Preservation and Change in the Middle East

nARCHITECTS, ABC Department Store, 2012, Beirut, Lebanon


Event: Change in the Middle East: Preserving the Past, Inventing the Future
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.25.12
Introduced by: Jill Lerner, FAIA – Principal, Kohn Pedersen Fox
Speakers: Suad Amiry – Founder, Riwaq; Khaldun Bshara – Acting Executive Director, Riwaq; Yiannis Avramides – Program Assistant, World Monuments Fund; Pedro Azara – Curator, “City of Mirages: Baghdad, 1952-1982;” Mohamed Al Assam – Chairman/Managing Director, Dewan Architects & Engineers; Shams Eldien Naga – Principal, NAGA; Anthony Fieldman, AIA, LEED AP – Design Principal, Perkins+Will; Brian Wait – Partner, Ateliers Jean Nouvel
Moderator: Michael Luongo – Journalist & Adjunct Travel Writing Professor, NYU
Organizer: Center for Architecture
Benefactor: A Estéban & Company
Lead Sponsor: Buro Happold
Sponsors: Eytan Kaufman Design and Development; FXFOWLE
Supporters: Arup; Columbia University, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; Dewan Architects & Engineers; GAD; HDR; Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates; NAGA Architects; Ramla Benaissa Architects; RBSD Architects; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; World Monuments Fund; Zardman

The Middle East has long been a source of fascination (and often frustration) for prominent architects, ranging from Le Corbusier and Gropius to avant-garde designers of today, such as Zaha Hadid and Jean Nouvel. “Even in the ‘50s, this region was really interested in developing very visionary approaches to architecture,” observed Jill Lerner, FAIA, president-elect of the AIANY, as she introduced last week’s symposium at the Center for Architecture on design and engineering in the region. But due to economic and political tumult, architects’ schemes in places like Iraq and Dubai have sometimes proven tricky or impossible to execute.

The symposium, titled “Change in the Middle East: Preserving the Past, Inventing the Future,” explored the myriad challenges and successes that architects and preservationists are currently experiencing in the region. The program was one in a series of events tied in to three new exhibitions: CHANGE: Architecture and Engineering in the Middle East, 2000-Present; City of Mirages: Baghdad, 1952-1982; and LIVE FEED: Middle East Collaborations, 2005-2012, Columbia University GSAPP+CUMERC.

NAGA Principal Shams Eldien Naga and other speakers commented on Dubai as the site of many of the Middle East’s greatest excesses, in terms of flamboyant designs that, due to the economic downturn, were often never built. He criticized the local tendency to embrace designs that are massive and “iconic,” meaning that they must be unique and reject historical architectural conventions.

Naga and Anthony Fieldman, AIA, LEED AP, of Perkins+Will emphasized that their firms’ designs in the Middle East instead combine a modern aesthetic and traditional elements. Fieldman also discussed his firm’s efforts to make buildings such as the College of Education in Kuwait University City sustainable despite climatic extremes. Currently under construction, the building features a self-shading curtain wall that cuts solar gain by 85%, he noted.

Brian Wait of Ateliers Jean Nouvel presented his firm’s design for the National Museum of Qatar, one burdened by ideological constraints. “The oil boom was to be portrayed as a natural and normal step in democratization of the country, instead of as a tidal wave that wiped out a traditional [Bedouin] culture,” he said. He also expressed concern over the headlong pace of development in Qatar and elsewhere in the region. Qatar’s capital, Doha, is “proliferating out in the desert like some kind of padded, air-conditioned bubble monster,” he remarked.

Other speakers discussed efforts to preserve historic architecture and to improve public spaces in the Middle East, not an easy task in war-torn places such as Palestine, Iraq, and Syria. Pedro Azara, curator of “City of Mirages: Baghdad, 1952-1982,” remarked that one obstacle to rehabilitation in Baghdad is the city’s troubled history. Some local architects feel guilty that they were forced to do presidential projects while Saddam Hussein was in power. To engage in rehabilitation means “to confront with the past, and the past is an ugly past,” Azara said. Many local architects prefer to embrace a tabula rasa instead, “to forget about a past no one wants to confront.”

