Beyond the Barracks: Housing Tomorrow's India

Event: Design for a Change: Informal Settlements and Low Income Housing in India
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.12.11
Speakers: Sara Göransson – Co-founder, Urban Nouveau; Filipe Balestra — Cofounder, Urban Nouveau; Darshini Mahadevia — Faculty of Planning and Public Policy & Member-Secretary, Centre for Urban Equity, CEPT University; Brotin Banerjee — Managing Director and CEO, TATA Housing Development Company; Earl Jackson, AIA — Associate Director, Urban Design and Planning, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM); Scott Duncan — Senior Designer, SOM; Neera Adarkar — Visiting Faculty Member, Academy of Architecture, Rachana Sansad & Chawls Expert; Vyjayanthi Rao — Assistant Professor of Anthropology, The New School for Social Research
Moderator: Reinhold Martin — Associate Professor of Architecture, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, Columbia University
Introductions: Margaret Castillo, AIA, LEED AP — 2011 President, AIANY; Yamina Djacta — Deputy Director, New York Office, United Nations Human Settlements Programme; Kanu Argawal — Curator, “Jugaad Urbanism: Resourceful Strategies for Indian Cities”
Organizers: AIA New York; Center for Architecture Foundation; India China Institute at The New School; Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC); Society of Indo-American Engineers and Architects (SIAEA); Symposium organized with UN HABITAT
Sponsors: Grants: Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts; National Endowment for the Arts; Underwriter: Duggal Visual Solutions; Lead Sponsors: Hitachi; Robert A.M. Stern Architects; Sponsors: Grapevine Merchants; Society of Indo-American Engineers and Architects; Supporters: Bittersweet NYC; CetraRuddy; Kingfisher LGER; Friends: Arup; Benjamin Moore; IBEX Construction; Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates; Perkins Eastman; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Incremental Housing Strategy in Pune, by Urban Nouveau.

Urban Nouveau

Rapid urbanization can be a good thing — sometimes. Cities can provide economic opportunities for their residents and act as incubators for innovation and creativity, remarked Yamina Djacta, deputy director of the New York Office of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme. On the other hand, population growth overburdens cities’ resources when it isn’t planned for properly, leading to the growth of slums and environmental problems, she added. India provides a vivid example: around 93 million people (7.75% of the population) live in slums, and that number is only expected to increase in the coming years, said AIANY President Margaret Castillo, AIA, LEED AP.

Swedish architect Sara Göransson, co-founder of interdisciplinary platform Urban Nouveau, presented one housing strategy that could help allay the strain that population growth is putting on Indian cities. She helped develop an “incremental housing” strategy for Pune, a city where about 40% of the residents live in slums. While some of the existing housing in slum areas is well-constructed, others are dark, poorly ventilated, and made of makeshift materials, she said. Developed in collaboration with two Indian organizations — Mahila Milan and the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres — Urban Nouveau’s strategy involves improving the houses that are in the worst condition while maintaining the existing urban fabric. The designers came up with three 25-square-meter housing prototypes. Featuring a simple four-column structure, all three types are designed to be expandable and customizable, depending on the inhabitants’ needs.

Brotin Banerjee, managing director and CEO of TATA Housing Development Company, explained that there is a shortage of around 25 million housing units in India, and his company is working to help fill the gap by providing market-driven affordable and low-income housing. All of TATA’s housing is LEED Gold certified, he added.

Earl Jackson, AIA, of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, discussed a couple of projects in Mumbai, including a master plan for “Santa City,” a slum-rehabilitation project. Like Urban Nouveau, SOM decided to avoid the boxy, barrack-like look sometimes associated with low-cost housing by creating a few different housing typologies with visual diversity. By incorporating pockets of open space family businesses and other activities would be able to thrive.

As land values rise near Mumbai’s international airport, new developments seem inevitable, and slum rehabilitation brings some clear benefits in improved hygiene and access to basic services. However, Jackson expressed concerns for displaced slum dwellers. “Very large areas of land are falling under greater and greater development pressure,” he noted. “The idea of displacing people like ourselves, who fight for every square inch we can get here in Manhattan and other cites around the world, is always a topic of conflict.”

