02.23.10 Editor’s Note: As promised in the last issue, the Grassroots conference is covered in depth in this issue. Check out the three installments of Rhetorically Speaking, by AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA, and the Around the AIA section.

Also, I would like to congratulate all of the new AIA Fellows this year. The full list of all the AIANY members who gained fellowship are listed in the Names in the News section, and come to the Center for Architecture on 03.04.10 for the Fellows Reception.

– Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP

Note: Be sure to follow Tweets from e-Oculus and the Center for Architecture.

Resilience is in the Details of Historic Buildings

Event: Repairs and Replacements of Historic Buildings
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.16.10
Speakers: William Neeley, Jr. — Assistant Director, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; Monty Mitchell, AIA — Co-chair, AIANY Building Codes Committee (respondent); Walter Sedovic, FAIA — Principal, Walter Sedovic Architects (respondent)
Organizers: AIANY Building Codes Committee; AIANY Historic Buildings Committee


The Rockefeller Apartments (built in 1936).

Courtesy www.nyc-architecture.com

As much as anyone might want to demystify the workings of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), the approval process will never be a cut-and-dried matter. However, LCP Assistant Director William Neeley’s presentation clarified the criteria for designating landmarks and determining whether changes to landmarked structures should go forward. He also allowed that these procedures inevitably strive to balance priorities frequently in tension: integrity of original materials, aesthetics, context, and sustainability. What makes a building or district worthy of landmark status involves both its fabric and its visual effect, Neeley said; changes that some observers would consider inauthentic on close inspection may be essentially invisible when the materials are installed on a high floor. The interplay among the competing values, all occurring while building technologies evolve, ensures that the debates surrounding preservation and restoration remain irresolvable.

Neeley’s talk and the ensuing panel discussion focused on the process of working on landmarked sites, not the sociology and rationales of preservationism. He examined case studies such as the restored steel casement windows in the midtown Rockefeller Apartments, the downtown Potter Building’s wooden window sashes (with double glazing replacing inoperable single panes, plus a paint analysis resulting in recovery of the original rust hue), and the replacement of badly spalled terra cotta cornices in Jackson Heights with fiberglass-reinforced plastic. The last case falls into the complex policy area involving substitute materials; Neeley outlined the LPC’s requirements that deteriorated features be replaced by new units that match the original color, texture, size, and (where applicable) decorative details, preferably above eye level, producing a cumulative effect that doesn’t diminish a building’s integrity.

The respondents seconded Neeley’s emphasis on judgment calls. “The Buildings Department does not make clear distinctions between repair and replacement,” observed Monty Mitchell, AIA, co-chair of the AIANY Building Codes committee. The thresholds of what replacements are essential and what operations require a permit are sometimes resolved more ad hoc than through wholly predictable precedents. Safety-assessment requirements under Local Law 11 raise problems in buildings with distinctive features that predate current codes, Mitchell noted; the risk of fire spreading horizontally through combustible cornice materials shared by a row of old-law tenements is a common problem. Another variable in landmarked districts is that alterations must comply with the New York State energy code if at least 50% of a building system is replaced; building-wide window replacements reach this percentage, and an exemption affecting historic buildings is about to be removed by City Council (though how the Buildings Department will interpret this change, Mitchell said, isn’t yet clear).

Walter Sedovic, FAIA, of Walter Sedovic Architects, describing himself as a LEED early adopter and an advocate of “sustainable preservation,” raised the point that buildings erected before 1929 can perform as well as those of the contemporary green-building era in energy conservation. The problem buildings, he finds, are those of the 1930-2000 period. Authenticity and environmental performance, Sedovic argued, are often compatible values; the origins of many sustainability criteria are in features of traditional buildings, such as high thermal mass. “The issue here,” he said, “is how much Disneyfication are we willing to accept under the guise of the application of codes before our Modernist landmarks are eroded? Before the time that we actually figure out what it is that we’ve lost?”

