CFAF’s Student and Family Programs Focus on Middle East Exhibitions

A second-grade class looks closely at models in the exhibition.

Catherine Teegarden

Families engage in hands-on activities during their gallery tour.

Catherine Teegarden

Family Day participants share their buildings inspired by the exhibition on contemporary architecture in the Middle East.

Catherine Teegarden

Exploring the Built Environment: Architecture in the Middle East is an interactive gallery program focused around the Center for Architecture’s current exhibitions, “City of Mirages: Baghdad, 1952-1982” and “CHANGE: Architecture and Engineering in the Middle East, 2000-Present.” The program, offered to grades K-12, is tailored to meet the ages and needs of different student groups, and is adapted to supplement specific classroom studies. During their visit, students participate in a gallery tour, using observation and inquiry to explore how qualities of a place, such as climate, resources, and tradition, can affect local architecture. Visitors are exposed to the diversity of new projects in the Middle East, viewing new super-tall structures such as the Burj Khalifa, as well as restoration projects that illustrate the characteristics of more traditional architecture. Additionally, students explore how building design can respond to hot and harsh climates, looking at the ways in which buildings create shade, using screens, overhanging structures, and greenery.

On April 14, the Center for Architecture hosted a Family Day in connection with the exhibitions. As in the student visits, families participated in a gallery tour as they learned about architecture projects in the Middle East. Visitors had the opportunity to expand on concepts introduced on the tour during a hands-on workshop. Incorporating ideas from the exhibition (including the use of skyscrapers, screens, bridges, and bearing walls) families designed and created their own buildings for this part of the world. Participants were encouraged to look around the exhibition to gain further inspiration, as well as to use the Family Guide for ideas, a resource that highlights and provides information on particular projects. Family Day was a success, producing a variety of inspired and interesting buildings.

The Center for Architecture Foundation offers Family Days each month. Student Days are available throughout the year to K-12 school groups. To learn more about family and youth programs, or for information on ways to get involved, visit

The Architectural League announced the winners of No Precedent, the 31st annual Architectural League Prize for Young Architects + Designers (formerly known as the Young Architects Forum), including NYC-based Seung Teak Lee and Mi Jung Lim, STPMJ; and Michael Szivos, SOFTlab…The Architectural League also awarded its President’s Medal to Amanda Burden, Hon. AIANY, Chair of the New York City Planning Commission and Director of the Department of City Planning…

Winners of the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Lucy G. Moses Preservation Awards include John Belle, FAIA, RIBA, Hon. Ph.D., Preservation Leadership Award; The Honorable Brad Lander, New York City Council Member and The Honorable Stephen Levin, New York City Council Member, Public Leadership Award; and Project Awards went to 58 Hicks Street by Baxt Ingui Architects; Banner Building by Scott Henson Architect; Brown Memorial Baptist Church by Li/Saltzman Architects; Central Park Police Precinct by Fred Basch Architect; Hamilton Grange National Memorial by John G. Waite Associates Architects and SOM; New York City Center by Ennead Architects with Li/Saltzman Architects; The New-York Historical Society by Platt Byard Dovell White Architects; Newtown High School by Superstructures Engineering + Architecture; Edgar Allan Poe Cottage by Rogers Marvel Architects with Jan Hird Pokorny Associates; Rod Rodgers & Duo Multicultural Arts Center by Superstructures Engineering + Architecture; St. Patrick’s Cathedral Rectory by Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects and Thomas Phifer and Partners; and TWA Terminal by Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey

At the Annual Cocktail Benefit for the Salvadori Center on May 2, Elizabeth Diller will be presented with the 2012 Design Award, and AIANY Board Member David J. Burney, FAIA, with the Public Service Award…

Cornell University has selected Andrew Winters, founding director of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Office of Capital Project Development, to spearhead the technology campus it is planning for Roosevelt Island…

Metropolis magazine announced the appointment of John Gourlay as Executive Publisher…After 10 years, Jane Kolleeny is leaving GreenSource as Founding and Managing Editor, and Architectural Record, where she served as a senior editor; she is currently a consultant for the AIA’s Repositioning the Institute project…

