In Sandy’s Wake, Experts Strategize Relief from the Superstorm

Michael Kimmelman led a lively, thought-provoking discussion. (l-r) Michael Kimmelman; Stephen Cassell, AIA, LEED AP; Howard Slatkin; Cynthia Barton; Dr. Klaus Jacob; Donna Walcavage, FASLA, LEED AP; and Rob Rogers, FAIA.

Daniel Fox

Event: Designing the City after Superstorm Sandy
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.15.12
Organizers: Center for Architecture Foundation; AIANY
Supporters: AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee (DfRR); AIANY Committee on the Environment (COTE)
Speakers: Cynthia Barton, Housing Recovery Plan Manager, NYC Office of Emergency Management (OEM); Howard Slatkin, Director of Sustainability & Deputy Director of Strategic Planning, NYC Department of City Planning; Dr. Klaus Jacob, Geophysicist, Professor of Disaster Risk Management, Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, & Special Research Scientist, Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; Stephen Cassell, AIA, LEED AP, Principal, Architecture Research Office; Donna Walcavage, FASLA, LEED AP, Principal/Vice President, AECOM; Robert Rogers, FAIA, Founding Partner, Rogers Marvel Architects
Moderator: Michael Kimmelman, Architecture Critic, The New York Times

“We have been in denial about climate change up to this point,” said Donna Walcavage, FASLA, LEED AP, principal and vice president at AECOM. But now, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, we need to take advantage of this watershed moment and move toward productive solutions. Just a couple of weeks after the hurricane, AIANY and the Center for Architecture Foundation brought together experts in the field of risk analysis and reconstruction to discuss relief efforts and raise funds for the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.

Panelists agreed that recovery efforts in the city will require a layering of solutions. Stephen Cassell, AIA, LEED AP, principal at Architecture Research Office (ARO) believes the edge of the city should be fungible and flexible. Referencing ARO and dlandstudio’s project for the “Rising Currents” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Cassell discussed porous streets, below-grade waterproof vaults, and introducing a graduated edge at Manhattan’s waterfront. Robert Rogers, FAIA, of Rogers Marvel Architects, presented subway grates designed in association with di Domenico & Partners to help prevent subway flooding, as well as his firm’s design with West 8 for Governors Island that incorporates measures to mitigate storm surges, including wetlands at the perimeter and the careful placement of new trees.

While some panelists envision the proposal to add a levee system around New York Harbor as one of the potential precautionary measures, geophysicist Dr. Klaus Jacob believes this strategy will be ineffective in the near future, pointing to the failure of New Orleans’s levees during Hurricane Katrina. Even worse, Walcavage is concerned that storm-surge barriers could harm the delicate ecosystem in the rivers surrounding Manhattan.

Beyond design-specific solutions, NYC Department of City Planning’s Howard Slatkin discussed the city’s efforts to look at flood resistance and infrastructure within and among the many communities affected by the storm. He emphasized the importance of dialogue between communities and agencies to develop recovery strategies, acknowledging that an effective solution for one area may not be successful in another. Cynthia Barton, Housing Recovery Plan Manager for the NYC Office of Emergency Management, expressed the need to engage all types of entities, pairing the public sector with non-profits and private businesses with local communities. Both Jacob and Walcavage called for regional collaboration that crosses state and international boundaries. “Nature does not respect political boundaries,” said Walcavage.

“We need to be smart and cheap in the interim, but durable in the long run,” said Jacob. Whether it is through implementing strategies incrementally, or reassessing and rewriting regulations to “build back smarter,” panelists agreed that the conversation must take place now to set the framework to moderate future catastrophes.

The most difficult assessment, however, centers on the decision whether or not to allow certain communities to rebuild in the same location in the same way – or even at all. Moderator Michael Kimmelman voiced concern that this decision could be left in the hands of elected officials only, and questioned who or what will be in charge of leading the efforts. “We have to face the fact that it is a challenge to our democracy to determine what parts of the city are or are not salvageable.” (See “Vetoing Business as Usual After the Storm,” The New York Times, 11.19.12).

To conclude, Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, co-chair of the AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee summed up the discussion: “[The recovery effort] is going to require an enormous act of national will to make changes, and they need to be done compassionately.” With almost $2,500 raised, hopefully the design community is helping the city establish these parameters.

AIA 2012 Convention Special: Emerging Professionals Take on the Future of the AIA

Future Now! Emerging Professionals convene at the Convention.

