Posts tagged with "Interviews":

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AN interviews Frances Bronet, the Pratt Institute’s new president

Pratt Institute began in 1887 in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood as an affordable college accessible to the working class of New York. Founded by industrialist Charles Pratt, whose company, Astral Oil Works, was absorbed into John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust in 1874, it was run as a charity for many years. It still had a Pratt family member, Richardson Pratt Jr., as president in 1990, the fifth family member to serve in that position. Its ninth president, Henry Saltzman, who served from 1970 to 1972, was an urban studies specialist, but other non–Pratt family leaders came from the fields of education and academia. Now for the first time, the school has selected a president, Frances Bronet, who has degrees in architecture and civil (structural) engineering. This, in itself, is a unique background for someone leading a design institute, but of course, she was also selected for her accomplishments in and out of design academia. In this interview, we questioned Bronet about her design background, what it brings to the school, and how it informs what she hopes to accomplish as the institute’s 12th president. William Menking: You’ve had a distinguished 20-year career as an educator before becoming Pratt Institute’s 12th president. You have degrees in architecture and civil engineering, and a diploma in management. This is not a common degree path to becoming a college president. How did it happen that you went from being a designer to a president? Frances Bronet: I have always imagined what it would be like to be the head of a think tank, from the time I was 17. I may not have known exactly what that meant, but at this moment we can all agree that leading a college would qualify. In Montreal, I worked in prominent, faculty-led architectural offices, and ultimately in a partnership with two colleagues. After graduating from McGill, I began teaching at McGill, Vanier, and Montreal Technical College in the evenings after working in practice during the day. It didn’t take me long to realize that I wanted to continue in the academy, and I came to New York City to study at Columbia University for grad school. As an engineer and an architect with solid experience as a teacher, I was offered a few jobs, from the University of Texas to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), as a tenure-related faculty member. It’s hard to believe when looking back, but I taught for almost 30 years. In my experience, the academy, somewhat like an ambitious office, offers an amazing amount of freedom. As a faculty member, you have an incredible bandwidth for experimentation, new ideas, and collaboration. In many ways, it is both an entrepreneurial environment and one that has manageable boundaries. As soon as I was tenured, I became associate dean (I was also a new parent!). This was a great experience. I love building relationships and brokering genius—and being in an administrative position lets me do that. There are certainly many architects who would avoid administration, but it can be unbelievably creative. And where else do you get to engage this extraordinary amount of intelligence and aspiration? I then left RPI to become dean of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts (now the College of Design) at the University of Oregon. Being dean across domains—from painting to architecture to public policy—gave me access to understanding the big picture. When an even larger university-wide landscape was made available to me as acting provost at Oregon, I couldn’t resist. The ability to take opportunities across disciplines and connect remarkable people, projects, and places was key, as was designing teams where the unexpected can unfold. From there, I went on to be provost at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago and now have the honor of being the president of Pratt Institute. The school has a massive external face, leading through design—and as an extreme extrovert, this position is perfect. WM: The next logical question is how did an architecture and engineering degree prepare you for your academic career? Did it give you particular and unique insights into design education? FB: Absolutely. Studying and working in these environments exposed me to various ways of thinking and unique modes of defining complex problems and solving them. I was impressed by how distinct expertise came together to make it all work. We all have different modes of learning and teaching, and people self-select these disciplines. For me, architecture, although tough, resonated with how I experienced and performed in the world; engineering put me in a place that was unfamiliar, so that very precariousness opened up a new universe. WM: Your resume highlights your publishing career “on multidisciplinary design curricula connecting architecture, engineering, STS (science, technology, and society), dance, and fine electronic art.” You’re now the president of an art and design institution of higher education. How will you expand or develop interdisciplinarity between schools at Pratt? FB: Ah! That would be the