AECOM has joined forces with David Rockwell/Rockwell Group to target the growing leisure, hospitality, and entertainment market in Asia…Cannon Design announced that Chan Byun, AIA, LEED AP, has joined the firm as Design Principal…

Ellen P. Ryan, AICP, has been appointed interim executive director of openhousenewyork (OHNY)…

2012 OCULUS Editorial Calendar

If you are an architect by training or see yourself as an astute observer of New York’s architectural and planning scene, note that OCULUS editors want to hear from you! Projects/topics may be anywhere, but architects must be New York-based. Please submit story ideas by the deadlines indicated below to Kristen Richards, Hon. AIA, Hon. ASLA:

Spring: Small Firms Doing Big Things [closed]
Summer: 2012 AIANY Design Awards [closed]

Fall: Learning Curve
Pedagogical shifts affecting architecture for education. —How architects/architecture reinforce new ways of teaching. —How architects/architecture can change the pedagogy. —How big institutional expansion plans are changing the city. —Case studies.
Submit story ideas by 06.01.12

Winter: In Sickness and In Health / Health & Well-being
Why and how the healthcare industry (providers, pharma, etc.) is investing in architecture.—What are the trends? —Issues: generational; demographic; sustainability; technology. —Case studies
Submit story ideas by 07.27.12

04.30.12 Call for Entries: CTBUH Best Tall Building Awards 2012

05.01.12 Applications Due: Douglas Haskell Award for Student Journals

05.04.12 Call for Nominations: Rockefeller Foundation Jane Jacobs Medal

05.14.12 Call for Entries: AIA New York State Design Awards

05.18.12 Request for Qualifications: Paris, France Residential Facility (U.S. Department of State, Office of Logistics Management)

05.26.12 Call for Applications: 72 Hour Urban Action Stuttgart 2012

05.31.12 Call for Entries: Arquideas — Landscape, Architecture & Wine Academic Competition

06.01.12 Call for Entries: Elizabeth and Robert Jeffe Preservation Fund for New York City

06.30.12 Call for Entries: New Economy Class Layout (Boeing 787)

07.01.12 Call for Submissions: Land Art Generator Initiative Design Competition

07.31.12 Call for Nominations: 2012 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize

04.18.12: The AIA New York Chapter’s Honors & Awards Luncheon at Cipriani Wall Street fêted the recipients of the 2012 AIANY Design Awards, Medal of Honor, Award of Merit, and the Stephen A. Kliment Oculus Award.


Award winners Paul Goldberger, Hon., AIA, and Alexander Garvin, Hon. AIANY, catch up at the Luncheon’s cocktail reception.

Sam Lahoz


The partners in Ennead Architects: (left to right) Thomas Wong, AIA; Timothy Hartung, FAIA; Joseph Fleischer, FAIA; Todd Schliemann, FAIA; Guy Maxwell, AIA; Susan Rodriguez, FAIA; Kevin McClurkan, AIA; Richard Olcott, FAIA; Don Weinreich, AIA; Duncan Hazard, AIA (not pictured: Tomas Rossant, AIA).

Sam Lahoz


Honors & Awards Luncheon Co-Chairs Michael Zetlin, Esq., and Marc Clemenceau Bailly, AIA, share the stage.

Sam Lahoz


AIANY President Joseph Aliotta, AIA, presents the Medal of Honor to Susan Rodriguez, FAIA, Founding Partner and Design Principal in Ennead Architects.

Sam Lahoz


Alexander Garvin, Hon. AIANY, looks on as Peter Samton, FAIA, and Jordan Gruzen, FAIA, receive a replacement Medal of Honor from AIANY President Joseph Aliotta, AIA. The firm Gruzen & Partners’ original Medal, which was conferred in 1974, was destroyed in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Sam Lahoz


(left to right) Amanda M. Burden, Hon. AIANY, Chair, NYC Planning Commission and Director of the Department of City Planning; David J. Burney, FAIA, Commissioner, NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC) and AIA New York Chapter Board Member; and Robert D. LiMandri, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Buildings.

