This issue introduces a new column, Preview: AIA Guide to NYC. Penned by Fran Leadon, AIA, co-author with Norval White, FAIA, of the fifth edition of the AIA Guide to NYC, each monthly installment will provide a sneak peek into the book leading up to its 2010 publication. Also, be sure to read the editorial by AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA, on current events, Bloomberg & Obama in Concert. And if you are LEED accredited, or considering becoming accredited, read my Editor’s Soapbox about LEED 2009, More Red Tape to Complicate Going Green.

– Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP

CLICK ON BLOG CENTRAL: AIANY BLOG: The AIANY Chapter’s 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. To become a regular contributor to Blog Central, please e-mail e-Oculus. Pen names are welcome.

2009 Theme: Elevating Architecture / Design Literacy for All

Each of us, interns and architects, has chosen to study and practice in a field that has seen great heights, but has struggled to sustain its members in economic downturns. The study of architecture is wide-ranging; it covers history, technology, and art, and through those doorways we learn about our cultures, discover scientific advances, and create objects of beauty and statements for society. My goals for next year include providing new programs to support us during lean times and opportunities to celebrate the citizen-architect and nurture a broader audience for our work.

Since the Center for Architecture opened in 2003, each AIANY president has chosen a theme to focus on excellence in some aspect of our work: encouraging diversity, speaking on public policy, designing interiors — and last year Jim McCullar, FAIA, raised the bar by looking at building types: housing, cultural facilities, health care, and hospitality, while examining each against the city’s plan to create a development framework for 2030.

Our spotlight in 2009 will examine what we as citizen-architects can do to raise the bar: through our government, through our community, and through our schools to create a climate of design literacy that demands more from institutions, developers, and architects.


NYC, Newark Go Seoul Searching for Green Solutions

Event: Global Dialogues: Seoul, Newark, and New York
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.23.09
Speakers: Young Gull Kwon — Deputy Mayor and Chief Design Officer, Seoul, Korea; Stefan Pryor — Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, Newark, NJ; Alexandros Washburn, AIA — Chief Urban Designer, Department of City Planning, NY
Moderator: Rick Bell, FAIA — Executive Director, AIANY
Organizers: AIANY; NY Projects, Inc.
Sponsor: NY Projects, Inc.

(L-R): Stefan Pryor, deputy mayor for economic development in Newark; Alexandros Washburn, AIA, chief urban designer at the NYC Department of City Planning; and Young Gull Kown, deputy mayor and chief design officer in Seoul, Korea.

Courtesy AIANY

Three cities at very different stages of their evolution are looking to the design professions for guidance to achieve a green future. As recounted by AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA, Newark’s new mayor Cory Booker has emphasized that a prominent place for green thinking in cities isn’t just a pleasant amenity; it’s an urgent priority. The Seoul Design Olympiad last October launched a campaign to inform the world about Seoul’s progress, with a visionary architect/planner, Dr. Young Gull Kwon, as its deputy mayor. Newark, smaller and more troubled, is applying progressive planning to its physical environment for the first time in its history, and has made surprising headway toward a green-collar economy. NYC, Newark, Seoul have things to teach each other, and the intersection of their perspectives afforded an opportunity for cross-cultural communication.

Seoul, energized economically by its information-technology industry, is dramatically reconfiguring itself from a “hard city” based on construction and heavy industry to a “soft city” that’s ecologically healthier, culturally vibrant, driven economically by ideas and high technology, and determined to prioritize the pedestrian experience over automotive speed. Kwon discussed the steps Seoul has taken both to rebuild and redesign itself, from major infrastructural changes (demolishing 3.7 miles of downtown highway to restore the Cheonggyecheon stream and recreational park), to carefully coordinated micro-level design strategies (a uniform font for signage, a palette of official city colors, a streamlined subway map, and even a new civic mascot, the protective lion-like mythical creature Haechi).