The gauntlet that Sedovic laid down involved both appearance and performance. “We’ve been fooled in the past, and not in the recent past: in the distant past,” he cautioned, by materials manufacturers’ claims about durability that haven’t panned out. Pressed-iron galvanized roofing shingles, epoxies, and silicones have all come and gone as “savior” materials, he recalled, and “vinyl is final” has become a punchline (“If vinyl were final, why did Sherwin-Williams introduce vinyl siding paint?”). Any material, including today’s fiberglass components, deteriorates without maintenance.

Instead of endlessly experimenting, Sedovic recommended, architects and owners should apply the best available technical knowledge about materials and assess long-term benefits, not just initial costs. Particularly as “shovel-ready” stimulus money flows toward retrofits and repairs, he advised architects to pursue an agenda that best serves the built environment in the long term. “Throwing money out for a bunch of quick jobs to do something that has no lasting value is not stimulus,” he said. “With the inherent benefits of our historic buildings, our voice needs to become more collective and louder… What LEED is all about is relearning the things that we knew two generations and more ago.”

Two Exhibitions Advocate for Preservation of Modern Landmarks

Event: Modernism at Risk: Modern Solutions for Saving our Modern Landmarks and Back on the Map: Revisiting the New York State Pavilion at the 1964/65 World’s Fair exhibition openings
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.17.10
Speakers: Anthony Schirripa, FAIA, IIDA — 2010 AIANY President; Bonnie Burnham — President and CEO, World Monuments Fund; Frank Matero — Professor of Architecture, University of Pennsylvania; Rick Bell, FAIA — AIANY Executive Director
Organizers: World Monuments Fund; Center for Architecture
Sponsors: Knoll, Inc.; Oldcastle Glass


Kent Memorial Library (1972) in Suffield, Connecticut. Architect: Warren Platner (1919-2006).

Photo by Andrew Moore

“It’s the next great idea, the next big problem for preservation,” according to Frank Matero, former chair of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania. “It” is a rapidly aging collection of Modernist landmarks. When major repairs become necessary, many historic buildings are destroyed due to technical challenges of their restoration, their perceived obsolescence, or simple public apathy. “While modern buildings face the same physical threats as ancient structures, they are too often overlooked as insignificant, not important enough to preserve. We launched our Modernism at Risk initiative to advocate for these often ignored buildings and to address their special needs,” stated Bonnie Burnham, president of the World Monuments Fund, the organization that organized the traveling exhibition, Modernism at Risk, currently on view at the Center for Architecture.

To counter these forces, the “Modernism at Risk” exhibition makes the case for design advocacy, encouraging architects to speak up for the importance of preserving our built heritage. Wall text celebrates how advocacy swayed public opinion to preserve Edward Durell Stone’s Conger Goodyear House; Marcel Breuer’s Grosse Point Public Library; Warren Platner’s Kent Memorial Library; and the ADGB Trade Union School in Germany, by Bauhaus architects Hannes Meyer and Hans Wittwer.

Other projects fared less fortunately: a scale model and several large photographs of Paul Rudolph’s Riverside High School make poignantly clear what was lost when the school was demolished last year. For added urgency, an “At Risk Now!” section calls attention to threatened works by Breuer, Rudolph, Walter Gropius, Eero Saarinen, and Carlos Raúl Villanueva; visitors are encouraged to send one of several free postcards to the organizations that are petitioning to save the buildings.

Back on the Map, on display simultaneously in the Helfand Gallery, presents Philip Johnson’s New York State Pavilion in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, built for the 1964-65 World’s Fair. The structure is itself an example of design advocacy. Photographs, articles, postcards, drawings, and a wall-length map and timeline bring to life the excitement that initially surrounded Johnson’s design, as well as the ongoing, still tenuous, efforts to conserve the pavilion and restore it to active use.

“These buildings are documents of a period that is no longer our ethos,” stated Matero. Their preservation is vital, but, he cautions, “the public is not behind it yet.” However, according to 2010 AIANY President Anthony Schirripa, FAIA, IIDA, “Preserving Modernist landmarks should be a goal not only for the design community, but for all communities that want to celebrate the diversity and richness of modern architecture in their midst. I hope these exhibitions will begin a dialogue amongst New Yorkers.”

