The Atelier Projet Urbain, a moveable fȇte of architects, planners, and urban designers from France, came to New York for three days of meetings with city officials, activists, and practitioners. Over a hundred French design and planning experts were here for a conference, which kicked-off 07.06.11 with a reception at the Center for Architecture. Two days of seminars and symposia took place at Cooper Union’s Great Hall. The program was formulated by Ariella Masboungi — general inspector for sustainable development of the French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development, Transportation & Housing — along with Jean-Louis Cohen and Barbara Chénot Camus.
Conference topics included the major stages in the growth and transformation of New York, as well as perspectives on planning and design policies in NYC and the metropolitan region. Panels were organized around the broad topics of mobility, sustainability, zoning, and the waterfront. Speakers included City Planning Chair Amanda Burden, FAICP, Hon. AIANY, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, and DEP Commissioner Cas Holloway, along with, among others, Diana Agrest, Majora Carter, Christian de Portzamparc, Elizabeth Diller, Wendy Feuer, Cecilia Kushner, Roland Lewis, Michael Sillerman, Michael Sorkin, Tom Wright, and Adam Yarinsky. Opening and closing remarks were given by Jean-Marc Michel, head of the directorate for planning, housing, and nature for the French government.
The AIA New York Chapter orchestrated four half-day-long tours of the city, getting the conference attendees out to Red Hook and up to the South Bronx, as well as to the High Line and Lower Manhattan. At each of these tour locations, organized by Laura Trimble, project architects including Michael Arad, Craig Copeland, Mary Dietz, Ricardo Scofidio, and Carla Swickerath, joined clients such as Stephanie Gelb for animated discussions. Among the many insights shared, several stood out, including Burden describing her job being “to make it happen — with exciting and dynamic architecture — and with urban design which starts with how buildings meet the street and meet the sky.” In his introductory remarks, Cohen cited Marcel Duchamp’s description of New York as “disharmonious and confrontational” at least as compared with Paris. Vive la dissonance.