Suad Amiry and Khaldun Bshara of Palestinian NGO Riwaq said that their organization has adopted a strategy of tying architectural preservation to the creation of new jobs in the area. “Heritage can be a mode of life and a mode of work . . . and it’s a medium for decolonization,” Bshara said. In that way, the region’s rich architectural heritage might turn out to be the key to a brighter future.

Lisa Delgado is a freelance journalist who has written for Oculus, The Architect’s Newspaper, Architectural Record, Blueprint, and Wired, among other publications.

NY Waterways Inspire Parallel Networks

Event: ONE Prize 2011 Award Ceremony and Exhibition Opening: Water as the Sixth Borough
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.18.12
Speakers: Mitchell Joachim, Ph.D., Assoc. AIA, & Maria Aiolova, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP; Jill Lerner, FAIA — AIANY President-Elect; Adrian Benepe — Commissioner, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation; Alexandros E. Washburn — Chief Urban Designer, NYC Department of City Planning; R. Anthony Fieldman, AIA, LEED AP — Design Principal, Perkins+Will
Organizers: Mitchell Joachim, Ph.D., Assoc. AIA, & Maria Aiolova, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP
Sponsors: Lead Sponsors: Perkins+Will; NYC ACRE; Institutional Sponsors: Buckminster Fuller Institute; New York University; Polytechnic Institute of New York University; Media Sponsors: Architizer, eVolo, e-architect; Partner: E3NYC


Parallel Networks.

Ali Fard and Ghazal Jafari

For those who haven’t heard the news, NYC now has a sixth borough: its waterfront and waterways. At least that’s how city government officials have begun referring to it, as a way of emphasizing the importance of the city’s water to its future. The ONE Prize, an annual design and science award to promote green design in cities, picked up on the meme and made that its theme for 2011. The competition invited entrants to submit designs for an ecofriendly water-transit system and for the world’s largest clean-tech expo, which E3NYC is planning to hold in 2016.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who served on the awards jury, remarked that lately there’s been a “creative ferment” when it comes to thinking about NYC’s waterways. In 2010 MoMA put on its “Rising Currents” exhibition, and last year city government published Vision 2020: New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan. “Vision 2020 sets the stage for expanded use of our waterfront for parks, housing, and economic development, and our waterways for transportation, recreation, and natural habitats,” explained Department of City Planning Chief Urban Designer Alex Washburn.

Meanwhile the ONE Prize served a complementary function, sparking ideas from around the world about the ways NYC’s waterways could be put to better use. The winning project, Parallel Networks by Ali Fard and Ghazal Jafari of Canada, features floating pods for recreation or growing vegetation. Three honorable mentions include a proposal for extending the city’s grid into the river, connecting the boroughs, and providing new spaces for development; a plan to create new parkways and habitats along the Hudson River shoreline; and a design that uses crowdsourcing to create a water-transportation system that responds to user demand.

The projects are “exciting explorations on the future of our sixth borough,” Washburn said. “Each of these winners… is worthy and helps us better think about our future challenges: to grow, while simultaneously making the city more sustainable and resilient, and in the process to always improve the quality of life by putting our passion in the public space.”

Note:ONE Prize 2011: Water as the Sixth Borough” will be on view at the Center for Architecture through 02.11.12.

One-Stop SHoP, for Architecture & Construction

Event: Building Wisely: Leveraging Digital Technology to Maintain Design Intent
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.13.11
Speaker: Jonathan L. Mallie, AIA — Principal & Managing Director, SHoP Construction Services and Associate Principal — SHoP Architects
Introduction: Paul Seletsky, AIA — Co-Chair, AIANY Technology Committee
Organizer: AIANY Technology Committee
Sponsor: ABC Imaging

Created in CATIA, this design model by SHoP Architects shows Barclays Center’s complex latticework of weathering steel.

SHoP Architects

It can be supremely frustrating for architects to lose control of what happens to a design after a project enters the construction phase. “We all, as architects, have… run up against that wall in the past, realized that those barriers are in place,” said Jonathan L. Mallie, AIA, an associate principal of SHoP Architects and principal of SHoP Construction Services. “So we’re trying to break that down.”

