Officials Discuss Sustainable Urbanization at United Nations (Cont’d)

The speakers’ underlying assumption throughout was that rapid growth was coming whether we wanted it or not, and that dense city dwelling reduces our ecological footprint — provided the integration of affordable housing and an efficient public transportation network. (There is a reason why NYC has a small ecological footprint, and would be even less if it were not for New Yorkers’ addiction to flying.)

The call to seek the benefits of urbanization while mitigating its disadvantages was made by Cheick Sidi Diarra, UN Under-Secretary-General and high representative for the Least Developing Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States. He noted that poor planning enhances natural disasters and the required action must go beyond upgrading slums through comprehensive urban planning.

Some of the common problems that were identified by speakers like Roberto Villareal, chief of the development management branch of the UN Division for Public Administration & Development Management, and Peter Woods, Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments, Asia Pacific, included the need to de-bureaucratize the systems to actually allow some field of action. Overregulation and governance conflicts between national and sub-national authorities are restricting technological innovation, the need for civic engagement, and the reinforcement of public/private partnerships. The slow uptake of innovative techniques and absence of relevant skills, along with financial restrictions and the eagerness to reactivate the economy, is leading to poor and irresponsible planning.

Despite NJ Institute of Technology Dean of the School of Architecture Urs Gauchat, AIA’s gloomy note reminding us we are witnessing how daunting science fiction predictions of the past are becoming a reality (exemplified by George Orwell’s Big Brother), there was room for hope in the examples that are being implemented globally, including those that link water supply, public health, affordable housing, and physical development.

Tibaijuka mentioned Eco-efficient and Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Development in Asia and Latin America, a project promoting eco-efficiency as key criterion for sustainable infrastructure development and as a basis to expanding infrastructure financing opportunities, being developed in partnership with the UN regional commissions of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). H.E. Tina Intelmann, the permanent representative of Estonia, presented the re-thinking of urban planning in her country, where they are paying attention to energy savings, improving computer literacy, using technology to help enhance sustainability, and reducing the use of paper for elections, healthcare, and education, among others.

Professor Lyndsay Neilson, director of urban planning in Melbourne, presented Melbourne 2030, with a plan characterized by carefully delineated urban growth boundaries. James Vine, head of UK Housing Policy and Practice for the Building and Social Housing Foundation, spoke about the UK’s environmental commitments to reduce carbon emissions 60% by 2050. Summarized in the “code for sustainable homes” and eco-town proposals, one of the main requirements is that 50% of the commutes be made by foot, bicycle, or public transport. Another plan proposes that every home be sited within 800 meters of a primary school.

Washburn spoke of how the implementation of the 153 ideas in PlaNYC can lead to our ability to “live well.” The private sector also had its say: Patrick Lobdell, AIA, an architect at pharmaceutical leader Novartis, who announced the firm’s goals to achieve 10% energy reduction and lessen carbon dioxide and landfill waste.

There is much to be done and unprecedented challenges require unmatched measures. The first step is to start the dialogue and to re-think priorities.

Design Awards in Architecture Return to Early Modernism (Cont’d)

In one of the most prominent and contentious locations in Manhattan, Allied Works Architecture redesigned the Museum of Arts and Design, recipient of a Merit Award. According to Principal Kyle Lommen, their goal was to “open the building up to its context, and the primary act was one of subtraction.” They connected gallery spaces vertically, provided a connection to Central Park and beyond, and brought light in through cuts in the floors and exterior walls. What everyone can see, even those who don’t go inside, is a façade of glazed terracotta tiles that create an iridescent surface designed to play with the light.

Pelkonen noted that Honor Award-winning Thomas Phifer and Partner’s pavilion at Rice University is so ethereal that it makes you wonder whether it’s an apparition. How do you build a glass building on a neo-Byzantine campus that’s also suited for the climate in Texas? The answer, according to Partner Stephen Dayton, was with a sheltering trellis system that provides shade and perforated “sklylight scoops” to bring light and air into the building.