Sam Lahoz


Design Award winner David Piscuskas, FAIA, LEED AP, Principal, 1100 Architect, with Paul Goldberger, Hon. AIA, recipient of the 2012 Stephen A. Kliment Oculus Award.

Kristen Richards

04.19.12: The AIANY Design Awards 2012 Exhibition opened at the Center for Architecture.

(l-r) AIANY Chapter President Joe Aliotta, AIA; Susan Rodriguez, FAIA; Joseph Fleischer, FAIA.

Sam Lahoz

Sam Lahoz

Sam Lahoz

04.13.12: David Yassky, Commissioner, NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission, presented “Improving Taxi Service in New York City: Taxi of Tomorrow and the Five Borough Plan” at the Center for Architecture.


Jill Lerner, FAIA, AIANY First Vice President/President-Elect and Rick Bell, FAIA, discuss the future of New York City’s taxi service with David Yassky (center), Commissioner, NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Daniel Fox


David Yassky and Rick Bell, FAIA, with the “Taxi of Today.”

Daniel Fox

04.15.12: CicLAvia, the semiannual car-free event in Los Angeles, makes streets safe for people to walk, skate, play, and ride a bike. In addition to organized activities, shop owners and restaurants along the route are encouraged to open their doors to participantsroute. Ciclovías started in Bogotá, Colombia, more than 30 years ago in response to the congestion and pollution of city streets. Now they happen throughout Latin America and the United States.


Rick Bell, FAIA, with Jaime de la Vega, former City of Los Angeles Deputy Mayor of Transportation and current General Manager of the Department of Transportation (LADOT), at CicLAvia.

Center for Architecture

04.21.12: The “Helsinki-New York Roundtable Discussion” involved pecha kucha-style presenttions of the work of emerging Finnish firms, NYC-based winners of the AIANY New Practices competition, and the Architectural League’s Emerging Voices. It was followed by an exhibition opening for “NEWLY DRAWN – Emerging Finnish Architects.”


(l-r) Martta Louekari, World Design Capital Helsinki 2012; Rick Bell, FAIA; Anu Puustinen, Avanto Architects; Janne Teräsvirta, ALA Architects.

Center for Architecture


Tuomas Toivonen, Now Office, performs “Urbanism in the House.”

Rick Bell

04.22.12: On Earth Day the AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee (DfRR) hosted a discussion called “Trends in Response to Natural Disasters: Adaptation by Design.” Keynote speaker Dr. Arthur Lerner-Lam, Interim Director of the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, presented the risks and inevitabilities of natural disasters from an earth scientist’s perspective. He posited that we not only have to plan for earthquakes and other natural disasters, but we also have to plan for multi-hazard scenarios with cascading failures, as was the case in 2011 in Tohoku, Japan.

Even though NYC is at a relatively low risk for earthquakes statistically, because of the fragility of the structures built to older codes and the population density it ranks in the top five of riskiest cities. Lam said that architects play a key role in preparing for the future and helping clients and cities weigh the “future discount” by spending on preventative measures today. We need to become more dynamic and versatile to compensate for more variable and uncertain weather conditions.


“Geology is inevitable.” When and where a disaster will happen as it relates to “human time” is what is uncertain, said Dr. Arthur Lerner-Lam during his keynote.


Panelists discussed how architects need to think in multiple scales, from neighborhoods to larger networks of cities, to mitigate and adapt for future natural disasters. (L-R): Dr. Lerner-Lam; Rodney Leon, AIA, Principal of Rodney Leon Architects; Richard Gonzalez, RA, LEED AP, Teaching Fellow at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; Hillary Brown, FAIA, Professor of Architecture, CUNY, and Founding Principal of New Civic Works; Eric Macfarlane, PE, Deputy Commissioner for Infrastructure, NYC Department of Design and Construction; and Moderator Victor Body-Lawson, AIA, Principal of Body-Lawson Associates.

04.18.12: The SMPS-NY 2012 Industry Awards Gala was held at the Union Square Ballroom to celebrate the winners.


Dattner Architects Associate Adam Watson, AIA, LEED AP, and Chief Marketing Officer Kirsten Sibilia, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP.