Seoul, like Curitiba, Belgrade, and very few other cities, benefits from design-savvy leadership, i.e., an architect in high office. Kwon has collaborated with Mayor Oh Se-Hoon and Korea’s President Lee Myung-Bak (Seoul’s previous mayor) to bring about a logical and thorough rethinking of public space according to a “total design concept” combining traditional building styles with contemporary minimalism and advanced information technology. Kwon’s visuals, an “airy city… [observing] an aesthetic of emptiness,” amount to an argument that cities worldwide should consider giving architects more civic clout.

Newark is a different case, badly damaged by 1960s “urban renewal” and consequent riots, out-migration, and economic decline. Deputy Mayor Stefan Pryor acknowledged the problems, emphasizing the utter disregard for design in much of Newark’s housing stock (the dreaded “Bayonne box”), but also offered encouraging news. Under Booker, with a one-third drop in the murder rate, a return to inward migration (population has risen since the 2000 census), and coordinated efforts toward transit-oriented development and affordable housing, Newark is bouncing back. Efforts to revitalize the Passaic riverfront hold polluters accountable for remediation costs, limit auto parking, build quality-of-life features like greenways, and incentivize green development through tax abatements and payments in lieu of taxes are putting Newark in a position to make the most of its assets, including the nation’s second-largest seaport and extensive transit infrastructure.

Alexandros Washburn, AIA, chief urban designer of the NYC Department of City Planning, connected the principles represented by NYC’s two dominant 20th-century urban-planning figures, Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, into a new synthesis that redefines the Athenian notion of civic virtue in contemporary ecological terms. What today’s cities need, he said, and what NYC under PlaNYC should get, is a form of sustainable modernization that combines the quantitative scale of Moses-era projects with the qualitative sensibilities prized by Jacobs. The success of the High Line’s redevelopment could be a precursor for wide application of this philosophy. Along the Hudson, the Han, and the Passaic rivers, policies and priorities are converging to make a sustainable urban future look increasingly credible.

Architecture Community Comes Together: Advocacy, Volunteerism, Expertise

Event: Not Business As Usual
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.07, 01.21.09
Organizers: AIANY; Center for Architecture Foundation
Sponsors: AMX; Chief Manufacturing; Lutron Electronics

As the economy has yet to take a turn for the better, AIANY and the Center for Architecture Foundation continue to make an effort to ease the situation for design professionals in the city. In the last issue of e-Oculus, the report “AIANY, Center for Architecture Foundation Address Economic Woes”, introduced the Not Business As Usual series — lunchtime forums bringing together the community to brainstorm ways to cope in these difficult times.

After two general sessions, the forums will be topical going forward. The next meeting focused on advocacy will take place February 11 at 12:00pm at the Center for Architecture, and the following will be an opportunity fair on February 25 at the same time. A website has been created with information about recent discussions and future events, as well.

Here is a summary of what’s been brought to the table so far in terms of advocacy (by Rick Bell, FAIA), volunteer opportunities (by Jaime Endreny and Suzanne Mecs), presentation skills (by James McCullar, FAIA), training programs (by Ken D’Amato), and virtual communication (by Abby Suckle, FAIA, LEED AP, and Diana Darling):


Energy Survey. Modeled on the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), which uses trained professionals to assess building conditions, an energy survey or audit of public and private structures in the U.S. would create employment opportunities and provide a starting point for a facility-based discussion of energy conservation and physical remediation.

Design Corps. Based on the AmeriCorps approach to channeling the idealism of recent graduates, a design-oriented component of an expanded AmeriCorps or Opportunity Corps would allow young design professionals to find employment in nationwide design-related endeavors. In NYC, Design Corps members could be posted to public sector offices such as the Department of Design + Construction, non-governmental organizations such as Architecture for Humanity or the Center for Architecture Foundation, or possibly even to private offices working on public projects.