Situated on the fringes of Columbus, IN, a city known for its Saarinen buildings, the Merit Award-winning Irwin Union Bank branch building is in a mall with big box retail. To distinguish the building from its neighbors, Deborah Berke & Partners Architects designed a “light box” that serves as a canopy, a unifying element, and a beacon that can be seen by motorists 1/4-mile away. The light box “is the opposite of a bleak, fluorescent lit Wal-Mart,” according to Partner Marc Leff, AIA.

“The Chosen Children’s Village Chapel arrests you with its origami-skin,” Pelkonen said. There also happens to be a human-interest aspect to the project. Carlos Arnaiz, associate partner at Stan Allen Architect, had volunteered as a youth in the village that is home to kids with disabilities. When the founders of the non-profit organization needed an architect to design the chapel, they called upon him. The firm and all other professionals involved worked pro-bono on this Merit Award winning-project. The chapel has no mechanical systems and the building, according to Arnaiz, “exploits the plasticity of concrete.” It needed to be thin and compact to handle seismic challenges, and the walls were designed like a ceiling with movable beams.

Three of the winning projects are private residences uniquely integrated into theie landscapes on acres of private property. Allied Works’ Dutchess County Guest House sits on a natural shelf in the landscape and, with its articulated framing of steel tubing, binds the house to the surroundings. Thomas Phifer and Partners’ Millbrook House is at the end of a forested road that leads to a sheltered meadow. The residence was designed to appeal to the owner’s affinity towards a Japanese aesthetic and incorporates an indoor and outdoor environment. Both projects garnered Honor Awards. Joel Sanders Architect’s Merit Award-winning House on Mount Merino is embedded into a hillside with panoramic views. Inspired by the Hudson River School of painting, the house has framed, static views — like a movie camera viewfinder.

All of these projects share a certain formal semblance with early Modernism. They feature simple, geometric forms, have an abundance of light-filled, open spaces, and many have a lot of glass and steel. Pelkonen aptly summed up her remarks by saying, “When you see these buildings, you know you are in a presence of great architecture and you are moved.”

Convention Convened

Approximately 22,500 architects convened in San Francisco for the 2009 AIA Convention.

Jessica Sheridan

The most remarkable aspect of the 2009 AIA Convention in San Francisco was that despite near-record attendance, many AIA members were able to participate in the plenary sessions and continuing education seminars from home. From the podium at the Moscone Center, AIA President Marvin Malecha, FAIA, spoke of a symposium where 14 people were in the room, while over 14,000 participated electronically. Questions were asked online and through Twitter, and the Tweet sounds of pluralist participation, at 140 characters max, kept the grandstanding and pontificating to the minimum, except at Saturday’s Business Session. While overall attendance surpassed 20,000 people, and the product exhibition space was sold out, revenue was down, and many who were in Boston could not afford to attend because of the state of the economy and the liquidity of their firms.

The almost-full plenary sessions belied the fall-off since last year’s convention, and spirits were high as many New Yorkers were honored for design awards and distinguished service. Honor awards were won by NY-based firms including FXFOWLE Architects, Thomas Phifer & Partners, Lyn Rice Architect, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Cristoff:Finio, TEN Arquitectos, and STUDIOS Architecture.

Matthew Bremer, AIA, notably, won one of the eight Young Architect Awards. Bremer was recognized as co-chair of the AIANY New Practices Committee and as a “young architect who combines recognized and celebrated talent with a willingness to support the profession and provide mentorship for others.” His design talent and attention to detail were also noted in the AIA National commendation. Bremer, along with co-chair Marc Clemenceau Bailly, AIA, curated and installed the New Practices New York exhibition at AIA San Francisco’s Center for Architecture + Design; the exhibition opened with the concurrent announcement of the New Practices San Francisco winning firms.

Venesa Alicea, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, received the AIA Associates Award. First presented in 2008, it is the highest honor given to individual Associate AIA members based on their demonstrated and unparalleled commitment to their component or region’s membership, in the community, in professional organizations, and in the design and construction industries. Alicea was commended for her unwavering commitment, her abilities in practice, and her outreach encouraging others to pursue IDP and licensure.

Marcy Stanley, Hon. AIA, received her Honorary Membership in the AIA, where she was applauded for her service to the Institute, AIANY, and the Washington DC Metro Chapter.

