Posts tagged with "Hurricanes":

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Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz on why Puerto Rico needs the help of more architects

Less than two years after Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the politics behind its recovery and rebuilding efforts have come to the forefront of national news again and again. In recent weeks, two FEMA officials were indicted and arrested for taking bribes, committing fraud, and using federal funds for personal gain.  It’s a massive relief, but one that wasn't too surprising to Puerto Ricans who knew the money set aside for post-hurricane recuperation was being mismanaged by the federal government. One Puerto Rican, an internationally-renowned architect who served as a liaison between the private sector and FEMA for the past two years, has been very vocal about this.  “I’ve been trying to explain that Puerto Rico has been unfairly cast out as the most corrupt place in the U.S,” said Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz, founder of the San Juan- and Miami-based studio Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón. “And most of the attacks have been labeled towards local people. But this news is a silver lining and basically what I’ve been saying for the last year.” Álvarez-Díaz told AN that only a sliver of the $92 billion promised by President Trump last year has been managed locally. “Some of the people in FEMA were forcing local people to hire companies from the mainland that were not necessarily the right fit for what we are trying to do in our rebuilding," he said. "If you don’t use them they said, they would not refund the investment.”  Now that the news is out that ex-FEMA deputy regional administrator Ahsha Tribble had allegedly taken bribes from the Oklahoma City-based energy company contracted to restore the island’s power grid, it’s not crazy to think that other projects there have been subject to corruption as well. Álvarez-Díaz, who has been busy promoting the resiliency of the Puerto Rican people and making the case for more help, said the key to stopping this is three-fold: to get more locally-based architects and companies involved in the rebuilding process “to ensure it’s done in a very localized manner,” encouraging mainland architects to help out, and lastly, educating the next generation of Puerto Rican architects.  “We don’t have enough people on this island to do the work that needs to get done,” he said. “In Puerto Rico, there are less than 600 licensed architects out of 3.2 million people, but there are 15,000 licensed engineers. We need more help.”  Álvarez-Díaz’s firm practices in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, New York, and Florida. As the founder and co-chair of the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), and a board member of both Invest Puerto Rico and the ENLANCE Project Corporation of the Caño Martín Peña, two governor-appointed positions, he’s keenly aware of the island’s poor reputation and is constantly working to change it. His studio recently completed what’s been touted as the most resilient structure in Puerto Rico. Completed this summer, Renaissance Square is a $35.5 million mixed-income affordable housing project located in San Juan’s Gold Mile financial district. Though construction began years ago and was only 80 percent done when Maria hit, not a single window was broken. It was built through a public-private partnership between the Department of Housing, developer McCormack Baron Salazar, Citi Community Development, and Hunt Capital Partners. Of its 140 units, 60 percent were reserved for low-income families and there’s currently a 1,500-person waiting list to get a space. The demand is high. “Materials can be scarce here on the island and because there’s so much construction, the perception of lack creates a false sense of inflation, so people just want to use the cheapest materials instead of the best ones,” said Álvarez-Díaz. “We aim to convince the next group of developers that doing sustainable housing projects like this is actually profitable.”  Creating awareness is Álvarez-Díaz’s main mission. That’s why he’s also urging the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to use its influence to spread the knowledge that Puerto Rico is looking for outside assistance. He wants a chunk of next year’s AIA convention to be dedicated to educating architects on working in disaster zones, helping them connect with companies or organizations that need help, or advocating on behalf of equitable recovery efforts. “The AIA traditionally tends to be inside out instead of outside in,” he said. “Many architects aren’t invited to the table where big government decisions are being made and therefore are forced to talk among themselves about how to make things better. Local engineers are very successful in putting the word out there that Puerto Rico needs a lot of licensed engineers, experienced contractors, and developers. The more engineers we bring in and the less the amount of architects we attract, the more likely it is that we will miss an opportunity to create a holistic architectural vision for Puerto Rico.” The AIA already has an initiative set in place like this, its formal Disaster Assistance Program. But the goal of the program, which has certified architects for 47 years, isn’t for professionals to get more paid work, said an AIA spokesperson. Instead, it’s to provide technical expertise on development, planning, and policy, coordinate with local agencies, advocate for Good Samaritan legislation, and train for and share lessons on post-disaster building safety assessments—all things Álvarez-Díaz sees as good, but still not enough.  “We need to make sure this isn’t just about disaster recovery,” he said. “That’s the first step out of a three-step process. Once that’s done, we have to plan a whole island for the next 100 years. It’s not every day you can start from absolute scratch and benefit the next four generations of Puerto Ricans. I see the island as a kind of guinea pig for post-disaster development. Other places could one day learn from our successes and failures.” 
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Puerto Rican architecture students design counter-proposals to Hurricane Maria memorial

