On Bleecker Street, a History Tour in Brick and Steel

On a crisp weekday evening, a dozen architecture enthusiasts gathered at the Center for Architecture for “Reading the Streetscape: Bleecker Street” – a walking tour of Greenwich Village history hosted by the Center for Architecture Foundation (CFAF). “This is sort of an Architecture 101,” said Tim Hayduk, CFAF lead design educator and tour guide, at the outset. “It’s almost a vertical archaeology, with layer upon layer of construction.” Continue reading “On Bleecker Street, a History Tour in Brick and Steel”

The Big Apple Builds Greener by Retrofitting

Event: Benchmarking in Action: Retrofitting New York
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.30.11
Speaker: Bruce Fowle, FAIA, LEED AP — Founding Principal, FXFOWLE; Andrew Kimball — CEO, The Brooklyn Navy Yard; Paul Rode — Project Executive, Solutions, Johnson Controls, Inc.
Moderator: Russell Unger, LEED AP — Executive Director, Urban Green Council, U.S. Green Building Council of New York
Organizers: AIANY; Center for Architecture Foundation
Sponsors: Underwriters: ARUP; ConEdison; Perkins+Will; Lead Sponsors: Buro Happold; STUDIOS Architecture; 3M; EPD Energy Products Distribution; APG Design Studio; Sponsors: FLIR; MechoShade Systems Inc.; Robert Silman Associates; Trespa; Supporters: Acheson Doyle Partners Architects PC; DeLaCour Family Foundation; Ibex Construction; KPF; Syska Hennessy Group, Inc.; Friends: 1100 Architect; Bleecker Area Merchants & Residents Association (BAMRA); Brenda Levin; Capsys Corp.; Community Environmental Center Inc.; Helpern Architects; Hugo S. Subotovsky AIA Architects LLC; Levien & Company; New York Building Congress Inc.; Oppenheimer Brady Vogelstein; P.W. Grosser Consulting Inc.; Swanke Hayden Connell Architects; Viridian Energy & Environmental LLC


(L-R): Empire State Building; Brooklyn Navy Yard development map; Javits Center rendering.

(L-R): BigMac; courtesy Brooklyn Navy Yard; courtesy Javits Center.

By now, most architects know our built environment is massively energy-inefficient. As Russell Unger, LEED AP, executive director of the Urban Green Council, put it, “If we can’t solve energy in existing buildings, we absolutely can’t deal with climate change in this country.” So it’s encouraging to hear from architects and engineers who are beginning to tackle the problem.

Paul Rode, an engineer with Johnson Controls retrofitting the Empire State Building, began by noting a transition away from emphasizing total energy consumption. “It’s no longer about absolute reductions in energy usage,” he said, “it’s about reduction of waste.” Accordingly, the Empire State Building is designed to be more efficient in how energy is used. He noted that more than half of energy savings occur in tenant spaces — not in the building envelope or mechanical systems, though these are also important — so many solutions are aimed at users, from software that allows tenants to monitor their own consumption, to design guidelines that encourage more efficient fit-outs.

Andrew Kimball, CEO of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, discussed retrofitting at the scale of an entire campus. Now housing 275 businesses and 580 employees, the site is one of the country’s few center-city industrial zones to preserve light manufacturing use (rather than converting to residential or entertainment). In recent years, all Navy Yard development has centered on sustainability including managing stormwater runoff and installing off-the-grid streetlamps; adaptive reuse of industrial buildings; and encouraging tenants to adopt green practices. It also centers on the simple fact that manufacturing within city limits saves transportation energy costs while preserving well-paying, middle-class jobs.

Finally, Bruce Fowle, FAIA, LEED AP, discussed FXFOWLE’s Javits Center renovation. Built in the 1980s, the convention center was never properly funded, and decades of deferred maintenance caused it to deteriorate rapidly. On a shoestring budget, the firm will bring the building to LEED Silver, replacing the curtain wall and rooftop mechanical units, upgrading the interior lighting, and installing a new green roof. The Javits Center currently falls 10% below the performance required by current energy codes; after the retrofit, it should exceed it by 26%. It’s a start.

Carl Yost is the marketing and publicity coordinator for Gabellini Sheppard Associates. He has written for Forbes, Architectural Record, and The Architect’s Newspaper, among other publications.

