Now that the fall is approaching, the city is brimful of architectural events. Be sure to check out the recently announced Architecture Week schedule on the AIANY website, and start planning your October now!

– Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP

Correction: In the Summer 09 OCULUS Design Awards issue, the names Rahul Mehrotra and Peter Chermayeff, FAIA, should be transposed in the caption under the Design Awards jury photo on page 9, and in the Projects jury caption on page 13.

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Water: From Enemy to Ally

Event: H209 Water Forum
Location: Liberty Science Center, 09.09-10.09
Speakers: For a full list of the more than 100 speakers, and to download the full H209 program, go to henryhudson400.com
Organizers: Henry Hudson 400 in partnership with Liberty Science Center, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, and the Netherlands Water Partnership


The H209 Forum commemorated Henry Hudson’s pioneering voyage by exploring the water challenges of the 21st century.

Courtesy Henry Hudson 400

The Dutch have a saying that God created the earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands. “The Dutch have a long, and sometimes painful, relationship with the sea,” said Cees Veerman, chairman of the Dutch Delta Commission and co-chair of H209 — a two-day forum for the Dutch to share their knowledge and best practices. The great flood of 1953, ever present in conversation today, spurred the creation of the Delta Works, a series of locks, dams, and flood barriers. With the predicted rise in sea level and fluctuations in river discharge, the Dutch are constantly planning for disaster. For that reason, the government established a “new” delta committee, called the Sustainable Coastal Development Committee. Whereas the former committee focused on hydraulic engineering works to counter an acute threat, the second is charged with making recommendations with a broader mandate. Top on their list of goals: how to adapt to climate change.

Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb of Rotterdam showed post-WWII and current photos of his city, Holland’s second largest with Europe’s largest port. Located on the North Sea, the port of Rotterdam has 24/7 access, hosting companies that specialize in storage, trans-shipment, and ancillary services. “And it could all be gone in seconds,” said Aboutaleb. One solution to rising tides is the Delta Works’ Maeslant Barrier, a storm surge barrier built in 1997 consisting of two enormous doors that fill with water and sink to the bottom when closed to seal off the port. The barrier is only closed in extreme weather, but the Dutch expect this to happen more frequently due to the rising sea levels. Because of this and other developments, Rotterdam hopes to be a 100% climate-proof delta city by 2025.

Also on the minds of attendees was Hurricane Katrina, which U.S. Senator Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA) said was our “wake-up call,” warning of another category-three storm in the near future. She compared the U.S. to a drowning person, as Holland is an Olympic swimmer. The senator reiterated reform goals she detailed in a letter to President Obama urging restoration, flood protection, and a new system of integrated water management. She called for dedicated funding to replace the project-by-project approach that has characterized the Water Resources Development Authority legislation in the past, and hopes this administration will designate a high-level working group to address these issues.


Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Urges Americans to Take Back Their Water

Event: H209 Water Forum Keynote Address
Location: Liberty Science Center, 09.09-10.09
Speaker: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. — Chairman, Waterkeeper Alliance
Organizers: Henry Hudson 400 in partnership with Liberty Science Center, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, and the Netherlands Water Partnership


The Hudson River.

Jessica Sheridan

When Henry Hudson reached New York Harbor, he noted it was teeming with salmon, mullet, and wraith-like rays. Americans have been fisherman since the country was a Dutch colony, employing techniques learned from the Native Americans. “The Hudson River is our Noah’s Ark,” said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., chairman of the Waterkeeper Alliance, the largest grassroots water protection group in the country. The organization started in 1966 in Crontonville, NY, when commercial and recreational fisherman united to save the Hudson River.

According to Kennedy, “they were prototypical blue-collar environmentalists,” and to them, “the Hudson was their environment, their workplace, their property, their park — it was their Riviera.” They felt Penn Central was robbing them of their river, which had turned black with oil, and joined forces despite doubting they could beat a large corporation and force it to obey the law. In the course of researching an article about angling in the river two years earlier, one member of the group came across two little-known laws — the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1888 and the Refuse Act of 1899. These statutes forbade pollution of American waters and provided a bounty reward for whoever reported the violation.

