Advocates Love Their Landmarks

Event: Preservation in Context: Communities and their Landmarked Districts
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.18.09
Speakers: Simeon Bankoff — Executive Director, Historic Districts Council; Lo van der Valk — President, Carnegie Hill Neighbors; Julia Schoeck — President, Douglaston/Little Neck Historical Society; Thomas van den Bout, AIA — President, Brooklyn Heights Association; Sean Sweeney — Director, SoHo Alliance
Moderator: Sherida Paulsen, FAIA — 2009 AIANY President
Organizers: AIANY; NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission; Center for Architecture Foundation; in partnership with the New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation, as a program of the ContextContrast: New Architecture in Historic Districts, 1967-2009 exhibition, on view at the Center for Architecture through January 23, 2010.
Sponsors: Benjamin Moore & Co.; Buro Happold Consulting Engineers; Studio Daniel Libeskind; Syska Hennessy Group; Trespa

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The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and former Andrew Carnegie Museum.

Courtesy of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

“What are we doing as a city and as a commission to preserve these districts?” asked Sherida Paulsen, FAIA, 2009 AIANY president, in regard to New York City’s oldest neighborhoods. When it comes to preservation in the city, community organizations advocate for the best interest of their historically landmarked communities. At a recent discussion, representatives from some of these communities discussed how development is affecting their districts and the steps they are taking to uphold their communities’ historic integrity.

The Historic Districts Council (HDC) was founded in 1971 by the Municipal Art Society as a coalition of community groups from the city’s designated historic districts. The advocacy process, according to Simeon Bankoff, executive director for the HDC, includes people who are trying to come to a conclusion of what is “appropriate.” It’s based on both the public and the owners to make the decision. The problems and solutions are very different for each district.

In Brooklyn Heights, most new development consists of fine-grain changes, such as changes to slopes and cornices. Occasionally a building will be torn down in an “insensitive way,” stated Thomas van den Bout, AIA, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, but most construction is “undoing things that were bad to begin with.”

Advocates of the Upper East Side worry about drastic and expensive additions to historic buildings. Referring to Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects’ addition to the Guggenheim, Lo van der Valk, president of Carnegie Hill Neighbors, said that someone should have told Frank Lloyd Wright, “If you don’t fill your lot, someone else will.”

Dealing with the new development in the historic districts is a case-by-case practice. Some districts, such as the South Street Seaport, don’t have community advocacies. But if a violation is made in a district that does, anything from warnings to stop orders may be issued. However, the number of people who argue against the “appropriateness” of a project is very small, said Julia Schoek, president or the Douglaston/Little Neck Historical Society. Ultimately, according to Paulsen, it comes down to the fact that “people care about the buildings and they care about the architecture.”

A Picture Tells a Thousand Stories

Event: Objects, Environments, People, Stories: Building the blurring line between the physical and the virtual.
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.11.09
Speakers: James Tichenor & Joshua Walton — New Media Leads, Interaction Lab at Rockwell Group
Organizers: AIANY Technology Committee
Sponsors: ABC Imaging

Hall of Fragments.

Courtesy of the Rockwell Group

“Our physical spaces do not reflect our virtual selves anymore,” explained James Tichenor and Joshua Walton, new media leads of the Interaction Lab at Rockwell Group. Instead, they believe the physical and the virtual blend through interactive experiences augmented with digital technology, and it is important for the designers to remove people from the electronic world of handheld devices and place them into the space around them.

Tichenor and Walton see each project as a “storytelling” opportunity. At the Sheraton Hotel in Toronto, for example, friezes hang above the heads of the guests, reacting to the movement of those who pass below with digital renderings of natural forms like leaves, butterflies, flowers, waves, and snow. Similarly, the “Hall of Fragments,” designed in collaboration with jones | kroloff for the 2008 Venice Architecture Biennale, was an interactive entrance installation that distorted movie clips into prisms, which are then projected onto screens.

