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Many Questions in Ground Zero Fire

It was a casualty of September 11, a ghost draped in black that has loomed over Ground Zero for years. It grew all the more terrifying on August 18—swathed in flames that leapt from its belly—and all the more tragic when it claimed the lives of two firefighters from a SoHo firehouse, home of Engine 24 and Ladder 5.

130 Liberty Street, the former Deutsche Bank building, has been beset by delays and controversy since debris from the south tower of the World Trade Center tore a massive gash in the building and caused irreparable structural damage six years ago. What caused a fire on the 17th floor of the building, which spread through much of its upper portions, has yet to be determined, though faulty wiring and cigarettes have both been the target of a full report from the fire department’s Bureau of Fire Investigations.

Investigators are also looking into why a pre-fire plan had not been devised for perhaps the most complicated demolition project in the city’s history, which involves the piece by piece deconstruction of the building while also dealing with a suffusion dangerous toxins, including asbestos and “World Trade Center dust,” a miasma of pulverized metals created by the collapse of the twin towers (“In Deconstruction: 130 Liberty Street,” AN_06.20.2007).

The lack of a pre-fire plan has been partly to blame for the deaths of two firefighters, Robert Beddia, 53, and Joseph Graffagnino, 33, because the labyrinthine system of plywood walls used to keep toxins at bay created unusual and disorienting conditions. Another reason is that the standpipe, which feeds water to the various stories in tall buildings during a fire, had in one place been dismantled. The fire department admitted in an investigation update on August 22 that the standpipe had not been checked since November 1996, when the building was still occupied. The fire department also said in the update that it must visually inspect standpipes every 15 days for buildings under demolition, which had yet to happen. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office announced on August 20 that it has opened its own investigation into the fire, and State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said he is also looking into 130 Liberty Street.

The Department of Buildings (DOB) required Bovis Lend Lease, the general contractor on the project, with maintaining the standpipe. According to a DOB release, a recent investigation of the standpipe on abated floors showed no problems, suggesting it was intact. A 20-foot piece was missing in the basement, which was flooded with water desperately needed by firefighters above. It is not yet known why the pipe section was removed. Since deconstruction began in March, the DOB has inspected 130 Liberty Street 60 times, issuing 19 violations and six stop work orders. “We are not speaking to the press at this time,” a Bovis spokesperson said.

Bovis did speak with the subcontractor in charge of deconstruction, the John Galt Corporation of the Bronx. In a letter obtained by The New York Times and posted on its website on August 23, James Abadie, Bovis’ principal-in-charge at 130 Liberty Street, informed Galt that its contract had been terminated. “Over recent weeks and most notably in the days following the tragic accident that occurred at the Project site on August 18, 2007, Galt has demonstrated an inability to comply with the terms of its Trade Contract with respect to site supervision, maintenance, and Project safety,” he wrote.

The Times reported the day before that Galt was a shadow corporation for two legally suspect companies, Regional Scaffolding and Hoisting Company and Safeway. The latter had mob ties and once of its executives has served two jail terms. Bovis reportedly hired the companies because no other contractors would take the dangerous and uncertain project, especially during a construction boom. “There was only one contractor willing to work on taking down the building, as far as I know,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

Perhaps the one tragic positive to come from the fire at 130 Liberty Street is that the complex system keeping the asbestos and other toxins at bay protected the city from the poisons entombed in the building. The state Environmental Protection Agency, which has been monitoring the site for years, said that no dangerous levels of toxins had been released during the fire.

Though the DOB has determined the building to be structurally sound, no one yet knows when demolition could continue. “We have to let the investigation run its course before we reassess any timelines,” Errol Cockfield, spokesman for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which is overseeing the project, wrote in an email. He said it could take months to clear debris and replace damaged systems to return the building to the same place it was before the fire.

This does not account for the need to find a replacement for Galt, no doubt a challenge given additional problems now surrounding the site, as well as those of the past, such as insurance and labor disputes and environmental concerns, all of which delayed the project for years. The specter of 130 Liberty Street may well remain with the city for some time to come.

Know When to Hold 'Em

Preserving the integrity of Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s historical built environment and archeological treasures is high on the list of the U.S. military’s ongoing campaign to put a brighter face on an unpopular war. As part of an effort to train soldiers how to avoid destroying cultural assets, the United States Department of Defense (DoD) has issued a deck of educational playing cards.

 

The cards are part of a larger program called Training for In-Theatre Cultural Resource Protection, which will also employ Web-based training and simulated event training on mock ruins. Members of the archeology community are providing the research and background material for the program. The cards have been implemented in small-scale training exercises and will be mass-produced and distributed by the end of July.

 

Many of the cards bear images of archeological sites and artifacts accompanied by brief history lessons. The six of hearts, for example, pictures a carved stone tablet and reads, “The world’s oldest complete legal code was found in Iraq on a stone carved with an image of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, Ca. 1760 B.C.”

 

Other cards explain what constitutes an archeological site and how to conduct a mission while nearby. The five of clubs shows a soldier watching a Hummer drive across the desert. Its caption reads, “Drive around— not over—archeological sites.”

 

Others do double duty, explaining not only why the sites are significant to locals, but why they may be significant to soldiers as well. A card depicting the Nabi Yunis mosque in Mosul, Iraq, tells of how Jonah (he of the whale) is believed to be buried there.

 

Perhaps the most poignant of the cards, however, is the seven of clubs. It bears a photograph of the great banquet hall and colossal arch at Ctesiphon in Iraq, built by the Persians in the 2nd century B.C. Its inscription reads, “This site has survived for seventeen centuries. Will it and others survive you?"

A Second Act for the Bam Cultural District

When the Brooklyn Academy of Music decided to throw its cultural heft into remaking its then-dingy neighborhood, it did so the BAM way, i.e., con brio. With a master plan from Rem Koolhaas’ OMA and Diller + Scofidio, and renderings of a state-of-the-art new public library by TEN Arquitectos, the future looked glamorous. And while it took almost nine years, new architects, scaled-back projects, and some political shifts, several significant pieces of the plan are about to go forward. By Alan G. Brake. 

When the Brooklyn Academy of Music burned to the ground in 1903, the New York Times opined, “In short, there has hardly been a great public movement of national import but the old Academy has been at one time or another its principal focus.” BAM quickly relocated from Brooklyn Heights to its present location on Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene where it has enriched the city’s cultural life for more than a century. Over the last ten years, however, BAM has added an unusual element to its portfolio of offerings, and that is neighborhood redevelopment.

In 1998, Harvey Lichtenstein began to move out of his position as the institution’s director, and looked outward at the neighborhood. It wasn’t pretty: The 1970s and 1980s had not been kind to Fort Greene and downtown Brooklyn, and one of the most respected performing arts organizations in the country found itself surrounded by a nondescript mix of parking lots, liquor stores, and not much else. But with a location near commercial hubs and lots of subways, there seemed to be no reason why the area couldn’t come back. Lichtenstein formed the BAM Limited Development Corporation (LDC) as a catalyst for the transformation of the ten or so blocks immediately around the theater into an arts district. The organization hired New York’s Diller+Scofidio and the Rotterdam-based OMA to develop a conceptual masterplan in 2000. Two years later, it held a competition for a Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) branch for the Brooklyn Public Library; the jury chose TEN Arquitectos, and images of an ship-like building were published everywhere.

But things seemed to slow down soon after, and there wasn’t much news from the intersection of Flatbush and Lafayette Avenues. In 2004, WORK AC quietly took over the planning job. “The Diller +Scofidio/OMA masterplan still provides the basis for what will be built,” says principal Dan Wood. Wood founded WORK AC after leaving OMA and continued to be involved in the project. The main innovation of the latest version is shifting the site of the Theatre for a New Audience, a respected Shakespearian company, to Layfayette Avenue, next to the Mark Morris Dance Center and catercorner from BAM, opening up space on Lafayette for a substantial new park with the working name Grand Plaza. Toward the end of the process, WORK AC brought in Ken Smith’s firm to consult on open space and streetscape plans. The Grand Plaza will act as a front door for three of the major cultural institutions, making it a sort of Lincoln Center stitched into the fabric of brownstone Brooklyn. Parking will be built under the plaza and will match the existing number of spaces. “The modified plans allows us to create a park where you want to be, not just a remnant patch,” says Christian Gabrial, a designer at Ken Smith Landscape Architecture.

After the masterplan was complete, the teams switched roles to further develop the open space and streetscapes, with Ken Smith’s team as the prime consultant and WORK as the subsidiary. “A lot of time and energy are going into the streetscape, which will have a key role in pulling the district together,” says Louise Eddleston, a designer at Ken Smith. “The district is primarily residential and with more units of housing going in it will remain that way.” She says the short blocks and intimate scale of the neighborhood have to be understood and used to their best advantage. The firm will present schematic designs to the Economic Development Corporation in the Fall, and hopes to get the contract to build the project.

This is more likely to happen than it would have been even a year ago: Last year, the city, frustrated by the lack of action on the VPA and other projects, stepped in and moved the BAMLDC under the umbrella of the larger and more powerful Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP), which includes business improvement districts for Metrotech and the Fulton Street Mall. DPB has close ties to deputy mayor Daniel Doctoroff, and this has clearly contributed to the recent up-tick in development activity in the district. “There was a sense in early 2006 that the city needed to step up, not just in terms or time, but also in terms of high-level attention,” says Joe Chan, the DBP president. “Coordinating development with cultural groups is a lot more complicated than private developers.”

The move is yielding results. Though the VPA library was recently declared all but dead by the Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate Levin due to lack of fundraising on the part of the Brooklyn Public Library, several other significant projects are moving forward in the district. Along with the streetscape design, a revised design for the Theatre for a New Audience is in the works by Frank Gehry and the H3 Partnership, and the department of Housing Preservation and Development just concluded an Request for Proposals for a new mixed use building that will house Danspace, the contemporary dance incubator. All of this is happening in the shadow, metaphorically speaking, of Forest City Ratner’s controversial and gargantuan Atlantic Yards development.

But curiously, the fighting around Atlantic Yards seems not to have affected plans for the BAM cultural district, at least thus far. “It’s sort of an elephant compared to an ant,” says Wood. “The BAM cultural district can fold into an existing neighborhood, whereas Atlantic Yards will generate its own.” From the beginning, too, BAM LDC also worked with community groups, local churches, and elected officials to address concerns about rising rents and over development. “There was a call for many opportunities for input,” said Chan. “Gentrification and displacement is the greatest fear.”

Chan, however, sees Atlantic Yards and the cultural district as complementary projects. “Both projects emphasize the development of mixed-income communities,” he says. “They are a part of changing perceptions about Downtown Brooklyn and about catering to diverse and inclusive tastes for art, culture, entertainment, and sports.” Gabrial adds, “The cultural district operates within a web of existing neighborhoods, including Fort Greene and Downtown Brooklyn. It’s really a linchpin project.”