The Riverkeepers, as they called themselves, succeeded in shutting down the Penn Central pipeline and collected a $2,000 bounty, the first ever awarded under the statute. The group went on to collect larger bounties against Standard Brands, Ciba-Geigy, American Cyanamid, and $200,000 from Anaconda Wire and Copper.

The Waterfront Alliance now has 200 member organizations worldwide. “Know your rights,” says Kennedy. “The people own the waterways, not the government or a corporation.”

The Dutch Take Governors Island

Event: Pioneers of Change: Open Talks
Location: Nolan Park, Governors Island, 09.10.09
Speakers: “Towards a New Notion of Luxury”: Laurene Boym — Boym Partner; Marije Vogelzang — Proef; Amale Andraos — WORKac; Christien Meindertsma — Product Designer; Matilda McQuaid — Deputy Curatorial Director & Head of Textiles, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum (Moderator);
“New Collaborations”: Jake Barton — Local Projects; Pascale Gatzen — Painted; Arne Hendriks — Platform 21; Scott Stowell — Open; Julie Iovine — Executive Editor, The Architect’s Newspaper (Moderator)
Organizer: Pioneers of Change; Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum


Governors Island, New York, sign ‘LAND! Pioneers of Change’ by Experimental Jetset.

Photograph by Experimental Jetset, courtesy of Droog

As part of NY400 Week, the Dutch have taken over Governors Island to host Pioneers of Change, a festival of Dutch design, fashion, and architecture celebrating 400 years of Dutch-American friendship. Conceived and curated by Renny Ramakers, co-founder and director of Droog, Pioneers of Change is comprised of installations in eleven houses in Nolan Park. Installations include a pop-up store of Dutch design and a slow food café, as well as exhibitions of collaborations between Dutch and American artists and designers. A two-part panel discussion kicked off the festivities.

“Towards a New Notion of Luxury” examined the impact of the economic downfall on perceptions of the finer things in life. Panelists agreed that with the current return to simplicity, space, fresh air, respect, silence, and time are valued more than money. They discussed this idea through some of their projects.

Amale Andraos, co-founder of WORKac, presented the simple luxury of growing food, as featured in Public Farm 1 last summer at P.S.1, and an edible schoolyard for P.S. 216. “Eating-designer” Marije Volgelzang, founder of Proef, explores connections between food, culture, and memory. She organized a Dutch national tap water tasting, sampling water from 12 different regions of the Netherlands, and a Food Memory Workshop, where elderly citizens of Rotterdam were fed typical old Dutch dishes that brought back memories from the WWII era. “It’s luxury in a twisted way,” Volgelzang said, “of getting back what you own.” Laurene Boym, of Boym Partners, discussed a series of handmade objects — Missing Monuments, Buildings of Disaster Series, and Babel Blocks — that she believes are luxurious because they are one-of-a-kind and in limited edition.

“New Collaborations” examined connections between the “design world” and the “normal world” by posing the question: How can non-professionals play an intricate role in realizing creative projects? Local Projects, a media design firm, created StoryCorps, a booth where people document their experiences for a national oral history archive. Similarly, graphic design firm Open creates “designs for people,” according to firm founder Scott Stowell. For its design for architectural signage at the Brown University Friedman Study Center, Open invited students and faculty to submit words and images from the archives, which were then silkscreened on the walls.

Dutch collaborative Platform 21 connects the efforts of amateurs and professionals. Their project “Hacking IKEA” displays how designers and non-designers alike transform their IKEA furniture for new uses. For the Pioneers of Change exhibition, Platform 21 is inviting the public to help them repair and refinish old furniture.

