To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the AIA, e-OCULUS is launching its new design. The website is more interactive and user-friendly, thanks to graphic designer Rachel Schauer and web technician Kevin Skoglund. New sections and features will be added throughout the year, so keep an eye out for more changes. Voice your opinion in The Measure section, or send me an e-mail.

– Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP
02.23.07

Panel Sizes Up Bloomberg’s PlaNYC

Event: Mayor’s Plan for NYC 2030 New York New Visions: An Evolving Conversation
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.05.07
Speakers: Rohit Aggarwala, PhD – director, Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability; Donald H. Elliot, Esq. – Hollyer, Brady, Barrett & Hines; Frank Fish, FAICP – BFJ Planning; Mark Ginsberg, FAIA – Curtis + Ginsberg; Jerilyn Perine – executive director, Citizens Housing and Planning Council of NY; Joseph Tortorella, PE – vice president, Robert Silman Associates; Thomas K. Wright – executive vice president, Regional Plan Association
Moderator: Ernest Hutton, AICP, Assoc. AIA – Hutton Associates & New York New Visions
Organizers: New York New Visions; AIA New York Chapter Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Courtesy plaNYC 2030

Courtesy plaNYC 2030

The easy take on the mayor’s potentially prescient PlaNYC 2030 process is that it’s an exercise in collective doomsaying, a deep dark pool of worst-case scenarios. Despite some early press coverage boiling down the message to “the city’s going to become a rat-hole again, just as it was in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” city sustainability director Rohit Aggarwala actually takes a chipper tone. With demographic projections calling for a population of 9.1 million by 2030, the associated problems and risks aren’t hard to identify, whether it’s the chronic affordable-housing crunch, the shortage of trained engineers predicted by Joseph Tortorella, or the surprising fact (raised by Aggarwala in a global-warming context) that NYC ranks second only to Miami in hurricane risk exposure. Major infrastructure here is many decades old; flood lines are likely to rise; the transportation system is already congested enough to cost the city $11.5 billion annually in lost productivity. In this context, preventing trouble by projecting possible versions of it looks prudent, not alarmist.

Having an optimistic outlook while assessing the challenges is constructive initially, but the key term is “initial.“ At this stage, PlaNYC is defining broad targets and gathering data through task-force sessions, not prescribing solutions. Questions of means and accountability will inevitably enliven the debate. Executive vice president of the Regional Plan Association (RPA), Thomas Wright, called on New York New Visions (NYNV) members to serve as “civic cannon fodder,” drawing community leaders’ attention to these priorities. The real fireworks will come when costs and sacrifices have to be specified. The GreeNYC component, for example (the others being OpeNYC and MaintaiNYC), includes an ambitious four-point plan: cutting global-warming emissions by 30%, attaining the nation’s best urban air quality, cleaning up all contaminated land, and opening 90% of the city’s waterways for recreation.

Other stated goals of the overall program include improving park and playground access throughout all boroughs, adding transit capacity, and developing backup systems for the water network. Education, employment, and crime are conspicuously underemphasized in the official brochures distributed, but panelists emphasized the interconnection of those variables with the physical changes under discussion. Jerilyn Perine, executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council of NY, urging a renewed effort to secure support for public housing, offered a useful summation of the human bottom line: “If our neighborhoods stop being little factories to manufacture hope of entering the middle class, we’re in real trouble, because the million people who are coming are not all coming with MBAs.”

Bill Millard is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in Oculus, Icon, Content, and other publications.

Power Broker Revisited

Event: Robert Caro: Reflections on Robert Moses
Location: The Museum of the City of New York, 02.11.07
Speaker: Robert Caro – author, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York
Organizers: The Museum of the City of New York

“Rome was power, Greece was glory, New York is home.”
– Robert Caro

Published in 1974, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York took seven years for Robert Caro to write. It grew from a straightforward biography into an investigation of urban political power and its function in cities. Though Robert Moses was arguably the most powerful figure in mid-century New York, he was essentially impervious to politics. Holding a litany of appointed titles during his career, he set the city’s priorities from 1945 forward, skewing spending away from social welfare programs and towards public works. He continually diverted funds from Mayor LaGuardia’s pet project – pre-natal care for poor families – towards development.

