Architects Provide Life Support

Event: Social Housing and the Social Contract
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.30.07
Speakers: Bruce Becker, AIA — Becker+Becker; Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani — The Graduate Center, CUNY & UC Berkeley; Dr. Barbara Lane — Growth and Structure of Cities, Bryn Mawr College; Dr. Susan Saegert — The Graduate Center, CUNY and Director, Center for Human Environments
Moderator: Susan Szenasy — Metropolis
Introduction: Joan Blumenfeld, FAIA, IIDA, LEED AP, AIANY President
Sponsors: Center for Human Environments, The Graduate Center, CUNY; in partnership with AIANY Housing Committee

Coop City

Speakers call to revive and revise the social contract for architects.

Courtesy Google Earth

As the backdrop to our daily lives, housing design in particular plays a significant role in affecting how people live and develop. But architecture is not the only driving force behind the success of a society’s affordable housing; it falls within a systemic framework that is at once complex and dynamic. For this reason, taking part in the social contract for architects can mean an extra challenge that goes above and beyond their typical call of duty.

Frequently, especially in affordable housing design, attention to details is sacrificed for the sake of the bigger picture. Light, air, safety, and communal space are just a few key elements in housing that can enrich the inhabitants’ quality of life regardless of income, but are often neglected for financial reasons. Yet, architectural refinement and quality play a vital role in the social contract because they give many occupants a sense of pride in where they live and allow them to create their own sense of home.

While it may be important, design is only part of a larger equation for success; financial and managerial problems can make or break any well-designed affordable housing project. Actively taking part in the social contract, however, may provide the key for architects to make their role practically indispensable. By learning how to balance funding, design, and management issues, architects can help to create truly sustainable projects in which the initial investment may be more costly, but the long-term savings pay off economically, socially, and environmentally.

Nevertheless, after all is said and done, can architects really do anything if they lack control over a project’s parameters, which are typically controlled by the client? Though the suggestions, such as proposing additional funding strategies to clients, collaborating to encourage a more well-rounded mission, and not allowing the client to fully dictate the program, seem somewhat vague, the overall message is clear: architects need to take more social responsibility. The social contract is nothing new, but in a time when public life and concepts of a collective “us” seem to be slipping away, it desperately needs to be revived and revised. Architects, as creative visionaries, may just be the people to resuscitate.

New Global Planning Initiative for Big Cities

Event: Towards an Urban Age: Presentation and Reception
Location: Hearst Tower, 05.03.07
Speakers: Richard Burdett — Director, Urban Age & Centennial Professor in Architecture and Urbanism, London School of Economics and Political Science; Bruce Katz — Vice President & Director, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution
Organizer: Urban Age; Cities Programme, London School of Economics and Political Science; Alfred Herrhausen Society; International Forum of the Deutsche Bank

Towards an Urban Age

Courtesy Urban Age

In addition to the growth of cities relative to rural areas worldwide, the sharp ascendancy of cities in developing Asian, African, and South American countries will redefine human geography over the coming decades. “What is interesting about this pace of change is that we’ve been though it before,” said Richard Burdett, Director of Urban Age. But must the 21st century growth of Mumbai, Shanghai, Sao Paolo, and dozens of other burgeoning cities wreak as much social and environmental havoc as the earlier explosions of London and New York? Urban Age hopes not. Founded in 2005, the organization has held six international conferences to spark discussion among urban leaders about sustainable approaches to metropolitan government, finance, and design.

A presentation of two years’ worth of research included striking demographic information as well as familiar platitudes. Burdett, who directed the 2006 Venice Architecture Biennale, “Cities, Architecture and Society,” praised the mayors of New York and London for launching bold planning initiatives such as Bloomberg’s recent PlaNYC 2030. He also gave credit to those cities’ preservation of pedestrian neighborhoods and industrial-era building stock for facilitating mixed-use redevelopment. Addressing a purely national agenda, Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution proposed a “Blueprint for National Prosperity” based on stronger federal incentives for urban economies. His emphatic call to rebuild the middle class and his thumbs-up hand gestures lent a Clintonian tone to his policy discussion.

