I’ve received a great response so far from those of you who are Twittering. If you have not answered my call, please let me know if your firm is Twittering. I’m trying to find all the NY-based firms that take part in the latest in social media. E-mail me at eoculus@aiany.org.

Also, e-Oculus and the Center for Architecture are Twittering! Click here to follow e-Oculus, and here to follow the Center.

– Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP

Building Industry Struggles to Comply with Energy Codes

Event: Energy Codes, The Audit Procedure, and New Trends
Location: Center for Architecture, 07.16.09
Speaker: Deborah Taylor, AIA, LEED AP — Chief Sustainability Officer of Technical Affairs, NYC Department of Buildings
Organizer: AIANY Building Codes Committee


Page from the DOB presentation for Frequent Errors found in auditing for NYS Energy Code compliance, available here.

Courtesy NYC Department of Buildings

Even though the New York State Energy Code has been in effect for more than 30 years, recent upgrades are making apparent the fact that the building industry lacks an understanding of energy efficiency. Deborah Taylor, AIA, LEED AP, the chief sustainability officer of technical affairs for the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB), explained the current thinking from the department on how changes in the NYS Energy Code will shape the industry, particularly in the application process for existing and new buildings.

Most of the architectural projects in NYC involve work on existing buildings, which “must be a central strategy for PlaNYC,” Taylor believes. This year, an Earth Day package of energy bills for existing buildings was introduced, including legislation for a NYC Energy Conservation Code (ECC). The primary difference from the state code is that all new construction must comply — including work in less than 50% of the scope of the project. The code would establish the basis for additional legislation to reduce energy consumption in buildings, Taylor noted.

The ECC presents several challenges for designers in terms of demonstrating and reaching compliance. “Soft audits” of projects began in 2008, and formal audits will begin in October 2009. The results thus far indicate that “the industry does not know the energy code,” Taylor said. One of the main requirements for demonstrating compliance is the Energy Analysis of the building envelope, mechanical/service, hot water, lighting, and power systems. Designers may utilize one of four options: tabular comparative analysis for alterations; REScheck for residential dwellings three stories or fewer; COMcheck for commercial or other building types; or the Energy Cost Budget Method per ASHRAE 90.1. For the audits, designers must provide supporting documentation that shows consistency with the values in the Energy Analysis.

The most frequent errors that designers make, according to Taylor, include not providing an Energy Analysis, using the incorrect analysis format, and not providing heating and cooling systems or lighting (required for commercial but not residential) in the analysis. Even though electrical plans aren’t required, they can prove to be important supporting documentation, Taylor stated. The bottom line for complying with the Energy Code is to “make sure the values in the Energy Analysis find their way into the drawings.” More information is on the DOB website.

Panel Questions Future of UAE

Event: Globalization and Local Essences of Modern Development in Dubai and Abu Dhabi
Location: Center for Architecture, 07.08.09
Speakers: Sudhir S. Jambhekar, FAIA — Senior Partner, FXFOWLE Architects; Frank Sabouri — President, Sustainable Architects, Urban Designers; Brian Kowalchuk, AIA — Director of Design, HDR/CUH2A; Jonathan Stark, AIA — Principal & Director, Perkins Eastman International
Moderator: Noushin Ehsan, AIA — Co-chair, AIANY Global Dialogues Committee & President, 2nd Opinion Design
Organizer: AIANY Global Dialogues Committee


Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Courtesy Google Earth

With four times the land mass and one half the population of New Jersey, the United Arab Emirates is an architectural and urban planning conundrum. With the region’s plethora of extravagant developments, such as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building, and Atkins Architecture Design Studio’s Burj Al Arab hotel, which boasts a $28,000 price tag for one night in its Royal Suite, Dubai and Abu Dhabi leave most first-time visitors scratching their heads in awe.

Lacking a holistic strategy for urban planning, development in the two emirates is “object-centric not place-centric,” said Frank Sabouri, president of Sustainable Architects. Sabouri cites work by Ateliers Jean Nouvel and Snøhetta as signs of more meaningful cultural trends in the region. With a population comprised of 85% foreigners and 15% natives, it is debatable exactly which culture design in the UAE should reflect. Sudhir Jambhekar, FAIA, senior partner at FXFOWLE Architects, believes that international designers are reinterpreting Islamic ideas in the UAE. Just as western culture has been influenced by Islamic design and engineering — the use of water as a cooling element, for example — Jambhekar sees an opportunity for the west to adapt its concepts for developments in the UAE.

With such a sparse population density in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, moderator Noushin Ehsan, AIA, asked, “If we build it, will they come?” A similar construction boom in China, Ehsan observed, differs in that a swelling population demands development. The UAE, however, currently lacks a demographic to justify the employment of 25% of the world’s construction cranes. Perhaps foresight and optimism will prove beneficial in time. With an estimated $335 billion worth of UAE projects on hold or cancelled due to the economic downturn, the precocious business minds responsible for the rise of these instant global cities have their work cut out for them. Based on the achievements of what has become home to some of the most awe-inspiring architectural feats, we haven’t heard the last from the UAE.

Marketing 101: Writing Your Strategic Plan

Event: Strategic Planning for the Intrepid Architect
Location: Center for Architecture, 07.09.09
Speakers: Frances Gretes — Founder & Principal, Gretes Research Services; Kirsten Sibilia, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP — Chief Marketing Officer, JCJ Architecture
Organizer: AIANY Marketing & Public Relations Committee

With increasing economic pressure on marketing acumen, there is no time like downtime to develop a sound strategy. Addressing firm principals, studio leaders, and marketing directors/managers, Fran Gretes, principal of Gretes Research Services, and Kirsten Sibilia, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, chief marketing officer of JCJ Architecture, discussed how to develop a workable strategic plan for an architecture practice.

A strategic plan conveys the mission and vision of the firm, while a business plan addresses the financial and operational aspects of the practice, such as staff and resources. Sibilia believes that the strategic plan should be developed before both the business and marketing plans. The first step, Gretes suggests, is to create an inventory of a firm’s strengths and weaknesses and then the planning process may begin.

Sibilia and Gretes agreed that it is best to use active verbs and simple language when writing a strategic plan. They suggested reading examples of plans by other firms, which are often summarized in the form of mission statements on websites. Ultimately, it is a document specific to each firm and should inspire employees and remind them why they chose to work there. Sibilia noted that “the plan is a living document,” but there is a point in time when revisions should stop and the plan put into action.

Once implemented, strategic plans should be reviewed more often than annually. Sibilia recommended quarterly review, in some cases, and Gretes suggested that firms maintain a flexible perspective: “Don’t get overwhelmed by data, and be receptive to new ideas.” Most importantly, firms should anticipate current and future clients’ needs by stepping into their position.

In closing, Sibilia assured the audience that they should not be afraid of developing a strategic plan. “A lot of this is common sense,” Gretes said. But “if you don’t know who you are and don’t have a plan for where you’re going… then you have a problem.”

The High Line is Real


The High Line

Fran Leadon

On July 9 I went for a stroll on the High Line, from West 16th Street to Gansevoort Street. It was crowded on a sunny Thursday afternoon, and the people seemed to be divided into two groups: those who lounged casually about, reading or chatting as if the High Line had always been there, and those who seemed, like me, to be in a daze with dumbfounded expressions thinking, “I’m on the High Line. I’m actually on the High Line.” The long-awaited linear park has finally come to pass.