Infrastructure. Advocating for an expansive and inclusive definition of infrastructure is timely as the AIA and other professional societies increase their outreach to the new administration. The Economic Stimulus proposals in Congress presently address the importance of “ready to go” projects that lack funding, such as school projects as well as bridges and roadways. Discussing other types of urban infrastructure, including, for example, window replacement at NYC Housing Authority structures, can also incorporate energy considerations into the discussion of funded tasks and commissions. Collaboration on the definition of infrastructure with the engineering community was felt to be most needed, particularly in the context of the Make It Work: Engineering Possibilities exhibition at the Center for Architecture.


Ada Louise Huxtable Presents a Real New York Story

Event: On Architecture: A Conversation
Location: Scandinavia House, 01.21.09
Speakers: Ada Louise Huxtable, Hon. AIA — Architectural Critic; Kent Barwick — President Emeritus, Municipal Art Society
Organizer: The Architectural League of New York; co-sponsored by the Municipal Art Society

Courtesy walkerbooks.com

Trained as an art historian, Ada Louise Huxtable, Hon. AIA, was the first architectural critic for the New York Times, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism in 1970. Currently the architecture critic for The Wall Street Journal, Huxtable recently sat down with Kent Barwick, president emeritus of the Municipal Art Society, to discuss the history and future of architecture and urban planning in NYC as well as her latest book, On Architecture. Her high regard for structure, aesthetics, and function has remained potent throughout her career. “You cannot separate what makes a building stand up and what it looks like,” she said. But it was her marriage to an industrial designer that “made all the difference.”

Huxtable’s affection for NYC is similarly nostalgic as she recalled touring Lower Manhattan on foot with her husband, noting the richness of authenticity residing in every corner. Certain buildings in the city, of course, stand out to her. She praised Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building for its success of proportion, sensitivity to detail, and pertinence to its time. She appreciates SANAA’s New Museum because of its coherence of space and collection — a quality she compares to Gehry Partners’ Guggenheim Bilbao. Museums to Huxtable are secular monuments in which to find repose, and she attributes her critical eye to the time she served as a curatorial assistant at the Museum of Modern Art before she began her writing career.

On Architecture is a collection of Huxtable’s writings from the 1960s onward including an extensive chapter on NYC and The World Trade Center, which the author terms “a real New York story.” This is not a complete anthology, however, and in anticipation of future architectural developments she stated, “I want to stick around awhile.”

Historian Looks to DeWitt Clinton for National Change

Event: The Beginnings of Suburbanization: Federal to Greek Revival Row Houses in the 1830s (initial lecture, “Architecture and Changing Lifestyles”)
Location: Urban Center, 01.14.09
Speaker: Francis Morrone — Adjunct Instructor, New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies & Fellow Emeritus, Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America
Organizers: Municipal Art Society

The Merchant’s House on E. 4th Street, late-Federal in most exterior features but Greek Revival in its entrance and parlors, illustrates the transition between the styles.

Courtesy merchantshouse.org

If the U.S. is in the process of recognizing a combined ecological/economic/infrastructural crisis and adapting the built environment to it, the past offers examples of leadership responding energetically to comparable challenges. Architectural historian Francis Morrone suggests looking to an often-overlooked statesman who took constructive risks at times of transition and trouble: DeWitt Clinton, NYC’s 10-term mayor (1803-1815), then governor (1817-1822, 1825-1828) and, critically, Canal Commissioner (1810-1824). Morrone connected the details of residential construction to the deeper channels of social evolution, interpreting the scale and style of doorways and rooms as subtle indicators of national change.

Going beyond the topic of the city’s Federal Style and Greek Revival houses, Morrone made the case for the 1830s and 1840s as a pivotal era in NYC’s history as well as urban modernization. As mayor, Clinton commissioned the surveying and mapping of Manhattan’s street grid in 1811, envisioning the orderly growth of a city populous enough to fill the island — this at a time when urban planning was an unknown concept, most of Manhattan was forested wilderness, and settlements extended from the Battery only about as far north as Houston Street. By spearheading the construction of the Erie Canal, the largest public-works project undertaken in the Western world, Clinton also connected the city with the shipping lanes of the Great Lakes and the agricultural economy of the nation’s interior, thus making that growth possible. After its construction, Morrone noted, NYC became not only the world’s largest seaport, but larger than the nation’s next four combined. In the 1820s as now, revolutions in transportation infrastructure drove the economy. Morrone called Clinton “without question the most visionary mayor New York ever had.”

