Now that the weather has finally cooled down, I hope you will want to leave your air-conditioned offices and check out all of the architecture events citywide. With the leaves changing, this is also a great time to explore the city on foot.

– Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP

Note: In the last issue, the article “Green Roses for a Gray Lady” stated that the underfloor air system incorporated into the New York Times Building will not appear on the upper stories that the Times is leasing out. This is incorrect. The underfloor air distribution system appears on all New York Times Company-owned floors, including those that are leased.

NYC Melts a New Pot of Diversity

Event: The Future Face of New York
Location: The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, 10.18.07
Speakers: Laurie Beckelman — Founder & Principal, Beckelman+Capalino; Majora Carter — Executive Director, Sustainable South Bronx; Shaun Donovan — Commissioner, New York Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD); Yesenia Graham — Vice President, Sutphin Avenue Development, One Stop Home Services; Daniel Libeskind, AIA — Principal, Studio Daniel Libeskind; Bill McKibben — Author, Educator, Environmentalist; Michael Sorkin — Michael Sorkin Studio & City College of New York; Mike Wallace — Pulitzer-Prize Winning Author
Moderator: Martin Filler — Architecture Columnist, House & Garden
Organizers: House & Garden, as part of House & Garden‘s Design Happening program series, organized in partnership with the Center for Architecture and the Architectural League

As New Yorkers face the challenges outlined in the city’s PlaNYC report, strong communities have the potential to bind and bolster the city during periods of change and turmoil. NYC’s future depends on fostering strong, livable communities within the city’s existing urban fabric.

What will the city’s strong communities look like in 20 years? According to author Mike Wallace, neighborhoods will likely be more diverse than they are today. Since 2000, the city has been growing past its record-high population, in part fueled by immigration. Today, more than 40% of New Yorkers were born in other countries. In recent years, a series of tectonic population shifts amongst the city’s many ethic groups have resulted in an explosion of communities comprised of diverse ethnic groups living together, instead of in autonomous groupings. To a large extent, it is believed that these spontaneously diverse communities are more socially sustainable than their heterogeneous neighbors.

The NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Commissioner Shaun Donovan claims that NYC struggles to actively plan diversity into the city’s population. Specifically, the housing market should include designing for a diversity of people with different backgrounds and ages, and with a variety of incomes. “We have an ethical responsibility to grow this city,” said Donovan.

Though much of the tone of the discussion was dire — with talk of how population growth, global warming, and a potential housing shortage could cripple the city — Daniel Libeskind, AIA, spoke of his family’s immigration to NYC decades ago as a positive example of its longevity. “At the risk of sounding demented, I do want to say something optimistic about the city.” While New York’s communities could be drastically recast in the future, the city has an idealistic endurance that many others do not. “NYC has the sustainability of an idea.”

Designers Dwell on Dwelling

Event: Rethinking Domesticity
Location: The Urban Center, 10.19.07
Speakers: Elisa Orlanski Ours — Vice President, Planning & Predevelopment Department, Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group; Joel Sanders, AIA — Principal, Joel Sanders Architect & Associate Professor of Architecture, Yale University; Calvin Tsao, FAIA — Co-Founder, Tsao & McKown Architects & President, The Architecture League of New York; Lois Weinthal — Director, BFA Interior Design Program, Parsons The New School for Design
Moderator: Marisa Bartolucci — Editor & Writer
Organizer: The Architectural League of New York, as part of House & Garden‘s Design Happening program series

Nolan Park

House in Nolan Park on Governors Island.

Jessica Sheridan

Do contemporary dwellings reflect current living habits and desires? Are people truly ready to see the radical changes in their daily lives reflected in their living spaces? By serving as liaisons between clients and designers, integrating new technologies into old typologies, and reinforcing new trends through publication, designers can actively address issues of domesticity in their work and influence the shape of contemporary dwellings.

Currently, much of the domestic realm is shaped by status symbols and nostalgia, neither of which reflects actual living habits. A preference for McMansions may have less to do with the need for square footage and more to do with displays of wealth, according to writer and editor Marisa Bartolucci. Likewise, our sentimentality for vestiges of the past — such as formal dining rooms — may explain why certain unused spaces continue to haunt contemporary dwellings.

