Rewind: Itemizing the Changing Face of NY

Event: Historic Cities in Transition, part of the New York’s Identity Crisis series
Location: New York School of Interior Design, 07.25.07
Speaker: Francis Morrone — historian, journalist, author, lecturer, teacher
Organizer: The Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America

Red Hook

NYC’s density is pushing inhabitants to places they would not have lived a few years ago.

Jessica Sheridan

City life is in a constant state of flux. In the last of a four-part series, journalist and historian Francis Morrone discussed NYC’s shifting structure, from the postwar economic boom to the glory and grit of the ’70s to current times. Often the evolution is described as increasingly “suburbanized.”

Though “gentrification” was coined in 1964 in the London Times, the phenomenon dates as far back as 1910 — in NYC. Row houses in Gramercy built in the 1850s by the bourgeois fell into disfavor when the Third Avenue El was constructed. After years of economic depression, wealthy bohemians flocked to townhouses as they were renovated. Similarly, in Washington Square, artists like Edward Hopper were followed by people who loved the cachet;, but wanted more amenities. In the ’90s, they succeeded in transforming the neighborhood, overtaking the Upper East Side as most expensive.

NYC peaked economically after World War II, with the country’s top seaport and highest number of Fortune 500 businesses. The ’50s, however, brought decline, population loss, and building neglect. “Urban renewal,” a catchphrase in this Robert Moses era, meant whole neighborhoods gave way to expressways and high-rises. But, as everyone knows, urban renewal had its detractors: The Brooklyn Heights conservation movement began after a Moses-built promenade destroyed much of Brooklyn’s downtown. Henry Hope Reed began giving his historic walking tours, leading to new conservation consciousness for urbanites. Author Jane Jacobs saw in density an opportunity to foster “cordial interactions” in ways that open spaces couldn’t. Jacobs championed “unslumming,” a term she used to mean the process in which inhabitants became upwardly mobile financially, but remained living in the same neighborhood, and thus improved living conditions.

During the ’70s, “planned shrinkage” was in vogue. Led by former City Housing Commissioner Roger Starr, many proposed using public policy to hasten population decline in targeted areas such as Bushwick. Others saw demolished areas as potential crop fields such as wheat and corn. In 1976, Starr wrote that it was time to plan for a smaller city population. He hadn’t planned on the Wall Street boom of the ’80s, or subsequent population booms.

Today, NYC is preparing for one million new residents in the next 10 years. The city is so dense that recent graduates are moving into tenements in Bushwick — once targeted for “shrinkage” — and services are following suit. Morrone urged New Yorkers to be guardians of our city history, such as the Brooklyn Brownstone Belt, while thinking about its future.

Architecture Brands the Green Standard

Event: Brandism Series: Brand as Sustainability
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.23.07
Speakers: Michael Buckley, FAIA — Director, Columbia University Program in Real Estate Development; Andres Escobar — founder & principal, Andres Escobar & Associates; Robert F. Fox Jr., AIA — partner, Cook + Fox Architects; Alberto Foyo — principal, Alberto Foyo Architect; Kenneth Lewis, AIA — associate partner, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Christopher Sharples — founding partner, SHoP Architects
Moderator: Susan Szenasy — editor-in-chief, Metropolis
Organizers: Anna Klingmann, Assoc. AIA; AIANY

Conde Nast Building

The Conde Nast Building, designed by FXFowle Architects, pioneered the green brand when it was constructed in 1999.

Jessica Sheridan

As NYC experiences a surge in building projects with “starchitecture” branding, it is also becoming an epicenter for green initiatives. The fifth in a six-part series, this panel targeted the possibilities of using “brandism” to promote sustainable thinking — how starchitecture can help forward sustainable building, and how environmentalism has become a brand in itself.

Environmental responsibility is on the verge of becoming a design mandate, with new software making performance-driven design even more attainable. Architects can model dynamic environments in real time and share with the client how sustainability positively impacts the bottom line over time. Already, the international housing market is experiencing a shift towards green, though dollar-driven Americans still equate green with high costs. Among renters, however, green demand is high and perhaps will cause a “trickle-up” effect.

