New York Construction Best Of ’08 Winners include: Project of The Year, Prudential Center by Morris Adjmi Architects (Exterior Architect) and HOK Sport (Arena); Best Adaptive Re-Use Project, Betances Community Center and Boxing Gym by Stephen Yablon Architect; Best Airport Project, Jetblue Terminal 5 At JFK International Airport by Gensler; Best Cultural Project, Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center by Grimshaw Architects (Design Architect) and Davis Brody Bond Aedas (Architect-of-Record); Best Cultural Project, Award Of Merit, African Burial Ground National Monument by Aarris Architects

(con’td) Best Green Project, Bank Of America Building (One Bryant Park) by Cook + Fox (Design Architect), Adamson Associates Architects (Executive Architect), and Gensler (Interiors Architect); Best Green Project, Award Of Merit, National Audubon Society Home Office by FXFOWLE Architects; Higher Education Project, Award of Merit, Peter B. Lewis Library, Princeton University by Gehry Partners; and Thomas Jefferson Hall, United States Military Academy Library And Learning Center by STV Architects with Holzman Moss Architects

(cont’d) Best Interiors Project, Reed Smith Conference Center by Gensler; Best Marine Project, Hoboken Ferry Terminal And Clock Tower Restoration by Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners; Best Marine Project, Award of Merit, Hudson River Park Pier 86 Restoration; Best Mass Transit Project, Myrtle-Wyckoff Station Complex Rehabilitation by Dattner Architects with Domenech Hicks & Krockmalnic; Best Mass Transit Project, Award of Merit, Pelham Parkway Station Rehabilitation by Dattner Architects

(cont’d) Best New Office Project, Spector Group Long Island Offices by
Spector Group; Best Park/Landscape Project, Public Farm One by WORKac; Best Pre-K-12 Education Project, North Shore Hebrew Academy by Spector Group; Best Public Works Project, Award of Merit, Grand Avenue Bus Depot and Central Maintenance Facility by diDomenico and Partners; Best Renovation/Rehabilitation/Restoration Project, The Plaza Hotel by
Costas Kondylis & Partners (Lead Architect) and Walter B. Melvin Architects (Landmark Architect); Best Renovation/Rehabilitation/Restoration Project, Award of Merit, Bronx Zoo Lion House Reconstruction by FXFOWLE Architects

(cont’d) Best Residential Project, 40 Mercer Street by Ateliers Jean Nouvel (Design Architect) and SLCE Architects (Production Architect); Best Residential Project, Award of Merit, YVES by Ismael Leyva Architects; Best Retail Project, Ermenegildo Zegna Flagship Boutique by Peter Marino & Associates; Best Small Project (Under $10 Million), Brooklyn Academy Of Music Canopy by H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, and Museum Of Modern Art Home Delivery Installation including BURST*008, SYSTEM3, Cherry Lee Architects, Haack Höpfner Architects, Massachusetts Institute Of Technology, and KieranTimberlake Associates; and Best Technology/Systems Project, Woodbridge Statewide Traffic Management Center by HNTB

Winners of the 96th Annual Building Awards by the Queens Chamber of Commerce include: Vincent Riso of The Briarwood Organization, Lifetime Achievement Award; Rehabilitation award winners in rehab up to three stories; low-rise addition; multi family: Whitestone Manor Condominiums by Gerald Caliendo, Architect; rehabilitated public space: Queens Theatre in the Park by Caples Jefferson Architects; one-family detached, up-to-3,000-square-feet rehabilitation: Colea residence by John Carusone, Architect; readaptive use, alternating mixed use rehabilitation, residential commercial/industrial: The Classic at Kew Gardens, by M. Studio; industrial rehabilitation: Super- Tek Products by Stoll & Stoll Architects; rehabilitation for single residence, one-family detached, over 3,000 square feet: The Russo residence by Frank Petruso Architect; readaptive use, alteration or addition, in a single residence, one-family detached, over-3,000 square feet: Dr. Kuma residence by AIN D&D Corp; commercial interiors rehabilitation: Very Well Café by Nury Design Inc.; rehabilitation for interior of a single residence, one- or two-family attached: Gary Hentzi and Argie Collie Residence by Laura Heim Architect; rehabilitated health-related facilities: New York Blood Center by Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects

QCC Building Award winners in the New Construction category include: multi-family, high-rise: 14- 25 Broadway Condominiums by Gino Longo, AIA; single residence, one-family detached: Joseph Musso Residence by JLS Designs; single residence: Linda Chen Residence by John C. Chen Architect; interior industrial, new construction landscape, new construction industrial: New York Times printing plant by Newbury Design Associates and Dario Designs, Inc.; interior public buildings and new construction public buildings: Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Natatorium and Ice Rink by Handel Architects in association with Kevin Horn & Andrew Goldman Architects; family residence, one- or two-family attached: Shu Zen/Ke Wan/ Li residence by John C. Chen Architect; commercial: Plaza at Little Neck Hills by Frank Petruso, Architect; green: Center at Maple Grove Cemetery by Peter Gisolfi Associates; office, interiors office: Two Court Square, the Citigroup Building by Kohn Pedersen Fox

Architecture critic and historian Ada Louise Huxtable, Hon. AIA, has been awarded the Louis Auchincloss Prize (see Sighted)… Peter Gisolfi, AIA, ASLA, was honored for outstanding professional achievement by The Italian Heritage & Culture Committee of New York…

The Washington, DC Historic Preservation and Review Board has unanimously approved Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners‘ design for an 11-story residential addition to the landmark Washington Hilton Hotel…

Bill Lenart, AIA, is promoted to associate principal at Callison… Hoffman Architects named Cari Tate marketing coordinator… RMJM Hillier will now operate under the name RMJM in North America…

12.11.08: AIANY held its 2009 Board Inaugural followed by the IBEX Holiday Party at the Center for Architecture.

(L-R): At the inaugural (l-r): AIA New York State Executive Director Edward C. Farrell; 2008 AIANY President Jim McCullar, FAIA; 2009 AIANY President Sherida Paulsen, FAIA; scholarship award-winner Erin Barling, student at Pratt Institute; AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA.

Sam Lahoz

Andy Frankl, president of Ibex Construction (left) with AIANY Vice President of Design Excellence Illya Azaroff, AIA (right).

Kristen Richards

FXFOWLE Architects Principals Mark Strauss, FAIA, AICP, LEED AP, (left) and Guy Geier, FAIA, IIDA, LEED AP (right).

Kristen Richards

Kristi Spessard Dance Projects choreographed and directed performances at the Ibex party.

Sam Lahoz

12.10.08: The NYC Section of the Illuminating Engineering Society held its holiday party at Philips Color Kinetics. In attendance (l-r): Peter Jacobson, lighting specialist for Consolidated Edison; Patricia DiMaggio, specifications engineer at Osram Sylvania; and Randy Sebedra, RS Lighting Design.

Linda G. Miller

2009 Oculus Editorial Calendar
If you are an architect by training or see yourself as an astute observer of New York’s architectural and planning scene, note that OCULUS editors want to hear from you! Projects/topics may be anywhere, but architects must be New York-based. The themes:

Spring Issue: Elevating Architecture / Design Literacy for All. Closed.

Summer Issue: AIANY 2009 Design Awards and AIANY/BSA Biennial Building Type Awards
02.06.09: Registration Deadline

Fall Issue: Carbon Neutral Now. The new green frontier, carbon neutrality, researched, explored, planned, and designed at all scales by New York architects.
06.01.09: Suggestion Deadline

Winter Issue: Health & Architecture. Architecture designed to promote fitness, health, and wellness will be profiled. Projects selected from within this growing field will demonstrate sensitivity to generational and demographic issues, sustainability, and technology.
08.01.09: Suggestion Deadline

If you have suggestions, please contact OCULUS editor-in-chief Kristen Richards.

01.14.09 Call for Ideas: Lighting up the Gesù
As part of an ideas competition, the Quartier des spectacles Partnership, the Gesù, and the City of Montreal’s Design Montréal agency invites designers and creators to submit lighting, architecture, and scenographic proposals that will reveal the unique personality of the Gesù. Montreal’s only entirely baroque church housing the oldest operating performance hall in Quebec. Cash prizes include: Grand prize: $10,000; Second prize: $5,000; Third prize: $3,000; and Public choice award: $2,000.