Exclusive in its posh location at the Hearst Tower’s theater and 44th (executive) floor aerie, the event was inclusive in its interdisciplinary guest and speaker list. The CEO of Deutsche Bank, Josef Ackermann, introduced the first Urban Age Award, an annual prize of $100,000. This year’s recipient will be announced at the Urban Age India conference this fall in Mumbai. Suketu Mehta, an acclaimed author and award jury member who grew up in Mumbai and New York, said the Indian metropolis is experiencing “an economic boom and a civic emergency simultaneously.” The award jury also includes the architect Enrique Norten, Hon. FAIA, and Anthony Williams, a former Mayor of Washington, D.C. Appearing vigorous if a little vague in its mission, Urban Age exemplifies an aspiration to harness the power of planners, financiers, policymakers, architects, and academics toward holistic urban improvement.

Burj Battles Wind High Above Dubai

Event: “Supertallest: Designing Structure.” World’s Tallest Building: Burj Dubai Lecture Series
Location: New York Academy of Sciences, 05.23.2007
Speakers: William F. Baker, PE, CE, SE, FASCE — partner, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Chicago, and chief structural engineer, Burj Dubai
Introduction: Carol Willis — Director, Skyscraper Museum
Organizers: Skyscraper Museum; New York Academy of Sciences

Burj Dubai

Burj Dubai, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

©Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

The tallest skyscrapers of the 21st century are likely to face obstacles beyond what we can now imagine. Principally residential, concrete-framed, and Middle Eastern or Asian — as opposed to commercial, steel-framed, and North American like their 20th-century predecessors — Carol Willis observed one challenge that’s certain to remain in effect is wind. The higher a tower extends, the stronger the wind, and the more unpredictable. How do you strengthen a structure against wind forces in a place where no one has ever ventured up to measure them?

The portfolio of engineer William Baker, PE, CE, SE, FASCE, already includes one building temporarily considered the world’s tallest, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Burj Dubai recently passed Petronas, reaching the 128th floor, and in September it will pass Taipei 101 assuming world leadership in height, at least among freestanding land-based structures (offshore oil rigs excluded). Going where no architect or engineer has gone before, Baker recognizes, means confronting unprecedented torsion stresses, wind vortices, stack effects, and other demands. Aeroelastic studies with models and wind tunnels allowed for extrapolation to actual conditions and ultimately to “tuning” of the building, like a musical instrument. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s design for the Burj uses spiraling sequenced setbacks, turbulence-enhancing textured cladding, an orientation that reduces the site’s most problematic airflow, and numerous other strategies to “confuse the wind,” manage the periodic rhythms of oscillating vortices, and maintain stability amid the forces encountered above 2,000 feet.

The Burj does not compete with bulky buildings like the Sears Tower in area, measuring roughly 3 million square feet (the Sears has 4.4 million), since its largely residential program calls for a smaller leafspan than a predominantly commercial building requires. (The extremely wealthy tenants who will occupy the Burj’s boutique office spaces also tend to have relatively small staffs.) Express and local elevators are stacked to minimize the proportion of floor space devoted to shafts. The Y-shaped triangular floorplates create greater torsional stability than a square or rectangular design would allow; a buttressed hexagonal core with webs of interior concrete walls throughout the three wings functions as a concrete axle. “Every piece of vertical concrete,” Baker explained, “is part of this giant beam” enlisting gravity for stability. “Gravity is amazingly reliable. If you’re resisting a load with rebar, that’s pretty reliable, but resisting with gravity is about as good as you’re gonna get.”

The exact height of the Burj remains a carefully guarded secret; all published figures Baker has seen are wrong. He pointed out that measuring building height is far from an exact science, citing debate within the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat over four types of measurement (a new standard may emerge from the International Height Meeting in Chicago, under way at this writing). Regardless of whether spires, antennas, occupied floors, or other factors determine official height, the Burj will stand well beyond its projected competitors for years, at least 2,300 feet — nearly halfway to matching Frank Lloyd Wright’s hypothetical, once-fanciful Mile-High Tower.