While coordinating multiple city agencies and cultural groups and meeting fundraising goals has somewhat slowed and altered development, the district’s largely positive reception in the community speaks to the thoughtful and neighborly scale of the project, as well as a flexible, piecemeal approach. The subtle way in which increased cultural programming,open space,and higher density are being woven into the neighborhood could prove to be a model for the borough and beyond. It also shows that Brooklynites aren’t averse to change, they just don’t like to get steamrolled.

Movers & Shapers 07

Movers & Shapers 07

The nexus of design currently hovers somewhere in the ether above The Netherlands, England, and Italy, and draws the occasional spark from Germany, France, and Belgium. This ferment is fueled by a group of youngish creative-types who work across borders, media, professions, and aesthetic sensibilities, intent on rethinking everything from the most prosaic bathroom tap to the production economies of small villages in India. Here’s a look at what’s on the minds and the drawing boards of a few of the key European designers who will be in NewYork during this year’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair.
Produced by Julie Iovine and Melissa Feldman

TOM DIXON
LONDON / UK


Only two years ago, British designer Tom Dixon dismissed the ICFF as a marginal player on the international furniture scene. “I don’t think New York figures, frankly,” he told the Financial Times, in explaining why he preferred to be in Milan and at 100% Design in London. But in 2007, the UK superstar and former creative director of the Londonbased retail chain Habitat decided to come to America under the flag of his own company, Tom Dixon, to show his latest lighting, furniture, and accessory designs at the ICFF and at Moss on Greene Street. “For a long time America has been very obsessed with either Italian luxury or nostalgic movements like Shabby Chic or the Eames generation,” Dixon said. “It feels like things are changing—there’s a contemporary mood in the air.”

If Americans know one Dixon design, it is probably the Jack Light (1994), a stubby polyethylene lamp for the floor in the shape of play jacks and possessing considerably more oomph than a nostalgic Noguchi lantern. Lighting continues to figure largely in Dixon’s work, but he rarely sticks to one material, preferring “industrial experimentation” in substances ranging from copper to cast iron to foam. His 2007 theme is metal, but he has gone way beyond architecture’s stainless steel or fashion’s silver and gold. His Beat Lights are hammered brass, made with traditional methods in India, while the Copper Shades are plastic coated in vacuum- metallised copper.

At Moss he’ll be showing his CU29 chairs. While this set is a limited edition of eight, their form— based on a Big Mac container—is the same as that of 500 polystyrene chairs given away last August in Trafalgar Square. “Those were the cheapest of the cheap, i.e. free,” he said. “These are the polar opposite. These have a skin of pure copper,” which is applied by submerging each chair in an electrified vat of copper sulphate. “The edition is limited by the amount of time it takes and the difficulty of the process.”

For his own label, Dixon is trying to design for “the opposite of planned obsolescence,” he said, or in other words, future classics. One contender is the Link Easy Chair, whose metal frame is wired in a pattern that Dixon said is Celtic in inspiration but is also structural. With Finnish manufacturer Artek (Dixon is creative director), he recently launched the renewable Bambu line, and has the company buying vintage Aalto pieces from schools to put back in circulation. He doesn’t have a green agenda for the accessibly-priced Habitat stores (where he remains as “nonexecutive” director) but instead sees them as a showcase for young European designers. Dixon helped select 100 emerging talents for a new Phaidon book, & Fork. “The British don’t have the finesse of the Italians or the conceptual nature of the Dutch,” he said. “We have sturdiness. Metal is a material of value and it is long-lasting, so we should make things a bit more robust and anti-fashion.” 

ALEXANDRA LANGE


PATRICIA URQUOILA
MILAN / ITALY


With her rapid speech and restless energy, architect-designer Patricia Urquiola is a natural fit for New York City. She is based in Milan, but recently spent some time here as she worked on designing her first American retail space, Moroso at Moss. An extension of the legendary Moss design store, the new boutique at 146 Prince Street showcases the furniture of Italian firm Moroso and the textiles of New York–based Maharam. During one visit a few weeks ago, Urquiola zipped around the still-raw 3,800- square-foot space, gesturing like a choreographer to indicate where mirrors, platforms, and other design elements must be to transform the former warehouse into an ultrastylish store and offices in time to open during the ICFF in late May.

Best known for bold and uninhibited furniture, Urquiola is an architect with a keen awareness of space and a designer’s appreciation for beautiful forms, fabric, and patterns. At the new store, reflective and semireflective surfaces afford multiple perspectives on the furnishings and allow viewers to see themselves with the products. Four platforms of varying heights help create a sense of separation and order in the open space; an alcove showcases Maharam’s textiles and accessories.

Color plays a central role in conceptualizing the store’s frequently changing decor, just as it’s a strong element in Moroso furniture. But beyond brand identity, Urquiola seems most concerned with honoring the individual visions of the designers whose works will be on display, such as Ross Lovegrove, Tord Boontje, Ron Arad,Tom Dixon, and Urquiola herself. She often speaks in poetic terms of her desire to help “tell the histories” of the creative talents.

This is not Urquiola’s first crossdisciplinary venture. After studying architecture, she switched to design near the end of her studies at the Politecnico di Milano, inspired by her teacher Achille Castiglioni and others in Milan who were equally “in love with the big ‘A’ of architecture and the little ‘d’ of design,” she said. Since graduating in 1989, she has done everything from residential architecture and luxury interior design to booth and showroom design, though she’s perhaps most famous for her furniture designs for Moroso, Driade, Kartell, and other companies. In 2001 she founded her own firm, Studio Urquiola.

Aside from Moroso at Moss, other ventures include new products for Italian furniture company B&B Italia and interior designs for two hotels, one in Vieques, Puerto Rico, the other in Barcelona. While most of her work is centered outside the United States, she said she’s “happy to share in the energy” of Prince Street and become a part of its “genius loci.” 

LISA DELGADO


TORD BOONTJE
BOURG-ARGENTAL / FRANCE


Industrial designer Tord Boontje’s ascent was triggered by light and fairytales. In 2002, the British home retail chain Habitat commissioned Boontje to produce Garland, an affordable mass-produced light based on an early version of a limited edition design. Garland sold for about $30, and quickly became the It shade to dress a bare bulb. At the same time, the soft-spoken Dutchman made a splash with his Blossom chandelier for Swarovski, which was a sparkling branch covered with chunks of crystals unveiled during the 2002 Milan Furniture Fair.

Two years later, Boontje was back in Milan with a showroom exhibition entitled Happy Ever After for the Italian furniture company Moroso. It was the culmination of work based on his ideas involving nature and technology, and crystallized the nascent trend in design towards the decorative. Boontje included prototypes and one-of-a-kind pieces: rocking chairs, tables, poufs, as well as his signature laser-cut fabrics upholstered on furniture and draped in loops from the ceiling.

A number of Boontje’s designs will be on display in New York at the new Moroso at Moss store opening during the ICFF. His Bon Bon tables made from glass and Corian are decorated with floral patterns created by a technique known as dye-sublimation printing, and will be available at retail stores along with Nest, a molded polyethylene outdoor seating system. A book by Rizzoli has just been published on the designer’s work, and it showcases the past ten years of his processes and designs. Tord Boontje is lavishly produced with flourishes including burlap covers and pages elaborately die-cut with punched patterns that exemplify Boontje’s careful craft. Martina Margretts, the author, describes him as “a William Morris for our times, taking a local message and practice and transforming it for mass consumption.”

Designed in London with his longtime collaborator Graphic Thought Facility, the huge book takes the reader on a visual tour of Boontje’s career, starting with his early days in Holland at the Eindhoven Academy. There, he honed his skills in ceramics and textiles before going on to study at the Royal College of Art in London and eventually settling in the south of France with Emma Woffenden, his wife and design collaborator.

Upcoming work in the studio includes a large architectural project in Shanghai with a spa and wellness center, and a design museum with shops and a restaurant. New products are also in the works for the Table Stories collection for Authentics as well as new lighting for Artecnica. Time will tell how far this latter-day William Morris hopes to go. 

MELISSA FELDMAN


WIEL ARETS
MAASTRICHT / THE NETHERLANDS

Wiel Arets’ path to architecture and product design was an oblique one, to say the least. His early childhood interest in sports changed forever when the United States landed a man on the moon in the summer of 1969. “I was flabbergasted that we as human beings could put someone on the moon and drive a car there,” said Arets, the Maastrichtbased architect and designer. Spellbound by the space program, Arets began to study physics, but quickly decided that, while the subject was necessary to hurtle humans to extraterrestrial destinations, it was not for him. At the same time, he realized that if an astronaut were to drive a car on the moon, someone had to design that car in the first place. So Arets shifted his focus to architecture, and after graduating from the Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, he founded Wiel Arets Architects in 1984.

From the very beginning of his architectural practice Arets designed products, primarily one-off custom jobs that attracted little attention. That all changed in 1994 with his Stealth office furniture line—a series of cabinets,benches,and conference tables that combined minimalist design with acoustic materials to provide sound-dampening in large, open-plan spaces. Designed for AZL Headquarters in Heerlen, the Netherlands, the line quickly garnered international attention and was picked up by the Dutch furniture maker Lensvelt in Breda. Three years later Italian design house Alessi—a company that has a long history of working with architects— contacted Arets, inviting him to design a coffee and tea service. Now he is involved in six projects with Alessi, including a watch called Watch.it, which was just introduced; a forthcoming espresso machine, and a line of bathroom fixtures, Il Bagno Alessi Dot, which will be on view at the AF New York showroom in September.

For Arets, the difference between designing a building and an espresso cup is primarily a matter of scale—meters to millimeters. “As far as how I design, there is little difference between architecture and products,” he said. “I develop a concept and that leads me to the design.” His Alessi bathroom line is a prime example of this idea-to-form approach; the idea here, naturally, is water. “When a water drop falls on the floor you have a dot,” said Arets, “so I thought the circle should be the main design element.” From this simple concept, Arets decided to de-emphasize the materiality of his fixtures and focus attention on the fluid component by “chopping off” the steel spigots and ceramic pedestals and leaving simple basins with flat edges.These elegantly primitive forms with their exaggerated circle motifs make water the central feature. 

AARON SEWARD


JEAN MARIE MASSAUD
PARIS / FRANCE


With a mantra like “Design is nothing, Life is everything,” it’s surprising that Jean-Marie Massaud is so sought-after right now on the corporate branding scene—he has designed stores for Lancôme worldwide, auto-show installations for Renault, and a makeover for the stolidly exquisite Italian furnituremaker Poltrona Frau. Then again, the 41-year old Paris-based designer (who has Jean Nouvel’s bare pate and Gerard Depardieu’s twinkle, and has done time in Philippe Starck’s studio) embodies an approach to design that is unabashedly sensual but environmentally aware and seems to be catching on. When Massaud edits a chair to almost nothing, he is not making an aesthetic statement so much as trying to use as few resources as possible. In addition to furniture for several leading Italian brands, including B&BItalia, Cassina, and Cappellini, his portfolio contains more than a few hypothetical projects; his favorite is an airship in the shape of a whale made for tourists in order to keep their footprints off the land. A seemingly improbable project in Guadalajara, Mexico, for a $120 million stadium in the shape of a grassy volcano with a floating sunscreen roof and berm-buried parking, may actually get built.

Closer to home, the furniture Massaud presented in Milan this year was varied, but each piece played with the idea of collecting sensual experiences over objects— a very French response to rampant consumerism. His bath collection for Axor-Hansgrohe, introduced two years ago as a Water Dream complete with a Corian thundercloud swelling to burst over a luxurious sunken bath, is now in production. Surprisingly pragmatic, the Axor collection features a tap with water cascading from the lip of a 16-inch shelf, handy for shampoo or candles. In 2006, the molded mineral washbasin and faucet received the International Forum Product Design Award.

The designer’s Heaven chair for EMU and the Ad Hoc outdoor chair for Viccarbe display the same hightech organic elasticity as Spider Man’s web. During the ICFF, the Ad Hoc will be shown in both black and white as part of an exhibition of new furniture from Europe at the just-opened Lepere Gallery on 20 West 22nd Street.

JI 


TRUE TO FORM
Zaha Hadid’s forays into furniture design have become serious events ever since her Aqua Table sold at Phillips de Pury in 2005 for $296,000, a record for contemporary furniture at the time. In Milan last month, Hadid exhibited three new pieces for three different companies at very different scales and materials but all bearing remarkably similar DNA. Top to bottom: the 9.4-foot-long, vinyl-fabric-covered Moon system for B&B Italia; the 7-foot polyester resin Gyre with polyurethane lacquer in a limited edition of 12 for Established & Sons; and a sterling 27.5-inch silver bowl also in a numbered edition of 12 plus 3 artist’s proofs for Sawaya & Moroni.

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Dialogue: Shaun Donovan & Gwendolyn Wright

In March, the Department of Housing Development and Preservation announced that it had reached the one-third mark in its initiative to develop and preserve 165,000 units of affordable housing. To mark the occasion, AN asked housing historian and Columbia professor Gwendolyn Wright to sit down with HPD commissioner Shaun Donovan.

Gwendolyn Wright: What surprises you about working in city government?
Shaun Donovan: One of the most pleasant surprises has been that in a city so famous for politics, how un-political this administration has been. I think Rolling Stone did a profile of the mayor that said New Yorkers have an opportunity to see what government can be without politics, and it actually feels that way inside. It’s amazing how much support we have from the mayor and City Hall to stand up and say this is why we do what we’re doing. 

GW: Having lived in New York for the last 25 years, I can tell you it wasn’t always that way. What does that actually mean in terms of the way things work downtown?
SD: It has a broad set of implications, but there’s a piece of it that’s all about leadership. For example, Iris Weinshall [the recently-departed transportation commissioner] called me the other day and said, “You know what, we’re going to give you these seven parking lots.” For her to make that decision is actually a remarkable thing inside government, because what’s the upside for the transportation commissioner? Not a lot. Even though a given lot is only 25 percent full most of the time, she’s going to get yelled at by the local merchants because the people who use it can’t get to their shops as easily. To me, that says there’s a clear message from City Hall that affordable housing is a priority for the mayor.

GW: What is the role of the private market in the New Housing Marketplace initiative?
SD: That has been the single biggest challenge and opportunity here. When I arrived, the mayor had already started to shift the strategies towards recreating a market in places where there wasn’t one, such as the South Bronx and lots of Harlem. He did this through the New Housing Marketplace plan. I think the real shift that I’ve tried to make is to figure out how to harness the market, rather than recreate it. In affordable housing, a $5 million condo can actually be your friend: It can be as simple as building a few market rate units for the cross-subsidy they create for affordable ones. I think it has also meant that we have a broader opportunity to create mixed-income communities across the city than we did before. One of the great failures of housing policy has been to think about low-income housing as something dangerous that has to be separated out. We try to blur the lines as much as possible, and leveraging the market is really important in doing that. 




Donovan (top) and Wright.  
Aaron Seward
 
 

GW: It is interesting that the mayor and your agency speak about a marketplace, which is different from the market. When people invoke the market they tend to mean the upper tier of it, and how to keep those guys happy—and they’re pretty happy right now! But the marketplace is a circumstance where you have the realities of economics: many different prices, many different groups, and many different kinds of markets. You’re allowing New York to function like a city as opposed to a place defined by the market aspirations of a few major developers.

SD: Housing advocates often focus on how much money government is putting into something, but the levers that we hold in government are often much more powerful than the money. Inclusionary zoning is a perfect example of that. We’ve got million-dollar condos going up on the waterfront in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, but we could never have thrown enough money at those projects to end up with what we’re getting, which is that 20 to 30 percent of these buildings are affordable. This is some of the most prime real estate available. The only reason it will be a truly integrated community is because we used the powers of zoning to say that there is a benefit to the marketplace, and we want the marketplace to flourish there. We’ll allow you to build taller, but if you do, you’ve got to give something back for that density.

GW: You seem quite interested in design innovations of various sorts. What are the possibilities for architects?
SD: At the simplest level, it’s about increasing our engagement in design and opening up the process to architects. I think [commissioner] David Burney has really done that for public work through the Department of Design and Construction, and I hope that we’re following that example. Look at all the entries for the New Housing New York competition we just held. I think it is the best example to date of a process that integrates architecture in a way that was not just about design, but about creating a sustainable community. We’re going to do more design competitions like that, but we can’t do it on every single project. It was an enormous effort and expense, but there are a lot of principles that we can integrate into our smaller projects. 

GW: One of the things that you’re doing, which is unusual and wonderful, is challenging architects to imagine and innovate in new ways.
SD: I think there has been a mutual fear within affordable housing and the architecture community about the failure of design in public housing. I strongly believe that design gets a bad rap for lots of other failures, most of them around the social makeup of a project or its financing, all of which have fed into the disintegration of many public housing communities. There’s disillusionment about the possibilities of architecture. I worry about the retreat into traditionalism and contextualism as a way of repairing that. In this competition, we had a long discussion about whether the city was ready for a tower in the park that wasn’t the traditional model. 

GW: I think you’re absolutely right. A lot of architects have felt that housing in general, beyond very expensive luxury housing, tied their hands; there was a demand that it be traditional because then it would seem familiar and somehow ease over all the social problems. It’s almost modernism in reverse. How do you think we can open up a definition of housing beyond the accretion of units in some kind of block or bar?
SD: I think a lot of that is thinking about urban design as part of the work that we do. If you look at Arverne [Arverne Urban Renewal Area, Far Rockaway, Queens] we’re essentially creating new towns there. Our relationship with City Planning is so much stronger than it once was.  

GW: Let me shift a little and ask you about homeownership. It’s emphasized in a lot of the literature put out by the Bloomberg administration. It’s also becoming more controversial due to the problem of subprime mortgages. Homeownership is not the right thing for everyone. What do you see as the advantage of homeownership?
SD: We just reached a record high of homeownership in New York City: 33.3 percent, though it’s the lowest rate of any metropolitan area in the country. We’ve created close to 20,000 low-income homeowners through the limited-equity properties we created through cooperative programs. These were city-owned buildings that we took in foreclosure, renovated, and sold for $250 a unit to the residents. That’s an incredible amount of equity that’s been created for low-income people, and has built a stable financial existence for them. In that sense, I think it’s an increasingly important tool that works within the marketplace. It will never be our primary strategy, but is an important piece of the overall strategy. 

GW: There are several exhibitions on Robert Moses in the city right now. He’s a controversial example of someone not elected to office who exercised enormous political power over the environment, social services, transportation, and housing. What does he teach political figures today?
SD: This goes back to my earliest experiences in government, when I realized the importance of balancing public consensus with moving ahead consistently. That balance is probably the single most important thing that a public servant can achieve, but it is extremely difficult to do. I think it’s very clear that Moses was too far on one side of the spectrum. There was no respect for the importance of building consensus. On the other hand, I think this administration has tried to move toward big things again. Look at Williamsburg: It’s two miles of waterfront. It’s not about small plans. A lot of it is about setting a framework for growth that has an organic quality. The city is a living organism and we have to think of it in that dynamic way. We can’t freeze New York at any time. We have to be ready for change.

Eavesdrop


TEED OFF
Steam comes out of our long-suffering editor’s ears every time she hears the word starchitect, which may be why we didn’t make it to the Forum for Urban Design’s recent panel discussion, “A Critical Situation: What to Make of Starchitecture, and Who to Blame For It?” But, we are heartily sorry we missed it. According to our tipster, before the evening’s debate began, critics Karrie JacobsPhilip Nobel, and Brits Jeremy Melvin and Rowan Moore were chatting with moderator Joseph Grima of Storefront, when a young man came up and asked, “Which of you is Philip Nobel?” After identifying himself, the former Eavesdropper was given a missive in T-shirt form and specific instructions: “Frank Gehry wants you to wear this tonight.” Why, you ask, would America’s favorite architect concern himself with the sartorial choices of young Nobel? Well, the T-shirt was printed “F**k Frank Gehry,” so perhaps the message was subtler than the shirt. When called for details, Nobel said he hadn’t spoken with the architect in years, but suspected that the gesture had something to do with a less-than-wowed column he wrote on Gehry’s IAC building. The annoyance isn’t mutual: of his shirt, Nobel said, “I’m wearing it right now!” 

JUST LIKE KETCHUP IS A VEGETABLE…
We heard that Rohit Aggarwala, the planner Mayor Bloomberg tapped to head up PlaNYC, may be regressing to a Reagan-era mindset when defining what is and what isn’t a park. One of the initiative’s goals is that by the year 2030, every New Yorker will live within 10 minutes of a park. At a Forum for Urban Design conference on March 27, our tree-hugging source raised his eyebrows when Aggarwala gave this definition: "A 10-minute walk to a park could include public space that's made park-like," perhaps including Times Square or Herald Square. Since when did a lone tree catching trash mean park? 

I’LL BE THERE FOR YOU
“These five words I swear to you…” Jon Bon Jovi wasn’t kidding when he promised that to the world in 1988. As Habitat for Humanity’s first-ever Ambassador, the power ballad-penning rock icon has redirected his networking prowess— once employed in cornering the pop-metal market—to helping the housing challenged. Since funding six houses in Philadelphia in 2005, Mr. Bon Jovi has been bringing those with money together with those who are, ahem, livin’ on a prayer. Recently, the former hairspray enthusiast teamed with Delta Airlines to help complete two Habitat projects in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. On two chilly mornings in early April, Jon actually got his hands dirty along side members of his AFL team, The Philadelphia Soul, and 40 Delta employees, working on the site of a nine-unit, three-story condo complex at the corner of Halsey Street and Marcus Garvey Boulevard. Our mole in the area was unable to determine the exact nature of labor that Bon Jovi performed, though he swears to overhearing a rousing gospel rendition of “Keep the Faith.” 

SALVATION COMES IN MANY FORMS
And for those of you scratching your heads for inspiration, never fear! Help is on the way, and from an unexpected quarter. According to a press release from the Storefront for Art and Architecture that landed in our inbox the other day, they are holding a party for a new book from Petra Blaisse called Inside Out/Petra Blaisse. But wait—this is clearly no ordinary book, but a hardbound messiah. “The book will be of interest to architects…and has the potential to give new impetus to the whole architectural field.” Indeed! New impetus to the whole field? We’ll take two copies! 

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Eavesdrop

THE JOURNAL IN QUESTION
When an architecture publication from the 1970s is omitted from an exhibition about architecture publications from the same period, does it make a sound? It does if Lebbeus Woods is one of its staunch defenders. He noticed that the current exhibition at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, Clip/Stamp/Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines, curated by Beatriz Colomina, has left out a “little magazine,” launched by Steven Holl—one of Storefront’s board members, no less! No, it’s not booklets of watercolors, it’s the Pamphlet Architecture series, which Holl started in 1977 as impromptu, Xerox-able missives that gave young practitioners, including Lars Lerup, Zaha Hadid, and himself, the chance to write about and present their work. The series continues today, published by Princeton Architectural Press via a series of yearly competitions. Colomina’s show includes publications such as Casabella to more obscure journals, including one we’ve never heard of, ARse. Woods, himself an early Pamphlet-eer, surmised, “She obviously feels it belongs to the ’80s, but it’s not true.” He griped, “She’s certainly enough of a historian to check dates.”

The ever-gracious Colomina clarified, “What happened is that the show was originally going up to 1976 and when we added a few more years at the very end, somehow Pamphlet got left behind.” She continued, “There is a note in the gallery and the newsletter encouraging people to send info about other magazines. Anyway since we are all in New York, it would be easy to add another bubble and include Pamphlet as long as we get originals soon.” Problem solved.

DO THE SHUFFLE
The world of architecture publications continues its bloodletting. From the recent Hanley Wood acquisition/axing of Architecture to changes at Domus and Abitare, now comes reports that Architectural Record, whose editorial masthead is top-heavy, is trimming its staff: At the end of November, it let go long-time editor-at-large James Russell, who began his career as an associate editor at Record and continued to work there part-time, while serving as architecture critic for the Bloomberg news agency, a gig he’ll continue. In an email, Russell wrote, “Pursuant to a significant restructuring that affected all the business units of McGraw-Hill Construction, I have left Architectural Record, after 18 years, with regrets.” The same restructuring also saw the promotion of another 18-year McGraw-Hill veteran, Laura Viscusi, who became publisher of the magazine and will also oversee Engineer News Record. “Stability” does not seem to be the keyword here. This trend explains why 

AN editors have been writing Eavesdrop since we lost our last ’dropper. Speaking of, has anyone noticed a certain notorious blog—rhymes with “shutter”—is moribund? The New York Times House & Home section must have put “anonymous blogs” on its ban list for contributors, next to gossip columns.

COMMENTS, TIPS, JOB APPLICATIONS: EDITOR@ARCHPAPER.COM 

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Demo A Go for Admirals Row

 
Demo a Go for Admirals Row
Supermarket will replace deteriorated but historic navy yard houses 


ANNE GUINEY 

Arecent announcement by the Mayor’s Office and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation confirmed the impending demolition of ten historic houses in the Yard known as Admirals Row. Built between 1858 and 1901, the Greek revival, Italianate, and French Second Empire–style houses were once grand residences for naval officers. Vacant since the 1970s, several of the houses have been attributed to Thomas U. Walter, the architect 
of the U.S. Capitol Dome and the Treasury Building.

Along with the expansion of industrial space elsewhere in the Yard, a 60,000-square-foot supermarket and a 300-car parking lot are planned for the Admirals Row site. “A critical piece of Brooklyn’s history and New York’s architectural heritage is about to be sacrificed for a big box store and parking lot,” said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council (HDC). “It’s 
a suburban project that’s incompatible with the urban fabric of the area.” Bankoff bemoaned the lack of public process or investigation of adaptive reuse for the houses. According to documents obtained by HDC, the demolition has been planned since the Giuliani Administration. “This is a radical situation. Why not consider a solution that’s akin to Kmart at Astor Place or Fairway in Red Hook, where big box retail was integrated into historic buildings?”

The Mayor’s Office maintains that the grocery store will meet the demand of 
an underserved community, including residents of the adjacent New York City Housing Authority properties. In a statement issued on October 24, Mayor Bloomberg was quoted as saying, “This groundbreaking is another terrific example of our administration’s determination to strengthen the city’s industrial sector, which is a vital part of our economy. By helping to add hundreds of 
new jobs at this world-class industrial park, the city is also strengthening the economic health of its surrounding neighborhoods.” A spokesman for the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation told the Daily News that the buildings are too far gone for restoration to be economically feasible. From Flushing Avenue, the houses are visible through a scrim of weed trees, and 
do seem to be in parlous condition: Doors hang loosely from hinges, ivy grows through open windows, and the roof appears to be crumbling.

Bankoff and other preservationists remain skeptical. “All the surrounding community organizations support the investigation of adaptive reuse options 
for the Admirals Row properties,” he said. “You have to ask who this suburban development is really going to serve.” 

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Grand Plans

The Biennale featured, in the Arsenale and various national pavilions, the works of many photographers known for their urban documentation, including Armin Linke, Gabriele Basilico, Edward Burtynksky, Antoni Muntadas, Bas Princen, and Sze-Tsung Leong. Italian photographer Olivo Barbieri's site specific_SHANGHAI 04 (2004), above, and Spanish photographer Dionisio Gonzalez Heliolopolis (2006), below, both appear in the mini-exhibition C on Cities, curated by the magazine C International Photo Magazine.


Courtesy Galerra Max Estrella
 



Cities Without Architecture
Richard Ingersoll
Architecture critic and author; professor at Syracuse University in Florence

Behind this year's Venice Architecture Biennale lurks a daunting moral imperative: Something must be done before the planet is overrun by urbanization. But whether architecture is the problem or the solution remains a serious doubt. The title of the show, Cities, Architecture, and Society, is peculiarly inaccurate in that the content of the major exhibition in the stadium-length Corderie of the Venice Arsenal is devoted to 16 urban regions of a size and complexity that can no longer be called cities. Any of them—London, Tokyo, New York, Mexico City, Mumbai, Shanghai—are made of a fusion of several cities around a historic core city, each comprising a sprawling megalopolis of millions of inhabitants in areas that are usually more than 50 kilometers in diameter. Aside from this linguistic anomaly, the main exhibition suffers from a more egregious absence: There is no architecture: that is, there are no memorable projects presented meaningfully through drawings, models, or photographs. The buildings and projects that are visible in an impressive series of films and photographs used in the show are furtive—always incidental to some greater reality. At first this lack of architecture strikes one as a pleasant surprise in an exhibition known for its incestuous relationships to star architects and its tendentious promotion of formal trends. But after 300 meters of being hounded by statistics and zenith views of cities, one starts to miss the company of celebrity authors and their trademark works, or at least some sense of a project for architecture.

This year's director, Richard Burdett, professor at the London School of Economics and architectural advisor to the Mayor of London, aside from delegating the Golden Lion career award to his close friend Richard Rogers, has studiously avoided giving any notion of a criterion for architecture. Good intentions, however, are blazoned on the walls—sustainability and social justice—but they are not given any particular aesthetic agenda. Nor do the few specific examples, such as the transport system in Bogota, offer any notion of what can be done. An exemplary project for urban regeneration, for instance, Barcelona's 22@, a 200-hectare new town, is thrown in with hundreds of images and completely lost. Burdett's vision of the megalopolis, as he states, is of promising challenges, providing the opportunity to re-design the meanings, the functions, the aptitudes and the positive features of the various urban structures and strategies. But the display remains primarily analytical.

The alarm over uncontrollable urban growth has been sounded frequently since the end of the 19th century, when Ebenezer Howard, reacting to the inhumane densities of London, the world's first boundless megalopolis, proposed the Garden City as a means of restoring the balance between city and nature. Two generations later Jose Lluis Sert published the modernist notions of decentralized urbanism in his 1942 tract Can Our Cities Survive? And more than 50 years back the most influential urban historian, Lewis Mumford, was constantly engaged in battles against sprawl and urban growth. The Dutch Pavilion directed by Aaron Betsky recuperates some of the bird's-eye-views of how Dutch architects confronted the question of urban crowding, using archival materials, such as H. P. Berlage's 1910 plan of South Amsterdam and the 1960s beehive scheme of Bijlmemeer. The Austrian Pavilion, curated by Wolf Prix, also recuperated historic exhibitions of urban utopias, including a recreation of Fredrick Kiesler's 1925 City in Space and Hans Hollein's 1964 malaprop collages of aircraft carriers in wheat fields. These historic works were in fact the closest thing to an architectural agenda in the Biennale. The only other truly inspiring exhibit from a formal point of view was Metro-polis, curated by Benedetto Gravagnuolo and Alessandro Mendini, devoted to the new subway system in Naples, a series of art-stations designed by well-known international architects and artists as varied as Dominique Perrault and Anish Kapoor.

If the question of rampant urbanization is by now rather old, what's new about Burdett's analysis? Nothing, really, except the consideration of the ever-increasing dimensions of scale and the influence of digital technologies, which have resulted in the concept of flows. He promises that 75 percent of the world will live in urban situations by 2050, but since most of Europe and developed nations have already surpassed this measure, this fact does not seem so controversial. Uncontrollable urban growth is a vexing problem in terms of its environmental consequences, but this has not really yielded a show that provides convincing solutions; rather, it is a bit like walking through a geography textbook. There have been other recent exhibitions, such as MVRDV's traveling installation Metacity/Datatown (1999) and Rem Koolhaas and Stefano Boeri's Mutations: Harvard Project on the City at the Arc en Reve in Bordeaux (2000) that were more successful in creating a graphic method for appreciating the quantitative difference of the contemporary megalopolis.

A surprising number of the national pavilions were devoted to what can be called everyday urbanism. The Australian Pavilion in fact uses the term specifically, the Belgian is devoted to the beauty of the ordinary, and those of the U.K., Hungary, Korea, and many others worked on the pervasiveness of vernacular and commercial landscapes, which in general excludes the work of architects. The Japanese eccentric Terunobu Fujimori was featured in his country's pavilion, offering a movement called ROJO (Roadway Observation Society). One had to remove their shoes to walk through the charred wooden walls into a room paved in tatami mats to look at the weird collection of things found on the roadside and the architect's arcane additions to these landscapes.

The U.S. Pavilion was typically out of step. While the choice of the theme of Hurricane Katrina was a good one considering that most large urban agglomerations contend with a considerable degree of risk from disaster—a subject that has been beautifully investigated by Paul Virilio—the curatorial team of Architectural Record and Tulane University completely avoided the international scandal of the disaster in New Orleans, and the continuing scandal of governmental indifference. They simply offer some student project–like solutions on stilts that will never be built.

The Spanish Pavilion was one of the most formally satisfying, and while it includes many fine urban projects, the focus is exclusively on the presence of women. It presents three dozen white boxes, each with a vertical video screen showing a woman from the waist up, speaking about urban questions. The curator, Manuel Blanco, somewhat like the filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, has produced an exclusively feminine version of a world dominated by men, presenting women who work as planners, politicians, artists, developers, taxi drivers, street vendors, and, of course, architects. Architect Carme Pinos commented, "Everyone says how great I look in the video, but no one seems to have noticed my tower," referring to her recently finished the 20-floor Torre Cube in Guadalajara, Mexico. Her comment captures the spirit of this year's Biennale, which downplays the role of architecture.

The French Pavilion is by far the most exuberant and popular, and perhaps best captures the overall atmosphere of this year's Biennale as cities without architecture.. Directed by architect Patrick Bouchain, it sprawls outside and over the top of its neoclassical porch, with deck chairs and card tables scattered about. Inside one finds scaffolds that shelter a bar, kitchen, and a workshop for artisans to make tee-shirts and other take-home items. The structure also supports a stair for ascending to a roof terrace where visitors can enjoy a sauna, sundecks, and hammocks. A frolicking, hedonistic, and purposely messy affair, much in the spirit of Lucien Kroll, who was involved in its planning, this invasion of the existing structure makes a serious case for participatory design by adaptation rather than settling for the imposed formal order of architects.
 




Digital Globe / Telespazio


QuickBird satellite views of (from left to right) Milan, Barcelona, and Bogota. Similar views of all the cities under examination appear in the Corderie of the Arsenale.
 



The Big Reconciliation
Liane Lefaivre
Chair of architectural history and theory at the Applied Arts Academy; research fellow in the urbanism department of the Technical University of Delft

For over five hundred years, since Leon Battista Alberti, architects and urbanists formed a whole, working together in the making of cities. That is until the early 1970s, when architecture and planning went through The Big Divorce in American architecture schools. Among the reasons for the break-up was the drying up of publicly-funded support for urban revitalization programs. Urban issues were, largely, thrown out of architecture schools. Key figures left for schools of government and policy, geography departments, and such. As a result, for the past 30 years, architects and urban professionals stopped speaking to one another almost entirely.

Now, Richard Burdett, director of the Cities Program at the London School of Economics and head of the itinerant Urban Age conference series, has, at the request of the Venice Architecture Biennale organizers, kick-started a dialogue between the two disciplines. In order to do so, he presented some of the grubbiest, grittiest, and dynamic cities in the world, including among others Istanbul, Shanghai, Caracas, Johannesburg, Mumbai, New York, Mexico City, and Sao Paulo.

The concept behind the exhibition is exciting, with greater implications for the health of the planet and humanity than the latest architectural trends. No one has attempted a comparative study of the world's megacities on this scale before. The exhibition itself won't likely wow the general public, however. Panels of text, images, and charts filled with unprocessed information about the lower depths of urban reality is not the stuff of blockbusters. Among the show's shortcomings is the fact that issues like density and society are raised but are left hanging in the air. In the age of Google Earth, one might also wonder why more interactive media was not used. But what the show lacks in depth of coverage will presumably be supplemented by other activities throughout the next two months while the Biennale acts as a forum for debate and an incubator for policy brainstorming with a planned series of high-level workshops. Here, one supposes that issues like democratic rights, sustainable growth, local government versus World Bank–dictated rules of governance, and Hernando de Soto's brand of neoliberalism will be addressed.

The theme of cities had a galvanizing, almost psychoanalytic effect on many national pavilions. At the U.S. Pavilion, Robert Ivy's team at Architectural Record along with Reed Kroloff of Tulane University grappled with the profound dysfunctionality of post-Katrina New Orleans and wound up with a statement of the inability of architecture alone, in spite of endless good will, to overcome certain political and social realities. The French Pavilion, perhaps as a form of expiation for the race riots that marked the nation's suburbs last year, was turned into one big pop-anarchist Rabelaisian bistro, celebrating togetherness in the midst of delicious food smells and plentiful wine. Austria fell back on two of its bluest chips, venerable masterpieces by once rebellious artists, one by Friedrich Kiesler of 1925 and one of 1964 by Hans Hollein. By contrast, the Hungarian Pavilion took a chance on an independently minded, youthful approach—examining the reach of Chinese-made goods in the world—and came up with a relevant contemporary statement on a specific urban reality. At the Russian Pavilion, the work of Alexander Brodsky, with his hilariously Gogolian black humor, offered a commentary on urban life in Russia today. The Spanish Pavilion was devoted to 52 of the most important women involved with architecture and urbanism in Spain. The overwhelmingly encouraged feminine presence goes a long way in explaining why this country has such great architecture and cities.

Of all the countries, Great Britain was the most active in organizing real discussions. Paul Finch, the editor of Architectural Review, together with Odile Decq, Peter Cook, and Robert White of White Partners should be commended for presenting a series of public debates called The Dark Side Club, which took place every night during the vernissage from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m., after all the other parties had ended. And the British Council assembled a panel called My Kind of Town: Architecture and Urban Identity, featuring Rem Koolhaas, David Chipperfield, author Alain de Botton, Nick Johnson of visionary development firm Urban Splash, critic Alice Rawsthorn, and Sudhev Sandhu, author of London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City. Judging by the international attendance, these lively events might set a trend in future Biennales.

Richard Rogers used the high-profile moment of winning this year's Biennale Golden Lion Award for Life Achievement to stress the need for strict government regulations, citing Portland, Oregon, as the most popular city in the U.S. because it is the best at regulating and containing sprawl and encouraging inner-city densification. Of all the speakers I heard, he was the one who got the most enthusiastic response. In the same vein, this Biennale brought the work of a generation of designers in their 40s to the fore, including James Corner of Field Operations in New York, Rahul Mehrotra of Mumbai, Yung Ho Chang of MIT and Beijing, and Jeremy Till from Sheffield, England, to whom architectural issues are not antithetical to urban, political, social, or ecological concerns.
 



Austria


Markus Pillhoffer


Italy


Giorgio Zucciatti / Courtesy Venice Biennale


Japan


Courtesy Institute for Japanese Culture

Top: The Austrian Pavilion, directed by Wolf D. Prix, features Hans Hollein's 1964 Flugzeugtrrger (aircraft carrier). The piece suggested how to install a complex urban structure in a rural setting, and also served as ironic commentary on the relationship between the city and nature. Middle: With the opening of the Italian Pavilion in the Tese delle Vergini (near the Arsenale), the old Italian Pavilion in the Giardini was given over to dozens of smaller exhibitions organized by various schools, countries, and research groups. The facade of the pavilion is wrapped in Olivo Barbieri's photograph of the Gonehexin Road overpass in Shanghai. Bottom: The Japanese Pavilion is devoted to the work of Terunobu Fujimori, whose naturalist architecture features the use of charred wood, planted roofs, and rough stone and earth. Within this woven hut, installed in the pavilion, visitors could watch a slideshow of images taken by ROJO, the Roadway Observation Society, founded in 1986 by a group of artists, including Fujimori, dedicated to documenting extraordinary roadside phenomena.



Architecture Between the Cracks
Toshiko Mori
Principal, Toshiko Mori Architect

The Biennale is basically a provocation from director Ricky Burdett to architects and planners. Why do architects not have a role in the forming of cities, why are we not involved more, or voicing opinions more? Why do we have such a lame role in civic discourse? Planners always seem to have good ideas, but they do not follow through. If they did we would not witness the degree of dystopia displayed at this Biennale. Planners do not have power, they are disengaged with physical reality; instead they seem to be buried in paper statistics. With the war in Iraq, the threat of terrorism, poverty, starvation, and genocide erupting around us, how do we answer the questions posed by the exhibition's organizers: Can planning promote social cohesion? Can good governance improve things? Do we all answer "yes" and go and have a Bellini? This is when the 1970s come to mind: Back then, we went into action more directly and architecture's sense of purpose ran deeper.

How did architecture become perceived to be surface-deep? It's an apt question to ask in a city like Venice, where the tourist-pleasing Serenissima facade comprises less than one-third of the city. Going around on the vaporetto (ferry) #82, one sees the blue-collar industrial and working gut of Venice. Author Alain de Botton asked me if I liked the decoration on the building facades. I recommended the vaporetto commute so he could see beyond the place's surface happiness. Architect Patrick Bouchain, organizer of the French Pavilion Metacity/Metaville, where two dozen architects, graphic designers, and media artists set up house and every day go about domestic chores like cooking and sweeping, told me that in Paris, street sweepers are called technicians du surface. The traditional French respect for the worker stands in contrast to the country's recent crisis over the lack of assimilation of immigrants. Intolerance and antagonism are causing riots and lawlessness because people are unable to share discourse and civic values. The message is simply to go back to what we all have in common, and try to establish direct communication among lives in the cities. (The irony is that the pavilion encourages both a sense of community and anarchy, breaking the decorum of exhibition halls by making it an inhabited space, a fragment of a city, with all the transgressions they encompass.)

The Spanish Pavilion, curated, designed, and organized by the perfectionist super-phenom Manuel Blanco, is the individuated and collective voice of women in Spain from all walks of life: female vox populi. It is a very clear, powerful, and credible message. Women are animated, beautiful, sympathetic, and most of all humane. Manuel says his approach was obvious since Spain has a feminine prefix, yet female voices have been suppressed by strong male dominance in politics and culture.

The Irish have the most to show in terms of their efforts to balance Ireland's fast economic growth, ecology, large planning efforts, and sustainability. It is unfortunate that their room, in the old Italian Pavilion, is painted black, since their projects are realistic and send a positive message about the robust engagement of politicians, planners, and architects to make the semblance of utopian future possible.

The relationship and balance between the obvious and visible architectural quotient of a city versus the support fabric of its infrastructure is the point of this Biennale. I was not so worried that there was not enough architecture. A lack of buildings does not mean architecture is absent. There is a territory where architects can take over creatively, as is demonstrated by the Irish group show, which is filled with strong case studies.

There was a lot of dialogue and discussion going on during the vernissage, but one looming question was: Where were the Americans? The U.S. Pavilion sent a strong impression of the effects of Hurricane Katrina. The intricate moving model of cubes suspended by fragile strings is a metaphor for New Orleans housing as a puppet of mechanized bureaucracy. Once these strings are cut, the cubes float aimlessly without life support (full disclosure: this is the work of GSD students). And yet Americans had a weak (if any) presence in the public discussions organized by the Biennale. It made me realize that not only is the U.S. isolating itself in foreign policy, but we may be in danger of isolating ourselves in the area of urbanism too. What can we learn from others, what can we share? Are we engaged in this global discourse? If so, we should certainly be able to have several alternatives and viable models other than New Urbanism.
 



France




Cyrille Weiner ( top); Stefan Jonot (bottom)

The French Pavilion has become temporary home to two dozen artists and designers, who have outfitted the neoclassical building with bunk beds, a kitchen, bar, DJ stand, rooftop sauna, and sundeck.



China






Stefan Jonot (top and middle); Danish Architecture Center (bottom)

Top: The Austrian Pavilion, directed by Wolf D. Prix, features Hans Hollein's 1964 Flugzeugtrager (aircraft carrier). The piece suggested how to install a complex urban structure in a rural setting, and also served as ironic commentary on the relationship between the city and nature. Middle: Their Tiles Garden is made over 60,000 tiles recycled from demolished structures in Hangzhou. Bottom: The Hungarian Pavilion made use of cheap, Chinese-made plastic goods to create animated canopies, wall-hangings, and other installations. The Danish Pavilion proposed various projects for sustainable development in China, including Magic Mountains, a green business district.



The End of the Line for the Biennale?
Hugh Pearman
Architecture critic, London Sunday Times; editor, RIBA Journal

Despite the importance of the subject matter and the high seri- ousness with which it has been approached, this Biennale, for me, does not work as an exhibition. The long, long gloomy columnar promenade of the Corderie in the Arsenal complex—in recent years the heart of the show, crammed with goodies—has never been sparser. You feel you are attending a stern lecture. Only the lecturer is absent, and has sent along his notes instead.

The rest of the show, over in the pocket garden suburb of national pavilions and scattered here and there throughout the city, is as patchy as ever though one finds intermittent flashes of joy. But it is difficult to imagine where this exhibition can go from here. The last good one with a strong theme was curated six years ago by Massimiliano Fuksas, Less Aesthetics, More Ethics. That allowed plenty of provocative architecture, but it also required an analysis of the social dimension.

And now? The architecture biennales are always rather touch-and-go. The go button is always pushed late: It is always a scrabble to get it together in time. This one feels like the end of an era. If the series is to continue, it must be comprehensively re-thought. It must have a reason to exist.
 



The Laser-Print Biennale
Aaron Betsky
Director, Netherlands Architecture Institute; Incoming Director, Cincinnati Art Museum

As far as I am concerned, the best room was the central space at the Italian Pavilion, where the imaginative power proper to art and architecture were used to confront, criticize, and speculate on the city as a reality, rather than reduce it to facts and figures. For sheer scale, the AMO layout, an aerial panorama of the whole Gulf coast, from Kuwait to Saudi Arabia, could not be matched. And of course in our historical exhibition [at the Dutch pavilion] we tried to bring up the issue of the city as a real place for which we have to take responsibility as architects, not just as concerned citizens. For the same reason I appreciated the attempts by the Russians, the French, and the Hungarians to make this point in an imaginative way. And that would lead to my major gripe: Just as architects should not pretend to be graphic designers or landscape architects, nor should they claim to be sociologists or politicians. Positioning your work within a social and political field is one thing; claiming to be Al Gore is another. The imagination was buried too deep beneath the pavement of Venice this year to be unearthed by any statistical tools.
 



Highs and Lows
Paola Antonelli
Acting Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art

The Venice Biennale is, as always, worth it, even though the overall lack of normall architectural scale—meaning models, drawings, reference to neighborhoods—made this year for a rollercoaster between the elegantly cold and the sometimes overdone touchy-feely. The show at the Arsenale belongs in the former category. Director Richard Burdett's momentous analysis of 16 great cities was impeccably presented in an installation designed by Aldo Cibic and his partners. The installation had some beautiful moments, some planned—the room comparing densities, for instance, filled with self-explanatory beautiful styrofoam stalagmites, or the views of the cities flowing under your feet in small connecting bridges—and some serendipitous: in the Caracas corner, an oil stain in the floor that ghostly mimicked the shape of the city hung on the wall just above. The deeper you went into the Arsenale, the more you could get lost in data, comparative studies, and gorgeous satellite pictures, but somehow you longed for people and buildings.

The pavilions were very uneven. One wonders why some nations don't just stay home, or rent out their pavilions to the other countries that might really have something to say. Among the interesting ones: the Spanish, curated by Manuel Blanco, my favorite, with women of all walks of life talking about their cities, with architecture a part of their soundtrack. The British, taking the city of Sheffield as a case study and exploring it at different scales, from sheep to satellite view. The Japanese were a bit out of theme, but soothing and beautiful. The Slovenian: at last some innovative architecture. The French overshared—do we really need to see guys cooking in a pareo?—but were a hit because they were very hospitable, to the point where otherwise respectable architects were hopping the fence to join their late-night parties and the police were called nightly to kill the fun.

Personally, I learned to blog. Together with London's Architecture Foundation, MoMA launched a wild beast of a blog that became quite the recipient of everybody's rants and raves (www.venicesuperblog.net).
 



Disquietingly Quiet
Odile Decq
Principal, Odile Decq Benoit Cornette

When we try to describe a city, we often start by quantifying its inhabitants, expressing through its size what typology of city we are speaking about: small, middle, large, or extra-large. The presentations of the 16 megalopolises in the Arsenale strive to analyze the phenomena of how they came to be. But never could a collection of quantified facts express what a city is.

Architects are dedicated to thinking about and organizing people and life; architecture exhibitions are dedicated to vicarious representations that are free of the noise and smell of flesh-and-blood cities. This Biennial takes a non-risky position, avoiding experiments on concrete strategies. It is a pity for the general public and the thousand of young future architects, desperate for inspiration for visions of tomorrow.
 



Planning Potential
Ron Shiffman
Director, Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development

Richard Burdett's exhibition begins with a description of cities in a changing world and ends with an invitation to cities to change the world. At critical junctures, displays focus on issues such as income disparity, density, mobility, and information flows. Implied throughout are the issues of class and race, which underlie many of the disparities the exhibition highlights.

The individual city presentations varied in quality. New York's presentation (coordinated by Pamela Puchalski of the Center for Architecture) successfully captured several of the city's innovative planning and development initiatives such as the High Line park and the effort to build more housing along the city's waterfront. Given the city's penchant to diminish its mandated participatory planning processes by surrendering its decision-making role to the state, as they have in the case of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards proposal, I was surprised to read in the exhibition text that New York has decided to accommodate growth by capitalizing on its edges along the water, investing heavily in new housing projects in the outer boroughs, and involving its citizens in the debate on the future of the city. One wishes it were really so. Too little investment and far too little debate. Perhaps New York City should borrow from the Norwegian city of Tromss, which decided to call a time-out on large-scale development and engage its citizens in what is truly a public debate.
 



Painting by Numbers
Hani Rashid
Principal, Asymptote

After the painful, but visually enticing, onslaught of Burdettian data, statistics, and images of cities on the verge, perhaps the upcoming Venice Art Biennale will follow suit by filling the Corderie and Giardini Pavilions with the financial statements of artists, galleries, and museums (leaving out the art). Now that could actually be interesting!
 



Comparative Views
Barry Bergdoll
Chair, Department of Art History, Columbia University; Incoming Philip C. Johnson Curator of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art

In 1933 CIAM studied 34 world cities in aerial overviews and statistical analyses aboard the S.S. Patris while cruising between Marseille and Athens. The result, the Athens Charter, published in 1943, was the lingua franca of postwar modernism's bid to take charge of the city through functionalist and universalist criteria. It was hard not to think how far we are from this venture of over 70 years ago, arriving by air in one of Europe's prime museum cities, Venice, to take in Richard Burdett's ambitious marshalling of aerial views and statistics comparing 16 cities on five continents. If the pious list of five recommendations at the show's conclusion had more to do with issues of city governance—even in a display largely devoid of analysis of the vastly different historical and political forces at play—the results displayed could not have been further from CIAM's taking hold of the reins through design. The Biennale was filled with small-scale interventions in the impoverished quarters of the Third World and landscape re-workings of the detritus of the industrial past in the cities of the First World. The shrinking city of Berlin, where capitalism and democratic political process has eclipsed Europe's communist past, were lumped together with Shanghai and with Mumbai, the latter earmarked soon to overtake Tokyo as the largest city in the history of civilization. Caracas, presented neutrally as yet another booming metropolis, with little acknowledgment of the distinct political and economic situation of the petroleum capital with its populist anti-imperialist leader (a not so subtle protest is registered in the Venezuela Pavilion where the sole exhibition objects are a grainy aerial photograph and a broadsheet declaring a complete lack of interest in any Westernn-imposed urban solutions). As the exhibition embraces the notion of a globalized crisis—with many of the virtues and problems of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth—the particularity of each city begs for attention. Projects were modest and isolated, except for large-scale planning sponsored by developers, who increasingly have turned to star architects.

What could have underscored how omnipresent a very different urban condition in 2006 is than the looming mass of the Norwegian Jewel cruise ship, whose towering 15 decks threw the national pavilions at the Giardini in shadow during much of the preview. None of the tourists disgorged was clamoring for entry to the Biennale, even if the morning Gazettino di Venezia featured both the influx of international architects and a photo reportage on the visible erosion everywhere of Venice's fragile brick and stone fabric caused by the ever-increasing traffic of super tourist liners in the lagoon.
 



The No-Stop City
Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi
Architecture Critic

The Italian Pavilion curated by Franco Purini presents the design of Vema, a theoretical city for 30,000 residents located between Verona and Mantua. Contained within an area measuring 3,720 by 2,300 meters, the city is divided into sectors designed by 20 groups of architects under 40, chosen from among the most promising young practices in Italy. The immense model of Vema, which dominates the exhibition space, can be appreciated on two levels. For the general public, Purini's project will seem to go against the grain: The creation of a newly founded city in a Western country, so similar to the Renaissance examples of Sabbioneta and Palmanova, is in clear opposition to the dominant urban model of sprawling metropolis or the Koolhaasian Generic City. What makes Vema contemporary are the projects designed by young architects. The result is thus a strange hybrid in which the ideal cities of Filarete and Vignola coexist with deconstructivist, super-modern, and neo-organic projects.

For insiders, Purini's project is an attempt, as brilliant as it is unconvincing, to reduce the tension between young, experimental architects and the old guard, of which Purini himself is a leading exponent. The video that accompanies the exhibition thus presents a picture of Italian architecture as a continuum, where the old and new coexist without conflict, and wherein we are able to overcome the violent clashes that have historically occurred, for example, between figures such as Manfredo Tafuri and Bruno Zevi, and gain inspiration from models as diverse as the baroque Paolo Portoghesi and the radical Archizoom.
 