One of the themes of the day was why the Dutch are good designers. Moderator Julie Iovine, executive editor of The Architect’s Newspaper, pointed out that being a designer might be easier in the Netherlands, where the government provides more support than the U.S. According to Dutch fashion designer Pascale Gatzen, the reason is because “we have to reorganize ourselves constantly,” due to the lack of space. Perhaps space isn’t such a luxury, after all.

A New Generation of Designers Speaks Up

Event: Archiculture Trailer Premiere Benefit
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.02.09
Speakers: Ted Landsmark, Assoc. AIA, Ph.D. — President, Boston Architectural College; Bill Moorish — Dean, School of Constructed Environments, Parsons The New School for Design; Gregg Pasquarelli, AIA — Co-founder, SHoP Architects; Billie Tsien, AIA — Co-Founder, Todd Williams Billie Tsien Architects; Giancarlo Tramontozzi — Architectural Professional, Profiled in Archiculture; Dionysios Neofitidis — Architectural Professional, Profiled in Archiculture
Moderator: Ian Harris, Co-Director, Archiculture
Organizers: Archiculture
Sponsors: HOK; Studios GO; Battle Tank Design Studio; MKI Realtors; Anyline; Brooklyn Brewery


Archiculture Drafter.

Courtesy www.archiculturefilm.com

As the design industry continues to be transformed by technology and a demographic of young professionals enter the work force, Archiculture — a documentary directed by David Krantz and Ian Harris — presents a provocative view of the architectural profession and its impact on the lives of practitioners and the general public. Exposing the intense reality of matriculating through an architecture program, the film, currently in post-production, follows five students through the trajectory of their senior thesis projects.

During the trailer premiere at the Center for Architecture, Krantz and Harris fueled a conversation among academics and seasoned and young professionals to explore a growing disconnect between architectural education and professional practice. “Architecture schools are failing to prepare our graduates to be architects,” claimed Ted Landsmark, Assoc. AIA, Ph.D., president of Boston Architectural College. With a growing sense that architecture is a concept hinged on the virtual world of design, Landsmark inquired, “Can one be an architect without making anything?” The theoretical practice of design led many graduates of prior generations to pursue academia over the studio. With a majority of now tenured faculty espousing a limited view of a multi-faceted field, concern is rising about the ability of architecture curriculums to equip students with professional practice skills. Gregg Pasquarelli, AIA, principal of SHoP Architects, believes in engaging technology, production, and culture, and encouraging students to possess a greater understanding of finance and development to broaden their design freedom.

Krantz and Harris have tapped into a rising coup among architecture students, as the consensus calls for a syllabus emphasizing greater accountability to the general public and the environment. Architectural training needs to stress scale, according to Billie Tsein, AIA, of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects; understanding the relationship between the built environment and human beings is crucial to creating space. Landsmark encouraged architects to be more political and avoid working in isolation, stating, “Every time we design a public space we are engaging in a political act that affects people we don’t know — we can’t divorce ourselves from that.” Scheduled to premiere in 2010, Archiculture is a call for change, intrepidly exposing the shortcomings of architectural education today, and motivating design’s leaders to make their language more accessible to the public.

Department of Energy Tackles Zero Net Energy Buildings

Event: Are High-Performance Buildings Really Performing? A Discussion with Drury B. Crawley
Location: Con Edison, 09.08.2009
Speakers: Drury B. Crawley, AIA — Technology Development Manager, U.S. Department of Energy
Organizers: ASHRAE; Urban Green Council


U.S. Department of Energy’s 2025 Goal.

Courtesy Net Zero Energy Commercial Building Initiative

No matter how often they’re repeated, the statistics stun. Responsible for 40% of all energy consumed in the U.S., buildings are the nation’s largest energy drain, beating out both transportation and industry. They use 73% of our electricity and 55% of our natural gas. At 9% of the total carbon dioxide released into the world’s atmosphere, their direct contribution to global warming exceeds that of the combined economies of Japan, France, and the United Kingdom. And, emphasized Drury B. Crawley, head of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Net Zero Commercial Building Initiative, the problem is only getting worse.

