Antidotes to Xenophobia: Win/win Design Ideas for the Displaced

In our current political climate, the take-home message from the recent United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) – that migrants and refugees can be a positive influence on cities – comes as a breath of fresh air. The speakers on the AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee (DfRR) panel “Global Migration, Refugees, and a Role for Design” included Habitat III participants and design professionals who are working on alternatives to the prevailing model of relief-settlement urbanism (gridded tents, minimal infrastructure, negligible allowance for human dignity). They offered sane, humane observations about ways architects, planners, and city officials can step in where nation-states have failed. Continue reading “Antidotes to Xenophobia: Win/win Design Ideas for the Displaced”

No Disasters According to Plan, but the Hot Ones are Inevitable

Last November’s the AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee’s (DfRR) symposium Extreme Heat: Hot Cities assembled experts from multiple specialties to address the risks associated with increasingly frequent and severe heat waves as global temperatures continue to rise. Combining a health-oriented follow-up panel with the release of the symposium report in print, online, and video formats, “Heat Waves” adds momentum to the interdisciplinary activity that Brian Stone has dubbed “urban heat management,” drawing on the expertise of architects, landscape architects, public health experts, and others. “No disaster goes according to plan,” commented panelist Cynthia Barton of the NYC Office of Emergency Management (OEM), but as unprecedented global conditions continue to make thermal disasters ever likelier, these knowledgeable parties are doing what’s possible to plan for them. Continue reading “No Disasters According to Plan, but the Hot Ones are Inevitable”

The Raucous Rows and Ecstatic Stacks of MVRDV

The Dutch, said Fernando Villa, AIA, of the AIANY Housing Committee in introducing MVRDV’s Jacob van Rijs, have been innovating in our city since the 17th century, when it was New Amsterdam. Housing, van Rijs noted, “was our first love when we started our office in 1991.” Yet residential design, he suggested provocatively, is a sector where innovation doesn’t always come automatically. “How much innovation do you need?” he asked: a serious question, not a rhetorical one, and one that can be answered in degrees, depending on a project’s scale and on who will live there. There are obvious practical reasons for conservatism in many housing forms, yet van Rijs and his colleagues Winy Maas and Nathalie de Vries have repeatedly struck an eye-catching, often playful balance between standardization and idealism. Continue reading “The Raucous Rows and Ecstatic Stacks of MVRDV”

Hindsight Plus Foresight for a Future Requiring Insight

Klaus Jacob understands flooding on a personal level. He lives near the Hudson River in Piermont, NY, in what he calls “a nuisance flooding zone. I live it day by day…. I put boots in my car, because I don’t know that, when I come back from a movie, I can come back to my house. I’m the living example of living with risk.” Having studied the likely extent of sea-level rise (SLR) over the coming decades, he foresees increasingly drastic adaptations affecting not just structures, but daily life: “Do we drive amphibian cars, or what?… Maybe we want to know whether we all learn to swim 20, 40, 50 generations down the line.” Continue reading “Hindsight Plus Foresight for a Future Requiring Insight”

We Are All Frogs in Boiling Water

Now that every rational person and entity from Bill McKibben and Al Gore to ExxonMobil and the Pentagon accepts the reality of anthropogenic climate change (at least internally, regardless of public statements), exploring its effects as a “threat multiplier” has become a broad-based professional priority. Having helped focus the architectural community’s attention on flood hazards shortly before Superstorm Sandy, then led wide-ranging efforts toward both recovery from that event and resilience against future disasters, the AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction (DfRR) committee has earned considerable authority on the built environment’s ability to handle catastrophic events. The risks associated with more gradual effects can be just as severe. DfRR has, accordingly, extended its attention to design, investment, and public policy strategies that respond to deadlier and more frequent heat waves. Continue reading “We Are All Frogs in Boiling Water”