Unified Field Gives Architecture a Reboot

Event: Media Architecture, Myths, Definitions, Challenges and the Future
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.09.10
Speakers: Eli Kuslansky — VP Business Development, Unified Field; Jeff Miller — Director of Programming, Unified Field
Organizer: AIANY Technology Committee
Sponsor: ABC Imaging


The dance booth at Sony Wonder Technology Lab.

Unified Field

In one scene of the 2002 film Minority Report, Tom Cruise’s character stands before a giant video display, sorting through digital data with the wave of a hand. These days, real life is starting to catch up to sci-fi, remarked Eli Kuslansky, vice president of business development of Unified Field, a firm that specializes in interactive media environments in museums and other buildings. High-tech, responsive spaces are becoming more common, as the fields of architecture and digital media become ever more tightly intertwined. In their recent talk, Kuslansky and colleague Jeff Miller offered a rapid-fire overview of the myths and challenges concerning “media architecture,” as well as presenting some of their company’s own boundary-pushing projects, including digital installations in the Gehry Partners-designed IAC headquarters in Chelsea and the Sony Wonder Technology Lab in Midtown.

So what is media architecture? As a new and evolving field, it’s tricky to define, and it sometimes goes by other names, such as “dynamic environments,” Kuslansky said. It can be thought of as “the confluence of the built environment and digital media,” he explained, and it draws from a wide array of disciplines, including architecture, digital signage, interactive media, exhibition design, information visualization, and real-time building management systems. For architects, the field offers a new, expanded vocabulary and a fresh toolset that lets them create interactive spaces that engage the inhabitants as active participants.

One common misconception about media architecture is that it’s purely an advertising medium, Kuslansky said. Building owners are often inclined to use large-scale outdoor displays for ads, but it’s preferable to mix in other types of content, too. And not every project needs to have a measurable return on investment, he added. Sometimes a digital display or interactive installation can offer a subtle form of branding that’s not easily quantified.

Kuslansky stressed the importance of close interdisciplinary collaboration between architects and technology consultants, to ensure the success of media architecture projects. He also advised that the content should never be an afterthought, but instead should drive the design of the display system.

Some real-world examples of projects provided ample inspiration. At the IAC headquarters, lobby installations display data visualizations to help visitors learn more about the company’s web properties. On the east side on the lobby, an installation allows visitors to use a trackball to turn a virtual 3-D globe that shows the locations of web traffic for IAC websites in real time. On the other side of the building, a 118-foot-long video wall features another sort of data display, with Ask.com web searches symbolized by blades of grass in a field.

The youth-oriented Sony Wonder Technology Lab, a free technology-and-entertainment museum, was designed to offer an all-enveloping multimedia environment. “In some ways, it points to what the next generation of museum is,” Kuslansky said. “Since they’re a media company, Sony was very focused — the whole museum should feel like you’re immersed in the media,” Miller added. In a renovation completed last summer, Unified Field worked as executive producers and collaborated with Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership on the concept design for the exhibits.

When visitors arrive, they log into a computer and create a virtual profile that includes their photo, voice recording, and favorite color and type of music. They receive an RFID card so their profile can be used to customize their experience at exhibits throughout the museum. When they finish their profile, a trail of LED lights illuminates, shooting up from the computer station, along the ceiling, and down the wall of a ramp, leading visitors onward. The lights symbolize the digital profile flowing forward to join a virtual community, as the visitors move on to explore the physical space.

High-tech interactive exhibits invite hands-on participation. A dance booth with 10 cameras lets kids use a simple form of motion capture — without need for special markers or clothing — to create dancing animated 3-D characters that mimic their movements. In another exhibit, a haptic joystick lets users virtually wield medical instruments to perform simulated heart surgery. Not quite as futuristic as Minority Report, perhaps, but close.

Safdie Delivers Treatise on the Future of Architecture & Urbanization

Event: First Annual Oculus Lecture on Design — Moshe Safdie: Megascale, Order an Complexity
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.04.10
Speaker: Moshe Safdie, FAIA — Principal, Moshe Safdie and Associates
Moderator: Fred Schwartz, FAIA — Principal, Frederic Schwartz Architects
Organizer: AIANY Oculus Committee


Mamilla Center (left); Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum.