Architecture students in Puerto Rico have responded with a counter-proposal to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent request for architects to submit ideas for a Hurricane Maria memorial in New York. Francisco J. Rodríguez-Suarez, architect, professor, and former dean of the University of Puerto Rico School of Architecture (UPR-RP), posted a series of photomontages by his third-year students on Twitter (@paco-rsvp) last week—a competition project inspired by a class discussion during the first week of the semester. Some 16 pieces were made public on his feed, each depicting American and Puerto Rican symbols overlayed with contradictory images. One of the most scroll-stopping images features a group of construction workers raising an electric poll atop a pile of rubble. It mimics the famous photograph taken in 1945 of six Marines raising the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima. Rodríguez-Suarez told David Begnaud, CBS This Morning's lead national correspondent, that his students talked about the possibility of participating in Cuomo’s request for proposals, but ultimately decided to pursue making the anti-memorial imagery instead. They “unanimously felt the wounds had not healed enough and also questioned the appropriateness of the politics behind a memorial in New York,” Rodríguez-Saurez said in a quote on Begnaud’s Twitter. The journalist called the students' ideas "protest work" and an "academic critique" of Cuomo's RFP. In an email, Rodríguez-Suarez explained to AN that the project was part of a larger competition studio where emerging designers learn how to present strategy and develop critical thinking skills. They typically engage in four or five competitions per semester, he said, and the Hurricane Maria memorial was the first one they talked about doing. After debating the pros and cons, the students didn't submit work on an official submission but rather ended up experimenting with the photomontages as a set of counter-proposals. "Pedagogically, [the class] highlights the importance of architectural competitions as a means to provide society with better quality buildings and spaces," said Rodríguez-Suarez, "especially in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, where they are not the norm." It’s unclear yet whether Cuomo's memorial competition is gaining traction among professional architects or artists already, but given the support of the many New York-based Puerto Ricans who make up the 10-person commission to get it built, it seems the project will move forward despite criticism—even if it comes from the Puerto Rican government itself.  Regardless of the final chosen design, the UPR-RP students believe it's too soon for a memorial and that the American government doesn't understand their plight. "How does it occur to someone to make a memorial of something that's not finishing happening?" wrote Lourdes Sofia Jimenez-Rodriguez in an email to AN. "Much less in New York City, where I know there is a large population of Puerto Ricans who moved there after Maria and said they have done everything they can to help. But we're still living here every day." Jimenez-Rodriguez said the blue FEMA tarps that still cover homes around the country remind her of how far this disaster is from being over. It's a motif she focused on in her project. "For me, these represent the mismanagement of resources and aid after the hurricane," she said. "I wanted to make a photomontage of the capitol with broken roof and blue awnings because it is very easy to say that everything is fine when the one who is saying it did not really go through the situation."
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Architects invited to submit designs for New York's Hurricane Maria Memorial

