Earlier this week we learned that Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne would be stepping down to take on the city’s newly-created role of Chief Design Officer. The move is a bold, encouraging one that should go a long way toward, as Hawthorne put it, “raising the quality of public architecture and urban design across the city—and the level of civic conversation about those subjects,” through his employment of oversight, advocacy, competitions, forums, and more. But it’s the second part of that statement, regarding civic conversation, that, regardless of this positive development, is under siege in the architecture world. Until Hawthorne is replaced — and given the turmoil at the L.A. Times that’s no certainty— our country will have still fewer regular architectural critics at its major metropolitan news outlets. You can count them on one hand in fact: Blair Kamin at the Chicago Tribune, John King at the San Francisco Chronicle, Mark Lamster at the Dallas Morning News, Julie Iovine at the Wall Street Journal, and Inga Saffron at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Beyond these dailies, while New York Magazine’s Justin Davidson and Curbed’s Alexandra Lange offer regular critiques, the New York Times’ critic Michael Kimmelman is M.I.A., the New Yorker has never replaced Paul Goldberger, and at The Boston Globe, The Miami Herald, The Nation, The San Jose Mercury News, and Vanity Fair, Robert Campbell, Alastair Gordon, Michael Sorkin, Alan Hess and Goldberger—all talented voices, as are all the people listed above— haven’t appeared for at least half a year. Papers like The Seattle Times, the Providence Journal, and the Washington Post never replaced their outgoing critics, USA Today has never had one, and half of the nation’s ten largest cities have no critic. It goes without saying that the L.A. Times absolutely must name a new full-time architecture critic, particularly at a time when the nation's second largest city is undergoing unprecedented transformation. Without a well-positioned critical voice, the city will lack a professional to alert them to and analyze these tumultuous built changes, or an advocate to critique decisions that, as they so often do in the developer-driven city, advance private interests over the public good. (Or, on the other end of the spectrum, marginalize design through discourse and work that most people can't relate to.) A critic can and must do much more, from awakening us to triumphs in sustainability and technology to suggesting ways to minimize sprawl or enhance public space. We don’t have to always agree with them, but he or she plays an essential role in instigating and informing a vital public discourse and to alerting us to the critical role design plays in our lives. The same goes for so many of the country’s cities, where nobody is minding the store, architecturally. The results speak for themselves: an overwhelming majority of architecture, both public and private, that’s ok, fine, serviceable. But not enough. It’s an architecture that, like most of our economy, excels for the very richest individuals, corporations and cultural institutions, but offers mediocrity to almost everyone else. Architecture should and must be for everyone, across the board, from housing to retail to schools to government buildings to civic parks. It must help propel our society, and our spirits, forward through inspiration and innovation, not just provide luxury, comfort, or status. Of course, architecture criticism isn’t limited to major commercial outlets. There are fantastic voices at many design periodicals, like this one. But critics at general interest publications still, even in this fractured media landscape, have the greatest ability to reach a wide audience, outside the bubbles of design or niche journalism, who are often preaching to the converted. While the news, sports, fashion, entertainment, and financial media promote and dissect the minutiae of their fields before millions, prompting debate, feedback, and change, the architecture and construction industry — a significant force in overall U.S. GDP—is largely on the fringe of the public conversation. (One example: If you watch March Madness this week, you’ll see more college basketball critics on one telecast than you’ll find countrywide speaking to architecture. Aline Saarinen was once NBC News’ full time architecture critic, but those days of elevated exposure are long gone.) Meanwhile, critics, as with so many players in the ailing journalism world, are increasingly being sidestepped for computerized engines like Rotten Tomatoes or for blogs that aggregate other work and churn out press releases. Or even worse, for abbreviated Facebook or Twitter posts. Algorithms and big data have their place in showing us where we are, but they can’t replace analysis, critique, understanding, common sense, and heart. Having Hawthorne— along with advocates like Deborah Weintraub at the L.A. Bureau of Engineering and Seleta Reynolds at the L.A. Department of Transportation— stationed at City Hall will be bring a keen eye and a valuable voice to the official conversation. But that conversation needs to extend to a much wider public, through experts outside the city payroll. As for his new job, Hawthorne must, as he suggests he will, make his work to improve the civic realm as public as possible, ensuring that design involves everyone, not just those in power. This is a fantastic opportunity for a gifted communicator to bring the public inside a generally opaque realm through his writing, speaking, and facility for public engagement. But he also needs a partner or two (preferably more) in the media, and as more chief design officers (hopefully) pop up around the country, so must they. Architecture is not art in a gallery. Along with landscape architecture and urban design, it is a public profession. It is for the public, not despite them. We need to empower more informed voices to keep it that way.
Posts tagged with "Michael Kimmelman":
New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman has weighed-in on 1 World Trade, New York's tallest,most superlative, open-but-not-yet-completed skyscraper. And, spoiler, he is no fan. Kimmelman's piece is so chock-full of quotable critiques, it's hard to decide where exactly to begin. But let's start with the politics. "Like the corporate campus and plaza it shares, 1 World Trade speaks volumes about political opportunism, outmoded thinking and upside-down urban priorities," wrote Kimmelman. "It’s what happens when a commercial developer is pretty much handed the keys to the castle." He described the tower's exterior as "opaque, shellacked, monomaniacal" and the overall design as "symmetrical to a fault." The finished product is "an abbreviated obelisk." As for the antenna, well, Kimmelman said counting that as part of the building's total height is like "counting relish at a hot dog eating contest." Ultimately, he finds the building to be a frustrating failure—a bland building that could be anywhere on the globe, an office tower that gives next to nothing to the city it calls home. To Kimmelman, the failings of 1 World Trade should be a warning to New Yorkers. "The public had a big stake in making [1 World Trade] great," he wrote. "That stake wasn’t leveraged. There are other giant projects like Hudson Yards, Penn Station and Roosevelt Island that will reshape the city’s streets and skyline. Their design is everyone’s business."
As development along the Brooklyn and Queens’ waterfront has increased dramatically over the years, transportation options—for residents old and new—has not. The number of glass towers, startups, and parks along the East River has only been matched by style pieces on new “it” neighborhoods from Astoria to Red Hook. But, now, the New York Times' Michael Kimmelman has used his platform to launch a plan to change that equation, and give these neighborhoods the transportation system they deserve. Kimmelman is proposing a modern streetcar to better connect these waterfront neighborhoods. He explained that a streetcar system takes less time to build than a new subway line, needs less space on the road than light-rail, and is more romantic than a city bus. “By providing an alternative to cars, streetcars also dovetail with Mayor De Blasio’s vow to improve pedestrian safety,” Kimmelman said, adding that the mayor wouldn’t need Albany’s blessing for this plan. The streetcar would, of course, not run cheap, but Kimmelman said the upfront costs are more than worth it. “The city’s urban fabric can’t be an afterthought,” says Kimmelman. “The keys to improved city life—better health care, housing, schools, culture, business, tourism and recreation—all have spatial implications.” Read Kimmelman's full proposal at the NY Times.
The Municipal Art Society (MAS) has announced that New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman has been awarded the 2014 Brendan Gill Prize. The award will be officially presented by MAS President Vin Cipolla and Board Chair Genie Birch on March 25th. The annual cash prize is named in honor of the late New Yorker theater and architecture critic. "Michael’s insightful candor and continuous scrutiny of New York’s architectural environment is journalism at its finest, and in solid alignment with the high standards of Brendan himself,” MAS President Vin Cipolla said in a statement. The jury was particularly impressed with Kimmelman’s calls to drastically improve Penn Station.
When an artist begins, they try to bury him with neglect. When he gains a small foothold, they try to bury him with criticism. When he becomes more established, they try to bury him with covetous disdain. When he becomes exceptionally successful, they try to bury him with dismissals as irrelevant. And finally, all else failing they try to bury him with honors! This is how James Wines of SITE, quoting Jean Cocteau, accepted his 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum at their National Design Awards. Wines joined a 'Lifetime Achievement' group that includes Richard Saul Wurman, Bill Moggridge, Paolo Solari, the Vignelli's, Dan Kiley, and Frank Gehry. Last night's awards program was a special one as the Museum—led by its new director, Caroline Baumann, and an indefatigable team—worked throughout the government shutdown of the least two weeks to put on a spatular gala that gave awards to designers that included Janette Sadik-Khan, Michael Sorkin, Studio Gang Architects, Paula Scher, Aidlin Darling Design, and Margie Ruddick. These figures each asked a special commentator to introduce them. Theaster Gates presented Jeanne Gang from Chicago and Michael Kimmelman said that Michael Sorkin was the first person he spoke to when he decided to be the New York Times architecture critic. Sorkin accepted his award for "Design Mind" with a powerful tribute—as only he can—to his late friends and intellectual mentors, Lebbeus Woods and Marshall Berman. Al Gore presented the TED Talks with an award and finally it was left to Tom Wolfe to introduce James Wines, who he said had created the "first really new architecture after modernism" in his famous Best Stores which "added nothing to the architecture" only re-arranged what was already" as in his Best 'Notch' project in suburban Sacramento, California. Wolfe claimed that Wines wanted to replace "plop art" like formal plaza sculptures by Henry Moore and Isamu Noguchi with a new form that put the art onto the architecture. Its about time that Sorkin, who is our greatest living architecture critic to not have been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, and Wines, who is not a registered architect, to be given an award as a great architect.
Barriers or freshwater wetlands? New building codes? What about porous pavements or floating city blocks? These were just a few of the ideas batted around at AIANY’s discussion and fundraiser, “Designing the City after Superstorm Sandy,” at the Center for Architecture last Thursday evening. The panel, moderated by Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic for The New York Times, consisted of the city’s leading designers, architects, scientists, and government officials. While each panelist came to the conversation with a different approach and set of strategies, all agreed that change is necessary and new solutions urgent. “There’s a certain consensus about taking steps in the long-run,” said Kimmelman. The participants on the panel included Cynthia Barton, Housing Recovery Plan Manager at the NYC Office of Emergency Management; Howard Slatkin, Director of Sustainability and Deputy Director of Strategic Planning for the city; Dr. Klaus Jacob, a geophysicist and Special Research Scientist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; Stephen Cassell, principal architect at ARO; Donna Walcavage, landscape architect and urban designer; and Robert M. Rogers, partner of Rogers Marvel Architects. The design solutions are part of a larger and more complex issue that call for us to “re-frame the ways we engage with the water,” said Cassell whose ideas helped to spearhead the Rising Currents exhibit at MoMA in 2010. And as Kimmelman pointed out in his introduction, will force us to decide, “what parts of the city are necessary to change, salvage and develop and what parts we cannot.” Cassell and Walcavage advocate for what they term “soft solutions” such as freshwater wetlands and upland parks that won’t disrupt the balance of the ecosystem as oppose to the much talked about barriers. Dr. Jacob referred to himself as a “barrier skeptic.” He hasn’t completely ruled them out, but believes that other preventive measures should be considered, including regulations and large-scale regional planning with New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York. The solutions were at once specific and lofty, and Kimmelman challenged the panelists during the Q&A session when he asked: “Who will legislate and have authority? Why will something change now?” Many of the participants argued that Hurricane Sandy is a turning point, and there’s simply too much at stake. Rogers pointed out that New York City is a “grid of real estate” and the significant investment in waterfront property will prompt developers and the city to be pro-active whether that means implementing new codes and regulations or altering the landscape by creating saltwater marshes to act as buffers against rising sea levels and storms. A few panelists suggested that an improved version of Robert Moses would lead the way or joked that perhaps a benevolent god would appear. Even though Kimmelman remained ambivalent and questioned why strong and cohesive leadership would emerge now to help facilitate change, it looks like the city is already taking action. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has asked the Urban Green Council to launch a Building Resiliency Task Force, which will consist of leading professionals in New York City real estate. In an announcement last week, Urban Green said that the Task Force’s main objective is “to take an in-depth look at how to better prepare our buildings for future storms and infrastructure failures.” A list of recommendations will be released in summer of 2013.