Courtesy SMPS-NY

04.03.12/04.11.12: April was Publicolor’s month, taking home a Benjamin Moore HUE Award for Social Responsibility, and celebrating its annual fund-raising gala.


Publicolor Founder and President Ruth Lande Shuman, and Tom Krizmanic, AIA, LEED AP, Principal, STUDIOS Architecture and Publicolor Board member celebrating the HUE Awards on the 44th floor of Hearst Tower.

Kristen Richards


Publicolor’s Shuman with Jonathan Marvel, FAIA, Principal, Rogers Marvel Architects at Publicolor’s annual Stir, Splatter + Roll gala at Martin Luther King, Jr. High School.

Kristen Richards

: Artist Katharine Harvey has transformed recycled plastic into a chandelier above the World Financial Center Winter Garden’s marble staircase.


Water bottles, sandwich trays, muffin tins, salad boxes, and egg cartons comprise the 21-foot tall by 15-foot wide sculpture.

Jesse Untracht Oakner

: A team of New York Institute of Technology students, alumni, and faculty attended the Milan Furniture Fair to exhibit their work at the SaloneSatellite, a venue at the fair for new and emerging designers.


Interior design student Ashley Sarazen at NYIT’s Salone booth providing bicycle reflectors to fairgoers.

New York Institute of Technology School of Architecture and Design


“Essence,” a chair created by design student Barbara Schoenenberger, was exhibited at the NYIT booth.

New York Institute of Technology School of Architecture and Design

Global Models for Cities of the Future

Event: Shadow City(s): AIANY Global Dialogues 2012 Event Series
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.29.2012
Speakers: William Menking, The Architect’s Newspaper (introduction); Molly Heintz, The Architect’s Newspaper (moderator); Elliot Sclar, Director, Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD), Columbia University Earth Institute; Clara Irazábal, Director, Latin Lab, and Assistant Professor of Urban Planning, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP); Jeffrey Yuen, master’s student, Urban Planning program, Columbia University; Geeta Mehta, Adjunct Associate Professor, GSAPP; Anna Rubbo, Associate Professor of Architecture, University of Sydney
Organizers: AIANY Global Dialogues Committee

Jakarta, Indonesia.

Courtesy of Bruce Fisher

Rapid development in India, Brazil, China, and other rising powers brings certain visions of global urbanism into view: shiny new districts, usually catering to expanding middle and upper classes, often with transportation systems resembling those of the mid-20th-century U.S. But what Columbia University Earth Institute planning scholar Elliot Sclar calls “late urbanization” doesn’t always need to take that form: though local officials often steer visitors toward showcase modern districts, there’s also much to learn from observing the peripheral areas or “shadow cities”—sometimes unlivably congested, but not always, and often quite functional in their own improvisatory ways. If, as Sclar suggests, urban spatial form is a function of ideology, technology, and economy (both social and market), and all those variables are “path-dependent over time,” an either/or assumption that an external (Western) model will dominate is not only premature but self-fulfilling and destructive. As moderator Molly Heintz commented, though Westerners often see “the city of the future [as] a cleaner, brighter, shinier place… maybe our ideas of what the city should be are actually getting in the way.”

Sclar and his fellow speakers expressed apprehension that cities in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere will pursue inappropriate models and repeat the West’s mistakes. The 20th century’s dominant form of development, Sclar said, depended on four implicit assumptions: that energy is cheap, that environments are robust, that climate will remain constant, and that safe drinking water is ubiquitous.

None of these assumptions holds any more. With most future growth taking place in developing nations, conflating concepts such as access (a broadly desirable urban quality) and mobility (a more questionable one with a history of counterproductive effects) is likely to lock in development patterns that are ultimately unaffordable as well as unsustainable and socially exclusionary, as when Nairobi (where 49% of the population walks and 36% takes public transit) devotes disproportionate space to private vehicles. With the theoretical table thus set by Sclar’s opening presentation, the case studies presented by the remaining speakers suggest that the dialectic of formal and informal urbanisms will be a key determinant of whether the global trend toward urbanization will serve environmental and socioeconomic goals along with private interests.