01.15.09 Call for Entries: Greener Gadgets Design Competition
This competition challenges established design firms, emerging designers, and design students to develop new and innovative solutions that address issues of energy, carbon footprint, health and toxicity, new materials, product lifecycle, and social development. The top 50 entries will be published on the web for voting and commenting, and top finalists will be showcased live at the Greener Gadgets Conference (02.27.09 in the McGraw-Hill Conference Center) for judging by an expert panel. Winners will be showcased on,,, and Cash prizes include: Grand Prize: $3,000; Second Prize: $1,000; and Third Prize: US$1,000.

01.15.09 Call for Entries: 2009 Gensler African-American Internship & Scholarship
This program aims to recognize the best emerging talent among African-American college students in architecture programs and raise awareness about the profession to African-Americans. Open to African-American students approaching their final year in a NAAB-accredited program, once nominated by their academic institution, applicants are selected through a juried application process. Two finalists will be awarded scholarship funds, paid directly to their college or university, toward the cost of their final academic year. One winner will also be awarded a paid summer internship in a Gensler regional office, where he or she will be paired with a Gensler mentor.

01.23.09 Call for Entries: Cut&Paste Digital Design Tournament 2009
The competition is for an annual, live 16-city digital design tournament. This year, 3-D design and motion design contests have been introduced. The 2009 tour will begin in North America in February, and Europe and Asia will follow. The Global Championships, which will feature a winner from each of the 16 participating cities, will take place in NYC in June 2009. One Grand Prize winner from each category in each city (48 in all) will receive an expenses-paid trip to NYC for the Global Championships.

03.03.09 Call for Entries: In the Pursuit of Housing
This biennial awards program, sponsored by the Boston Society of Architects and Architectural Record, gathers and exhibits a wide range of housing designs proposed for urban, suburban, and rural communities by architecture students and recent graduates. Selected work will address the challenge of housing the world’s population, with particular interest in projects that are innovative, socially progressive, and sustainable. In addition to a juried exhibition, awards may be given to projects that exhibit exceptional clarity of intention and thoughtfulness of resolution.

Center for Architecture Gallery Hours
Monday-Friday: 9:00am-8:00pm, Saturday: 11:00am-5:00pm, Sunday: CLOSED

Join an Architalker for a Hosted Tour of Center for Architecture

Join us for free Architalker-hosted tours of the Center for Architecture exhibitions Fridays at 4:00pm. To join one of these tours, meet in the Public Resource Area on the ground floor of the Center for Architecture.


October 18 — December 19, 2008


ARCH SCHOOLS 2008 is the AIA New York Chapter’s fourth annual architecture schools exhibition, and will feature exemplary student work, including drawings and models, from 14 Tri-State area schools.

Participating Schools:

The City College of New York

Columbia University

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Cornell University

New Jersey Institute of Technology

New York Institute of Technology

Parsons The New School for Design

Pratt Institute

Princeton University

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Syracuse University

University at Buffalo (SUNY)

University of Pennsylvania

Yale University

Exhibition Designer: Martina Sencakova

Lead Sponsor: Bentley Systems


Carnegie Corporation of New York

Kohn Pedersen Fox

RMJM Hillier

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners

ABC Imaging
Butler Rogers Baskett
Davis Brody Bond Aedas

Tsao & McKown Architects

October 1 — January 19, 2009

2008 AIA New York Designs for Living Exhibition

In the coming decades, New York will confront the challenge of housing another million people in a built-up city with limited area for new construction. Aging infrastructure and environmental concerns pose additional impediments to growth. Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC addresses the need for housing, and targets eight other quality-of-life issues including open space, air and water quality, and contaminated sites. Public and private developers have also begun responding to, and even anticipating, these concerns with mixed-use, hybrid designs. +Housing focuses on eight current examples which illustrate this phenomenon: public uses combined with, and often financed by housing. The essential urban institutions – parks, schools, places of worship, museums, and hospitals – are being combined with residential developments, fusing diverse typologies and increasing density. This observation creates the rubric, [fill in the blank] + Housing. The phenomenon is observable at multiple scales, from infill Hybrid Buildings with condos sitting on top of a public space, to Transformed Blocks rebuilt and rearranged into places for living, performing and gathering, to New Neighborhoods that attempt to remediate and improve old sites, shaping parks, creating spaces for culture and childcare, adding new density.