A Screen Full of Architects' Angst

Event: Selections from Montreal International Festival of Films on Art (FIFA)
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.29.11
Speakers: Peter Eisenman, FAIA — Founder and Principal, Eisenman Architects; Luc Vrolijks — Founder and Principal, Urban Progress
Organizers: Center for Architecture; MUSE Film and Television
Sponsor: Cultural Services of the Québec Government Office in New York; Sony Electronics, Professional Solutions of America

Berlin Holocaust Memorial by Eisenman Architects.

Courtesy MUSE Film and Television

In a major public project, sometimes an architect’s creative vision emerges relatively unchanged and triumphant, but other times, it’s fraught with compromise and setbacks. Two documentaries explored the different outcomes of two large controversial projects: Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe by Eisenman Architects, and the renovation of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam by Cruz y Ortiz arquitectos, with Van Hoogevest Architecten as the restoration architect. The films were shown as part of Architecture on Screen, a two-day series of award-winning films from the Montreal International Festival of Films on Art at the Center for Architecture.

In Expansive Grounds, director Gerburg Rohde-Dahl trains her lens on the Holocaust Memorial from 2003 to 2007, during which construction was completed and the memorial opened to the public. The filmmaker interviews Peter Eisenman, FAIA, construction workers, the public, and others, along with exploring her own reactions to the monument, as she’s forced to wrestle with her complex feelings about her father, who was a Nazi during the war.

The design, an undulating field of 2,711 unmarked granite blocks, was plagued with controversy, with many critics complaining that it was too abstract. Even the construction process sparked contention, when one contractor was found to have manufactured poisonous gas for the Nazis.

At first Eisenman hesitated to take on the project, which seemed to present an overwhelming challenge beyond what an architect could achieve. “Architects solve problems, right?” he remarks in the film. In this project, “What is the problem? To solve German guilt?”

Instead of trying to evoke feelings of guilt, Eisenman decided to create an abstract design that could elicit a variety of emotional reactions, he explained in a live discussion after the screening. It creates an “experience of being alone, being in a place that you didn’t understand, being silent.” In that way, he aimed to evoke some of the sensations that Jews experienced in Nazi death camps, but through an architecture that was abstract enough that people could experience and react to it in many different ways. Ultimately, the monument’s tremendous popularity has validated the strength of his concept.

In The New Rijksmuseum, director Oeke Hoogendijk explores the travails faced by the architects and museum staff during an ongoing major renovation and restoration project for The Netherlands’s national museum, originally designed by Pierre Cuypers in the 19th century. Cruz y Ortiz arquitectos’ renovation design won a competition in 2001, but firm heads Antonio Cruz and Antonio Ortiz bemoan the fact that the design that won them the job soon goes under attack, as cyclists successfully agitate to change the design of a bicycle passage that traverses the museum.

Later museum director Ronald de Leeuw pressures the architects into reducing the height of a new addition (jokingly called the “incredible shrinking study center” by some), leading Cruz to worry that his firm might lose enthusiasm for the project. The museum staff’s morale starts to deteriorate, too, as various redesign and bureaucratic delays lead the projected completion date to slip back gradually from around 2008 to 2013. All in all, the film could be seen as a cautionary tale about the problems that can arise when many well-meaning people with different agendas all try to influence the design of a project that, in the end, grows stale and watered down in almost everyone’s eyes.

Design Ideas Converge on Haiti

Event: Sustainable Housing Prototype Exhibition and Fundraising Event for Haiti
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.12.11
Speakers: Noushin Ehsan, AIA — Chair, AIANY Global Dialogue Committee & Principal, 2nd Opinion Design; Norman Shaifer — Member of the Executive Committee, Haitian/American Disaster Relief Committee; Harry Fouché — Chairman, Consortium for Haitian Empowerment; Chris Christmas — Founder, Thinking Blue & Designer/Artist/Entrepreneur; Richard R. Gonzalez, LEED AP — Teaching Fellow, Columbia University; Michele Klode Garoute Michel — Artist; Theodore Liebman, FAIA — Principal, Perkins Eastman; Jim Luce — Founder and CEO, Orphans International Worldwide; Manfred St. Julien — Founder, Future Pace Design
Organizer: AIANY Global Dialogue Committee

Growing Block House; Ti Kwen Paradi; Expandable Home; The Home by Haiti.

Courtesy Haiti Housing Collaborative

The earthquake in Haiti last year provided evidence of the devastating consequences of poorly made architecture. On the one-year anniversary of the quake, a gathering was devoted to raising funds for building housing for Haitians, presenting four design prototypes that are sustainable and inexpensive to build.