Ardon Bar Hama (left); Tim Hursley

“No architectural philosophy can exist without a reciprocal urban philosophy,” began Moshe Safdie, FAIA. “The problem with the [architectural] profession today is that the two fields are separate,” he continued. In the face of this polarization, he questioned if there is still an ethical framework in architecture.

Modernism produced bold concepts and notions that promised a new world order. However, Safdie believes modern architects do not have the right to claim success in the face overbuilt high-rise neighborhoods and suburban sprawl. He called for the profession to take responsibility for the built environment, to humanize development, and communicate to the public in simple, understandable terms. He referenced Vitruvius when he beckoned the profession to take a more ethical stance in the public realm.

The profession is thriving, Safdie stated. Architecture has caught on with the market economy, and clients hire architects to help market their companies. The profession is now considered an expressive art. New terminologies have even been developed — such as “star architect.” With both urbanization and population growth exploding, now is the time for architects to make an impact on the future.

Time is not only creating great crises in the world, it is providing enormous opportunities for architects. Safdie discussed cities like São Paolo and countries like China, where urban growth is booming so quickly that new, tall buildings are eroding old communities without consideration for an urban framework. Infrastructure and transportation need to be reconsidered. In this on-demand society with limited environmental resources, bike share programs like Paris’s Vélib need to be expanded, as well as car share programs like Zipcar. Architects also need to rethink building types, he proclaimed. Typical apartment buildings need to be reorganized so streets and gardens are integrated with the urban context. There needs to be an economy of prefabrication, a respect for the environment, and an appreciation for the quality of life.

The themes of habitat, community, memory, and symbol prevail in Safdie’s work. Since the iconic Habitat in Montreal, designed in 1967, established his career as an architect and redefined affordable housing, he has attempted to revise the concept behind the structure to make it more affordable, more efficient, and achieve a maximum density. Even though he has yet to put any of his revisions into practice, he admits the process is evolutional and the work will never be finished.

His impact on the community in Jerusalem is more concrete. The recently opened promenade at Mamilla Center is sited in an area that links the Palestinian and Israeli communities directly. Since it opened, Safdie claimed, it is one of the only places in the region where the communities mix in a peaceful manner. He feels it has transformed the city’s perception of itself.

The transcendental effect architecture can have on people is spiritually experienced in the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum, also in Jerusalem. After bringing visitors through a meandering landscape of historic images of the Holocaust, the final destination is a cantilevered space overlooking the city beyond. To Safdie, the moment inspires the feeling that life prevails. The view of the landscape is both renewing and affirming.

Ultimately, Safdie thinks that architects should take a cue from nature. A “fitness” of structure and beauty connote humanity. It is up to the profession to define the way space is used in a humane way. Referencing his mentor Louis Kahn, Safdie stated that it is up to architects to ask: “What does the building want to be?”

Note: To listen to the Q&A between Safdie and Schwartz, click here.

Photographers, Designers on How to Make a Picture

Event: Photographing Architectural Interiors
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.08.10
Speakers: Thomas H. Kieren — Photographer, Custom Corporate Photography; Charles Linn, FAIA — Senior Managing Editor, Architectural Record; Michael Moran — Photographer, Moran Studios; Edward J. Wood, IIDA — Principal, Gensler
Moderator: Erica Stoller — Director, Esto Photographics, Inc.
Organizers: AIANY Interiors Committee; AIANY Marketing & PR Committees
Sponsor: Humanscale


Southampton House. Architect: Alexander Gorlin, FAIA; Interior Designer: David Scott.

Photograph by Michael Moran

For both designers and photographers, the art of documenting an architectural interior involves many people, many hours, and many compositions. According to photographer Michael Moran, of Moran Studios, his role is that of a movie director with the help of the architect as producer. Architects and interior designers assemble an interior with a specific aesthetic vision. However, it is the job of the photographer to assure designers that any necessary relocation of the furniture and accessories of a space will ultimately be beneficial to the final photo shoot. It is crucial that all parties be flexible and open to re-thinking the interior.

