Save the World AND Have a Nice Life

Event: Our Cities Ourselves: Architects, Developers, and Transport Planners on the Future of the City
Location: Center for Architecture, June 26, 2010
Speakers: David Sim — Gehl Architects; Enrique Peñalosa — President, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP); Saskia Sassen — Colombia University
Panelists: Michael King — Nelson Nygaard; Michael Sorkin — Distinguished Professor of Architecture & Director, Graduate Program in Urban Design, City College of New York & Principal, Michael Sorkin Studio; Wagner Colombini Martins — Logit Consultoria; Walter Hook — Executive Director, ITDP; Luc Nadal — Technical Director, ITDP; Emiliano Espasandin — PALO Arquitectura Urbana
Moderator: Paul Steely White — Transportation Alternatives
Organizers: Institute for Transportation and Development Policy in collaboration with AIANY

20100504-perspective 3 Final copy

2030 vision of urban transport in Guangzhou by Urbanus Architecture & Design.

Urbanus Architecture & Design, courtesy AIANY

Like the exhibition, the “Our Cities Ourselves” symposium largely advocated common-sense solutions that would promote equality across the public realm and bring city residents closer to a more egalitarian version of “the good life.”

There were four overarching themes throughout all of the dialogues. First, walking and pedestrian design should be given higher priority alongside motorized forms of transport. Design for “powered by people” transport (primarily bicycles) should consider future deployment on both individual and mass commerce levels. Current roadways must be realigned to favor pedestrians and cyclists, including: the redesign of slower, shared streets with mixed traffic; a wholesale decommissioning of highways; congestion pricing for cars; and development of eco-zones that would control the type and density of truck penetration into neighborhoods. Lastly, the implementation of Bus Rapid Transit systems (BRT) was highly praised for both the ease of adaptation and low cost.

In addition to costing much less than subway systems to develop, new BRTs differ from traditional express bus service in a variety of ways: users prepay before entering “stations” allowing for faster boarding; and buses can travel in dedicated lanes adjacent to vehicular traffic. A recent example is the new BRT in Guangzhou, China, which utilizes a trunk feeder system connected to the subway to move more than 800,000 people per day. Panelist Wagner Colombini Martins of Brazil-based Logit Consultoria noted that like Guangzhou, higher density Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) will be planned around BRTs in the future, affecting the shape of a city along these corridors.

Though panelists alluded to the fact that future interventions need to be tailored to fit existing and new cities differently, concepts were largely discussed as one-size-fits-all solutions. Enrique Peñalosa noted that certain things like establishing cycle- and pedestrian-only thoroughfares were “easier to do in cities that don’t exist.” They are hardly impossible, however, given his success with creating such corridors in Bogotá. Some impediments that existing cities face are a pre-existing historic fabric; already established patterns for vehicular use and parking; limited existing transportation right-of-ways; and even personal predispositions against intermingling social classes on the street or in public transport.

Clearly, better transport systems can be engineered, but individual choices play a large role. Individuals’ concerns about sustainability are low on the list. In bicycle-saturated Copenhagen, only 1% of women commute on bicycle because of the environment, but 61% bike because it is convenient and easy, said David Sim of Gehl Architects. Transportation decisions in the future should not be based on either “‘save the world’ or ‘have a nice life,'” he continued. “We can offer both.”

Rio Lunges Forward to 2016

Event: Rio +2016: Architecture and Planning of the Olympics
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.23.10
Speakers: Bruno Campos — Principal, BCMF Arquitetos; Washington Fajardo — Sub-Secretary for Cultural Patrimony, Urban Planning, Architecture and Design, City of Rio de Janeiro; Celio Diniz — Principal, DDG Arquitetos;
Moderator: Warren Antonio James — Principal, Warren A. James Architects + Planners
Organizers: AIANY Global Dialogues Committee (Warren Antonio James, Warren A. James Architects + Planners); Waterfront Committee APA New York Metro Chapter (Bonnie Harken, AIA/APA, Nautilus International Development Consulting, Inc.)
Sponsors: Consulate General of Brazil, New York; TURNER International LLC; AECOM; Nautilus International Development Consulting, Inc.; Vita Coco

Aquatics-Center

Olympic Aquatics Center.

