Hockenberry Stimulates Big Ideas

Event: AIA New York 2009 Design Awards Luncheon and Ceremony
Location: Cipriani Wall Street, 04.22.09
Keynote Speaker: John Hockenberry — WNYC & PRI Host, “The Takeaway with John Hockenberry and Adaora Udoji”
Master of Ceremonies: Bruce Fowle, FAIA, LEED AP — Principal, FXFOWLE Architects
Organizers: AIANY, with Boston Society of Architects for the Building Type Awards
Sponsors: Benefactor: ABC Imaging; Patrons: Cosentino North America; Syska Hennessy Group; The Rudin Family; Lead Sponsors: Dagher Engineering; The Durst Organization; HOK; Mancini Duffy; Sponsors: AKF Group; Arup; Building Contractors Association; FXFOWLE Architects; Hopkins Foodservice; Ingram Yuzek Gainen Carroll & Bertolotti; JFK&M Consulting Group; KI; Langan Engineering & Environmental Services; MechoShade Systems; New York University; Pei Cobb Freed & Partners; Rogers Marvel Architects; Steelcase; Studio Daniel Libeskind; Tishman Realty & Construction; VJ Associates; Weidlinger Associates; Zumtobel Lighting/International Lights

“All economic booms are alike; prosperity is alike; but bubbles burst in their own ways.” Loosely referencing Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, WNYC and PRI Host John Hockenberry urged architects to think beyond President Obama’s stimulus plan to help bring NYC out of the recession. For Hockenberry, it’s history’s great design ideas that have helped pull the country out of recessions before — whether it was the Bonneville Dam, Lyndon Johnson’s idea for rural electrification, Rockefeller Center, or the Empire State Building. In the 1930s, design was equaled with prosperity. The bigger the idea, the more wealth was associated with the city. The Empire State Building did not relate to the rest of the city in terms of scale. It wasn’t a typical structure, such as the repetitive, unoriginal glass boxes that are scattered through the city currently, stated Hockenberry. Instead, it projected the idea that people can do something huge, something that transcends the poor state of the city.

Hockenberry thinks “stimulus” is the wrong word; it does not have meaning, it is not sustainable. He does not understand how money is being divided around the country, yet nothing seems to be reaching the places that need it most. For example, stimulus money could be used to make the U.S. accessible. To him (wheelchair-bound himself), that would not be a simple gesture. It would demonstrate that this country cares about people with disabilities in a way no other country in the world does. It is through design that the country could be elevated to new levels. Referring to this year’s Design Awards recipients, Hockenberry hopes that ideas bigger than “stimulus” will inspire a new age of prosperity.

Sustainability and Historic Preservation Come Together

Event: Save History, Save the Earth: Commonalities and Conflicts between Preservation and Sustainability
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.15.09
Speakers: Chris Benedict — Professor, Pratt Institute Graduate Center for Planning & the Environment; Fiona Cousins, LEED AP — Principal, ARUP; Scott Demel, LEED AP — Associate, Rogers Marvel Architects; Ned Kaufman — Co-founder & Co-director, Place Matters
Moderator: Erica Amravi — Preservation Consultant
Organizers: AIA Historic Buildings Committee, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

McCarren Park Pool, in its current state.

Courtesy Google Earth.

Historic preservation advocates and sustainability practitioners are natural collaborators, and the conservation of our natural resources as well as the conservation of our historic structures are mutually inclusive. Two architects, a researcher, and an engineer discussed the common ground and differing perspectives.

The reuse and renovation of an existing building is inherently more sustainable than new construction because of the building’s embodied energy. It takes 65 years for even a new “green” building to recover the energy wasted in the demolition of an existing structure. Sustainability expert Fiona Cousins, LEED AP, principal at Arup, encouraged designers to carefully weigh a building’s lifespan before making the decision to either demolish or renovate it.

