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Philip Courtelyou Johnson

Issue 03_02.16.2005

Philip Courtelyou Johnson 
1906-2005

Johnson’s influence on architecture had extraordinary reach and took many different forms. Architects who knew and admired him—and some who didn't—remember a New York fixture and a legend.

© luca vignelli/esto

I recall a story following Philip’s retirement from the office and his departure from regular lunches at The Four Seasons Restaurant. One of his friends told him, “You know Philip, the Four Seasons is not the same without you.” Philip didn’t miss a beat and responded, “The Four Seasons is nothing without me.”
Another recollection I have is of one of the times when Philip Johnson and David Whitney had dinner in the corner of the Pool Room. Philip called me over to the table, which concerned me since I had recently replaced the rubber trees by the pool with preserved palms—a change from Johnson’s design. Philip told me, “I’m glad you didn’t ask me...they look wonderful.”
ALEX VON BIDDER, MANAGING PARTNER, THE FOUR SEASONS RESTAURANT

Four Seasons Restaurant (1958)
 
ezra stoller © esto

I am grateful to have this opportunity to write a few words on my mentor of twelve years, Philip Johnson. Mr. Johnson preached that serving the client’s aspirations was an architect’s highest priority; he was proud to be in the service business. As proof, I can recall countless times that Mr. Johnson would destroy models, tear up drawings, or completely abandon ideas at the slightest sign of the client’s discontent. So confident in his purpose and his skills, he would never argue but simply start over. I feel fortunate to have spent all those years under the guidance of so noble a man as he.
DENNIS WEDNICK, PRINCIPAL, DENNIS WEDNICK ASSOCIATES

The loss that those of us who are two generations removed from Philip Johnson feel upon his death is at first surprising. He epitomized, after all, everything that we, the children of the 60’s, the post-structuralists/decosntuctivists/feminists, loathed: success built on male clubiness, not on architectural merit or social contribution; power built around the cult of personality; stylistic fickleness that not only bore no shame but contributed to media and academic hegemony; social elitism cloaked as “intellectual” discourse; gayness deployed not as cultural/institutional opening but as cultural/institutional closure. But we should not be surprised by our surprise. For all of the distaste surrounding Johnson’s tactics, he was the post-structruralist animal par excellence: flexible in identity genderwise, professionally and aesthetically; changing the rules of the game as he went, not just his position in it; astute about the ephemeral nature of historical acclaim; savvy in constructing a position not about a stable present but an unknown future; supremely ironic and self-conscious. We are sad because now we only have the generation ahead—the white/grays—to do battle with, and they are so much less fun, savvy, and robust. The architectural landscape just got infinitely more boring.
PEGGY DEAMER, ASSISTANT DEAN AND ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, YALE SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE

Seagram building (1958, with Mies van der Rohe)
 
ezra stoller © esto

Johnson’s Second Act

Johnson’s second career overlapped with his first. Following World War II and his graduate education at Harvard, he would continue a lifelong relationship with The Museum of Modern Art, but would make a greater name for himself as an architect. His most important commission would be an ongoing one. In the late 1940s he began work on his home, the Glass House, in New Canaan, Connecticut, a project for him without end, which would be symbolic of most of the stylistic turns in Johnson’s portfolio.

Most people date the Glass House at 1949, which is correct for the first glass pavilion and original 5 acres, but Johnson used the title to refer to the entire property, now 42 acres, which included pavilions from each following decade through the 1990s. Johnson was passionate about the property’s landscape and considered it part of the architecture.

Johnson’s long career can best be summarized by decades. Beginning with houses similar in feeling to his Miesian-inspired Glass House in the 1950s, Johnson later took on institutional projects, such as libraries, museums and theaters in the 1960s, from the Sheldon Library in Lincoln, Nebraska to the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center. The 1970s would offer larger projects like the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California and the seminal office buildings at Pennzoil Place, done for developer Gerald D. Hines, with whom Johnson would form a long relationship that would span more than a dozen buildings. These were done with then-partner, John Burgee. 

Also from the late 1970s and into the 1980s was Johnson’s iconic work for AT&T. Designed to bring back the glory of stone-faced skyscrapers to Manhattan, the building became a poster child for postmodernism. Johnson would not retire until two decades following its completion. Deconstructivism inspired the clever geometry of St. Basil’s Chapel in Houston and other projects of the 1990s done with his current firm, Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects, but in time Johnson would explore sculptural forms beyond standard geometry, as seen in his recently completed, torqued and twisted clock at Lincoln Center. Similar forms were used in his monumental Cathedral of Hope, designed for a primarily gay congregation in Dallas, and today, still unbuilt.

Once significant numbers of visitors have strolled through his New Canaan property, eventually to be made public through the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Johnson should be better understood. The property synthesized Johnson’s architectural ethos, where small, but monumental, structures embody architectural ideas and are integrated into varying conditions of landscape, from a smooth lawn to tall, wild grass within a total composition. Like his house, Johnson was at once urbane and traditional. He was also passionate about the next, new thing. HILARY LEWIS IS THE CO-AUTHOR OF PHILIP JOHNSON: THE ARCHITECT IN HIS OWN WORDS (RIZZOLI) AND THE ARCHITECTURE OF PHILIP JOHNSON (BULFINCH/TIME WARNER BOOK GROUP). SHE IS NOW COMPLETING A THIRD VOLUME ON JOHNSON FOR THE MONACELLI PRESS.