He and others from SHoP Architects founded SHoP Construction in 2007 as a way of trying to bring the worlds of architecture and construction closer together. SHoP Construction is a company that specializes in virtual design and construction services. Through the new company, “We can push design further, because we have the ability to carry it through in another way,” Mallie remarked.

Though the two companies are separate legally and financially, they share office space and sometimes work together on the same projects, such as Barclays Center in Brooklyn, he explained. (See “New Barclays Center Design Eyes Atlantic Yards,” by Lisa Delgado, e-Oculus, 09.29.09.) Hunt Construction is the general contractor for the sports arena; SHoP Construction’s more specialized role includes providing the façade contractor, ASILIMITED, with engineering assistance in developing the building’s façade, which features an exterior latticework of weathering steel.

After SHoP Architects used CATIA to create a design model of the latticework, SHoP Construction created a fabrication model and continued to hone the latticework’s form to make it optimally cost efficient, aesthetically pleasing, and practical to transport. The design-build team used Revit as the BIM platform. One technical innovation was SHoP Construction’s development of a custom iPhone app that scans barcodes on the steel panels in order to track each one as it moves through the fabrication, pre-weathering, and installation process.

The latticework design consists of 12,000 steel panels that are each slightly different in form. But ASI didn’t balk at that, because the project was highly efficient in other ways, according to Mallie. “The sequencing was so thought through,” he said. “We were able to sequence the work in such a way that there was less focus on optimization in terms of number of standard panel types.”

All in all, through the collaboration between SHoP Architects and SHoP Construction on the project, “We really have been able to achieve a different design,” he remarked. “There’s no way that this building would have looked like this if we weren’t working on both sides of the fence.”

Lower Manhattan Rises

Event: Lower Manhattan Rising: Looking Toward 9/11/2021
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.08.11
Keynote: Robert Ivy, FAIA — EVP/Chief Executive Officer, AIA
Speakers: The New 24-Hour Community: Residential/Culture/Retail: Julie Menin — Chair, Community Board 1, Lower Manhattan; Morgan von Prelle Pecelli — Director of Development, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council; Robin Abrams, AIA — Executive VP, The Lansco Corporation; John Bayles — Editor, Downtown Express (moderator)
Lower Manhattan Real Estate: Downtown Economy 2021: Bob Burchell — Director, Center For Urban Policy Research, Rutgers University; John E. Zuccotti, Hon. AIANY — Co-Chairman of the Board, Brookfield Properties Corporation; Timur Galen — Managing Director, Goldman Sachs; Elizabeth Berger — President, Alliance for Downtown New York; Rick Bell, FAIA — Executive Director, AIANY (moderator)
Architectural Excellence: Building Design for a New Future: Bruce Fowle, FAIA, LEED AP — Senior Partner, FXFOWLE; Daniel Libeskind, AIA — Principal, Studio Daniel Libeskind; Michael Arad, AIA — Partner, Handel Architects; Craig Dykers, AIA, MNAL — Snøhetta; Paul Goldberger, Hon. AIA — Architecture Critic, The New Yorker (moderator)
Urban Design: Transportation, Security and the Public Realm: Alex Garvin, Hon. AIANY — President/CEO, AGA Public Realm Strategists; Donna Walcavage, FASLA, LEED AP — Principal, AECOM Design + Planning; Sam Schwartz, PE — Principal, Sam Schwartz Engineering; Robert Ducibella — Principal, Ducibella Venter & Santore; Cathleen McGuigan, Editor-in-Chief, Architectural Record (moderator)
Summary/Conclusions: Looking to 2021: Ernest W. Hutton, Jr., Assoc. AIA, FAICP — Hutton Associates/Planning Interaction; Alex Garvin, Hon. AIANY — President/CEO, AGA Public Realm Strategists; Marilyn Jordan Taylor, FAIA — Dean, University of Pennsylvania School of Design
Organizers: AIANY; Baruch College; NY Chapter of ASLA; New York New Visions; NY Metro Chapter of the APA

World Trade Center.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

In a recent conference on Lower Manhattan’s past and future, Daniel Libeskind, AIA, recalled the high expectations he faced when he first set out to design the master plan for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site. In a sense, his job wasn’t just to craft the vision for one 16-acre site. Many hoped that the rebuilding would serve as a reaffirmation of life and hope, helping Lower Manhattan and the whole city recover from the wider economic and emotional impact of the terrorist attacks. His design sought to address the question, “How do you take the memory [of 9/11] and create a foundation for a resurgence of the city?” he said. How can the memory of “devastation, of the perishing of so many lives” become “a foundation for something for the future?”