In a democracy, it is generally believed that power comes from being elected. Moses, one of New York’s most influential and controversial figures in the 20th Century, never held an elected office; but, in many ways he exercised more power over a 40-year span than the six governors and five mayors he served while working for New York. Caro became fascinated by this while writing his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Moses, Power Broker.

At least 500,000 people lost their homes to his projects, and 21 communities were affected – the famous dark side to Moses’s genius, discussed by Caro. After interviewing inhabitants displaced by the Cross-Bronx Expressway, Caro revealed the widespread blight of which Moses’s heavy-handed public works projects were capable. Ultimately, Caro left the audience with this query: How do we achieve a vision for the city’s future without disturbing the integrity of its past?

Robert Moses and the Modern City is a three-part exhibition currently on view at the Museum of the City of New York, Queens Museum of Art, and Columbia University Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery.

Kate Soto is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor.

LOT-EK Injects New Life Into Shipping Containers

Event: People and Buildings: Thinking Inside the Box
Location: Housing Works Bookstore Café, 01.30.07
Speakers: Giuseppe Lignano & Ada Tolla – Principals, LOT-EK; Marc Levinson, author, The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger
Organizers: The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP); New York Council for the Humanities

Courtesy LOT-EK

Mobile Dwelling Units (MDU) travel as standard-size containers, expand to reveal furnished interiors, and could be plugged into “vertical harbors” in any city.

Courtesy LOT-EK

Home, gallery, train station, vertical village, museum, portable retail hut, mega-billboard, recycling plant: these are among the novel alternative uses that Giuseppe Lignano and Ada Tolla, founding principals of LOT-EK, have conceived for the thousands of surplus 20- and 40-foot-long standard shipping containers that accumulate like empty shoeboxes in U.S. port cities. Interpreting the containers as adaptable architectural shells rather than inherently defined freight boxes, the partners envision a radically modular landscape as liquid as capital itself.

Their January 30th presentation – part of CUP’s People and Buildings event series – complemented a lecture delivered by the economist Marc Levinson recounting the evolution of the modern shipping container. According to Levinson, a former editor of The Economist and author of a new book on shipping container history, the adoption of standard shipping containers in the 1950s-70s fueled the industrial decline of formerly bustling ports such as Brooklyn. LOT-EK’s designs creatively invert this relationship; in its hands the very same shipping containers become post-industrial building blocks to revitalize the city. The firm is on a mission to discover how many different types of program can be dynamically planted in, around, and between the containers.

One case study is the Mobile Dwelling Unit (MDU), which not only functions as an independent, fully furnished home, but hypothetically plugs in to a vast “vertical harbor,” or high-rise steel rack, in any metropolis. Said Lignano, “Like pixels in a digital image, temporary patterns are generated by the presence or absence of MDUs in different locations along the rack, reflecting the ever-changing composition of these colonies scattered around the globe.” The completed Bohen Foundation gallery and offices on West 13th St. shows how shipping containers can be adapted to create flexible interior volumes. Accommodating an entirely different program, the train station and tower they have proposed for Turin, Italy, is a 1,800-foot-long “programmable billboard” animated by the constant movement of trains, cars, passengers, and shoppers, as well as a giant stream of travel information and advertisements.

Recycling is one of LOT-EK’s goals, but not only in the material sense. Responding to Levinson’s account of endless negotiations over the exact specifications of standard containers, Lignano said he and Tolla would like to “recycle the intelligence and all the effort” spent developing the 8.5-foot-tall, 8-foot-wide steel and aluminum boxes. They also see latent pop-art value in the multi-colored containers. Shipping containers could one day become as ubiquitous in the built environment as they are on the seas and highways.

Gideon Fink Shapiro is a writer and researcher at Gabellini Sheppard Associates, and contributes to several design publications.

Why Bronx Library Lures Customers

Event: Bronx Library – LEED Silver
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.07.07
Speakers: Daniel Heuberger, AIA, LEED AP – Principal, Dattner Architects; Robin Auchincloss, AIA, LEED AP – Senior Associate, Dattner Architects; James Kilkenny – Project Executive F. J. Sciame Construction Co., Inc.; Susan Kent – Director & CEO of The Branch Libraries, The New York Public Library
Moderator: William Stein, AIA – Principal, Dattner Architects
Organizer: AIA NY Committee on the Environment (COTE)

Jeff Goldberg/Esto

The Bronx Library Center’s sloping roof aids its green design.

