With the weather finally improving but with April showers looming in the near future, now is a great time to walk the city and see the sights you may have missed over the winter — such as Astroland, which re-opened last weekend for the last time (again).

– Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP

Correction: In the last issue of e-Oculus, the In the News section ran a piece called, “Industrial Meets Green at Brooklyn Navy Yard,” about the Perry Avenue building on the Museum Resource Campus for SurroundArt. Stantec is the design architect and architect-of-record for the core and shell of the Perry Avenue building, and it is filing for LEED CS certification. Steven Kratchman Architect is retained by SurroundArt for design of tenant fit-out work for their leased space, including interiors at the Perry Avenue building. Also, the rendering was incorrectly credited and should have gone to Stantec. We apologize for the incorrect information.

Two Roads to Building China

Event: Made By China Symposium
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.01.08
Introductions: Wei Wei Shannon — Curator, Shi Jian — Co-Curator, Building China: Five Projects, Five Stories exhibition
Speakers: Building China Panel: Zang Lei — Owner, AZL Atelier Zanglei (Nanjing); Yan Meng — Partner, Urbanus Architecture & Design (Shenzhen); Wang Shu — Partner, Amateur Architecture Studio (Hangzhou)
Moderator: Clifford Pearson — Architectural Record
Co-Evolution Panel: Ambassador Richard Swett, FAIA — Managing Principal, Leo A Daly, Washington DC office, & former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark; Kent Martinussen — CEO, Danish Architecture Centre; Dan Stubbergaard — Principal, COBE (Copenhagen)
Moderator: Søren Sønderstrup — Communications Consultant, Danish Architecture Centre
Organizers: AIANY; The Center for Architecture Foundation; People’s Architecture; Danish Architecture Centre; UiD; AIANY International Committee
Sponsors: Patron: Digital Plus; Supporters: Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners; EDAW; Jerome & Kenneth Lipper Foundation; Friend: Bartco Lighting; Häfele; Ibex Construction; Let There Be Neon; Tsao & McKown Architects

Dafen Cultural Center

The Dafen Cultural Center by Urbanus Architecture responds to its urban context.

Courtesy AIANY

Both exhibitions at the Center for Architecture — Building China: Five Projects, Five Stories, and Co-Evolution: Danish/Chinese Collaboration on Sustainable Urban Development in China, take up China’s building boom. The greatest challenge facing Chinese architects today is to “be local within a global context,” says Shi Jian, co-curator of the Building China exhibition. Conversely, the Danish Architecture Centre (DAC), seeing China’s growth as part of an international struggle to “co-evolve” toward a more sustainable world, is pressing China’s universities and municipalities to share development knowledge and experience with the rest of the world.

A new generation of Chinese architects, including AZL Atelier Zanglei, Urbanus Architecture & Design, and Amateur Architecture Studio, is responding to issues of globalization and urban growth by embracing both international modernity and the specifics of local context. For example, AZL Atelier Zhanglei used local brick and farmer/craftsmen labor in the Brick House to create modern surface patterns that are abstract yet grounded in local culture. In the Dafen Cultural Center, Urbanus Architecture employed multi-use programming to deal with its urban context. The integration of retail shops, classrooms, and exhibition spaces within the center, and reserving its exterior for murals by local artists, reflects the identity of the thriving artist community.

Wang Shu, partner of Amateur Architecture Studio, approaches context as a poetic, rather than a material or programmatic, challenge. Referring to the harmonious relation of man and nature in Chinese landscape paintings, Shu seeks an architecture that integrates “seamlessly into nature.” Incorporating materials and forms of Chinese villages, the firm’s campus design for the Chinese Academy of Arts is intended to evoke a “2,000-year-old village trapped in a bottle.”

To Kent Martinussen, DAC’s CEO, China’s urbanization highlights environmental problems worldwide, which he believes require international collaboration. Pairing several Danish architects with teams from Chinese universities, the Co-evolution project explores sustainable solutions for environmental remediation, infrastructure planning, and site development. In the Magic Mountain proposal, for instance, COBE combined transit-oriented garden city planning with clustered high-rise development. Pointing to China’s immense development capacity, Martinussen emphasized harnessing this power and discerning “how it might be done better, through new alliances and new understandings.”

