Prepare to be Both Shaken and Stirred

With apologies to the creators of a jukebox musical currently on Broadway, Carole King isn’t the only one feeling the earth move under her feet. While severe weather events like Superstorm Sandy have made flood preparations a prominent public concern, the AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee (DfRR) has also kept an eye on other forms of catastrophe; the new installation at the Center for Architecture examines strategies for anticipating and counteracting earthquake damage. “Considering the Quake: Seismic Design on the Edge” is the first major exhibition in the presidency of Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, embodying an important facet of the 2014 theme “Civic Spirit : Civic Vision”. It combines detailed technical education with thought-provoking visual and interactive displays. Exploring the science and art of bolstering resilience under seismic stresses, the exhibition favors optimistic, can-do presentations of design and technology rather than images of destruction. Continue reading “Prepare to be Both Shaken and Stirred”

The New Yorker Who Carried Taliesin Back Home

Among many stories told at this lively celebration of the later work of Edgar Tafel, FAIA – a natural and engaging raconteur, he was also the subject of quite a few tales over the years – his frequent collaborator Robert Silman related one about the decision to study under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin. Young Tafel had been unimpressed with what he heard as a student in NYU’s architecture program (now defunct) during the 1930s: “These professors don’t know what they’re talking about,” he groused to relatives. Then his aunt saw a newspaper article on the Taliesin Fellowship. What it didn’t say, Silman added, was that “they paid Wright to work for him.” The financial obstacle was considerable, but Wright’s reply to Tafel’s application was something anyone young, talented, ambitious, and shallow-pocketed would want to hear: “Pay what you can, but come.” Continue reading “The New Yorker Who Carried Taliesin Back Home”

Leveraging Tight Resources in Developing Nations’ Schools

If the destruction that Superstorm Sandy inflicted on the New York region tested our resilience, imagine the challenges a natural disaster can impose on a place where material resources are many orders of magnitude smaller. Haiti, according to Gensler’s Mark Thaler, AIA, ranks 145th among 169 countries on the United Nations’ Human Development Index. The earthquake of 2010 revealed the fragility of both its physical infrastructure and its social systems, causing problems on a scale beyond anything most of us can imagine. Some 1.5 million people became homeless, Thaler reports; 86% of the residents of Port-au-Prince have been living in slum conditions; more than 100,000 buildings, including 4,000 schools, were destroyed. What can design accomplish, one may ask, when such devastation is overlaid on a foundation of poverty? Continue reading “Leveraging Tight Resources in Developing Nations’ Schools”

Hail and Farewell, Commissioner: Sustainable Streets, Six Years and Counting

With a hearty salute to her staff (by name), a 200-page barrage of triumphal data assembled in one last publication, a lively conversation among current and outgoing City Council members about the momentum of her achievements, and at least some members of the audience implicitly recalling the wistful hook from an old single by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs – “Stay (Just a Little Bit Longer)” – Janette Sadik-Khan sang her final aria to a Center for Architecture crowd as Transportation Commissioner. Continue reading “Hail and Farewell, Commissioner: Sustainable Streets, Six Years and Counting”

The Universal Lens of Resilience

Roughly a year after New York endured Superstorm Sandy, with current headlines showing the devastation caused by a massive typhoon that wracked the Philippines, the public and the architectural profession are acutely aware of the recurrence, inescapability, and gravity of severe climatic events. The Center for Architecture’s Helfand Gallery puts the winning entry in the For a Resilient Rockaway Competition (FAR ROC) by White Arkitekter, Gensler, and Arup prominently in the public view. City government has codified outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s commitment to resilient design by creating the Director of Resiliency position within the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability (an office that AIANY, in A Platform for the Future of the City, recommends strengthening by elevating its director to commissioner level). At the risk of a bad pun, there is something in the air. Continue reading “The Universal Lens of Resilience”