The rebuilding of the WTC is still a work in progress, but with the recent 10th anniversary of the attacks and the opening of the 9/11 Memorial, the eyes of the city and the wider world have once again fallen on Lower Manhattan. In the conference, a multidisciplinary group of experts shared their perspectives on the area’s progress over the past decade and their — mostly rosy — predictions for how its built environment and culture will evolve over the next 10 years.

Bruce Fowle, FAIA, LEED AP, who helped found New York New Visions (NYNV) after 9/11 to promote rebuilding and revitalization in Lower Manhattan, recalled that NYNV initially thought the rebuilding of the WTC would need to serve as the catalyst for the rejuvenation of the surrounding area. In reality, despite the slow progress on WTC construction, Lower Manhattan has made huge steps in its recovery over the past decade, in part thanks to the efforts of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, he said.

Jack Nyman, executive director of Baruch College’s Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute, observed that the area is still “an epicenter of the financial world, but Lower Manhattan’s rebirth is taking us so much further. We’re [transforming] into a 24/7 mixed-use environment.” Julie Menin, chair of Community Board 1, emphasized the district’s skyrocketing residential population and accompanying proliferation of new schools, community centers, playgrounds, and parks. The local population has nearly doubled in the past decade, and she believes it may well double again in the next 10 years. Other speakers commented on the increasing diversity of the area’s businesses; the influx of hotels, shops, and restaurants; and the rise in arts programming.

The already bustling tourist industry is getting a big boost from the opening of the 9/11 Memorial. Five to seven million people will come to visit the memorial each year, according to Menin. Some welcomed the news: the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council sees the area’s new visitors as an opportunity for boosting its arts offerings, said Morgan von Prelle Pecelli, the organization’s director of development. However, some speakers worried about the congestion the tourists will bring and wondered if the transportation system is ready for it. “If we’re going to have millions of tourists… wouldn’t it be good if, at least from one airport, we could have a direct train ride into the city?” said John E. Zuccotti, Hon. AIANY, co-chairman of the board of Brookfield Properties.

Michael Arad, AIA, who designed the memorial with landscape architects Peter Walker and Partners, said that over time he expects the memorial plaza to become a center of activity for locals, too, not just visitors from afar. Though his initial design for the pools and plaza was stark, at the urging of the design jury, rows of trees have been added to make the space greener and more welcoming. The goal was to create a place equally well suited for visitors looking for solace and remembrance, and local workers and families looking for relaxation and recreation. “I always wanted to think about life coming back to the site,” he said. “Public spaces are resilient and powerful.”

The Future: There's a Map for That

Event: Planning for the Future: Integrating Art & Architecture into a Digital Cultural Landscape
Location: Center for Architecture, 07.26.11
Speakers: Jason Kambitsis — Senior Planner of the City of Pittsburgh Department of City Planning; Sherri Brueggemann — Manager, City of Albuquerque’s Public Art Program; Alexandros E. Washburn, AIA — Chief Urban Designer, New York City Department of City Planning
Moderator: William Menking — Founder and Editor-in-Chief, The Architect’s Newspaper
Organizers: Center for Architecture; cultureNOW; AIANY Planning and Urban Design Committee
Sponsors: ABC-Imaging; Partners: Betaville-Brooklyn Experimental Media Center; Center for Urban Research — City University of New York; Google; New York Public Library; Spatial Information Design Lab — Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation at Columbia University; Wildlife Conservation Society; Tauranac Maps; The Environmental Simulation Center; Special Thanks: Dattner Architects; The Mohawk Group; Karastan

Computer models were overlaid with hand drawings to capture the vibrant spirit of Coney Island.

New York City Department of City Planning

As a fierce hurricane pummels NYC, a huge swell of water washes over much of Wall Street and Red Hook, doing even more damage than Katrina. This might sound like the plot of yet another disaster movie set in New York, but it’s actually the scenario in a digital animation created by the Office of Emergency Management.