Crawley is confident that flat-lining buildings’ energy use is technically possible, but stressed that there is no magic bullet. Plastering the nation in photovoltaics is not enough; instead, designers and scientists need to develop a better understanding of the specific consumption patterns of individual buildings and the people who use them, and strategize accordingly.

While a number of recent bills have established firm deadlines for weaning American buildings off energy, Crawley expressed concern that on-the-ground activity was not keeping pace with legislative ambitions. Responding to the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act requirement that all new commercial buildings be at zero consumption by 2030, followed by 100% of the remaining stock by 2050, he remarked, “I’m glad I won’t be working. There are a lot of buildings out there.”

Robots Provide Design Freedom

Event: Gramazio & Kohler: Digital Materiality in Architecture
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.10.09
Speakers: Matthias Kohler — Partner, Gramazio & Kohler
Organizers: AIANY Cultural Facilities Committee
Sponsors: Consulate General of Switzerland in New York; Think Swiss; Swiss International Airlines


Image from upcoming site-specific installation of Gramazio & Kohler’s work.

Courtesy Storefront for Art and Architecture

The Swiss firm Gramazio & Kohler explores the interface between architecture, design, and construction through digital control and fabrication. It investigates full-scale applications of programming processes in precise designs with a goal to “transform the physical structure of architecture,” according to firm partner Matthias Kohler. He hopes this digital/material reorganization will lead to a shift in the expression of architecture.

Expression of material properties has been limited by designers’ means of representing those properties in the planning and design phases. Gramazio & Kohler’s approach is to program a paradigm or process with aesthetic parameters into a computer system that can allow an automated system to express the qualities of the material in a new way. For example, by using a robotic arm, the firm has discovered a new way to articulate common masonry units that redefines the relationship of space and decoration to modern architecture, according to Kohler.

Gramazio & Kohler has produced new material expressions using a range of computers, from those found in mobile phones (mTable) to intelligent networks placed throughout the light system of a public park (Uster Municipal Park). To see the firm’s work, Gramazio & Kohler will be featured in an exhibition at the Storefront for Art and Architecture opening on September 30.

How to Highlight Architecture

Event: Architectural Photography: Professional Techniques for Shooting Interior and Exterior Spaces Book Launch and Talk with Norman McGrath
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.03.09
Speaker: Norman McGrath
Organizer: AIANY Historic Buildings Committee


Architectural Photography: Professional Techniques for Shooting Interior and Exterior Spaces.

©Norman McGrath, Courtesy AIANY

Throughout his career, Norman McGrath’s photographs have appeared in publications including Architectural Digest, Architectural Record, Progressive Architecture, Domus, Interior Design, Interiors, and New York. He has published several books, and his most recent explains how he has achieved his success. Architectural Photography: Professional Techniques for Shooting Interior and Exterior Spaces serves as a guide to the architectural photography industry, covering the evolution of modern photography techniques and technologies.

One of the biggest changes in photography in recent years has been the switch from film to digital. McGrath took his first digital photo in 1995, which required over 30 seconds of exposure due to all the filters necessary to correct for fluorescent light and other obstacles, as well as hours of computer manipulation afterward. These days, McGrath believes the future of architectural photography is with Photomatix Pro, a program that creates and processes HDR (High Dynamic Range) images and allows seamless integration of images without introducing light. The simplicity of this program eliminates the need to use “casefulls of equipment to light interiors,” McGrath explained.

McGrath is a loyal Canon user — typically the 5D Mark II and IDS Mark III models — and believes it is the best choice among camera manufactures. He is featured as one of the Explorers of Light, a prestigious panel of 78 Canon photographers. As far as favorite places to shoot, McGrath believes that Chicago is one of the most “architecturally rich cities” in the U.S. Millennium Park is “one of my favorite spots in the world,” he said, having recently photographed Renzo Piano Building Workshop’s addition to the Art Institute of Chicago. Foster + Partners’ Hearst Tower — the cover image for his new book — is one of his favorite newer NYC buildings.