The unusually close focus afforded by a three-lecture series on a single building promises to reveal many fascinating aspects of the Burj. If the controversies it has already generated in the socioeconomic realm inspire analyses anywhere near as sophisticated as Baker’s technical presentation, look for some spectacular debates as the discussion moves from how it’s being built to why, and for whom.

Award-Winning Interiors Detail Threads of Integration

Event: AIA New York Chapter 2007 Design Awards Winners Symposium: Interiors
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.21.07
Speakers: Kathryn Dean — Dean/Wolf Architects; Andrew Bernheimer, AIA — Della Valle Bernheimer; Martin Finio, AIA — Christoff:Finio Architecture; Nazila Shabestari, AIA — Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Jennifer Sage, AIA — Sage and Coombe Architects
Moderator: Debra Lehman-Smith, Assoc. AIA — AIANY 2007 Design Awards jury member
Organizer: AIANY Design Awards Committee

Design Awards

Courtesy AIANY

From schematics through detailing, consistency and thoroughness were awarded in this year’s AIANY 2007 Design Awards interiors projects, claims Debra Lehman-Smith, Assoc. AIA, one of the jury members. With a wide range of professional backgrounds, the jury had to justify all of the design merits of every entry. With inspiration from Modern icons to light and architecture, the interiors projects spotlighted in this year’s awards examine a wide range of ideas.

Both Dean/Wolf Architects and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) interiors explore the boundary between interior and exterior. The Honor Award-winning Operable Boundary Townhouse Garden in Brooklyn, designed by Dean/Wolf, is a home for two psychoanalysts who love to entertain. Inside and outside integrate vis-à-vis a giant, pivoting steel-framed glass wall and a continuous 30-foot-long table piercing the wall. When they have company, the glass wall can be pushed aside allowing the back garden to become an extension of the interior living room.

Design efficiency and complete integration were possible for the United States Census Bureau Headquarters in Suitland, Maryland, because the architecture and interior design teams were both lead by SOM. Success lies in the fact that not only did the interiors win the inaugural “Interior Architecture of Interest to the Public Realm” award, but the architecture won a Merit Award as well (see last issue’s, “Architecture Awards Look Outward” by Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP). The project is an example of how to employ sustainable methods at a very large scale in order to minimize its impact on the site. The interior explores design strategies making departmental areas more recognizable through a skillfully deployed color palate.

Light was a key factor for Public Realm winner Sage and Coombe Architects and Merit Award-winning Christoff:Finio Architecture. For the Heckscher Foundation for Children in Manhattan, Christoff:Finio completely restructured an existing townhouse designed by Samuel Beck Parkman Trowbridge (designer of the St. Regis Hotel, and Hayden Planetarium, among others), to spatially integrate all of the different aspects of the philanthropic foundation. Light penetrates the entire building making connections among floors through an uninterrupted vertical slice.

Sage and Coombe Architects worked with a very tight budget at The Children’s Room in the Fort Washington Branch of the New York Public Library, the other project to win the “Interior Architecture of Interest to the Public Realm” award. A collection of small “reading gardens” provides light to the once-gloomy Carnegie branch library. Giant yet discrete white lamps with graphic interiors define activities. The overall effect is a collection of small-scale, illuminated zones within the larger space of the library.

Honor Award-winning 23 Beekman Place, by Della Valle Bernheimer, had completely different challenges from the other interiors projects. This Paul Rudolph-designed-and-inhabited NYC penthouse was inherited as an incomplete renovation. Faced with the difficulty of working on a Modern icon that also served as a testing ground for Rudolph’s ideas while he lived there, the architects employed 3-D digital modeling to focus on and highlight the building’s spatial characteristics. Although the kitchen and bathrooms have been completely rebuilt, Della Valle Bernheimer was able to maintain and restore the original feel of the apartment by stripping it down to its original elements staying true to Rudolph’s ideas.