Courtesy AIA National Associates Committee

Despite delivering the sobering statistic that more than 60,000 positions have been lost since the recession, which is equivalent to 30% of architecture staff nationally, AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, spoke about the promise of the future of the profession. Throughout this year’s convention, the most prominent theme for Emerging Professionals (EPs) focused on maintaining passion for the profession by taking on leadership roles, both at the AIA, as well as within firms and in local communities.

“People often confuse experience with leadership” was a statement repeated at several talks intended for EPs – the message being one does not need many years of experience to demonstrate the qualities of a leader. At the National Associates Committee Directors Roundtable discussion, James Cramer, Hon. AIA, commented that one of the leading struggles for EPs is attempting to understand how they can make themselves relevant. This question becomes more complicated with the expanding definition of practice and changing roles of architects. With the profession in flux and the AIA its Repositioning Architects and the AIA Initiative, EPs should look ahead at what opportunities these changes hold and take advantage of them now.

When the candidates for AIA National office spoke with EPs, there was a consensus that mentoring in both directions is a necessity to sustain the profession. Susan Chin, FAIA, 2013-14 AIA Vice President, commented that more “seasoned” professionals have much to learn from the way EPs collaborate. She asked that EPs think about how the AIA can support their interests, whether it is through funds for programs, ARE exams, and competitions, or by helping create a network of mentors. Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA, 2014 AIA President, tasked EPs with being proactive about taking on leadership roles to achieve their goals. “Jump in and people will take notice and include you in their endeavors,” she said. With one of the largest turnouts of Associate members in recent history, it seems that EPs are taking the suggestion to heart.

Birds of a Feather: Reporters, Architects Share Passion for the Profession

Matt Chaban of The New York Observer answers an audience member’s question. (l-r) Robin Pogrebin, Rob Lippincott, Steve Cuozzo, Matt Chaban, and moderator Julie Iovine.

Daniel Fox

Event: Architecture and the Media Series #2: Design Reportage: The Business Press and General Interest Media
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.03.2012
Speakers: Matt Chaban, Real Estate Editor, the New York Observer; Steve Cuozzo, Reporter, The New York Post; Robert M. Lippincott, Senior Vice President of Education, PBS; Robin Pogrebin, Reporter, The New York Times
Moderator: Julie V. Iovine, Executive Editor, The Architect’s Newspaper
Organizer: Center for Architecture; AIANY Oculus Committee; AIANY Marketing & PR Committee; The Architect’s Newspaper

When it comes to reporting on architecture, real estate in publications is at a premium. Journalists struggle to justify to their editors that a project is “worthy enough” for print. And, with so many current projects either stalled or on hold, it is even more difficult to find projects to write about without being repetitive. For Robert Lippincott, senior vice president of education at PBS, what determines whether or not a project gets covered depends on the reason why it is important. Generally, projects that represent a trend, controversy, or window into architecture from an outsiders’ perspective make the cut.

Panelists agreed that the starchitecture “movement” helped bring attention to the subject of architecture that wasn’t on the public’s radar. However, The New York Observer‘s Matt Chaban also thinks it gave the public the perception that architecture is a commodity, rather than a necessity. Robin Pogrebin, reporter for the New York Times, would like to check in with developers who chose to work with starchitects to see if they felt the result was ultimately worth the investment. Steve Cuozzo of The New York Post compared starchitects to modern ballet in the 1970s, when Baryshnikov brought a new audience to the art form.

In general, the panelists prefer to report on completed projects. Renderings are a fantasy, said Pogrebin, and without first-hand experience of a building, it is difficult to evaluate its merits. Also, while she enjoys hearing about architects’ intentions, what they say does not always translate into the final built structure. Chaban is skeptical when architects claim they will transform the world with their designs, and Lippincott is leery of potential ulterior motives behind architects’ presentations. Perhaps they are trying to influence a community board, or change their standing with the Landmarks Preservation Commission, for example.

When asked about what they are interested in writing about currently, answers ranged broadly. Cuozzo prefers to write about projects that aren’t new and high-profile, such as the buildings in Battery Park. Chaban sees merit in writing frequently about some of the large-scale developments, including the World Trade Center and NYU, to help build momentum for the projects. Pogrebin searches for stories about unknown firms and up-and-comers, like the winners of the annual MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program. And Lippencott features programs that expose the history or culture of a place through architecture.

Ultimately, the reasons that reporters write about architecture is similar to why architects practice in the field. They share a love of the city, want to bring appreciation and discourse about policy to the forefront of public awareness, and they want to make a difference in the built environment.

New Orleans Points to a New American Dream

Plan for the 21st Century: New Orleans 2030.

