Editor’s Note

On 05.27.14, just a few weeks after Massimo Vignelli’s son invited designers who were influenced by the graphic designer to send him a letter of support and gratitude, Vignelli passed away at the age of 83. The design world, and our city, is deeply indebted to the work of the Italian-born, NYC-based designer. Vignelli’s famed 1972 subway map of New York City still lives on the MTA’s The Weekender website. His design for NYC’s subway system signage has been extended to other elements of the city, including the city’s website and pedestrian way-finding maps. So this week, as you ride the subway, take a minute to think about, and thank, Massimo Vignelli.

Foster Introduces Undersung Pioneers to the Public

Energized by a love of “anonymous architecture” – and unfazed by the New York Public Library’s recent decision to return his firm’s redesign of the 42nd Street main library to the drawing board – Norman Foster, Hon. FAIA (also known, since his elevation to the peerage in 1999, as Lord Foster of Thames Bank), gave an overflow audience a persuasive manifesto in the guise of a set of personal recollections. His discussion combined an homage to the structural-tile wizards Rafael Guastavino Sr. and Jr. – treasured among architects, particularly those familiar with the scholarship of MIT’s self-described “Guastafarian” John Ochsendorf, but largely unknown outside this community – with a broader salute to some of his design heroes. These often-under-recognized figures in architecture, engineering, and product design have inspired Foster’s work, from his working-class boyhood in Manchester, before he was even aware the profession of architecture existed, to his current position among its globally recognized leaders. Together with Foster + Partners engineer Roger Ridsdill Smith, who elaborated on the remarkably energy- and materially-efficient properties of shells and related double-curved forms, Foster made a convincing case for the combined functionality and beauty of geometries that “do more with less.” Continue reading “Foster Introduces Undersung Pioneers to the Public”

Pier View

On a misty day last week, the city’s newest active recreational facility, Pier 2 at Brooklyn Bridge Park, opened with a flourish of eloquence, and a day of basketball and handball. On hand were Alicia Glen, the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development and Chair of Brooklyn Bridge Park (BBP), along with newly-appointed Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP, and BBP President Regina Myer. Also speaking at the opening were Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy Executive Director Nancy Webster and elected officials including State Senator Daniel Squadron, Assembly Member Joan Millman, and Council Members Stephen Levin and Robert J. Cornegy. Commissioner Victor Calise of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities was also present, as were design notables from around the world, including Andreas Vaa Bermann, head of the Norwegian Design Center, Norsk Form.

The Deputy Mayor praised the design by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and Regina Myer and Nancy Webster for making it happen. She said: “What an incredible moment to expand active recreation here in Brooklyn Bridge Park,” and that “since its opening in 2010, the park has fast become a major attraction and community amenity.” Parks Commissioner Silver noted that he moved back to Brooklyn for his new job, and will be a frequent user of the new pier. The Commissioner said: “Not since the creation of Marine Park in the 1930s has the city seen the creation of a park of this size and importance,” adding, “The park is truly open to all.” Continue reading “Pier View”

Construction Codes to Match Our Concerns

As the City introduces new policies and initiatives, AIANY wants to ensure that the public is properly informed and prepared. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) and the NYC City Council implemented a series of revisions to building codes and local laws to reflect the need for resilient building techniques in New York City. The package of new legislation would collectively be known as the 2014 NYC Construction Codes. On 05.21.14, Keith Wen, RA, technical advisor to the DOB Office of the Commissioner, presented the new information to a packed crowd at the Center for Architecture. If you missed this important session, you can view it online here. Continue reading “Construction Codes to Match Our Concerns”

The Swiss Touch in Landscape Architecture

As AIANY 2014 President Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, noted in his introduction for the opening of “The Swiss Touch in Landscape Architecture,” at the Center for Architecture, landscape architecture “stands at the center of urban and political discourse of our time.” Paradoxically, he said, it’s still largely “unknown to the public.” That’s why we need to bring that under-appreciated practice to light; after all, it is such an integral part of the oft-used term urban fabric, but it’s “not understood in a dogmatic way” like buildings. This exploration of landscape design as part of the social/physical aptly fits into the AIANY’s year-long theme, “Civic Spirit: Civic Vision.” Continue reading “The Swiss Touch in Landscape Architecture”