Corporate developers are currently way ahead of their residential counterparts, who often eschew green measures in favor of speed. In order to target these developers, architects must devise a quick version of sustainable building, which can in turn be used as a marketing tool.

With innovative branding, green can be seen as a cost-effective solution. LEED has already had success branding itself as a model of eco-responsibility. By coupling the mandate for responsibility with the reality of energy savings, architects can send a message to clients that green makes sense on multiple levels.

To achieve this, the panel proposed government tax credits based on units of “greenness”; branding architects as sustainability experts; and rethinking curricula at universities. Car companies use celebrities to market hybrid cars to consumers. Likewise, architecture can use branding to market itself as a product with a message of eco-responsibility and cost-efficiency.

NYNV Extols plaNYC

Event: Mayor Bloomberg’s Plan for NYC 2030 New York New Visions: Exploring Implementation
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.07.07
Speakers: Ariella Rosenberg and Laurie Kerr, RA — Long Term Sustainability Respondents, Mayor’s Office of Planning and Long Term Sustainability; Ethel Sheffer — President, American Planning Association NYC Metro Chapter; Bruce Fowle, AIA, LEED AP — FXFOWLE Architects; Jeffrey Zupan — Senior Fellow, Transportation, Regional Plan Association; Rick Bell, FAIA — Executive Director, AIANY
Moderator: Ernest Hutton, Assoc. AIA, AICP — New York New Visions
Organizers & Sponsors: New York New Visions; AIANY Housing Committee; in conjuction with the AIANY Planning & Urban Design Committee; AIANY Transportation & Infrastructure Committee; and AIANY Committee on the Environment (COTE)

plaNYC

Courtesy nyc.gov

Panelists representing New York New Visions — a coalition of major design and planning organizations — expressed much enthusiasm for plaNYC 2030, although many were concerned about the plan’s longevity after Bloomberg’s mayoral term ends. The many improvements throughout the city over the last 30 years have inspired the mayor to aim high environmentally. With a goal to boost livability and sustainability, his unprecedented plaNYC 2030 targets land, housing, green space, water, air, transportation, and energy.

As an additional 900,000 residents are expected by 2030, there’s a demand for smart planning. To accommodate the 265,000 new housing units needed, more efficient use of government land, revitalized brownfields, and even decking over unused railways and highways are a few of the 127 proposals on the boards. Furthermore, 99% of New Yorkers will live within a ten-minute walk from a park and a subway entrance if the mayor has his way; a public plaza will be incorporated in every community, and one million new trees will be planted by 2017. All of the revenue from congestion pricing will be used to improve mass transit. In addition to these initiatives, panelists suggested the city implement a monitoring system to analyze progress that would be regularly disclosed to the public.

Without mitigation, the city’s annual energy bill will increase $3 billion by 2015, not to mention the effects on air quality and global warming. New York’s aging grid can’t handle 21st century demands, and many of the issues addressed in plaNYC are relevant globally as well as locally. If all goes well, New York has hopes of being not only the nation’s safest, but also its first truly sustainable city.

Meier’s Museums Bring Light to Communities

Event: Inaugural Arthur Rosenblatt Memorial Lecture for Excellence in Museum Design featuring Richard Meier, FAIA: On Museums
Location: National Academy Museum, 04.12.07
Speaker: Richard Meier, FAIA — Richard Meier & Partners, Architects
Additional Comments: Annette Blaugrund, Ph.D. — Director, National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts; ; Gerald Gurland, FAIA; Nicholas Koutsomitis, AIA — principal, Koutsomitis, Architects; Stan Ries — photographer
Organizer: AIANY Cultural Facilities Committee
Sponsors: Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates; National Academy Museum; The Cantera Stone Source; Fisher Dachs Associates and Fisher Marantz Stone; RKK&G; AltieriSeborWieber Consulting Engineers; Devrouax + Purnell; Koutsomitis, Architects; Springboard; Edison Price Lighting; Pilkington; Charles J. Rose; Thornton Tomasetti; Paul Rosenblatt, AIA; The Luis A. Ferre Foundation; Mr. and Mrs. Luis A. Ferre; The Slovin Foundation; Pentagram

J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles — Richard Meier’s masterpiece.