Jeff Goldberg/Esto

The 78,000-square-foot Bronx Library Center at the New York Public Library, the largest public library in the Bronx, is the first publicly funded building in New York City to receive LEED Silver certification. Its open, light interior contrasts the dark 25,000-square-foot building it replaced creating a transparency that connects with the neighborhood. Since its opening in January 2006, numerous community groups began to use the building. If numbers can indicate success, 527,000 items were checked out and 15,400 library cards were issued last year, compared to a previous 154,000 items and 3,100 library cards.

The design of the Bronx Library Center is specific to the site conditions, particularly its eastern orientation and zoning envelope. The sloped metal roof maximizes the building’s area within the zoning constraints and allows light to penetrate the western side of the building. Cantilevered glass on the east façade also gives a sense of openness and maximum light penetration. The design includes an outdoor reading room on the roof that will be surrounded by a 10-foot hedge. Related energy conservation measures include thermally broken glass, light shelves, and mechanical blinds.

In addition to being an important lesson in sustainable design for the client, designers, and contractor, the library enjoys success as a public resource. The users of the building learn about sustainable architecture on a daily basis as they explore the Center’s new design.

Aaron Slodounik, LEED AP, is a freelance art and architecture writer.

Architects Return to School

Event: A New Architecture for a New Education symposium held in conjunction with the exhibition “School Buildings – The State of Affairs: A New Architecture for a New Education”
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.03.07
Speakers: Bruce Barrett – Vice President of Architecture & Engineering, NYC School Construction Authority; Barbara Custer – Principal, Nordstrasse Elementary School, Zürich; Richard Dattner, FAIA – Dattner Architects; Manuela Keller-Scheider – Zürich University of Teacher Education; Daniel Kurz – architectural historian, Zürich Building & Zoning Department; Kelvin Shawn Sealey, EdD – founder, Design Lab for Learning Organizations at Columbia Graduate School for Architecture, Planning and Preservation; Tony Vinzenz – Director, Department of Schools and Sport, City of Zürich; Markus Ziegler – Immobilien-Bewirtschaftung, City of Zürich.
Moderator: David M. Steiner – Dean, Hunter College School of Education
Organizer: AIA New York Chapter Committee on Architecture for Education and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich/ Wohnforum
Sponsors: Holcim, Think Swiss, The Consulate General of Switzerland in New York

Gempeler

Falletsche School, Zurich-Leimback, Switzerland.

Gempeler

American architects and educators might benefit from looking at recent European models and rethinking the fundamentals of educational building design. In Zürich, the educational structure is departing from the traditional “banking” model, where information is “deposited” into students by teachers. According to Tony Vinzenz, Director of the Department of Schools and Sport in Zürich, teaching is evolving into a team effort intended to “tap the individual potential of each child,” a change that demands more flexibility and connection among classrooms. Extended school hours also increases demands on space, and integration of technology challenges the rigid classroom layout of traditional school buildings.

Even though Zürich faces similar problems to NYC, NYC must address the issues on a larger scale. According to Markus Ziegler, of Zürich’s public real estate department Immobilien-Bewirtschaftung, the amount of school space available in Zürich has doubled since 1940, while the number of school children has decreased by 21%. In NYC, the School Construction Authority houses over 1 million children and plans to add 63,000 seats to the city’s schools within the next five years to keep pace with demand. So while clustering classrooms and providing flex space is desirable in new schools, the question remains how New York’s 1,300 existing facilities can adapt to house new teaching models. “Schools change constantly, while the school buildings stay built,” said Ziegler, an idea that architects should seriously consider when designing tomorrow’s schools.

Carolyn Sponza, AIA, is an architect with Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners and is the AIANY Chapter Vice President of Professional Development.