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Hurricane Maria Memorial Commission have put out a call for architects and artists to submit memorial ideas that honor the victims and survivors of the deadly hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico in 2017. Upon selection, the winning design will be placed in Lower Manhattan’s Battery Park City neighborhood along the Hudson River waterfront.  “Hurricane Maria claimed thousands of lives and destroyed countless homes in Puerto Rico, yet the resilience of the Puerto Rican community has shown the world anything can be overcome when we stand together in solidarity,” said Governor Cuomo in a statement. “We want this spirit of strength and community to be reflected in the Hurricane Maria Memorial, and we look forward to seeing how the experts capture it in their designs.”  Interested architects and artists are invited to submit a response to the RFP online by Monday, September 9, 2019, before 11:59 p.m. EST. Designers can submit one design for either proposed sites (the Esplanade and Chamber’s Street Overlook in Battery Park), but only one will be chosen. All submissions will be reviewed by the memorial commission, a 10-person group formed late last summer on the one-year anniversary of the hurricane’s landfall, and led by Congress members Nydia Velazquez (D-NY 7) and Jose E. Serrano (D-NY 15), Assemblymembers Marcos Crespo and Maritza Davila, and New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado. Members include local leaders of Puerto Rican descent such as Edwin Meléndez, director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College; Casimiro D. Rodriguez, Sr. president of the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western NY; Hilda Rosario Escher; Former president & CEO of Ibero American Action League; Brenda Torres, executive director of Corporation for the Conservation of the San Juan Bay Estuary; and Elizabeth Velez, president of The Velez Organization and resident of Battery Park City.  Per Governor Cuomo, the memorial will serve as a physical reminder of the love and respect Americans have for Puerto Rico and will be part of the state’s ongoing support efforts both locally and abroad. In the last two years, New York State has dedicated $13 million toward 11,000 displaced victims living in New York and service organizations that can help them regain their footing.  According to the Pew Research Center, New York boasts the most amount of people of Puerto Rican origin of any state, with over 1.1 million residents—that’s 21 percent of the total 5.1 million living in the mainland U.S. It’s the second-largest Hispanic population in the U.S. with just over half of people concentrated in the northeast region, while 31 percent reside in the South and 19 percent are located in Florida.  Due to the recent political and economic turmoil in the territory, the mainland U.S. now has more Puerto Ricans than the island does itself, at 3.2 million residents. Recent migration patterns reveal that people are moving away due to lack of basic resources and frustration with systemic government corruption. The memorial solicitation opens just after weeks of protests resulted in the resignation of Puerto Rico’s former governor Ricardo Rosselló. But the fight to overturn the powerful Puerto Rican government isn’t over: the territory's Supreme Court just took up a lawsuit this week which aims to take down Pedro Pierluisi, who was sworn in as governor last Friday without proper consent from the Senate. 
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Here's how architects are supplying Puerto Rico with solar energy

In the wake of the profound damage wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, New York-based architects Jonathan Marvel and Walter Meyer are coordinating relief efforts through a Brooklyn nonprofit, the Coastal Marine Resource Center (CMRC), which has initiated a project called Resilient Puerto Rico to supply solar microgrids to municipalities across the island. Walter Meyer, principal at Brooklyn-based Local Office Landscape Architecture, is organizing a large shipment of solar panels, generators, and power inverters to the storm-ravaged island. Meyer himself has family in Puerto Rico, and is looking for longer-term solutions to replace the island's historically faulty energy grid. Immediate recovery efforts, however, are focused on those in particularly dire straits, like seniors and those in need of medical attention, many of whom lack the proper care or medication due to the near-total outage. Supplies are being held at informal community centers in public spaces all over the island. Some of these improvised centers will receive funding from Jonathan Marvel, founding principal of New York firm Marvel Architects. Marvel, who is in San Juan to coordinate recovery efforts, donated $50,000 towards relief centers that provide cell phone chargers, food, and water. When The Architect's Newspaper (AN) spoke with Marvel over the phone, he was in middle of wiring these funds to a Florida-based supplier of solar panels and generators called Sun Electronics. These solar supplies will be sent to 16 community centers across Puerto Rico with existing leadership structures, each serving tens of thousands of nearby residents. Marvel got information about these centers from his mother, Lucilla Fuller Marvel, a career AICP urban planner in San Juan who has worked on resilience planning her entire life. The panels and generators supplied by Sun Electronics will be then shipped down to San Juan, where Marvel and a team of architects from the firms's Puerto Rico office will put together assembly kits before sending them out to the 16 community centers. The island has 78 municipalities in total, and CMRC's eventual goal is to provide every one of them with a solar microgrid. "We're in many ways a perfect candidate for having a grassroots-based, municipality-scale, solar-powered energy grid," Marvel said. His team's longer term goal is to focus on scaling these renewable energy sources to provide more permanent sources of electricity to communities that aren't generated by petroleum plants hundreds of miles away. Marvel and Meyer are also working with Cristina Roig Morris, assistant vice president and senior legal council at AT&T, to fundraise for the project's larger mission, which may receive help from the Rockefeller Foundation. While the coordinated relief effort is ambitious, Marvel has another idea for architecture students currently on the island. Modeled after post-Katrina efforts to relocate students from the Tulane School of Architecture to other design schools where they could continue studies while their school was closed, Marvel would like to create opportunities for architecture students in Puerto Rico to do the same. The idea is in an early stage, and he is brainstorming ways for the three architecture schools in San Juan (serving about 75 to 125 students total) to partner with host schools in the mainland United States to continue their education. Never one to be excluded, Elon Musk has also extended an offer to aid in the propagation of solar energy solutions to the island, tweeting his interest at Puerto Rico's governor Ricardo Rossello this week.