AT&T building (1984)
 

ezra stoller © esto

 

Philip and I had many encounters and conversations that were, for me, near historical. Yet some of my favorite memories of him were less consequential in the larger scheme of things and represented the often unexpected intermingling of his architecture and the random events of the moment. I remember the first time I had lunch with David Whitney and him in New Canaan. Seated at the corner dining table, I could see the entire room—the painting by Nicolas Poussin, the sculpture by Elie Nadelman and, of course, the incredible landscape in autumnal splendor—all while eating lobster salad, potato chips and chocolate ice cream.
TERENCE RILEY, CHIEF CURATOR, DEPARTMENT OF ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN, MUSEUM OF MODERN ART

Is he really dead? I assume that he’s languishing in cryo, in the vault next to Walt, awaiting reanimation or cloning—Boys from Brazil style—when the technology is sufficiently advanced. Philip 2100! What styles will he purloin then? What as yet unborn favorites will he play? Will a Campari still await at his table at the Four Seasons? Will the glass house be in move-back condition? Will the Fourth Reich be up and running to receive the frustrated imprint of his sinister genius? Will his membership at the Century still be active? Will anyone remember him?
I’m taking no bets.
MICHAEL SORKIN, PRINCIPAL, MICHAEL SORKIN STUDIO

Lipstick building (1986)

 

© peter mauss/esto

Johnson Comes to New York

Philip Johnson’s extraordinary influence on New York City’s architecture scene began almost by chance. An undergraduate at Harvard in 1929, his sister Theodate introduced him to Alfred Barr, who was then teaching a pioneering course in modern art at Wellesley College. Johnson soon began traveling to New York to meet with Barr to discuss modern art and the founding of the Museum of Modern Art. Through Barr, Johnson met the young art historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock, and in 1930, armed with introductory letters from Barr to the leading European modernists, the two set of on a tour of the continent’s modern architecture. This ultimately led to the Modern’s first architectural exhibit, the celebrated 1932 Exhibition of Modern Architecture, or as it usually called The International Style: Architecture Since 1922.

In 1931 he co-curated (with Barr and Julian Levy) the independent show Rejected Architects, which created a public furor and paved the way for the International Style exhibit. It featured work by young architects that didn’t meet the requirements of the conservative Architectural League. The show was staged in a rented storefront and Johnson hired a sandwich-board man to parade in front of the League’s offices with the message “See Really Modern Architecture Rejected by the League.” 

The League was outraged and tried to have the man arrested, but the attendant front-page publicity insured the show’s success and brought modern architecture to the public’s attention for the first time in the United States.

Although Mies van der Rohe had been announced as the designer of the International Style show, it was Johnson who, as the director of the Modern’s Department of Architecture, installed it. Alongside the standard private and public monuments it featured factories, hospitals, and a section on public housing prepared by Lewis Mumford and Catherine Bauer. The exhibit opened on February 9, 1932 and was visited by nearly 33,000 people before traveling across the United States. 

Johnson continued to promote modern-ism throughout the 1930’s at the museum. In 1934 he staged Machine Art that presented objects such as door locks, ball bearings and toasters as designs of aesthetic beauty for the first time in a museum. That year he executed perhaps his first architectural design in the exhibit Why America Can’t have Good Housing—he mocked up a typical slum apartment he said was “complete and perfect down to the last cockroach.”

In 1934, Johnson unexpectedly gave up his directorship at the Modern. He and the museum’s executive director Alan Blackburn announced they were forming a National party and moving to Louisiana to work for the radical populist Huey Long. His political career was short lived—its main accomplishment seems to have been the design of a grey shirted uniform. Johnson moved back to New York for good after graduating from Harvard’s architecture school in 1945. 
WILLIAM MENKING IS AN EDITOR AT AN

Philip Johnson in the Glass House (1949)
 

© ezra stoller/esto

I have lost a great friend; architecture has lost a great friend.
Philip Johnson possessed a great talent, but it was too little appreciated by those who confuse consistency with conviction. F. Scott Fitzgerald put it well when he wrote to the effect that a mind incapable of simultaneously entertaining contradictory ideas wasn’t much of a mind. Philip’s was the best mind of his time and, attuned to the contradictions of life, he did not sweep them under a carpet of conformity or consistency.
Philip was a friend to me for over forty years. I began as his student and remained such to the end. Whenever I encountered a problem I turned to Philip, not in the hope that he would solve it, but in the knowledge that he would be sympathetic and inspire me to move on to the next best thing.
Philip Johnson was a great rejuvenator.

By Design, Redux

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Back to the Future

With one foot in the 19th century and the other in the 21st, the most innovative young firms are tempering their love affair with the computer with a healthy respect for arc welders and chop saws. William Menking looks at why the future ain't what it used to be...

In their Williamsburg workshop, FACE erected a prototype of a moment bay a rigid freestanding component before the application of its stress skin. They are offering these components as a completed house for clients or as a prefab system for other architects and designers. Their 2004 Branford Point residence (below) is based on the system.