Andrew Yip

“Every museum is different, and the life of every museum is different,” said Richard Meier, FAIA, whose Pritzker Prize-winning career designing international iconic museums began, ironically, with a project he did not win. Meier presented the inaugural presentation in a new annual lecture series honoring the late Arthur Rosenblatt, FAIA, founding chair of the AIANY Cultural Facilities Committee and man who interviewed with Meier for the failed project. Rosenblatt served under Metropolitan Museum of Art director Thomas Hoving as vice president for facilities during the heyday of the Museum’s modern expansion era.

The museum is more than a repository of art; it is a social center that integrates indoor and outdoor space, according to Meier. The Applied Art Museum in Frankfurt, for example, has become a hub for expectant mothers (although they tend to ignore the artworks). For Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Meier picked the “worst place in the city,” and transformed the space. Echoing Paris’s Centre Pompidou, the adjacent plaza is now used by the whole community — from skateboarders to the elderly who watch them.

Natural light has always been very important to Meier, but it is something that must be negotiated to preserve artwork. One way is by separating exhibition and circulation spaces. He created a sense of propulsion in Atlanta’s High Museum of Art with a circular ramp around the atrium influenced by the Guggenheim Museum. The naturally lit core is separated from the art by the circulation ramp. The Beverly Hills Gagosian Gallery features rotating exhibitions; natural light is incorporated throughout, as the art is not exposed to sunlight for extended time periods.

Perhaps the apex of Meier’s outlook on natural light, social space, and circulation is the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The project had a controversial beginning because neighbors did not want to “see, smell, or hear it.” Meier’s solution was to build atop a hill, affording views of the ocean and the desert. With a “decompression zone” at the entrance, there is heavy emphasis on plaza space. Taking advantage of the California climate, the museum consists of clustered courtyards and buildings. The boundary between interior and exterior space blurs. The use of stone achieves a sense of permanence and solidity. Though initially dubious about travertine, Meier learned through trial and error how to achieve the desired texture. Of the Getty, Meier said, “There will never be another one like it.”

Museums have the potential to be both public and private spaces. Meier’s success lies in engaging the challenge to create both intimate viewing experiences and social spaces.

How Dutch Ideals Shaped NY

Event: Russell Shorto Details Manhattan’s Dutch Origins — Downtown Third Thursdays Lecture Series
Location: National Museum of the American Indian, 03.15.07
Speaker: Russell Shorto — author & contributing writer, New York Times Magazine
Organizers: The Alliance for Downtown New York

The Island of the Center of the World

Courtesy russellshorto.com

Held in a building that stands on the very site of the Dutch fort of New Amsterdam, Russell Shorto asked audience members to imagine putting time into reverse, and envision 17th-century Manhattan: poised between the civilization of Europe and the virgin continent of North America. This is what Shorto did when writing The Island at the Center of the World, an investigation into the depth of Dutch influence on Manhattan, and consequently America. Drawing on recently translated 17th-century Dutch records, Shorto discovered how the uniquely Dutch ideas of tolerance, free-market trade, and the melting pot became the foundation for American ideology.

Unlike the rest of Europe, Dutch provinces were home to settlers of many cultures who had fled their own war-torn countries. Diversity fostered religious and social tolerance that vastly exceeded the rest of Europe and flourished during their cultural Renaissance. These ideals, as well as words such as “cookies” and “boss,” were transferred to their American colonists, in a territory that swept as far south as the Delaware River. In fact, a Jesuit priest in the 1640s reported hearing 18 languages on the streets of Manhattan — when only about 500 people lived there.