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For those who'd like to pitch in for Puerto Rico's recovery, below are some recommendations of groups, both in Puerto Rico and on the mainland, to check out. This list is based on recommendations from Ruth Santiago and Luis G. Martinez in our original article on the post-Maria energy crisis. On the island, there are a number of groups doing on-the-ground recovery work, including: Unidos por Puerto Rico (United for Puerto Rico), led by the First Lady of Puerto Rico, one of the largest initiatives garnering funds for recovery. ConPRmetidos (Committed), a nonprofit completing impact and needs assessments and seeking to provide power and structural repairs to the communities most in need. Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico (Community Foundation of Puerto Rico), based in San Juan, a philanthropic foundation awarding grants for, among other things, housing and economic development in local communities. Comité Diálogo Ambiental (Environmental Dialogue Committee), the Salinas-based group that Santiago works for, housed under an umbrella organization bringing together community groups, fishers associations, and others, called IDEBAJO–Iniciativa de Ecodesarrollo de Bahia de Jobos (Jobos Bay Ecodevelopment Initiative). Stateside, here are a few diaspora groups participating in recovery work: El Puente | Enlace Latino de Acción Climática (Latino Climate Action Network), based out of Brooklyn, has been holding fundraisers to raise awareness and support for Maria recovery efforts. Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños (Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY) have been pooling community voices, news, and fundraising opportunities since the storm. AN knows this list is not comprehensive, and we encourage readers to leave additional resources in the comments section.
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Puerto Rico's energy crisis calls for sustainable solutions, not more of the same