RIO 2016/BCMF Arquitetos

The London 2012 Olympics might be on the minds of most today, but Rio 2016 is right around the corner. Though the debut of Rio de Janeiro as South America’s first Olympic host city may seem effortless, the city strategically positioned itself as a sports powerhouse after three previous failed bids. With the city hosting the 2007 Pan American Games and 2014 World Cup, approximately 50% of the venues to be used for the 2016 games will already exist.

For the 2007 PanAm games, new buildings were constructed as isolated elements in a landscape, without any real urban connection, panelists said. As a result, bid architect BCMF Arquitetos has proposed a massive two-tier plaza, which will act as a “suspended landscape” knitting together many of the new buildings in the 1-million-square-meter Olympic park area. The upper level will allow spectators to flow unimpeded across different grains of landscape, ranging from large to intimate; the lower level will allow the back of house functions to occur unseen.

While closely linked to the mechanics of the 40 different sports, each with its own programmatic requirements, one can’t help but wonder if this solution is brilliant, but somewhat generic. Rio’s contrasting topography — its sinuous shorelines and dramatic peaks — seem somewhat absent from these initial planning concepts. Architect Bruno Campos said that the “Olympic bid is not an architectural competition,” but rather an exercise driven by functional requirements, and promises architectural “sparks” as the planning progresses past schematic design in the next few years.

Initial architectural concepts include an aquatic center with a façade constructed from a constantly running stream of water, and a media center with as much outside green roof as indoor reporting space. Perhaps most revealing is that many of the structures are temporary and will be demounted after the short duration of the games. For instance, the Olympic Training Center will consist of four flexible halls covered by a ubiquitous open frame. Many of the structures will be constructed as “huge empty voids that can be (re-) appropriated in many ways,” Campos said.

Although the focus of the discussion was on the current state of architecture in Rio, rather than politics, the Sub-Secretary for Cultural Patrimony, Urban Planning, Architecture, and Design for the City of Rio de Janeiro Washington Fajardo noted that the city will actively refine the schematic plans to ensure that new housing, venues, and infrastructure will be located where they are most needed. Leveraging the large influx of capital often associated with the games, Fajardo said that Rio’s real Olympic legacy will be to “create a city with more justice, not just more transportation.”

Questions Answered for Emerging Professionals

Event: Mentor Match: Burning Questions
Location: Trespa Design Centre, 03.24.09
Mentors: Marc Clemenceau Bailly, AIA — Gage/Clemenceau Architects; Sunil Bald — Studio SUMO; Brandon Cook — Helpern Architects; Jeremy Edmunds, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP; Nancy Goshow, AIA — Goshow Architects; Kathy Kleiver — H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture; Syed Mahmood — AEG; Kristen Richards — ArchNewsNow, OCULUS; Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP — Helpern Architects
Organizer: AIANY Emerging New York Architects Committee (ENYA)
Sponsor: Trespa

During times of intense change, young architects often have career questions not easily answered by those in their inner circle. The Mentor Match: Burning Questions event was developed to provide insight on these questions from both a peer network and a team of established professionals. Small groups of five to 10 interns and architects met with experienced professionals for an hour-long discussion on topics ranging from pursuing alternate design-related careers to returning to graduate school. Those interested in portfolio and resume review discussed their work; a dozen young professionals met to discuss first steps involved in starting a firm.

In this turbulent economy, mentoring has assumed an increased level of importance. Young architects are forced to either confront career change as a result of layoffs or firm restructuring. Senior practitioners have a vested interest in keeping young architects engaged in the profession to prevent the generational attrition of previous recessions, which resulted in long-term gaps in the workforce.

Through the Emerging NY Architects Committee, AIANY offers two mentoring events targeted towards young architects each year. These events are intended to complement the Chapter’s Mentor Match initiative, a structured program that pairs interns and architects in more traditional mentoring relationship. Those interested in participating in the program should e-mail mentoring@aiany.org for more information.

The Value of Thinking Institutionally

Event: Architecture and Institutions
Location: Center for Architecture, 12.12.08
Speakers: Damon Rich — Founder & Chair, Center for Urban Pedagogy; Beth Stryker — Director of Programs, Center for Architecture; Gwendolyn Wright — Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University
Moderator: Olympia Kazi — Director, Institute for Urban Design
Organizer: common room

The Center for Architecture brought together a cross-disciplinary audience with Buckminster Fuller’s “Fly’s Eye Dome” installed at LaGuardia Park.

Jessica Sheridan

Big or little, independent or entrenched, New York’s radically different architectural institutions share some common traits. They initiate and propagate both abstract and creative research; leverage other arts as material for inspiration; and help bring discordant voices together in design. The educational collaborative Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) is one example of how design groups mediate among city dwellers, architects, and politicians. Like many fledgling architectural groups, CUP’s founder Damon Rich said that he wondered for a number of years how his group’s efforts could be made sustainable. “How can non-profits be more than beautiful bursts of energy?”

One key to the longevity of architectural institutions is the type and quality of the research they undertake. Moderator Olympia Kazi, of the Institute for Urban Design, questioned if the “hundreds” of design research labs practicing today actually generate valuable information, to which Professor Gwendolyn Wright responded that all research is valuable. Applied research, which reveals something new about a problem, is potentially more potent than solely intellectual, meta-scape research, however. Architects often use ex post facto research to “buttress” their designs, said Wright, but even these investigations are important if they reveal a new way of looking at things.

Beth Stryker, Director of Programs at the Center for Architecture, said that the beauty of larger architectural institutions, like the Center, is that they can bring together a range of cross-disciplinary perspectives. She cited Buckminster Fuller as one example of a designer who actively sought outside influences. This past summer, the Center put together a Fuller Study Center, which highlighted some of the many outside-design influences that the designer relied upon.

Though the panel praised institutions’ ability to spark creative thought and collaboration, the definition of what compromises an architectural institution was left fuzzy. How does an informal one- or two-person collaborative without physical space rank against groups with an established public presence, like the Center? Kazi posited a wide definition, saying, “Architectural institutions are places where compromises occur.”

Schools Converge over Global Responsibility

Event: Convergence NYC 2008; Deans, Directors & Student Debates and ARCH SCHOOLS 2008 Exhibition Opening
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.18.08
Speakers: Dean George Ranalli, AIA, Jessica Lewis — The City College of NY (CCNY); Professor Reinhold Martin, Karen Kubey — Columbia University; Dean Anthony Vidler, Theodora Doulamis — The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art; Dean Kent Kleinman, AIA, Lisa Hollywood — Cornell University; Dean Urs Gauchat, Gene Dassing — NJ Institute of Technology (NJIT); Dean Judith DiMaio, AIA, Evan Lapore — NY Institute of Technology (NYIT); Director of Graduate Architecture David Leven, AIA, Solveg Tryggvadottir — Parsons The New School for Design; Dean Stan Allen, Wai Chu — Princeton University; Dean Mark Mistur, Ann Cosgrove — Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Undergraduate Program Chair Jonathan Massey, AIA, Vincent Appel — Syracuse University; Dean Brian Carter, Matthew Hume — SUNY Buffalo; Dean Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, Assistant Dean Keith Krumwiede, Matt Roman — Yale University
Participating Schools: CCNY; Columbia University; The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art; Cornell University; NJIT; NYIT; Parsons The New School for Design; Pratt Institute; Princeton University; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Syracuse University; SUNY Buffalo; University of Pennsylvania; Yale University
Participating Firms: Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners; Dattner Architects; FXFOWLE Architects; HOK; KPF; Perkins + Will; SHoP Architects
Hosts: Convergence NYC; AIANY; Center for Architecture Foundation; American Institute of Architecture Students
Sponsors: Convergence: Cornell University and AIA NY State; ARCH SCHOOLS Exhibition: Bentley Systems; Carnegie Corporation of New York; RMJM Hillier; Kohn Pedersen Fox; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Beyer Blinder Belle: Architects and Planners; Davis Brody Bond Aedas; Tsao & McKown Architects; Butler Rogers Baskett; ABC Imaging

Courtesy AIANY

Both educators and students are acutely aware of their shifting position in the global marketplace. Convergence, a yearly student networking event, centered on the theme of global interconnection. The annual Deans, Directors, and Student Debates were sharpened this year by the addition of student voices. More than 140 students from universities in and around NYC took part in discussions as well as firm tours, presentations, and a mentoring program.

During the debates, American architects were characterized as exporting their services and “colonizing” the world with Western design, though panelists thought this relationship is shifting. Many deans and directors spoke of the important role of architects and educators in this new world order, but Yale University student Matt Roman refocused the discussion to the students. Before assuming global responsibility, “I need to be trained as an architect first,” Roman said.