While old conventions influence dwellers’ decisions about their homes, attention must be given to forms that more accurately embody modern life. There is an increasing emphasis on spatial flexibility, leading to new definitions of privacy and work habits. Thus, today, a dining room might double as a home office or be integrated into the kitchen itself — a flexible and efficient solution that responds to practical needs in a time when space is at a premium.

Domesticity cannot be limited only to architecture; economic and social considerations are relevant and necessary, especially when it comes to effecting change. Yet, class and income do not necessarily dictate general domestic habits. Calvin Tsao, FAIA, co-founder of Tsao & McKown Architects, noted that apartment plans for residences in Bed-Stuy and Manhattan are similar in both layout and square footage, with only significant differences in materials, details, and location. Clearly our living habits are deeply engrained, and this comfort may ultimately be what maintains the status quo when it comes to contemporary dwelling. Architects continually generate innovative alternatives, but whether dwellers are ready to break free from conventional patterns and embrace these new changes is something that has yet to be seen.

Burning Man: Great Party, Urban Template

Event: Burning Man: Planning and Evolution of the Temporary City
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.13.07
Speakers: Larry Harvey — Founder & Executive Director, Burning Man; Rod Garrett — City Planner, Black Rock City; The Eye — Architect, Camp Disorient; Hayley Fitchett — Urban Planner, Gensler (London)
Moderator: David Koren — Director of Marketing, Perkins Eastman
Organizer: AIANY Emerging NY Architects Committee
Sponsors: Green Depot; Haworth; C/S Group; Johnsonite; drink sponsors: Steaz Green Tea Soda, Sambazon Açai, Guayaki Yerba Mate

Burning Man

Site of 2007 Burning Man. At the bottom left of the image, you can see the site of 2004 Burning Man. There are three alternating sites for the temporary city in Black Rock City, UT.

Courtesy Google Earth

A site for boundless music and art; a place where one can both lose and find oneself; a great party; and a grand experiment in city building. This is how Hayley Fitchett, an urban planner at Gensler, describes Burning Man, the weeklong annual “experience” in Black Rock City, UT. Since 1986, when a group of friends gathered at Baker Beach in San Francisco, Burning Man has grown exponentially. This year’s temporary city in the desert reached a record of 48,000 participants, and it is partially because of urban planning that Burning Man is so successful.

The concept behind the plan, according to Burning Man founder and executive director Larry Harvey, is to create an experience that is then manifested by the participants when they arrive. The layout of the site is symmetrical, alluding to temple design, and the marks in the sand reference Buddhist Mandalas. Participants arrive to an established sacred space that serves as a base for their art. Spirituality is innate and planned before the event begins.

It is a chance of a lifetime for an urban planner to be given a blank canvas to develop a temporary city that is erased and recreated every year, claims Rod Garrett, Black Rock City’s urban planner. The current plan was established in 1997, and it is a culmination of improvements that take into account everything from population growth to security concerns. It is hemispherical in plan with concentric and radial streets. The Man, an effigy that is ritually burned on the final night of the event, is located at the center. Participants orient themselves in relation to the Man and the view of the desert beyond. People are assigned to a campsite, and can find their sites because radial streets are named after positions on a clock and circular street names relate to the theme of the year (2007 was “Green Man” so streets were named after natural habitats). A pentagonal limit surrounds the plan providing emergency access and a security boundary.

Burning Man’s plan is straightforward and simple, but it is the constant layering of visual cues that makes the event successful, says Fitchell. The highest point in the city is the Man, and the lowest area is at the perimeter. A café is centrally located that acts as a community center and a refuge from the desert. People are drawn to the center of the plan, where most of the action occurs. Streets are wider in public areas to accommodate larger crowds, and narrower in the more private encampment areas. The Man, an annual monolithic temple, and large art works scatter the landscape providing landmarks. Decorated vehicles and “theme camps” act as entertainment hubs throughout.