provost’s gig. And now that we have a strategic plan developed with all our constituencies, this very recommendation is central. I could guide, advise, and listen, but the provost is the chief academic officer. My work is how what is going on in the world impacts our strategic vision and how we share this beyond our own gates, building broad constituencies of support. We have 1,200 faculty members—many of whom have their own practices—already connected to the world at large and bringing the world here when they teach. How can these connections be magnified and supported? Many educational enterprises are building experiential, embodied, problem-based, and practice-oriented courses. Pratt has been doing this for more than 130 years. That is where we should take a leadership role. WM: What are the challenges of directing an art and architecture and design academy in 2019? How do you hope to change or expand the institute? FB: Some challenges transcend the institute—preparing students for careers that don’t yet exist, accessibility, including cost, and wellness, to name a few. But for us, it is that excellence will be measured by how a private institution works for the public good, from social and environmental to cultural metrics. We are part of the economic and social engine that has transformed our neighborhood into a new, creative economy. And we must do more to create an academic institution that can collaborate to make a more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable community. WM: What are the challenges and advantages of directing an institution of higher education for creative thinkers and makers in New York City? FB: The world’s best and brightest are here or are coming to New York City. It is also important to be aware that some great talent is outside of New York City, too. When thinking about the great diversity of this city, we ask ourselves, how do we represent the communities in which we sit? How do we collaborate with all this extraordinary talent and get out of institutional silos? How can we leverage our practice-based faculty, who bring both new ideas to their students and their students’ ideas to bear on their practices? There is an incredible opportunity to ask what are the key projects, and how do we partner and get involved? How are we part of a larger ecosystem? Climate change, rapid urbanization, ethical practice, and so forth impacting our world will require research, working across many disciplines, universities, and other organizations. This infrastructure can serve as a frame for true participatory democratic practice. Pratt is uniquely poised to do this type of engaged work and be part of this ecosystem. Our goal is to equip our students as cultural, environmental, urban, design, and education contributors and leaders. We are sitting next to one of the great new emerging developments at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. That’s where you’ll find our Consortium for Research and Robotics. It’s clear to me now that I was on the right track envisioning myself at a think tank. But in today’s world—with so much possible through technology and collaboration—we work in think-make tanks. There is so much possibility for partnership that, indeed, it will be the only way to address some of the most difficult issues confronting us. Designers are optimists. As Nobel laureate Herbert A. Simon said, “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.”
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Outpost Office explores trampoline parks and more with Site Visit podcast

The founders of Columbus, Ohio-based studio Outpost Office conduct a lot of site visits. Not just for their own emerging architectural practice, established in 2014 in Ukraine, but as a way to have fun, educate themselves, and their peers. Ashley Bigham and Erik Herrmann are both assistant professors of The Ohio State University’s Knowlton School of Architecture. In their free time—which is few and far-between as academic practitioners—they host a clever podcast called Site Visit where they invite guests to give them tours of random architecture. The best example of how interesting and unpretentious this design podcast is lies in the fact that their first episode ever was recorded in Michigan’s #1 home improvement store.  The first eight-episode season was released last year and attracted nearly 4,000 subscribers. Now in its second season, Site Visit is expanding with more episodes and more diverse points of view. AN spoke with Bigham and Herrmann about the inspiration behind the podcast, how to get good audio of a building, and why they feel they could tour the same space over and over again and still learn something new each time. AN: First, the name. What inspired you to call the show Site Visit Erik Herrmann: We wanted the name to be simple and direct. No one has very much time these days, so we get right to the point. And for architects, it’s also a bit of a wink, which also clues you into the tone. Site visits are the things we do as architects when we leave the confines of the office and get out “into the world.” Site Visits are thrilling, but also a bit intimidating for young architects. You have to improvise, negotiate, and perform in all kinds of fascinating ways. You are often wearing a lot of hats...literally and metaphorically. Every site visit is different, so no one is exactly in their comfort zone. We wanted to produce something that was authentic to the medium of podcasts and wasn’t like a lecture, review, or interview which are the typical formats we get architectural knowledge from. These formats are usually about someone directly demonstrating their expertise. We wanted to cultivate a conversation amongst friends with buildings at the center.  