These days, city planners and designers are increasingly turning to digital maps and other visualizations like this to portray what the future might hold for their cities, whether in times of disaster or opportunity. In a recent talk in a series tied to the exhibition “Mapping the Cityscape” , government officials from NYC, Pittsburgh, and Albuquerque discussed how such technologies are being used in their cities.

The hurricane animation involved GIS graphics based on SLOSH maps, explained Alex Washburn, AIA, chief urban designer in the NYC Department of City Planning (DCP). Another DCP project involved mapping the city’s food deserts. “City Planning has, and is accumulating, a tremendous store of GIS information,” Washburn remarked. “As the data gets finer and finer grained, you really can use it as a tool of inquiry to try to figure out what the problems are and where the problems are.”

In Pittsburgh, urban planners used GIS to figure out how many pieces of property would be covered under a new zoning ordinance for urban agriculture, said Jason Kambitsis, senior planner in that city’s Department of City Planning. On a lighter note, Sherri Brueggemann, manager of Albuquerque’s Public Art Program, proposed that the information in digital maps of UFO landings could be useful for city officials hoping to woo aliens as cultural tourists. “We know that they’re out there,” she said. “But where are they vacationing?”

Amidst all the discussion of digital technologies, Washburn reminded the audience of the importance of hand drawing, too, in creating effective visualizations of a place. A few years ago, to depict what Coney Island would look like under a proposed rezoning, designers in the DCP used computer models overlaid with colorful drawings to capture the vibrant spirit of the locale. “We try to use this combination of computer work and hand sketching to get to a point that is accurate enough spatially but loose enough to give a sensibility to a place,” Washburn explained, adding that he won’t hire anyone who can’t hand draw. Drawing by hand can “infuse a little bit of character into a view, to give you a sense of what it would feel like to be there,” he said.

Progress Report on the Greening of NYC

Event: PlaNYC Update: Next Steps to a Greener, Greater New York
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.26.11
Speakers: David Bragdon — Director, Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability; Mark Ginsberg, FAIA, LEED AP — President, Citizens Housing and Planning Council & Founding Partner & Principal, Curtis + Ginsberg Architects; Tricia Martin — President, NYASLA; Celeste Layne — Co-Chair, Transportation Committee of the APANY Metro Chapter
Introduction: Ernie Hutton, Assoc. AIA, FAICP — Co-Chair, New York New Visions & Principal, Hutton Associates; Margaret O’Donoghue Castillo, AIA, LEED AP — 2011 AIANY President & Principal, Helpern Architects
Organizers: New York New Visions; AIANY; APANY Metro Chapter; ASLA NY Chapter; Citizens Housing and Planning Council

Courtesy PlaNYC 2030.

New Yorkers are used to PlaNYC being a hot topic, but it has also drawn the attention of the international architecture community, remarked Margaret O’Donoghue Castillo, AIA, LEED AP, 2011 AIANY president. “Having the Center for Architecture here with so many international travelers, I hear over and over again how remarkable this plan is,” she said. It’s an ambitious plan, but now — four years after its release — how much has it lived up to its promise of creating a greener NYC? The plan was recently updated, making this a logical time to reexamine it. David Bragdon, director of the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability (OLTPS), gave a talk that dissected some of the plan’s successes and disappointments so far.

There’s no doubt that NYC is greener now — literally. In the past four years, more than 430,000 trees have been planted, so we’re well on our way to the goal of a million new trees by 2030. And thanks to the city’s new investments in parks and public spaces, there are now “250,000 New Yorkers who live within 10 minutes walk of a park who did not… five years ago,” Bragdon noted.

By contrast, transportation has been a source of some frustration, he said. The state legislature’s failure to approve congestion pricing was a disappointment for the Bloomberg Administration. The city has made progress on other projects, such as creating faster, more frequent bus service and moving ahead on construction of the Second Avenue subway. The city is also planning to launch a bike-share system in the coming months, Bragdon said.