The built legacy of Clinton’s era and shortly afterward, Morrone asserted, indicates that NYC’s expansion involved processes similar to what today’s urbanists decry as gridlock and sprawl. Horse-drawn omnibuses and their successors, the rail-guided horse-drawn streetcars that ran from 1832 to 1917, created the congestion that defines modern street life. Amid unprecedented growth in population and a migration, by those who could afford it, away from the deadly epidemics found in crowded downtown streets, Greenwich Village changed from the home of craftsmen into something Morrone sees as an early form of a suburb. Brooklyn Heights, he says, was likewise the first commuter suburb, with business life and domesticity separated by the East River ferry.

The elaborate sequence of stages, sheltered spaces, and entrance decoration of a Greek Revival house, in contrast to the smaller, more modest doorways of the Federal Style, suggests to Morrone the rising ideology of familial privacy, or “cult of domesticity,” that characterized Victorian-era America. A building with a full entablature and prominent columns radically separates the public street space from the interior. There, later-19th-century technical innovations such as indoor plumbing and the telegraph, which created “communication” as a distinct concept no longer synonymous with transportation, would make private life a new type of frontier.

The remaining lectures in this series, continuing with a January 28 talk on later-19th-century apartments, should provide insights into the counterpoint among technologies, belief systems, and built forms.

Bloomberg & Obama in Concert

In his 2009 State of the City Address, delivered at Brooklyn College on January 15th, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg spoke of creating jobs, strengthening the quality of life in every NYC neighborhood, and stretching every dollar further. Job creation, he said, starts with investing in new infrastructure. And in this fiscal year, the mayor reported that there will be an all-time high of more than $10 billion in capital projects, creating more than 25,000 construction-related jobs. He gave as examples not only the #7 Flushing line extension, but also the new Police Academy in Queens, a new police precinct in Staten Island, libraries in every borough, the Queens Museum expansion, and the High Line build-out.

Relating construction to federal funding, Bloomberg had this to say: “For the past year, we’ve been pushing Washington to focus the Federal Stimulus on ready-to-build infrastructure. In all fairness, they’ve finally come around — and thanks to all the work we’ve done over the past several years, we’re ready to build. We look forward to working with Congress and President-elect Obama — not just on the stimulus package, but on re-thinking the entire way we fund infrastructure projects in this country.”

Those old enough remember the special relationship that existed between NYC and the federal government during the heyday of the Works Progress Administration and its funding of municipal projects. Mayor LaGuardia had a direct line to President Roosevelt, and many NYC Department of Health District Health Centers, among many other federally funded projects, came about as a function of that lifeline.


Constructing the AIA Guide to New York City

Leadon’s dog-eared copy of the fourth edition of the AIA Guide to NYC, showing the many changes to the SoHo section (left). Leadon used a newspaper stand as a temporary desk while tracking down new construction sites in Tribeca (right).

Fran Leadon

Last spring Norval White, FAIA, asked me to co-author a new version of the AIA Guide to New York City. The fifth edition, the first new edition since 2000, will be published in 2010 by Oxford University Press. White, now living on a hilltop in the south of France, needed someone with time and energy to do the groundwork in New York. Every café, newsstand, cornice, mural, and stoop mentioned in the Guide would have to be re-visited, re-photographed, and reappraised, I told him I would be happy and honored to do it.

I remember first seeing the Guide when I was a graduate student at the Yale School of Architecture in the early 1990s. It was intimidating in its girth and weight, a book you couldn’t possibly read in less than five years, ridiculously ambitious in its scope. It included not only the physical facts of the built environment (the cupolas, pediments, gables, and mullions), but people and stories, too: the rivalries between long-dead architects, the unsuccessful fight for Penn Station, the hubris of Stanford White, the East Village tenement where the outlaw Butch Cassidy lived, the Upper East Side tenement where the Marx Brothers were born. What started in 1967 as a thin volume for an AIA convention, the Guide, tall and narrow, roughly brick-shaped, theoretically pocket-sized, has gradually become an epic poem.

