Editor’s Note

Calling all architects! AIANY | Center for Architecture is soliciting work of all scales and types – large and small, private or public, commercial, residential, interiors, historic preservation, engineering, landscape and urban design – for our upcoming “New York New Design” 2014 Subway Show. During Archtober, our month-long festival or architecture and design, we launch our annual “station domination” of the West 4th Street subway station, presenting built and unbuilt architecture projects in the station’s two southern corridors. The exhibition will present the scope and quality of work being done by AIA New York Chapter members both at home and abroad in one of the city’s most busy stations – over 13.5 million passengers walked through West 4th Street last year alone! Submission deadline is July 16, 5:00 PM EST.

In addition, I hope that you will join us at the AIA Convention 2014 taking place in Chicago from 06.26-28.14. The AIA New York Chapter, AIA New York State, and IBEX Construction will be celebrating the 2014 Honorees and New Fellows on 06.26.14 from 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM at the University Club of Chicago, 76 East Monroe Street. Please RSVP to sstein@ibexconstruction.com.

Washington Squared

On Tuesday, 06.10.14, newly-appointed NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, FAICP, and Dr. Feniosky Peña-Mora, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Design + Construction (DDC), were joined by Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, City Council Members Margaret Chin and Corey Johnson, Community Board 2 Chair David Gruber, Washington Square Park Conservancy Executive Director Sarah Neilson, and a score of children from P.S. 41 to open and dedicate the third phase and completion of Washington Square Park’s $30.6 million renovation. The design of the park, by landscape architect George Vellonikos, a longtime Greenwich Village resident, has been complemented by the new north-end public restroom and meeting facility by BKSK Architects, adjacent to the revised and renovated dog run. AIANY testified in favor of the project at the hearing of the Public Design Commission a few years ago, and the Center for Architecture hosted a public hearing on the design, including the dog run. That may have been the only time the canine coalition was out in numbers to voice their support for design change.

But at the ceremony, with kids present, the former controversies were forgotten as the beauty of the design became evident through description and observation. Park Commissioner Silver noted that the park looks better than ever, adding that the de Blasio Administration looks forward to “working with the community to ensure that Washington Square Park remains an inviting oasis to New York City’s residents and visitors for present and future generations.”

DDC Commissioner Peña-Mora noted that “environmentally-friendly amenities for park-goers” would augment the park’s use. He added that Washington Square Park showed the Administration’s commitment to sustainability and worked to “bring our neighborhoods closer together.” Continue reading “Washington Squared”

Unlocking Potential: Libraries as Hosts for Universal Pre-Kindergarten

Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced his initiative to provide free, universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) for all eligible children in NYC. To make enough seats available, the city must engage more community-based organizations. Branch libraries have been identified as ideal locations for UPK because of the existing programmatic synergies. On 06.12.14, AIANY hosted “Uncovering Synergies: A Design Charrette,” organized by AIANY and the NYC Department of Design + Construction (DDC), and sponsored by the AIANY Committee on Architecture for Education. The charrette explored how seven library branches in five boroughs can accommodate UPK by fulfilling the city’s varied requirements. This interdisciplinary exercise brought together representatives from the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Public Library, relevant city agencies, non-profit organizations, and architects. Continue reading “Unlocking Potential: Libraries as Hosts for Universal Pre-Kindergarten”

Behold City Hall Station

Known mostly through the images like those prominently on display at the Museum of the City of New York’s (MCNY) exhibition “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile,” the secret hideaway of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been glimpsed by a few curious New Yorkers looping around on the #6 train at Brooklyn Bridge Station and explored by a lucky handful of (mostly) New York Transit Museum members. On 06.05.14, presidents and members of AIA’s local New York chapters boarded an empty #6 train and toured the abandoned City Hall Station. Led by the MTA’s affable Frank Klimasz, the tour proved the aphorism “not all subway stations are created equal” correct.

When City Hall Station opened in 1904, the southern terminus of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) was the crown jewel of the nascent system. The nontraditional curved platform is bedecked in tiled green and white archways, once-sparkling chandeliers, and intricate glass skylights that dramatically light the underground space. The plaques that commemorate the construction of the underground train system honor architects Heins & LaFarge of St. John the Divine fame, but omit Rafael Guastavino, MCNY’s unsung hero and the true mastermind behind the station’s design (and, coincidentally, the cathedral’s 12-story vaults). Walking through the station, the collective feeling was one of nostalgia: “Why don’t we have spaces like this anymore?” Continue reading “Behold City Hall Station”

Presenting “Open to the Public: Civic Space Now”

“Open to the Public: Civic Space Now,” which opened at the Center for Architecture on 06.12.14, offers multifarious interpretations of public space. This satisfying exhibition muses about both the philosophical and the practical, showing a spectrum of how public space is used, “discovered,” carved out, left to languish, and sometimes revitalized. It folds perfectly into and clearly articulates the Center’s year-long presidential theme “Civic Spirit, Civic Vision.”