In your roster of episodes, you visit a theater, a military academy, an architecture school, and downtown Denver, among other places. How do all these “architectures” connect?  EH: There are a lot of great podcasts on architecture, but they often tend to be academic and borrow a lot from the traditional formats we discussed earlier. Within that space, we saw an opportunity to try something a little different. There's a particular genre of podcasts we were attracted to that are essentially serialized conversations amongst friends that center around a shared experience. The podcasts Doughboys, which reviews chain restaurants, and The Flophouse, which reviews films, are two examples.  We then started talking a lot about things we genuinely liked to talk to each other about, which to be honest was buildings. But we’re also academics, so we can’t help but talk about buildings in terms of, to borrow Stan Allen’s terms, not only practice but also project. We wanted to find an approachable, straightforward format that allowed our guest’s project or more overarching theory of architecture to organically emerge while the conversation focuses on a specific building. So our initial intention was simply to invite someone who could help unpack a building for us and it worked! Through their choice of that site and their personal description of it, we’ve started to better understand how people see the world around them.  Do you have specific criteria for the sites you visit?  EK: Our guest always chooses the location. Our only rule is that it’s not a space they themselves designed. Our preference, though, is that it’s a public building.  Any highlights from Season 1? Ashley Bigham: Episode 1 with Ellie Abrons remains one of the favorites. We went to Menard’s, which is a midwest chain of home improvement stores, and it was a great way to kick off the podcast. In the beginning, we were worried that our guests would only choose signature buildings by famous architects. Menard’s is great because it is a very complex piece of architecture. It’s basically a fun palace. It’s a densely filled commercial space that has an impact on all people, particularly children. So many people in the Midwest love it and tell us they went there all the time as a kid. Anyone who has ever been into a big box store can relate to what we were talking about in this episode without even visiting that specific one. The episode also offers some insight into Ellie’s approach to architecture. What can listeners expect with Season 2? AB: Our first interview is with Anya Sirota of Akoaki in Detroit. She’s also a professor at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture. She took us to Airtime in Ann Arbor, which is an indoor trampoline park. Season 2 will also include our first live episode which we’re very excited about. We’ll be recording an episode live during the fall conference for the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture at Stanford. EH: We are highlighting a couple of other people located in the Midwest as well for Season 2, an architect and museum curator specifically. We want to expand the conversation to include a lot of new voices.  I noticed you had previously visited an inflatable bouncing park in Season 1 and a trampoline park in Season 2. How were you able to approach Season 2 premiere episode with a fresh perspective?  AB: We could honestly visit the same site every single episode because each of our guests would see it differently, and therefore we would too. What’s been the biggest challenge in producing a podcast on architecture? EH: With every episode, we’ve found it challenging to describe the architecture and the experience. I think that’s the hardest thing to do clearly with the audio format. We try to curb that by offering visuals on our Site Visit Instagram or the website, but when we’re recording it’s a constant challenge trying to remember to experience the space through your words, and not primarily through your eyes.  We also got a very interesting comment once from a friend of ours who is a lawyer. She asked whether we would ever bring on a guest who is visually impaired. People who are blind or are differently-abled might experience space differently than we do. It’d be fascinating.  Do you think you’ll venture into a third season? AB: I think so. When we started the podcast, we knew we wouldn’t have a lot of time to devote to it, but we’ve really grown to enjoy the conversations. We’re actually visiting with episode six guest Whitney Moon later this fall. She’s teaching a course on podcasts and architectural media at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and we’re going to drop in and see what the students are up to. The show has a life long after the microphone is turned off. 
