the firm imagines could be a moveable living space that would plug into a purpose-made vertical infrastructure dock in cities around the world. The 40-foot container is fitted out with zones for sleeping, living, bathing, cooking, and working. Once it is lifted into place and attached to the hypothetical dock, each zone could slide out, creating a useable series of rooms. When the occupants want to go elsewhere, they could undock or replace individual zone modules so that the MDU's profile is once again that of a standard container, and move on.

Godsell's Future Shack represents a more Spartan approach to refitting a container for domestic uses than the MDU, but since it was conceived as a potential solution for housing refugees around the world, its rough and ready quality makes sense. The interior is clad with plywood sheets, and skylights provide interior light. A shed roof above the container is fitted with solar panels to provide electricity. Godsell had been working on the idea for several years, but since entering the Future Shack in the nonprofit group Architecture for Humanity's competition for housing refugees in Kosovo, the project has garnered notice and credibility.

Kalkin's first container project was actually a performance piece, but since then, he has moved closer to the unglamorous concerns of cheap housing. The tongue-in-cheek order form that accompanied his Deitch installation may have been the last gasp for the performative elements of his projects, because he says he is now developing ideas about containers as housing in Afghanistan.

These contemporaries clearly have some superficial similarities, but each seems to have used the shipping container as a vessel for decidedly different ideas. While Godsell's no-nonsense approach uses an abundant and inexpensive resource for its possibilities for speedy assembly and reasonably low cost to house people in need, Kalkin coyly references everything from Duschamp's multiples to 1950s ideas of modern living. Meanwhile, LOT-EK's Ada Tolla explained part of her and partner Giuseppe Lignano's fascination with shipping containers stems from the fact that they embody a much larger global system. "It is not just an object that sits," she said. "It has connotations of Asia and Africa, and the infrastructure behind this network. We try to transport that network and its systems into architecture."

The abundance of shipping containers is a byproduct of a trade imbalance that means that many more arrive in the United States than leaves. In and around New York, shipping containers are as numerous and unwanted as pigeons, with thousands arriving every year. The costs for their shippers to have them return, empty, runs up to $9000which is not much less than the cost of buying them. From the windows of the PATH train to Newark, one can see yards with countless multi-colored containers stacked high, waiting for freight that may never arrive. This glut has made them fairly cheap to buy: Depending on condition, a basic model begins at about $2,000.

People have been using shipping containers for things other than storage for a long time now -- without the help of architects, thank you very much. The yard on the outskirts of Newark periodically doubles as an unofficial homeless shelter. An auto body shop in Williamsburg uses several containers to house everything from spare parts and offices to a pair of understandably irritable Rottweilers who guard the lot at night. Seabox.com, the website of a container manufacturing and outfitting firm in East Riverton, New Jersey, shows pictures of containers tricked out as a shed with aluminum siding and Palladian windows, and in one truly impressive case, a mobile home for an elephant.

Circus animals, guard dogs, and monkey wrenches are no longer the only ones to enjoy such accommodations though. Beyond LOT-EK, Godsell, and Kalkin, firms including Jones, Partners: Architects, Jennifer Siegal's Office of Mobile Design, and even typically mild-mannered Fox & Fowle have developed proposalssand in Siegal's case, actually builttfor projects ranging from single-family houses to large-scale, multi-unit developments. While Jones and Siegal have both used the boxes as the basis for prefabricated houses, Fox & Fowle's award-winning entry to a Boston Society of Architects ideas competition sketches out a development of 351 live/work units on a 18.5 acre brownfield site in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The plan is still more of a conceptual exercise than anything at this point, according to lead architect Mark Strauss. Strauss says that he chose containers as the building block because of their structural qualities and the chance to address the problem of their abundance.

From a material standpoint, it is easy to see why the homely shipping container has seduced so many architects. They have a steel framework that is not compromised when several are stacked up, and steel or aluminum cladding that can be modified or stripped away fairly easily. Containers are often insulated and waterproof, and come with wooden floors. There are international size standards, with the most typical modules being 8 feet wide, 8 feet and 6 inches high, and 20 feet long.

The London-based real estate development and management firm Urban Space Management has demonstrated the practical and urbanistic potential of container-based buildings in Container City on Trinity Wharf in the Docklands. In creating artists' live/work spaces, they found the cost to construct a new building would have amounted to 120 per square foottabout three times what artists typically pay for studio space. Containers were an affordable and structurally efficient alternative. The first Container City, completed in 2000, was so successful that two others have followed.

According to both Ada Tolla and Mark Strauss, the short answer to the question of shipping container's sudden appearance in the spotlight is a straightforward one: Because they are there, and there are so many of them. Their long answers are more complex (and very different) but also suggest that shipping containers, because of the variety of ways architects (and people) approach them, may not always be relegated to their rusty piles along the waterfront.

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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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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, www.nyc.gov/freshkills), 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.