Though PlaNYC sets the goal for New York to have the cleanest air of any big city in America, the city still has far to go in improving its air quality. The updated plan emphasizes reducing pollution caused by buildings using heating oil Number 4 and 6, two of the dirtiest heating oils. Number 6 heating oil is the worst contributor of particulate matter to the air over NYC, creating “more particulate matter than all the cars and trucks in the city combined,” Bragdon alleged. Timed to coincide with the release of the update in April, the Bloomberg Administration issued a new rule phasing out the use of Number 6 oil by 2015 and Number 4 oil by 2030.

Often it’s best to offer both regulation and incentives for sustainable practices (the stick-and-carrot idea), according to Bragdon. In addition to enacting legislation such as the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, the city has been pursuing ways to make green retrofits easier and more profitable. A corporation is being created that will provide financing for people to make efficiency-related improvements. In addition, the OLTPS helped create a “green lease” meant to obviate the “split incentive” problem for landlords; the lease ensures that both landlords and tenants receive financial profits resulting from energy retrofits, Bragdon explained.

Though PlaNYC has drawn international attention, it’s important for our city to keep looking elsewhere for inspiration, too. “We can learn from Melbourne, Australia, about urban forestry, and we can learn from Philadelphia about green infrastructure. We can learn from La Paz about bus rapid transit,” Bragdon said. “New York, though, increasingly has more and more to teach, as well.”

2011 AIA Convention: Hot, Flat, and Out of Control

Courtesy AIA

In his travels, New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman has sometimes been stunned to see the speed at which new Manhattan-like skylines are sprouting up around the world, to accommodate escalating urban populations and the desires of a rising middle class. When he visited Doha, Qatar, once a sleepy fishing village, he saw that an “entire field of skyscrapers — glass and steel, all lit up at night, just like ours, all air-conditioned 24/7, just like ours — had blossomed from the desert floor like wildflowers after a flash flood,” he remarked in a 05.12.11 keynote at the AIA Convention.

That globalization and homogenization makes the world seem “flat,” he said. Add climate change and an escalating population, and you have a planet that is ever more “hot, flat, and crowded.” Resulting demands on the environment and natural resources are pushing the ecological balance to a tipping point.

America must take the lead in shifting from “situational values” (doing whatever’s most expedient in a given situation) to “sustainable values,” Friedman said. That’s especially true in architecture, here and abroad. Not everyone might believe in global warming, but a “flat and crowded world will be enough to make every architectural firm from Shanghai to London to Kansas City need to and want to be in the green building business,” he declared.

In a keynote the next day, Jeb Brugmann, founding partner of innovation-process consultancy The Next Practice, offered a different spin on the role of architecture in a time of environmental crisis. For him, the world isn’t flat but instead is “increasingly customized,” since cities are looking to their own unique, underutilized assets to find ways to boost their resources and their livability. (In NYC, the High Line comes to mind.)

These days, sustainable design is critical not just for individual buildings, but on a metropolitan scale, according to Brugmann. This is a practical imperative, since over the next four decades, the global urban population will shoot up by 80% (an additional 2.8 billion people), he explained.

One sign of the times is “the development of an entirely new genre of master-plan development, the eco-district, where we’re not only optimizing the building… we’re optimizing the city as a place that produces resources,” he said. Ideally, instead of being a drain on a region’s resources, cities “actually in the future will provide a net contribution of energy and perhaps even nutrients to the broader regional area.”

2011 AIA Convention: After Disaster, Building Back Better

Project Legacy, designed by Studio NOVA, scheduled for completion in 2014.

Courtesy Southern Louisiana Veterans Healthcare System

While disasters can expose the worst of architecture and engineering’s failures, building in the wake of disaster can sometimes bring out the best of the profession, as architects strive to learn from their predecessors’ mistakes and rebuild in a way that’s safer, resilient, and ecofriendly than before. The Make It Right project in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward comes to mind — a neighborhood of houses that AIA President Clark Manus, FAIA, praised for showing that “affordability, quality, and sustainability are not mutually exclusive.”