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Denise Scott Brown reflects on balancing architecture and urbanism

This interview of Denise Scott Brown is excerpted from Your Guide to Downtown Denise Scott Brown, an exhibit held at the Architekturezentrum Wien in Vienna, now available in book form via Park Books. The interview was conducted on May 22, 2018, before the passing of Robert Venturi in September, and revised on May 7, 2019, by Denise Scott Brown and Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum. Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum: What are your great achievements? Denise Scott Brown: I had to live through a difficult childhood, not given to self-esteem. I had to live through the tragedy of my [first] husband’s death. I had to find the gumption to do the things I needed to do and thought I couldn’t. Somehow I got through all that and made an oeuvre I feel proud of, sort of. Having said that, I think I’ve managed to find a way to live with uncertainty, which was difficult for me. And perhaps I’ve managed to help some others do that. Along with Bob, I think I’ve worked through issues of form and design and communication and brought all that together into “a beautiful table with four legs”—comparable to Vitruvius’s three-legged table. Out of that, I’ve tried to draw a beauty, but an agonized beauty. And the kinds of people I seem to associate best with are the ones with a certain striving for the same. That’s one side. On the other, I’m happy to have helped to define advocacy architecture and to have practiced some of it. I’m happy to have helped promote women in architecture. And now I end my career by trying to sum up what needs to be summed up. But I’m missing the thing I became addicted to, which was design. That was my great joy—but it was complex with me. I’m also very, very happy to have lived beside Bob and to have managed the sturm und drang—and to have jointly brought out work we could both be proud of. And to have produced a son who’s having a great career, who has found his passion, who will go on finding passions. We worked in this house all our lives. Now that it’s a home office, you find someone working in every room, tucked in a chair here or there. One of them said, “I’ve never been in a house where everyone there both lives and works.” So I’ve called this our Peaceable Kingdom—mostly peaceable. JET: The retirement that others look forward to is not the retirement you want for yourself? DSB: I’ve got too many things to do! All these people come to talk to me and I love talking to them. They ask why I don’t make room to smell the roses, and I say, the roses are right on my drawing board! I’m returning to the things I began early in life and had to leave off because of professional work—and hindsight makes them better. When he asked, I told our financial adviser: “Bob and I won’t go on cruises. We just want to go on being elderly academics.” He replied, “Well, if you do go, please consider going on a tramp steamer and not by the QE2 [the Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner].” So I keep asking myself, am I buying the QE2? We’ve tried to donate money to charity as much as we could. One great opportunity was an unexpected windfall. One day a voice on the phone with a South African accent asked me: “Is this Mrs. Ventuuuri?” He said I had an account in South Africa, produced from a very small investment my father had made for each of his children in 1945. By 1985 it had become a tidy sum. JET: This sounds like such a scam! DSB: It was a scam. He was a bounty hunter. He said, “You have to sign this document and let me take a third of the money.” And I realized there was nothing else I could do, so I signed—and he disappeared. The rest of the money waited in the account. I wanted it to go to students at my old school—some student whose teachers thought she could do better, a B-student who could be an A-student. When I was there, I saw our headmistress take kids who were, let’s say, raw and rough, and after they were with us a few years they would get into medical school. She believed academic intelligence is one kind of intelligence but not the only kind. She had ways of teaching people and maintaining students’ self-esteem. And she did it for me—she discovered things about me that she really appreciated and her appreciation really helped me grow. I hoped the school would still be like that, with that sense of community. So the school did what I requested: They found Gugu Ndlovu, daughter of a Zulu teacher. And she finished there and did very well, and when she applied to all the medical schools in South Africa, she got into every one. And for me...it was... [Silence. Denise cries. She clutches her dress with her hands, looking down.] Funny things are...moving. Some things are moving... So, anyway, nevertheless, I didn’t hear from the school for a while. But recently I met a young South African woman traveling with her Venezuelan boyfriend, both going back to South Africa. And I said, please, would you go to my school and talk to them? We arranged for the money to be placed with their bursary fund, to quickly go where it’s intended. And when that money is given, it should be given in the name of Robert Scott Brown. And so this is solved at the end of my life. It’s a nice story.
I have been a circus horse rider between architecture and urbanism most of my life. But reining together animals that have been tugging apart over five decades has made for a bumpy ride. My role as an architect and planner takes in more than physical planning or urban design. I have also penetrated beyond both architecture and planning toward the social sciences at one end and art and iconography at the other. When you have all these systems and all their functions and all their rules, it helps to understand Mannerism. Because these systems have to bend, some more and some less, to get something that works—but it’s also a way to look for beauty. That’s my view of functionalism. It has a moral component I uphold but an aesthetic component I love.