Each edition has become both thicker and more astute in its appraisal of the city. The Guide explains things in layers. It tells the tale of just about every significant building on every block in each of the five boroughs: who designed it, when they designed it, why they designed it, in which style and with what materials, what was there before it, what is planned there in the immediate future, and what might have been ill-advisedly planned there at some point in the past, but (“happily” White would say) ended up as a future that never happened. Buildings, architects, and clients are generally treated by the Guide with the analytical respect of an archeologist as much as the razor edge of a critic. The writing, reduced to a prose more spare than Hemingway, is terse. “Prune and distill,” White tells me.

My involvement in the new edition represented an opportunity for White to re-establish a collaborative process with a co-author (founding co-author Elliot Willensky, FAIA, passed away in 1990 and the fourth edition was completed solo by White). One tradition of the Guide has been that it’s all eyewitness reporting: either White or Willensky personally visited and photographed each site. So I go out each day with a list of sites, camera in hand and good walking shoes on my feet. I check to see if the building is still there, jot down any alterations (additions, renovations, demolitions), and then upload the photos to our database. We’re completely re-writing the existing text and adding descriptions of significant new construction. One of us writes a new description, and the other re-writes it, back and forth.

In the coming year, I’ll offer a monthly preview of the new Guide in progress leading up to its publication in 2010, including excerpts from a revised SoHo section, a new Gansevoort Market section, and an expanded Brooklyn section.

More Red Tape to Complicate Going Green

This year the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) is launching a new version of LEED. Instead of streamlining the process, or making the system more clear to professionals seeking accreditation for themselves or their buildings — not to mention to the clients — the new version is sure to create many levels of confusion.

First of all, titles will change. Individuals who are already accredited professionals (APs) will become Legacy LEED APs, and unless they change their status they will no longer appear as active LEED APs. Individuals who have passed the exam but are not presently working on a LEED project will be called LEED Green Associates, while those who are working on a LEED project will be designated LEED APs. There is a category of LEED AP Fellows for those who are “distinguished by their years of experience,” to be determined by a peer review that is not outlined on the website. One of the differences between LEED GAs and LEED APs is that the latter will a have higher application fee (new in 2009), a higher exam fee, and double the number of required continuing education hours (also new in 2009). I, personally, do not understand a need for a distinction between professionals who are working on LEED projects and those who are not. Everyone should have the same requirements, pay the same fees, take the same test, and benefit from the program universally. It’s bad enough the exam will be more difficult, claiming a pass rate of only 20% compared to the current 34%.

Secondly, a new point system has been created that is weighted using what the GBCI calls “Life Cycle Assessment Indicators.” Priority will be given to Climate Change, as it is currently the most pressing issue. In the future (new versions will launch biennially), if environmental and societal priorities shift, so will the point system. In addition, local chapters may allow for bonus credits based on issues unique to their locales. For a building to obtain certification the scale has increased from 69 to 100 points — certified projects require 40 points, silver 50, gold 60, and platinum 80.

Since the system will keep changing, I understand the need for LEED APs, or LEED GAs, to complete continuing education requirements. Plus, I feel it is important to stay up to date on new developments in the industry. However, with the new AIA sustainability requirements for CEUs, the ARE exams changing to reflect more green issues, the new building code taking a cue from the more environmentally sound International Building Code, not to mention other local initiatives, I wonder why the GBCI needs to add another layer of red tape to the process. How come the GBCI did not collaborate more closely with the AIA (as far as I know) when coming up with continuing education requirements?

Overall, I am not averse to change. What I do protest, though, is making the process more complicated, much more expensive, and ultimately more difficult for those dedicated to sustainable design.

