Section Through a Firm in Transition

Christian Wassmann, Int’l Assoc. AIA, presents at Axor NYC.

Eve Dilworth Rosen

Fibonacci Spiral

Christian Wassmann and threeASFOUR

Documenta

Christian Wassmann and Michael Portnoy

Documenta elevation

Christian Wassmann and Michael Portnoy

Event: Presentation by Christian Wassmann
Location: Axor NYC, 12.13.12
Speakers: Chris Leong, Assoc. AIA, and Philipp von Dalwig, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, Co-chairs, New Practices Committee; Christian Wassmann, Int’l Assoc. AIA, principal, Christian Wassmann
Organizers: New Practices Committee, AIA New York Chapter
Underwriters: Axor Hansgrohe; NRI
Patrons: Sure Iron Works; Thornton Tomasetti
Supporter: Samson Rope
Media Sponsor: The Architect’s Newspaper

Christian Wassmann, Int’l Assoc. AIA, is operating a studio in transition. Up to this point, his office has tackled the panoply of typologies traditionally associated with a young practice: temporary installations, apartment renovations, boutique commercial spaces, and competitions. However, buoyed by a recent series of prominent and successful small-scale projects, Wassmann appears poised on the cusp of his first major commission. Or perhaps something altogether less conventional awaits him… Continue reading “Section Through a Firm in Transition”

ABRUZZO BODZIAK Designs with Light and Color

Abruzzo and Bodziak at Axor NYC.

Matt Shoor

Emily Abruzzo, AIA, LEED AP, presents the firm’s work.

Matt Shoor

Event: Unfinished: Presentation by ABRUZZO BODZIAK Architects
Location: Axor NYC, 11.15.12
Speakers: Emily Abruzzo, AIA, LEED AP, and Gerald Bodziak, AIA, LEED AP, Partners, ABRUZZO BODZIAK Architects
Organizers: AIANY New Practices Committee, AIANY
Underwriters: Axor Hansgrohe; NRI
Patrons: Sure Iron Works; Thornton Tomasetti
Supporter: Samson Rope
Media Sponsor: The Architect’s Newspaper

Over the course of millennia, light has been the one constant in the architect’s palette. If illumination defines space, then the nature and quality of that light are what generate powerful psychological associations. In addition, the physical properties of the visible light spectrum allow humans to see color, one of the most sensually pleasurable natural phenomena. In the era of electric illumination, color and light are even more intimately intertwined, since color can now be perceived under wholly unnatural circumstances.

Although ABRUZZO BODZIAK Architects’ body of work displays a dizzying breadth in terms of type, size, and budget, their projects share a keen sensitivity to light. Emily Abruzzo, AIA, LEED AP, and Gerald Bodziak, AIA, LEED AP, seem especially attracted to artificial light, and they utilize it to a significant degree in both constructed and conceptual work.

Among the most concrete examples of Abruzzo and Bodziak’s finely tuned understanding of light is one of their most recent projects. “Landscape (Triptych)” was installed at the Center for Architecture this past summer as part of the “New Practices New York 2012” exhibition. This temporary piece explored the potential of electroluminescent wire hung from a tensile armature. According to the architects, when the wire was illuminated at night, the striated pattern inadvertently took the form of stylized rolling hills. This happy accident recalled the initial title of the installation, and resulted in a striking billboard advertising the innovative work being done by young New York designers.

The primacy of artificial light has also infiltrated a number of other ABRUZZO BODZIAK projects. In “Homeless Projection,” the architects wanted to literally illuminate a perennial problem. According to the designers, homeless shelters are often nondescript buildings that serve a crucial social function, and yet they do not trumpet their presence in neighborhoods for fear of reducing property values. The designers chose to challenge this out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude by projecting the current occupancy of the shelter on the façade of the building in block numerals many feet tall. In this manner, there would be no mistaking how many individuals directly benefit from the work done within.

Color is another important facet of the firm’s work, especially as it relates to natural light. In “Pop-up Farm,” a hydroponic greenhouse on a disused lot in East New York, Brooklyn, the pair elected to paint the steel structure an orange hue in an effort to differentiate the building from the monotone urban fabric surrounding it. During daylight hours, the bright orange is visible through the translucent polycarbonate panels of the edifice. Thus, color is used to draw attention to the primary function of the structure, which is to provide fresh produce to a community lacking access to healthful food.

According to Bodziak, the firm uses light as a material to create a lot with a little. It is certainly true that the firm’s investigations have resulted in a handful of potent projects with formal and political heft, and one hopes that future explorations with light will result in a portfolio of structures with deep social significance. Who knew that illumination, a phenomenon without mass, could be such a weighty tool?

HOLLER architecture Makes No Little Plans

Although separated by more than a century, the credos of Tobias Holler, AIA, LEED AP, and those of the celebrated architect Daniel Burnham seem to coincide. For Holler has seen fit to pursue work that questions accepted paradigms and upends traditional norms. He makes grand plans, and seeks to apply those plans across a variety of scales. Whether in the public sphere, a private residence, or the classroom, Holler demands that one dream big.