One of the highest AIA honors, the Edward C. Kemper Award for Service to the Profession, was bestowed on Barbara Nadel, FAIA. Nadel’s commendation by President Malecha noted the worldwide impact of her security design work. Her remarks credited the many collaborators and colleagues, both in her writings and consultations. She was described by AIA President-elect George Miller, FAIA, as “a proven leader, a dedicated mentor to emerging professionals, and an advocate for the AIA and the issues that are critical for the future of the profession.”

The Whitney Young award, a very moving ceremony in which Clyde Porter, FAIA, a Dallas-based architect and facilities administrator, was honored, also included a tribute to J. Max Bond, Jr., FAIA. Bond had been scheduled to speak at the convention, and his untimely death leaves an immeasurable gap in the architectural fabric of our city and the world. The tribute, organized by AIA National’s historian and poet Ray Rhinehart, used interview footage seen at the 2005 Heritage Ball when Bond was honored with the AIANY President’s Award. A memorial will take place Tuesday, 05.12.09, at 3:00pm at the Great Hall of Cooper Union, followed by the opening at 6:00pm that evening of “The Life and Work of Max Bond, 1935-2009,” an exhibition at the Center for Architecture.

This year the Fellowship investiture took place at Grace Cathedral, a grand space atop Nob Hill where the invocation of distinguished achievement was spiritual, and the architecture itself awe-inspiring. Among the 112 architects elevated to Fellow were nine AIANY members, including Ken Drucker, FAIA; Belmont Freeman, FAIA; Christopher Grabé, FAIA; John Grady, FAIA; Robert Heintges, FAIA; Frank Lupo, FAIA; Joanna Pestka, FAIA; Annabelle Selldorf, FAIA; and Sylvia Smith, FAIA. Among the nine Honorary FAIA awards conferred, one name in particular stands out — that of Manfredi Nicoletti, Hon. FAIA. Nicoletti visited the Center for Architecture on 05.04.09 and delivered an impassioned oration on technology and growth after an introduction by his friend and sponsor, John Johansen, FAIA. The celebratory dinner included many others from NY, there to honor friends and colleagues. The new Fellows were honored, as well, at the social highlight of the Convention, the AIA New York State party organized and sponsored by Ibex Construction and its president, Andy Frankl. It was held at the City Club, the city’s best Art Deco interior graced by a Diego Rivera mural.

The election results for AIA National office have been announced through various other communications. Our Chapter’s congratulations go out to 2010 President-elect Clark Manus, FAIA, of San Francisco, Vice Presidents Peter Kuttner, FAIA, of Boston, and Mickey Jacob, FAIA, of Tampa, along with John Rogers, AIA, of Ohio, elected as Treasurer. The merits of these and the other eminently qualified candidates were discussed at an AIA New York State caucus marked by candor and passionate debate.

Speaking of impassioned debate, the business session of the convention was held on Saturday, 05.02.09. Three reasonable and necessary amendments to the AIA National Bylaws were defeated. Our Chapter voted in favor of all of them:
1. Changing the term International Associate to AIA International,
2. Allowing Associate members to serve as Regional Directors, and,
3. Creating a new category of “Public Membership” in the AIA.

The fact they did not receive the necessary 2/3-delegate vote was seen by many as an abnegation of the future — a slap in the face to the associate membership, a denial of international outreach, and a reinforcement of the traditional insularity of many of the voting delegates. The various AIA list serves have been hot and heavy with statements of principle on both sides of all three issues. Over the next weeks and months strategies for compromise and consensus will emerge. In the aftermath of these three nay votes, however, one thing is certain: better communications and better outreach is needed to reaffirm the core principles of the AIA of the future: inclusiveness, participation, and growth. On these topics, I clearly left my heart, and say hey votes, in San Francisco.

Convention 2009, The Power of Diversity: It Begins At the Workplace

Considering the economic downturn, retaining clients for repeat work is key. According to many of the speakers at the 2009 AIA Convention, the way to do this is by holding on to the best employees and adjusting the practice to accommodate modern lifestyles.

