Getting Wasted: AIANY Talks Trash

The Center for Architecture hosted an event that tackled an un-sexy but pressing issue in NYC: garbage. As the host Antonio Reynoso, a NYC council member, said, dealing with garbage is “not too glamorous and you’re not going to cut the ribbon.” The councilman made light of an issue that’s often forced into the dark, joking with the audience that he was “gonna talk trash with you – because that’s what we do in Brooklyn.” Over-concentration of garbage and a high rate of asthma and traffic in his district spurred him to take the position of chair of the NYC Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management. “Sanitation,” he said, “is our first line of defense in making sure our environment is more sustainable.” Continue reading “Getting Wasted: AIANY Talks Trash”

Presenting “Open to the Public: Civic Space Now”

“Open to the Public: Civic Space Now,” which opened at the Center for Architecture on 06.12.14, offers multifarious interpretations of public space. This satisfying exhibition muses about both the philosophical and the practical, showing a spectrum of how public space is used, “discovered,” carved out, left to languish, and sometimes revitalized. It folds perfectly into and clearly articulates the Center’s year-long presidential theme “Civic Spirit, Civic Vision.”

Despite the breadth of the exhibition, the show manages to link to important historical moments of civic space, starting at its inception, when Greeks and Romans made public space a tenet of their value systems. The “agora” was a nexus for politics and intrigue, as well as relaxation and informal congregation (we still use the word today, in “agoraphobia,” the fear of public/open environments). It also points out that while humans have always craved public space and have prioritized it, the very definition is vexingly ephemeral and resists a singular expression. Continue reading “Presenting “Open to the Public: Civic Space Now””

Social Housing in Spain

If the right to freedom of speech could be described as the integral value in American society, perhaps the analogous value would be the right to housing in Spain. That right is a breathing, diversifying, and multiplying legacy across the country. For a taste, consider that from 2000 to 2010, Spain produced more collective housing than the more obvious, socially-aligned EU powerhouses England, France, and Germany, combined. The panel discussion “Social Housing in Spain,” part of the AIANY Housing Committee’s series on international housing design, jibed perfectly with the Center for Architecture’s yearlong presidential theme, “Civic Sprit: Civic Vision.” Continue reading “Social Housing in Spain”

The Swiss Touch in Landscape Architecture

As AIANY 2014 President Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, noted in his introduction for the opening of “The Swiss Touch in Landscape Architecture,” at the Center for Architecture, landscape architecture “stands at the center of urban and political discourse of our time.” Paradoxically, he said, it’s still largely “unknown to the public.” That’s why we need to bring that under-appreciated practice to light; after all, it is such an integral part of the oft-used term urban fabric, but it’s “not understood in a dogmatic way” like buildings. This exploration of landscape design as part of the social/physical aptly fits into the AIANY’s year-long theme, “Civic Spirit: Civic Vision.” Continue reading “The Swiss Touch in Landscape Architecture”

Engineering the 1964 World’s Fair

Four of the key engineers who worked on 1964 World’s Fair in NYC gathered on 05.07.14 to reflect on the burst of creativity and daring of that time, and how the industry has changed in the past 50 years. Vincent DeSimone, PE, FACI, FASCE, chairman of DeSimone Consulting Engineers; Ken Hiller, PhD, PE, FASCE, former vice president and chief engineer at Bovis; Frank Marino, director of operations at Seismic Structural Design Associates; Alan Ritchie, AIA, principal at Philip Johnson Alan Ritchie Architects; and Charles Thornton; PhD, Hon. AIA, PE, Hon. ASCE, chairman of Charles H. Thorton & Company, were all very young when they worked under lead architect Lev Zetlin; they had all gone to Manhattan College, where Zetlin taught, and bonded over working for a “brilliant but difficult” man. There was clearly a “seat-of-the pants feeling” as the young, ambitious men dove headfirst into this huge project that has become a New York icon. “If you would have told me that Men in Black would have been at the Fair…,”  DeSimmone chuckled. Continue reading “Engineering the 1964 World’s Fair”

Landscape as Playscape

Ana Kučan, professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and founder of Studio AKKA, is deeply involved in mixing theory and practice, using an abstract framework as a leaping-off point for conceptualizing physical landscapes. At the Center for Architecture on 04.09.14, she provided the audience with a rich theory base, and then described actual projects that encompassed those ideas. Her talk, in celebration of Landscape Architecture Month, was part of the AIANY Architecture Dialogue Committee’s “Beyond New York” series. Continue reading “Landscape as Playscape”

Polis: Design for Democracy

The Google map of Aix-en-Provence shows curving lines merging in concentric circles that look not all that different from regular streets. On the ground, however, the medieval streets are almost impassable: traffic moves very slowly through a tangle of pedestrians and cyclists. This brings to light the issue of how old European cities remake themselves to suit the current demands of their denizens to be greener and more habitable. Sometimes, as they move from ancient to updated, they also have to revise modern botches that have left voids, areas that divide the city, or spaces that ignore diversity or natural resources.

The Center for Architecture’s opening of “Polis: 7 Lessons from the European Prize for Public Urban Space [2000-2012]” celebrates these transformations, these applications of the democratic conception of the city. The prize has gathered 1,300 projects from cities across Europe, and the Center’s exhibition highlights 35 works from the first seven editions of the prize. The exhibition, of course, derives its name, polis, from the idealized Greek city-state, reminding us that the city is ours to take ownership over and shape to our will. As grandiose and bold as this goal is, “Polis” shows how the remaking of public space occurs in nested moments as easily as through large-scale moves. The show is organized around seven precepts that dynamically embody the AIANY President Lance Jay Brown’s, FAIA, theme for this year, “Civic Spirit: Civic Vision.” Continue reading “Polis: Design for Democracy”

Learning from Copenhagen

As the clamoring to address climate change grows louder – just last week, the American Association for the Advancement of Science issued a straightforward, dire warning – it’s striking to compare how cities are either choosing to become greener, or not. Copenhagen has become the model of a city that’s embraced large-scale, civic green design that permeates almost every aspect of public infrastructure.

The Center for Architecture’s exhibition “Copenhagen Solutions” explores how Copenhagen came to be the world’s greenest city, and its plans to become CO2 neutral by 2025. While the city’s success has been mostly localized, it hopes that its model will trigger designs in other cities; because it is the first to take on so much, success can only be improved upon. Singapore and Hamburg, for instance, are capitalizing on Copenhagen’s bold pioneering. Continue reading “Learning from Copenhagen”

Teaching and Building Transparently

Vassar College is taking steps to upgrade two well-worn, classically academic buildings. They’ll be complemented by a soaring new science center that will host state-of-the-art lab space. It seems that institutions everywhere are taking this next step, imagining bold buildings for technologically savvy students and teachers. “Transparency,” the big buzzword, is tied to this evolution, and architects are designing facilities to encapsulate that vision.

Four firms presented their work, untangling the manifestations of “transparency,” on 03.05.11 at the Center for Architecture. While walls of glass were a large, if obvious, part of their interpretations, their definitions blurred and shape-shifted as architects accommodated different environments. Continue reading “Teaching and Building Transparently”

Suprematism Revisited

Suprematism, an art movement of the early 20th century conceptualized by Kazimir Malevich, still rankles many skeptics of modern art. But the key to appreciating these pieces is that they are theory manifested; they are born of a way of seeing that is inextricable from a social philosophy. In the case of Malevich, the famous “Black Square” rejected materialism, instead embracing a “pure feeling.” For him, the making of art was a spiritual experience, and that feeling couldn’t be contained for the cursory glances of the casual observer. Continue reading “Suprematism Revisited”