Urban Nature, from Zurich to New York

“‘Nature’ is simply another 18th- – and 19th-century fiction.” – Robert Smithson

This is one of the quotations that AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA, chose to introduce the 05.16.14 event, “Urban Nature: Between Human and Non-Human.” A collaboration between ETH Zurich and Columbia GSAPP, the conference featured eight speakers who approached the relationship between “urban” and “nature” from a variety of angles; yet, the construction of nature as a concept and the natural-built dichotomy were major themes running through the fascinating collection of topics explored. Continue reading “Urban Nature, from Zurich to New York”

Oculus Book Review: “Old Buildings New Forms: New Directions in Architectural Transformations” by Françoise Astorg Bollack

AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA, introduced Françoise Astorg Bollack, AIA’s 05.12.14 Oculus Book Talk at the Center of Architecture by proclaiming that her book “makes sense” and “is essential.” This is very true. Bollack’s Old Buildings New Forms: New Directions in Architectural Transformations is a rare artifact that will be an important tool for the design classroom as well as for designers of and participants in the urban fabric. With this book you are in the hands of a skilled scholar as well as designer. Bollack establishes a framework of basic formal diagrams to structure her argument, and lays an elegant foundation in her introduction by looking at the avant-garde art scene in New York in the 1960s and 70s.

Bollack describes how the then-new postmodern dance movement – the work of Simone Forti and Trisha Brown’s Roof Piece – established a particular sensibility in the art world that forced tradition and progressive practice into a new form. The ad hoc quality of these works, along with the works of Eva Hesse, Gordon Matta-Clarke, and many others, generated a world of ideas that eventually made its way into built space. Continue reading “Oculus Book Review: “Old Buildings New Forms: New Directions in Architectural Transformations” by Françoise Astorg Bollack”

Oculus Quick Take: “Old Buildings New Forms: New Directions in Architectural Transformations”

On 05.12.14, Miguel Angel Baltierra, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, interviewed Françoise Astorg Bollack, AIA, DESA, author of Old Buildings New Forms: New Directions in Architectural Transformations, published by The Monacelli Press and reviewed by Annie Coggan in this issue of e-Oculus. Listen to the interview here.

Fast-paced Design Awards

Nine of this year’s AIANY Design Award winners lined up for an evening of presentations “pecha kucha” style – 20 slides at 20 seconds each. It’s the fast-paced format that Tokyo-based Klein Dytham Architecture concocted a decade ago as a monthly party delivering quick doses of design diversity. The Chapter’s 2014 winners presented projects ranging from theoretical and unbuilt work to renovations, high rises, and urban interventions.

Leading the way with 4 World Trade Center by Maki and Associates, Mary Dietz of Silverstein Properties gave the audience an overview of the LEED Gold building and its place on the redeveloped World Trade Center site. Jean-Gabriel Neukomm, a principal at SPAN Architecture, took us to the other end of the spectrum with an interior retail space in China for Calvin Klein that features blackened steel and white marble. While both are fine examples of minimalism, Adam Yarinsky, FAIA, a principal at Architecture Research Office (ARO), presented the renovation of the godfather of Minimalism’s New York abode, the Donald Judd Home and Studio. Judd’s place on Spring Street was essentially stripped and historically preserved in a move so fine one is hard-pressed to find the new. Continue reading “Fast-paced Design Awards”

The Potency of Data

“Big Data.” The concept seems to be on the minds and lips of those even remotely interested in business trends in the 21st century. And yet, as alluded to by Matthew Quint, director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Brand Leadership, the reality of Big Data is often misunderstood. During his presentation, the fourth in the five-part Transforming Architectural Practice Series, Quint presented case studies of data usage by corporations, debunked myths about data, and outlined a compelling case for the value of data collection and analysis in architectural practice.

Quint pointed out that data is all around us. It is collected by every mobile phone, appliance, and surveillance camera in the world. The Internet alone generates incalculable reams of it. In and of itself, however, this information has no practical use. It is only noteworthy once it has been parsed, organized, cross-referenced, cleaned, and securely stored. Quint suggested it is only then that data becomes Big Data that can be used to generate a better product or service. Continue reading “The Potency of Data”