Although every award-winning project shows comprehensive thoroughness, each is unique in its attention to detail. Unfortunately, representatives from STUDIOS Architecture (Bloomberg LP Expansion Floors 17-20) and Asymptote (Alessi Flagship Store New York) were not on hand to discuss their Merit Award-winning projects. To read more about the 2007 Design Awards, click the link.

New Acropolis Doesn’t Lose Marbles Over Old

Event: Bernard Tschumi and Leo Argiris: Conceptual and Technical Issues — the New Acropolis Museum
Location: Center for Architecture 06.07.07
Organizers: The Hellenic-American Technical Society; AIANY Cultural Affairs Committee
Speakers: Bernard Tschumi, AIA, Director, and Joel Rutten, Project Director — Bernard Tschumi Architects; Leo Argiris, PE — ARUP
Introduction: George Leventis, PE — board member, Hellenic American Technical Society
Sponsors: Arup; Hunter Roberts; Langan Engineering & Environmental Services; Thornton Tomasetti; Koutsomitis, Architects; M.A. Angeliades

The New Acropolis Museum

The New Acropolis Museum is situated at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Bernard Tschumi Architects

Designing a museum for the Parthenon Marbles frieze at the foot of the Acropolis is no small feat, as Bernard Tschumi Architects with engineers from Arup discovered — especially when the proposed site is already filled with 2,000-year-old artifacts. Furthermore, to get the New Acropolis Museum built, navigating the politics — ever-changing building codes, archaeologists, and local politicians — added a new realm of complication.

To avoid destroying the ancient street grid and remaining walls (and to placate the archaeologists), the building is constructed as a column grid with two parallel structural cores. The curtain wall of the top floor and the floor slabs are supported by and cantilever from these structural members. The large, cast-in-place concrete columns accommodate the structure and potential seismic loads. As they reach the ground, they also straddle ancient walls by separating into a tripod of smaller columns. The beams spanning over the remains are infilled with glass so visitors can view the artifacts as they walk above them on the first level.

The circulation of the building is a three-dimensional loop providing a temporal experience. After crossing lower-level ruins, viewers enter a double-height trapezoidal gallery for art from the Archaic period to the Roman Empire, and end their visit at a glass-enclosed gallery. With facilities located in the interior cores, the open grid of the trapezoidal gallery allows a maximum amount of flexibility for exhibitions.

The New Acropolis Museum constantly references the ancient Acropolis. Both the east-west orientation and the column spacing mimic that of the Parthenon. The glass-enclosed gallery housing the Parthenon Marbles, with a suspended curtain wall, is just above the Athens roofline allowing uninterrupted views of the Acropolis. Because of its nature, visitors can view the frieze, which was once attached to the Parthenon, with a maximum amount of natural light. Gradated, fritted glass helps protect the art and shelter visitors from the heat.

Much of the museum aligns with other Bernard Tschumi, AIA, projects and theories. He superimposes the existing city grid around the perimeter of the site, the ancient street grid of the ruins, and the east-west axis of the Parthenon. He emphasizes movement through the building, sequence of space and time. According to the Project Director, Joel Rutten, the New Acropolis Museum could be the ultimate Tschumi of Tschumi projects. And considering its location and subject matter, designing a source at the source is very appropriate.

Cass Gilbert: A Copycat for All Seasons

Event: Downtown Third Thursday Lecture: Cass Gilbert and History: The Past as Present
Location: New York County Lawyers’ Association, 05.17.07
Speaker: Barbara S. Christen — author, historian, Cass Gilbert scholar
Organizer: Downtown Alliance

Woolworth Building

The neo-gothic style of the Woolworth Building is just one of many of Cass Gilbert’s appropriated modes.

Jessica Sheridan

Architect Cass Gilbert was a style chameleon, varying his design aesthetic based on location and client. According to author and historian Barbara Christen, Gilbert’s ideas were mined from both his European travels and from his extensive library. “On one level he wasn’t that imaginative,” said Christen, showing a photo of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus next to the similar crown of the U.S. Courthouse at Foley Square, one of many Gilbert appropriations.