Architects Tell Stories to Build Their Firms

Event: “What’s Your Story: Build Narratives that Boost Your Business”
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.14.11
Speakers: Kevin Allison — Founder, The Story Studio; Richard Cook, AIA — Partner, Cook+Fox Architects; Helen Dimoff, Assoc. AIA — Communications Director/Principal, NBBJ
Organizer: AIANY Marketing and PR Committee

While a good story can help sell a Hollywood blockbuster, what helps sell your design practice? Three marketing and storytelling experts recently convened at the Center for Architecture to explain how.

Kevin Allison, founder of The Story Studio, suggested that telling a story allows a potential client to connect emotionally with a firm’s work. After all, he joked, “People don’t laugh about facts and figures.” He reviewed the five basic “beats” of a story arc: (1) the Setup, or the “who” and “where”; (2) Inciting Action, the event that sets the story in motion; (3) Rising Action, or the ways in which the stakes increase; (4) the most important part, the Main Event, the turning point, epiphany, or climax; and (5) the Resolution.

Richard Cook, AIA, of Cook+Fox Architects, demonstrated these elements by describing some of his personal epiphanies, including a trip to Cambodia to adopt his child that ultimately led him to sustainable design. He put a narrative spin on some his firm’s notable “green” projects, such as the Center for Well-Being in East Hampton and the Bank of America Tower in NYC, by describing the design processes and client interactions behind them.

Lastly, Helen Dimoff, Assoc. AIA, communications director and principal at NBBJ, showed how interactive storytelling can enhance a firm’s marketing materials. “A lot of what we talk about when we market for architecture is the ‘how’ and the ‘what,'” she said. “But we don’t talk about why we design.” To illustrate the “why,” she played two NBBJ-produced videos about projects: the first showed nervous students performing a mock surgery in Stanford University’s Li Ka Shing Medical Education Center; the second interviewed volunteers and employees in the Greater Boston Food Bank, who spoke about how the building allows them to serve the community.

Whither Underground? Architects Bring the 7 Train to the Far West Side

Event: No. 7 Line Subway Extension — Planning, Passengers, Program and Form
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.11.11
Speakers: Judith Kunoff, AIA, LEED AP — Chief Architect, MTA New York City Transit; Beth Greenberg, AIA — Principal, Dattner Architects; Patricia Kettle — Associate, Dattner Architects; Mark Walker, AICP — Senior Supervising Planner, Parsons Brinckerhoff
Organizer: AIANY Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Section of the #7 Line expansion.

Dattner Architects

If all goes according to schedule, subway riders will soon find it much easier to get to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and the Far West Side. The $2.1 billion expansion of the #7 line from Times Square to a new station at 34th Street and 11th Avenue is expected to open in December 2013. Built to facilitate the commercial and residential redevelopment of the Hudson Yards area following its 2005 rezoning, the new terminus is designed to handle up to 27,500 commuters during the morning rush, making it the MTA’s largest single-line station.

The architectural form is primarily driven by passenger capacity and life-safety considerations, said Judith Kunoff, AIA, LEED AP, chief architect at MTA New York City Transit. Beth Greenberg, AIA, a principal at Dattner Architects, laid out the basic plan: a tunnel will head west under 41st Street and curve south at 11th Avenue. The main passenger entrance will be sited on Hudson Boulevard between 33rd and 34th Streets, and will incorporate ticketing on an upper mezzanine with two 85-foot shafts for escalators and inclined elevators (the city’s first) diving westward down to the lower mezzanine. Stairs will then descend to the subway platform 130 feet below grade. A second entrance will stand at Hudson Boulevard and 35th Street.

Mark Walker showed animations generated by Legion, a program the team used to model crowd behavior and look for likely congestion points. “We were literally sitting in a dark room looking at dots,” he said. “They behave like New Yorkers,” he added as brightly colored specks swarmed through a schematic station plan.

Though National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) safety requirements require that passengers be able to evacuate within six minutes of an emergency, the station’s great depth makes this difficult. To ensure people could survive a longer evacuation, Greenberg explained, “We needed a very strong mechanical system, which was a huge driver of the form and volume.” In fact, the volume of the smoke-ventilation system, concealed within the dropped-ceiling “cloud” running above the lower mezzanine and above the trains, nearly equals the volume of the platform itself.

Patricia Kettle, of Dattner Architects, discussed the station’s architectural finishes: the granite porcelain tile and stainless steel, chosen for their durability and longevity, should be familiar to any long-time straphanger. Provisions for advertising and public art are also included.