Author, heritage conservation specialist, and co-founder of Place Matters, Ned Kaufman argued that buildings play a large role in a community’s historic and cultural identity, and that we must consider the protection of both this and our natural environments equally. The McCarren Park Pool in Brooklyn was provided as one such example — built in 1936 and closed to the public in 1984, it was sized to provide summer recreation for up to 6,000 bathers. Scott Demel, LEED AP, of Rogers Marvel Architects is leading the pool’s renovation into a year-round community center. He expects the project will receive LEED Silver certification.

Architect Chris Benedict provided several examples of tenement buildings in the East Village that had been rehabilitated to decrease energy expenditure. By installing tight air barriers and appropriate insulation, as well as calibrating water management systems, she proved that a century-old structure can be as efficient as a new building and will often yield the lowest energy bills.

“There’s a need for development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the past,” Kaufman asserts. Benedict agrees: “There are lessons to be learned from these pre-fossil-fuel buildings — lessons that can inform our decisions in today’s changing world.”

Composite Fibers Weave Buildings

Event: Composite Crossover: Technology Transfer from Aircraft to Architecture
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.14.09
Speakers: Charles Blomberg, AIA — Technical Director, Rafael Viñoly Architects; Michael Silver — Principal, Mike Silver Architects & 2007 RVA Research Fellow; Rob Langone — Vice President, Automated Dynamics
Introduction: Ned Kaufman — Director of Research and Training, Rafael Viñoly Architects
Moderator: Susan Szenasy — Editor-in-Chief, Metropolis
Organizer: Center for Architecture
Sponsors: Underwriters: The Center for Architecture Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; Patron: Con Edison; Lead Sponsors: Arup; Buro Happold; Material ConneXion; Thornton Tomasetti; Supporters: The American Council of Engineering Companies; Josef Gartner USA/Permasteelisa Group; Weidlinger Associates; Friend: Grimshaw

Cleveland Museum of Art atrium proposal incorporating composite structures.

Courtesy Rafael Viñoly Architects Training and Research Program

“Building is always a one-off experiment,” said Charles Blomberg, AIA, technical director at Rafael Viñoly Architects. He meant that technologies employed in architecture are usually developed by other industries, such as the automobile industry’s advancements with glass. This is often due to the fact that clients do not want to pay for extensive research. In response, Rafael Viñoly Architects created a Training and Research Program, and its 2007 grant recipient, Michael Silver, has been exploring the architectural potential for composite fibers long used in aerospace fabrication. Working with a team of professionals, he explored this material within the conceptual context of an actual project: a 114-foot-long, clear-span skylight atrium for the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Composite fibers are comprised of two materials: carbon or glass fibers, and a matrix of resin or high-strength epoxy. Constructed in numerous layers with unidirectional plies, composite fibers are anisotropic — they only work in tension. Silver explored many different forms with varied fiber placements, resulting in a triangular truss with a spiraling fiber structure. Within the design of the proposed museum atrium, the trusses are oriented tip-down and taper together at the joints. As described by Susan Szenasy, editor-in-chief of Metropolis, the result is “a woven building.”

As with any complex project, this one required close collaboration: Silver worked with programmers, architects, engineers, manufacturing experts, and students at Pratt. Chipp Jansen, a painter and computer scientist, wrote a code from scratch in Java to generate paths for the three-dimensional surfaces. These paths were then transferred to the coordinates of a CNC-milling machine at the facilities of Automated Dynamics, a manufacturer specializing in composite structure engineering. With the company’s assistance, Silver tested his design with real material, a process that he maintains allowed him to “discover problems you’d never figure out just in drawings.”

Composite fibers have distinct advantages and disadvantages. Their lightness makes them a sustainable option — one can literally lift an eight-foot-long mockup with one hand. However, at $200-$250-per-ound for finished material, they are prohibitively expensive for most building projects. While the composite structure “behaves like a normal beam,” according to Blomberg, due to its complex structure, orientation is crucial. Therefore, it must be installed by highly skilled laborers.