On September 20th, Hurricane Maria pummeled into the Puerto Rican coast with wind speeds of up to 150 miles per hour, deluging the entire island with rain and quickly pulverizing its energy grid. The entire island was left without power. Puerto Rico's energy infrastructure is notoriously fragile. As Ruth Santiago, a climate advocate and attorney with Comité Diálogo Ambiental, Inc., a Puerto Rican environmental law group, told AN, three fallen trees in 2004 once took out energy for the entire eastern seaboard. Santiago explained that this was largely a geographic problem. Energy is by and large produced by two power plants – the Aguirre Power Complex in Salinas and the Costa Sur plant in Guayanilla. An additional coal-burning plant owned by US-owned AES Corporation is another player. Yet these sites are huge distances from some of the most populated cities. Nearly 230,000 kilowatts of energy are produced by the Aguirre plant, extending through power lines over the central mountain range of the island to the metropolitan area of San Juan, which along with its neighboring cities has a population of about 2 million people – over half of the island's total population of nearly 3.5 million. Transmitting energy at that distance makes the whole grid extremely prone to collapse. In September 2016, a similarly massive outage occurred, but this time due to faulty maintenance, Santiago explained. A general lack of resources and oversight means it is difficult to maintain the grid in the long term, especially as it faces the duress of hurricane-power winds and as these storms become more intense with climate change. Luis G. Martinez, Senior Attorney and Director of Southeast Energy at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), told AN that Puerto Rico's energy problem has been caught in a vicious cycle for quite some time. Earlier this summer, the Puerto Rican power utility PREPA filed for bankruptcy with a $9 million debt. Petroleum isn't cheap, and Puerto Rico is one of the only islands in the Atlantic to operate off of a petroleum-based energy grid (it is the source of about half of the island's electricity). When prices spike, utilities spend all their funds securing fuel, sinking further into debt and unable to break the cycle until they are no longer able to borrow money. Until about two years ago, Martinez said, the Puerto Rico Energy Power Authority (PREPA) was operated with very little oversight. In 2014, the Puerto Rico Energy Commission (PREC) was created to regulate PREPA. Two days after the storm hit, another infrastructural system showed signs of imminent collapse: the Guajataca Dam located on the northwestern end of the island, a 90-year-old, 120-foot-tall structure holding back about 11 billion gallons of water. Three nearby towns, Isabela, San Sebastián and Quebradillas, were immediately evacuated, displacing thousands. Supplying relief from the mainland United States faces its own challenges. Yesterday, President Trump waived the Jones Act for a period of ten days. The Jones Act is a century-old law requiring goods delivered to Puerto Rico to be carried there exclusively on American-owned vessels. This Act has been hindering the delivery of relief supplies to people in need. Representative Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) was responded: "For an entire week, the President was touting his concern for the shipping industry, while refusing to suspend the Jones Act. A ten-day waiver, as the Administration has announced, is far from sufficient given the scope of this tragedy ... To that end, I repeat my call for a one-year waiver of the Jones Act." The President shows no signs of budging. On the ground, recovery efforts are unfolding in myriad ways. Santiago has been working with local advocates on a short-term response to the island's energy crisis, noting that long-term solutions like sustainable energy sources – localized, solar micro-grids being the ideal – are important, but should be implemented carefully in the months to come. For now, she said, municipalities need smaller-scale solutions: cell phone chargers and generators chief among them. She described recently visiting a facility where individuals with diabetes, heart conditions, and cancer were going without their medications because they could no longer be refrigerated. Fortunately, some groups have arisen to work on long-term solutions to the frail energy grid, alongside the efforts of Puerto Rico-based organizations. A Brooklyn-based initiative called Resilient Power Puerto Rico, a project of the Coastal Marine Resource Center (CMRC), is focused on solar energy solutions. In their first phase, they are seeking to provide mobile solar-energy hubs, which are being prototyped in Santurce (a district of San Juan), which will be scaled up to be based in Caguas, a city in the central mountain range of the island when they have more resources. These hubs, if effective, will be able to provide limited power to the residents of small towns around the island. CMRC's mission is quite extensive both in time and scale: by the end of 2017, they hope to deliver more than 100 mobile solar kits to be assembled in public spaces in municipalities, training communities to install the projects along the way. The timeline for the initiative extends through 2021, when they hope to advocate for solar energy for the entire island as a permanent replacement to today's over-stretched grid. The organization has experience implementing these kinds of projects, including in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when CMRC produced scalable solar panels and generators for the hard-hit Rockaway peninsula in New York City. As Santiago explained, with the economic and fiscal crisis the island was already undergoing when Maria hit, any investments should be made in renewable energy and micro-grids, and set the stage for future investments in the same field. As the Hurricane Sandy anniversary approaches on October 29, let us not forget that the same effects in Puerto Rico are currently being suffered tenfold, while receiving much less coverage in the news. When asked what he thought was missing from coverage, Martinez had an immediate response: "The degree of desperation is not being expressed properly. People don't know when food, medical care, or power will come back. People need aid immediately." In Puerto Rico, there are a number of groups doing on-the-ground recovery work, including:

Unidos por Puerto Rico (United for Puerto Rico), led by the First Lady of Puerto Rico, is one of the largest initiatives garnering funds for recovery.

ConPRmetidos (Committed) is a non-profit completing impact and needs assessments and seeking to provide power and structural repairs to the communities most in need.

Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico (Community Foundation of Puerto Rico), based in San Juan, is a philanthropic foundation awarding grants for, among other things, housing and economic development in local communities.