Geeta Mehta’s analysis of the Mumbai-Pune Corridor, where growth is faster than in core cities but often unplanned and fragmentary, described a situation where real estate values are rising, rich and poor sometimes live in close juxtaposition, and slum conditions are found at the foot of new towers. Driven largely by the information technology industry’s needs and consultants’ imperatives, the built forms along India’s knowledge corridors omit basic typologies such as parks, and architects, planners, and the general public are marginalized (a theme that would recur through the program). Jeffrey Yuen, delivering a team presentation developed with Clara Irazábal, argued vigorously for alternatives to the massive-scale “petroleum urbanization” near Rio de Janeiro; the $20 billion COMPERJ petrochemical complex undertaken by the public/private Petrobras energy firm is transforming an area five times the size of New York City into a highly controlled, environmentally precarious region. Yuen suggested Teddy Cruz’s provocative metaphor of “contamination” as a means of guiding such places toward more just outcomes.

Australian scholar Anna Rubbo discussed Bhopal, damaged by the combination of corporate irresponsibility and vulnerable informal urbanism in the 1984 Union Carbide airborne toxic event, but also the home of impressive Islamic architecture such as the Taj-ul-Masajid, and the site of impressive grassroots forms of protest and planning. Recent policy efforts—the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and the Rajiv Awas Yojana or “Slum-Free City” housing and property-rights initiative—are addressing growth, distribution, and livelihoods, though sometimes paying little regard to earlier techniques of construction despite the sustainable features of older buildings. Rubbo acknowledged the participatory nature of Bhopal’s efforts and drew useful inferences for international observers about listening to local perspectives rather than imposing preformed solutions.

The tensions and disjunctions seen in these cities are not unique to developing nations. As William Menking recalled from tours of Baltimore with students for a class organized around The Wire, many New Yorkers are surprised to discover forms of urbanism marked by underdevelopment and abandonment. Irazábal later reprised this theme, urging a recognition that “shadow cities are not only ‘out there.’” Living amid relentless gentrification makes it hard to perceive the positive aspects of underfunded or disorderly places, but as Sclar observed in the group discussion, some informal ways of organizing space and daily life are underrated, as “people solve their own problems,” i.e., “developing very sophisticated social structures for getting clean water” if basic water infrastructure is lacking. “The real challenge in all this is not formal vs. informal, but the way in which we move from the informal to the formal, because ultimately solutions, if they’re going to be sustainable, have to be institutionalized.” This means effective governance that brings architects, planners, and underrepresented citizens—not just large multinational financial firms—into decision processes about zoning and investment, on scales larger than any single-site intervention.

Information Architecture: Designing Libraries in the Digital Age

Event: Libraries: Between Digital and Physical Worlds
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.04.12
Speakers: Steven Holl, FAIA, Steven Holl Architects; Lorenzo Pagnamenta, AIA, Atelier Pagnamenta Torriani; Tula Giannini, Ph.D., Dean and Professor, School of Information & Library Science, Pratt Institute; Carol A. Mandel, Dean of the Division of Libraries, New York University; Damon E. Jaggars, University Librarian, Columbia University Libraries. Moderator: Lazar Kesic, AIA, Co-chair, AIANY Committee on Architecture for Education
Organized by: AIANY Committee on Architecture for Education

The panel discusses the future of libraries in a digital world.

Daniel Fox

The libraries of our childhoods were lined with shelves of dusty tomes, and librarians were quick to hush even the quietest whisper. By contrast, today’s libraries serve as lively community centers that promote interaction, and architects’ roles in shaping these cultural institutions have shifted. A panel comprised of two architects and three library scientists gathered to discuss successful design strategies and debate the role of books in the digital age.