In her professional life, Fitchett finds she thinks about the truly democratic plan of Burning Man, and believes that more humane cities are possible by applying ideas established at the event. She quotes Winston Churchill: “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us,” and for her Burning Man is the realization of this saying.

20/20 Hindsight on Pecha Kucha NY

Event: Pecha Kucha NY
Location: St. Mark’s Church, 10.10.07
Speakers: Enrique Norten, Hon. FAIA — TEN Arquitectos; Israel Kandarian — 2×4; James Slade, AIA, & Hayes Slade — Slade Architecture; José Parlá — Artist; Andrew Zago — Zago Architecture; Jessica Root — Writer, TreeHugger; Mariah Robertson — Artist; Kanu Agrawal, Melanie Domino, Edward Richardson, Brad Walters — Editors, Perspecta 39: Re_Urbanism: Transforming Capitals; Eric C. Shiner — Independent Curator & author, Making a Home: Japanese Contemporary Artists in New York; Jeannette Kuo & Aziza Chaouni — KuoChaouni Design Collaborative; Annie Choi — Writer, Dear Architects II: The Revenge; Christian Acker & Kyle Talbott — Graphic Designers, Handselecta; Benjamin H. Bratton — Yahoo!, SCI Arc, UCLA; Craig Dykers, AIA — SNØHETTA
Organizers: Pecha Kucha NY


Courtesy Pecha Kucha NY

By now, many are familiar with Pecha Kucha‘s patented 20×20 presentation formula: designers are allowed to show 20 slides for 20 seconds each, giving them a total of 6 minutes 40 seconds to share their most captivating works. Even within these strict guidelines, creative professionals will always attempt to set themselves apart, and NYC’s fourth Pecha Kucha night was no exception.

The most apparent break in form came from 2×4’s Israel Kandarian who shared t-shirt designs that explore the public space of private identity. Flipping though many more than 20 slides, Kandarian’s images showed architects, students, and grandmothers holding t-shirts with phrases like “post-modernism, pre-materialism” or “Daft Punk, but less techno” — phrases that at first amused, but eventually grated on the attention span of the audience. Artist Mariah Robertson, on the other hand, projected her slides on the ceiling. While the audience was clearly entertained by her purposefully disheveled performance, it’s hard to say exactly what the content was.

Sticking closer to form was crowd favorite Enrique Norten, Hon. FAIA, from TEN Arquitectos whose images of frogs and pyramids loosely inspire the firm’s work. However, there were no images of projects, as Norten proudly declared, “There’s no time to talk about architecture in six minutes.” This claim did not stop SNØHETTA’s Craig Dykers, AIA, from giving a concise overview of the Norwegian National Opera House. He ultimately won the approval of the audience by sharing that employees at his firm collaborate to agree on their own salaries and vacation time, both of which, judging by the applause, are unusually high for the profession.

Pecha Kucha’s success is entirely dependent on the quality of its presenters whose performances can make even the fast pace of 20×20 feel slow at times. In retrospect, it’s difficult to recall the exact content of the presentations, as sound bites don’t provide much of a lingering aftertaste. But this highlights what could be the evening’s greatest triumph: you may not remember exactly what you’ve seen, but you know you feel inspired.

New Practices Celebrate a City in Flux

Event: New Practices London Symposium
Location: Center for Archictecture, 10.16.07
Speakers: Tom Coward — Founder, Agents of Change (AOC); David Howarth, RIBA — Co-Director, drdharchitects; Stephen Witherford, RIBA — Director, Witherford Watson Mann Architects
Keynote: Brett Steele — Director, Architectural Association School of Architecture (London)
Moderator: Joseph Grima — Director, Storefront for Art and Architecture
Organizers: AIANY New Practices Committee; The Architecture Foundation (London)
Sponsors: Exhibition Underwriters: Associated Fabrication; Häfele Americas; SKYY 90; Patrons: 3Form; ABC Imaging; Sponsors: Severud Associates; Thornton Tomasetti; OS Fabrication & Design; The Conran Shop; Supporters: Arup; Bartco Lighting; Fountainhead Construction; FXFOWLE Architects; MG & Company; Microsol Resources; Structural Enterprises; Friends: Barefoot Wines; Cosentini Associates; DEGW; Delta Faucet Company; Perkins Eastman; Media Partner: The Architect’s Newspaper