+Housing helps keep the city affordable, accessible, sustainable, and architecturally ambitious. Projects that include cultural institutions, new schools, improved infrastructure, and green roofs are often built faster and more efficiently. That said, all pluses have their minuses, and this exhibition looks beyond the benefits of the +Housing formula, examining its potential impact on the look, economy and public life of New York City.

Exhibition Curator: Alexandra Lange

Exhibition Designer:Pro-Am Inc.

Champion: Studio Daniel Libeskind

Supporters: HumanScale Corporation; James McCullar & Associates; Gensler

Benjamin Moore & Company
Costas Kondylis & Partners
Forest City Ratner Companies
Frank Williams & Associates
Hugo S. Subotovsky Architects
Ingram, Yuzek, Gainen, Carroll & Bertolotti
Magnusson Architecture & Planning
Mancini Duffy
Rawlings Architects
Ricci Greene Associates
Skidmore, Owings and Merrill
Syska & Hennessy
Trespa North America
Universal Contracting

Anchin, Block & Anchin
Calvin Tsao
Consolidated Brick & Building Supplies
Cosentini Associates
Cross Construction Company
DeLaCour & Ferrara Architects
Domenech Hicks Krockmalnic Architects
FXFOWLE Architects
Helpern Architects
Levien & Company
Michael Zenreich, AIA Architect
Myron Henry Goldfinger, FAIA
New York Building Congress
Perkins Eastman
Plaza Construction
Porter & Yee Associates
Robert A.M. Stern Architects
Roberta Washington, Architect
Rothzeid Kaiserman Thomson & Bee
Shen Milsom & Wilke
Skanska USA Building
Strategic Development & Construction
Swanke Hayden Connell Architects
Theo. David, Architects
Thornton Tomasetti
Weidlinger Associates

September 5 — January 3, 2009

New Practices New York 2008

New Practices New York 2008 is the second juried portfolio competition and exhibition in a new biennial tradition sponsored by the New Practices Committee of the AIA New York Chapter. It serves as a platform for recognizing and promoting new, innovative and emerging architecture firms within New York City that have undertaken unique and commendable strategies – both in projects and practice.

From the 52 portfolios submitted, the New Practices Committee – consisting of Amale Andraos (Work AC), Jennifer Carpenter (TRUCK), Peter Eisenman (Eisenman Architects), William Menking (Architect’s Newspaper) and Charles Renfro (Diller Scofidio + Renfro) – was expected to choose the six most promising firms. The competition winners, all of whom will be participating in our exhibition are:

Baumann Architecture

Common Room

David Wallance Architect

Matter Practice

Openshop | Studio

Urban A&O

The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of programs organized by the AIA New York Chapter in collaboration with New Practices Committee

Exhibition organized by the AIA New York Chapter and the Center for Architecture Foundation

Exhibition Design: We Should Do It All

Media Partner: The Architects Newspaper

Underwriter: Häfele

Patron: ABC Imaging

Lead Sponsors: Ibex, MG & Company, Poliform, Thornton Tomasetti

Supporters: Fountainhead Construction, FXFOWLE Architects

Beverage Sponsor: SAAGA Vodka

Related Events

Each firm will have a six-week exhibition and will be delivering a Hafele NY Showroom at 25 East 26th Street. For more information, visit Hafele’s New York showroom listing at

Through 4.12.09
Growing and Greening New York: PlaNYC and the Future of the City

Growing and Greening New York.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Organized in terms of a typical day in the life of a New Yorker, the exhibition explores the six areas addressed by PlaNYC: water; transportation; energy; open space; land; and climate change. On View are architectural models, interactive displays, diagrams, renderings, photographs, hands-on examples of new materials, videos, and more including projects such as Via Verde by Phipps Rose Dattner Grimshaw.

Museum of the City of New York
1220 5th Avenue



Polls are still open to take the seven-question survey about e-Oculus. Please take a couple of minutes to tell us what you think about the publication and how we may improve it in the future. Click here.

Also, premiering in this issue is the 2009 OCULUS editorial calendar. Check out the Around the AIA + Center for Architecture section for details.

– Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP

CLICK ON BLOG CENTRAL: AIANY BLOG: The AIANY Chapter has launched a new blog. Blog Central features opinion pieces on architectural issues relevant to NY-based designers, firms, and projects, along with spotlights on debates and discussions at the Center for Architecture and AIANY. It is an informal discussion board. Be sure to check it out regularly and contribute to the dialogue.

To become a regular contributor to Blog Central, please e-mail e-Oculus. Pen names are welcome.

NY, NJ Waterways Contend with Future

Event: Port Authority Speaker Series: On the Waterfront: Finding the Balance for Development and Communities
Location: The New School, 12.02.08
Speakers: Susan Bass Levin — Deputy Executive Director, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Carl Biers — Education Director, International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1588; Carter Craft — Former Director of Programs, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance; Venetia Lannon — Senior Vice President, Maritime Division, NYC Economic Development Corporation; Joshua Muss — President, Muss Development Company; Elizabeth Yeampierre — Executive Director, United Puerto Rican Organization of Sunset Park
Moderator: Greg David — Editorial Director, Crain’s New York Business
Organizers: Center for NYC Affairs; Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy

Jessica Sheridan

The East River waterfront.

During the 19th century, New York and New Jersey waged so many disputes over their shared harbor that state police exchanged shots in the middle of the Hudson River. Since its inception in 1921, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), has administered the common waterways and waterfront interests of both states. It’s been a 50/50 partnership. For “On the Waterfront,” the program’s title derived from the classic film, Susan Bass Levin, deputy executive director of PANYNJ, did her best Brando stating, “I coulda been a contender.” She was referring to the gritty 1950s followed by the rapid decline of the city’s piers. In fact, it was the river crossings built by the PANYNJ that helped hasten their downfall as the population moved away from manufacturing, leaving an abandoned waterfront.

The longshoreman’s struggles against corrupt union bosses, which drove the plot of the movie, may be over, but longshoremen and the unions are still fighting to save their jobs. Carl Biers of the International Longshoremen’s Local 1588 in Bayonne and Jersey City is campaigning to save blue collar jobs on a former army base that has been targeted for high-end residential developments. Biers wondered why the Federal Government isn’t aiding ailing ports.

The PANYNJ’s $8.7 billion investment program is upgrading and improving the region’s infrastructure. Initiatives include the temporary and permanent PATH station at the World Trade Center; developing a WTC transportation hub; the AirTrain JFK; improvements at LaGuardia, Kennedy International, and Newark airports; expanding ferry service; redeveloping and expanding Howland Hook Marine Terminal in Staten Island; deepening river channels to accommodate deep-draft container ships; and advancing facility security.

“Nobody in this economic climate is going to be putting new projects into the ground in the near future,” said Joshua Muss of Muss Development Company. He sees the economic downturn as an opportunity for the development community to address which areas are appropriate to develop. But it takes years to get a project underway. For example, Muss has been developing Sky View Parc for Flushing on the Flushing River for 27 years. Originally a 14-acre brownfield, the mixed-use development designed by Perkins Eastman will include 800,000 square feet of retail space, six condo and rental buildings, a parking facility, and a 55-foot-wide river esplanade.

Waterfront activist Carter Craft’s hopes for the waterfront are less grand. He thinks of waterways as extensions of green spaces on land, echoing sentiments of his mentor Mike Davis, the recently deceased founder of the Floating the Apple organization. Davis fought to reclaim the Hudson, Harlem, and East Rivers for recreational use and “universal public access.” Craft noted that in addition to the Floating Pool in the summer, swimming in the rivers is a year-round activity. With decreased pollution, pilings are becoming homes for mussels, marshes and wetlands are being reclaimed, and piers are being transformed for recreational and commercial use.

Elizabeth Yeampierre, the executive director of the United Puerto Rican Organization of Sunset Park, encouraged waterfront communities to get involved with its development. The people of her community want to preserve manufacturing, maintaining their homes as well as their livelihoods. High on her wish list is to spread out green spaces, from the waterfront inland, to places that can’t immediately enjoy the waterfront.