Silver’s exploration held such promise that the Viñoly Training and Research Program extended his fellowship a second year. He continues to explore its possibilities and hopes that someday composite fibers will become a viable building material.

AIA Navigates the Future of BIM and IPD

Event: Change Is Not Optional: Sustainability, BIM and Integrated Project Delivery
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.14.09
Speakers: Markku Allison, AIA — Resource Architect, American Institute of Architects
Organizers: AIANY Technology Committee
Sponsors: ABC Imaging

“We’ve never seen anything like this in the history of the profession,” said Markku Allison, AIA, resource architect at the American Institute of Architects, referring to the growing popularity of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) among architects, owners, and most notably, contractors. According to a McGraw Hill Construction Smart Market Report survey, 35% of firms using BIM described themselves as very heavy users in 2008; that percentile is projected to rise to 45% in 2009. The benefit of the new technology is clear. Allison cited case studies in which a two-week-long BIM constructability analysis saved $800,000 in change-order costs and resolved a $250,000 miscellaneous metals discrepancy.

A force driving change, BIM introduces an integrated world to the A/E/C profession in which all players are involved from the beginning of the design process. BIM facilitates synergy among a project team as well as the ability to drastically reduce change orders, budget creep, and construction waste. E202-2008, a BIM Protocol Exhibit, is a roadmap from the AIA detailing responsibilities and transitions of BIM projects to avoid gaps and oversights throughout the design process, and to clarify authorship and ownership of the model during each project phase.

IPD allows owners, designers, and builders to leverage knowledge and identify opportunities early on through unified models, enhancing certainty and the potential of the project from design through operation. Progressively, the AIA released two new agreements for IPD in May 2008 to respond to the emerging procurement process — one providing transitional owner/contractor and owner/architect contracts, while the other offers a single purpose entity agreement among all parties with mutual goals and target costs.

An effective response to evidence of increasing sustainability standards within the AIA and among the profession, BIM offers the capacity to analyze building performance and expedite key design decisions about the life cycle of a building. Tools for strategy, BIM, and IPD yield an eight-in-ten chance of completing a project on schedule and within budget, a notable improvement from design-bid-build project statistics.

Fitting People to Place: Urban Design, Simplified

Event: Urban Design for an Urban Century: Book Signing, Reception, and Authors Presentation
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.03.09
Speakers: Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, & David Dixon, FAIA — authors, Urban Design for an Urban Century (Wiley, 2009)
Sponsors: RKT&B

Courtesy wiley.com

Urban design is about “fitting people to place,” stated David Dixon, FAIA, arguing against the preconception that urban design is much more complex, depending on economy, social values, and environmental forces. Urban Design for an Urban Century: Placemaking for People (Wiley, 2009), by Dixon, Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, and the late Oliver Gillham, AIA, tackles urban design concepts in an easy-to-digest format, beneficial to students and experienced practitioners alike.

Just as peoples’ lives constantly change, the space-making strategies in which they live must alter accordingly, Dixon explained. “You can’t change pedestrian paths and be successful,” Brown added. The authors referred to examples throughout history, from some of the earliest cities including Babylon, Miletus, and Rome, where the basic tenants of urban design were established. Grids were defined to effectively move troops; public squares were created to honor the wealthy; and cities were compact to protect inhabitants. When industrialization offered more mobilization, cities began to decentralize. The Modern movement attempted to use art as a generator for urban form, which Dixon believes was not very successful (think of Le Corbusier’s utopian visions).

Fortunately, Dixon and Brown believe, urbanism is back in vogue: people are rediscovering cities with a renewed appreciation for urban life. Especially in the current economy, sprawl is simply too expensive. We are, therefore, beginning to feel a responsibility to live more sustainably, choosing denser housing options. Downtowns are being repopulated, and cities are considered healthier places to live than the suburban, auto-dependent alternative.

