Barnett Predicts Future of Development in NYC

Event: A Conversation with Gary Barnett, Extell Development Company
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.26.11
Speakers: Gary Barnett — President, Extell Development Company
Organizer: Center for Architecture
Sponsor: Kramer Levin

“It’s not just about design; it’s about design and function,” said Gary Barnett, president of Extell Development and one of this year’s Heritage Ball honorees, about his take on real estate development. During the company’s 22 years in business, Extell has developed more than 20 million square feet and worked with an impressive list of architects and interior designers.

Barnett admitted that, although Extell likes to work with a continually expanding and diverse group of firms, the company does have its favorites. SOM, one of those favorites, designed The International Gem Tower, under construction since April. Atelier Christian de Portzamparc with executive architect SLCE designed One57, the 90-story hotel/condominium currently rising on 57th Street. The trio is banding together again to design the remaining portion of Riverside South, from 65th to 59th Streets, one of the last large undeveloped sites in Manhattan. Even though Extell works with high caliber designers on all projects, its in-house architects always perform due diligence to ensure that the properties will be functional, economic, as well as attractive, according to Barnett.

Citing the twin opponents of development in today’s recession — generally longer construction times (up to 30% by Barnett’s estimate) and a retreat in financing — Barnett remained optimistic. Despite the decreased number of building permits issued, smaller, non-union projects are the way to build because they’re faster and cheaper, he said. Meanwhile, larger building projects will return slowly, he predicted.

Gerald Frug Counters “All-Or-Nothing” Approach to Government

Event: Stirling Lecture: Gerald Frug
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.20.11
Speaker: Gerald Frug — Louis D. Brandeis Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
Organizers: Center for Architecture; Canadian Centre for Architecture

“A major design problem is the government system and the inability to get things done… at least the right things,” said Gerald Frug, Louis D. Brandeis Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and winner of the 2010-11 James Stirling Memorial Lecture on the City competition. He maintains that our architectural system is designed along the lines of a state legislature: numerous governmental agencies must collaborate to allow buildings and infrastructure to be built. That they do not do so causes problems, which is detrimental to elected democratic government.

Frug identified a series of fragmentations that are undermining the urban quality of life. By creating appointed public authorities that have little, if any, accountability, he argued that inexpert decisions are made without adequate public input. Similarly, territorial fragmentation occurs as political boundaries are redrawn favoring some neighborhoods over others, giving local preference without thinking of the larger interactive system. Presenting an idea that is often taken out of context, cannot be negotiated, and sustains an “all-or-nothing” nature weakens the government’s ability to act. Meanwhile, public/private partnerships of stakeholders and interest groups (and rarely ordinary voting citizens) leave open the door for corruption.

While identifying problems with governance, Frug offered ideas on rebuilding the government. He stated that a successful system takes both a top-down and bottom-up approach, whereby states divide and cities combine (he called this “accreted regionalism”), rather than by centralizing power, or granting excessive local autonomy.

Considering the economic and political situation in which we strive to build, it is no wonder that Frug quoted Rem Koolhaas, who said, “Architecture is a poisonous mixture of power and impotence.”

Vincent Scully Searches for Architecture

Event: Checkerboard Films Presents: Vincent Scully, An Art Historian Among Architects
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.17.11
Speakers: Suzanne Stephens — Deputy Editor, Architectural Record; Paul Goldberger, Hon. AIA — Architecture Critic, The New Yorker
Organizers: Checkerboard Film Foundation; Center for Architecture


Vincent Scully.

Courtesy Center for Architecture

The abundant interviews in Tom Piper’s film Vincent Scully: An Art Historian Among Architects (2010) reveal that Scully, often considered the historian’s historian, championed questioning, and was himself anything but definitive. A recurring touchstone was his insistence on subjective interpretation — how a work of art or architecture makes one feel, as long as knowledge supports that intuition.

The film begins with Scully guiding viewers through Yale University, his alma mater and where he taught for more than 50 years, where he discusses his appreciation of James Gamble Rogers, Louis Kahn, and Paul Rudolph. Revealing how generations influence and regard each other culminates with his lecture, complete with choreographed slides, on Kahn’s Yale Art Gallery and trip to Giza that informed the gallery ceiling. Such comparisons and explorations infuse Scully’s teachings — and the film.

However, controversy seemed to follow Scully. His book, The Earth, the Temple and the Gods: Greek Sacred Architecture, riled some classicists and archaeologists because he was entirely an outsider, said former student and archaeologist John Hale. Decades later Scully similarly upset many architects when he famously abandoned his allegiance to Modernism.

Long before interdisciplinary collaborations and integration became the buzz Scully was championing the larger picture. He traveled on foot throughout Greece to better understand buildings’ relations to their sites and to each other. He studied architecture as part of a greater context whether, as Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, stated, as spatial, tectonic, or political, or, as Paul Goldberger, Hon. AIA, relayed in the post-film discussion, as a radical combination of building, landscape, and culture.

As much as this film searches to reveal Scully’s history, it’s also about Scully’s search for architecture.