How Traveling Transformed Kahn

Event: Albi Cathedral & the Architecture of Louis Kahn
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.25.08
Speakers: Nathaniel Kahn — Documentary Filmmaker; Carol Krinsky — Professor of Architectural History, NYU Department of Art History; Robert McCarter — Ruth & Norman Moore Professor of Architecture, Washington University & Author, Louis I. Kahn; Sue Ann Kahn — Musician & Flute Faculty, Mannes College the New School for Music; Alexandra Tyng — Artist & Author, Beginnings: Louis I. Kahn’s Philosophy of Architecture
Organizers: AIANY; La Maison Francaise
Sponsors: AIANY Architecture Dialogue Committee; Champion: Studio Daniel Libeskind; Supporters: Gensler; HumanScale; James McCullar & Associates; Friends: Benjamin Moore & Co.; Costas Kondylis & Partners; Forest City Ratner Companies; Frank Williams & Associates; Hugo S. Subotovsky Architects; Ingram Yuzek Gainen Carroll & Bertolotti; Mancini Duffy; Magnusson Architecture and Planning; Rawlings Architects; Ricci Greene Associates; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Syska & Hennessy; Trespa North America; Universal Contracting

Albi Cathedral (left) inspired Louis Kahn’s design for the Mikveh Israel Synagogue (right).

Courtesy (left); courtesy (right)

It wasn’t until he travelled to Rome and France that architecture clicked for Louis Kahn, stated his son Nathaniel Kahn. It was among the ruins that he discovered concrete. And it was a trip to Albi Cathedral in Carcassonne, France, that he began to see drawing as a way to get at architecture.

Built by an Albigensian bishop in the 13th century, Albi is fortress-like with narrow, sunken windows rising between smooth walls on a sloping base (designed to ward off projectiles and ramming). The straightforward plan is that of a large nave flanked by chapels of equal height, and the 78-meter-tall bell tower is one of the tallest in the world.

Contrary to Kahn’s drawings before this visit, his notebooks were filled with sketches that are emotive and immaterial, said Robert McCarter, author of Louis I. Kahn. They show massings, highlighting the space around the cylindrical towers (which he believes may have influenced Kahn’s ideas of served/servant space). The volume seems to float above the ground, featuring the quality of light rather than structure. Individual bricks and stones are not drawn. Instead, Kahn focuses on walls activated by lines of light and shadow.

After his trip, Kahn produced some of his most acclaimed work. The Salk Institute, Philips Exeter Academy Library, Kimbell Art Museum, and Yale Center for British Art were all designed once he returned. The influence of Europe can be seen most clearly in the never-completed Mikveh Israel Synagogue in Philadelphia, according to McCarter. Albi-inspired cylindrical volumes surround a large, open space. The volumes have mirrored arches carved out of them, seeming to have been eroded by light, emulating Roman ruins. It is uncertain whether Kahn would have understood architecture in the same way without Europe, but it is clear that in the drawings that were produced, Kahn’s revelations changed his perspective on architecture.

RPI Makes a Sound Investment

Event: Press Tour, Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC)
Location: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, 10.20.08
Speakers: Shirley Ann Jackson — President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Johannes Goebel — Director, EMPAC; Bill Horgan — Associate Principal, Grimshaw Architects; R. Lawrence Kirkegaard, Hon. AIA — President & Principal Acoustician, Kirkegaard Associates; Craig Michael Schwitter, P.E. — Partner & Regional Director, Buro Happold North America; Denzil Gallagher — Partner, MEP Regional Discipline Leader, Buro Happold North America; William Paxson, AIA — Partner, Davis Brody Bond Aedas, Ernesto Bachiller — Associate Partner, Davis Brody Bond Aedas; and others

EMPAC exterior (left); concert hall (right).

Kristen Richards

A recent tour of the new Grimshaw/Davis Brody Bond Aedas-designed Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, revealed a building so high-tech that sci-fi comparisons are inevitable. As visitors peered around one futuristic all-black theater, EMPAC director Johannes Goebel jokingly referred to it as “the Darth Vader space,” while project architect Bill Horgan of Grimshaw Architects compared it with “The Matrix.” One of two studios devoted to new-media performance and scientific data visualizations, the 3,500-square-foot Studio 1, is wrapped with pockmarked acoustic tiles. Hovering overhead are metal rings, providing a framework to hold a 360-degree panoramic screen and projectors for immersive virtual environments, aided by heavy-duty processing power (the building is connected to the university’s supercomputer). A computer-controlled rigging system can be used to fly people or objects through the space.