Comité Diálogo Ambiental, Inc. (Environmental Dialogue Committee, Inc.) is the Salinas-based group that Santiago works for, housed under an umbrella organization bringing together community groups, fishers associations, and others, called IDEBAJO–Iniciativa de Ecodesarrollo de Bahia de Jobos, Inc. (Jobos Bay Ecodevelopment Initiative).

In the stateside diaspora, here are a few groups participating in recovery work:

El Puente | Enlace Latino de Acción Climática (Latino Climate Action Network), based out of Brooklyn, has been holding fundraisers to raise awareness and support for Maria recovery efforts.

Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños (Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY) have been pooling community voices, news, and fundraising opportunities since the storm.

Note: We know this list is not comprehensive, and encourage you to leave additional resources in the comments section.
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How Texas AIA chapters & cultural institutions fared during Hurricane Harvey

Almost two weeks after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 storm, museums, theaters, and local AIA chapters are reporting widely varying degrees of damage. Some of the best-known museums and other attractions in Houston were relatively unaffected by the rain and flooding that overwhelmed the region, and their collections are secure. Institutions that were mostly spared by the storm include The Menil Collection, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and the Blaffer Art Museum. Others weren’t so fortunate. Close to where the storm first struck on August 25, the Rockport Center for the Arts in Rockport, Texas, was hit hard. “From images I have been provided and third-party accounts, it appears the building has sustained serious external damage,” director Luis Purón said in a statement posted on the institution's Facebook page shortly after the storm landed. “One image demonstrates that the front porch is completely gone and a roof structure in the front of the building is exposed and thus compromised ... We won’t know about internal damage until we are able to re-enter and inspect the building. The timeline for that is uncertain.” In Houston, Bayou Bend, the house museum of American decorative arts that is part of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, suffered “inundated gardens, flooded outbuildings and significant water in the basement of the main house,” museum director Gary Tinterow reported in an email message to colleagues.  Rienzi, the house museum for European decorative arts, had flooding in its gardens, according to the museum’s website. The collections in both buildings are safe but the structures remain temporarily closed to the public and most of the scheduled programs have been canceled, the website notes. In Houston’s Theater District, a 17-block area downtown that is home to a variety of arts organizations and sees more than two million visitors a year, many of the performing venues experienced water penetration, including Jones Hall, home of the Houston Symphony, and the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Houston’s Alley Theatre “has been devastated” by the hurricane, with its Neuhaus Theatre and Mitchell lobby under 10 feet of water, and is closed for “the foreseeable future,” according to its website. “We are forced to move to other spaces around Houston to produce our shows, though we expect to be back by the holidays,” one message said. Even the home of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) chapter in Houston was flooded.  AIA Houston had also been renovating a 1906 structure, the B.A. Reisner Building, for Architecture Center Houston, and it took on four feet of water. According to the chapter, the space at 902 Commerce Street was within three weeks of completion and flood mitigation features weren’t fully installed when the storm hit, so the space suffered “almost total devastation.” AIA Houston has launched a $100,000 GoFundMe campaign to help finish construction. Anecdotal examples fail to convey the widespread scope of the damage. Throughout south Texas, houses, stores, and other commercial buildings were damaged either by winds or flooding or both. NBC called it “the greatest rainfall event in the continental United States,” with almost 52 inches of rain reported in one area outside Houston. More than 40,000 people went to shelters and more than 400,000 have sought federal funding assistance. The economic impact has been estimated at more than $100 billion. “This is the largest hurricane to hit Texas in close to 20 years,” said Paul Dennehy, president of the Texas Society of Architects. “We’re talking about 50 inches of rain falling in one place. It’s the equivalent of two weeks of flow of the Mississippi River. No infrastructure can withstand that.” Even though it was eventually downgraded to a tropical storm, Dennehy said, Harvey caused damage in two ways. When it first hit land near Corpus Christi and Rockport, it brought high winds as well as rain, and that alone knocked down trees and destroyed buildings. Then as Harvey became a tropical storm and lingered over Texas, the rain caused massive flooding. The hit-and-miss nature of the damage was due to many factors, from the age and location of buildings to the adequacy of storm drains.  