New Yorkers might associate Gilbert’s style with the Foley Courthouse, or with the sugary, neo-gothic ornamentation he employed on the Woolworth Building and 90 West Street. But residents of Waterbury, CT, would have a completely different impression of Gilbert’s work, as evidenced by the colonial-inspired brick-and-stone civic and commercial buildings he designed for the town. Oberlin College students might have yet another view of the architect’s work, with several Florentine-influenced building springing from Gilbert’s master plan for the campus. Perhaps it is in the buildings that belong to Gilbert’s partially realized master plans (like those for Waterbury and Oberlin) that his mass style realignments become most evident.

In addition to these wholesale shifts in his design approach, Gilbert managed to interpose seemingly unrelated architectural elements, like a Scandinavian dormer he transposed almost directly from his travel notebooks onto a shingle-style sanatorium building in Connecticut. “He comfortably grafted styles,” said Christen. Proving that perhaps Gilbert’s true talent was for graceful assimilation, a lesson architects today can certainly appreciate.

Young Firms Take Risks for Architecture

Event: Young Architects Forum: Proof
Location: The Urban Center, 05.31.07
Speakers: Benjamin Aranda & Chris Lasch — Aranda/Lasch, NYC; Chaewon Kim & Beat Schenk, — uni, Cambridge, MA
Introduction: David Benjamin — Young Architects Committee
Organizers: The Architectural League of New York

Young Architects Forum

(left): uni’s XS, S, M, and L prototype houses; (right): Brooklyn Pigeon Project by Aranda/Lasch.

uni; Aranda/Lasch

“Risk is the territory of proof,” according to David Benjamin of the Young Architects Committee. Aranda/Lasch takes risks on a conceptual level through an engagement with open-ended explorations of pattern, while design/build firm uni engages risk on a pragmatic level balancing design with construction and development.

From explorations of “forbidden symmetries” found in molecular structure, woven baskets, and infrastructural proposals, Aranda/Lasch argues for an architecture situated within the patterns of natural and urban phenomena — to “get into the dynamic” is their goal, stated Benjamin Aranda. In the Brooklyn Pigeon Project, for example, the patterns of flocking pigeons are recorded through tracking devices and cameras to reframe our understanding of the city. In the Baskets Project, a collaboration with Native American basket weaver Terrol Dew Johnson, systems of pattern making (cultural and mathematical) are again taken as a starting point in an exploration of form. The study of pattern in their work is primarily about “looking at the world around us and breaking it down into phenomena,” claimed Chris Lasch, thus revealing new relationships, and perhaps new means of practicing architecture.

The risks taken by uni, on the other hand, deal with the realization of architecture as building. Taking command of their own destiny, Chaewon Kim and Beat Schenk did not simply open an office; they bought and renovated property until they completed the equivalent of a showroom of residential architecture. Four houses — categorized by size as XS, S, M, and L — function as a laboratory for exploration of domestic functions and materials. Through their design/build efforts they have made a compelling argument for the compatibility of design, real estate development, and straightforward construction.

We Are the Enemy: 2008 WMF 100 Most Endangered Sites

Event: World Monuments Watch: 2008 List of 100 Most Endangered Sites
Organizer: World Monuments Fund

New York State Pavilion

The neglected New York State Pavilion is endangered according to the WMF.

Courtesy World Monuments Fund

This year’s official announcement of the 2008 World Monuments Fund’s (WMF) Watch List begins with cartoonist/environmentalist Walt Kelly’s well-worn quotation — “We have met the enemy and he is us,” underscoring the list’s heightened focus on recognizing man-made threats to the natural and built environment.

The list is the WMF’s call to attention and action for the survival of cultural heritage sites across the globe and is assembled by an international panel of experts in the fields of architecture, archaeology, art history, and preservation, culled from nominations from governments, conservators, site caretakers, NGOs, and individuals. Sites run the gamut and are listed by country and category — global climate change, conflict, economic and development pressures, historic cities, modern architecture, geographical regions of note.