Time and Perspective at the Water’s Edge

At the intersection of history, art, and literature, Elizabeth Felicella and Robert Sullivan’s “Sea Level: Five Boroughs from Water’s Edge” presents the complexity of the East River waterfront through an ostensibly simple form: two enormous panoramic composite photographs mounted in parallel and accompanied by interpretive prose. Capturing time through this linear assembly of water-level images, the exhibition shows how New York has developed over the decades while retaining components of its maritime and industrial past. It is a must-see show for anyone interested in the city’s evolution and the myriad stories its built environment contains. Continue reading “Time and Perspective at the Water’s Edge”

Measuring Bubbe’s Wisdom and Edifying Clients

When Roger Ulrich designed, executed, and published a controlled study of the view from hospital rooms as an independent variable in patients’ recovery from gallbladder surgery, he didn’t intend it as a slight to anyone’s grandmother. His 1984 report in Science linked a distinction in a common architectural feature – windows facing nature or facing a wall – to differences in both objective outcome metrics (time to recovery, painkiller doses) and subjective reports (nurses’ notes). Ulrich’s observation is widely acknowledged as a foundational paper in the rise of evidence-based design; it has also sparked an enduring debate over the value of science in backing up common-sense observations. “If we all asked our grandmothers if looking at trees through a window would lead to better health outcomes than looking at a concrete wall,” suggested panelist Scott Francisco, founder of consultancy Pilot Projects and an advocate of participatory, crowdsourced approaches to design, “we’d get the same kind of results.” Continue reading “Measuring Bubbe’s Wisdom and Edifying Clients”

Can the Nation’s Leader in Supportive Housing Do More?

New York has more supportive housing than any other American city, but no one pretends the available stock of these residences – affordable housing with on-site supportive services – is adequate to the need. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s effort to expand the city’s affordable housing puts a special spotlight on this sector. Thoughtful design makes the difference between dreary institutional stereotypes and dignified, even desirable, residences, noted panelists assessing the history and prospects of New York’s supportive-housing endeavors. Serving both as a snapshot of current municipal policy and a profile of innovative projects by specialist Jonathan Kirschenfeld, AIA, and by the award-winning organization Common Ground, the event offered pointers for architects working in this area, and broader observations about the powerful changes that purposefully crafted buildings can make in people’s lives. Witty, enthusiastic, and practical comments by a current resident capped off the presentations, providing a firsthand perspective that too many professional gatherings take for granted. Continue reading “Can the Nation’s Leader in Supportive Housing Do More?”

Sustainability Experts: It’s Time for Radical Response

Howard Roark died. A long time ago, some would add, perhaps even at birth; as professional icons go, the architect-as-solitary-aesthetic-hero character strikes many real-world architects as intellectually stillborn. Yet the “Edge Sustainability” panel’s most daring provocateur, RTKL Chief Sustainability Officer Lance Hosey, FAIA, finds the Roarkian image perversely staggering on, a zombielike presence obstructing efforts to apply architects’ expertise to the planet’s most pressing problem. Continue reading “Sustainability Experts: It’s Time for Radical Response”

The Mod Moment: Nearly Ready to Rock the Construction Industry?

The opening panel in the “Dialogues from the Edge of Practice” series, launched by 2015 AIANY President Tomas Rossant, AIA, considered an approach that’s been on the verge of disrupting architecture and construction for decades – since 1833, in fact. If one accepts a contention raised in the Museum of Modern Art’s 2008 exhibition “Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling,” balloon-frame residences represented “arguably the first prefabricated construction system.” Modular or off-site construction, a theoretical improvement on inefficient conventional building methods, has captivated a long list of innovators: Gropius, Le Corbusier, Wright, Fuller, Safdie, Kurokawa, and beyond. Though practice has yet to catch up with theory, modular has advanced to the point that some view it as a pivotal technology in New York’s effort to expand its affordable housing stock. The Nehemiah Spring Creek houses in East New York, the Stack in Inwood, the Pod Hotel in Williamsburg, the Parks Department’s post-Sandy beach pavilions, and the B2 residential tower at Pacific Park (caught in a stop/start cycle of disputes between Forest City Ratner and Skanska but reportedly back on track to become the world’s tallest modular building) all provide tangible local proof that mod, at last, may be the future. Continue reading “The Mod Moment: Nearly Ready to Rock the Construction Industry?”