New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman waded into the controversy embroiling Chicago’s old Prentice Women’s Hospital Wednesday and wound up soliciting a unique solution from Jeanne Gang that has already garnered praise from the coalition of preservationists fighting to save the building from demolition. Noting the “familiar” tone of the dispute between landowner Northwestern University, who wants to demolish Prentice to make way for up to 500,000 square feet of medical research facilities, and preservationists seeking landmark status for the distinctive 1970s Bertrand Goldberg structure, Kimmelman called for a third approach: incorporate old Prentice into a new design on the site. As the pendulum begins to lean towards demolition, with 42nd ward Alderman Brendan Reilly saying he supports Northwestern’s decision, the critic asked Gang what she thought. Gang, who previously signed a letter of support for the movement to save Prentice, whipped up some concept drawings for a curved 31-story skyscraper that would sit atop Goldberg’s iconic quatrefoil. The architect said her design was meant to “[open] up a dialogue,” not serve as an actual proposal from her studio. In delivering on Northwestern’s specs for a new building while elegantly playing off Prentice’s structural strengths, however, she has reinvigorated the preservationists’ call for alternatives to erasing Prentice outright. Kimmelman’s comments and Gang’s concept come the same day Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose power to appoint members of the commission on Chicago landmarks gives him a great deal of say in such matters, is quoted in the Sun-Times wistfully conceding, “There may not be a common ground or a third way.” If he is indeed committed to compromise, the mayor now has a middle ground to consider.
Financial giant Goldman Sachs has received lots of attention recently for its headquarters at 200 West St. New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman waxed poetic about the building’s glass canopy by Preston Scott Cohen. The canopy, said Kimmelman, “elevates what is really just a gap between two buildings into something almost as inspired as the nave of a great Gothic cathedral. That’s the power of architecture.” Or, in this case, the architecture of power. The latest, and more critical, take on Goldmans’ HQ by Times writer N. R. Kleinfield outlines the firm’s impact on the surrounding area which at the time of the buildings completion in 2009, was short on shops and restaurants. So using its $1.65 billion in Liberty Bonds plus $115 million in tax breaks, Goldman just created a neighborhood in its own image.
At a panel discussion on architecture journalism held at the Center for Architecture last month, the New York Post's Steve Cuozzo griped that The New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman had yet to weigh in on the 9/11 Memorial. Indeed, even the Times's go-to architecture reporter Robin Pogrebin had to concur. She noted that she too had raised the question. Nevertheless, World Trade Center reporting—let alone criticism—can be a full time job. Although Pogrebin continues to report on the cultural venues slated for the site, the architectural aspects of the project have been the province of David Dunlap from the get-go. With the topping of Four World Trade today at 977 feet, Dunlap once again provides a highly detailed report, as he did two weeks ago in his analysis of the grossly altered designs of One World Trade. Standing in the shadow of One World Trade, Dunlap notes that architects Fumihiko Maki and Osamu Sassa have no problem with his building being labeled "the biggest skyscraper New Yorkers have never heard of." "Subtlety extends one’s appreciation," Sassa told the Times. Kimmelman, meanwhile, has made a trip to the area, but to review a glass canopy, "in the shadow of One World Trade Center no less."