Goody Clancy

Event: Climate Change: Inevitable Challenges and Potential Opportunities
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.17.12
Speaker: David Dixon, FAIA – Director of Urban Design, Goody Clancy (Boston, MA)
Respondents: Illya Azaroff, AIA – Co-chair, AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction (DfRR) Committee; James S. Russell, FAIA – Architecture & Design Columnist, Bloomberg News
Moderator: Lance Jay Brown, FAIA – Co-chair, AIANY DfRR Committee
Organizer: AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee

“Cities have become the new American Dream,” said David Dixon, FAIA, director of urban design at Boston-based Goody Clancy. With a surplus of suburban homes, and a shortage in urban apartments, the problem is that we are not ready yet to make the transition. As society is changing, our challenge as architects and planners is to make cities more livable. The solution, according to Dixon, is to develop amenity-rich, walkable, multi-modal, compact growth.

Goody Clancy has a long history in urban planning, but perhaps one of the most pivotal projects for Dixon is the Plan for the 21st Century: New Orleans 2030. Post-Katrina, Dixon was moved by the true commitment New Orleanians had to rebuilding their communities, absent of all NIMBYism. He grew to understand why some of the early planning efforts, including the “Green Dot Plan” and a proposal to relocate residents of East New Orleans to outer boroughs of the city, were sharply criticized. Comparing those plans to the East Baltimore Development Initiative, which has taken more than 20 years to relocate a community across a street for a hospital expansion, the complex logistics involved with uprooting and relocating a whole community are beyond impractical. James S. Russell, FAIA, a respondent after Dixon’s talk, emphasized that “especially in New Orleans, where the meaning of ‘neighborhood’ is so strong, a nuanced solution is the only answer.”

With the New Orleans 2030 plan, Goody Clancy is not just focusing on rebuilding communities; the firm is also using the inevitability of rising sea levels as a source for sustainable planning. Dixon referenced strategies spearheaded by the Netherlands as an inspiration for the firm’s work in New Orleans. The country is creating islands, new ports, and using natural growth to filter water and prevent flooding. With its intricate canal system, the Netherlands sees water as an amenity. With New Orleans 2030, Dixon wants to create a “blue signature” throughout the city with its own canal system. Instead of perceiving canals as eyesores or building over them so they are out of sight, the new New Orleans will both restore wetlands and create community gathering places. Dixon hopes that the canals will create a shared sense of future and identity for each neighborhood.

Ultimately, even though the country has learned much from Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans after the floods, said Russell, what needs to change is how cities apply those lessons to their own planning efforts. He thinks architecture and planning professionals could have the biggest impact if they better understood how city governments work. Illya Azaroff, AIA, the co-chair of the AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee, added that any city can learn from past disasters. Now is the time to anticipate what needs to be done to protect our cities in the future.

Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, is a project manager at Gensler and a past editor of e-Oculus.


02.02.12: I am pleased to announce that Benedict Clouette will take over as the new editor-in-chief of e-Oculus with the 02.15.12 issue. Benedict is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in Domus, Volume Magazine, and DAMn. It has been great working on e-Oculus for the last six years. I am looking forward to continuing to contribute to the publication, but as an occasional contributing writer, rather than editor. As a send-off, I hope you will read my final Editor’s Soapbox, “Looking Back at the Last Six Years.” Thank you for reading!

– Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP

Note from Guy Geier, FAIA, FIIDA, LEED AP: As Chair of the Oculus Committee, I am happy, on the one hand, to welcome e-Oculus Editor-In-Chief Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, to the AIA New York Chapter Board of Directors. On the other, it saddens me to say that this is her last issue leading the charge of the bi-weekly communications treat that has been her “e-O” for the last six years. Under her guidance, tutelage, and control, e-Oculus has grown to be more than just the timely and topical missive of the Chapter. Through her insight, editorial balance, and passionate soapbox columns, Jessica has taken our electronic broadsheet to new levels of coverage and advocacy. Luckily, she is not going far and will continue as contributor and Board leader in helping to determine a revised format, focus, and frequency.


Looking Back at the Last Six Years

In my first Soapbox I commented on the uncertain state of the profession emerging from 2005 — a banner year for natural disasters wreaking havoc on communities, most notably Hurricane Katrina. “Strife reigns, pinning the public against developers, politicians against each other, and the public against politicians. Architects and city planners are absorbed in the mix.” Has anything changed in the last six years?

For me there have been many milestones since 2005 that demonstrate how the profession has grown. Perhaps the thing that has most profoundly influenced architecture in the recent past is sustainability. 2006 saw green go mainstream, with Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” 2007 launched the Mayor’s PlaNYC2030. In 2008, the new building code adopted many of the sustainable practices already incorporated into the International Building Code. However, with the close of the decade, the economy began to take a turn and the term “greenwashing” began to give sustainability a bad name. There was a rejection of the simplistic checklist approach that the profession began to take, with the USGBC and LEED bearing the brunt of criticism.