Rural, suburban, and urban areas all were affected. “All of it is terrible,” Dennehy said. “Houston is getting the focus [of national attention] because it’s an urban area. It’s the fourth largest city in the country. But the damage is widespread. There are other areas that are equally devastated. Rockport. Port Aransas. These are areas of total devastation. They were right at ground zero of the hurricane.” As the flood waters recede and efforts shift from rescue to recovery, the AIA is playing a major role in disaster assistance. The National Endowment for the Arts and other organizations have become involved as well. According to public relations manager Matt Tinder, AIA National wants the Texas Society of Architects to take the lead during the initial stages of recovery.  The Texas Society is a statewide AIA organization and oversees 17 chapters around the state. The AIA’s national office has the ability to bring in experts from around the country through its Disaster Assistance Program, which was established in 1972 to “equip architects with the knowledge and skills to mitigate, prepare for, respond to and recover from a disaster.”  But there is little point in sending teams from other states until the flooded areas dry out more, Tinder said. For now, “it is being done through the Texas chapter of the AIA,” Tinder said. “There is going to be a larger effort. But there are architects who are already in Texas and prepared.” Dennehy said it’s appropriate to utilize Texas-based architects first because they are licensed to practice in the state and already familiar with the damaged areas. He said the Texas Society has architects throughout the state who are trained in disaster assistance and has already begun training even more, starting with a session in Austin last Friday. “We are working to mobilize our members,” Dennehy said. “The Texas chapter has more than 7,000. We have had an outpouring of firms that have asked to help. “ Because of the specialized nature of disaster assistance, the Texas Society wants to be sure participants are properly trained, he added. “It’s not that people can just come down to help. You have to have training and be qualified.” Around the country, hundreds of architects and other design professionals and companies have offered to do what they can, said Carl Elefante, the AIA’s 2017 First Vice President and 2018 President Elect, in a posting on Facebook. “AIA National, the Texas Society of Architects, AIA Houston and hundreds of architects around the country are rallying to make a real difference at this time of great need,” he said. For cultural organizations such as museums and theaters that suffered damage, the National Endowment for the Arts announced that it is coordinating efforts to provide assistance. “The NEA expresses its deepest concern and most heartfelt sympathies for the millions of people in Texas and Louisiana affected by Hurricane Harvey,” said agency chair Jane Chu,  in a statement. “We are working to coordinate support for arts organizations in the regions designated a disaster area by FEMA, and we stand ready to support the recovery of the arts and cultural communities in the devastated areas” The NEA has responded to other national emergencies in the past, such as Hurricane Katrina. In this case, “we are coordinating with the Texas Commission on the Arts and the Division of the Arts in the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development to assess the situation and those arts organizations hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey,” Chu said. “As the current situation stabilizes, the National Endowment for the Arts is prepared to direct additional funds to these state arts agencies for re-granting to affected organizations, as we have done in the past.” The U. S. General Services Administration has also taken action to aid in relocation and rebuilding efforts. On Friday, officials announced that the department has raised monetary thresholds for certain purchasing and leasing activities. Raising the thresholds, they say, will help contracting officers gain access to the resources they need. Dennehy, who is based in Fort Worth and heads his own firm there, Dennehy Architects, said Texas architects can benefit from the experience of other states that have been struck by hurricanes and forced to rebuild. “We are joining the ranks of Florida and New Jersey and New York and Louisiana that have been devastated by these storms,” he said. “We have a lot to learn from them.” It won’t be a short process, he warned. “The assessments will go on for months. The recovery efforts will go on for years.” Dennehy said the Texas Society plans to concentrate its efforts initially on storm-damaged areas in Texas, including Rockport, Houston, Beaumont and Port Arthur. But if a neighboring state needs assistance, he said, it will respond as well. “Because of the enormity of it, we are focusing on Texas,” he said. But “nobody is going to draw a hard line when it comes to helping. We are going to help each other.”   
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Frankenstorm Snaps Crane at Portzamparc's One 57