Women on the Verge
Below is an excerpt of architectural theorist Beatriz Colomina's video observation included in the exhibition Espana [f.] nosotros, las ciudades (Spain [f.] we, the cities) at the Spanish pavilion, curated by Manuel Blanco. Hers was one of 52 recordings of Spanish women—clients, architects, citizens—speaking about their experiences of particular buildings or of urban life in general.

What interests me most about cities is how they are so radically transformed with each new technology, from gas lamps to trains to electricity to video cameras. Lately I have become interested in cell phones. No technology has transformed the city more than cell phones in a long time. They have completely revolutionized the relationship between public and private. To be in a city you no longer have to be in the street—you can join a friend in a cafe simply by calling—and if you are in the streets you may not be in the city, as when you are so immersed in a conversation that you are somewhere else and the streets you are walking become a kind of mirage. In fact, in almost any city today there are more people on the phone than in the streets. Every aspect of our experience has changed.

This became evident on September 11 when any traditional sense of public and private space became obsolete. In the heart of the spectacular nightmare, covered continuously by every single television channel, the most intimate exchanges were taking place. For the first time in the history of a catastrophe, the families and loved ones of many of the victims were among the first to know when they received cell-phone calls made from hijacked airplanes and from inside the World Trade Center towers. These calls carved out a whole new sense of space, a last vestige of domesticity.

In the aftermath of the events, the desperate attempts on the part of cell-phone companies to deliver the last messages that had not gone through attested to the importance of this form of communication. In a situation in which there were very few human remains recovered, those messages were all that was left, the very thing that is always missing in tragic accidents. No longer simply a fragile substitute for real people, the digital record became the most solid reality.

There was a new sense of space constructed by the unrelenting bombardment of repetitive images through TV and the Internet and the simultaneous exchange of the most intimate and unique, one-on-one communications via cell phones.

If 9/11 in New York revealed the cell-phone as the last vestige of domesticity, 3/11 in Madrid revealed the cell-phone as a weapon, triggering the train bombs. Personal defense became public attack.



Spain


Cemel Emden



Painting By Numbers
Wolf Prix
Principal, Coop Himmelb(l)au

The theme of the 10th International Architecture Biennale is key for the architecture of the next decades. Thus I find that though the main exhibition at the Arsenale displays a striking collection of different factors and important data, it fails in developing a theory or visions out of this information. On the other hand, the shows at the national pavilions in the Giardini present, with a few exceptions, the helplessness of architects in association with strategic city models.



I Heart New York
Alexander Gorlin
Principal, Alexander Gorlin Architects

Maybe Richard Burdett, the curator of the Architecture Biennale's Cities theme, should have first listened to Madonna's latest song, I Love New York, before putting together a mind-numbing, statistic-fest that completely fails to understand the essential experiential differences among cities around the world: 

I don't like cities, but I like New York / Other places make me feel like a dork / Los Angeles is for people who sleep / Paris and London, baby you can keep

Other cities always make me mad / Other places always make me sad / No other city ever made me glad / Except New York,  I love New York


Walking through the Arsenale, one would hardly know there was a difference between Bogota and New York. In fact it seems that Cairo is denser than New York, therefore...exactly—so what? The quality of the characteristics that make a difference between cities is leveled in this show by categories that have nothing to do with living in each place, such as stock market capitalization or the ranking of their commodity exchanges. Most of the cities appear to have been selected for politically correct purposes: one from continent A, one from continent B, and who knows why so many from South America? The show also suffers from extreme Google Earth–mania, an obsessive fascination with those satellite maps that are now available to everyone. But who experiences a city at 250 miles up in outer space?

In the end, the whole show should have been about New York—Manhattan, to be precise—in an attempt to understand why it is clearly the most exciting city on earth and the present-day capital of the world—I love New York!

If you don't like my attitude than you can F-off / Just go to Texas, isn't that where they golf / New York is not for little pussies who scream / If you can't stand the heat, then get off my street



The China Syndrome
Cathy Lang Ho
Editor, The Architect's Newspaper

China crops up often in the Biennale, which perhaps should not be surprising given its dizzying rate of urbanization and the extent to which its rapid development has affected global architectural and construction practices, not to mention the world's ecological balance. The Danish Pavilion followed curator Henrik Valeur's prompt: How can we improve people's living conditions without exhausting the very resources needed to sustain a better life? The display presents the sort of dramatic statistics that Rem Koolhaas first introduced with his Pearl River research almost a decade ago, alongside theoretical projects by teams of Danish architects and Chinese architecture schools. Their fantastical gestures—business centers that resemble picturesque mountains, a peaking infrastructure-laden mega-wall circling a city—betray the sense that the country is still perceived, by too many in the world (including the Chinese themselves) as a tabula rasa.

Hungary had a quirkier approach to the topic of China as both a consequence and protagonist of globalization: Its pavilion was filled with artful installations made of cheap China-made toys: a canopy of chirping plastic penguins, a wall of plastic resin with repulsive furry toys imbedded within. The installation was part of a larger project, documented in a fine catalogue, investigating the impact of Chinese immigrants on the world's cities and of Chinese-made goods on life everywhere. It was one of the few projects that conveyed what I wish the Biennale accomplished more: how globalization and urbanization has affected people's lives. This was poignantly communicated in Hu Yang's Shanghai Living (2005), a photographic series displayed in the Italian Pavilion, showing a factory worker, shop-girl, office manager, and dozens of other Shanghai residents in their homes. Each is presented with a statement from the subject, personalizing the effects of the phenomena measured elsewhere in the Biennale.



Hu Yang's images are on display in C on Cities, a special photography exhibition in the Italian Pavilion, curated by the London-based publication C International Photo Magazine. Issue 3 is dedicated to its Biennale presentation, and is available through www.ivorypress.com.


Shanghai Living
 (2005) by Hu Yang 
Tang Zhen'an
(Shanghainese general manager)
Up to now I am satisfied with my life, and I like photographing and collecting western art works during my leisure time. I have pressures, mainly from competition within the circle and requirement from inside. I want to do everything I can to promote Shanghai's photographing industry.



Shanghai Living (2005) by Hu Yang
Wei Yufang
(Shandongnese vendor)
We are leading a hard life and eat battercakes, pickles and a glass of water for all three meals. When our kids want meat dishes, we cook them an egg. We work more than 15 hours a day if it doesn't rain. We want our kids to be educated and not to live like us. I will risk anything for our kids to go to university. My eldest son is excellent and wins prizes every semester. I suffer being teased by local ruffians.

Eavesdrop: Philip Nobel

 It’s the summer doldrums here, gossipwise—that sad season between the last of the overhyped spring events and the return of nonstop calumny after Labor Day. Those about whom we might fruitfully comment seem to have decamped, or perhaps there’s merely been an outbreak of discretion and fair play. Either way, the result is the same: It’s Frank Lloyd Wright to the rescue.

Can you feel the scandal brewing? For months now, since the Post’s Page Six got the jump on the competition with a wee item, tongues have been flapping (with greatly varying degrees of accuracy) about a forthcoming book that threatens to do to Wright’s reputation—that great edifice of myth and omission maintained for half a century by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation—what the Starr Report did to Monica Lewinsky’s. Or what Richard Meier’s Building the Getty did to his own. Or, a mite less hysterically, what Franz Schulze’s damningPhilip Johnson: Life and Work might have done to old PJ had anyone bothered to read it and hold “the dean” to account.

But we digress. Breaking the news about the book, Page Six, God bless it, focused on the low: allegations of anti-Semitism and the “love/hate” relationship between Wright, his last wife, Olgivanna, and the many overtly and covertly gay apprentices with whom they surrounded themselves in their various Taliesins. As a suggestion of what other treats might be found within, The Post also mentioned a meat-cleaver murder attempt by Wright’s drug-addicted daughter (and last living heir) Iovanna. Picking up the thread, in early July the Associated Press ran wide and deep with a story on the Foundation’s preparations for a spin war in advance of the book’s September publication date. According to the AP, officials in Scottsdale “fear enrollment could fall” at Taliesin (no comment!) and are pushing back against the book preemptively, as the guilty do, citing alleged errors.

Good stuff, sure. There’s just one problem: all of this totally misses the point. The book in question, The Fellowship by Roger Friedland and Harold Zellman(ReganBooks, 2006), isn’t a lighthearted smear; as far as this only somewhat lapsed Wright scholar can deduce, it’s good history. And a ripping read. I have it right here, in fact, all 664 obsessively footnoted pages of it. And if I did not also have here a copy of the nondisclosure agreement I signed to get my greedy hands on the galleys, I’d happily entertain you with some of the tragic and hilarious (and substantiated) stories of violence, ribaldry, and mental manipulation perpetrated by Mr. and Mrs. Wright and Georgi Gurdjieff, the Greek-Armenian guru under whose sway Olgivanna fell when very young and whose mind-bending influence she never could quite shake. Not that she tried very hard; what The Fellowship makes sparklingly clear is that the greatest American architect of all time, so long imagined standing alone as a generative, form-giving genius, was in truth whipsawed throughout his life by tepid intellectual winds of dubious quality and provenance, from the politics of Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh to Gurdjieff’s abusive, sex-fueled, quackery-ridden personality cult (examined in minute and fascinating detail in the book), which Olgivanna almost succeeded (or did she?) in installing as the true philosophy at Taliesin.

Perhaps that’s why the diehard Wrighties are digging in for a fight? 

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How the Other Half Lives

Sometimes architects shake their heads at the decisions developers make, but their ideas can be just as baffling to the folks calling the shots. Architect Alexander Gorlin reaches across the divide, speaking with leading figures in both professionssdeveloper Ian Schrager and architect Gary Handell to find out what makes the relationship work. Portraits by Dan Bibb



The Developer's Architect
GARY HANDEL,
PRINCIPAL,
HANDEL ARCHITECTS


Gary Handel launched his firm in 1994 after leaving Kohn Pedersen Fox, where he specialized in designing office towers. Handel Architects has since grown to 90 people, and now has offices in both New York and San Francisco. The bulk of the firm's work is developer-driven, large-scale commercial and residential work in cities including New York, Philadelphia, Austin, Washington, D.C., and Miami. Handel is also an active board member of Friends of the High Line, and since Michael Arad joined the firm as a partner in 2004, has been involved in the design of the World Trade Center Memorial.

Alexander Gorlin: You started your own office in 1994 with a project for a developer [the Sony Metreon in San Francisco] and have done many more since then. What's it like to work with large-scale developers?
Gary Handel: I think it is interesting to work with them. The core of our practice is an investigation into how cities evolve and how each building can be used as a catalyst to further positive change. If you look at who built 90 to 95 percent of most cities, it's always been the private sector. In the model of modern urbanism we are operating in, I think the best we can hope for is intelligent public policy that has been fleshed out by enlightened self-interesttthe best of both private and public sectors.

Do you see a difference between developers in New York and other cities?
I think the difference is mostly one of perception. Chicago has an outstanding building culture, but in New York there is much more of an emphasis on quality design today than there was as recently as a decade ago. Developers have learned the lesson that design can pay off, and they have upped the qualityythey are now in the forefront as far as offering well-designed buildings. Up until 10 years ago, there was conventional wisdom about what an apartment building was, and no sense in the market that you were rewarded for good design. That has changed.

For our first residential building [Lincoln Square in New York, 1994] we had a great client. Metropolitan Housing Partners said, Here is your budgettwe'll give you a little more than for a standard project; use the money wisely.. It allowed us to challenge a lot of rules. At the end of the day, we built the building for a slight premium over what a conventional building would have cost. The marketplace responded and the developer was rewarded.

Developers realize there is a risk in not taking any risks. If you stick with conventional wisdom, there is no way to differentiate yourself. There is a risk in providing something that is just a commodity with nothing special about it. Finding the right edge is the core of our practice and some clients embrace it more willingly than others.

Is that a curtain wall at your project 505 Greenwich Street? Some developers get nervous when you even mention it.
That is part of conventional wisdom. The two street faces [of the 14-story, 104-unit building] are curtain wall, and the two side party walls and interior court are precast windows. We were able to buy that curtain wall very economically, and knew what that company was capable of. That curtain wall was more expensive then brick and windows, but the precast was less. So the average cost of that faaade is not more than a standard exterior. The developers, Metropolitan Housing Partners and Apollo Real Estate, looked at it and understood it would give them something to sell.

The difference between your building on Greenwich Street and some others nearby is night and day. I also build, and I understand you have to know how things are built, that there is a process of give and take. Some architects obviously haven't built anything and make big gestures without knowing how to put the whole thing together.
Doing developer work, you make a bargain, and have to be very responsible. Part of the reason why you get to do these explorations and challenge conventional wisdom is that there is a trust where you are committed to developing the program, perhaps in way the clients have not anticipated. If the developer knew the answers before they came to you, they wouldn't need you quite as much. If you understand what they are trying to do, you can show them ways to do it better. You have to provide them with what they asked for, but also get to the heart of what they were trying to do.

How would you characterize the process of building in New York?
What's interesting about New York is that there is zoning as-of-right for every site in the city. So it is possible to build your program if you are willing to live within the rules. New York is actually a relatively straightforward place to build.

I also think that this is a wonderful moment in the history of the city: It has sloughed off the decline of the 1960s and 70s and people have realized the possibility of reclaiming the waterfront. We really have the potential to transform how the city will grow over the next 20 years. I am a huge fan of what the Bloomberg Administration has done with zoning. We are working on projects in the Hudson Yards area and the Brooklyn waterfront, and are involved in the creation of the West Chelsea Zoning through the Friends of the Highline. Each of those rezonings is an attempt to capture what is unique about each place and to enable what it could be in the future.

How can younger architects convince a developer to hire them if they haven't already done a building?
You need to find smaller, younger developers, and help them find a project. It is a tough world to break into you, so look for people whom you can help in the early stages.





The Architect's Developer

IAN SCHRAGER,
CHAIRMAN,
IAN SCHRAGER COMPANY


Ian Schrager founded his eponymous company last year when he decided to expand beyond the design hotel businesssa category he pioneereddand move into residential development. He currently has eight projects in development, five of them in New York (all joint ventures with RFR Holdings), including 40 Bond Street, a condominium designed by Basel-based Herzog & de Meuron with Handel Architects, and 50 Gramercy Park North, a condominium designed by British architect John Pawson, adjacent to the Gramercy Park Hotel, whose interiors are being renovating by artist Julian Schnabel.

Alexander Gorlin: I always loved the Palladium [a Schrager nightclub which opened in 1985]. Did hiring Arata Isozaki lead to your interest in architecture?
Ian Schrager: I always had an interest in architecture, but it was the ability to put anything in a nightclubbit's a stage settthat drew me deeper into the field. You've always encouraged people to push their own boundaries. Philippe Starck had never done interiors to the extent that he did at the Delano Hotel [Miami, 1995]. Now, you are working with Julian Schnabel at the Gramercy Park Hotel. I think I've taken the design hotel as far as it can go, and it really doesn't interest me anymore now that it has it's been adopted by the mainstream. It doesn't represent an alternative to the status quo, so [for the Gramercy Park Hotel] I wanted to come up with something else. The converted industrial loft artists have embraced has become a prototype for living, and it is a link with what they do and how they impact us. So I wanted to do a public place that was evocative of an artists' colony or studioonot an art hotel but something evocative of that kind of singular and personal expression that could just come from one person's brain.

Artist's studios have always had great allure, like Brancusi's studio in Paris.
Brancusi's studio is part of the inspiration. It looks haphazard but for some reason, the canvases on the walls and the water vases turned upside down all just sort of work. That was the inspiration for this new hotel.

With 40 Bond Street, you have what is actually not an extraordinary site, with views of a park, for example, but have nonetheless created a very powerful environment. What was your thinking?
We went to Herzog & de Meuron, with whom I had worked beforeewe hadn't completed the project, but had worked with them and Rem Koolhaas [on an unrealized hotel project for the Astor Place site where Gwathmey Siegel's curved tower now stands]. I think they are just brilliant in the way they put things together and their use of materials. They realized that there wasn't much opportunity [with the 40 Bond site] because it couldn't be a freestanding building and the zoning envelope is limited. The opportunity was in the apartment's function, the street facade, and the opening of the windows, so we just kept pushing the envelope. It was Jacques' [Herzog's] idea to take the cast-iron architecture of Louis Sullivan's Bayard-Condict Building around the corner on Bleecker StreettSullivan's only building in New York and a masterpieceeand redo it with modern technology and materials.

Do you regret that [the Astor Place project] didn't work out between Koolhaas and Herzog & de Meuron?
Yes, of course.

What happened? Did they not work well together?
No. I got frustrated working with Rem [Koolhaas]. And I wanted to continue on with Jacques and Pierre [de Meuron], but they couldn't. It was unfortunate, really, because I looked at that site as the gateway to downtown. Charles Gwathmey is a friend of mine; I like him very much. But people come down here to get away from buildings like that. It's in the wrong placeeand maybe its developer messed it up. If the building was transparent, it would have been okay, but I think they were concerned about people seeing in the windows.

There are so many missed opportunities in this city for great architecture.

What do you look for in an architect?
A sparkle in the eyeeI like architects who don't have a signature style, because you never know what you're going to get. I actually want the same thing architects want.

In all venues, your work has always been about changing the status quo, and I think that's also the definition of great art, because it changes the way we see things. It's very illuminating that you always see what you do as art.
Well, I don't see it as art, but I do see it as subverting the status quo. It is the same thing I was doing with my hotels. I couldn't compete with Marriott in terms of efficiency, or the Four Seasons in terms of service, so I had to come up with something innovative that would give me something to market. I looked for my little opportunity within the existing infrastructure. If it's not subverting the status quo, it really doesn't interest me. Then it's just about making money.

Why do you think New York is so conservative architecturally?
I have a weird theory about that: I think it goes back to when Robert Moses tried to build a highway up Hudson Street and Jane Jacobs was ableethank goddto stop it. It empowered the local community planning boards, and now you have amateurs commenting on professional's work. It made the process very arduous and difficult. That, combined with the pressure of interest rates, and the fact that the process itself doesn't encourage the latitude that a good architect really needs to design. But good architects aren't helping themselves, either, because they are not sensitive to those pressures, so they scare away developers. There has to be some meeting ground so you don't end up with banal boxes. What good architects need to do is to try to be a little more sensitive to that process, and then developers won't be put off by them.

Alexander Gorlin is the principal of Alexander Gorlin Architects, which has just completed a tower in Miami Beach, large homes in Houston and Southampton, and has just broken ground on 550 affordable town houses in Brooklyn. He is also the author of Creating the New American Townhouse (Rizzoli, 2005).

Eavesdrop: Philip Nobel

It's the summer doldrums here, gossipwiseethat sad season between the last of the overhyped spring events and the return of nonstop calumny after Labor Day. Those about whom we might fruitfully comment seem to have decamped, or perhaps there's merely been an outbreak of discretion and fair play. Either way, the result is the same: It's Frank Lloyd Wright to the rescue.

Can you feel the scandal brewing? For months now, since the Post's Page Six got the jump on the competition with a wee item, tongues have been flapping (with greatly varying degrees of accuracy) about a forthcoming book that threatens to do to Wright's reputationnthat great edifice of myth and omission maintained for half a century by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundationnwhat the Starr Report did to Monica Lewinsky's. Or what Richard Meier's Building the Getty did to his own. Or, a mite less hysterically, what Franz Schulze's damning Philip Johnson: Life and Work might have done to old PJ had anyone bothered to read it and hold the deann to account.

But we digress. Breaking the news about the book, Page Six, God bless it, focused on the low: allegations of anti-Semitism and the love/hatee relationship between Wright, his last wife, Olgivanna, and the many overtly and covertly gay apprentices with whom they surrounded themselves in their various Taliesins. As a suggestion of what other treats might be found within, The Post also mentioned a meat-cleaver murder attempt by Wright's drug-addicted daughter (and last living heir) Iovanna. Picking up the thread, in early July the Associated Press ran wide and deep with a story on the Foundation's preparations for a spin war in advance of the book's September publication date. According to the AP, officials in Scottsdale fear enrollment could falll at Taliesin (no comment!) and are pushing back against the book preemptively, as the guilty do, citing alleged errors.

Good stuff, sure. There's just one problem: all of this totally misses the point. The book in question, The Fellowship by Roger Friedland and Harold Zellman (ReganBooks, 2006), isn't a lighthearted smear; as far as this only somewhat lapsed Wright scholar can deduce, it's good history. And a ripping read. I have it right here, in fact, all 664 obsessively footnoted pages of it. And if I did not also have here a copy of the nondisclosure agreement I signed to get my greedy hands on the galleys, I'd happily entertain you with some of the tragic and hilarious (and substantiated) stories of violence, ribaldry, and mental manipulation perpetrated by Mr. and Mrs. Wright and Georgi Gurdjieff, the Greek-Armenian guru under whose sway Olgivanna fell when very young and whose mind-bending influence she never could quite shake. Not that she tried very hard; what The Fellowship makes sparklingly clear is that the greatest American architect of all time, so long imagined standing alone as a generative, form-giving genius, was in truth whipsawed throughout his life by tepid intellectual winds of dubious quality and provenance, from the politics of Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh to Gurdjieff's abusive, sex-fueled, quackery-ridden personality cult (examined in minute and fascinating detail in the book), which Olgivanna almost succeeded (or did she?) in installing as the true philosophy at Taliesin.

Perhaps that's why the diehard Wrighties are digging in for a fight?

Debauches, breaches, ramblings: PNOBEL@ARCHPAPER.COM