Curating Kahn

Exhibition: Responding to Kahn: A Sculptural Conversation
Location: Yale University Art Gallery, on view through 07.08.07
Curators: Timothy Applebee – M.Arch. candidate, Yale University; Sonali Chakravarti – Political Science Ph.D. candidate, Yale University; Shannon N. Foshe – History of Art B.A. 2006, Yale University; Kate Howe – Graphic Design M.F.A. candidate, Yale University; Harriet Salmon – Sculpture M.F.A. 2006, Yale University; Catherine Sellers – Education Intern, Yale University Art Gallery; Sydney Skelton – History of Art 2007, Yale University; under the direction of Pamela Franks – Curator of Academic Initiatives, Yale University Art Gallery

Elizabeth Felicella

Yale University Art Gallery, Louis Kahn building, first floor; interior view of Responding to Kahn: A Sculptural Conversation exhibition, 2006. (c) 2006 Yale University Art Gallery.

Elizabeth Felicella

Bricks the size of his hands make up the walls. Concrete columns bearing the scars of their creation hold up the suspended ceiling of tetrahedrons. A circular stairwell capped by a dark floating triangle completes the geometry of the space. These are cues we, as student curators, took from the Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG) building for the Responding to Kahn: A Sculptural Conversation exhibition. Connections are made between Louis Kahn’s history and the building while providing a space for conversation between architecture and art.

In representing Kahn’s architecture in the form of a sculpture exhibition, we focused on bringing the visitor to the architect through art. Specifically positioned lights cast the triangular shadows of an Alexander Calder mobile onto the broad cylindrical stairwell behind it. The artwork moves gently with the movement of the building – from door drafts, air conditioning, or passing visitors – connecting elements of Kahn’s vision: the city, the building, and the viewer. Christian Boltanski’s three towers of La fete de Pourim are constructed of biscuit tins that visually mimic the intimately measured bricks of Kahn’s walls.

The concrete columns in the gallery express their construction with imprints of the wood framework – which we saw as translations of Kahn’s physical scars (caused by a fire from his childhood). Likewise, Rachel Whiteread’s Untitled bears the rawness of its creation in her plaster casting, and Lynda Benglis’ Hitch glass sculpture clutches the sand in which it was formed.

Maintaining the life of a building and rejuvenating the spirit of its architect, especially an icon like Kahn, is a challenge. After the recent renovations by Polshek Partnership Architects (see Un-cluttering a Kahn Classic, by Kristen Richards, eOCULUS 07.25.06), the life of YUAG continues, and hopefully we, as curators, have heightened its spirit as well.

Shannon N. Foshe is the Development Associate at the Center for Architecture, and a member of the curatorial team for the Responding to Kahn exhibition.

A Grassroots Accent on Appreciation

Doug Gordon

Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez.

Doug Gordon

Grassroots, the AIA’s annual legislative and leadership conference, took place this month in Washington, D.C., and was marked by rhetorical flourishes left and right. Speeches at plenary sessions and candidate forums were complemented by acceptance remarks at award ceremonies and impromptu words from the podium when the teleprompter could not keep up with the speakers.

Remarkable speeches included those of architect John Barnes, son of Edward Larrabee Barnes, who accepted the AIA’s Gold Medal on behalf of his father at the Accent on Architecture Gala at the National Building Museum. Following remarks by Henry Cobb, FAIA, of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, who eloquently put the award-winner’s career in perspective, Barnes fils spoke for the 500 people who over the years had worked at the Barnes firm. Unsaid was the feeling that the award would better have been conferred before Barnes died. Perhaps most eloquent was the dignified elation visible on the face of firm partner Mary Barnes, who, from her wheelchair, did not speak, but whose elegant presence captivated the room.

Also at the Accent gala, Jane Weinzapfel, FAIA, and Andrea Leers, FAIA, spoke of how their AIA Architecture Firm Award was a product not only of their efforts, but of all those who had worked in their office since its creation in 1982. Recognizing former employees – and the founders’ mothers – as part of a thank you speech seemed especially gracious. Similarly, Maya Lin, following golden-tongued architectural historian VIncent J. Scully, Jr., was more than generous with her praise not only of her former teacher, Scully, but also of her collaborating architects, Kent Cooper, FAIA, and William P. Lecky, AIA, of the Cooper-Lecky Partnership, who share credit for the 25 Year Award winning project, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

By far the speech with the most impact, in my opinion, was that of Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez, of New York’s 12th Congressional District, representing parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. At the opening plenary session on Wednesday, 02.07.07, Rep. Velázquez, now Chair of the House Small Business Committee, spoke of the AIA as an organization of small businesses, and addressed the need for national health plans that allow for employees of start-ups and small businesses to have the same benefits as those working at larger established corporations. She also noted how much better it was to be chair, than merely the ranking minority-party member of a House committee, if one wants to be able to bring legislation to the floor of Congress. After her keynote speech, Rep. Velázquez conferred with local AIA members.