When pictures of the Korean Presbyterian Church in Queens by collaborators in Chicago (Douglas Garafalo), Los Angeles (Greg Lynn), and Cincinnati (Michael McInturf) were widely published in 2000, the building was recognized not just as formally innovative, but representative of a new model of practice. Architecture magazines joyfully crowed that the future had arrived, and that it was curvy and collaborative. Two years later, in an article in Architectural Record, the critic Michael Speaks claimed that architecture had changed fundamentally, but this time, it wasn't about form or process. From now on, architecture would follow the contours of the economy.. He pointed to the Dutch practice UN Studio, which claimed to have created the first virtual office that included finance people, management gurus, and process specialists as well as designers. Those methodologies are still important, but architecture keeps changing, and for some of the most interesting young firms right now, it seems that past is prologue. They embrace a working model that incorporates a workshop as an integral element of their design practice and philosophy. For such design/test/fabricate firms, the Eames studio in Los Angeles in the 1950s and the workshops of 19th century designer-builders are as influential as the possibilities of CATIA.

In the New York region alone there are scores of young architectural practices fabricating in workshop lofts in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and other small towns in New York and New Jersey. A regional sampling of the better known of these firms include the architects FACE, Sharples Holden Pasquarelli (ShoP), Veyko, Freecell, and Bill Massie.

Speaks' claim that the economy is driving changes in architectural practice was true for some of these firms when they were starting out. FACE, a Brooklyn-based office created by Todd Fouser, Reuben Jorsling, Joe Godsy, and Sean Tracy, began as a design workshop in 1994. We wanted to develop our own projects from prototyping to fabricationnbut on someone else's dime,, said Tracy. They believed that fabrication was a more lucrative and interesting route to success for young designers than working in an office producing reflected ceiling plans. Early in the firm's life, it worked with Steven Holl and Vito Acconci on the design development and fabrication of the faaade of the Storefront for Art + Architecture. Other similar collaborations included partners such as Hodgetts + Fung, Gaetano Pesce, and Nam June Paik.

For members of the DUMBO-based firm Freecell, the choice to work in their shop as much as at their computers is a philosophical one, and informs the way they design. Principal Lauren Crahan, who has worked at Rafael Viioly Architects and Weiss/Manfredi, explained that it makes the firm integrate it's thinking about structure, material, and form in a way that would otherwise be difficult: On big projects, the process was typically linearrfrom schematics to design development, then all right, time to detail it.' This approach is more of a stew, in which you have to consider all the pieces at once.. Associate Corey Yurkovich added that fabricating also makes sense on a practical level. You can solve problems in a way that you just can't on a computer,, he said. It is the shop versus the dream world of design.. No one at Freecell (which also includes principal John Hartmann and associate Andree Pogany) is a closet Luddite, of course: I'd never say throw out the computer,'' said Crahan, but at the end of the day, AutoCad can't satisfy your curiosity..

To guide the contractors building the camera obscura ShoP designed for Greenport, New York, they provided a drawing that looks more like assembly instructions for a child's model airplane than standard construction documents. Each structural member of the camera obscura is numbered and corresponds to the drawing.

The Philadelphia architecture workshop Veyko evolved out of a day job founder Richard Goloveyko had at a British car restoration shop while studying architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. I was always more interested in the physical making of architecture, and it seemed a natural step to open a workshop rather than to go to work in an office,, he said. He formed a partnership with his wife Lisa Neely who, according to Goloveyko, prefers working from an overall sketch down to the details, while I work from details and materials up to an overall scheme. Our designs meet halfway in the workshop..

The Troy, New York, shop of architect Bill Massie is an outgrowth of his work as a graduate student at Columbia, where he was always fascinated with materials. Massie recently purchased a 12,000-square-foot building near Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute (where he teaches) and has divided it into a 7,000-square-foot shop and a 5,000-square-foot office. He intends to produce component parts of entire structures in his shop and ship them to the construction site, ready for erection. He has done this on several projects, notably his own Big Bend House in Montana, for which each curving structural member was machined in his shop.

Architects going back to Michelangelo have used models as both a design tool and presentation technique. But what makes today's workshops unique is that they can quickly fabricate models directly from laser milling machines and build one-to-one full-scale models. According to FACE's Tracy, In-house fabrication allows us to quickly see the limitations of a design and the complexities of its construction.. FACE can design and fabricate a steel column, send it to another shop to be treated with a protective surface and then mock it up back in their studio. ShoP's Gregg Pasquarelli was emphatic: Our workshop is not just for models and representation, it is a design tool.. It may come as a surprise for young graduates of architecture schools, where paperless studios reign, that SHoP (whose other principals are Chris Sharples, William Sharples, Coren Sharples, and Kimberly Holden) requires all architects coming into the firm to be able to free hand sketch, draw in 3D on a computer, and build in 3D in the shop. ShoP is growing rapidly and is about to add 3,000 square feet of new workshop space, allowing it to do more full scale modeling and prototyping. With several large-scale commissions in the office, such as the new building on Seventh Avenue for the Fashion Institute of Technology, they are also poised to prove that this working method can succeed at a much larger scale.