To support their case, Dixon and Brown cite examples of urban design-done-right: recent winners of AIA Institute Honor Awards for Regional and Urban Design. Through these case studies, the authors examine effective approaches to urban design. For example, the redevelopment of Portland’s Pearl district, a former rail yard community that now claims to be Portland’s “number one walkable community,” has encouraged new families to stay rather than flee to the suburbs. Similarly, the development for Harmonie Park in Detroit attracted life back to the historic area by creating a mix of shops, restaurants, and loft apartments. Millennium Park in Chicago, the world’s “largest green roof,” recently achieved international fame as it served as backdrop for President Obama’s historic victory.

Brown explained that the book is a “reflection of the spirit of what its authors do,” which is much more than just design: they spend much of their time advocating the principles of good urban design while trying to resolve the divergent voices often involved in the planning process. The authors’ best advice for urban designers? To “make places people love instead of iconic sculpture.”

Joel Sanders Brings the Outside In

Event: 2009 Oberfield Memorial Lecture: Interface: Overlapping interior and Exterior, a lecture by Joel Sanders
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.01.09
Speaker: Joel Sanders, AIA — Principal, Joel Sanders Architect
Organizer: AIANY Interiors Committee
Sponsor: Gensler

Mix House.

Courtesy Joel Sanders Architect

Historically, landscape architecture has largely been viewed as a secondary discipline to architecture — decoration for the exterior of a building — while architecture has been traditionally taken more seriously, stated Joel Sanders, AIA, principal of Joel Sanders Architect. At this year’s Oberfield Memorial Lecture, he countered history and called for the integration of landscape and architectural design, and presented his firm’s attempts to blur the boundary between inside and outside. Sanders claimed that the current environmental crisis is forcing designers to readjust the dialectic between nature and culture. “The organic and synthetic operate as fields of varying intensities across the surface of the Earth,” not as discrete categories, he said.

Through a series of collaborations with landscape firm Balmori Associates, Sanders illustrated the ways integrated design principles can unify the two fields. Their proposal for the 2012 Olympic Equestrian Center in Staten Island incorporated a curvilinear skin that encircled the fields, making the structure continuous with the ground. Seongbukdong Residences, a stepped residential development in South Korea designed with Haeahn Architecture, provides views of mountains in the distance and the neighbors’ gardens in the foreground, while hiding neighboring buildings from one another. And a penthouse on Broadway in Manhattan eliminates distinctions between outdoor “public” and indoor “private” spaces by opening the interiors and enfolding planted gardens within the structure.

Most dramatically, Sanders described a conceptual house his firm designed with Karen Van Lengen/KVL and Ben Rubin/EAR Studio that brings sights and sounds from the exterior environment into the house through a series of parabolic windows and microphones. Called “Mix House,” the design allows residents to set volume levels for various inputs — such as the sound of kids playing in the backyard, or of jets passing overhead.

In all projects, Sanders insists that the design incorporates environmentally sustainable materials and draws elements of the exterior environment into the interior. In this way, he suggested, his firm is attempting to erase distinctions between inside and outside, between natural and synthetic, and between landscape design and architecture.

Women in Architecture Committee Founder Speaks to New Generation

Event: Women in Architecture Breakfast with Laurie Maurer
Location: Center for Architecture; 04.08.09
Speakers: Laurie Maurer, FAIA — Principal, Maurer and Maurer Architects
Organizers: AIANY Women in Architecture Committee

Laurie Maurer, FAIA, speaking to the Women in Architecture Committee.

Kimberly Chin

Trained by Philip Johnson and Marcel Breuer, Laurie Maurer, FAIA, works passionately to preserve classic ideals of architectural practice with her partner-in-life-and-business, Stanley Maurer, AIA. They keep their firm small, and design and draft by hand — with pencils. Because of shared values and goals, the Maurers agreed early on in their practice to be home for dinner every night and impressed upon employees to maintain private interests beyond work. Recently, Laurie Maurer presented her perspectives to the current generation of women architects at a Women in Architecture Committee breakfast.

Maurer’s years working under Johnson and Breuer were invaluable apprenticeships that are now less accessible in contemporary firms. Hand drawing warrants a design process not possible with computer software, she believes. She described sitting back in her chair, cigarette in hand, contemplating a design problem. The process of drawing and having to erase by hand permits time to deliberate, which is a very different process than the expedient digital drafting.

Maurer sees the architectural profession morphing. She shared a story about a young architect who complained about having to draft because she is still a junior at her firm. Since senior level staff members in modern firms handle marketing and business development much of the time, Maurer questioned whether the profession will soon be divided in two: architects who design and draw in smaller firms, and something more descriptive of managerial duties imposed upon principals in larger firms.

FLW Still Provocative After All These Years

Event: Frank Lloyd Wright in the 21st Century: Being Versus Seeming?
Location: Columbia University, 04.13.09
Speakers: Michael Maltzan, FAIA — Principal, Michael Maltzan Architecture, Los Angeles; Shohei Shigematsu — Partner, OMA*AMO, New York; Marion Weiss, AIA — Partner, Weiss/Manfredi, New York
Moderator: Kenneth Frampton — Ware Professor of Architecture, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP), Columbia University
Organizers: GSAPP in collaboration with David Van Der Leer, Assistant Curator, Architecture & Design, The Guggenheim Museum, in conjunction with the upcoming exhibit “Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward”

MoMA Queens by Michael Maltzan Architecture

Christian Richters

Frank Lloyd Wright gets the wrong kind of press and plenty of it. Whenever today’s architects get caught up in the dreaded star system, they can thank Wright (or curse him) for inventing the “starchitect” role. Wright did for American architecture what Mark Twain did for American literature: he brought the field to mass attention by attaching it to a larger-than-life public persona. This hasn’t always advanced his professional legacy. It’s been easy for the legends, the pronouncements, the flamboyance, the 1914 arson and murders at Taliesin, and so forth to overshadow the actual work.

As Marion Weiss, AIA, of Weiss/Manfredi, observed, a large-format photo of Fallingwater — reasserting the centrality of landscape and site-specific features in 1938, while European theorists were moving in the opposite direction — can be the first architectural image an American born in the 20th century recognizes. Despite his massive popular presence, or because of it, much of architectural academia keeps him at a distance. “When I was in school,” Michael Maltzan, FAIA, of Michael Maltzan Architecture, recalled, “you were not allowed to look at Wright,” as if all the pop-culture exposure had somehow contaminated him. (Maltzan studied him in secret.) Shohei Shigematsu, partner at OMA*AMO, noted the relative shortage of scholarly attention paid to Wright compared with theoretical rival Le Corbusier, suggesting Wright’s concentration on private homes (474 residential projects out of his built total of 532) among the possible reasons, but also noting a stylistic adaptability bordering on opportunism and observing that “Wright’s… vision was so open that it somehow spawned someone like Venturi, who said ‘vision sucks.'”

The agrarianism and anti-urbanism of Broadacre City have not aged well in the era of exurban sprawl, but the panelists find that other aspects of Wright’s vision prove durable. His ability to choreograph a linear experience strikes Maltzan as a strong model for his own firm’s movement-oriented projects like the Museum of Modern Art’s temporary quarters in Queens. Wright focused attention on the relation between democratic political models and various spatial models, and his vertical projects demonstrate a knack for inverting spaces so that urban conditions appear in the interior, a paradox that Kenneth Frampton later noted in Wright’s “introverted” public buildings adapting a courtyard-house typology.

Weiss observed how Wright “intensifies what’s already there” in a site’s topography and materials; this conceptual strategy informs several recent Weiss/Manfredi projects regardless of their formal dissimilarities to the Prairie Style. Shigematsu called attention to outlier projects in Wright’s canon that hint at under-recognized concerns, such as the Guggenheim’s implicit subversion of New York’s zoning-driven setbacks, a convention that OMA’s new 23 E. 22nd St. project also sports. Wright’s provocations have stimulated the work of the firms represented here, though they seldom replicate his signature geometries.

Wright’s public prominence is peaking again, thanks to the Guggenheim’s forthcoming 50th anniversary exhibition “From Within Outward” as well as the latest biographical narratives (T.C. Boyle’s new novel The Women (Viking, 2009), and Richard Nelson’s 2007 play Frank’s Home). This panel suggested that Wright can raise unexpectedly tricky questions and carefully avoided the assumption that substantive answers appear easily. Toward the conclusion, Frampton offered another context where Wright has fresh relevance: if the concept of sustainability is taken in its broad cultural and ethical senses, Wright’s “response to specific climate and site conditions… resists the seduction of the global,” and his legacy of a hypothetical suburbanism (contrasting, Weiss noted, with the “complex and contradictory framework” of the very different America built in the post-Wright era) remains near the core of the unresolved question of what a sustainable national architecture might be.

Photographing the City

(L-R): Charles McKim’s University Club on Fifth Avenue at West 54th Street; Hong Kong Bank Building, Canal Street; Giorgio Cavaglieri’s Engine Co. 59, Ladder Co. 30, West 133rd Street; Former Forward Building, East Broadway.

(L-R): Bradley Kaye; Douglas Moreno; Jason Prunty; Amanda Chen

Since last September my students and I have walked virtually every street in Manhattan. We’ve snapped 25,000 photos, visited just about every construction site in the city, poured over hundreds of architect’s websites, searched planning documents, and read miles of real estate blogs. It’s a huge project: we’re photographing new buildings and re-photographing old ones for the new AIA Guide to New York City, all 1,100 pages of it, one borough at a time.

Author Norval White, FAIA, (his original co-author Elliot Willensky, FAIA, died in 1990) needed someone to walk hundreds of miles of city streets, re-photograph everything from the fourth edition (Three Rivers Press, 2000), note significant changes (a favorite old café that’s gone under or a brownstone that’s bitten the dust), and to look through the peepholes at new construction sites and figure out what’s being built and if it’s notable enough for inclusion in the new Guide, which will be published by Oxford University Press in 2010.

When White enlisted me as co-author, I knew that I would need a lot of help if we had a chance of meeting our publication deadline. It was his idea that I would lead a squadron of my eager students from the City College of New York School of Architecture, Urban Design, and Landscape Architecture, fan out across the city, and (photographically speaking) wrestle Manhattan to the ground. I realized this was an opportunity to not only get the Guide done on time, but a unique new way to teach a class “in the field.” I hoped our perceptions of the city would change, as a succession of façades, gardens, streets, squares, statues, sidewalk clocks, signs, and people took up residence in our memories.

When I arrived for the first day of the fall semester, I discovered that the administration had, because of space constraints, given our classroom away to a seminar in construction technology. With no place to meet, I saw no reason why we couldn’t move our base of operations to the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. The Shack, designed by James Wines, was ideally suited as a place to launch our assault on the city. It provided everything a modern classroom requires: benches, trees, wireless Internet connection (so we could “skype” White and upload photos to our database), new coin-operated public toilets, and delicious hamburgers.

My students soon discovered this was a ton of work, time-consuming, physically tiring, rewarding but often frustrating: a doorman gets territorial (“no photos, no photos!”), a moving van blocks the perfect shot, the sun doesn’t cooperate. But the 14 students who toughed it out have been stellar, conquering Midtown (over 800 buildings!), the Upper West Side, and the Upper East Side last fall, and Harlem, the Lower East Side, Chinatown, and the Village this spring. 25,000 photos later, we are scheduled to finish shooting Manhattan by May 1. The students have also been instrumental in reporting from the field, noting additions and demolitions, and more subtle changes (for example, a façade described as white stucco in the fourth edition has been painted bright yellow: ouch!)

I am constantly amazed at the quality of my student’s photos. Included here is a preview, in color, of a few of the best of my student’s shots from the new Guide.