Another exemplary part of New Orleans’s rebuilding efforts is Project Legacy, a 1.7-million-square-foot VA medical center that will be constructed in the Mid-City area. Designed by Studio NOVA (a joint venture of NBBJ and local firms Eskew+Dumez+Ripple and Rozas Ward Architects), Project Legacy was conceived as a model of “survivability,” in case disaster ever strikes again, NBBJ Partner Doug Parris, AIA, explained in the session “Restoring Urban Infrastructure: Project Legacy in New Orleans.” The mission-critical facility is designed to be able to accommodate 1,000 people for seven days freestanding — remaining operational if cut off from all outside utilities — said Michael Benjamin, a managing principal at Bard, Rao + Athanas Consulting Engineers, adding that the energy- and water-efficient project is targeting LEED Silver certification.

To make sure the medical center could keep functioning in the event of a flood, “Basically, what we’ve designed is an upside-down hospital,” Parris explained. Instead of having functions such as patient transport, materials transport, and building systems running through the first floor or the basement, they run through the top floor. The architects also designed the facility for maximum adaptability by creating a mix of “permanent zones” and “temporal zones” that are flexible enough for a variety of uses.

Though such projects might give hope for the future, New Orleans still has a long way to go in its recovery. The population is down (100,000 people didn’t return after Katrina), 23% of people live below the poverty line, and there are 48,000 blighted homes that are vacant, said R. Allen Eskew, FAIA, of Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, in the session “From New Orleans to Detroit: Reinventing in the Wake of Disaster.” He took care to correct the popular conception that the flood in New Orleans was a natural disaster — in fact the blame should be placed on “a systemic failure of the federal levee system,” he said. “I prefer to refer to what happened to us as a natural hurricane and a federal flood.”

Similarly, faulty construction is the root cause of the massive devastation in Haiti after last year’s earthquake. In “Beyond Disaster Mitigation: An AIA Architect in Haiti,” Stacey L. McMahan, AIA, LEED AP, discussed the challenges and rewards of her time spent working with Architecture for Humanity on rebuilding efforts in that country. One obstacle has been the “make-do” culture of construction there: weak, substandard materials are pressed into service when nothing better comes to hand, such as using limestone sand to make concrete blocks, she explained. Architecture for Humanity’s program Bati Byen (meaning “Build Back Better”) is helping to change that culture through education. The organization is creating easily understandable 3-D construction drawings and conducting on-the-job training for local workers to create buildings that will be sustainable and structurally sound.

Despite the challenges, her work in Haiti has been “incredibly gratifying,” McMahan said. For architects, reconstruction after a disaster offers an uncommonly vivid opportunity to see “transformational results from our labors.”

Aalto Houses Strike a Pleasing Tenor

Event: Alvar Aalto Houses: From Doorstep to Living Room, a Lecture by Professor Sirkkaliisa Jetsonen
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.15.11
Speaker: Sirkkaliisa Jetsonen — Architect & Author
Organizer: Center for Architecture; Finnish Cultural Institute in New York
Sponsors: Consulate General of Finland in New York; Princeton Architectural Press; Finnish Cultural Institute in New York

From Alvar Aalto Houses, by Jari Jetsonen & Sirkkaliisa Jetsonen (Princeton Architectural Press, 2011).

For Alvar Aalto, the entrance to a house lies far before the front door. The Modernist master once wrote that “our doorstep is where we step out of the street or road into the garden.” This belief in the fundamental connection between a house and landscape resulted in some extraordinary residential designs, as architect and author Sirkkaliisa Jetsonen discussed in a talk commemorating the release of her new book, Alvar Aalto Houses (Princeton Architectural Press, 2011).

Aalto’s love of nature had its roots in his childhood spent in the small Finnish town Jyväskylä and in the countryside, she explained. Along with his affinity for the landscape, an interest in vernacular architecture, Classicism, and Modernism all infused his design thinking, and he came up with his own brand of Modernism. Rather than prizing a pristine white aesthetic, he often imbued his designs with a sense of warmth using wood and other natural materials, and the forms of his volumes frequently echoed the topography of the site.

In the Villa Mairea, built in the late 1930s in Noormarkku, Finland, “The image of the forest is everywhere,” Jetsonen said. Wooden poles in a canopy echo the vertical rhythm of the nearby trees, as do a proliferation of poles surrounding a staircase. Two decades later came the Maison Carré near Paris, a house with a long, sloping roof that gestures toward the gentle incline of the hill beneath the house: “We have this kind of imaginative continuation of the line of the roof descending down the slope,” Jetsonen said. Created around the same time, the site manager’s house for the Enso-Gutzeit Company in Summa, Finland, has a stepped ceiling in the living room that playfully celebrates the curve of the landscape.

