Last night, at the Frank Gehry-designed AIC building in far west Chelsea, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Municipal Arts Society honored an esteemed group of urban activists, designers, and community developers with Jane Jacobs Medals, a prestigious prize named for the ground breaking urban writer and activist. Ron Shiffman, founder of the Pratt Center for Community and Environmental Development, was awarded the medal for lifetime leadership. Roseanne Haggerty of Common Ground and Community Solutions, received the award to new ideas and activism. A new award for technology and innovation was given to Carl Skelton, the founder of Betaville, and Cassie Flynn, Erin Barnes, and Brandon Whitney, the creators of ioby (In Our Backyards), a crowdsourced sustainability platform (the trio also donned Jacobs-like glasses after accepting their award). The event was originally scheduled for last November, but had to be rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy, which damaged the IAC building as well as many of the galleries, businesses, and residences in the surrounding neighborhood. Social and environmental resilience were strong themes of the night, and Ron Shiffman closed the ceremony with a rallying cry for greater civic activism--a fitting message for an evening dedicated to Jacobs.
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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.
Pratt Institute was founded in 1886 by Charles Pratt, who had sold his family’s Astral Oil works to Standard Oil in 1874. It was Pratt’s original intention that the school train industrial workers for the changing economy of the 19th century, and this it did for many years before growing into one of the leading art and design schools in the country. Like any institution, the school has had its stellar moments and its sleepy periods. The art department has been a training ground for dozens of important American artists, and its architecture school once had faculty like Sibyl Moholy-Nagy and experimental designers like John Johansen, Michael Webb, and Raimund Abraham. Pratt even spawned this country’s most important community advocacy organization: the Pratt Center, founded by Ron Shiffman, a legend in the world of community planning. Having weathered a rough stretch 15 years ago, when it was nearly bankrupt, the institute has undergone a transformation under its current president, Thomas Schutte. He has built a sizable endowment, upgraded the campus buildings and grounds (including a Steven Holl-designed school of architecture), strengthened its academic programs, and turned the institute into a design powerhouse with many of its programs rated in the top ten nationally. Typical of its notion of itself as a New York-centered institution, tonight it will honor Marc Jacobs, David Rockwell, and Patti Smith at a special scholarship benefit party. If you want to see how far the school’s industrial and product design departments have come, though, you can visit the new Rogers Marvel-designed townhouses at 115 Third Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Under the direction of Professor Anthony Caradonna, the institute has cleverly used both faculty- and student-designed furniture and household objects to furnish the residence, and has thrown in pieces by famed graduates including Eva Zeisel, Giovanni Pellone, Harry Allen, and William Katavolos.