This trend is driven in part by an architect, fabricator, and contractor's ability to communicate via computer (and we're not just talking email) during every step of the design/build process. Further, these firms realize that technology now allows for mass-customized and differentiated parts that can create tailored forms for the price of a standard building. However, because of the newness of these forms they must be tested in a shop before they can even be prototyped. ShoP's Camera Obscura project in Greenport, New York, shows the potential of this thinking. The entire structure was designed and fabricated (by outside subcontractors) in pieces, and the builder was given an un-dimensioned but numbered plannjust like a child's plastic model airplane directions. The pre-cut and pre-tested pieces reduce the risk of communication glitches between designer and builder, and make sure the project is completed on time and without the usual designer-contractor problems. For his Big Bend House, Massie was able to create a full-scale template of its mechanical services in his shop. He then laid the template on the ground and poured concrete around it, leaving necessary voids for the placement of mechanical systems.

Sparks fly in Freecell's DUMBO workshop as architect John Hartman cuts the expanded metal mesh of Moistscape, which was installed at Henry Urbach Architecture last summer.
     

One can imagine that one day some of these firms may feel constrained by their shoppi.e., designing only that which they know they can fabricateebut for now, young workshop- based firms are raising expectations about the potential of this model to impart a more tactile, material, and less generic feel to architecture. Some complain that the computer is causing architects to distance themselves even further from the prosaic needs of building. With every new project, these firms are pointing the way back.

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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LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH (BUYERS) AND FAMOUS (ARCHIT

With the real estate market up and public appreciation for design surging, residential buyers are willing to pay more for the cachet of a big-name architecttand developers are catering to the new demand. But are designer buildingss adding quality to New York's urban fabric or just padding developers' pockets? Anna Holtzman finds it's a little of both.

Is residential real estate in New York finally catching up to its stylish inhabitants? The city seems to be going through a design boom: Richard Meier, Santiago Calatrava, Philippe Starck, Tsao & McKown, Winka Dubbeldam, Gwathmey Siegel, and Michael Graves have all recently made, or will soon make, their mark on the lower half of Manhattan. And there's talk of on-the-boards residential buildings by Frank O. Gehry and Christian de Portzamparc. The projects come with swanky names (the River Lofts, the Downtown), luxury amenities, and high-end price tags to boot.

If you suspect this designer craze is all about name-branding, you're right. The draw of well-known architects for developers is obvioussthey establish a certain price-point, like a designer label; they add status to a project,, said Bassie Deitsch of Boymelgreen, the developer responsible for the Starck and Tsao & McKown buildings, both on the lower west side. But before dismissing this phenomenon as a superficial trend, one must take into consideration the bigger picture. As New York architect and developer Peter Moore put it, any builder taking the risk of high design is a good thingg?whatever the initial motivation. And motives evolve. As Izak Senbahar, developer of the new Richard Meier tower on Charles Street, said, It raises the bar. Everyone is working for profit, but when you drive around the city and see something beautiful and elegant, you're encouraged to do more of that..

For Frank Sciame's first real estate development, 80 South Street, Santiago Calatrava proposes townhousess floating in the air.

Opinions vary on what has spurred this recent interest in design. Perry Street, and the amount of press it generated, did a lot to create that awareness,, said Meier, referring to the pair of gleaming residential towers he designed. Others see it as the result of broader influences: The time was right for this,, said Frank Sciame, developer of the Calatrava-designed South Street tower, currently in the works. Five years ago, we would have done a conventional tower.. Ironically, it was the tragic events of September 11 that indirectly led him to select a visionary architect for the project. After 9/11, given the great buildings that were going up at Ground Zero and the fact that this site was [relatively nearby and] at the river's edge, we decided that it should also be a tangible symbol of Manhattan's recovery.. What emerged was an unusual design by Calatrava comprised of 10 boxlike units that seem to float independently in the air.

Senbahar agreed that post-9/11, New Yorkers have a greater appreciation of good architecture. So if you create something of quality, people will pay more for it,, he said.

So why has it taken New York this long to wake up to design, when cities such as Miami and London started using architects to market residential buildings years ago? Senbahar posited, In New York, apartments sell from the inside out. Layout is important.. Meanwhile, faaade is secondary. There's also a greater demand for real estate in New York, so you have a captive audience,, said Senbahar. In Miami, you're talking about mostly second homes, so you have to entice the buyer with attractive buildings.. He continued, In construction, if you keep it simple, it's a lot easier.. So when the real estate market was lower, developers preferred to play it safe by sticking with conventional designs that were cheaper to build. Now that the market is up, developers are taking advantage of the fact that buyers won't blink at higher price-tagssand are using the added value of design to compete with one another.

Dubbeldam, who designed the interiors and undulating curtain wall of the Greenwich Street Project, cringed at this sort of thinking. Quality is not more expensive,, she stated emphatically, because it pays out more in the long run. It's better for the developer in the end.. Dubbeldam is appalled by the majority of American developers, saying that they have no consciousness about energy, no thinking about ecologyythey think that architects are just fancy picture-makers..

The glazed curtain wall of the Greenwich Street Project by Winka Dubbeldam of Archi-Tectonics cascades to the street.

Just how far developers are willing to involve architects in their grand plans varies from project to project. In many cases, as with the now two-year-old 425 Fifth Avenue designed by Michael Graves for developer Trevor Davis of Davis & Partners, the exterior and interior designs are done by a high-level architect, but considerations such as floor layouts and interior detailing are determined by a combination of real estate consultants and contract architects. The Sunshine Group is one such consulting firm. In addition to marketing, the group consults developers on pre-development planning, which architects to work with, apartment layouts, ceiling heights, number of bathroom fixtures, closet size, et cetera. Boymelgreen brought in Sunshine to consult on the Downtown, which in turn selected Starck to infuse the interiors and entryway with his signature playful style. Layouts and faaade, however, were left to project architect Ishmael Leyva.

Terraces, French doors, skylights, fireplaces, Sub-Zero and Miele appliances, and spa-like bathrooms are among the amenities at the River Lofts, a combination restoration and new construction project by Tsao & McKown.

Some architects are pushing to increase the scope of their roles, however, and changing developers' minds in the process. In the case of Tsao & McKown's River Lofts, for example, Sunshine initially invited the architects to work on the project to add our particular brand of lifestylee to the interiors of the apartments, said Calvin Tsao. However, Tsao & McKown ultimately convinced the developer, Boymelgreen, to let them have a hand in the faaade as welllwith the support of Sherida Paulsen, then chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. When it came to the firm's next project with Sunshine and Boymelgreen, the Spring Street Lofts in SoHo, the architects were brought in at an earlier phase and were able to collaborate with the client in a much more organic way. Rather than look askance at being called in as lifestyle gurus,, said Zack McKown, we saw it as an empowering position..

The newest Meier tower, still under construction, echoes the first two completed in 2002, in design, luxury amenties, and price points.

A rare few architects are getting in on development at the ground level. Dubbeldam was brought onto the Greenwich Street Project by developer Jonathan Carroll of Take One before he even had a site in fact, Dubbeldam wound up find ing its location. In the case of Charles Gwathmey's Astor Place tower, the architect found himself in the unusual situation of starting out on the client side, as a board member at Cooper Union. Before signing on as the designer, he hired the developer, Related Companies, and selected the site himself. It was only later, after a series of unscripted events including Gwathmey leaving Cooper's board, that he was brought on as architect and was thus able to shape every part of the project, from the footprint to interiors.

What truly smart developers have come to understand is that taking architecture into consideration from the get-go can only benefit the value of their building in the long run. Senbahar chose Meier for Charles Street in deference to the Perry Street Towers, which were already built by developers Ira Drucker, Charles Blaichman, and Richard Born when he came on the scene. He wanted to maintain a consistent aesthetic among a grouping of buildings that he believes may someday be landmarked. In improving the neighborhood, this move also improves that which remains a developer's main concern: real estate values.

Charles Gwathmey's Astor Place is being touted by its developer, the Related Companies, as Manhattan's first rotational, asymmetrical, sculptural building..

Unfortunately, as Dubbeldam pointed out, the vast majority of developers are still stuck in the dark ages in terms of design. I think [these high-design buildings are] just isolated projects,, said Dubbeldam, but I hope they can inspire overall change.. Yet when it comes to the realm of affordable housing, even the optimistic have little hope that these high-end projects will inspire change. Unfortunately,, explained Senbahar, whenever design requires a higher level of construction, it's reflected in the cost, and therefore it would be very difficult, especially with the high land prices in New York.. Developer Moore lamented, We still have a long way to go [towards better design for the city as a whole]. That's where the city should get involved. There's no even-handed aesthetic control. We need an aesthetic cop..
ANNA HOLTZMAN, A FORMER EDITOR AT ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE, IS PRODUCING A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT SUBWAY MUSICIANS.

Eavesdrop Issue 17_10.19.2004

FOR ART'S SAKE!
Stanford University is sure on top of the latest social trends. Now that things like civil liberties and secularism have gone the way of pashmina shawls (Why do so many of you still insist on wearing those? That was, like, literally eight seasons ago! Buy a jacket!), it seems university president John L. Hennessyhas decided to throw out artistic freedom, too. As reported earlier this month in several West Coast papers, Hennessy has vetoed a planned outdoor sculpture by artist Dennis Oppenheim that had been approved by his own Panel on Outdoor Art. The 22-foot-high work, appropriately entitled Device To Root Out Evil,takes the form of an inverted church with its steeple staked into the ground. This work frightened the university's conservative element, and the President's Office made a decision based on what the reaction might be,, Oppenheim said in a statement. This is the first time that a sculpture was ever rejected by the University President.. A version of the piece is still planned for Daniel Libeskind's forthcoming addition to the Denver Art Museum.

HARVARD'S HYGIENE, KARIM BLISTERS
Over at Harvard, it's the gender wars that are getting messy. In response to a bathroom shortage at the Graduate School of Design, administrators recently made most of the loos unisex. And it's caused a total, um, blow-out among women students and staff. Tempers are rising,, warns one unhappy female camper. We've had plenty of arguments about whether men should be required to lower the seat. Apparently, they don't all feel like flushing, either.. Ew. Meanwhile, female students are horrified by the thought of sharing their most private moments with male instructors, who should be ashamed of themselves for other reasons, too. Some of them touch the door handles without washing their hands,, our restroom reporter gasps. No male membersser, staff memberss could be reached by press timeeIn other plumbing news, Nooch, the new Karim Rashid>designed Chelsea hotspot, has had problems of its own. Andrew Yang, a contributor to these pages, has filed an eyewitness account of a recent Saturday night water malfunction. Water, trapped above the latex paint, had formed two large bubbles on the ceilingg he reports. They were dripping, like coffee, onto the vagina-shaped bar.. [Disclaimer: the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the columnist.] Rashid tells us the problem precipitated from a leak in an upstairs apartment. And I resent the term vagina-like,'' he snapped.

TERMINALLY BAD
At deadline, the Port Authority had just shut down Terminal 5, an exhibition of art including Tom Sachs, Dan Graham, and Vanessa Beecroft at Eero Saarinen's former TWA terminal at JFK airport. The reason? Its rowdy opening night party, where violations allegedly included smoking, graffiti, and vandalism in the landmark building. (We've also heard rumors of suspicious white powders, lewd acts in the VIP room, and champagne revelers on the tarmac. Apparently, security guards were too busy fingerprinting foreign-speaking grandmothers in customs.) We, however, prefer Susan Saarinen's response. Catching one drunk guest bowling beer bottles, the architect's daughter ran over and lashed out, My father didn't design this building for idiots like you to be bowling bottles!! Come hang out in the Meatpacking District, Susan! They need you.

LET SLIP:achen@archpaper.com

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NOW BOARDING: DESTINATION, JFK

Destination Unknown

Eero Saarinen's last work, the TWA Terminal at JFK, will soon enjoy a second, temporary life as a Kunsthalle. And after thattwho knows? As Cathy Lang Ho reports, the future of the modernist masterpiece is as open as the sky.
Photography by Dean Kaufman.

 

Long before Santiago Calatrava unveiled his architectural allegory for flight that will become the downtown PATH station, Eero Saarinen gave New York City a symbol that captured the grace and excitement of the jet age by mimicking the shape of a soaring bird. Since its completion in 1962, the TWA Terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport has served as an icon of both modern air travel and modern design. But its daring gull-winged constructionna reinforced concrete sculpture that tested the limits of its material and of what modernism could beewas the source of its distinction as well as downfall. The building's stand-alone, sinewy form made it difficult to adapt it to the rapidly modernizing airline industry. Larger airplanes, increased passenger flow and automobile traffic, computerized ticketing, handicapped accessibility, and security screening are just a few of the challenges that Terminal 5 (as it's officially known) could not meet without serious alteration. When the terminal closed in 2001 (in the wake of TWA's demise in 1999), no other airline stepped up to take over the space.

 

 

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PA) did, however, receive dozens of expressions of interest from sources ranging from the Finnish government to the Municipal Art Society to the Partnership for New York City. We expected to hear from preservationists, cultural organizations, and business people, but what surprised us was the number of requests we got from the general publiccregular people, travelersswho are just deeply interested in this building,, said Ralph Tragale, manager of government and community relations for the Port Authority. One of the requests came from Rachel K. Ward, an independent curator who worked previously with the theme of tourism and the cross influences of global travel and global art in an exhibition in Switzerland. Her particular interest in tourist sites and destinations was the basis of an idea to stage a series of installations that respond to and are situated within the arch-symbol of commercial travel itself. The result, Terminal 5, presents site-specific works by 18 artists, as well as a series of lectures, events, and additional temporary installations (see sidebar), on view from October 1 to January 31. The building is such a potent symbol, representing so many thingssair travel, the 1960s, transitions, globalism,, said Ward. Each artist had a unique response.. First lady of text messaging Jenny Holzer has, naturally, staked out the arrivals and departures board, while Ryoji Ikeda has created a series of light and sound installations for one of the tunnels. In mid-September, Vanessa Beecroft filmed a live performance piece in the terminallher first since 20011 which will be screened in the space. Toland Grinnell, known for his penchant for luggage, will make use of the baggage claim area. What's exciting to me is that the artists are using the building's forms to create works that will only exist in this space,, said Ward. Organizers are trying to arrange a shuttle service from Manhattan, and encourage the use of the new AirTrain.

Ward's timing was an important reason why the PA accepted her proposal. The exhibition's run precedes a long period of construction that will not end until 2008. The exhibition is a great opportunity to let the public enjoy the space,, said Tragale, and to show other potential uses for it.. Plans for Terminal 5's future have been contentious, with a battle played out publicly last year between the PA and preservationists who objected to a new terminal design concept that would have engulfed the landmark. Critics blasted the inital plan's intent to cut off Terminal 5's views of the runway, which motivated the design's floor-to-ceiling windows. They also objected to the idea that it would no longer be used as a functioning terminal. At that time, Kent Barwick, the president of the Municipal Art Society, said, By eliminating use of the terminal, you're condemning the building to a slow death.. Even Philip Johnson, who knew Saarinen, weighed in, telling The Los Angeles Times earlier this year, This building represents a new idea in 20th-century architecture, and yet we are willing to strangle it by enclosing it within another building. If you're going to strangle a building to death, you may as well tear it down..

In October 2003 Jet Blue entered an agreement with the PA to expand its presence at JFK. The upstart domestic airlineethe busiest at JFK, accounting for 7 million of the airport's 30 million passengers yearlyy was initially interested in the possibility of actively using the Saarinen structure but found that the cost to retrofit the relic exceeded that of building an entirely new terminal. Jet Blue commissioned Gensler and Associates to design a new terminal adjacent to Terminal 5, which, though still in concept phase, was released last month. The $850 million, 625,000-square-foot terminal is much smaller and more respectful of its site than the initial concept that so riled preservationists last year. The sheer reduction in size makes it better, but we're still concerned about the terminal being an active space,, said Theodore Prudon, president of DOCOMOMO-US. If it becomes just a left-over space, it's a disservice to the building. Also, it's more vulnerable if it's economically unviable.. Terminal 5 will be used, but the question is how intensely,, said Bill Hooper, senior principal in charge of the project at Gensler. We're still in design development now, trying to figure out how to make as much of the original terminal work.. Gensler's design begins with the renovation of the two tunnels that extend from the terminal to connect to waiting airplanes, known as Flight Wing Tube #1, which was part of Saarinen's original design, and Flight Wing Tube #2, which was designed in the late 1960s by Roche Dinkeloo to support 747s that did not exist when the terminal was first built. A new plaza will occupy the space between the two terminals, allowing visitors a view, until now unseen, toward Terminal 5's backside.

 
   

Beyer Blinder Belle will oversee the structure's restoration to its 1962 state. The process will involve undoing four decades' worth of alterations and additions, such as new baggage rooms and a sun canopy that was attached to the faaade. For its part, Jet Blue has expressed its desire to integrate the Saarinen building into its corporate image. As a result, Gensler's design is low profile, which reflects both its placement behind Terminal 5 and the way Jet Blue does business,, said Hooper. Jet Blue has also made the Terminal 5 exhibition possible, signing on as a major sponsor. After the exhibition closes, the PA will issue an RFP for the structure's adaptive reuse. We've heard ideas for a museum, a restaurant, a conference center,, said Tragale. We're open to what the business community has to offer..
Cathy Lang Ho is an editor at AN.

Eavesdrop Issue 12_07.13.2004

TIMES BITES BACK
Looks like we'll have to find someone else to complain about now that Herbert Muschamp is stepping down as NYT architecture critic. Buttnothing against his successor, Nicolai Ouroussoff>we're still hearing calls for the paper of record to add other critics to its architecture coverage. Why? Because, as Architectural Record's Robert Ivy notably argued in a December 2002 editorial, two pairs of eyes are better than one. And one critic too easily engenders the kinds of ethical transgressions, megalomaniacal behavior, and general wackiness that marked Muschamp's tenure. First, I vigorously reject the assertion that Herbert was corrupt,, NYT culture editor Jonathan Landman told us when we checked in. It's nasty gossip.. (Nasty maybe, but not really just gossip.) All fields think they should have more critics,, Landman continued, and they all think they need it uniquely.. But why is architecture the only cultural beat with a single critic (even dance has more!)? It's not a competition. One architecture critic is what we've had since the 60s and that's what we'll continue to have because it's all we need,, Landman snapped. He did not elaborate. So there.

DEAN DILEMMAS
It's been two years since Bernard Tschumi announced he was stepping down as dean of Columbia's School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. But is a replacement in sight? At press time, anxious insiders were surmising that university president Lee Bollinger would choose none of his search committee's nomineessinterim dean Mark Wigley, Yung-ho Chang, and Mark Angelil. Fueling suspicion is the fact that Bollinger was a no-show at an end-of-semester faculty meeting where many expected he'd reveal his final choice. This is like the war on terror,, one exasperated observer laments. It has no end, but just goes on and on.. However, a decision is going to be announced very shortly,, Columbia vice-provost Stephen Rittenberg officially reassures us. I don't know why [Bollinger] didn't make the meeting,, Rittenberg added, but I'm sure he wasn't just trying to avoid it.. Meanwhile, Peter Rowe is stepping down as Harvard Design School deannand it hasn't been pretty. At a recent student reception, the good-bye presents included a T-shirt that we're told the portly Australian squeezed into before climbing atop a circular security deskkwhich happens to be nicknamed the Donuttand going into a bizarre monologue consisting of unidentifiable impersonations. He tends to amuse himself that way,, one colleague says, but it's kind of hard to watch.. The inexplicable imitations continued at his own faculty farewell dinner, where Roweewho has ties to Chinaahorrified guests with a screeching rendition of Chinese opera. People weren't sure whether to be bored,, reports one, or thoroughly appalled.. Rowe did not return calls. Harvard's own dean's list remains vacant, after president Lawrence Summers reportedly met (though didn't go for) GSA director Ed Feiner and SOM principal Marilyn Taylor.

IN THE AIR
TV design shows don't have to be about transforming humdrum homes into hokey ones. And Laurene Leon Boym agrees. We hear the kittenish designer is developing a pilot for a half-hour, weekly television show called Laurene's World. Scheduled to launch next year on the televangelist-sounding Neworld Millennium cable network, it will be an educational program that shows the public what design's about,, she explains, and will be anything but a makeover show..

LET SLIP:achen@archpaper.com

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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.

Eavesdrop Issue 10_06.08.2004

ARCHITECTS, UNITE!
Bless Oscar Niemeyer's heart. In a May 26 report from the Latin American news agency Prensa Latina, the 96-year-old Brazilian architect was harshly critical of the Bush administration. But then he got a tad blurry. Describing Fidel Castro as one of the greatest leaders of humanity,, the avowed communist reportedly suggested that Bush envies the Cuban Revolution.. Niemeyer went on to affirm that he's still a believer, since besides the [revolution's] permanence, there is a workerr?socialist President Luiz Inncio Lula da Silvaa?heading the government of Brazil.. (Shhh! Don't tell him that Brasilia didn't work out the way everyone hoped, either.) Meanwhile, closer to home, a coterie of New York architects has also united against Bush. We hear that designers Calvin Tsao, Zack McKown, Richard Gluckman, and Deborah Berke are among those who will be opening their own residences this summer to host intimate $500 and $1,000-a-plate dinners, prepared by celebrity chefs. Proceeds will go to Downtown for Democracy, a group of creative types who believe that regime change begins at home. Its recent design auction at the Maritime Hotel raised $50,000 and featured an Oval Office installation by John Erik Karkula and Steven Sclaroff, along with works donated by Vladimir Kagan, Ali Tayar, David Weeks, Joseph Holtzman, and others.

TULANE'S NEW REED
Since reporting major staff changes at Architecture, we've learned that the magazine's former editor-in-chief, Reed Kroloff, is making a move of his own. Kroloff, who has served as an architecture consultant since resigning in 2002, will take a new post as dean of Tulane University's School of Architecture on October 1. I hope they asked me to join them because they saw an opportunity to propel the program forward, much as we did with Architecture,> Kroloff says.

BOB? IT'S HUNTINGTONN
New York City Landmarks Commissioner Bob Tierney has gotten lots of opinions about Edward Durell Stone's 1964 Two Columbus Circle, which may be significantly altered by its possible future owner, the Museum of Arts and Design. But we doubt he expected to hear from Huntington Hartford, the notorious supermarket heir and onetime playboy who first built the structure to house his art collection. After a judge recently cleared the way for the building's sale, the enfeebled 92-year-old mustered enough feistiness to call from the Bahamas. I heard he lambasted the decision and demanded to know why the building wasn't landmarked,, says one source. He really gave Tierney a piece of his mind.. Tierney only confirmed that Hartford called. Meanwhile, we've learned that a very prominent and wealthy cultural doyenneewho we've been scared into not naminggis still working to buy the building from under the museum.

LET SLIP:achen@archpaper.com

Eavesdrop: Aric Chen

COLUMBIAN CALAMITY
Things are heating up again in the ongoing search for a new dean for Columbia's School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. With the almost-hired Zaha Hadid now out of the picture, rumor has it that interim dean Mark Wigley and Beijing architect Yung-Ho Chang are running alongside recently ousted Institute of French Architecture director Jean-Louis Cohen and architects Dagmar Richter and Mark Angelil. A source close to several selection committee membersswho include Kenneth Frampton, Steven Holl, Michael Bell, Laurie Hawkinson, Elliott Sclar, and othersssays that Wigley and Chang are leading contenders. People say Mark is a good administrator,, our chatterbox reports of the less-than-inspired reasoning, while Chang has access to the whole feeding frenzy going on in Asia.. However, we hear Sclar, an urban planning professor, may have problems with Chang's own planning (dis)inclinations while Hawkinson, our source says, is making trouble, effectively shooting down every name that comes up.. In fact, the source blames Hawkinson for causing the school to lose Hadid, who has since won the Pritzker Prize. Laurie wanted to force [the London-based Hadid] to sign something promising to spend a certain amount of time in New York,, the source continues, though it's also kind of scandalous that [Hadid] wouldn't do it.. A committee member confirms that people are complaining about Laurie,, but adds that it baffles me because I think she's one of the more open ones.. Hawkinson couldn't be reached for comment.

SKYSCRAPER, HAI!
The first visitors to the Skyscraper Museum's permanent new home, which opened early this month in Battery Park City, were found on the subway. The Morimoto family of Nagoya, Japan, wanted a snapshot in front of a Lexington Avenue subway car when Tishman Construction's Richard Kielar, on his way to the museum's opening day, picked them up. They asked me to take their photo and told me they were going to the Statue of Liberty,, Kielar recalls, so I said, Why don't you first come see the newest museum in town?? The family then followed Kielar to the new digs, designed by Roger Duffy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and built by Tishman, both of which donated their services. They were happy and excited to be the first,, Kielar continues. We took their pictures..

WEDDING BELLS FOR BETSKY
Netherlands Architecture Institute director, former SFMOMA design curator, and transatlantic fixture Aaron Betsky is about to tie the knot with his longtime partner, artist Peter Haberkorn. The June 26th wedding ceremony will mark the couple's sixteenth anniversary and will take place in Hollanddwhich accords equal status to same-sex marriagessat Rotterdam's City Hall. We hear Steven Holl will document the occasion in watercolor while Peter Eisenman sings Ave Maria and Daniel Libeskind jumps out of a cake.

NAME THAT HOTELIER
Which prominent, design-savvy hotelier got so messy at a Los Angeles party not so long ago that, thinking it was a cigarette, he lit a scrap of paper rolled into a straw (Gee, what was that being used for?) and singed his eyebrows? We're told a subsequent tussle with a lady friend also resulted in the caps on his front two teeth being knocked out to complete his not-so-pretty new look.

LET SLIP:achen@archpaper.com