New Practices London

Courtesy Center for Architecture

In the last 15 years, London has experienced an unprecedented construction boom that has not only drastically changed the physical city, but also the impact of London as an international epicenter for architectural thought and design. London is now a hotbed for competitions and commissions, resulting in a new generation of practices heavily focused on research, adaptability, and pragmatism. Agents of Change (AOC), drdharchitects, and Witherford Watson Mann Architects, three firms featured in the New Practices London exhibition at the Center for Architecture, are young British firms that exemplify this emerging trend.

All three firms focus on making the most of a project despite blighted sites, limited budgets, and scarce materials. AOC’s Polyopoly, an Urban Board Game, for example, is an exercise that turns the concept of Monopoly upside down; players purchase tools to engage critical development in afflicted urban neighborhoods. Drdharchitects were finalists for the Arhus Kunstmuseum in Denmark, aimed to spark the development of a cultural quarter in the city. Their proposal responded to the site’s context within the city and provided a protective container for the art collection. While the overall building is rectangular, the angular entryway aims to create a dynamic transition between the activity on the street and the more static galleries. Witherford Watson Mann Architects’ Bankside Urban Forest is an urban redevelopment project for South London that inserts parks and trees in undeveloped areas, thus filling in and inhabiting vacant lots as the city develops in patches.

Reading London and practicing in London involves a deep understanding of how the city is developing, according to keynote speaker Brett Steele, director of London’s Architectural Association School of Architecture. London is no longer a destination in itself. Branding, tourism, and diversity are important factors contributing to a fleeting exchange of ideas comparable to other international transitional cities, such as Los Angeles and Beijing. New British practices are adept in realizing the potential for an evolving, pluralistic city.

New Glass Shatters Old Perceptions

Event: Engineered Transparency: Glass in Architecture and Structural Engineering
Keynote Speaker: Kazuyo Sejima — Founding Partner, SANAA
Location: Columbia University, 09.26-28.07
Organizers: Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; Columbia University Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics; with Technische Universität Dresden’s Institute of Building Construction

Glass Pavilion

The Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art, designed by SANAA.

Jessica Sheridan

Offering new modes of visual pleasure and spatial experience, glass has benefited from major advances in engineering and structural innovations. The Engineered Transparency conference brought together international architects and engineers to discuss the present and future implications of glass in building design.

Considered one of the most advanced firms working in glass, founding partner of Tokyo-based SANAA, Kazuyo Sejima, kicked off the three-day conference with a keynote presentation of recent projects that push glass technologies to new limits. One of the best examples is the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, housing the museum’s extensive glass collection, with more than 5,000 works from ancient to contemporary times. Constructed of double-layered, floor-to-ceiling, curved glass panels, the undulating walls blur the boundaries between the exterior and interior spaces. The project pushes the definition of glass as a material as the curves alternate a viewer’s clarity and obscurity, reflection and distortion. In addition, the relationship between inside and outside is intensified. Visitors are constantly aware of their surroundings as the glass walls provide a dual experience of the outside environment overlapping the exhibition spaces.

The Glass Pavilion resurfaced throughout the conference as one of the best examples of cutting-edge glass design. The plan of the pavilion reveals challenges not just in aesthetics and experience, but also in structure, and heating and ventilation. Guy Nordenson, of NY-based Guy Nordenson and Associates Structural Engineers and structural engineer for the project, discussed the unique steel framing in the roof and concrete framing in the floor to enhance the thin panes of glass. Matthias Schuler, of Stuttgart-based Transsolar, talked about climate engineering challenges given the cellular structure of the galleries. The inner walls make up the galleries, and the exterior walls create cavities to insulate and provide heating and ventilation.