In this issue:
· Music and Art Breathe New Life into Firehouse
· Transparency Opens Up Conference Center
· The Smith Keeps Up With the Jones’s in Boerum Hill
· Hungary Returns to the Beaux Arts
· Greater Hanoi Develops a Master Plan

Music and Art Breathe New Life into Firehouse

BP Music Center.


The NY office of HOK unveiled the redesign of former Engine Company 204 Firehouse, turning the space into the BP Music Center. Shuttered in May 2003 due to budgetary reasons, the Cobble Hill firehouse will be the permanent home for the Brooklyn Philharmonic and Create!, a non-profit organization for children’s art education and training. HOK’s pro-bono gut renovation of the 4,250-square-foot, 19th century building will incorporate a multi-purpose space for performances, meetings, lectures, and other community uses on the ground floor, as well as offices of for the two organizations and a music rehearsal room on the second floor. The brick exterior will be restored to its natural color, and a modern, all-glass entrance, complete with marquee, are in the works.

Transparency Opens Up Conference Center

Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Michael D. Szerbaty + Associates

NY-based Michael D. Szerbaty + Associates has completed a newly renovated conference center for Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR). Located in midtown Manhattan, the center’s expanded public areas, conference rooms, and teaching facilities offer an upgraded learning environment and comfortable teaching and public spaces. A glass-walled resource center that contains carrels with computers and most of the center’s research books opens up what had been a closed off library. The dining area’s waist-high walls allow views to the perimeter windows, providing natural light and a visual connection with the city. By integrating these low walls and floor-to-ceiling glass, conference attendees also can have a quick take on who is there and find ample room for a quick conversations or meetings. The $1.3 million project is the latest in a series of teaching, conference, and research facilities that the firm has designed for ILR and Cornell University.

The Smith Keeps Up With the Jones’s in Boerum Hill

The Smith.

Meltzer/Mandl Architects

Meltzer/Mandl Architects has completed the design of The Smith, a new 13-story, mixed-use complex in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn. The 116,000-square-foot project will contain a 93-room hotel with 50 condominiums above. The condos are primarily two-bedroom homes, with the 12th floor consisting of duplexes with rooftop terraces. In addition, 1,100 square feet of medical offices and retail space will front Atlantic Avenue, and there will be below-grade parking for 64 vehicles. In keeping with the character of the brownstone and contemporary townhouse neighborhood, the building steps down to four stories along its State Street frontage.

Hungary Returns to the Beaux Arts

Exchange Palace.

Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners

Tippin Corporation, a Budapest-based real estate development firm, has commissioned Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners to create an adaptive re-use and restoration plan for the 500,000-square-foot Exchange Palace, a historic landmark in the center of the city. Designed by Ignacz Alpar and built in 1905 to house the Budapest Stock and Commodities Exchange, the Beaux Arts-style building is notable for its ornamental details in the Art Nouveau style of the Hungarian Secession. In 1956, it was converted into the Hungarian State Television station, and major interior modifications were made to accommodate television sound stages. The historic façades will be restored, as will the remaining, intact grand interior spaces — most notably the main entrance stair hall and the central domed rotunda. All new mechanical and vertical transportation systems will be installed to create a state-of-the-art, modernized facility. Located on Freedom Square, a variety of new uses are being considered for the building, including office and retail space, as well as space for cultural programs. The restoration of the ground floor storefronts will once again allow cafés with sidewalk seating to animate the streetscape.

Greater Hanoi Develops a Master Plan
Out of a field of 21 international competitors, Perkins Eastman was selected by the government of Vietnam to lead a team of two Korean firms — Posco E&C, and Jina Architects — that will develop a master plan for Greater Hanoi. Preserving the city’s historic core and its 1,000-year-old architectural legacy was among the main themes for the design, along with meeting the needs of a city that is expected to grow from the current six million inhabitants to more than 10 million by 2030, and channeling the population growth into several satellite cities linked by a new transit system. In addition, the team recommended a strategy for preserving more than 40% of the area for natural preserves, recreational space, and agricultural uses. In 2007, this same team completed a master plan for part of Hatoy Province, which was recently annexed into the expanded Capital District.