Seven U.S. sites are on the list: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Florida Southern University in Lakeland, FL, due to deterioration and the lack of funds to make repairs; Philip Johnson’s iconic New York State Pavilion built for the 1964 World’s Fair, now a modern ruin; Route 66, the fabled two-lane highway and its deteriorating roadside architecture; Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA, because new construction threatens to ruin the expansive view of the Pacific from the central courtyard; the Tutuveni Petroglyph Site on the Hopi Tribal Land in Arizona, described as the “Rosetta Stone” of Hopi civilization, which has been vandalized; New Orleans, while it struggles to recover its historic sites, faces continued and possibly more severe natural forces; and finally, Main Street, USA, and its body of post-war civic buildings designed in the modern style, now perceived as out-of-date and at risk of being demolished.

On this list, says WMF president Bonnie Burnham, “man is indeed the real enemy, but, just as we caused the damage in the first place, we have the power to repair it.”

Every picture tells a story — and for all of us armchair tourists, there are 100 stories, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, of endangered sites to learn about on the WMF website.

Arts & Letters Attendees
John Morris Dixon, FAIA, may be correct in noting that architects are underrepresented in the membership of The American Academy of Arts and Letters (See Architect Numbers Dwindle at American Academy Honors, 05.30.07), and further concerned that fewer attend Academy events, but he missed one — John M. Johansen, FAIA, who was there that evening.
– Christen Johansen, AIA

Notes from the Blogosphere


Postopolis! (l-r): Joseph Grima, Director of Storefront for Art and Architecture; Jill Fehrenbacher from Inhabitat; Dan Hill from City of Sound; and Bryan Finoki of Subtopia.

Kristen Richards

Postopolis! — an international exposition about architecture, urbanism, landscape, and design in the blogosphere — was held at the Storefront for Art and Architecture at the end of May. For five days straight this ad hoc convention featured architects, critics, and educators discussing current design-oriented issues relevant to technology and the Internet. The backbone of the event, however, spotlighted the numerous blogs that “expand the bounds of architectural discussion.” While I am an avid reader of design blogs, coming face to face with the web personalities I have encountered over recent years was bittersweet.

Orchestrated by four blogs — Inhabitat (New York), BLDGBLOG (Los Angeles), Subtopia (San Francisco), and City of Sound (London) — many other bloggers were either in attendance or asked to speak throughout the week as well. What surprised me was that most of the individuals behind the blogs are either recent graduates from architecture schools or writers whose backgrounds have nothing to do with architecture. To some extent this makes sense as blogging is a relatively young medium, and I do not believe that critics need to be professionals in the fields they critique. Also, blogging is an outlet for emerging architects whose ideas are not always considered in the firms for which they work.

The description of Postopolis! on Storefront’s website states that blogging’s “influence now spreads far beyond the Internet to affect museums, institutions, and even higher education.” While this statement doesn’t go as far to say blogs are changing the built world, there is an implication.

I think blogging has the potential to affect architecture and urbanism on a larger scale, but this can only occur with more participation from practitioners actively involved in the profession. Maybe there are more professionals who blog out there but were not included in the convention. I did notice a lack of presence from NY-based institutions (no one from AIANY was asked to speak), and there were a couple of professionals who presented their blogs (Tropolism is one, for example). Maybe the word “blog” has a bad reputation for professionals as there can be an assumption that they are snarky and sarcastic without substance.

Blogging is new enough that this reputation can change. If professionals led an ongoing commentary about their experiences designing, constructing, and developing architecture, landscape, and urbanism, the design field, as well as the public, would be more informed. There is certainly room enough online for a more diverse array of opinions.

If you want to read more about what you missed, City of Sound and BLDGBLOG have extensive coverage of Postopolis! Many of the events are also available on You Tube. Finally, Architect magazine is conducting a survey about what blogs/websites you read. If you want to enter, click here, and don’t forget to vote for e-Oculus!