While glass might always have been a popular material, it is only recently that its technology has advanced structurally, aesthetically, and thermally. Engineered Transparency only scratched the surface of what is to come.

ASLA Balances Nature, Design at Annual Meeting

Event: ASLA Annual Meeting & EXPO: Designing with Nature: The Art of Balance
Location: San Francisco, 10.05-09.07
Organizer: American Society of Landscape Architects

ASLA Annual Meeting

(Left) Lawrence Halprin, FASLA, in conversation with Charles Birnbaum, FASLA. (Right) San Francisco + ASLA = Perfect!

Sam Brown, courtesy American Society of Landscape Architects; Kristen Richards

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) couldn’t have chosen a better place or time for its annual meeting: San Francisco in early October. Close to 7,000 ASLA members and affiliates were treated to four perfect autumn days filled with inspiring speakers, enlightening continuing education sessions and media panels, eye-opening studio visits, and tours — and a spectacular gala at the recently reopened de Young Museum. (Some of us traipsing between Moscone Center North and South were treated to glimpses of the Blue Angels doing their aerial ballet against the crystal blue sky.)

Among the highlights:
— ASLA launched the Sustainable Sites initiative, a cooperative effort supplement existing green building and landscape guidelines as well as becoming a stand-alone tool for site sustainability.

— Passions ran high even at 8:00am on a Saturday morning at the “Newsmakers Roundtable,” with Walter Hood, ASLA, Laurie D. Olin, FASLA, Martha Schwartz, ASLA, and Ken Smith, ASLA, and moderated by Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times. Olin said, “We need to make landscape political again,” after what he called a “decade of private splendor and public squalor.” Hood emphatically agreed, saying, “We have to do public work! It’s hard to do, but if we don’t do it, it will be done badly or not at all.”

— What could have been a disappointing closing General Session was anything but. Vice President Al Gore, Hon. ASLA, had to cancel his appearance due to a death in the family, but delivered a live telecast congratulating landscape architects for their leadership in combating climate change, saying, “I feel as if a lot of the world is catching up with you and messages you have been delivering for a long time now.” The session also included a previously unscheduled — and very spirited — Lawrence Halprin, FASLA, interviewed by Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, Executive Director of the Cultural Landscape Foundation.

— Among the 33 landscape architects inducted into the ASLA Council of Fellows was David Kamp, FASLA, Founder and President of NYC-based Dirtworks PC Landscape Architecture.

Click LANDonline for links to podcasts and videos from the conference.

2nd Annual National Design Week, 10.14-20.07

10.16.07: Cooper-Hewitt’s 2007 National Design Awards Winners Panel

Cooper Hewitt Design Panel

Winners panel (l-r): Nader Tehrani; David J. Lewis; Cara McCarty; Peter Walker, FASLA; and Marc Tsurumaki, AIA.

Kristen Richards

Several hundred people gathered under the large, white “big-top” tent installed in Cooper-Hewitt’s garden to hear from some of this year’s National Design Award winners. The panel discussion covered a range of subjects, from collaboration, fame, tough projects, and green design, to challenges and rewards, and persuading clients. Panelists included: Marc Tsurumaki, AIA, and David J. Lewis, Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis (LTL); Nader Tehrani, Office dA; Peter Walker, FASLA, PWP Landscape Architecture; fashion designer Rick Owens; with Cooper-Hewitt Curatorial Director Cara McCarty as moderator.

They offered some interesting — and amusing observations…

On collaboration:
Lewis/Tsurumaki: “We get along fine and we never argue [laughter]; the best idea wins.” “It’s based on redundancy. All three of us are involved, which allows us to play off of each other, not compete.”

On fame:
Tehrani: “We thought the MoMA project [Fabrications: The Tectonic Garden, 1998] would bring us fame and jobs — it didn’t.”

On challenges:
Walker: “The World Trade Center Memorial is the toughest project. I’m still not sure how it will work out.”…”Landscape urbanism — what is it? I don’t know what it is. We’re now more involved in spaces on top, spaces in-between.”