Regeneration along the Banks of the River

Amanda Schachter, AIA, and Alexander Levi, AIA, SLO Architecture, presenting at Axor NYC.

Berit Hoff

Renderings of Bronx River Right-of-Way

Courtesy SLO Architecture

Courtesy SLO Architecture

Event: Bronx River Right-of-Way: Presentation by SLO Architecture
Location: Axor NYC, 09.27.12
Speakers: Amanda Schachter, AIA, and Alexander Levi, AIA, SLO Architecture
Organizers: New Practices Committee, AIA New York Chapter
Underwriters: Axor Hansgrohe; NRI
Patrons: Sure Iron Works; Thornton Tomasetti
Supporter: Samson Rope
Media Sponsor: The Architect’s Newspaper

New York is emerging from the cocoon of its industrial past. Its citizens have begun to realize the true value of abundant and varied natural resources, and they are taking action. No longer will waterways be used exclusively as transportation networks for goods, or the dumping grounds for pollutants. Instead, New Yorkers have embraced the notion that these features actively contribute to their quality of life.

Such is undoubtedly the case with the Bronx River. This underappreciated waterway wends through some of the more historic and attractive parts of the borough. It suffered from decades of neglect, however, as it became trash-littered and inaccessible from many surrounding neighborhoods. Fortunately, the river has experienced a recent renaissance engendered by curious kayakers, concerned residents, and dedicated urbanists.

Amanda Schachter, AIA, and Alexander Levi, AIA, principals of SLO Architecture, certainly fall into the latter category. Through a series of advocacy projects focused on the Bronx River, these architects have sought to draw attention to the waterway and the historic structures that surround it. Their most recent initiative involves the Cass Gilbert-designed Westchester Avenue rail depot for the now-defunct New York, New Haven, and Hartford Line.

Commissioned by no less a Gilded Age titan than J.P. Morgan, this structure has sat derelict above tracks – now owned by Amtrak – since the bankruptcy of the train line in the the late 1930s. As a variety of different infrastructural networks exploded immediately adjacent to the station, the beautiful steel, masonry, and polychromed terracotta structure became utterly isolated from the surrounding community. Ironically, Schachter and Levi first noticed the building not while wandering around the neighborhood on foot, but while kayaking on the Bronx River.

Independent of SLO Architecture’s projects, local community groups began lobbying for the development of a new green space along the river’s banks. This effort resulted in the creation of Concrete Plant Park in 2006, immediately adjacent to the Westchester Avenue station. Access to the park, however, is difficult, and it lacks such basic facilities as public bathrooms. Seizing the opportunity to refresh a historic structure, while simultaneously providing amenities to the growing Bronx River waterfront greenbelt, SLO proposes to use the station as a new access point and activity space for Concrete Plant Park.

Perhaps surprisingly, SLO does not intend to restore the edifice in the conventional manner. Instead, the architects want to shift the functional focus of the building by bifurcating its component parts and relocating one of them to the riverfront. The existing grand foyer will remain in situ, where it will act as a triumphal entry to the park. It will also contain restrooms and other service facilities. The former waiting room will be lifted off of its concrete pad above the Amtrak rails and reconstituted on a series of delicate columns planted in the river. Hovering over the water, this structure will serve as an accessory space for education and other park functions. The two parts of the station will be connected by a walkway with a bulbous and diaphanous safety cage.

Levi and Schachter admitted that many of the architectural questions raised by such a substantial adaptive reuse scheme remain unanswered. As they explained it, they are seeking public support for the project before they commit to a final design. As a result, SLO’s proposal for the Westchester Avenue Station seems to function best as a playful and thoughtful act of committed urbanism. As the Bronx recovers its waterfront patrimony, one hopes to see similarly unorthodox and idealistic designs blossoming along the river’s edge.

A Chorus of Diverse Voices Representing a New Generation

Amanda Schachter, AIA, SLO Architecture, discusses her firm’s work.

Matt Schoor

Event: New Practices New York 2012 Winners Roundtable
Location: Center for Architecture, 07.16.12
Speakers: Emily Abruzzo, AIA, LEED AP, Abruzzo Bodziak Architects; Julian Rose, Assoc. AIA, formlessfinder; Christian Wassmann, International Assoc. AIA, Christian Wassmann; David Benjamin, Assoc. AIA, The Living; Amanda Schachter, AIA, SLO Architecture
Moderators: Dan Wood, AIA, Partner, WORKac and Adjunct Professor, Princeton University; Troy Therrien, Curator of Experiments in Motion, Columbia University and Partner, Th-ey
Organizer: AIANY New Practices Committee
Underwriters: Axor Hansgrohe; NRI
Patrons: Sure Iron Works; Thornton Tomasetti
Supporter: Samson Rope
Media Sponsor: The Architect’s Newspaper

Like all emerging firms, the 2012 winners of the New Practices New York competition have been tasked with speaking for a new generation of designers. To paraphrase Julian Rose, Assoc. AIA, of formlessfinder, however, this is the first group of “post-Oedipal” architects. They are not trying to physically construct a refutation to a prevailing ideology or aesthetic. Additionally, they are not necessarily united by common ambitions or interests. Instead, this bunch of designers represents the multiplicity of roles that the architect can play in contemporary society.