Lorenzo Pagnamenta, AIA, co-founder of Atelier Pagnamenta Torriani, presented his design for the Mariners Harbor Branch in Staten Island (see Oculus Spring 2012), and Steven Holl, FAIA, founder of Steven Holl Architects, presented Queens West Library in Long Island City—both public library projects in progress. Pagnamenta’s project, clad in standing seam zinc panels and fritted glass, was inspired by Staten Island’s history of oyster harvesting and its form echoes that of a cracked oyster shell—two volumes are split by a central spine bringing natural light into the core. Holl’s design features a poured concrete mass with giant cut-outs that capture views of Manhattan along the building’s circulation path. Stepped in section like an amphitheater, the library’s interior immediately reveals its stacks to visitors. Holl described it as a “tiny building with big responsibilities to the multi-cultural neighborhood it serves.” Though very different in design approach, these projects share several features: they are environmentally sensitive and community focused, providing separate spaces geared towards kids, teenagers, and adults.

“Libraries are great examples of how technology has influenced core educational spaces,” noted moderator Lazar Kesic, AIA, Co-chair, AIANY Committee on Architecture for Education. But they also inspire debate when it comes to old school books versus their more modern digital counterparts. Holl, who is a big proponent of browsing, was concerned about the growing number of libraries that do away with conventional stacks and store books out of sight—or even off-site—in favor of more open study spaces. The librarians insist that while storage of some books is inevitable, they aren’t in danger of extinction. Damon E. Jaggars, University Librarian, Columbia University Libraries, pointed out that the book-to-digital ratio depends on the specialization of a library. Science libraries, for example, might get by with fewer books, but arts and humanities libraries could not.

Both architects and librarians must answer the question of how we can integrate information architecture with physical architecture, according to Tula Giannini, PhD., Dean and Professor, School of Information & Library Science, Pratt Institute, who considers herself a “digital scholar.” These days, everyone wants to capture information with their cameras and scanners, and she believes that libraries should support that creative process. Carol A. Mandel, Dean of the Division of Libraries, New York University, believes that ultimately, “a library is about connecting people with knowledge, and that’s what architects should design for, whether that means books or digital files.” All panelists agreed with Holl’s assessment that a library “doesn’t have to look like a library, but it should be an inspiring space.”

Are Faster and Bigger Better?

Event: Faster and Bigger: Building in the Middle East
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.02.12
Speakers: Scott Duncan, AIA, LEED, Design Director, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Sudhir Jambhekar, FAIA, RIBA, LEED AP, Senior Partner and Design Principal, FXFOWLE; Roger Nickells, B. Eng (Hon), C. Eng., MICE, Partner and Managing Director for the Middle East, Buro Happold
Moderator: Hassan Radoine, Ph.D., Head of the Architectural Engineering Department at the College of Engineering, University of Sharjah, UAE
Organizers: Center for Architecture
Benefactor: A. Esteban & Company
Lead Sponsor: Buro Happold
Sponsors: Eytan Kaufman Design and Development; FXFOWLE
Supporters: Arup; Columbia University, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; Dewan Architects & Engineers; GAD; HDR; Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates; NAGA Architects; Ramla Benaissa Architects; RBSD Architects; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; World Monuments Fund; Zardman

The panel of experts discusses large-scale building in the Middle East.

Laura Trimble

Glittering new towers are rising again in the Middle East, less than four years after the catastrophic collapse of Dubai’s real estate market. Despite global economic turmoil, nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council (or GCC, comprising the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman) continue to implement ambitious development schemes of enormous size.

One such project is the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The KAFD is intended to be the new Central Business District for the city. As Scott Duncan, AIA, LEED AP, described it, the proposed development is comparable in size to a miniature downtown Manhattan. Sudhir Jambhekar, FAIA, RIBA, LEED AP, and Roger Nickells, B. Eng (Hon), C. Eng., MICE, are also designing structures within the KAFD. Consequently, when the three discussed their overlapping experiences, the conversation illuminated a number of issues confronting architects working in the GCC.

First and foremost is the question of speed. Nickells explained that governments, rather than private sector entities, currently control most large-scale development schemes. As a result, these megaprojects become devices to placate nervous populations or enhance the credentials of politicians or aristocrats. The Saudi government, for instance, views the KAFD Conference Center as the catalyst for future development in the District, and Duncan asserted that King Abdullah wants to be present at the opening ceremonies. Concerns over the King’s poor health, however, have forced the entire project—from initial design to finished construction—to be realized in 14 months.