With the lights up, the futuristic decor is rather imposing, but the true function of the space, as well as the smaller Studio 2, is its ability to disappear and adapt to varying theatrical contexts, often infused with video or projections that provide an enveloping sensory experience. The studios and a larger theater with a fly tower were designed for “a sense of not knowing what one will find when one walks in,” Horgan said. In a building where various shows might happen at the same time, acoustic isolation was crucial, so Studio 1 was designed to be structurally separate. It floats independently within the larger building, supported by a series of springs, explained Craig Schwitter, P.E., of Buro Happold, one of many firms that contributed their expertise in the building design.

EMPAC’s cedar-clad concert hall.

Kristen Richards

Representing the analog side of the building’s program, a more traditional concert hall was inspired by the resonant chambers of stringed musical instruments. The hall’s red cedar-clad rounded exterior dominates the center of the building’s seven-story atrium. Unlike the curved exterior, the hall’s interior is basically shoebox-shaped, but it is slightly convex to improve acoustic diffusion. Supported by a web of steel cables, a ceiling made of thin fabric reflects high-frequency sounds, while an upper volume above it reflects low-frequency sounds, helping to perfect the acoustics. Vaguely visible from the outside through the glass façade, the rounded form of the concert hall is the building’s dominant visual icon, its curves providing a contrast with the surrounding linear geometries. In one of many eco-friendly touches, the façade carries a system of hollow mullions containing hot water to help heat the space in winter, explained Denzil Gallagher of Buro Happold. Visitors who touched the mullions could feel their warmth.

EMPAC concert hall interior (left); Studio 1 (right).

Kristen Richards

All in all, the tour revealed EMPAC to be a visually eclectic but highly functional space that is already helping to promote experimental endeavors in architecture, digital technology, and performance. New-media art collective Workspace Unlimited (founded by an architect and an artist) has already put Studio 1’s panoramic screen to use. The group’s EMPAC-commissioned multimedia art installation “They Watch” employs hacked video-game software and motion-tracking technology to let viewers walk around the studio to explore virtual architectural environments and interact with animated characters in real time. The tour’s one disappointment was the lack of a demonstration of such spaces’ prodigious audiovisual capabilities, leaving this visitor resolved to return one day to see them in action.

Architect, Computer Design Fantastical Buildings

Event: Current Work: Coop Himmelb(l)au, Wolf D. Prix
Location: The Cooper Union, 11.20.08
Speakers: Wolf D. Prix, Hon. FAIA, FRIBA — Co-founder, Coop Himmelb(l)au
Moderator: Thom Mayne, FAIA — Principal, Morphosis
Organizers: The Architectural League of New York

BMW Delivery Center, Munich, Germany.

Image by Ari Marcopoulos; courtesy of Coop Himmelb(l)au

Practice is “not a color but an idea, of creating architecture with fantasy, as buoyant and variable as clouds,” reflected Wolf Prix, Hon. FAIA, FRIBA, of Coop Himmelb(l)au. During the last 40 years, the Vienna-based firm, founded by Prix with Helmut Swiczinsky and Michael Holzer, has tried to create an architecture with a “psychic” ground plan, not a physical one, characterized by walls that “no longer exist” and spaces that “are pulsating balloons.” With designs intended to expand the horizons of architecture and urbanism, Coop Himmelb(l)au’s projects are a result of the relationship between designers and computers. Prix explained, “During design development, we use modern technology as the main tool to create models, which are consequently dismantled and re-crafted with human energy [that then] projects back into the computer.”

Prix continued, “Coop Himmelb(l)au separates itself from other architecture firms because we don’t base our work on systems of measurement on the scale of human proportions. We create buildings from our fantasy that are often radically unconventional.” For the BMW Welt (BMW Delivery Center) in Munich, a glass-and-stainless steel structure has suspended bridges interconnecting components Prix calls “Forum, Tower, Double Cone, Lounge, Premiere, and Marina.” The design process involved re-crafting computer models over and over again to compensate for potential human fault. He described the building: “Our heartbeat becomes space; our face is the façade. Simply psychic.”