Midtown’s Shifting Center of Gravity

In advance of the Heritage Ball recognizing the Related Companies’ Stephen Ross (among others), three architects whose major contributions are shaping the Hudson Yards megaproject appeared together for the first time, discussing the master plan as a whole and their own contributions: the four main towers and Culture Shed, arranged around the Eastern Rail Yards’ public square. The Yards neighborhood, described as nothing less than “the new New York,” is taking shape amid high hopes and intense scrutiny. Its eastern half will be completed before the western segment. With two essential infrastructural components preceding the buildings (the High Line approaching from the south and wrapping around the full site from the west, and the #7 subway extension opening in 2014 on the northern edge, where 33rd Street meets the new hockey-stick-shaped Hudson Boulevard), the planners can reassure retail tenants that the Yards will have what Related’s Jay Cross calls the “critical mass” in place to begin life as a viable destination, not an indefinite construction site. Continue reading “Midtown’s Shifting Center of Gravity”

Amid Layered Paradoxes, Five Cities’ Utopian Experiments

“Practical Utopias,” the Center for Architecture’s new exhibition on global architecture firms’ work in five Asian cities, organizes a wealth of visual and textual information around one neatly oxymoronic title phrase and five simple, potent adjectives. Along with generating a productive tension between practicality and utopianism, these built environments in Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, and Tokyo are connected, dense, green, thick, and fun. That the exhibition and the accompanying high-profile panel also embodied these five concepts might go without saying, but it deserves to be said. These conversations attracted a crowd dense enough to pack Tafel Hall, developed thick layers of discourse connecting specific questions of design with multidisciplinary considerations, and touched on pressing environmental concerns. And inevitably, any evening bracketed by Daniel Libeskind, AIA’s humane, poetic, historically-grounded design sensibility and Thom Mayne, FAIA’s formidable, rapid-fire syntheses of cutting-edge theory with common sense provided more than the usual share of fun. Continue reading “Amid Layered Paradoxes, Five Cities’ Utopian Experiments”

UN-Habitat Symposium Considers the Elements of Resilience

No one attending the United Nations conference for World Habitat Day needed convincing about certain key principles: that climate change and extreme weather events are accelerating; that these conditions challenge the sustainability of the world’s cities; and that decisions about whether, where, and how to build deserve the attention of every global citizen, not just that of architects and planners. One of the strengths of these UN-Habitat meetings is that broad acceptance of these fundamentals removes the need to debate the obvious and reinvent the wheel. (That certain powerful social elements do reject the obvious was manifest here only in a negative sense: with federal functions shut down by a faction in the House of Representatives, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Hon. AIANY, had to cancel his appearance.) Inside the chamber, the rhetorical tone could be ceremonial or exhortatory, but the panelists wasted no time on drama, adversariality, or grandstanding, proceeding instead to consider relevant experience and practical disaster-mitigation strategies. Continue reading “UN-Habitat Symposium Considers the Elements of Resilience”

Commodity, Firmness, Delight, and Blastproof: The New Normal

The 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, with violent fanaticism still very much in the headlines, makes a look at the built environment’s security a timely exercise. For the “Are We Safe Yet?” program, architects involved with public spaces and structures joined specialists in security and engineering to deliver expert commentary on this sobering aspect of design, illuminating the concepts and negotiations behind features that have become commonplace since the attack. The hot-button term “terrorism” wasn’t prominent in the discussion, perhaps implicitly for the sake of keeping the emotional temperature under control; as events elsewhere in the city recognized the tragedy of 9/11, this conversation focused on the nuts and bolts of preventing or mitigating another one.

Continue reading “Commodity, Firmness, Delight, and Blastproof: The New Normal”

Would-BPs Tangle Over Policies on Built Environment

“Everything is political,” a wise person once said, “but politics isn’t everything.” In the first explicitly campaign-oriented event to be held at the Center for Architecture, three Democratic candidates for Manhattan Borough President (all of the major aspirants to succeed BP Scott Stringer except Council Member Jessica Lappin, who had a scheduling conflict) sparred over master plans, housing policy, rezoning, and more, finding certain areas of agreement but offering sharply contrasting profiles. The AIANY’s Platform for the Future of the City suggests that the local architectural community is ready not only to offer expertise, but to pose challenging questions about design, infrastructure, and social policy. If this lively one-hour conversation is any indication, elected officials are eager to reach out to New York’s architects –- at least to put their own positions forward.

Continue reading “Would-BPs Tangle Over Policies on Built Environment”