It was a busy archi-spring night last night. The Municipal Arts Society held their debate on NYU’s 2031 expansion plan, the AIDS Memorial exhibit opened at the Center for Architecture, and Ralph Walker: Architect of the Century opened at the newly re-dubbed Walker Tower on West 18th Street. Read on for highlights of the MAS debate and to view few photos from the Center and Walker Tower... The MAS debate was the most sober event of the evening with a panel packed with academic all stars. The NYU opponents applauding statements they found to their liking lent the debate the air of a souped-up community board meeting. Nevertheless, it was refreshing to hear ideas cleanly teased out by moderator John Alschuler, of HR&A, the real estate/economic advisory firm. The community had an informed voice on stage in CB2 Chair Brad Hoylman. His point of view was largely backed up by Pratt’s Ron Shiffman, while NYU’s Hilary Ballon and Penn’s Gary Hack tipped the balance back in favor of NYU. Alschuler got the ball rolling by stating “nobody loves the Coles Gymnasium,” the bland brick bunker on the corner of Houston and Mercer, and that “some level of change is going to come there,” partly in the form of a hotel in the so-called Zipper Building. This immediately spurred Schifman to respond that there is little need for a hotel on the campus as NYC has plenty already. “People can get on the subway, why are we protecting them,” he said of the NYU visitors. “That’s a formula for disaster.” Hack argued that at Penn they began their expansion with a hotel, because that’s what visiting academics need most—a place to stay on campus. While Ballon, who is based at NYU Abu Dhabi, said the university’s international franchises mean they need a hotel more than ever. In the end, the southern super block with its two towers was the source of less tension, as opposed to the proposed Boomerang Buildings on the northern superblock. Schiffman went so far as to say that he likes the Kimmelman plan, which would keep the below grade space but nix the above grade structures. But Hack said the new proposal, including the buildings, would open the superblock up and provide better circulation. He added that the additional space would give students a place to gather instead of meeting at “third place haunts” like Starbucks. Hoylman said the north block proposal would more likely become a student thoroughfare, not a neighborhood square. “This is about NYU solving an identity crisis; they get their quad,” he said.
Forget for a moment that President Obama bumped the New York Times’ Jill Abramson from the dais to deliver this year’s commencement address at Barnard and not his alma mater, Columbia College. Tonight, the Times’ architecture critic Michael Kimmelman will be delivering a lecture at Barnard's Diana Center, titled Public Space and Public Consciousness. However, a busy Kimmelman also appeared last night at GSAPP, for a conversation with Columbia Professor Gwendolyn Wright. Kimmelman addressed growing criticism of his focus on the city as a whole as opposed to addressing architecture as buildings, by reminding the audience that he’s only been at the gig for four months and still had plenty to address. He said he had hoped to create a more porous and fluid forum for debate about the city and architecture, through blogs and reader commentary—but that the resources to edit and filter comments at the newspaper are thin, and there was a concern that the blog could be “taken over by crazy people.” He added that Ada Louise Huxtable remains the model for dealing with citywide and policy issues alongside architecture. “A false dichotomy has been set up; there’s this idea that writing about urban affairs and architecture are separate,” he said. “They’re part of the same world.” He acknowledged the criticism. “When is he going to write about…” he parroted an oft-asked question. “...architecture,” Wright finished—before concurring that the same problem exists in academia where a distinct line is drawn between social history and architectural history. Unsurprising for a former European corespondent, he invoked Rome and suggested that rather than looking at Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI as a sculptural object, he could address its Bilbao-esque intentions. MAXXI may have been positioned as a game changer for an underdeveloped Roman neighborhood, but infrastructural changes needed to be in place to make any real difference. The same thing goes, he contended, at the High Line, whose success now has James Corner getting calls from far flung cities to order up their own High Line that will transform the neighborhood. Kimmelman said such high-profile works of architecture and landscape design are but capstones to what was essentially a very long haul addressing infrastructural and government processes that have little to do with architecture. “It creates the illusion that architecture alone can make a change,” he said said of Gehry's Bilbao. “There was lots of structural and social engineering that preceded the building.” After the event, he spent almost an hour talking with students about sites and projects in New York. Public Space and Public Consciousness will be delivered at 6PM tonight at the Event Oval in the Diana Center.
Thinkin' Lincoln. IBM is taking over the Lincoln Center through October 23rd with one of the biggest interactive technology exhibits in the city: IBM Think Exhibit. Highlights include the 123-feet long "data wall" and a forest of 40 seven-foot media panels. More at Inhabitat. Bronx Beauty. The New York Times' new archi-critic, Michael Kimmelman, has penned his first review, shying away from the iconic, gleaming projects of his predecessor, instead beginning with Via Verde affordable housing in the South Bronx, which may help him demonstrate that quality trumps quantity, especially in moral debates of architecture. Biking Sacrifice. Atlantic Cities reported that cyclists in urban environments might want to be wary of cars for more than just accident risks: harmful automobile emissions create a hazard for cyclists as well. According to new research, bikers inhale more than twice the amount of black carbon particles as pedestrians do in the same trip.