Some audience members inquired about the feasibility of extending the #7 line west to Secaucus, NJ, but Kunoff said that topic was beyond the scope of the presentation. As for the possibility of later adding a cut-and-cover station at 10th Avenue and 41st Street, she said it “is not precluded, but it’s not easy.”

J. Max Bond Jr. Inspires Reflections on Travel

Event: J. Max Bond Jr. Memorial Lecture: Conversations/Travel
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.06.10
Speakers: Peter Cook, AIA — Principal, Davis Brody Bond Aedas; Billie Tsien, AIA — Principal, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects; Quilian Riano — Founding Principal DSGN AGNC; Ralph Appelbaum — Principal, Ralph Appelbaum Associates; Mark Gardner, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP — Mentoring Chair, New York Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NYCOBA/NOMA)
Introduction: Rick Bell, FAIA — Executive Director, AIANY
Sponsors: NYCOBA/NOMA; AIANY; Center for Architecture; Design 360; City College of New York, The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture


Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Davis Brody Bond Aedas

At the inaugural J. Max Bond Jr. Memorial Lecture, several designers paid tribute to the legacy of the architect, educator, and community activist by celebrating one of the things he loved: travel.

Accordingly, Peter Cook, AIA, principal at Davis Brody Bond Aedas, began his presentation by describing not only his own travels and his work on the Benning Library in Washington, DC, but also the life and journey of J. Max Bond Jr., FAIA, his mentor. Bond grew up in New Orleans, graduated from the Harvard GSD, traveled to Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship, and, after working several years in Ghana, moved to NYC. As a partner at Davis Brody Bond Aedas, he designed buildings including the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama. At the time of his death, he was working on the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at Ground Zero.

Like Cook, Billie Tsien, AIA, principal of Tod Williams Billie Tsien, used her travels to illuminate the design process, as she showed personal photographs from her excursions throughout India. Color-saturated images of textiles, flora, step-wells, and traditional architecture alternated with projects by Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn. When she ended her presentation with construction shots of her firm’s Banyan Park in Mumbai, an IT campus of Modern concrete buildings rooted in the local culture and climate, the distillation of influences was unmistakable.

Quilian Riano, founding principal of DSGN AGNC, demonstrated two projects for economically disadvantaged residents of the Colombian cities Buenaventura and Facatativa. At stake was the question: How can architects design for a culture of which they are not a part? “It’s about really listening,” he said, “and a dialogue back and forth.” He sees architecture as a mediator to change unjust situations and empower the users.

Ralph Appelbaum, of Ralph Appelbaum Associates, approached the theme through his own work in exhibition design: whereas artifacts once “traveled” from their native cultures to the museums of the colonial powers which seized them, he said, today the travel is more likely to come from the tourist interested in learning about the place he/she is visiting. He cited the Royal Museum of Scotland, which “went from ‘showing the world to Scotland’ to ‘showing Scotland to the world.'”

Panelists frequently returned to the theme of finding oneself while traveling. “You really can’t gain a perspective on where you’ve been until you’ve left it,” said Cook, relating his own journey from Washington, DC, to Detroit, to points abroad, then back to DC. Tsien agreed: “Traveling teaches you humility,” she said. “You think you’re the center of the universe… but when you go to another country, you’re nothing.”

Race to the Bottom: Universities Take the Lead in Carbon Reduction

Event: Getting to 30%: Carbon Reduction Success Stories from NYC’s Mayoral Challenge
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.18.10
Speakers: Laurie Kerr — Senior Policy Advisor, Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability; Thomas Goldsmith — Director of Environment & Energy Conservation, & Bernadette Lavin — Executive Director of Conference & Auxiliary Services, St. John’s University; Andy Ryan — Senior Director of Engineering and Maintenance, Weill Cornell Medical College; Cecil Scheib — Director of Energy and Sustainability, New York University; Natale DiDonato — Director of Energy Services, Luthin Associates, Inc.
Organizer: AIANY Committee on the Environment

In 2007, as part of PlaNYC, Mayor Bloomberg challenged the city’s universities to reduce carbon emissions 30% by 2030. Seventeen schools have answered the call so far.

From St. John’s University, Thomas Goldsmith and Bernadette Lavin discussed the importance of operations and finance working together. St. John’s has currently achieved a 14% reduction through building management systems (BMS), energy-efficient construction, lighting retrofits, and water-saving measures. But those initiatives were only possible because of a detailed Management & Verification plan, which accurately predicted future savings and allowed the university to secure a loan.