Today, our approach to sustainability is much more complex than it was six years ago. We consider our carbon footprints, embodied energy of materials and systems, improving our health with active design, and we think both in terms of long- and short-term benefits. While there is, of course, room for improvement — we are far from living holistically — I think we are headed in the right direction.

Physical architectural milestones include both small and large developments citywide. The High Line, Lincoln Center, Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, 7WTC, the Bank of America Tower, and Brooklyn Bridge Park don’t even scratch the surface of what’s risen in the last six years. NYC is once again becoming a global force in architecture, with starchitect-run firms Atelier Jean Nouvel, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, and Gehry Partners finally constructing buildings in the city. International firms, such as Studio Daniel Libeskind, to Snøhetta and Grimshaw Architects, are making NYC home and are flourishing. Whether it’s Morphosis’s 41 Cooper Square, Grimshaw/Dattner Architects’ Via Verde, or the TKTS Booth and Revitalization of Father Duffy Square, by Choi Ropia, Perkins Eastman, and PKSB Architects, the quality of architecture in the city is having a positive effect on both the public and the profession.

Ultimately, nothing has defined the developing face of the city more than what has happened at Ground Zero. When I started editing e-Oculus, AIANY was advocating for Michael Arad, AIA’s “Reflecting Absence” — a memorial that was not inevitable at the time. Now, the memorial is not only open to the public, but Davis Brody Bond and Snøhetta’s National September 11 Memorial Museum is well underway, and SOM’s One World Trade Center is at 92 stories as of last week.

I have done my best to deliver timely news about the built environment in NYC over the last few years. With the help of my contributing editors Linda G. Miller and Murrye Bernard, LEED AP, I hope we have done the publication justice. Thank you to my mentors Kristen Richards, Hon. AIA, Hon. ASLA, and the late Stephen A. Kliment, FAIA; the AIANY Oculus Committee; Rick Bell, FAIA; and the tireless AIANY Staff. It has been a pleasure serving the Chapter, its members, and the more than 11,000 architectural enthusiasts that read the e-zine on a regular basis. And I look forward to seeing e-Oculus take new directions as Benedict Clouette takes over as the new editor.

The Folly about Pavilions

Having spearheaded the FIGMENT/ENYA/SEAoNY City of Dreams Pavilion competition for the last couple of years, I have been pleased to see similar competitions sprout and gain momentum. Last week, the Architectural League hosted a panel on pavilions and follies (in conjunction with its Folly competition to build a pavilion at Socrates Sculpture Park during the summer of 2013). Throughout the discussion, it became clear to me that pavilion architecture is an important contributor to the future of the profession… at least at this moment in time.

Pavilions give architects opportunities to test new materials and ideas. Firms can experiment with color, weather, and movement. And because pavilions are often ephemeral, architects can be bolder and more exploratory than they might if designing and building a large, permanent structure. In doing this, firms can push their designs to the point of failure and have enough time to figure out what went wrong and fix it. For example, Michael Loverich of Bittertang discussed the daily process of going out to Governors Island last summer to assess and repair the unexpected damage (both natural and manmade) placed upon Burble Bup from the day before.

Because of the design/build aspect of pavilions, firms are given the opportunity to not only show their design ability, but also to prove that they can build them, said SO-IL’s Florian Idenburg, Intl. Assoc. AIA. This is important for young firms that do not necessarily have many built projects.

Galia Solomonoff, AIA, principal of Solomonoff Architecture Studio and moderator of the panel, made an analogy between architects such as Rem Koolhaas and Aldo Rossi, and younger firms like SO-IL and Bittertang. She said that while the older generation used the city and urban planning to push the boundaries of architecture and expand its definition, now younger architects are using temporary structures to redefine the profession. In addition to the City of Dreams Pavilion, Folly, the MoMA/P.S.1 Young Architects Program, SHIFTBoston, the Land Generator Initiative, Art Basel, and biennials and expos in Venice and Shanghai, for example, the list of opportunities for young firms is growing.


01.04.12 Happy New Year! Welcome to 2012 and “Future Now,” AIANY President Joseph J. Aliotta, AIA, LEED AP’s theme. To help celebrate the future of the Chapter and the Center, I hope you will come to the “Breakthrough” event on Tuesday, 01.17.12, when construction will officially connect 536 LaGuardia to its new space at 532 LaGuardia.

– Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP

Note: The digital edition of the Fall 2011 issue of OCULUS magazine, “Interior Motives,” is online now! Click here to read.