In preparing the new edition of the AIA Guide to New York City (Oxford University Press, 2010), Norval White, FAIA, and I have eagerly anticipated the completion of new projects (Atelier Jean Nouvel and Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners’ 100 Eleventh Avenue, Morphosis Architects’ Arthur Nerken School of Engineering at Cooper Union), but perhaps none so much as the High Line. I remember first seeing the High Line in the early 1990s when I was a student at the Yale School of Architecture. Back then, both the High Line and the area around it seemed like one of Anton Furst’s stage sets from the 1989 “Batman” movie. Far West Chelsea, circa 1992, was in a kind of suspended industrial time warp: beautiful and romantic but also decaying and crime-ridden. Exploring beautiful relics like the High Line was risky. Intrepid friends would scale the elevated railroad track and report that it was sublime, covered by wildflowers, but I was too cautious to try it.

The thing the High Line always had going for it was its strength. Designed to accept the weight of two freight trains, it was highly unlikely to fall down on its own. Thankfully, the sturdy structure stayed where it was, snaking in and out of old factories and warehouses from Gansevoort Street up to 34th Street. Abandoned in 1980, photographers, artists, and urban adventurers attracted to the beautiful desolation began describing it as a 1.45-mile-long elevated meadow, and visions of a linear park began to form in earnest during the 1990s. A community group, Friends of the High Line, ultimately saved the winding trestle through ceaseless lobbying and fundraising.

When the first plans for a High Line park were unveiled, I was, admittedly, a little nervous. I feared the master plan left too little of the actual trestle. The further the design by James Corner of Field Operations with Diller Scofidio + Renfro was refined, the more cautiously optimistic I became, and as I hiked around Gansevoort Market and Chelsea during the past year, shooting photos of the High Line in construction for the Guide, the more I liked what I was seeing. As a linear park, the new High Line is meticulously thoughtful, perhaps even a bit over-designed. Many of the original rails were preserved and re-presented as artifacts, and native plant species have been arranged in beds with considerable care. The trail bed is a series of interlocking concrete strips that seem to grow and dissolve as needed, occasionally curving upward to form a bench. There are wooden lounge chairs that roll on tracks, and a plunging amphitheater where the High Line briefly widens at 17th Street.

It’s all extremely well done, but the surprising thing is that the wonder of the High Line isn’t in the design work. It’s seeing a familiar landscape (Chelsea) from a new vantage point, above, beside, and through the neighboring buildings. It remains to be seen how the delicate details will endure trampling by millions of human feet. The High Line, inevitably worn and frayed by continuous use, may find its most natural and profound beauty 10 or 20 years from now.

R.I.P. Broadway & Houston


DKNY (left) has been replaced by Hollister.

Jessica Sheridan

Since the late 1980s, 600 Broadway housed a notable DKNY mural featuring the company’s logo functioning as a window to the NYC skyline. Now, almost 20 years later, Hollister has painted over the iconic image with a drab replacement. This marks the end of an era in Manhattan and seems to predict a bleak future for the city.

Hollister’s mural is a murky brown background with the retailer’s logo branded across the top. There is no color, no life, and acts as a dreary reminder of the city’s current economic condition. It turns its back and bears down on the intersection of Houston and Broadway with its austere presence.

The DKNY billboard, on the other hand, may have been an advertisement selling a high-end retail brand, which some argue negatively fed into the gentrification of the neighborhood, but it also celebrated the city. It featured the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and the World Trade Center. It played into the sentiments of native New Yorkers as well as visitors, and it gave back to the city by drawing the viewer’s eye up and away from the once empty lot (now a fruit stand) below. The artistry was unique and no other billboard was like it.

It is obvious that Hollister, a brand by Abercrombie & Fitch Co., is not a New York brand. However, with a Southern California-inspired image, one would think the company would try to at least enliven the intersection with Southern California-inspired colors if they were going to cover up one of the community’s most recognized landmarks on one of the city’s most visible intersections. Store employees may dress like surfers, but the sun is not shining on Broadway and Houston.

In this issue:
· The Y Gets East Village and Middle Eastern Flair
· Designed With Collaboration in Mind
· A Legend Gets a Make-Over for All Seasons
· New Hope for New Community Center
· New Pool References the Past
· West 8 Heads South
· Red Crosses to the Rescue
· Mixed-Use Master Plan for Rawabi, Palestine Begins

The Y Gets East Village and Middle Eastern Flair


14th Street Y.