Lewis: “Too often sustainability is talked about as something applied rather than fundamental integration. For us, it’s a source of innovation rather than obligation.”

Tehrani: “To raise the bar of green design — overcome policies, rules, and regulations — how can we, as architects, raise the standards?”

On rewards:
Lewis: “We’re too busy to step back and figure out what’s rewarding.”

On persuading clients:
Tehrani: “It’s what we do all day. We have to get people to buy in. We design with the client — they own the process.”

On role models:
Tehrani: “Those guys.” [indicating LTL] “I wish they’d stop winning competitions and give some to us.”

Owen (who was the quietest, but had the biggest/loudest crowd of fans in the audience): “I changed my mind. Now I want to be an architect.”

2007 National Design Awards After-Party

Cooper Hewitt After Party

(Left): Frank Ching with wife, Debra. (Right): LTL gang (l-r): Marc Tsurumaki, AIA; Thomas Tsang; Caroline O’Donnell; Troy Schaum (former LTL staff member, currently at OMA); Paul Lewis, AIA; David J. Lewis.

Sara Moss

10.18.07: Award winners and guests enjoyed dancing, drinks, and even National Design Award cookies at the Cooper-Hewitt’s after party, hosted in the museum’s Target National Design Education Center. I had the pleasure of chatting with Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis (LTL), who won the National Design Award for Interior Design, and the honor of meeting Frank Ching, who received a Special Jury Commendation for his role in design education.

Other award winners were: Maharam (Design Patron Award); Denise Scott Brown, RIBA, and Robert Venturi, FAIA (Design Mind); Adobe Systems Incorporated (Corporate Achievement Award); Office dA (Architecture Design Award); Antoine Predock, FAIA (Lifetime Achievement); Chip Kidd (Communications Design Award); PWP Landscape Architecture (Landscape Design); Jonathan Ive, Apple (Product Design); and Rick Owens (Fashion Design). For more information on the program, including a list of this year’s finalists, and video of the awards gala, go to the National Design Awards website.

Cooper Hewitt Cookies

Sara Moss

Green is the Word

I keep hearing that the word of this year is “green.” As much as I would like to believe it, I question whether or not the message is getting through to consumers and clients. With the number of government initiatives at the local, state, federal, and international levels growing, I have hope that the effects of living more sustainably will begin to pay off for consumers who are readjusting their lifestyles. Bill Maher pointed out on a recent Real Time With Bill Maher, however, that even Al Gore needs to hold a rock concert to get the point across.

A trend in Hollywood is for celebrities to display their green commitment. Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Eleventh Hour” received good box office ratings; Ed Bagley Jr.’s television show on HGTV, “Living With Ed,” where he makes green improvements to celebrity homes is successful; and even the Emmys went green by using recycled plastic carpet and reusing set materials. As much as the intentions may be good (or just for publicity), in my opinion it is celebrities making choices unconscientiously who do more harm to the green movement.

Last month, Donald Trump announced his plans for a new golf course in Aberdeen, Scotland, which he calls Golfopolis. The £1 billion project includes two golf courses, a 450-bed hotel, 1,000 vacation homes, and 500 private houses on the site of conserved coastline property. As reported by Melanie Reid in The Times (See “Wildlife Groups Dismayed as Donald Trump Gets Go-ahead to Build ‘Golfopolis’ Dream,” 09.13.07), Raymod Reid, Aberdeenshire Council’s head of development, said the social and economic benefits outweigh the negative environmental impacts. Needless to say, I am disappointed that Trump would make such a choice, despite his claim that Golfopolis will be “the best golf course in the world.”

It is encouraging that, according to a new AIA poll, people are willing to invest more in energy-efficient homes (See Survey Shows Americans Lost in a Sea of Green, in Around the AIA + The Center for Architecture). I have faith that Hollywood is not the only place the public looks to for guidance. Architects and planners are contributing positively to sustainability initiatives on many levels. The more green development, the more everyone benefits. There must be a reason that going green is trendy after all. I just hope that the Trumps of the world don’t devalue this year’s word.