Financial Institutions Bank on Brands, Trust

Event: Public Lecture Series: Design Directions for Banking and Finance
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.10.08
Speakers: Serge Appel, AIA, LEED AP — Associate Partner, Cook + Fox Architects; Lance Boge — Principal, Gensler; Randolph H. Gerner, AIA — Partner, Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel, Architects; Rafael Pelli, AIA, LEED AP — Partner, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects NY Office
Moderator: Fanny Gong, AIA — Co-Chair, AIANY Committee on Banking and Financial Institutions
Organizer: AIANY Committee on Banking and Financial Institutions
Sponsors: Champion: Studio Daniel Libeskind; Supporters: Gensler; Humanscale; James McCullar & Associates; Friends: Costas Kondylis & Partners; Forest City Ratner Companies; Frank Williams & Associates; Hugo S. Subotovsky A.I.A. Architects; Mancini Duffy; Magnusson Architecture and Planning; Rawlings Architects; RicciGreene Associates; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Syska Hennessy Group; Trespa North America; Universal Contracting Group

Empire State Building, One Bryant Park

One Bryant Park will impact the NYC skyline creating an icon for Bank of America.

Jessica Sheridan

Whether they are small-scale, local retail branches or large international corporate headquarters, banks have a very simple agenda: evoke a sense of trust in people. Recruitment and retention is the goal for institutions, both for their customers and employees; it is up to the architects to suggest security, familiarity, wealth, and even happiness in their designs.

For retail banks, banks are for the consumer; hence, they must portray a strong, easily identifiable brand. Gensler has designed a series of LEED Silver PNC Banks, projecting an attitude that aims to attract consumers. The branches are designed using a panel system so each bank may be adjusted based on size or site requirements. Not only is the system flexible and standardized for fast production, it creates an overall aesthetic for the bank. Anyone driving by will recognize the bank by the architecture, not just the signage.

The United Overseas Bank in Singapore, designed by Kenzo Tange with interiors by Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel Architects, on the other hand, uses metaphor to invoke a sense of strength and prosperity. The building has a presence in the city because of its height and central location along the Singapore River. The interior takes advantage of this by incorporating 40-foot-high ceilings in the main hall. An interior stream takes water from the river to a central fountain symbolizing money flowing into the bank — seems an early failed scheme had water flowing the other way — and a large coin-like object made from gold and silver leaf creates an image of money falling from the sky.

For corporate and trading offices, banks compete for the most qualified employees. Attracting and retaining those individuals becomes the focus of their designs. At 731 Lexington Avenue, where Bloomberg is headquartered, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects created a social atmosphere by minimizing individual workspaces and maximizing collective areas. Conference rooms, cafeterias, and public areas are centered around an exterior courtyard, or “urban room.” Because the building is mixed-use, the courtyard acts as an oasis from the bustling retail-oriented avenues, and provides a space for business functions. The courtyard is lined with stainless steel tubes that create both transparency and privacy, and act as a framework for events that enhance office culture — from canvas canopies to the annual Christmas tree.

When completed, it is hoped that One Bryant Park, designed by Cook + Fox Architects, will attract employees for Bank of America through sustainable design. 100% of the building incorporates under-floor air systems and individual temperature controls providing the maximum amount of comfort and a healthier interior environment. The air will be cleaner inside than outside, said Serge Appel, AIA, LEED AP, associate partner at Cook + Fox Architects. With floor-to-ceiling glass on the exterior and interior glass partitions, daylight will penetrate to the core and provide views of the skyline and Bryant Park. With the many green features, Cook + Fox Architects hopes to increase productivity by 1%, or five minutes a day per person. This is equal to one fewer sick day per year per person, and a savings of approximately $7.5million for the bank.

To attract clients, retail banks need to focus on brand identity and marketing to the public, while their corporate office counterparts compete to provide the best work environment for the highest quality employees. In these four examples, the architects tried to create iconic architecture that provides a brand identity through systems, symbols, layout, and sustainability.

“Cultivate Your Garden,” is Edible Estates’ Thrust

Event: Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn
Location: Celeste Bartos Forum, 03.07.08
Speakers: Fritz Haeg — Principal, Fritz Haeg Studio & Project Creator, “Edible Estates”; Peter Sellars — Theater Director; Dolores Hayden — Author & Professor of Architecture, Urbanism, and American Studies, Yale University; Frederick Kaufman — Author, “A Short History of the American Stomach”; Shamim Momin — Associate Curator, Whitney Museum, Branch Director and Curator, Whitney Museum at Altria, & Curator, 2008 Whitney Biennial
Organizer: The New York Public Library; Metropolis Books

Edible Estates

After witnessing the political polarization of the 2004 Presidential election, designer Fritz Haeg sought to unify people through that well-known common space — their front lawns. Since a majority of suburban-dwelling Americans have front lawns, which Haeg sees as vast spaces that isolate people from their communities, he began transforming them into edible, organic gardens. Now, he hopes that the Edible Estates project will replenish links connecting neighbors, resources, and food.

The predecessors to Edible Estates are the Victory Gardens of WWI and WWII; but where the wartime harvests were meant to relieve the pressure on the national food supply and inspire patriotism, Edible Estates adopts an agenda of “edible activism.” Responding to current environmental crises, Haeg’s gardens not only make landscapes more sustainable, but also make visible the labor behind food production — a process from which typical Americans have largely been removed.

Placing garden ecology in the boundary between house and street exposes homeowners to the actions of those around them. However, Haeg believes the project will also encourage civility and respect among neighbors. It is a way to re-imagine what it means to share resources and ideas, making public gestures in private spaces. The barren American front lawn, he hopes, will be replaced with lush gardens that echo sustainability and civic spirit (and a good meal).

Nomadic Warriors Staff International Practice

Event: Research and Design: Best Sustainable Practices Abroad: A Presentation by Woods Bagot
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.06.08
Speaker: Nik Karalis — Director, Woods Bagot
Organizer: AIANY International Committee

A roving team of “nomadic warriors” drives Australian-based design and planning firm Woods Bagot’s international practice. Largely staffing their projects from sites in four regions — Australia, Asia, Middle East, and Europe — the firm encourages employees to follow the “journey of the idea,” using local bases to move projects from start to finish. Teams are encouraged to study a place and immerse themselves in analysis of the locale before even picking up a pen to design. “We’re not seagull architects,” said Nik Karalis, director at Woods Bagot, referring to other designers who swoop in and out of different project locations, “we live and breathe the culture.”

This approach to work process results in projects that both respect the culture and improve the environment. In its master plan for the College of the North Atlantic in Dubai, regional Bedouin rugs inspired Woods Bagot when planning the many interior courtyards. Complex patterns of Islamic writing were used to design deep sun shading devices around the buildings’ perimeters.

The firm is moving from the concept of applied sustainability (applying points and pre-packaged solutions) towards site-based environmental considerations that influence design. For the Qatar Science and Technology Park, the firm designed an intricate exterior canopy that provided a sun-shaded veil over the buildings inspired by the site’s rolling topography. If done right, Karalis said, “globalization can signify a move away from monoculture.”

Passion Preserves NYC History

Event: Preserving New York — Then and Now Symposium
Location: Museum of the City of New York, 02.23.08
Speakers: Susan Henshaw Jones — President & Director, Museum of the City of New York; Lisa Ackerman — Executive Vice President & COO, World Monuments Fund; Anthony M. Tung — Urbanist & Author; Anthony C. Wood — Author; Tony Hiss — Visiting Scholar, Wagner School of Public Service, New York University
Panel 1: Where Did the ‘History’ Go in Historic Preservation?: Jane McNamara — Senior Program Officer, New York Council for the Humanities; Andrew Dolkart — James Fitch Associate Professor of Historic Preservation, Columbia University; Ned Kaufman — Visiting Associate Professor, NYC Program, Cornell University; Michael Miscione — Manhattan Borough Historian
Panel 2: The Media and Preservation: New Media, Old Roles?: Francis Morrone — Art & Architecture Critic, Columnist, The New York Sun; Alan G. Brake — Associate Editor, The Architect’s Newspaper; Jonathan Butler — Founder and Editor, Brownstoner.com; Suzanne Stephens — Deputy Editor, Architectural Record
Panel 3: Preservation and Progress: Mary Schmidt Campbell — Chair, NY State Council on the Arts (NYSCA); Anne van Ingen — Director, Architecture, Planning & Design, NYSCA; Kenneth T. Jackson — Jacques Barzun Professor in History and the Social Sciences, Columbia University; Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA — Principal, Robert A. M. Stern Architects; Amy Freitag — Deputy Commissioner for Capital Projects, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation; Melissa Baldock — Director of Preservation & Research, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation; Randall Mason — Associate Professor, Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, University of Pennsylvania
Panel 4: The Preservation Civic Sector in Times of Change: Eric Allison — Co-Founder & Coordinator, Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, Pratt Institute; Andrew Berman — Executive Director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation; Frances Kunreuther — Director, Building Movement Project; Kevin Wolfe — Vice President, Douglaston Little Neck Historical Society
Organizers: The Museum of the City of New York; New York Preservation Archive Project