ST Architects

ST Architects and Z-A Studio are in the process of renovating and creating a new identity for the 14th Street Y. The scheme conceptualizes the building as a series of parallel bands of multiple programs — lobby, fitness center, locker rooms, showers, and pool. As Y members move through the different bands, they experience what is happening elsewhere in the building. To capitalize on the multi-generational and multi-ethnic user base, the new design eschews institutional uniformity by giving each programmatic space is own distinct look through the use of different patterns, colors, and materials. For the entrance lobby, the design team selected what they call an “east meets west” palette, drawing on both the grunge of the East Village and the Y’s link to Israel and the Middle East. Colorful blue and yellow Moroccan cement floor tiles accompany bright yellow 100% recycled plastic lobby furniture, and a field of different-sized circular fluorescent lights animates the space. Construction is expected to finish by the end of August.

Designed With Collaboration in Mind

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) has selected FXFOWLE Architects for the build-out of its new 28,000-square-foot offices. Located at 475 Riverside Drive in Morningside Heights and known as the Interchurch Center, the design evokes the history and classic modern design of the Rockefeller Family, and is expected to achieve a LEED-CI rating. The interior is comprised of a natural palette with vintage, mid-century furniture, custom millwork, and recyclable materials. The office’s layout blurs the boundaries between public and private with a flexible, open-office plan to encourage better communication and collaboration among the RBF staff, trustees, and grantees. Document control efficiency and team collaboration were very important, and to meet this need, FXFOWLE created a grant hub that serves as a gathering space to review grants. Having the grants in one space at all times reduces the risk of lost documents while promoting collaboration in a communal setting. John Gallin & Son is the construction manager, and Levien & Company is the project manager.

A Legend Gets a Make-Over for All Seasons

The Four Seasons, a legendary restaurant designed by Philip Johnson in the Seagram Building, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Belmont Freeman Architects was engaged to design the restoration of the Modernist masterpiece. Phyllis Lambert, FRAIC, who represents the Bronfman family, partial owners of the restaurant, selected the firm on aesthetic matters. The carefully researched renovations will focus on the restoration of original finishes, fixtures, and furnishings, as well as upgrades to mechanical systems and lighting. The restaurant has been a designated NYC landmark since 1989, so there can be no overt changes. Construction is being executed in staged phases to allow the restaurant to stay in operation, with phase one being completed by the end of the month.

New Hope for New Community Center

Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert C. Lieber and New York Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) President Seth W. Pinsky announced the grand opening of the first phase of the Mount Hope Community Center in the Bronx. The $16 million, four-story project, designed by Croxton Collaborative Architects, includes a learning center consisting of six classrooms and two computer labs that can serve more than 750 community members a day. The building features two green roofs and outdoor open space for active and passive recreational activities. It was designed to maximize natural light and incorporate low- and non-toxic, recycled materials where possible. Phase II of the project will be a multi-use gymnasium. The Mount Hope Community Center was the first project where NYCEDC was able to use financing from the New Markets Tax Credit — which provides federal income tax credits for taxpayers making qualified investments in community development entities — for a project receiving city capital funding.

New Pool References the Past


Higgins Aquatic Center at the Canterbury School.

Butler Rogers Baskett Architects

Butler Rogers Baskett Architects has designed the new Higgins Aquatic Center at the Canterbury School, a college prep boarding and day school in Milford, CT. Built in the English Collegiate Gothic style, the new facility resembles other buildings on campus, including an athletic center and old gym built in 1924 by Raphael Hume. The new building is faced with Roxbury granite, has slate roofs with copper gutters and leaders, and limestone trim similar to the older structures. The upper-level mezzanine overlooks the pool and connects to the main floor of the adjacent alumni gym. The eight-lane, 25-yard pool was designed to host swimming, diving, and water polo competitions.

West 8 Heads South

West 8 has been selected by the New World Symphony and the City of Miami Beach to design Lincoln Park, a new 2.5-acre urban park in the cultural and civic heart of downtown Miami Beach. West 8 replaces Frank Gehry, FAIA, who withdrew from the park project in April. The park is the final component of the Gehry-designed New World Symphony complex now under construction. The firm’s initial idea calls for an undulating green carpet with raised edges that enclose the space and harmonize with the Gehry building. Work will begin August 1 to meet the goal of opening by September 2011, with sections of the park, including a projection screen to view concerts, ready in time for the concert hall’s January 2011 opening. The New York office of the Rotterdam-based firm is heading the $10 million project.

Red Crosses to the Rescue



OBRA Architects

OBRA Architect’s RED+HOUSING, a full-scale emergency housing prototype, will travel to London as part of the 2009 AA|FAB Awards exhibition in September. The FAB Research Cluster at London’s Architectural Association “Designing Fabrication” as this year’s theme, and the winning projects were ones that contributed to an international discourse on the use of emerging design and fabrication technologies. OBRA’s project, which was first displayed in May as part of the National Art Museum of China’s exhibition “Crossing: Dialogues for Emergency Architecture,” designed to be deployed in areas of natural or man-made disasters.

The project addresses extreme conditions in an emergency situation, and proposes combining the advantages of fast-response solutions, such as the deployment of military tents, with those of slower and more considered responses, such as neighborhood reconstruction efforts. By enlisting the structural strength of post-tensions, the project makes economical use of materials. Bamboo plywood strips of the dome support the enclosure. All connections are a simple friction bond of male/female parts, which are then secured with a minimum of fasteners. Parts are collapsible so they can be easily packed and transported. If a single house is erected, the exterior of the cruciform creates spaces that mediate between interior and exterior, providing a context for people to spend time outside; and when deployed together in groups, in-between spaces can suggest an “urban” context. When seen from above, clusters look like a field of red crosses.

Mixed-Use Master Plan for Rawabi, Palestine Begins


Master plan for Rawabi, Palestine.


The Palestinian Authority has approved the country’s first master planned city, with ground breaking is scheduled for September. Located just over five miles from the capital of Ramallah, Rawabi (“the hills” in Arabic) has been designed by AECOM with Raphael Samach, AIA, the NY-based principal-in-charge of the team, as a prototype for a mixed-use development based on a live-work-grow mindset in Palestine. The new city is designed for 40,000 residents and will accommodate an additional 50,000 from surrounding towns. Infrastructure will have the capacity to generate future growth, as well. Rawabi will offer commercial, civic, and entertainment facilities, a state-of-the-art business and technology incubator complex, and more than 5,000 units of affordable housing. Given the scarcity of available building sites, Rawabi is being developed on a very steep site. Clad in local stone, the design incorporates elements of traditional Palestinian architecture.

The development will be compact and urban, concentrating larger structures at the top of the ridge with smaller buildings on the sides of the hill. For the first time on this scale, home ownership will be within the reach of teachers, health care and social service professionals, government employees, and those employed by Rawabi’s targeted IT and creative sector businesses. The project is being developed by Bayti Real Estate Investment Company, a joint venture between Ramallah-based Massar International and Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company (Doha). Bayti and the Palestinian Authority signed a Public-Private Partnership Agreement (PPPA) through which the Authority has committed to facilitate the creation of the critical off-site infrastructure needed for the new town, and to support the construction of public facilities. When the master plan has been fully implemented, Rawabi will cover an area of 6,300,000 square meters.

In this issue:
· Security and Design Make National News
· Octagon Changes Hands… Back to AIA
· NBAU Offers Advice on Alternative Careers

Security and Design Make National News

A week after NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly presented the NYPD’s design guidelines for making buildings safer in NYC (see “Security Talk at One Police Plaza,” by Rick Bell, FAIA, e-OCULUS, 07.07.09), the issue of security and design was news in the nation’s capitol with the release of the AIA’s report “Design for Diplomacy: New Embassies for the 21st Century.” The AIA 21st Century Embassy Task Force — which included architects, engineers, landscape architects, architectural historians, public art experts, and a number of foreign service personnel — made 59 recommendations. Prominent among them was evaluating the current design program, established after the 1998 embassy attacks. Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reviewed the report and commented that, while security is always a concern, design and sustainability should not fall by the wayside. The Senator commended the AIA report as “an important first step towards re-establishing principles of design excellence in our embassies and consulates abroad.”

Octagon Changes Hands… Back to AIA

The Octagon, the iconic, six-sided building on the corner of 18th Street NW and New York Avenue in Washington, DC, has a new owner: AIA Legacy, a non-profit affiliate of the AIA. This is the second time the AIA has owned the 1799 William Thornton-designed building — the AIA inhabited the space at the turn of the 20th century and remained until 1968, when it was deeded to the American Architectural Foundation (AAF). AAF opened it as a museum two years later. In transferring ownership to AIA Legacy, AAF and AIA Legacy will work together to support both organizations’ missions. Read more here.

NBAU Offers Advice on Alternative Careers

What do a staging expert, a photographer, a real estate professional, a lighting specialist, and construction manager have in common? As the presenters of the July 8 Not Business As Usual (NBAU) forum explained, they are all alternative careers for an enterprising architect. Carrie Alexander of Staging by Alexander, Ari Burling, an architectural photographer, R. Elisa Orlanski Ours, vice president of planning and design for Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, lighting expert Milena Simeonova, and Yvonne Saavedra-Limb, AIA, LEED AP, a consultant/construction manager spoke to 100 attendees, explaining how architects can find — and make — their own opportunities. The presentation was co-organized by LMNOP NYC, Inc., a new organization that aims to provide professional development opportunities and support for architecture and design professionals. The next NBAU lunch will take place Wednesday, July 22, with a presentation by Allison Leighton, New York State Energy Research & Development Authority, about energy efficiency in new construction. Read more about NBAU here.

New Buildings New York Tours The Standard


The Standard, New York.

Courtesy of The Standard, New York

On June 24, the Center for Architecture Foundation (CFAF) launched New Buildings New York, a series of new building tours led by their architects and designers. The series began with a tour of The Standard New York, led by Todd Schliemann, FAIA, and Tara Leibenhaut-Tyre from Polshek Partnership Architects. Tours began in the outdoor courtyard under the High Line and continued throughout the hotel to both public spaces and private guest rooms. Guests took in the views of the Hudson River and Lower Manhattan from the roof and the 18th floor lounge that is not yet open to the public. After the tour, cocktails were served in the hotel’s Wine Room. Approximately $4,000 was raised to help support CFAF’s Programs@theCenter — interactive gallery tours and hands-on workshops designed to engage youth and families in contemporary topics about the built environment.

The CFAF would like to extend a huge thank you to Polshek Partnership Architects for volunteering their time to lead the tours, as well as to staff at The Standard New York, and Andre Balazs Properties, who were exceptionally generous in hosting this event on behalf of the CFAF.

More New Buildings New York tours are planned for 2009 and 2010. Visit the CFAF’s website for information, or e-mail info@cfafoundation.org and request to be added to our tours mailing list.

OHNY Returns this Fall

In its seventh year, openhousenewyork continues to “open” sites of architectural/design/engineering/cultural/historical interest in all five boroughs — free to the public. Join the growing list of architects who are showcasing their projects to an anticipated 200,000 visitors during OHNY Weekend, October 10-11. The current list includes: Selldorf Architects; FXFOWLE Architects; Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners; Lyn Rice Architects; Hanrahan Myers; Polshek Partnership Architects; Richard Meier and Partners; the AIANY Emerging NY Architects committee; and the Center for Architecture. If you’d like to participate or for more information, contact Jessica Mak at jessica@ohny.org.