“A lot of the things we’ve done so far to save energy are not pure rocket science,” said Andy Ryan from Weill Cornell Medical College. “They are basic things that could be done in any new building or any renovation project.” But at Weill Cornell, those basic things — BMS, exhaust heat recovery, variable-speed fans — are crucial, because medical and lab facilities are so energy-intensive. Ryan also noted that the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), helped provide funding for all of the universities represented on the panel.

More than the technical or financial aspects, New York University’s Cecil Scheib emphasized the social implications of green initiatives. “Learning to save energy is not only about building operators or the architects having a plan,” he said. “For a building to be a living organism, it has to have users realize what’s going on. They play a part.” He said that because NYU students clearly understand how energy usage affects operating costs — i.e. tuition — they are willing to support initiatives even when it requires some adjustments to their habits.

In the end, said Natale DiDonato of Luthin Associates, the mayor’s challenge only catalyzed carbon-reducing initiatives that were already beginning to develop. “The motivation is coming from a lot of different directions,” he said: “Competing for students, looking good compared to the other universities, and you’ve got all these engineers waiting in the wings to get some new toys… So the mayor’s challenge, from that standpoint, really gave everybody some focus.”

Back to School with the Deans of NY Architecture

Event: Arch Schools 2010 Exhibition Reception and Deans’ Roundtable
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.02.10
Speakers: George Ranalli, AIA — City College of New York; Mark Wigley — Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation; Anthony Vidler, Assoc. AIA — The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of the Cooper Union; Urs Gauchat, Hon. AIA — New Jersey Institute of Technology; Judith DiMaio, AIA — New York Institute of Technology; William Morrish — Parsons The New School for Design; Thomas Hanrahan — Pratt Institute; Stan Allen — Princeton University; Evan Douglis — Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Mark Robbins — Syracuse University; Brian Carter — SUNY at Buffalo; Marilyn Jordan Taylor, FAIA — University of Pennsylvania; Mark Foster Gage, AIA — Yale University (Assistant Dean);
Moderator: Ian Harris — Co-Producer/Director, archiCULTURE
Organizers: AIANY; Center for Architecture Foundation
Sponsors: Kramer Levin


Courtesy Center for Architecture

Design education is in something of a crisis. At least that was the impression given by the deans of 13 architecture schools in the New York Metro area (including Upstate NY, Philadelphia, and New Haven). The discussion provided a valuable snapshot of current architectural discourse and the issues being debated in universities, and where the profession might be heading.

At times, the panel adopted the tone of a jocular class reunion: asked to promote their schools, Mark Wigley of Columbia University and Anthony Vidler, Assoc. AIA, of Cooper Union praised each other’s instead, to much laughter. But disagreements soon became apparent. For one, the panelists differed on how students should conceive of their role. Given the great complexity of real-world problems, Mark Foster Gage, AIA, of Yale University, suggested that architects are becoming “managers of information flows.” Even so, NYIT’s Judith DiMaio, AIA, cautioned that students are drawn to architecture for its artistic, form-giving potential, and educators should encourage and develop that passion.

The most contentious issues, however, concerned architects’ social responsibility. “We are professionals,” said Vidler, “and professionals, I think, have to have a certain ethic towards the society they serve and they work for.” Everyone seemed to concur, but when he cast the architect’s role as advocate and educator, many hesitated. For instance, George Ranalli, AIA, of City College of NY, criticized educators who fail to take seriously the layman’s dislike of Modern architecture, and also those who rehash Modern-vs.-Postmodern, politics-vs.-capitalism debates that students themselves no longer care about. Princeton University’s Stan Allen, AIA, put it another way: “When I look around at younger colleagues and recent graduates, they don’t have this anxiety. They’re perfectly willing to dive into the marketplace and tap the creativity of that marketplace.”

At its core, the discussion betrayed a long-standing existential crisis over the architects’ position in the world, especially as disciplinary boundaries become more flexible. Urs Gauchat, Hon. AIA, of NJIT, stressed the need for architecture students to make connections to other disciplines such as ecology, transportation, real estate, or public policy, and Mark Robbins of Syracuse University noted that students are empowered when they become conversant in these other discourses.