Erica Stoller, of Esto Photographics, encourages designers to trust photographers to create a series of successful images. Stoller espouses the premise that photographers “make” an image rather than “take” an image. By layering individual moments, a photograph becomes a narrative. Given the abilities to edit out distracting details or craft accents in an image, photographers can layer on their own aesthetic to a room’s natural state.

Some question whether the advent of digital photography has negatively compromised the boundaries of realistically portraying an environment. However, Charles Linn, FAIA, senior managing editor at Architectural Record, who looks for saturated color and a sense of scale when reviewing photography for his publication, said, “We all like to be seduced by an idealized space.”

Photography intrinsically involves multiple challenges — including weather, natural lighting, and the inclusion or exclusion of people. Edward Wood, IIDA, a principal at Gensler, has found scheduling photo shoots on weekends or in the evening can be beneficial when staging people in a space. Thomas Kieren, a photographer at Custom Corporate Photography, advises that the reconciliation of multiple client concerns — such as those of the architect, flooring manufacturer, and acoustic engineer — can be achieved in a single photograph. Stoller agreed that, if achievable, addressing the needs of multiple team members on a project can facilitate the shared cost of a photo shoot. All panelists emphasized that developing a trusting relationship with a photographer will beget a mutual understanding of need and intent, resulting in a photography portfolio that lends itself to a designer’s legacy.

Bronx Chair: Remarks by Adolfo Carrión, Jr. at Grassroots, 02.04.10


Adolfo Carrión, head of the White House Office of Urban Affairs.

Emily Nemens

“I want to bring you greetings on behalf of the President,” were the first words of Adolfo Carrión, former Bronx Borough President and now head of the White House Office of Urban Affairs. He described President Barack Obama as “someone who understands urban, someone who understand smart growth.” Carrión noted that when Candidate Obama came to the U.S. Council of Mayors, he said he understood that the relation of our urban areas to Washington is broken. Shortly after the inauguration the Administration created the White House Office of Urban Affairs to enable intergovernmental collaboration, “a heavy lift” according to Carrión, designed to “wrap its arms around this challenge.”

Referencing the stimulus funding website, http://www.budget.gov/, a half-dozen times for emphasis, Carrión elaborated upon three primary and felicitous goals of the Obama Administration:
· Create smarter and more competitive regional economies
· Enhance environmental sustainability and responsible growth
· Design opportunities that speak to the places where people live, noting that this placed-based concept is at the heart of your work as architects.

The former New Yorker called for a national conversation on the future of cities and metropolitan areas, dubbed “metros” for short. His office helped create an inter-agency group on urban policy involving 17 disparate agencies. This has led to a co-joined and coherent strategy of smart growth and smart investment. He noted that “regional innovation clusters strengthen regional economies and make them more competitive,” and that smart growth “aligns land use with transportation investment.” Continuing on the theme of transportation-oriented development, he stated, “We have an imbalanced transportation spending framework and are starting a working group on transportation to manage the conversation on funding.” He criticized the antecedent formula as unsustainable, with 85 cents on each U.S. transportation dollar going for highways and only 15 cents devoted to mass transit.

“We need to change, but we need help getting there,” Carrión declared, noting that there is much opposition to public-transit reprioritization: “those [highway] interests are very strong, and they’re not kidding. There are people who have created industries around this funding imbalance.” The Administration’s Sustainable Communities Initiative combines initiatives at DOT, HUD, and DEP to facilitate transit-oriented development. “Investments in the basket of opportunity come from the notion that we are a country of neighborhoods. Not all places around the country nurture opportunity — they’re not walkable,” he noted, adding, “We need to invest in infrastructure to build a foundation for smart growth.”

The penultimate portion of Carrión’s remarks was direct, eloquent, and straightforward: “We are urban. We are more concentrated in large urban areas. The trajectory is global. More than half the world’s population lives in cities now. We need to build place, and the place needs to work. Our partners in that exercise are in this room and are [also] the people you represent around this country. How we improve the human condition in the place where people live their lives is what architects struggle with, what architects have fun with. We ought to do this in partnership.”