Hurricane Sandy is bearing down on New York and New Jersey, and the current 55 to 60 mile an hour wind gusts tearing through Central Park have already taken their toll on Manhattan's starchitecture, partially collapsing the construction crane at Christian de Portzamparc's supertall One57 tower on West 57th Street. The storm snapped the boom of the crane at the summit of the 95-story, 1,004-foot-tall residential tower, which now dangles precariously over the streets of midtown Manhattan. The scene on the street is still developing, but NY1 reports that the crane could become off-balance causing a further collapse.  Surrounding streets have been closed and emergency crews are on the scene. [Via Observer & Curbed.] Elsewhere in New York, wind gusts are picking up. The storm surge along the East River has sent water rushing into low-lying areas of the East River Esplanade and FDR Drive. In Brooklyn, AN stopped by the Gowanus Canal (photo below) at approximately 1:30pm to find a higher-than-normal water level, but no significant flooding in the area. As Sandy moves closer to land, winds and rain are expected to increase and the storm surge to rise.
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Architects Leading Charge for Disaster Preparedness

After going through 9/11,  the importance of disaster preparedness and relief hit home with New Yorkers. "Everyone was focusing on the fact that New York had been damaged," said Lance Jay Brown, AIANY board member and co-chair of the recently formed Design for Risk and Reconstruction committee of the AIANY. "The architectural community was galvanized to respond." Just coming off a jolt from a rare, if small, earthquake and with Hurricane Irene on its doorstep, New York is once again focused on planning for disaster. In 2004, Brown convened an ad hoc committee comprised of members of the design and planning community including the AIA, APA, and ALSA to form the Disaster Preparedness Task Force. With global disasters from Katrina to quakes in Haiti and Chile making news more and more frequently, the group sought to organize architects as first responders to help not only with the aftermath of a disaster but also to prepare for future events. "We thought it would be reasonable for the architectural community to look at these problems to figure out what we could do before, during, and after," Brown explained. This year, the AIANY further sought to establish a permanent standing committee to explore the array of issues surrounding disasters and design. In May, a committee was formed and by June, after some debate over the name, was christened Design for Risk and Reconstruction. The group had its first meeting this Wednesday attended by about 20 people, coincidentally timed between an earthquake and a hurricane. Brown said the group couldn't anticipate these events when the meeting was scheduled months ago, but noted, "When there's a crisis, everyone jumps up and gets interested but then quickly forgets." The momentum of current events could be a boon toward realizing goals of better design for disasters. "The goal of the committee is to foster an attitude of good design to anticipate risk and find opportunities to improve design," he said. Among the ideas of the committee are to host a series of events ranging from rebuilding tornado-ravaged Greenburg, Kansas to applying lessons from 9/11 toward rebuilding Haiti. The group's first event will feature Klaus Jacob of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University who has researched disaster preparedness in New York. He and his colleagues recently published "Vulnerability of the New York City Metropolitan Area to Coastal Hazards, Including Sea-Level Rise: Inferences for Urban Coastal Risk Management and Adaptation Policies." No date has been set for the event. Brown compared the group's efforts to the advent of fire egress regulations over the past 150 years. After a devastating fire in the 1830s that destroyed Manhattan's Wall Street district, a series of design improvements were made to ensure better safety in buildings. Fire escapes first appeared to offer a second means of egress and then dual utilitarian fireproof stairs. Today, architects are celebrating fire stair design in the city's newest buildings. "We have gone from a time of no egress to egress as a design attribute 150 years later," Brown said. Designing for other disasters could have the same effect. As Irene moves closer to New York and bottles of water begin disappearing off bodega shelves, Brown said the best approach is to hunker down and ride out the storm in safety. "We don't tend to have buildings that blow away," he noted. "What seems most dangerous is damage caused by flying objects." A few of his recommendations: move indoors all objects that can catch the wind, from awnings to deck chairs, or securely tie them down; residents of tall buildings should move to a lower level—below the tenth floor—to ride out the storm, due to increased winds at higher elevations and greater building sway. While scaffolding might seem particularly vulnerable, after the city shuts down all construction sites across the city on Saturday at 2:00 p.m., the scaffolds should remain strong. "If things have been done to code and correctly anchored to buildings, there's little to fear," Brown said. Scaffolding could actually increase safety, providing shelter for those trapped outside during the storm. "The city is getting better at being prepared," Brown noted. "It's a good time to remind people to get informed."