Tenement Museum

The Levine Apartment at the Tenement Museum.

Courtesy Tenement Museum

Author Anthony Wood opened this Preserving NY Symposium by quoting William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun: “The past is never dead. It is not even the past.” Conservation possesses complexity, ranging from protecting Modernism (spearheaded by the formation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission) to using blogs (such as brownstoner.com) to build coalitions to save at-risk buildings and neighborhoods.

Preservation has existed in NYC since the end of the 19th century. While the definition has changed throughout the years, the newest chapter of the “movement” takes in of a wider range of projects than ever before considering both history and architectural value, according to Andrew Dolkart, professor of historic preservation at Columbia University. The Tenement Museum, for example, would not have been considered worthy of preservation according to the original Commission’s parameters, as it tended to exclude the immigration story. Now, preservationists have a more collective perspective of history, inclusive of foreigners and their struggles.

Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, illustrated how preservation can be used as a tool to alleviate blight. SoHo was a devastated area, for example, but now it is thriving because it has preserved the old brownstones and historic buildings while allowing new construction.

Kenneth T. Jackson, professor of history at Columbia University, was the symposium’s anti-preservationist, proclaiming that preservation is for “loser cities” and NYC is not a losing city. He believes it should continue to build leaving history for the books.

Overall, the common tone was fervor. Time and time again, the passion of a community or an individual has proven the value of a building or neighborhood in an ever-changing city.

Paradigms on Trial

Event: New Paradigms in Architecture?
Location: Columbia University, 02.11.08
Speakers: Jeffrey Kipnis — Professor, Knowlton School of Architecture, Ohio State University; Reinhold Martin — Associate Professor, Mark Wigley — Dean, Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP)
Host: Karl Chu — Adjunct Associate Professor, GSAPP
Organizers: Columbia GSAPP

New Paradigms in Architecture?

Courtesy Columbia University GSAPP

Sociologist Bruno Latour once told an interviewer, “Postmodern theorists are useful, like salt added to the academy… but a whole meal of salt?” The New Paradigms discussion was fast-paced and exceptionally salty (in Latour’s sense and others). Occasioned by Karl Chu’s invitation to two Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP) colleagues and one visitor to consider a brief manifesto about a new architectural paradigm based on computation, self-replicating structures, and engagement with biotechnology and artificial intelligence, the conversation spurred four thinkers to speculate about how the profession is evolving.

Jeffrey Kipnis, professor at the Knowlton School of Architecture, Ohio State University, ultimately agreed that Chu’s vision of “genetic architecture” as a quantitative, scientific discipline has the weight of history on its side. “I know for a fact… that architecture will become a science,” Kipnis said with more dismay than celebration, as other fields historically have done (e.g., alchemy becoming chemistry, or astrology yielding to astronomy). He finds architecture’s scientific ambitions unrealized as of yet, since a true science has formal mechanisms for recognizing when an experiment has failed. He compares current architectural discourse to poetry and emotions rather than quantitative analyses, quipping that architects still live “in a world of doxologies [an expression of praise, usually to a god], not demonstrations.” Loyal to architectural ideas arising from feelings, Kipnis is in no hurry to see this condition pass.

Mark Wigley, dean of Columbia GSAPP, noted an unbridgeable gap between users of buildings and architects, whose knowledge of professional and aesthetic codes places them outside users’ ordinary experience. Replacing routines with contemplation and uncertainty, he said, was a legitimate, even necessary activity for an architect; but to inhabitants, the paradigms may be as transparent as water to a fish.

Coming: InSPIREation for Chicago Shoreline

Event: An Evening with Santiago Calatrava, New York Preview of the Chicago Spire
Location: The Harold Pratt House, 03.12.08
Speakers: Santiago Calatrava, FAIA — Principal, Santiago Calatrava; Garrett Kelleher — Executive Chairman, Shelbourne Development Group
Organizers: Shelbourne Development Group

“Inspired by nature” is a theme for the Chicago Spire, designed by Santiago Calatrava, FAIA. Located on what Garret Kelleher, Executive Chairman of Shelbourne Development Group, refers to as “the best piece of dirt in Chicago,” the Spire will straddle the urban grid, Chicago River, and Lake Michigan. To Calatrava, this unique location provides an opportunity to explore the relation of the urban and the natural, and fulfill the motto of Chicago: “Urbs in Horto,” or “City in a Garden.”

Considering natural forms such as flowers and snails, Calatrava strives to recreate the balance and harmony found in nature. Soaring upward in a tapered and continually twisting form, each apartment will have a unique view of the Chicago skyline. Calatrava aims “to build for people a message of hope that conveys a certain sense of progress and better living.” The “very simple diagram” of the Spire, he says, will allow him to create “a harmony between the people in the city and nature.”

Shifting Planes Clarify Clutter

Event: Tod Williams, Billie Tsien, and Sir John Soane
Location: The Union Club, 03.03.08
Speakers: Tod Williams, FAIA, & Billie Tsien, AIA — Partners, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects
Organizers: Sir John Soane’s Museum Foundation; Architectural Record

American Folk Art Museum

The American Folk Art Museum exhibition wall with surface-mounted weathervanes.

Photo by Michael Moran, 2002, courtesy American Folk Art Museum.

Like architect Sir John Soane, Tod Williams, FAIA, and Billie Tsien, AIA, partners of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, prefer buildings’ interiors to their exteriors, since “the enclosed environment,” as Williams put it, is where people spend most of their time. They use “complex plans” and “shifting sections” as methods to strengthen their designs. For example, the American Folk Art Museum is only 30,000 square feet with a 40-foot by 106-foot floor plate. The stair and piano nobile generated the architecture. By manipulating the section, Williams and Tsien opened the plan to wash the galleries in natural light. By shifting planes, the building becomes an experience and journey of discovery, and the space unfolds as visitors move through the museum.

13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a home designed and inhabited by Soane, may be cluttered, but the intricate plan and shifting sections enhance the interiors. “The complexity makes the experience at every level of the interior memorable,” said Williams, who spoke recently with Tsien about the influence of Soane on their work.

The most recent challenge for Williams and Tsien is designing a new home for the Barnes Foundation museum in downtown Philadelphia (a still-controversial move from Merion, PA), dedicated to fine arts education advocate Albert C. Barnes. This project has strict design parameters, including Barnes’ meticulously cluttered arrangement of art and his mandate to not change anything. The interior is the most important element of the architecture, but the rules prevent the architects from conceptualizing the building from scratch. Perhaps once the design is complete, they will take cue from Soane by invigorating the building through the in-between spaces and voids as they have done before.

Getting to the Truth of the Collapse

After spending the weekend glued to the television watching coverage of the tragic crane collapse in Midtown, I feel unsettled about the media. I accept that during the day of the accident, reporters may be uninformed about construction procedures and government-enforced inspections. And NY1 did a fantastic job at broadcasting updates, personal stories, and press conferences throughout the day on Saturday. However, by Sunday, reports in all media outlets began a witch-hunt to find the entity most guilty of the accident.

From accusing the crane company for not complying with standards, to criticizing the Department of Buildings’ (DOB) neglect to find any problems during inspections the day before, to calling for Patricia Lancaster, FAIA, to step down from her position as DOB commissioner, the most outrageous claim to me was the focus on the 13 violations that the construction site has received over the last two years. Granted, many reporters added a footnote about how the violations had nothing to do with the crane, but this is the story on which the public and the media seem fixated.

I understand an urgency to find answers to what caused the crane to collapse, but it is uninformed and irresponsible of the media to concentrate on issues that do not have anything to do with the accident itself (as far as we know). Calling for resignations and government overhauls is counterproductive to getting to the root cause of the event. The media would be wise to spend more time researching and understanding construction sites and DOB procedures and codes instead of fixating on misguided finger pointing.