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Denise Scott Brown dubs herself "architecture's grandmother"

In a 2013 video interview now available online, Denise Scott Brown reflects on a variety of aspects of her career, from her youth in Rhodesia, to her professional career in the United States. In the video, author Jochen Becker asks her about the influence her personal life had on her professional formation for hismetroZones Global Prayers project. Becker asks about what she calls her "African perspective," which she says was informed by studying in South Africa under the apartheid regime. The interview then roams over her thoughts on modernism, her photography, and her experience with Las Vegas, Levittown, and Venice. She spends ample time describing her unconventional wedding ceremony to Robert Venturi, and she talks about her first interaction with a young Rem Koolhaas and her favorite building of his (she likes the IIT building, but not the CCTV tower). She also talks about the motivation behind the book she was writing at the time. "I've named myself architecture's grandmother," Scott Brown said. "My interest now is in putting architecture safely to bed before I put myself to bed."
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Find out what Freespace actually means to the Venice Architecture Biennale curators

With the launch of the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale, thousands of design-minded visitors descended on the Italian city to take in the national pavilions and ancillary events (and in some cases, to protest). This year’s theme, “Freespace,” encouraged architects to think outside of architecture as “object” and to contextualize how the natural world (light, air, the landscape) influences the built environment. Co-curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects broke down their intentions for the festival further in the interview below:
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Learning from the 2017 global timber tower audit

AN Midwest Editor Matthew Messner spoke with Daniel Safarik, editor for the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CT­BUH), about its “Tall Timber: A Global Audit.” The audit documented proposed, under-construction, and built tall buildings that use mass timber as their primary structural materials. The Architect’s Newspaper: What Prompted the CTBUH to conduct an audit of timber projects around the world? Daniel Safarik: We track all kinds of tall build­ing construction routinely for the Skyscrap­er Center database and for our Global News feed on our website. The first well-publicized tall timber building was Stadthaus in London, which was completed in 2009. We noticed what seemed like a spike in announcements of timber tall buildings being proposed and constructed about four years ago [2013], and everything that has happened since has re­affirmed this impression. When we saw the buy-in from the U.S. government represent­ed by the U.S. Tall Wood Building Competition, in October 2014, that confirmed the impression that this really had momentum behind it, so we committed to tracking the two resultant projects through to comple­tion. Unfortunately, the New York project was canceled due to market feasibility concerns, but the Portland project is now under con­struction. So the momentum began to build from that point, and we formed a Tall Timber working group in late 2014. The group started working on a design manual in mid-2015, and that effort has now gotten a turbo boost with the audit and the upcoming workshop at our 2017 conference, which is bringing together a lot of the key participants. Were there any interesting surprises once the information was gathered? The most striking thing was the diversity of construction methods that are being used to create these buildings, which are specific to local jurisdiction and the nature of the tim­ber supply in each region. Of course, herein lies the difficulty of generalizing about what’s going on in tall timber worldwide, as well as coming to a consensus about classification and best practices—that is our challenge. What are some of the interesting discus­sions happening around mass timber? It’s encouraging to see the range of propos­als, from both a stylistic and construction standpoint. The primary discussions revolve around fire safety and code, sustainability, and the feasibility of modifying fabrication techniques from mass production of stick-built single-family and platform-framed low-rise buildings to something that is workable for high-rise. What do you think the next steps are, or barriers to overcome, for mass timber to become a common building method? The foremost obstacle is local fire codes. Most fire codes prohibit wood structures from rising above five or six stories. Many codes stipulate that a building of this height must also have a concrete base, particularly if there are commercial uses on the ground floor, such as restaurants, or if there is vehi­cle parking, to give one to three hours of fire protection that would allow safe exiting before structural collapse. This is predicated on the assumption that wood high-rises would use platform construction, with dimension­al lumber such as two by fours, beams, and joists, similar to those currently permitted. The key to mass timber’s viability as a struc­tural material for tall buildings lies in its name. Massive wood walls and structural beams and columns comprised of engineered pan­els have demonstrated fire performance equal to concrete and, in some cases, su­perior to steel. Wood unquestionably burns, so there would be smoke issues, as with any fire, which would require proper sprinklering, pressurization, and other tactics used in tall buildings today. But mass timber has to burn through many layers before it is structurally compromised—basically it “chars” long be­fore it collapses. As more jurisdictions come to appreciate the aesthetic, economic, and environmental advantages of tall timber, fire codes are expected to change. The second-biggest obstacle is a lack of standardization of construction materials, methods, and definitions. There are many forms of mass timber, and a wide degree of variance in approach when it comes to sup­porting tall timber structures. Thus, there is a range of techniques, from assemblages of highly similar panels for both floors and walls, to complex column/beam/outrigger combi­nations, such as are found in high-rises of steel and concrete. There are numerous pro­prietary systems, and the connections be­tween elements also vary widely—often it is the location and orientation of the steel con­nectors between wood elements that can make all the difference in how long a struc­ture can withstand fire or seismic action, and thus determine its feasibility under local code. Are there any proposals, speculative or real, that you are particularly excited about? I like the one we published in the CTBUH Journal for Chicago: the River Beech Tow­er. It would be great to see that go up in our home city.