Adriaen van der Donck became the champion of colonists’ rights. The only lawyer in the colony, he petitioned for fair treatment from Peter Stuyvesant, the colony’s director. After being jailed for door-to-door petitioning, van der Donck spent three years at the Hague, publicizing the potential of New Amsterdam. His actions led to a municipal charter that ensured free trade and tolerance. After the English took over in 1664, they kept this template, which formed the basis for what New York would become.

Arup: Master Planner for Cities

Event: Annual Stephan Weiss Visiting Lectureship: Jean Rogers – Sustainable Development: Changing the Environment to Changing Behavior
Location: Parsons, The New School for Design, 02.27.07
Speaker: Jean Rogers, LEED AP – senior consultant, Arup
Organizer: Parsons, The New School for Design

Courtesy Arup

Redevelopment of a former Navy base in San Francisco Bay features a host of sustainable technologies.

Courtesy Arup

At this carbon-neutral event, Jean Rogers, LEED AP, senior consultant at Arup, urged designers to influence eco-friendly choices. With concepts of intergenerational equity and eco-footprints in mind, Arup is helping to master-plan two of the world’s most sustainable cities –Treasure Island in San Francisco and Dongtan in China.

Treasure Island will house its 13,500 residents near a ferry terminal. More than 6,000 daily public transit rides will be available to residents and visitors. An agricultural park in the middle of the island will grow food. The street grid orientation will maximize solar exposure and minimize wind exposure. Further efforts to reduce the island’s carbon footprint include underfloor ventilation, high-performance glazing, and southern-facing photovoltaics. Maximized surface area on roofs will export energy back to San Francisco’s power grid. Each resident will use nine acres of the planet’s resources, rather than the average 29 acres globally.

Near Shanghai lies the community of Dongtan, a Manhattan-sized stretch of reclaimed land. By implementing measures ranging from rice husk-run power plants to solar-powered water taxis, Arup intends to reduce the energy needed by 70%. Designed after Hurricane Katrina, each of the three villages will be a self-contained flood cell. Its eco-footprint equates to approximately four acres of the planet’s resources per resident, which is ideal in sustainability terms, according to Rogers.

Arup’s next step is to create a model for sustainable design that can be mass-produced and widely implemented. The firm is researching the possibility of an eco-friendly counterpart to the Chinese “superblock.” The imperative and the technology to “redesign the material basis for our civilization” exists, stated Rogers. All we need is the will.

Power Broker Revisited

Event: Robert Caro: Reflections on Robert Moses
Location: The Museum of the City of New York, 02.11.07
Speaker: Robert Caro – author, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York
Organizers: The Museum of the City of New York

“Rome was power, Greece was glory, New York is home.”
– Robert Caro

Published in 1974, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York took seven years for Robert Caro to write. It grew from a straightforward biography into an investigation of urban political power and its function in cities. Though Robert Moses was arguably the most powerful figure in mid-century New York, he was essentially impervious to politics. Holding a litany of appointed titles during his career, he set the city’s priorities from 1945 forward, skewing spending away from social welfare programs and towards public works. He continually diverted funds from Mayor LaGuardia’s pet project – pre-natal care for poor families – towards development.

In a democracy, it is generally believed that power comes from being elected. Moses, one of New York’s most influential and controversial figures in the 20th Century, never held an elected office; but, in many ways he exercised more power over a 40-year span than the six governors and five mayors he served while working for New York. Caro became fascinated by this while writing his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Moses, Power Broker.

At least 500,000 people lost their homes to his projects, and 21 communities were affected – the famous dark side to Moses’s genius, discussed by Caro. After interviewing inhabitants displaced by the Cross-Bronx Expressway, Caro revealed the widespread blight of which Moses’s heavy-handed public works projects were capable. Ultimately, Caro left the audience with this query: How do we achieve a vision for the city’s future without disturbing the integrity of its past?

Robert Moses and the Modern City is a three-part exhibition currently on view at the Museum of the City of New York, Queens Museum of Art, and Columbia University Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery.

Kate Soto is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor.