Timeline, Design Awards Celebrate 150 Years — Past, Present, and Future

Event: NY 150+: A Timeline – Ideas – Civic Institutions – Futures
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.12.07
Organizers: AIA New York Chapter; The Center for Architecture Foundation
Exhibition Underwriters:
IBEX logoIBEX Construction; Patrons: NRI; TRESPA
Supported in part by an Arnold W. Brunner grant
Additional Support: Peter Schubert, AIA; FXFOWLE ARCHITECTS
Beverages: SKYY90 & Barefoot Cellars

Event: 2007 AIA New York Chapter Design Awards
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.12.07
Organizers: AIA NY; AIA NY Design Awards Committee
Benefactor: DIRTT; Oldcastle Glass
Patron: HOK, F. J. Sciame Construction Co.; Laticrete International; Microsol Resources; TRESPA
Lead Sponsor: Arup; Columbia University; Cooper Robertson & Partners; KI; Langan Engineering and Environmental Services; Mancini Duffy; Richter + Ratner; Syska & Hennessy, Inc.; Turner Construction
Sponsors: Atkinson Koven Feinberg; Bauerschmidt & Sons, Inc.; Bentley Prince Street; Beyer Blinder Belle: Architects and Planners; Certified of New York, Inc.; Cosentini Associates; Costas Kondylis & Partners; Forest City Ratner Companies; FXFOWLE ARCHITECTS; Gensler; Gilsanz Murray Steficek; Haworth; Hopkins Foodservice Specialists, Inc.; The I. Grace Company, Inc.; Ingram, Yuzek, Gainen, Caroll & Bertolotti; Lutron; Mechoshade Systems; NYU SCPS: The Real Estate Institute; Perkins + Will; Peter Marino Architect; Severud Associates Consulting Engineers; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Steelcase, Inc.; Structure Tone, Inc.; Studio Daniel Libeskind; Swanke Hayden Connell Architects; Thornton-Tomasetti Group
Reception Underwriter:
IBEX logoIBEX Construction
Beverages by: SKYY90 & Barefoot Cellars

Design Awards & NY 150+

Courtesy AIANY

Two exhibitions that recognize how New York architects (and their projects) have influenced the profession opened with a joint celebration at the Center for Architecture. NY 150+: A Timeline – Ideas – Civic Institutions – Futures coincides with the sesquicentennial anniversary of the AIA, lending a historical birds-eye view to the evolution of the profession. Timeline curator Diane Lewis, AIA, FAAR, calls the exhibition, “a series of giant pages to a forthcoming book celebrating the founding of the New York AIA.” Instead of using a linear, chronological format, Lewis tracked the evolution of specific projects alongside larger social and cultural developments occurring in the city. Projects are represented from germ to synthesis into the city. “When one looks at the postcard of Mies van der Rohe’s 1921 glass skyscraper, it is apparent that New York is the lexicon by which concrete can become imaginary and the imaginary can become concrete,” said Lewis.

The lower level galleries display the winning projects from this year’s AIA New York Chapter Design Awards. In many ways these contemporary projects provide a perfect counterpoint for the historical examples in the timeline. “It is not a coincidence that we have both of these openings happening today,” said Illya Azaroff, Assoc. AIA, AIANY Vice President for Design Excellence at the opening. Azaroff pointed out that while the Timeline exhibition charts the highs of the past 150 years, it provides prologue for today’s architects. The award-winning projects (located internationally, not only in New York) work toward establishing a professional legacy. While each winning project is detailed on its own oversize display, adjacent binders lend a glimpse into the process behind each finished product.

NY 150+: A Timeline is on view through 06.23.07, and 2007 AIA New York Chapter Design Awards is on view through 07.07.07. See On View: At the Center for Architecture for more information.

Tsao & McKown Weave Designer Threads

Event: The Gil Oberfield Memorial Lecture
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.15.07
Speakers: Calvin Tsao, FAIA, Zack McKown, FAIA — partners,Tsao & McKown Architects
Organizer: AIA NY Interiors Committee

Tsao & McKown Architects relies on pragmatic solutions to guide each project’s style. With a portfolio of work ranging from custom furniture and retail installations to architecture and urban design, designs may seem theoretically and geographically scattered, but they ultimately find common ground. So with the ambitious opening “We want to dare to traverse…where we find the thread of connection to link all of our endeavors together,” co-founders Zack McKown and Calvin Tsao, FAIA, began a dizzying retrospective of their partnership. Though the duo identified upwards of a dozen concepts that influence their projects, the ideas that resonated most were the firm’s attention to interconnectivity and spirituality.

The firm is constantly investigating “the soul behind the style,” according to Tsao. For the master plan of Suntec City on the outskirts of Singapore, Tsao & McKown used the mandala as an organizing principle. While the circular form of the mandala has cosmological significance specific to Hindu and Buddhist religions, it also speaks to harmony among scales. In Suntec City, a central water element focuses and links five new buildings with interstitial commercial spaces tying together large and small elements into one system. At the River Lofts Condominium complex in Tribeca, the designers were challenged to provide a different type of linkage — tying together a new residential building with a renovated warehouse. The project provided deep windowsills to give residents “a sense of dimension beyond their domain” said Tsao.

Images of their interiors projects reveal a modern vocabulary tinged with Victorian extravagance. In one project, a series of fabric-draped chandeliers perch above a sculptural atomic sunburst. Another residence features a fluttering of appliquéd butterflies springing from a bedroom headboard to “help the client dream better.” Tsao & McKown has the insight to divine what is human and universal about the design experience, while elevating it to a higher level.

Soon Your Home Will Watch Your Weight for You

Event: Changing Places: Redefining the House as Machine for Living In
Center for Architecture, 03.05.07
Speakers: Kent Larson — director, Changing Places & director, House _n Research consortium and MIT Open Source Building Alliance within the MIT Department of Architecture
Organizers: AIANY Housing Committee; AIANY Technology Committee
Sponsors: ABC Imaging

Courtesy MIT

House_n Current consortium

Courtesy MIT

Don’t be alarmed if someday soon your home starts telling you what to do. Kent Larson, director of MIT’s Changing Places program and leader of the school’s House_n consortium, spoke about his group’s recent research with the potential to alter our behavior at home. Among the items being tested is VITa, a television remote that encourages exercise during commercials and alerts you when you’ve exceeded your daily allotment of viewing time. Another project uses portable RFIDs (radio frequency identification devices) to gather information on the amount of time an individual spends on specific daily activities, such as snacking or exercising. PlaceLab is an apartment outfitted with a device that monitors how people deal with technology in their living environments. The desired outcome of all of these projects is to “find the right way to deliver information to people to encourage healthy behavior,” says Larson.

This effort is in response to the fact that the largest health threats in the US — heart disease, obesity, and diabetes — are caused by the behavioral choices made by individuals. Different than “smart house” technology, which attempts to control a home’s environment for convenience or energy-efficiency purposes, the technology Larson is developing intends to influence you, as the user of the home, to make smarter choices. Corporate sponsors are already rushing to channel Larson’s data into development of new products. “Is this architecture?” asked Larson during his presentation, “I think so.” While this proposition might be a stretch to some, its core concept might not be so different than the traditional idea of using design to improve quality of life. And in the long run, many of Larson’s projects may actually provide the metrics to prove this illusive statement true, once and for all.

The Raw Truth About Oysters

Event: The Big Oyster; History on the Half Shell, part of the Downtown Third Thursdays lecture series.
Location: India House, Marine Room, 02.15.07
Speaker: Mark Kurlansky – author, food historian
Organizer: Downtown Alliance

Courtesy amazon.com

Courtesy amazon.com

“Oysters were what New York was all about,” according to historian and author Mark Kurlansky, recalling the mollusk’s once defining place in the city’s history. Traces of the oyster industry may have all but vanished, but New York was once littered with street corner oyster carts, 24-hour oyster markets, and alcohol-fueled dives known as oyster cellars. In the 1800’s, New York’s cultural identity was tied to the oyster. “You rarely find a food that satisfies all socioeconomic backgrounds at one time,” said Kurlansky.

A strange tale of environmental caution lies at the root of why the native oyster has all but disappeared from the city’s cultural and culinary memory. The Hudson River estuary enables oysters to thrive with its brackish combination of salt- and freshwater. Dutch settlers enjoyed saucer-sized oysters; the oyster trade fueled the city’s growth and filled its tables. Beginning in the 1890s however, the Hudson’s oyster beds became contaminated by raw sewage causing cholera outbreaks. By 1930, it was illegal to harvest oysters, and by 1960 the water was too polluted for them to grow at all. Thanks to improvements brought about by the Clean Water Act, oysters can be found in the Hudson River today, though PCBs and heavy lead make them dangerous to consume. Someday, with the help of sustainable planning, New Yorkers might enjoy Hudson River oysters again, but never will they be plentiful enough to fuel an entire city.

Architects Return to School

Event: A New Architecture for a New Education symposium held in conjunction with the exhibition “School Buildings – The State of Affairs: A New Architecture for a New Education”
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.03.07
Speakers: Bruce Barrett – Vice President of Architecture & Engineering, NYC School Construction Authority; Barbara Custer – Principal, Nordstrasse Elementary School, Zürich; Richard Dattner, FAIA – Dattner Architects; Manuela Keller-Scheider – Zürich University of Teacher Education; Daniel Kurz – architectural historian, Zürich Building & Zoning Department; Kelvin Shawn Sealey, EdD – founder, Design Lab for Learning Organizations at Columbia Graduate School for Architecture, Planning and Preservation; Tony Vinzenz – Director, Department of Schools and Sport, City of Zürich; Markus Ziegler – Immobilien-Bewirtschaftung, City of Zürich.
Moderator: David M. Steiner – Dean, Hunter College School of Education
Organizer: AIA New York Chapter Committee on Architecture for Education and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich/ Wohnforum
Sponsors: Holcim, Think Swiss, The Consulate General of Switzerland in New York


Falletsche School, Zurich-Leimback, Switzerland.


American architects and educators might benefit from looking at recent European models and rethinking the fundamentals of educational building design. In Zürich, the educational structure is departing from the traditional “banking” model, where information is “deposited” into students by teachers. According to Tony Vinzenz, Director of the Department of Schools and Sport in Zürich, teaching is evolving into a team effort intended to “tap the individual potential of each child,” a change that demands more flexibility and connection among classrooms. Extended school hours also increases demands on space, and integration of technology challenges the rigid classroom layout of traditional school buildings.

Even though Zürich faces similar problems to NYC, NYC must address the issues on a larger scale. According to Markus Ziegler, of Zürich’s public real estate department Immobilien-Bewirtschaftung, the amount of school space available in Zürich has doubled since 1940, while the number of school children has decreased by 21%. In NYC, the School Construction Authority houses over 1 million children and plans to add 63,000 seats to the city’s schools within the next five years to keep pace with demand. So while clustering classrooms and providing flex space is desirable in new schools, the question remains how New York’s 1,300 existing facilities can adapt to house new teaching models. “Schools change constantly, while the school buildings stay built,” said Ziegler, an idea that architects should seriously consider when designing tomorrow’s schools.

Carolyn Sponza, AIA, is an architect with Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners and is the AIANY Chapter Vice President of Professional Development.