Yale University Dean of Architecture Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, admonished domestic architects practicing internationally — most of whom he said have no experience in foreign languages and “murder English” — for their lack of communication skills. Global practice dictates that a strong liberal arts education should act as a prerequisite for design training, a sentiment echoed by New York Institute of Technology Dean Judith DiMaio, AIA, who stated that as architects “we need to know how to communicate and do it well.”

Passion Draws Architects

Event: Architects Draw — Freeing the Hand; panel discussing the publication Architects Draw, by Sue Ferguson Gussow and accompanying exhibition
Location: The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, 10.02.08
Speakers: Sue Ferguson Gussow — Painter & Educator; Dore Ashton — Author & Art Critic; Francois de Menil, FAIA — Principal, Francois de Menil Architect; Steven Hilyer — Director, The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive; Michael Webb — Assistant Professor, The Cooper Union
Organizer: The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Architects Draw — Freeing the Hand.

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

When artist Sue Ferguson Gussow devised an introductory architectural drawing class for The Cooper Union, she envisioned a studio where students documented anything but architecture. “Architecture is a discipline ruled by constraints,” said Gussow. “Only on paper can it roam or take wing.” Eschewing the straight lines of buildings, her students sketched curvier organic forms like those of bell peppers and peapods, learning important lessons about scale, movement, and connection in the process. Three decades later, Gussow has published the lessons and sketches from this class in Architects Draw — Freeing the Hand.

The panel, consisting of Gussow’s former students and colleagues, discussed the mysterious and romantic side of drawing and the role that passion and emotion play. Gussow taught drawing as a process of analysis, rather than as simple documentation. Former student Francois de Menil, FAIA, talked about the intimate connection created when drawing an object. An individual is only “capable of knowing something through drawing it,” he said. The process of drawing is filled with alternating moments of elation and depression, said architect and educator Michael Webb. “Passion is a dangerous word… a very destructive emotion and thing,” he said. “Drawing is like that.”

Rubber Hits Road with Bike Share Project

Event: Reception Program for 2008 Bike Share Demonstration Project
Location: The City Bakery, 07.14.08
Keynote: Janette Sadik-Kahn — Commissioner, NYC Department of Transportation
Organizers: Forum for Urban Design; Storefront for Art and Architecture; The City Bakery

Four bike share stations attempted to connect existing transportation networks during this year’s NY Bike Share Demonstration Project.

Courtesy nybikeshare.org

While the scope of the New York Bike Share Demonstration Project may seem small in relation to programs established in some European cities — Paris currently has over 20,000 cycles in rotation — this short test run was intended to be one step in convincing NYC to invest in a more comprehensive program on a citywide scale. This year’s four-day program expanded its pilot effort conducted last summer, offering more cycles and more stations in Lower Manhattan to exchange cycles.

The concept of bike sharing provides short-term bicycle rentals, offered either free or at minimal cost, and is intended to complement existing transportation networks. Designed to bridge gaps in subway and bus lines with point-to-point rentals, renters are not required to return cycles to the same stations. This year’s demonstration proved that commonly perceived shortcomings, like the need for significant labor to redistribute cycles at the end of each day, could be overcome by strategically locating stations. Forum for Urban Design Deputy Director Loreal Monroe reported that the group “never experienced a redistribution problem” this year.

At the program’s wrap-up reception, NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan spoke alongside the demonstration project organizers about the importance of bringing increased cycle access to the roads. “Biking can be a transformative element in NYC’s transportation design,” said Sadik-Kahn. A week earlier, the DOT released a Request for Expressions of Interests for experienced groups interested in implementing a program for the city. A more comprehensive bike-sharing program may be in NYC’s future.

Reflecting Absence in the Details

Event: Reflecting Absence: Designing a Memorial at the World Trade Center
Speaker: Michael Arad, AIA — Partner, Handel Architects
Location: 7WTC, 03.20.08
Organizer: Downtown Alliance (part of the Downtown Third Thursday series)

WTC Memorial

Arial view from the southeast of “Reflecting Absence.”

dbox, courtesy wtcsitememorial.org

When it opens in 2011, the World Trade Center Site Memorial, whose theme is “Reflecting Absence,” will look somewhat different from its original concept. In addition to the bosque of trees that has been added surrounding the Memorial, the concept and progression of the underground Memorial Gallery has been altered. Michael Arad, AIA, winner of the memorial design competition, showed how the design has been refined over the past four years, presenting a palette of details currently under development with landscape architect Peter Walker, FASLA. Undergoing fine-tuning are the fountain design and the project’s name plaques, both of which are intended to ultimately reinforce the memorial’s underlying theme, “Reflecting Absence.”