One of the other plenary speakers, Sir Ken Robinson, doing a riff on the subject of creativity, remarked that by late afternoon, “most men have used all their words up.” The most interesting speeches at this year’s Grassroots were, notably, by women.

America’s Favorite Brands Define Architectural History

“When you ask people to select their favorites… they choose buildings that hold a place in their hearts and minds,” said RK Stewart, FAIA, 2007 AIA President, of the recently released America’s Favorite Architecture list. The public poll compiled 150 “best works of architecture” in celebration of the sesquicentennial anniversary of the AIA’s founding. Many of the buildings are what you might expect – a garden variety of classical icons that speak of patriotism and democracy. Most of the buildings are accessible to the public, whether they are hotels, museums, transportation hubs, or memorials. Indicative of the types of buildings included, the Empire State Building tops the list. The list is generally uninteresting to me (as are most survey results), but the fact that only 21 buildings were constructed in the last 10 years does compel me to question why practicing architects are generally unsuccessful at tugging the heartstrings of the general public.

Perhaps it is a good sign that the largest percentage of those 21 recently constructed buildings are located in NY (six in NYC and one in Long Island). However, three are places where people go to shop: the city’s two Apple stores (#53 and #141) and the Time Warner Center (#105). We are a consumer-oriented society, and we spend more time interacting with retail architecture, maybe more than other types of architecture. So it could be good that people are considering the architectural experience rather than an image. Then again, the Hearst Tower (#71) is inaccessible to the public, and the New York Times Building (#68) is still under construction.

Ultimately, I think it all comes down to branding. Name recognition is at the forefront of the public’s and architects’ minds (after all, it was architects that came up with the initial 248 buildings). Currently, corporations are striking a chord more so than the buildings themselves – and that does not bode well for the future of architecture.

Progressive Architecture: 54 Years Young

Event: P/A Awards Party
Location: Center for Architecture – 01.24.07
Organizers: ARCHITECT magazine
Sponsors: Hanley Wood Business Media

Darris James

Ned Cramer (second from left), editor-in-chief of ARCHITECT, poses with members of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center. The team won a Jury Citation for the Good Shepherd Ecumenical Retirement Community.

Darris James

Darris James

(l-r): Teran Evans; Jeremy Edmunds, Assoc. AIA, AIANY Director of Programs and Strategic Planning; Teman Evans; Ryan Clark, Assoc. AIA, 2006 AIANYS Associate Director. The Evans twins are managing partners of Dioscuri and contestants from the first season of HGTV’s “Design Star.”

Darris James

The 54th annual Progressive/Architecture, announced at the Center for Architecture January 24, honors architects and designers whose un-built work varies in scale, from Marc Boutin Architect’s Calgary Centre for Global Community, a 25,000-square-foot community center, to Michael Maltzan Architecture’s 2,500-square-foot Pittman Dowell Residence in La Crescenta, California. Although many of the winning projects have international settings – Aziza Chaouni won for her in-depth analysis and proposals for vacant sites in the old medina of Fez, Morocco, and Boston-based Office dA won for an expansion of the Kuwait Sports Shooting Club – many of the projects are community-oriented.

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center (UACDC) received a Jury Citation for its Good Shepherd Ecumenical Retirement Community in Little Rock, Arkansas. “The benefits of being recognized by the P/A awards include bringing to light a type of planning for an aging community and increased visibility to Arkansas’ struggle with urban planning in a disproportionate economic environment,” according to Aaron Gabriel, project director of the UACDC.

The awards ceremony itself was a modest affair. With the P/A Awards being inherited by ARCHITECT, there was a sense that this patriarch of design awards was a nascent event. Replacing the traditional exhibition that usually accompanies the ceremony, full descriptions of the projects were only available in the free copies of ARCHITECT offered at the event. Even though a slide show of the winners cycled throughout the evening, many attendees were disappointed by the omission of an accompanying exhibition. The ceremony itself was rushed and understated as winners were not invited on stage for recognition. In the end, the ceremony did not live up to the preeminence and prestige that a 54-year-old award program deserves.