But some members of the audience had more practical concerns on their minds: “What about the cost?” someone asked. Yes, private institutions can be quite expensive, Gauchat conceded, but public universities and grants can make school more accessible. In the end, DiMaio said, a design education is valuable because it provides a foundation to do almost anything.

Note: This program was in conjunction with the “Arch Schools 2010” exhibition at the Center for Architecture through 10.16.10

New York’s Waterfront, in 20 Seconds or Less

Event: Around Manhattan: A Champagne Cruise for Landlubbers
Location: Center for Architecture, 08.05.10
Docents: Rick Bell, FAIA — Executive Director, AIA New York Chapter; Julie Ann Engh — Intern Architect, Avinash K. Malhotra Architects; Arthur Platt, AIA — Partner, Fink and Platt Architects; Abby Suckle, FAIA — Principal, Abby Suckle Architect; Rama Dadarkar, Intl. Assoc. AIA — Project Architect, Architecture Restoration Conservation; Kyle Johnson, AIA — Senior Associate, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects
Organizers: AIANY; cultureNOW
Sponsored by: Classic Harbor Lines


High Bridge, one of the stops on the architectural cruise for landlubbers.

Jessica Sheridan

AIANY is currently hosting architectural tours of New York aboard a 1920s-style yacht operated by Classic Harbor Line. But for those prone to seasickness, several of the guides delivered a “Pecha Kucha-style” version, “like doing the tour on a cigarette boat,” as Rick Bell, FAIA, put it. Photos of the city’s waterfront flashed on-screen for 20 seconds, and each docent crammed as much information about the sites into that time as possible.

Bell delivered an invocation from Billy Collins’ poem “Fishing on the Susquehanna in July,” and the tour set sail at breakneck pace. The first portion featured contemporary architecture in Chelsea, the West Village, and Battery Park City. Julie Ann Engh focused on Jean Nouvel Atelier’s 100 11th Avenue condominium, and Gehry Partners’ IAC Headquarters.

As the tour rounded Battery Park, and skipping most of the commercial towers that define Lower Manhattan, Arthur Platt, AIA, emphasized infrastructure — bridges, ferry terminals, and redeveloped piers — that recall the waterfront’s original industrial and commercial uses. “One of the themes of the tour,” he said, “is industrial artifacts and how they’re becoming centerpoints of some of the parks and new developments.”

Abby Suckle, FAIA, took over as the new residences of Long Island City and the hospitals on Manhattan’s East Side came into view. She noted how the windows of the luxury apartments at Tudor City face away from the river, which at the time of construction was lined with unsightly slaughterhouses (and where currently an open pit awaits redevelopment).

The tour sailed between the cliffs lining the Harlem River, which some consider NYC’s “forgotten waterfront,” according to Rama Dadarkar, Intl. Assoc. AIA. She pointed out the Harlem River’s many bridges — including High Bridge, the city’s oldest — and the educational and residential buildings that could be partially glimpsed through the trees.

Passing through the Spuyten Duyvil swing bridge and into the Hudson River, Kyle Johnson, AIA, led passengers into the home stretch: Riverside Park, the apartment buildings of the Upper West Side, and “a whole spate of new development” — the residential and commercial towers of Midtown.

After the tour “landed” back at Chelsea Piers, the guides discussed the changing waterfront. As industry left NYC, they noted, large amounts of riverfront land became available for redevelopment — resulting in projects such as Riverside South, the condominiums of Long Island City, and the forthcoming New Domino. As guests “disembarked” for post-sail champagne, Bell reminded everyone that the waterborne tours will continue into December — for those with sea legs, plenty of time to experience the real thing.

ASHRAE for Architects: Panelists Demystify Energy Standards

Event: Integration Series 101: Bridging the Roles of Architect and Engineer: 101 Fundamentals of ASHRAE 90.1
Location: Center for Architecture, 07.28.10
Speakers: Michael Waite, PE, CEM, LEED AP — Senior Building Technology Engineer, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger; Fiona Cousins, PE, LEED AP — Principal, Arup
Moderator: Ilana Judah, Intl. Assoc. AIA, OAQ, LEED AP — Director of Sustainability, FXFOWLE Architects
Organizers: AIANY COTE Committee; ASHRAE NY Sustainability Committee

Many designers hesitate to dig too deeply into engineering standards and codes — ASHRAE 90.1, for instance. But as moderator Ilana Judah, Intl. Assoc. AIA, said, “It’s something we could certainly engage with more as architects, in order to ask better questions of our engineers, and to form a more integrated design process.” Furthermore, if technical issues aren’t considered early on, it could lead to costly redesigns down the road.