Hassan Radoine, Ph.D., fears that architects designing projects in the region are forced by accelerated schedules to create buildings that lack aesthetic and contextual sensitivity. Without time to devote to learning about the heritage and character of a place, architects tend to rely on their standard stylistic or formal tropes. As Radione chided, Zaha Hadid’s building in Rabat looks the same as her building in Abu Dhabi, despite the fact that the two cities are separated by thousands of miles. Worse, Radoine continued, is when designers without a clear feeling for the spirit of a place misguidedly adopt Orientalist pastiche in an effort to blend into the surrounding context.

Radoine also worried that the speed and scale of these megaprojects have a negative impact on humanity. The sheer size of development could produce mini-metropolises that lack the fine-grained grit and soul required of healthy, fully-functioning cities. In addition, the construction process requires thousands of unskilled migrant laborers, who are often underpaid, overworked, or otherwise abused by their employers. Human Rights Watch documented this phenomenon during the previous construction boom in Dubai. Radoine also expressed an aesthetic concern, in that compressed time frames force broad-stroke schemes, with little attention paid to design details that ultimately delight viewers.

Regardless of the professional impact upon architects and engineers, it will be intriguing to see the results of the current development surge in the GCC. Will these megaprojects contribute to healthy, vital communities, or will they be theme parks for the economic and cultural elite? Only time will tell.

Is Optimism Back?

Event: Designing Your Alternative
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.27.12
Speakers: Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan, Content Editor and Designer,; Harry Gaveras, AIA Co-Founder, Doodlit, Owner Propylaea Architects; Serena Chen, AIA, LEED AP BD+C Project Manager, Dasny Mechanical Inc.; Calvin Lee, Esq., Assoc. AIA, LEED AP Associate at Zetlin & De Chiara; Jessica Wyman, Owner, Wyman Projects; Annie Ledbury, LEED AP BD+C, Managing Director, Architecture for Humanity New York; Erik Thorson, Platform Engineer, Varick Media Management, Virtual Build Technologies
Moderator: Brynnemarie Lanciotti, Assoc. AIA, Project Manager, Franke, Gottsegen, Cox Architects
Organizers: AIANY Emerging New York Architects (ENYA) Committee

Respondents discuss alternate career paths.

Simon Battisti

The AIANY Emerging New York Architects (ENYA) Committee hosted a discussion about non-traditional career paths for people with architecture degrees. Panelists represented a wide swath of related industries, from graphic design to design journalism, non-profit design consultancy and construction law. But they were united by a common experience: faced with limited options at the height of the recession, and often burdensome student loans, what is a career alternative for someone with a specialized degree?

Moderator Brynnemarie Lanciotti, an intern architect, questioned the panel about what life was like on the other side, and what ultimately justified a departure from the profession. When asked what single thing architecture schools should change, Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan, editor at, an online community for architects, implored universities to make architecture education free of cost. Architects are so deeply handicapped by debt, she argued, that any leverage they may have gained by a name-brand program is nullified immediately upon graduating.

Despite broad agreement on the challenges stacked against young architects today, the tone of the group was hopeful. After all, upstairs the same night, the scene was one of exuberance about design, as young designers celebrated the opening of the “A Plague Remembered: AIDS Memorial Park Design” Exhibition. The competition that was the basis for the show offered young architects an opportunity to pay homage to those lost during the AIDS epidemic, and also imagine the possibility of a new public space for New York City. The juxtaposition between the events was provocative, and a reminder not only of the diversity of the architecture community in the city, but about what makes it rich—a willingness to openly discuss vulnerabilities, and offer advice to the next generation.

Fran Silvestre: Economies and Forms

Event: Three Houses, One Skyscraper and a Chair; a lecture by Fran Silvestre
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.28.12
Speakers: Fran Silvestre
Introductions: Rick Bell, FAIA, and Inigo Ramirez de Haro Valdes, Consulate General of Spain
Organizer: The Center for Architecture
Sponsors: Spain Arts & Culture and Spain Culture New York

Fran Silvestre presents his recent work at the Center for Architecture.

