Last weekend in Washington, D.C. the American Architecture Foundation (AAF) presented New York City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden with its 2011 Keystone Award. The annual accolade is bestowed upon an individual or organization from outside the architectural discipline for exemplary leadership in design, specifically design efforts focused on improving lives and transforming communities. Burden, who has served as chair of the City Planning Commission and director of the Department of City Planning since 2002, recently returned from travels abroad, and AN caught up with her just before the awards ceremony to hear what she thinks New York can learn from cities like Barcelona and other street smarts. “To be a dynamic, competitive global city, you have to grow and attract both talent and investment. It’s not just about architecture, but public space and the design of the streetscape. It comes down to how the city feels at street level. It has to be walkable and human scale, with trees, amenities, and vitality,” said Burden. “Barcelona, for example, is a city that is doing this brilliantly. Its mayors and its urban design prioritize the primacy of the public realm.” Over the past few decades Barcelona has enlivened its public plazas with sculpture and painting of both Spanish and foreign artists. Burden’s curbside view stands in contrast to that of her most (in)famous predecessor, Robert Moses, who, ruled planning in New York City from the mid-1930s through the mid-1960s. “In that era, there was emphasis on large-scale connectivity. Design plans were drawn from a helicopter range, 400 or 500 feet in the air. But you have to go from the grand scale down to the neighborhood, the pedestrian scale, and even think about the speed at which pedestrians walk,” said Burden. Burden cites the redesign of Columbus Circle as successful public space in the city, noting its variety of seating, and she is eagerly anticipating the completion of the East River Esplanade (see more on SHoP’s plans here), where park-goers will have seating options galore: they can stretch out on lawns, sunbathe on chaise lounges, or contemplate river currents from bar seating and swings at the waters edge. Thinking of traffic in terms of people, rather than cars, is something Burden attributes to her mentor William H. ("Holly") Whyte, the urbanist and journalist known for his seminal studies of how people use urban public spaces. Whyte, who died in 1999, the same the year the AAF founded the Keystone Awards, surely would have been a contender for the honor himself. Since 1999, Keystone Award recipients include Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. of Charleston, S.C., the Museum of Modern Art, Save America’s Treasures, and the Pritzker Family of Chicago.
Posts tagged with "Barcelona":
This week, the second World Architecture Festival is taking place in one of the most design-conscious cities in the world: Barcelona. Sadly, the festival is located in the Diagonal Mar district on the city’s waterfront, along with the hotel that WAF sponsor emap provided to jurors (I am here serving on the jury for the festival’s Civic and Community award). At first glance, this entirely new district of the city seems to have more in common with Grand Rapids than the Catalonian capital. I mentioned this to a British colleague, who replied, “Are American cities this nice?” He’s right: We can’t even do modern urbanism better than the Europeans. The event started with a quick drinks reception and then dinner with WAF director extraordinaire Paul Finch and the dapper British architects Simon Allford and Paul Monaghan of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris. Paul suggested we eat at Els Pescadors in Placa Prim, an ancient plaza that has somehow escaped the modernization of this area of the city. An elegantly understated traditional eatery, with its salt cod in chili peppers, sliced ham from black-acorn-eating pigs, and squid noodles, it was a perfect place for conversation. Paul talked about his successful campaign to become head of Britain’s Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, and we chatted about the rumor that the next director of the Venice Biennale will be a woman—and that the two names most often mentioned in the running are the leading female architects in New York and Tokyo. Getting back to American urbanism, Paul and Simon told of the shock of having to incorporate, in their first American project in Oklahoma, two parking spaces for every one-bedroom apartment, whereas in the U.K. requirements call for one space for every two flats. After multiple bottles of cava, vino tinto, and dessert wine (I was with three Brits, after all), I struggled back to my hotel to spend an hour drying out in the 13th-floor sauna with its extraordinary view of the Sagrada Familia. Tomorrow’s lineup: I judge my section of the festival, then have dinner with other jurors at the Barcelona Pavilion, then more drinks with the Brits. Oh, and celebrate the festival's many other winners, of course!