Architect-Interior Designer Collaboration: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Event: Process 2 Collaboration 4: Inside/Outside — Seamless Collaboration
Location: New York Design Center, 03.14.07
Speakers: Joan Blumenfeld, FAIA, IIDA, LEED AP — Principal, Perkins+Will; Tom Krizmanic, AIA — Principal, STUDIOS Architecture; Kay Sargent, IIDA — Principal, IA; Jennifer Busch — Editor-in-Chief, Contract Magazine (moderator)
Organizer: New York Design Center

P2C panel (l-r): Tom Krizmanic, AIA, Principal; Kay Sargent, IIDA; Jennifer Busch; and Joan Blumenfeld, FAIA, IIDA, LEED AP.

P2C panel (l-r): Tom Krizmanic, AIA, Principal; Kay Sargent, IIDA; Jennifer Busch; and Joan Blumenfeld, FAIA, IIDA, LEED AP.

Kristen Richards

This Process 2 Collaboration (P2C) was the last in a series of four programs exploring the collaborative process between architecture and interior design. Instead of presenting case studies as previous programs did, the panel focused on the issues involved in collaboration — the good, the bad, and the ugly — with no holds barred.

For Joan Blumenfeld, FAIA, IIDA, LEED AP, the barriers — and problems — “come up when the building architect doesn’t express to the client that the interiors should be part of the discussion from the beginning.” Kay Sargent, IIDA, agreed, saying, “Interior design is too often thought of after the fact.” And that is when, she said, instead of collaboration, it becomes competition — primarily for budget, and “it ends up as money not well spent. There needs to be a more holistic solution.”

Moderator Jennifer Busch asked, “Who does take the lead? Have designers abdicated leadership?” Sargent said it starts with contracts, and pointed out that 10 years ago, interior designers were often the project managers, but that project management firms have come to the fore who “beat you up in front of the client, and you’re dead before you start. Are they project managers or project meddlers?” Blumenfeld would like to see designers as co-equals to architects, or even lead in orchestrating base building and interiors, because “buildings need to be thought from the inside out… It’s the client’s choice… we’re bad sales people if we can’t get them to understand. If we don’t bring up larger issues, such as space and purpose — not just programming — then we’re just a commodity.”

“Are the seeds of collaboration planted or not planted in design schools?” Busch asked. “Architectural training has students coming out thinking they’re ‘Masters of the Universe’,” said Tom Krizmanic, AIA. “They need to understand there are things they can’t do.” Sargent didn’t mince words: “It’s absurd that architecture and interior design students don’t spend a year actually building things to understand how things go together. We don’t encourage collaboration.” She said she is “appalled” that interior design programs “have a touch of architecture,” yet architects are “qualified to do interior design.”

This raised the issue of why it’s taking so long to “professionalize” interior design and allow designers to sign off on plans. Blumenfeld bemoaned the fact that students come out of architecture schools “without a real understanding of interior design,” but she believes that until interior design education changes to include knowledge of infrastructure and such, designers should not be allowed to sign drawings. Sargent had a very different take: “Lightning may strike me dead, but my advice to students is get four years of interior design, then a Masters in Architecture.”

Considering that the program topic touched on this year’s AIANY Chapter theme “Architecture Inside/Out” (and is the focus of the upcoming spring issue of Oculus), this writer asked the eternal question: What is the difference between interior architecture and interior design? Sargent felt the difference was more semantic, saying, “There’s still a negative connotation to the term ‘interior designer’.” Blumenfeld proffered that urban and interior design have more in common than architecture and interior design: “They both deal with large constituencies, user groups, providers, movement, and use of space.”

Can School Buildings Make Students Want to Learn?

Event: Schools of the Future — Claire Weisz and Roger Duffy discuss innovative school designs
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.12.07
Speakers: Claire Weisz, AIA — Pricipal, Weisz + Yoes Studio; Roger Duffy, FAIA — Partner, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill; Moderator Ria Stein — Senior Editor, Birkhäuser Publishers
Organizers: Center for Architecture

The Bronx Charter School for the Arts incorporates glazed-brick in nine VCT colors on the street front. The open-plan arts studios also have prime access to natural light.

The Bronx Charter School for the Arts incorporates glazed-brick in nine VCT colors on the street front. The open-plan arts studios also have prime access to natural light.

Courtesy Weisz + Yoes Studio

Courtesy SOM

Curving paths of light designed in collaboration with James Turrell illuminate the atrium at SOM’s new Deerfield Academy building.