Nicole Friedman

Spanish architect Fran Silvestre’s lecture detailed the philosophy of his studio in relation to each of five projects. He is very much a local architect: each of the white-on-white buildings are in or around Valencia, the architect’s home base, and attempt to balance the desire to enhance existing natural beauty with economic austerity.

This frugality at the core of Silvestre’s young practice gives the Casa Del Antilado its form: a single cube levitating over the rocky terrain of the Spanish countryside. The design was largely driven by the expense of excavating the rocky site. Instead, the architect chose not to level the ground, but rather to hover over it. The completed concrete frame was lowered onto stilts, both embracing and transcending the local environment while creating the ideal vantage point from which to admire it.

The desire to transcend creeps up again in the design of the House on the Castle Mountainside. Sited against a striking backdrop of the picturesque Iberian countryside and historic villages, Silvestre saw his task as one of overcoming the beauty of the surroundings to stand on its own. The weekend home thus took on the fragmented geometry of the surrounding landscape and reinterpreted it within the studio’s own vernacular, standing, as the architect suggests, “somewhere in between history and innovation,” inventing only where needed.

Silvestre’s work emphasizes the importance of economy, both in design and in construction. Just as in his built projects, his proposal for a chair seeks to find a form by understanding the object’s life-cycle and inventing new efficiencies within it. Made of a single sheet of aluminum, the form is cut with only five incisions and bent to shape. The resulting thin silhouette suggests that the object is on the verge of disappearing: an expression that is very much at the core of designer’s intention. The design is as concerned with the object’s efficiency in life, as in production: the chairs stack snuggly and vertically for storage, as the designer observed that the greatest cost of objects is incurred long after they have been made.

Oculus Book Talk Series

Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities
Alexandra Lange
Princeton Architectural Press, 2012

The author Alexandra Lange.

Laura Trimble

Architecture and design critic Alexandra Lange has written a lively, open-hearted, and open-minded book about architectural criticism that is at once accessible and scholarly. She initially invites the reader into this world by examining and reflecting upon ways in which critics select an approach to writing criticism. The first is the formal approach. Think Huxtable and Mumford: “…a primary emphasis on the visual—the building or object’s form….” The second, experiential, “created and defined by Muschamp… descriptive in writing, but expresses the way a building makes him (and by extension, the reader) feel.”  Historical is how Lange defines the third approach, which, she writes, is exemplified by Paul Goldberger: “…the architect’s career and in fitting buildings within that (limited) framework…it offers a sense of context missing from other critics’ work…a sense of completeness.”  The final approach, as exhibited in the criticism of Michael Sorkin and the career of Jane Jacobs, is the activist. “Their first questions are not visual or experiential…These critics are defenders of the city, and of the people, and analyze projects primarily for economic and social benefits.”

While these approaches provide the tasting palette for the menu of ideas that unfolds throughout the course of the book, Lange ends this wonderful journey of writing about architecture with where criticism is heading in a world transformed by technology and digital publishing.   Architecture in the past decade has become increasingly ingrained in the public’s vernacular and consciousness.   Walking down the street and listening to passersby one will often hear comments on a building’s architectural design with a level of awareness and passion that was rarely heard 25 years ago unless you were in the profession.  Does that mean that everyone who writes a blog about architecture is a critic? “Bloggers can become architecture critics for a cause,” Lange notes, “slicing off one piece of the city to analyze and critique…” From my own perspective, being a critic and writing from a critical perspective have their distinctions.  As Lange writes, “the review is still the review…The blog is something else, and its effect on architecture and criticism still to be determined.”  However, don’t wait until that question is resolved.  Leap into Writing About Architecture, and no matter where you end up, you will be enriched by the ride.

Each month, the AIANY Oculus Committee presents a Book Talk at the Center for Architecture. Each Oculus Book Talk highlights a recent publication on architecture, design, or the built environment — presented by the author. The Book Talks are a forum for dialogue and discussion, and copies of the publications are available for sale and signing. Alexandra Lange was the featured writer on April 4. The next talk, on April 30, features Kenneth Frampton and his Five North American Architects.

Listen to Oculus Book Talk podcasts produced by the Center for Architecture and AIANY.