How does an aspiring architectural photographer make the transition into the profession? McGrath’s advice is to take workshops, such as those offered by the International Center for Photography (ICP), read up on the subject, and get “suitable” equipment. He also suggests persuading an established architectural photographer to take you on as an assistant. However, “it is not a good field if you have a large ego,” he warned. He believes that an architectural photographer should make you think “what a terrific building” rather than “what an amazing photo.”

40,000 Photos Later…


(Left): Fran Leadon, AIA, last winter in Midtown, with student Adrian Hayes and New York Times writer Constance Rosenblum. (Right): AIA Guide Research Assistants, December 2008. (L-R): Adrian Hayes, Amanda Chen, Christopher Drobny, Katja Dubinsky, Calista Ho, Marina Ovtchinnikova.

Douglas Moreno(left); Fran Leadon

This week we completed the photography for the upcoming fifth edition of the AIA Guide to New York City (Oxford University Press, 2010), with help from 22 student assistants from the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at City College. Our combined efforts over the past year have yielded well over 40,000 new photos of more than 6,000 buildings and parks from the northern tip of the Bronx to the southern end of Staten Island.

We began with a group of four undergraduate architecture students (Calista Ho, Katja Dubinsky, Amanda Chen, and Marina Ovtchinnikova) and three Master of Landscape Architecture students (Jon Fouskaris, Christopher Drobny, and Adrian Hayes), and tackled Midtown, the Upper West and Upper East Sides during the fall 2008 semester. The photos students began to bring back to class were extraordinary. Years of design studios had trained their eyes to analyze and question. They didn’t simply drive by and shoot the buildings; they really studied them. Beautiful details emerged: courtyards, faded signs, lanterns, cornices, pediments, friezes. Their work was extremely time-consuming and dependent on good light and weather.

Jon, Amanda, and Christopher continued their work into the spring semester, joined by two undergraduates, Glenn DeRoche and Douglas Moreno, and two Master of Architecture students, Bradley Kaye and Jason Prunty. Together we photographed the remainder of Manhattan (the Villages, the Lower East Side, Harlem, Upper Manhattan). Shooting photos in the winter months proved to be arduous. There were fewer good hours of light, and last winter’s temperatures were brutal (I almost got frostbite trying to shoot Yorkville one frigid week in January). As Manhattan neared completion, I redeployed three students (Bradley, Amanda, and Jon) to Brooklyn, and wonderful shots of Park Slope, Gerritsen Beach, Coney Island, and Sunset Park were added to our photo database.

By May we had finished all of Manhattan, and an enthusiastic group of undergraduate architecture students (Andrea Barley, Cinthia Cedeno, Mary Doumas, William Eng, Jaimee Gee, Tiffany Liu, Adrian Lopez, Ross Pechenyy, and Billy Schaefer) joined Jon for a summer ramble through the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island, cameras in hand. Their work was painstaking. The students would make multiple visits to sites to get exactly the right shot, waiting for the light and shadows to cooperate. Frequently they were told to stop photographing by a homeowner or security guard (a constant, vexing problem).

As research assistants, the students weren’t acting only as photographers. We asked them to take notes on each place they visited, as we rewrote, updated, and added to the new edition’s text. It would not have been possible for us to complete the new edition in just one year without the help of our students. To commemorate their work over the last year, we will simultaneously snap one last “ceremonial” photo on September 23 at 11:00 AM. The building I have chosen was not included in the last edition of the Guide, but is a humble landmark and deserving of our undivided attention: Jane Jacobs’ house at 555 Hudson Street in Greenwich Village. I hope that AIA members and e-Oculus readers will come out to witness our “last photo.”