What is ASHRAE 90.1? This standard determines minimum energy-efficiency guidelines for all buildings (except for residences shorter than four-stories). Many jurisdictions — New York included — have adopted the standard as code. It is developed triennially by a commission of architects, engineers, and product manufacturers, and all proposed updates are subjected to public review.

The standard was born of the 1973 oil crisis, with the first version released in January 1975. Michael Waite, PE, CEM, LEED AP, noted the speediness of its creation: “This is a total of 15 months between the onset of a crisis and the development of a brand new energy efficiency standard — it shows that if you really put your mind to it and the put the effort behind it, you can do big things.” Interestingly, Fiona Cousins, PE, LEED AP, noted that ASHRAE 90.1 was developed in the 1970s to minimize energy costs, not necessarily consumption, which puts the standard at a slight philosophical distance from today’s conception of sustainability. But however it’s measured, given that renewable sources account for only 7% of current-day energy production, energy efficiency remains vitally important.

ASHRAE 90.1 is divided into sections according to building systems: the building envelope, HVAC, and lighting, for example. The way the standard works, most sections have “prescriptive,” “trade-off,” and “performance rated” or “simulation” methods for determining compliance. The prescriptive method (the simplest) lists baseline energy performance criteria for a particular system or assembly — if all areas meet the criteria, the building is compliant. The trade-off method allows diminished performance in one area, as long as it is offset by increased performance in another. For more complex building designs, simulations and computer modeling can be used to determine compliance.

In the future, ASHRAE 90.1 will become more and more stringent — the 2010 edition aims to increase efficiency by 30% over the 2004 standard. The new edition’s scope will expand as well, addressing building operations and maintenance, on-site renewable energy sources, and industrial processes — which will create new challenges for architects.

Biennale Curators Build a Future from Russia’s Industrial Past

Event: Factory Russia: Russian Pavilion Exhibition at the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale
Location: Center for Architecture, 07.09.10
Speakers: Sergei Tchoban — Partner, NPS Tchoban Voss, & Principal, SPEECH
Moderator: Rick Bell, FAIA — Executive Director, AIANY
Introduction: Vladimir Belogolovsky — Founder, Intercontinental Curatorial Project
Organizers: AIANY

Vyshny Volochyok_Photo-Yuri Palmin_300

The Paris Commune Factory, one of several industrial sites in Vyshny Volochyok proposed for renewal under the Factory Russia plan.

Yuri Palmin

“Our future is in a respectful dialogue with the past,” claimed St. Petersburg-born, Germany-based architect Sergei Tchoban, in a preview presentation of Russia’s contribution to this year’s Venice Biennale. For the Biennale, that dialogue is about a former industrial town of 60,000, halfway between St. Petersburg and Moscow called Vyshyny Volochyok.

Tchoban set the stage by discussing the historic renovations carried out by his firm, NPS Tchoban Voss. Photographs of Berolinahaus, for example, an art-deco office building designed by Peter Behrens on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, depicted restored façades and recreated period details. (Tchoban noted the environmental benefits of preserving the “embedded energy” that goes into a building’s initial construction.) He illustrated how these considerations — of history and human-scale architectural details — appear in Russian buildings and master plans developed by SPEECH, his collaboration with Moscow-based architect Sergei Kuznetsov.

For the Venice Biennale, he and his co-curators invited several Russian architects to re-imagine new programs for shuttered industrial sites scattered throughout Vyshny Volochyok. Though “everybody knows this town doesn’t need a Museum of Modern Art,” Tchoban said, he presented plans for cultural programs that would be contextually appropriate: a theater and institute dedicated to preserving local folk music, and a museum of industrial technology. A waterfront site would become a water recreation area. Historic buildings would be repurposed. And one site would return to active industrial use as a textile factory anchoring a fashion district. New programs and buildings are essential to renew interest in this and similar small towns, he said, if they are to compete with the major metropolises like Moscow and St. Petersburg.

In summarizing the curators’ primary concern, Tchoban explained, “The problem with our occupation in past years was that we began to be spectacular, and more spectacular, and much more spectacular. We’ve lost our imagination of ‘town,’ our imagination of human scale, and I think that’s the most important point of what we’ve worked out [in the Russian pavilion].”