As moderator Dan Wood, AIA, noted, the one element the winning firms share is that their maturation has occurred in the midst of a global economic recession. As a result, their project types, client base, and professional goals naturally reflect the challenges of design in a volatile new climate. And their practical approaches are radically different, best encapsulated in their responses to the query: Are you comfortable with designing discrete structures, or do your ambitions stretch beyond the building?

David Benjamin, Assoc. AIA, of The Living, expressed a greater interest in tackling problems that exist on the periphery of the profession, such as global resource management and information systems. Christian Wassmann, Int’l. Assoc. AIA, has eroded the distinction between architecture and the arts through a series of installations, temporary pavilions, and artist collaborations. Rose indicated that formlessfinder was determined to rethink conventional architectural norms, structural systems, and materials.

In an unstable economy with fewer architectural patrons most offices are pondering the conventional client/designer relationship. Why wait for a patron to appear when there are so many design problems at hand that are client-independent? Or, why not design for clients without the resources to hire an architect?

Emily Abruzzo, AIA, LEED AP, pointed to an urban design case study by Abruzzo Bodziak Architects that demonstrated how New York City’s zoning code could respond better to phototropic conditions. Wassmann stated that the boundaries between designer, collaborator, and client have begun to blur in his practice. Amanda Schachter, AIA, showed how SLO Architecture has embraced a practical model with an emphasis on community-advocacy and local resource awareness. The designs that result from that approach have brought attention to the city’s waterways and aqueous transportation networks.

Regardless of their attitudes toward design and architectural practice, it is clear that the winners of the 2012 New Practices New York competition have lost none of the enthusiasm and curiosity typically associated with young offices. They are rising to the challenge of solving seemingly insurmountable global problems, both within and without the profession. As representatives of a new generation of designers, their voices sing in polyphony, but ultimately join to create a harmony of unadulterated optimism.

Navigating the Waters of the Formless

Courtesy formlessfinder

Two views of Bag Pile. More of formlessfinder’s work is on display at the Center for Architecture as a part of the “New Practices New York 2012” exhibit.

Courtesy formlessfinder

Event: Practice Makes Imperfect: formlessfinder
Location: Axor NYC, 06.28.12
Speakers: Garrett Ricciardi, Assoc. AIA, and Julian Rose, Assoc. AIA, formlessfinder; Philipp von Dalwig, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, Co-Chair, New Practices Committee.
Organizers: AIANY New Practices Committee
Underwriters: Axor Hansgrohe; NRI
Patrons: Sure Iron Works; Thornton Tomasetti
Supporter: Samson Rope
Media Sponsor: The Architect’s Newspaper

In the world of contemporary architecture, form is everything. As human culture has slowly prioritized the visual, the realm of the built environment has followed suit. Ideas about design and construction now are transmitted primarily through images. As a result, in an attempt to present evidence of uniqueness or superiority, architects are designing for the camera. Form, which was once dependent upon the unique structural properties of a material, now is manipulated and distorted by designers beyond the capacities of conventional structural systems.

In such a building culture, it takes audacious and adventurous architects to refute the supremacy of form. Garrett Ricciardi, Assoc. AIA, and Julian Rose, Assoc. AIA, of formlessfinder, one of the winners of the 2012 New Practices New York Competition, are such designers. Like explorers of old, these designers have sailed into the unknown by adopting lack of form as the raison d’être of their practice.

According to Rose and Ricciardi, their interest in the formless first emerged from failure. The architects under whom they apprenticed were frequently frustrated that designs could not be constructed as envisioned. Rose and Ricciardi wished to elude dissatisfaction by preventing form from entering into the design equation. Instead, architecture would be generated by imposing a limited number of rules on a set of messy circumstances or materials. Since the designers had no preconceived notions of specific form, the resultant “design” could be accepted wholesale without disappointment.

One of the most engaging and successful examples of formlessfinder’s theories put into practice is its competition entry for the 2011 MoMA/P.S.1 summer pavilion. Entitled Bag Pile, the design was composed of a series of geotextile bags – filled with gravel, foam, and other loose material – arrayed around the courtyard in a non-linear fashion. The bags created arches, stretched skyward up to 40 feet in height, or lay languidly on the ground. Thus, the arrangement of elements created random interstitial space in the gaps between objects.

Rose and Ricciardi admitted that, given the preeminence of the photograph or rendering as a means to express a design, they are still unresolved as how to best represent their ideas. The formless is not accustomed to posing well for the camera. Regardless, in an era when architectural form has become increasingly more elaborate and ostentatious, it is especially comforting to know that some young thinkers still question basic assumptions about the role of form in spatial design.