At the “Focus on Design and Global Practice” General Session, Craig Dykers, AIA, principal at Snøhetta, called for architects to “practice what we preach,” by democratizing and socializing the office. With a mixed office of international architects, landscape architects, and interior designers, his firm is not divided into typical studios. Instead, collaborations are formed and hierarchical titles and categories are discouraged. A committee of employees is responsible for making many of the policy decisions in the office, resulting in five-week vacation time and a narrow salary range (Dykers makes only twice as much as entry-level employees).

It is of ultimate importance to achieve a comfortable work-life balance. Panelists at “Navigating Life and the Workplace: How Leading Women in Architecture and Other Professions Balance Their Careers and Other Goals” discussed how this is possible by learning to be a good leader. Nancy Goshow, AIA, of NY-based Goshow Architects and co-chair of the AIANY Women in Architecture Committee, said that to achieve balance is to understand how much one can take on, and then take full responsibility to carry out the tasks required. Leadership requires knowing how to delegate, listening and being objective, taking risks, and prioritizing goals. All of the panelists agreed family must come first, but to be successful calls for an understanding of personal limits. If you are an asset to your firm and you are productive, stated Lina G. Telese, Esq., you will be able to keep reasonable hours, even request flex time, and maintain the value of your, and your firm’s, work.

With the country’s changing demographics, the Millennials will soon take up a large portion of the profession — if they stay in the field. Catering to their needs is important, and understanding the generational differences will help businesses on many levels.

If employees are happy, clients are happy, simply stated Patricia Saldaña Natke, AIA, founding partner of Urban Works in Chicago, at “Designing the Emergent Firm.” When hiring, Natke brings in individuals who demonstrate leadership in and outside of the office — many employees are board members and activists at local and national organizations. To retain emerging talent, her firm enters design competitions regularly to not only get new work, but to empower younger architects by allowing them ownership of designs. With summer hours and part-time employment options, the best employees enjoy the firm’s working environment, and this is the reason, she said, that they were voted the most family-friendly firm by Architect magazine.

For Frank Greene, FAIA, NY-based Ricci Greene Associates has enjoyed success because of the expertise of its employees. There are no project managers, only project architects at the firm. This encourages a culture of ideas and everyone has a personal stake in the work, he explained. Designing justice facilities is possible because the firm consists of diverse specialists, and, with two PhDs in criminal justice on the team, not everyone is an architectural designer.

Acknowledging the many various jobs it takes to run an architecture firm, “What’s Wrong with How Design Firms Are Set Up?” addressed the question about why ownership is in the hands of licensed professionals alone. While each state differs, the majority of the U.S. requires that owners of architecture and engineering firms be licensed professionals (in NY, 100% of owners must be licensed, although regulations may change this year dropping the percentage to 75%). This is a disservice to the profession, argued Joan Capelin, Hon. AIA, FSMPS, of Capelin Communications, as it deprives businesses of diversity and expansive knowledge. If employees who specialize in finance, marketing, information technology, public relations, human resources, among others, have an opportunity to partially own businesses, architects and engineers would have more time to focus on the creative development of their firms. Also, with a broader base, firms will be able to expand and market differently to new clients, stated James Frankel, Esq., a lawyer at Arent Fox.

Convention 2009, The Power of Diversity: Social Sustainability is the New Green

Ranch Commons in Bulverde, TX, by Architecture In Formation.

Architecture In Formation

At the “Focus on Design and Global Practice” session, Amale Andraos, principal of WORKac in NYC, discussed the need to always look for new ways of working in the world. Her firm tries to transform the way it works and lives as they encounter new audiences and new clients. With Public Farm 1, infrastructure and gardening were mixed with the urban context of P.S. 1 to create an interactive installation that served as a party space and vegetable garden throughout the summer. Now, WORKac is collaborating with Alice Waters for Public Farm 2 to create edible gardens at P.S. 216.

Young architects are no longer settling for traditional paths of practice; when they are faced with road blocks, they adjust the rules to their needs, as was proven at the “2009 Young Architects Award Recipient’s Discussion.” “Good design should be accessible, especially for those who can’t afford it,” stated Angela Brooks, AIA, LEED AP, principal at CA-based Pugh + Scarpa Architects. If good design is not feasible because of policy, she continued, then make friends in the government and change the policy. When she faced 15 variances for a market-rate, affordable housing project in Los Angeles, she co-founded Livable Places, a non-profit organization aimed at changing policy in LA.