Carrión exhorted the 300 or more architects in the room to ask members of Congress to champion urbanism and smart growth, creating neighborhoods of opportunity. Quoting Frank Lloyd Wright, he recalled the adage that “physicians can bury their mistakes, but architects can only advise their clients to plant vines.” He concluded by saying: “We share the burden that you carry. If we didn’t do so in the past, we are doing so now under this President. We are building the platform for the future of the American Republic.”

Meta Cheer: Remarks by Dr. Richard Farson at Grassroots, 02.05.10

Dr. Richard Farson is a psychologist, author, and president of the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute. He psyched out the architects in the Grassroots plenary, saying, “Something is beginning to stir in the design professions, dramatically changing the role of architects in the world.” He gave as the three most important AIA initiatives: the redirecting of the public identity and image of architects; the use of design to deal with the most pressing issues of the time; and that design should serve all the people. Saying that social responsibility goes “way beyond sustainability,” Farson noted that “architecture, as the leading design profession, is, potentially, the most powerful profession on earth. You can meet society’s most pressing needs.”

Long interested in the field of design, Farson was the founding dean of the School of Design at the California Institute of the Arts, and a 30-year member of the Board of Directors of the International Design Conference in Aspen, of which he was president for seven years. In 1999, he was elected as a public director and served on the AIA’s national Board of Directors. He is a Senior Fellow of the Design Futures Council. With these credentials and background, he spoke of having to think beyond the scale of individual buildings: “You have to design a new approach to architecture, not only in the private sector but also in the public sector. To tackle these questions of infrastructure we need to become meta-designers.”

In the course of his remarks, he threw out a few glib one-liners, including, “Anyone working at what they were trained to do, is probably obsolete,” and Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism, “If it’s working it’s obsolete.” He noted that architecture is “one of the few professions that is dominated by its clientele, or rather, which has come to be dominated by its clientele. This was not always the case.” He referenced the book Leadership by Design by Ambassador Richard N. Swett, FAIA, “which is about the standing of architects, and how that has changed over time.”

“The public has to learn what designers can do,” he suggested “You’ll need collaboration with social scientists, political leaders, and all sorts of people you don’t deal with now.” And he appended three friendly warnings:

· The higher you go with leadership, the less you deal with problems and the more you deal with predicaments.
· Architects strive for perfection; as we tackle these complex problems, we need to take a lot more risks, and that must allow for failure.
· Meta-design is a higher calling; the money needed for meta-design is an investment — we’ll get it all back as you architects reduce discrimination and divorce, and as you build community and democracy.

Farson concluded with a reference to the movie “Its Complicated,” in which Steve Martin plays an architect. He reminded those present that architects have a secret weapon: mystique. He said, “You have created moments of power and strength and excitement and spirituality and earthiness and beauty.” During the lively question and answer session that followed, he was asked about ways in which the social responsibility of the profession can be enhanced. His answer was telling: “We have to increase our numbers. We have to increase what we are doing. We’re not mobilized as an architectural profession to deal with the great issues of our time. We need to work more effectively with the media. Commoditization is the danger, and the trouble.” Also, answering a direct question, he was able to plug his award-winning documentary film, “Journey into Self,” available online through Psychological Films in Laguna, CA.

Cheering Charleston: Remarks by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley at the Accent on Architecture Gala

As the Grassroots blizzard blanketed DC, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said, “I’ll talk about the art that we must all be committed to, the art of creating and maintaining beautiful and livable cities. Cities must be places where everyone’s heart can sing.”

Mayor Riley, who has worked long and hard with the American Architecture Foundation to educate elected municipal leaders about the importance of design said, “In the art of city building we must first seek not to make any mistakes. In Charleston we had made some mistakes, but we were determined to build beautiful and affordable housing. There is no excuse for building anything in our city that isn’t beautiful.”