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Shanghai Talks> Carol Willis of The Skyscraper Museum on balancing dense development with open spaces

Last year I served as special media correspondent for the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat‘s September symposium in Shanghai. The topic was “Future Cities: Towards Sustainable Vertical Urbanism,” and among the many architects, engineers and other tall thinkers I interviewed was Carol Willis of The Skyscraper Museum. We discussed if there's an optimum height for tall buildings, and balancing dense development with open spaces. “You can have places that are characterized as high-rise cities,” she said, “that have opposing models of the way that land is used. The densification of space, the densification of energy…is complemented by the open space, public space, advantages of nature spaces that benefit us all.” Willis also wondered whether the current Asian boom in very tall buildings has an historical precedent. “The Chinese cities you see today that are growing their skyscrapers as an image of ambition and identity is very similar to the forces of capitalism that produced the Woolworth Building or the Insurance Company Building,” she said. “What I think is most fundamentally different between the Chinese cities and the American cities at the turn of the century is who controls the land.” You can read more on CTBUH's website and share the video from YouTube.
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Q+A> Is Los Angeles' Arts District As Hot As We Think?

Last week, AN reported on the development of Alameda Square in Los Angeles, the 1.5-million-square-foot mixed use project being designed at the old American Apparel factory site on the southwest edge of LA's Arts District. Movement on projects like this beg the question: Just how hot is LA's Arts District? AN's West Coast Editor Sam Lubell sat down for a short chat with James Sattler, a Vice President of Acquisitions at JP Morgan Asset Management, to find out. The Architect's Newspaper: What potential do you see in the LA Arts District? Do you see it as one of the major development areas of the city? James Sattler: Clearly there is a lot of development activity in the area, and this mirrors the pattern we are seeing in many parts of Downtown. I think the Arts District has the potential to become a terrific example of LA’s current wave of post-industrial urban renewal and can ultimately mature into a veritable live/work/play neighborhood with a deeper array of housing, office, and retail uses. Why is it such a major draw for real estate investment? I think the residents, artists, and businesses here today are attracted to the Arts District because it is such a truly authentic urban environment that is connected to the energy and grittiness of Downtown but with a very approachable, pedestrian-friendly scale. Access to a rapidly improving public transport system is also a big plus. It’s hard to find this combination of characteristics in a neighborhood here in Southern California, yet people appear increasingly drawn to the type of urban lifestyle that the Arts District offers. Investors are drawn here for similar reasons.  Are there any particular projects in the area that you see as transformative? I think the LA MTA’s Regional Connector project will be huge. When complete it will provide much more convenient access from the Little Tokyo/Arts District station to the rest of the Metro Rail system which will ultimately link to other parts of LA County like downtown Santa Monica, and potentially LAX and UCLA. I also think that the city’s plan to revitalize the LA River corridor, which runs along the east side of the Arts District, will have a big positive impact. Some people call this the next Meat Packing District, ala Manhattan. Do you agree? While I think there are some parallels in terms of an industrial neighborhood in transition, I think it’s too facile to compare them like that. I think one of the reasons for the success of the Meat Packing District is that the city took a very active role in developing the High Line and helping to preserve historical elements of the neighborhood that create its unique sense of place. Time will tell if the Arts District evolves similarly in LA.