Noushin Ehsan, AIA, president of 2nd Opinion Design and chair of the AIANY Global Dialogues Committee, explained how this initiative began. Shortly after the earthquake, she traveled to Port-au-Prince to see the conditions for herself and to figure out how the design committee might best be able to help. (See “Global Dialogues Travels to Haiti,” by Noushin Ehsan, AIA, e-Oculus, 05.18.10.) Since that trip, “I have not been able to let go of this incredible need that is there,” she said. Concerned about the slow pace of rebuilding, she told the committee that “we have to do something, and we have to do something different than everybody else has done.”

She led the formation of a new subcommittee, Haiti Housing Collaborative, which issued a call for temporary-to-permanent housing designs. The brief was to design rural housing that Haitians can build themselves, is inexpensive, and employs vernacular materials and styles. Unlike a conventional competition, a jury reviewed approximately 150 submissions from around the world, and chose 12 of the most promising designs. Those designers were then invited to a charrette at the Center for Architecture on 01.08.11 when the designers and jurors collaborated to determine four final designs, combining the best ideas out of the original 12.

New housing in the four designs will be built with funding from donors, and Haitians will be trained in the construction techniques. Each house will cost around $1,000 to $5,000 to construct, including the cost of the local labor, Ehsan said. Manfred St. Julien, founder of Future Pace Design and a member of the Haiti Housing Collaborative subcommittee, explained some logistics of the initiative. “Every penny we collect in this effort, 100% goes to these homes and these communities,” he said, adding that the process will be kept transparent through information posted at

Richard R. Gonzalez, LEED AP, one of the jurors, presented the four designs. Many feature the use of bamboo and gabions of recycled rubble for the foundations, as materials available locally. The designs offer an array of strategies for promoting a sense of community while offering privacy to individual households. In one design, for example, private spaces for individual families surround common spaces such as a semi-enclosed living room and a kitchen. This has the effect of “reinforcing the idea of the Haitian household, that it’s not just one family. It could be multiple families living within these units,” Gonzalez explained. In another design, houses (which are expandable if a family grows over time) surround a central quad with a vegetable garden.

Harry Fouché, chairman of the Consortium for Haitian Empowerment (a coalition of organizations working to better the conditions of Haitians), praised the practicality and simplicity of the designs. “They are not complicated construction,” he said. “They can be done; they can be replicated throughout the island…. What you’re doing here, it can and will help us move forward.”

Sowing the Seeds of Learning

Event: The New Kid on the Block: The Edible School
Location: Center for Architecture, 12.06.10
Speakers: Dana Jenkins — Principal, Gensler; Frank Mentesana — Director of EcoSPACES at St. Philips Academy; Jason Anderson — Project Architect, WORKac; Vera Fabian — Garden Manager and Teacher, Edible Schoolyard at P.S. 216
Introduction: Lazar Kesic, AIA — Co-chair, AIANY Committee on Architecture for Education
Organizer: AIANY Committee on Architecture for Education

Renderings of P.S. 216’s Edible Schoolyard in summer and winter.


Parents might be astonished to hear that their kids enthusiastically stuffed themselves with salad in the school cafeteria, but that’s what happened at P.S. 216 in Brooklyn this year, when the menu featured fresh vegetables the kids had helped grow in a new garden designed by WORKac. That day, “Not only did they eat school lunch and not complain about it, they loved it,” said Vera Fabian, garden manager and teacher at the school’s Edible Schoolyard. Fostering that kind of delight and expertise in natural foods is exactly the point of school gardens and teaching kitchens in schools such as P.S. 216 and St. Philip’s Academy by Gensler in Newark.

Teaching gardens are a hot trend in schools these days, tying in well with curricula on healthy, sustainable lifestyles. The idea isn’t new, though. More than 150 years ago, kindergarten inventor Friedrich Froebel promoted the concept of gardening as an educational tool, AIANY Committee on Architecture for Education Co-chair Lazar Kesic, AIA, remarked as he introduced the panel.

WORKac designed a new iteration of the “Edible Schoolyard,” a concept pioneered by sustainable-food advocate Alice Waters in the mid-1990s. She built her first Edible Schoolyard — a one-acre garden and kitchen classroom — at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, CA. Adapting the concept to the much-smaller Brooklyn site, which also has harsher climate extremes, WORKac developed a “moving greenhouse,” with a sliding enclosure that expands in winter, to protect plans from subfreezing temperature. In summer, it can be retracted, which frees up more open space, said Jason Anderson, WORKac’s project architect for the Edible Schoolyard at the pre-K-5 public school.

For Gensler’s design of St. Philip’s Academy (a K-8 independent school), Head of School Miguel Brito wanted a sustainable building in which the space would be a teaching tool in itself, said Gensler Principal Dana Jenkins. A new rooftop garden and teaching kitchen provide ways to teach kids about nature and the food cycle, but the teachers also find ways to integrate the garden into all sorts of other topics in their curricula. “Examples could be as simple as bringing math — like volume and measurement and area and so on — out of the classroom setting with a typical desk, and actually onto to the rooftop, measuring and understanding in a very practical way,” said Frank Mentesana, the school’s director of EcoSPACES. “Through this hands-on learning, kids are getting much more excited about the curriculum, and they’re retaining the information much better.”

New Sights On Site

Event: Plywood, Concrete, Paint! Re-imagining the Contemporary Construction Site as Canvas for Public Art
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.18.10
Speakers: Joe Covello — Vice President and Co-owner, United Hoisting and Scaffolding; Rodney Durso — Founder, ArtBridge; Olympia Kazi — Executive Director, Van Alen Institute; Maya Barkai — Public Artist
Moderator: Katie Denny — Executive Director, North Brooklyn Public Art Coalition
Introduction: Jordana Zeldin — Director, ArtBridge
Organizers: ArtBridge; Center for Architecture

“Walking Men 99” by Maya Barkai. The installation is part of Re:Construction, curated by Ayelet Danielle Aldouby and Elinor Milchan of ARTEA Projects.

Maya Barkai

Maybe there should be new reality TV show called “Extreme Scaffolding Makeover.” While the urbanSHED competition helped focus attention on the problem of NYC’s drab and uninspired sidewalk-shed design, it’s hardly the only effort to make construction sites more visually appealing to passersby. Ever-more public art is popping up along construction sites, thanks to the Downtown Alliance’s Re:Construction program; the NYC Department of Buildings’ urbancanvas; and ArtBridge, an organization devoted to displaying emerging artists’ work on scaffolding, noted its director, Jordana Zeldin.

Artist Rodney Durso decided to found ArtBridge while living in a building covered in long-term scaffolding, London Terrace Gardens in Chelsea. He didn’t see the sidewalk shed as an eyesore — he saw its potential as a giant “blank canvas,” he said. He found an ally in Joe Covello of United Hoisting and Scaffolding, who lent his technical advice and support.

Durso has found that building owners and property management companies don’t always welcome the idea of allowing art on scaffolding, but he thinks that will change once they start to understand its potential as a public-relations boon. Exhibiting public art on a construction site is a way that “a building owner can bring attention in a positive way,” he said.

For local artist Maya Barkai, adorning a construction fence at 99 Church Street was a chance to explore a new type of work, different from what she might make for a gallery show. As part of Re:Construction, she created a 500-foot-long installation called Walking Men 99, which covers the fence with 99 icons of “walk” lights from around the world, displayed at a human scale. The fence proved a perfect venue for the piece, offering the right scale and location on a city street, the icons’ natural habitat. “I could not put it on a gallery wall,” she remarked. “It needed that construction site.”

All-Access Architecture

Event: Inclusive Design Guidelines, New York City
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.01.10
Speakers: Matthew Sapolin — Commissioner, Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD); Robert Piccolo, AIA — Deputy Commissioner, MOPD & Editor in Chief, Inclusive Design Guidelines; Jason Mischel, Esq. — General Counsel, MOPD; Fatma Amer, PE — 1st Deputy Commissioner, Technical Affairs, NYC Department of Buildings; Steven Winter, FAIA — President, Steven Winter Associates, Inc.; William Stein, FAIA — Principal, Dattner Architects; Steven Landau — Director of Research, Touch Graphics; Robyne Kassen, Assoc. AIA — Design Director, Urban Movement Design; Sarah Gluck — Director of Movement Design, Urban Movement Design
Introductions: Rick Bell, FAIA — AIANY Executive Director, AIA New York Chapter; Jerry Maltz, AIA — Co-chair, AIANY Design for Aging Committee
Organizer: AIANY Design for Aging Committee


Inclusive wayfinding: This 3-D model of the Carroll Center for the Blind near Boston acts as a map that can be explored by touch, triggering audio clips with further information. Created by Touch Graphics, the “illuminated talking touch model” has a high-definition video projected onto it.

Steven Landau

“Inclusive design” addresses not only the needs of people with disabilities, but a wide range of other populations, too: a three-year-old may not be able to reach a standard handrail, for example, and a person with limited dexterity may find an ordinary water faucet tricky to use. A new book from the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, Inclusive Design Guidelines, New York City (IDG), offers technical assistance for architects, so their designs can be more accessible to all.

IDG Editor-in-Chief Robert Piccolo, AIA, explained that the guidelines’ mission is to help designers learn how to “produce multi-sensory enhanced environments accommodating a wide range of physical and mental abilities for people of all ages.” The book’s recommendations are voluntary, but it is designed to function as a companion to the NYC Building Code. The goal was to produce a book that is easy to understand and familiar, and to avoid causing confusion between the guidelines and legal regulations, he added.

The IDG’s basic format is similar to the ICC/ANSI A117, noted Dattner Architects Principal William Stein, FAIA. But while he’s found that the code standard can seem complex and confusing, he praised the new guidelines for being more engaging and educational. Of particular interest are special sections that describe the rationale for why certain recommendations were chosen, such as a minimum corridor or stairway width. All in all, the guidelines struck him as an “inspirational” yet “highly practical” guide to “what really works to make the built environment inclusive to a wide range of people.”

Rounding out the evening, representatives from a couple of companies presented some of their accessible product designs, including grab bars by Urban Movement Design and multi-sensory maps by Touch Graphics, which can be explored by touch, sound, or sight. While inclusive design is still not as high-profile as sustainable design, that’s beginning to change, remarked Steven Winter, FAIA, president of an eponymous consulting firm that specializes in both areas. “In the next 10 years, the term ‘inclusive design’… will be as tightly woven into our urban fabric as green design,” he predicted. If so, the pages of the IDG are sure to soon be well known and dog-eared in architectural offices across the city.

KieranTimberlake Proves that Research, Innovation Lead to Performance

Event: Checkerboard Conversations: KieranTimberlake
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.28.10
Speakers: Suzanne Stephens — Deputy Editor, Architectural Record; Stephen Kieran, FAIA — Partner, KieranTimberlake; Introduction by Rick Bell, FAIA — Executive Director, AIANY
Organizers: Checkerboard Film Foundation; Center for Architecture; AIANY Architectural Dialogues Committee


Loblolly House.

© Halkin Photography LLC

This recent film screening and talk revealed Philadelphia-based KieranTimberlake to be at an intriguing juncture. Perhaps best known for its green prefab housing and academic buildings in the U.S., the firm is now poised to take on a higher international presence, through its (somewhat controversial) design of a new U.S. embassy building in London.

The event, the last of the Checkerboard Conversations series, began with a screening of director Tom Piper’s film KieranTimberlake: Loblolly House (2007), Cellophane House (2008). The documentary traces the story of the firm from its quiet beginnings to its rise in fame as research-focused innovators in sustainable architecture, epitomized by the Loblolly House (Kieran’s own residence in Taylors Island, MD) and the Cellophane House (a five-story structure commissioned for MoMA’s 2008 “Home Delivery” exhibition).

Designed as an experiment in streamlining the construction process, Loblolly House was their first foray into the techniques of prefabrication, or “off-site manufacturing,” as they prefer to term it. Thanks to the precision of parametric modeling, multiple components could be manufactured off-site at once, without fears that they wouldn’t fit together well. (Parts of the house were designed to tolerances of just one millimeter.) Elements such as “smart cartridges” — flat panels with multiple integrated components — allowed for easy assembly, and construction took just seven weeks. “The floor panels have radiant heating in them, microducted cooling, power for lighting, voice, and data — all of that comes loaded into these smart floor cartridges to just be plugged in at the house,” Stephen Kieran, FAIA, explained in the film. The residence is energy-efficient too, thanks to easily controlled natural ventilation that reduces the need for air conditioning. Though taller and more transparent, the Cellophane House is a direct descendant of the Loblolly House.

After the film Kieran presented a few other projects, such as Levine Hall at the University of Pennsylvania, and chatted with Suzanne Stephens, deputy editor of Architectural Record, about the embassy design. Some architects might seize upon a high-profile overseas commission as an opportunity for a grand aesthetic gesture, but instead KieranTimberlake chose a simple cubical shape (symbolic of a sense of permanence, and pragmatic in terms of daylighting).

Some critics have judged the design’s aesthetics harshly, but when Stephens asked Kieran for his reaction, he said, “I think the fundamental underlying reasons behind the criticism are that we were proposing… something that is part of an agenda to shift the underlying paradigm for how we make buildings.” For him, the ideal is to fuse aesthetics and performance inextricably, creating “an artful building” that’s also “an ethical building that exists on the highest level of performance possible.”

Schirripa’s Leads for the Other Kind of Green

Event: The AFTL Series: Financial Management
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.22.10
Speakers: Anthony Schirripa, FAIA, IIDA — 2010 President, AIANY
Organizer: AIANY Professional Practice Committee
Sponsor: Newforma

Focusing on great design will only get a firm so far; the financial side can’t be ignored remarked 2010 AIANY President Anthony Schirripa, FAIA, IIDA, in a recent presentation on financial management. The event kicked off the Architects Fast Track Leadership Series, which includes eight sessions geared to up-and-coming architects preparing to enter the management ranks. The AIA book The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice forms the basis for the topics in the series.

Schirripa’s talk helped explain an array of financial concepts and jargon in easy-to-understand terms. He began with an overview of the process of forming a strategic plan based upon “the firm’s needs and wishes for the future.” After creating a strategic plan, “Each year, you should be doing a business plan to help you achieve your strategic goals — and that takes financial planning,” he said. “Business planning enables the firm to chart its course. Lots of firms get into a cycle of reacting to project opportunities, as opposed to planning what kinds of projects you want, who you target,” he added. “Those are important things to plan, not just react to.”

An annual business plan can vary dramatically, but some common ingredients include revenue projection, a staffing plan (defining the size and cost of the staff), an overhead-expense budget, and a profit plan. Since all those components of the business plan are interrelated, they should be developed concurrently, he advised.

Among other nuts-and-bolts financial advice, Schirripa offered mathematical formulas for tasks such as calculating an hourly billing rate, and he recommended ideal percentages of billable hours for various types of employees (85% for most staff, 75% for senior staff, and 50% for principals). Even in today’s competitive market, it’s important to choose projects with care and to charge a reasonable rate, he said. On the other hand, there’s always room for judgment calls in the name of good service and investment in long-term client relationships. One audience member asked: In today’s economy, how can a firm add value for repeat clients without spending more time (and thus money)? Within reason, if a good repeat client needs some help or advice, “I would tell you, spend the time, maintain the value of the relationship,” Schirripa said. “If the client needs something, just do it — because it will come back to you in another way, in another time.”

Activists Get Schooled on NYU’s Expansion Plans

Event: Land Use Education Forum on NYU Plans 2031
Location: Center for Architecture, 08.04.10
Speakers: Scott M. Stringer, Manhattan Borough President; Jo Hamilton — Chair, Community Board 2; Brian Cook — Director of Land Use, Planning, and Development for Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer
Sponsors: Borough President Stringer; Council Member Chin; Community Board 2


NYU is planning this new Grimshaw Architects-designed tower near the I.M.
Pei-designed Silver Towers.

Grimshaw Architects

NYU’s controversial plan for a major expansion, NYU 2031: NYU in NYC, will have significant ramifications on the architectural fabric of the nearby neighborhood. The university’s proposal is preparing to go through ULURP, and a large number of community activists are planning to fight the expansion plans in Greenwich Village. NYU 2031 calls for around six million square feet of new university space, about half of which would be in neighborhoods near Washington Square Park.

The university’s plans for new buildings in two superblocks slightly south of the park, known as University Village and Washington Square Village, drew some of the strongest criticism. “The proposed expansion of NYU 2031 will be the biggest project this neighborhood has seen probably since the 1950s, when Robert Moses used urban renewal to actually create the superblocks — those very same superblocks that NYU now wants to build on,” said Jo Hamilton, chair of Community Board 2. She and many others voiced concerns about the university’s proposal to build a new fourth tower (slated for faculty apartments and hotel space), among the three landmarked I.M. Pei-designed Silver Towers on the southern superblock, which is bounded by Bleecker and Houston Streets, and LaGuardia Place and Mercer Street.