The water delivery system designed for the project’s massive fountain centerpiece is vital, says Arad. Though initially intended to be a sheet of water “clinging to the surface” of the memorial, the fountain will ultimately feature individual streams of water canting more than six and a half feet from the face of the wall. The fountains take inspiration from Arad’s initial concept of providing two large fissures in the Hudson River. Now they will mirror the footprints of the towers on the memorial site.

After many mock-ups, Arad and his team are also close to finishing the design of the name plaques, including material and font. The plaques will now circle the top ring of the fountains (instead of the original location proposed circling the lower level of these openings) and may be partially engaged with the water. Viewing the names from the surface, rather than from inside the fountains, altered one of the project’s initial concepts – reflecting from within the void. According to Arad, this move “changed the entire meaning of the project’s edge,” making the ground-level perimeter of the fountains even more important.

Nomadic Warriors Staff International Practice

Event: Research and Design: Best Sustainable Practices Abroad: A Presentation by Woods Bagot
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.06.08
Speaker: Nik Karalis — Director, Woods Bagot
Organizer: AIANY International Committee

A roving team of “nomadic warriors” drives Australian-based design and planning firm Woods Bagot’s international practice. Largely staffing their projects from sites in four regions — Australia, Asia, Middle East, and Europe — the firm encourages employees to follow the “journey of the idea,” using local bases to move projects from start to finish. Teams are encouraged to study a place and immerse themselves in analysis of the locale before even picking up a pen to design. “We’re not seagull architects,” said Nik Karalis, director at Woods Bagot, referring to other designers who swoop in and out of different project locations, “we live and breathe the culture.”

This approach to work process results in projects that both respect the culture and improve the environment. In its master plan for the College of the North Atlantic in Dubai, regional Bedouin rugs inspired Woods Bagot when planning the many interior courtyards. Complex patterns of Islamic writing were used to design deep sun shading devices around the buildings’ perimeters.

The firm is moving from the concept of applied sustainability (applying points and pre-packaged solutions) towards site-based environmental considerations that influence design. For the Qatar Science and Technology Park, the firm designed an intricate exterior canopy that provided a sun-shaded veil over the buildings inspired by the site’s rolling topography. If done right, Karalis said, “globalization can signify a move away from monoculture.”

NYC’s Waterfront Awash in Change

Event: Lecture and Movie Screening: City of Water: Examining the Past and Future of New York’s Waterfront
Location: Museum of American Finance, 02.21.08
Speaker: Kent Barwick — President, Municipal Art Society & Secretary, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance
Organizer: The Downtown Alliance

Hudson River Park

Hudson River Park may inhibit future growth of the NYC waterfront.

Jessica Sheridan

A combination of zoning changes, developer incentives, and a booming residential market have transformed NYC’s waterfront from a series of working docks to a string of recreation-driven promenades. Still, the best lesson to be learned from this recent transformation is that today’s planners should leave room for change, according to Kent Barwick, President of the Municipal Art Society and Secretary of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance (the organization that produced the documentary, City of Water). The city’s original waterfront gradually grew as an organic extension of ship-related industries; it should not be hastily re-envisioned by one or two city administrations as just an amenity for locals.

This recent transition to a more resident-friendly waterfront has been seen as an asset for NYC. Many communities, such as the South Bronx, are actively lobbying for better connections to their neighborhood waterfronts. But while communities derive benefits from these greened edges, establishment of a series of continuous waterfront parks actually serves to penalize the long-term economic flexibility of the city. For example, Barwick deemed the creation of Hudson River Park a potential mistake, since its location along the West Side of Manhattan precludes delivery of high value airfreight from the water. Though once unthinkable, there may be a time when NYC will again welcome a resurgence of commercial traffic in its ports.

While some future changes can be partially foreseen, others cannot. Asked how the city’s waterfront might fare in the face of global warming, Barwick responded that “no one has thought through yet what this will mean.” Many edges of the city would require radical adjustment to accommodate rising sea levels, proving that even today’s best-laid plans may be subject to unknown forces.