Despite the breadth of the exhibition, the show manages to link to important historical moments of civic space, starting at its inception, when Greeks and Romans made public space a tenet of their value systems. The “agora” was a nexus for politics and intrigue, as well as relaxation and informal congregation (we still use the word today, in “agoraphobia,” the fear of public/open environments). It also points out that while humans have always craved public space and have prioritized it, the very definition is vexingly ephemeral and resists a singular expression. Continue reading “Presenting “Open to the Public: Civic Space Now””

The Turbulent Possibilities of Public Space

Nearly everything important in a living democracy takes place in public space: expression that’s politically or artistically consequential, transactions that drive the productive parts of the economy, the movements of people (individually or massed) for the sake of necessity or curiosity or joy. There may be no better barometer of a society’s well-being or a city’s residential desirability than the quality of its public spaces. Yet they have recurrently been treated as amenities and managerial afterthoughts, an early target for budgetary cutbacks. The very idea of a municipal office dedicated to them, a Director of Public Space, is something that AIANY President Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, recalled suggesting a few years ago with tongue in cheek, “a Monty Python title” no more likely to be institutionalized within City Hall than the Ministry of Silly Walks. Discovering that Zurich actually has such a position, ably filled (and eloquently explicated here) by Christine Bräm, was a watershed moment, Brown noted. Perhaps city governments occasionally can conceive of this universal and essential aspect of cities as their legitimate concern. Continue reading “The Turbulent Possibilities of Public Space”

FUNDAMENTALS: The 14th International Architecture Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia

“So you’re off to the circus,” Lars Lerup, professor of architecture at the Rice School of Architecture, admonished me the evening before I left for Venice. From the privileged tranquility of the American Academy in Rome, the Venice Biennale, by comparison, has always been a mosh pit of disparate agendas. This architectural spectacle, otherwise known as Venice’s International Architecture Exhibition, has often had little clarity as a curated exhibition. With vague titles and ambiguous agendas, past Biennale directors often filled the exhibitions with the work of their peers while allowing the contents of each National Pavilion to go un-reined.

But funnily enough Lerup and I suspected that this year’s circus just might be a circus unlike all previous circuses – thanks to this year’s ringmaster.

Indeed this year’s director has always been one to forge his own path. None other than the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rem Koolhaas, Hon. FAIA, set the agenda almost two years ago by changing the dates, mandating a cohesive theme, and titling this Biennale, “Fundamentals.” In his words: “a Biennale about architecture, not architects.” By sheer power of will and reputation he made it so. Continue reading “FUNDAMENTALS: The 14th International Architecture Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia”

Oculus Book Review: Next Generation Infrastructure by Hillary Brown, FAIA By Annie Coggan

The June Oculus Book Talk was introduced by AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA, who presented a short, well-produced film on the newly opened “Open to the Public: Civic Space Now” exhibition at the Center for Architecture. The film features AIANY 2014 President Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, speaking about the Center’s commitment to civic space, and served as an adept way to usher in Hillary Brown’s extensive research in and around civic space. Brown’s talk was entitled “Future Proofing,” which is an evocative tag line for her line of inquiry. What Brown sets up in her lecture as well as her book, Next Generation Infrastructure: Principles for Post-Industrial Public Works, are a series of projects and consequences that can be described as “solving for pattern,” an analysis technique coined by environmentalist Wendell Berry. The phrase gets to the core of Brown’s interests. She starts and ends her book with Minnesota’s 2007 I-35W bridge disaster, and begins her inquiry by quoting from the book Natural Capitalism: “you can actually make a system less efficient while making each of its parts more efficient…” This is the tragedy of the I-35 incident. Multiple municipalities were not acting as a whole to maintain the bridge. And this is the genesis of Brown’s research for examining infrastructure projects globally. Continue reading “Oculus Book Review: Next Generation Infrastructure by Hillary Brown, FAIA By Annie Coggan”

Oculus Quick Take: Next Generation Infrastructure: Principles for Post-Industrial Public Works

On 06.09.14, Miguel Angel Baltierra, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, interviewed Hillary Brown, FAIA, principal of New Civic Works, professor at the Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York, and author of Next Generation Infrastructure: Principles for Post-Industrial Public Works, published by The Island Press and reviewed by Annie Coggan in this issue of e-Oculus. Listen to the interview here.

Social Housing in Spain

If the right to freedom of speech could be described as the integral value in American society, perhaps the analogous value would be the right to housing in Spain. That right is a breathing, diversifying, and multiplying legacy across the country. For a taste, consider that from 2000 to 2010, Spain produced more collective housing than the more obvious, socially-aligned EU powerhouses England, France, and Germany, combined. The panel discussion “Social Housing in Spain,” part of the AIANY Housing Committee’s series on international housing design, jibed perfectly with the Center for Architecture’s yearlong presidential theme, “Civic Sprit: Civic Vision.” Continue reading “Social Housing in Spain”