Beginning in the late 1930s, Aalto also designed a series of standardized houses. These more modest residences are often overlooked, yet they are interesting as well, as efforts to make Modernist houses affordable for ordinary people. His standardized houses for ex-servicemen in Tampere are small, but he created a rich range of possible varieties in the design, through features such as terraces, nooks, raking columns, and carved wooden details. He once remarked that “the purpose of architectural standardization is… not to produce types but instead to create variety and richness which could, in the ideal case, be compared with nature’s unlimited capacity to produce variation.”

You Are What You E-mail

Event: Say It Write: Power Tools for Communicating Effectively
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.14.11
Speakers: Charles Linn, FAIA — Journalist, Editor & Architect; Maxinne Leighton, Assoc. AIA — Principal, Leighton@Large Consulting Group; Jay Rubin — PR Consultant, Writer, Trainer & Speaker
Introduction: Gretchen Bank — Co-chair, AIANY Marketing & Public Relations Committee; Tami Hausman — Chair, Public Relations Subcommittee, AIANY Marketing & Public Relations Committee
Organizer: AIANY Marketing & PR Committee
Sponsors:; Hausman Communications

With the rise of quick, pithy mediums such as blogs, e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook, written communication is drastically speeding up. The immediacy and convenience can be great, but only until it leads to an embarrassing slip-up. With e-mail, “I’m sure you’ve all had panicky moments, such as wrong attachments, using the wrong e-mail address, or just e-mailing the wrong person,” said Tami Hausman, chair of the public relations subcommittee of the AIANY Marketing & Public Relations Committee, as she introduced an event about effective written communication. Beyond such technology-related pitfalls, there’s also the age-old problem of busy people writing carelessly: “We’re busy, we’re distracted, and we’re not always focused on what we’re saying or writing,” she said.

Twitter can be especially tricky, due to its tight word count. It might be tempting to try to grab the reader’s attention quickly, but beware of how you do it, cautioned Jay Rubin, a PR consultant, writer, and trainer. Phrases such as “rumor is,” “people are saying,” or “it seems to me” can lead you into the dangerous territory of speculation. Add in a questionable joke, and you might have a recipe for disaster, as in the case of Kenneth Cole’s much-reviled Tweet last month: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.”

When it’s done well, though, a humorous touch can be a great way to engage your audience. Veteran architectural writer and editor Charles Linn, FAIA, had the audience chuckling as he read a humorous blog post of his about “Architect Barbie” and analyzed it for tips on the principles of good writing. He advised that starting off with a slightly outrageous statement can help pique readers’ interest, as in his post’s beginning, “Those architects who reside on Mars may have missed the most riveting competition to engage the profession this year.” He also recommended techniques such as alliteration (“must love latex and Mahler”), and digging up intriguing obscure facts (among Barbie’s weird professions — she’s been a McDonald’s cashier).

Maxinne Leighton, Assoc. AIA, principal of Leighton@Large Consulting Group, explored how to use e-mail most effectively and avoid its pitfalls. As a medium, e-mail is fluid and fast, but a work e-mail shouldn’t be so informal that correct spelling and punctuation fall by the wayside, she said. It’s best to steer away from too much jargon and abbreviation, too. And above all, beware of hitting the “reply” button in haste in a moment of anger. In a rush of disappointment over losing a commission, a partner she knows once sent out a scorching e-mail blaming the incompetence of a collaborating firm, only to discover that the message accidentally went to a group of recipients outside his own firm. Needless to say, this created a diplomatic firestorm.

Since accidents happen, and work e-mails aren’t private in any case, it’s best to stay on the safe side. “If you don’t want 100,000 people to read your e-mail, don’t send it,” she said. “Take a breath, and remember that whatever you say in an e-mail will not go away. It is there for posterity, so only say what it is you want to be remembered for, and… communicate clearly so that people will respond to you with respect.”