Courtesy SOM

Concrete evidence about the relationship between student performance and space and light is lacking, so architects and educators end up relying on intuition and externally imposed limits when conceiving visionary new schools. No one has yet proven, for example, whether heightened oxygen circulation improves students’ concentration, or the extent that internal public spaces spark constructive student dialogue. Nevertheless, there is a quickening movement to respond in architectural terms to the challenges of education. The newly released Schools and Kindergartens: A Design Manual, by Mark Dudek, Dip. Arch RIBA, highlights this trend.

Claire Weisz, AIA, of Weisz + Yoes Studio, and Roger Duffy, FAIA, of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, believe in the power of design to shape and elevate the learning experience. Having recently completed primary and secondary schools, these two architects have transcended conventional formulas. Duffy recruited an interdisciplinary team of scientists and artists, including James Turrell, to help design the newly completed 78,000-squre-foot science, math, and technology building at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. “We wanted to test the boundaries of architecture to provoke unique human experiences,” he said. Inspired by spaces such as Turrell’s Roden Crater, Stonehenge, and Petra, Duffy and his team sought ways to “stimulate curiosity and thought, transcending the status quo.”

Curving brick ribbons and processional light stripes lend the Deerfield building a mysterious quality attuned to the wonder of scientific enquiry, according to Duffy. The classrooms function almost exclusively with natural light. However, perimeter light coves can be activated to emit uniform morning-like light, which is thought to boost human alertness by engaging natural circadian rhythms.

At the Bronx Charter School for the Arts, Weisz + Yoes also used environmental triggers to open students’ and teachers’ minds. A brilliantly colored glazed-brick street elevation, internal spatial continuity, and generous studio space define this former industrial building on a block that dead-ends at the Bruckner Expressway. In addition, an efficient air circulation system is meant to help everyone stay in the mood for learning. Weisz hopes the elementary school, which opened in 2004, will bring lasting change to the Hunts Point community. Its importance to the neighborhood is perhaps suggested by the fact that it has remained free of graffiti and vandalism while other nearby buildings have not.

The completely exposed ductwork and suspended fluorescent fixtures at Bronx Arts are the opposite of the seamlessly finished ceilings at Deerfield. Yet the markedly different challenges associated with working for a cash-strapped urban startup school and an elite private academy do not eclipse the shared, fundamental assumptions that good design matters in education, and education matters in society. As Weisz asked, “What does a school building say to those kids about how society feels about them and what they’re doing?”

Green is in the Details

Location: The New York Academy of Sciences Headquarters, 7 WTC, 03.15.07
Speaker: Helmut Jahn — President and CEO, Director of Design, Murphy/Jahn; Carol Willis — director, Skyscraper Museum (introduction)
Organizers: The Skyscraper Museum; The New York Academy of Sciences

Andreas Keller, courtesy Skyscraper Museum

The Deutsche Post Tower in Bonn, Germany is routinely green.

Andreas Keller, courtesy Skyscraper Museum

As one might expect from a product of the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Miesian curriculum, Helmut Jahn, FAIA, offers “an attention to performance on all levels” as the key to sustainable design. He finds that “…the right answer to all problems is dealing with light, dealing with natural air, and dealing with water;” optimizing function in these areas, he believes, is the most effective way to make buildings energy-efficient and comfortable. Get the basics right, Jahn insists, and retain Mies’s farsighted attention to the properties of today’s materials, and advanced green technologies (heat recovery, greywater processing, etc.) will be largely unnecessary.

Sustainability per se, as the term is commonly understood, doesn’t appear to be a critical priority for Jahn. After walking the audience through a series of towers his firm designed, he confessed, “Maybe I don’t even care how green they are.” He regards LEED and comparable environmental accounting systems as more valuable for marketing purposes than for efficient operation; he noted that in a typical 40-point LEED Gold building, the Veer Towers in Las Vegas, 19 are directly attributable to design, and only five of the 19 involve reductions in energy use. “Building green does not necessarily mean that it’s going to be good architecture,” he says; sustainability appears as a welcome byproduct of his emphasis on functionality.

Most of the projects presented are in Europe, where energy costs are historically high, codes are rigorous, and clients need little persuasion about the virtues of efficiency. In Berlin’s Sony Center, a short 7-meter leafspan maximizes natural ventilation, and features regarded as innovative in the U.S. (raised floors, low-E fritted glass, load-bearing mullions) are routine. The twin-elliptical-shell Deutsche Post Tower in Bonn, has minimal energy requirements, needing no cooling towers or supply/return ducts; its thermal management relies on Rhine water, interior sky gardens, the heat-storing properties of concrete, the aerodynamic properties of its own envelope, and simple fans. Jahn’s ideas are also expanding to Asia and the Mideast; one tower for Pearl River New City in Guangzhou, China, will sport a vertically shingled facade that acts as an exterior sunshade and allows natural ventilation, and new forms are planned for Doha and Abu Dhabi (watch for a particularly daring structure in the latter, tentatively nicknamed the Twister). The dominant aesthetic in Murphy/Jahn’s work tends toward dematerialization, as biomorphic and modernist: buildings with skins that breathe and skeletons that put every molecule of their materials to work.

Using Glass as a Spiritual Material

Event: James Carpenter Design Associates’ ‘Environmental Refractions’
Location: The Architectural League of New York, 03.13.07
Speakers: James Carpenter — James Carpenter Design Associates; Sandro Marpillero, AIA — Marpillero Pollak Architects; Kenneth Frampton — Ware Professor of Architecture, Columbia University GSAPP; Matthias Schuler — lecturer in architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design; Detlef Mertins — Chair, Department of Architecture University of Pennsylvania; Linnaea Tillett, PhD, IESNA — Principal, Tillett Lighting Design Inc.
Organizers: The Architectural League of New York

Visual Processes

Visual Processes

Courtesy The Architectural League of New York

James Carpenter pushes the material boundaries of his projects, according to Sandro Marpillero, AIA, author of James Carpenter: Environmental Refractions. Glass, a common material, transforms into something spiritual and evocative. Kenneth Frampton, who contributed the afterword in the monograph, praised Carpenter’s ability to achieve technae, the ancient Greek ideal that lies “between craft and technology — linked to engineering but removed from its instrumentality.”

Sought after by designers, Carpenter often acts as a collaborative design consultant, a current trend in architectural practice. The James Carpenter Design Associates’ (JCDA) collaboration with Grimshaw Architects at the Fulton Street Transit Center is an example of how this collaboration can enhance a project, according to Detlef Mertins, Chair of the Department of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. The dynamic interplay of sunlight, glass, and reflections throughout the interior show an “interaction with phantasms.”

At the Tulane University Student Center, designed by Vincent James Associates, the two disciplines of glass and environmental design converge at the entrance. Climate engineer Transsolar and JCDA created a distinctly “non-glassy” solution involving motorized flat fans and excess chiller water to cool and dehumidify the space without conventional air-conditioning, explained Matthias Schuler, Diplom-Ingenieur at Transsolar.

Carpenter describes his work as “coming down to light and materiality.” Absorption and reflection are found in all materials, but he uses glass as a “substrate that can coalesce different bodies of information… compacting information, conscious and unconscious.”

Film Seduces Urban Planning Audiences

Event: Urban Design and Film Making
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.12.07
Speakers: Robert Nesson — documentary filmmaker & board member of Interlock Media; Ellin Reisner, PhD — President, Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership (STEP); David Katzive — President, Visual Technology Group at Ruder Finn; Illya Azaroff, Assoc. AIA — director of design & co-founder, Design Collective Studio; Ernest Hutton, AICP, Assoc. AIA — Vice-President for Outreach, 2007 AIANY Board of Directors & co-chair, AIANY Planning and Urban Design Committee (introduction)
Organizers: AIANY Planning and Urban Design Committee

Courtesy STEP

Daily traffic volume in the Boston metropolitan area.

Courtesy STEP

Rarely is filmmaking used to develop projects despite the array of new electronic tools architects regularly use. Documentary filmmakers Robert Nesson, a board member at Interlock Media, and David Katzive, President of the Visual Technology Group at Ruder Finn, believe this is a lost opportunity for architects, and used examples of their company’s films to describe film’s benefits. Although their current films approach the medium differently, the end result — helping facilitate a design process — is the same.

Giving an overview of how film has been used historically as a social activator, Nesson looks to pioneers like William Holly Whyte to influence his filmmaking. Whyte’s ’s “City Spaces Human Places” (1970) documented the successes and failures of New York City plazas to demonstrate good city planning. Nesson is working with the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership (STEP) to help extend mass transportation throughout the Somerville section of Boston. His films document residents’ cumbersome commutes showing first-hand the failures of Boston mass transit.

In 1991, the local government ruled for a Green Line subway expansion. Development was stalled for 15 years, but now the project has been rejuvenated with the help of Ellin Reisner at STEP. She worries, however, that it has not addressed key community-oriented issues including: the site of maintenance facilities; where the trains will terminate; the location of new tracks and how the trains will travel through the neighborhood; and how the train will affect the community path commonly used by pedestrians and bicyclists. With Nesson’s films, Reisner hopes to get more community members involved with STEP, and show the government how important this project is to the health of Somerville’s residents.

Katzive, on the other hand, creates marketing videos for high-end developers and architects to sell projects to clients. He showed a DVD he made for Kohn Pedersen Fox Architects depicting the Victoria Station area in London. The film begins with showing the existing hectic atmosphere around the station and ends with the orderly, pedestrian-friendly design proposed by KPF. Katzive incorporated historic video, a British voice-over, good music (that changes from frenzied to calm), and design highlights with varied types images from sketches to renderings. The video aims to tease the client, and as the project changes the video does, too. Each viewing is fresh for the audience. The most important aspect of any film, according to Katzive, is the writing, and it is the text that ultimately will sell a project.

Film is appealing because of its visual nature, commented panel moderator, Ernest Hutton, AICP, Assoc. AIA. The media has existed for decades, and now it is possible to create movies with a desktop computer. As all architects and planners understand the power of visuals, film is an accessible tool that should be used more readily.

Balancing Great American Cities: Its Form AND Content

Event: Interpreting and MisInterpreting Jane Jacobs: New York and Beyond
Location: Museum of the City of New York, 03.07.07
Speakers: Ronald Shiffman, FAICP, Hon. AIA — Professor of Urban Planning, Pratt Institute; Michael Sorkin — Director, Graduate Urban Design Program, City College of New York; Margaret Zeidler — President, 401 Richmond, Toronto; Moderator Mary W. Rowe — Senior Urban Fellow, Blue Moon Fund; Roberta Brandes Gratz — Founder, The Center for the Living City at Purchase College (introduction)
Organizers: Museum of the City of New York

The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Jessica Sheridan

In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs praised the organized chaos of everyday urban life and articulates how a city’s aggregate form contributes to a vital life. She taught us how to listen to urban places, explains Roberta Brandes Gratz, founder of the Center for the Living City at Purchase College. In the neighborhoods she admired, Jacobs did not, however, see a model for but rather principles to guide urban development. In Greenwich Village, for example, Jacobs saw a healthy exchange between the public and private realms that should be replicated. But not all neighborhoods can or should be the Village.

According to Michael Sorkin, Director of the Urban Design Program at the City College of New York, the dual aspects of Jacobs thinking — the formal and the participatory — are interdependent. Often her ideas are misread because of the tendency to “divorce Jane Jacobs the activist from Jane Jacobs the gifted observer of urban morphologies.” Jacobs’s observations are increasingly lost as her ideas are appropriated “to sell large, top-down projects,” explained Ronald Shiffman, FAICP, Hon. AIA, Professor of Urban Planning at Pratt Institute. He cited the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn and Columbia University’s Manhattanville expansion as examples of this. As Sorkin summarized, “The form of the ‘good city’ and its culture are inseparable.”

Soon Your Home Will Watch Your Weight for You

Event: Changing Places: Redefining the House as Machine for Living In
Center for Architecture, 03.05.07
Speakers: Kent Larson — director, Changing Places & director, House _n Research consortium and MIT Open Source Building Alliance within the MIT Department of Architecture
Organizers: AIANY Housing Committee; AIANY Technology Committee
Sponsors: ABC Imaging

Courtesy MIT

House_n Current consortium

Courtesy MIT

Don’t be alarmed if someday soon your home starts telling you what to do. Kent Larson, director of MIT’s Changing Places program and leader of the school’s House_n consortium, spoke about his group’s recent research with the potential to alter our behavior at home. Among the items being tested is VITa, a television remote that encourages exercise during commercials and alerts you when you’ve exceeded your daily allotment of viewing time. Another project uses portable RFIDs (radio frequency identification devices) to gather information on the amount of time an individual spends on specific daily activities, such as snacking or exercising. PlaceLab is an apartment outfitted with a device that monitors how people deal with technology in their living environments. The desired outcome of all of these projects is to “find the right way to deliver information to people to encourage healthy behavior,” says Larson.

This effort is in response to the fact that the largest health threats in the US — heart disease, obesity, and diabetes — are caused by the behavioral choices made by individuals. Different than “smart house” technology, which attempts to control a home’s environment for convenience or energy-efficiency purposes, the technology Larson is developing intends to influence you, as the user of the home, to make smarter choices. Corporate sponsors are already rushing to channel Larson’s data into development of new products. “Is this architecture?” asked Larson during his presentation, “I think so.” While this proposition might be a stretch to some, its core concept might not be so different than the traditional idea of using design to improve quality of life. And in the long run, many of Larson’s projects may actually provide the metrics to prove this illusive statement true, once and for all.

How Dutch Ideals Shaped NY

Event: Russell Shorto Details Manhattan’s Dutch Origins — Downtown Third Thursdays Lecture Series
Location: National Museum of the American Indian, 03.15.07
Speaker: Russell Shorto — author & contributing writer, New York Times Magazine
Organizers: The Alliance for Downtown New York

The Island of the Center of the World


Held in a building that stands on the very site of the Dutch fort of New Amsterdam, Russell Shorto asked audience members to imagine putting time into reverse, and envision 17th-century Manhattan: poised between the civilization of Europe and the virgin continent of North America. This is what Shorto did when writing The Island at the Center of the World, an investigation into the depth of Dutch influence on Manhattan, and consequently America. Drawing on recently translated 17th-century Dutch records, Shorto discovered how the uniquely Dutch ideas of tolerance, free-market trade, and the melting pot became the foundation for American ideology.

Unlike the rest of Europe, Dutch provinces were home to settlers of many cultures who had fled their own war-torn countries. Diversity fostered religious and social tolerance that vastly exceeded the rest of Europe and flourished during their cultural Renaissance. These ideals, as well as words such as “cookies” and “boss,” were transferred to their American colonists, in a territory that swept as far south as the Delaware River. In fact, a Jesuit priest in the 1640s reported hearing 18 languages on the streets of Manhattan — when only about 500 people lived there.

Adriaen van der Donck became the champion of colonists’ rights. The only lawyer in the colony, he petitioned for fair treatment from Peter Stuyvesant, the colony’s director. After being jailed for door-to-door petitioning, van der Donck spent three years at the Hague, publicizing the potential of New Amsterdam. His actions led to a municipal charter that ensured free trade and tolerance. After the English took over in 1664, they kept this template, which formed the basis for what New York would become.

It’s great to read a favorable write-up on the pedicab regulations (See Editor’s Soapbox: Proposed Pedicab Protocol Not So Appalling). I also agree that the limited number within Manhattan may not be needed. I think the cost of the regulations will reduce the number in order to maintain profits. If the business is succeeding, then it should be allowed to grow.

Now we can only hope the licensing and insurance will limit the pedicab pot smoking breaks I regularly see along CPW.

– Nick Lawson, architectural designer

Note: Since the last issue was published, Mayor Bloomberg decided not to sign the pedicab bill, at least for now.

USGBC vs. NAHB – What Difference Does it Make?

“In an effort to bring uniformity to sustainable building practices, the International Code Council (ICC) and National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) have announced an agreement to develop and publish a residential green building standard.” This recent press release announces the upcoming launch of NAHB’s Green Home Building Guidelines. If NAHB is trying to unify sustainable practices, why is it developing these guidelines this year, the same year that the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is releasing its LEED for Homes program?

NAHB’s guidelines are similar to LEED for Homes. There is a point system based in several categories: Lot Design, Preparation, and Development; Resource Efficiency; Energy Efficiency; Water Efficiency; Indoor Environmental Quality; Operation, Maintenance, and Homeowner Education; and Global Impact. A project can achieve Bronze, Silver, or Gold rating. Both the NAHB and USGBC websites even claim that their programs began in 2004. NAHB maintains that its guidelines are more geared toward local or regional jurisdictions, but after reading through the point system, I am unclear as to how its point qualifications are different from LEED.

One difference between the Green Home Building Guidelines and LEED for Homes is that NAHB is working with the ICC and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to develop its standards. This will make it easier on designers who comply with these building standards already, while in order to achieve LEED certification a designer has to go above and beyond the existing standards in order to achieve points.

Also, NAHB claims that its guidelines are more oriented to the economic needs of homeowners. It is difficult to convince a homeowner to apply for LEED certification because of filing costs, but nowhere does the website outline application costs for the Green Home Building Guidelines (at least that I could find).

Ultimately, this is another example of clashing organizations adding to the confusion about sustainability. At least NAHB acknowledges, “It should be noted that although many green building programs have been in existence for 10 years or more, the concept and practice of green building is not clearly defined and straightforward.” Also, NAHB’s website does include a link to the USGBC’s website (not vice versa). So maybe the USGBC is the only one who does not play well with others. I am not against multiple systems to rate sustainability, but why duplicate the efforts of other organizations? Why not deliver a clear and simple guide that anyone can understand and use?