While some criticized the planned tower’s height (nearly 40 stories), Hamilton implied that any addition to Pei’s design would be sure to disrupt its sense of balance. “This complex was carefully designed years ago by a world-renowned architect with the idea of creating visual interest and an eye for balancing the special proportions between soaring height and open land,” she remarked.

The discussion was inevitably one-sided, since no NYU representatives were among the speakers; the overall tone was one of a strategy meeting as neighborhood activists prepared for battle. But like a true politician, Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer emphasized the inevitability of compromise. “Some of this has to get negotiated,” he said. “We’re going to have to think strategically about how we protect the needs and the aspirations of our community.”

Panel Gives Road Map to Greener, Cheaper Housing

Event: High Performance Strategies for Affordable Housing
Location: Center for Architecture, 07.12.10
Speakers: Christine Hunter, AIA, LEED AP — Principal, Magnusson Architecture and Planning; Paul Freitag, LEED AP — Development Director, Jonathan Rose Companies; Shillpa Singh — Sustainability Manager, YRG Sustainability; Yianice Hernandez — Green Communities Senior Program Director, Enterprise Community Partners; Jonathan Braman, LEED AP — Energy Performance Analyst and Project Manager for Multi-Family Developments, Bright Power
Moderator: Esther Yang — Project Design and Management, Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation
Organizer: AIANY Committee on the Environment


Joyce and David Dinkins Gardens on West 153rd Street.

Jonathan Rose Companies

A recent panel on green affordable housing featured quite a diverse group, not only architects but also people working in development, certification, and energy analysis. “The aim is to get us all out of our respective bubbles and really talk about how we can use our mutual insights to move forward,” said moderator Esther Yang, an Enterprise Rose fellow, as she introduced the panel.

Yianice Hernandez of Enterprise Community Partners discussed how her organization’s Green Communities Initiative supports the development of sustainable affordable housing through funding and education. At the heart of the initiative is the Green Communities Criteria , which is designed as a “cost-effective road map” to guide people through the design and construction principles for this type of housing, she said, adding that following the criteria helps reduce utility costs, conserve resources, and improve indoor air quality. Since they offer the possibility of funding, similar programs are often more attractive than LEED for affordable housing projects, added Yang, who is currently working on project design and management for the Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation, a nonprofit organization that develops and manages affordable housing in the Bronx.

Jonathan Braman, LEED AP, emphasized the importance of benchmarking to get a sense of a building’s strengths and weaknesses in energy performance, before embarking on a renovation. Various benchmarking technologies are available, including EnergyScoreCards, an online tool offered by his energy-consulting company Bright Power, which can be used to translate the raw, hard-to-decipher data from utility bills into a format that can be easily understood, he explained. A grading system of A to D rates a building’s performance in areas such as heating, cooling, water usage, and carbon footprint.

In collaboration with Dattner Architects, Jonathan Rose Companies has used some affordable housing projects in NYC as experiments to push the limits of what’s possible, explained Development Director Paul Freitag, LEED AP. One project involved renovating 10 identical affordable housing buildings on West 135th Street to make them dramatically more sustainable. The challenge in another project, Joyce and David Dinkins Gardens on West 153rd Street, was to take an existing building type — the block-and-plank midrise affordable housing building — and figure out how to greatly boost the sustainability at no additional cost to the company. With the help of grant funding, it turned out to be possible, Freitag said.

From her recent experience in property management, Yang emphasized that, generally, the best bang for the buck comes not through technologies like photovoltaics but through improving performance by analyzing the fundamental qualities of the building: its orientation on the site, the energy-efficiency of the building envelope, and systems such as HVAC and water conservation. “From a property manager standpoint, I’m looking for the largest expenditures that I’m going to have in operating this building, and trying to reduce those — so having bamboo flooring may not come before adding an additional layer of insulation to the building,” she said. Thinking in those terms helps keep rents low for the tenants and, for a property manager, ensures enough money for running the building.

Meanwhile, aesthetics can’t be ignored. A lot of affordable housing projects look boxy and blandly similar, which can lead to the inhabitants feeling stigmatized, Yang said. She praised the design of the façade of Joyce and David Dinkins Gardens for its multiple materials and different colors of brick. For designers on a tight budget, the challenge is to “add interest and not insert sterilization,” she said.