Jinhee Park, AIA, principal of SsD in Cambridge, MA, developed a housing prototype that could be built by highway construction workers. When the Big Dig was developing, SsD’s proposal was to recycle the highway and the skilled labor to create both new housing and an opportunity for the construction workers to stay in one city longer than usual. Matthew Bremer, AIA, principal of NY-based Architecture In Formation and co-chair of the AIANY New Practices Committee, faced the challenge of developing housing in an area suffering from suburban sprawl in Bulverde, TX. His solution was to propose a development that looks like a cattle ranch, so the community would welcome it, yet it will be the densest development in the area, making it much more efficient than the surrounding neighborhoods.

During “Queer Space: Designing for the GLBT Community,” social sustainability took on a slightly different meaning. Creating a space for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender populations, architects are faced with designing a building that embraces all lifestyles, provides privacy for those who need it, enables individuals to celebrate their identity, and links people within and without the community. Belmont Freeman, FAIA, of Belmont Freeman Architects in NY, presented his firm’s LGBT Carriage House at the University of Pennsylvania. While the design incorporates a private back entrance in addition to the front entry and a Modern interior to counter the traditional architecture on campus, the meeting spaces and multi-purpose lounge are now some of the most popular spaces for all student groups on campus. For Freeman, the building is successful because the spaces are inviting to all, and its users do not segregate themselves into separate groups.

Convention 2009, The Power of Diversity: Call for Big Ideas

Radicalism and big ideas are what John Hockenberry, WNYC and PRI host and moderator of the “Focus on Design and Global Practice” session, called for from architects during these poor economic times. With so many bad, small ideas out there, he exclaimed, architects need to think beyond pragmatism and look to idealism to bring hope back to the U.S.

Perhaps one of the biggest ideas presented was the “2007 Latrobe Prize Presentation” on the On the Water — Palisades Bay project. Awarded to Guy Nordenson, Stan Allen, AIA, Catherine Seavitt, James Smith, Michael Tantala, Adam Yarinsky, FAIA, and Stephen Cassell, AIA, the team has been studying the effects of the rising sea level in NYC’s Upper Harbor. As the water rises, major storms are a growing threat to the city. Looking to the history of the shoreline and using various types of analysis and modeling, the team combined engineering, research, planning, and economic analysis to analyze the effects of future weather conditions and propose a solution to lessen its impact.

By marrying design with detail analysis, the proposal incorporates everything from oysters to filter the bay, windmills and algae farms to generate energy, and artificial reefs to restore wildlife habitats. Artificial islands will be strategically placed to roughen the edge of the channel, decreasing the energy of a potential storm surge and replacing some of the lost wetlands. Piers and slips will help re-contour the edge of Lower Manhattan to help break the wave energy, lessening the impact of a potential hurricane.

Ultimately, the team hopes to “turn the challenge of a problem into an optimistic opportunity,” said Nordenson. This conceivably was the mantra repeated throughout the convention overall. By next year’s convention in Miami, let’s hope to see some of the positive results.

Looking Ahead: Architects Contemplate Future at Convention

Jessica Sheridan

While the formal theme for the AIA Convention in San Francisco was “The Power of Diversity,” not surprisingly, the state of the economy overshadowed all. The tone, however, was one of optimism: a take-charge mentality encouraging firms to find new avenues for revenue while still keeping sustainable design at the forefront, as well as providing plenty of advice for emerging practices struggling to survive.

At “Four X Four: 4 Architects/4 Regions/4 Visions/4 the Future,” Mark Strauss, FAIA, AICP, LEED AP, discussed his theme as AIA New York Chapter President in 2006 — Architecture as Public Policy. He shared an anecdote about Terence Riley, AIA, the director of the Miami Art Museum, who asked a White House aide if they have had any architectural Fellows. The aide looked at him quizzically and responded, “no, they [architects] just design buildings.” Strauss believes that architects should do much more by taking an active role in politics and planning in order to make cities more livable, such as AIANY’s involvement with PlaNYC 2030.

Despite the slowing economy, many sustainable projects are still going forward. Susan Szenasy, Editor-in-Chief of Metropolis magazine, moderated a panel of experts including a sustainability consultant for IDEO, a physicist, and a professor of urban design, who compared city emissions patterns internationally to show how much they need to be reduced. Architects should be aware of these factors, the panelists argued, to help reduce carbon footprints through environmentally conscious design.

Paul Lewis, AIA, of NY-based Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis (LTL) discussed his practice at “Design Innovation: Turning Challenges into Opportunities,” moderated by Roberty Ivy, FAIA, Editor-in-Chief of Architectural Record. LTL regularly participates in design/build projects to save on construction costs, and it makes research a focal point of its young but successful practice. “Opportunistic Architecture,” written by the firm’s partners, expresses their design philosophy that “challenges in architectural practice can be transformed into generators of innovative solutions.”

When starting his firm amidst the recession of the early 1990s, Phillip G. Freelon, FAIA, LEED AP, entered many competitions and also designed furniture. The principal of Freelon Group (and a member of the team Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup, recently chosen to design the National Museum of African American History and Culture) offers this advice to start-up firms: “Do the projects that no one else wants to do.” No matter how small or uninteresting the project seems, it can lead to more exciting opportunities, he explained.

New Practices NY ’08 Meets New Practices SF ’09

Courtesy Hafele San Francisco.

As the convention began, a group of New Yorkers and San Franciscans convened at the Center for Architecture + Design for an afternoon cocktail to celebrate the opening of the 2008 New Practices | New York Showcase, and to hear the winners of the 2009 San Francisco New Practices Showcase announced. Many of the San Francisco entrants were on hand, and the winners were: CMG Landscape Architecture, Edmonds + Lee Architects, Faulders Studio, Kennerly Architecture + Planning, Min|Day, and Public Architecture, with honorable mentions going to Axelrod Design, and Envelop A+D. New York winners on display were Baumann Architecture, common room, David Wallance Architects, Matter Practice, Openshop Studio, and Urban A+O. The exhibition included a video compilation made by each firm, project images, and a newspaper with more extensive coverage of the firms. This meeting of kindred cities represented the second time AIANY New Practices Committee has participated in such an exchange, having hosted the New Practices London winners at NY’s Center for Architecture in 2007, and then in London in 2008. The New Practices San Francisco exhibition will open at the Center for Architecture in NY on 06.04.09.

How to Improve the Convention

After attending six sessions and finding them all to be informative and heavily attended, I offer my thoughts on the convention overall. In the “High Performance Schools: Design Strategies, Tools and Resources,” Deane Evans, Jr., FAIA, of New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Charles Eley, FAIA, the executive director of CHPS (The Collaborative for High Performance Schools) for California, laid out the design standards, strategies, incentives, and resources that they have made available to school designers in their respective states. When the third presenter, Lisa Gelfand, AIA, of Gelfand Partners Architects in San Francisco, took the stage and presented built examples of schools that she had designed to meet (and help create) the CHPS standards, the architects in the room audience was clearly lifted by visual evidence of the successful implementation of sustainable building theory.

The architects’ hunger to hear from each other was inadvertently brought to a crescendo at the end of a session the next day: “IDEO Smart Space: Design for Community.” To demonstrate the Silicon Valley group’s design methodology, attendees divided into small work groups to create concepts and communicate ideas. The topic was none other than the AIA convention itself and how it could be improved. The findings were consistent — architects want to meet and hear from each other. Future conventions could do more to facilitate this. A sampling of ideas were offered: provide gathering places outside the sessions (with chairs!) for smaller groups to identify with (there was a Student Lounge, so how about one for architects of different regions, or of specific building types, or of age groups); find a technology to allow architects to scan each other’s badges or project each other’s work onto white boards; provide pre-convention blogs to start an intra-architect network; offer more architect-led sessions; and serve more martinis.

Other architects shared a similar sentiment outside of the sessions. In passing, one architect said the best session he attended was a talk given by Stephen Kieran, FAIA, and James Timberlake, FAIA, that brought their design methodology to life.

It goes without saying that the small groupings offsite, such as the AIA New York State party at the City Club were well worth the trip.