Based on his experience in Charleston he was able to say, “One of the great challenges of city building is the restoration of downtown. The fact of the matter is that downtown is the public realm. It is where your citizenship is reinforced and where the rich and the poor can come together. Those are the reasons why the restoration of downtown Charleston was so important.”

Perhaps it was obvious to everyone in the audience, but in the context of the transformation of Charleston, his comment that “in an urban setting people don’t like to walk past vacant lots” took on new meaning: “In Charleston we got new shops downtown. It was great for our city. We got good design, good storefronts, at a human scale.”

Riley continued: “Saving buildings makes a difference on the street, even if you are saving a three-story building just to make sure that the ground floor is active.” He quoted Louis Sullivan as having said that form follows function — in Riley’s estimation that doesn’t mean that a parking garage has to make a big deal about showing off the cars parked there. He suggested the use of louvers, saying, “You don’t have to see the cars to have parking downtown.”

His speech was full of anecdotes and stories, including case studies of specific buildings in Charleston. But one of his tales that particularly resonated with the issues of downtown’s special places had Vincent Scully and Louis Kahn walking around Red Square and, as he put it, “One said about St. Basil’s, ‘Isn’t it lovely how it hits the sky?’ and the other said, ‘Yeah, but isn’t it so lovely how it hits the ground?'” From this Mayor Riley deduced that, “This is what great cities do. They have rules. We study what the city needs to be.”

A lot of his remarks at Accent concentrated on specific public spaces, including parks. For example, “When people say why build parks, that parks take property off the tax roll, they don’t understand what makes cities great. We’ve created the most lovely places. Every park design is different. Parks can be reposeful places for busy people in the center of a city. When you build a beautiful public realm, the private investment follows.”

“Charleston is a city you can walk,” he said. “Not having to drive downtown, and not having to find a parking place has saved a lot of marriages. The trams go where people want them to go.” He continued, “Let’s say that all of us here agree with all this, but what about political support?” His case studies described public engagement in the process and the outcome of decisions about public projects and spaces. He quoted a gun-toting security guard at a downtown liquor store as thanking him (during a purchase) for creating a park “that was the prettiest thing he ever saw.”

Vancouver Strives for Longevity at Olympics

“We didn’t set out to wow the world with starchitects and world-class architecture that we may or may not be able to use in the future,” stated Brent Toderian, Vancouver planning director, about this year’s Olympics in an interview in the Design Observer (See “Olympics in the City,” by Nate Berg, Design Observer, 02.10.10). Perhaps a jab at Shanghai, but, as the interview describes, this year’s Olympics’ scaled back approach to urban design may positively impact the city in the long run. Vancouver’s strategy was to develop a framework for sustainable development, in every sense of the word. “We had envisioned a world-class sustainable community for the False Creek area long before the Olympics were ever a gleam in our eyes. It was intended to be the greenest community in North America.”

Instead of going for the impressive array of world-renowned architects, Vancouver called on local talent — individuals intimately familiar with the site and surroundings. Toderian discussed using the Athletes Village as a baseline case study for future growth. The city developed a passive design toolkit, urban agriculture guidelines, and implemented sewer heat recovery. In addition to the Athletes Village, various urban improvements included upgraded transportation; the installation of a subway to the airport from downtown; the implementation of a public art initiative throughout the city; even new zoning regulations were put into practice. With most of the development occurring in the downtown area, there was limited urban sprawl, a strategy for which Vancouver is often celebrated.

However, Vancouver is not without its protestors. The Olympics Resistance Network and No Olympics on Stolen Land claim that the games are causing unnecessary environmental damage to the mountains and forests and expelling local residents from their homes.

Nevertheless, it seems as if Vancouver is trying to establish a new way of developing its city, with the expectation that mindsets will change toward sustainable thinking. All Olympic cities struggle with the challenge of trying to prevent obsolescence once the games are over. As Toderian questioned, “What good is a model of it doesn’t change business as usual, if it doesn’t make everything that comes after it better?” Hopefully, Vancouver will not only change its own urban practices, but it will also prove to be influential for other cities, whether or not they are hosting an Olympics.