Each project is “like a landscape,” Tichenor and Walton explained. They need to be maintained after they are created. And just as in any landscape, there are aspects that cannot be controlled. While creating the pieces, the designers ask themselves questions such as, “How will people relate to objects? What stories will people tell? How will people relate to each other?” The answers come only when the project is built and people start using it. In a way, all of the projects are “props” that contribute to stories that have yet to be conceived.

U.S. Federal Office Out-greens Green

Event: Films and Conversations with the Architects: Thom Mayne: U.S. Federal Office Building, San Francisco. Producer: Edgar B. Howard. Directors: Tom Piper, Charles Gansa
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.05.09
Speakers: Thom Mayne, FAIA — Founder & Principal, Morphosis; Suzanne Stephens — Deputy Editor, Architectural Record
Organizers: Checkerboard Film Foundation; AIANY
Sponsors: Microsol

Thom Mayne, FAIA, founder and principal of Morphosis, begins each project by asking plenty of questions. The style of the building is not a priority. Instead, questions such as, “How can we make the best office building?” or “How can we remove the air conditioning?” come first. During the design of the U.S. Federal Office Building in San Francisco, Mayne discovered the best way to find the answers was by talking with the office workers themselves. They wanted three things: natural light, a view, and an open window. At a recent discussion and film screening of “Thom Mayne: U.S. Federal Office Building” (produced by Edgar B. Howard, and directed by Tom Piper and Charles Gansa), Mayne explained how these requests inspired a building that made sustainability the primary concern.

The film showed how aesthetics directly resulted from the building’s performance. The north side of the 18-story structure has a green-glass façade and a stainless steel screen that wraps over the top of the building to the south. The porous nature of the screen allows natural light into the interior. The operable windows and undulating concrete ceilings allow the breeze to enter and disperse throughout each floor.

“Architecture is something that comes from questions,” said Mayne after the film. “It is a collective form” that integrates technology, politics, and even social systems. He values “dialogue, context, and complexity.” Although the building is sustainable, the process should develop from the needs and values that connect us all, not from a LEED checklist, he argues. For Mayne, ultimately, it was his high regard for questions that drove the U.S. Federal Building to sustainable, beyond the “checklist.”

Holl Shines New Light on Kansas City

Event: Films and Conversations with the Architects: Steven Holl: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Bloch Building. Producer: Edgar B. Howard. Director: Tom Piper
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.19.09
Speakers: Steven Holl, AIA — Founder & Principal, Steven Holl Architects; Suzanne Stephens — Deputy Editor, Architectural Record
Organizers: Checkerboard Film Foundation; AIANY
Sponsors (film): Peter Jay Sharp Foundation

The New Bloch Building and the Nelson-Atkins Museum.

Courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

When the competition to design the addition of the Nelson-Atkins Museum was held in 1999, all of the entrants presented a design on the north side of the site. Steven Holl, AIA, however, suggested otherwise with his proposal called “stone and feather,” which placed the addition on the east side, perpendicular to the existing building. At the Center for Architecture, Holl explained, through film and discussion, the process to make his vision into a building that combines light with architecture, art, and landscape.

The film, produced by Edgar B. Howard and directed by Tom Piper, illustrated how the Bloch Building works with the existing museum to create an unfolding experience for visitors. Traveling from the Nelson-Atkins Museum through the sculpture park, Holl placed five glass “lenses” partially buried in the landscape. During the day, these lenses create varying qualities of light and perspectives for the galleries, and at night they glow like “lanterns” to illuminate the garden. Circulation and exhibition come together as a winding course, which gives shifting views of the galleries, outside sculpture, and the original museum.

After the screening, Holl talked more about museum and presented three other projects currently in the works: The Knut Hamsun Center in Hamaroy, Norway; Nanjing Museum of Art and Architecture in Nanjing, China; and the Herning Center for the Arts in Herning, Denmark. He explained that all of the projects are connected, not just because they are museums, but also because the designs consider the “particularities of the program.” Architecture is not about style, he concluded. Instead, the “site and circumstance” of the place are important, and he tries to re-examine this idea with every new project he encounters.

Cactus-Inspired Stadium Does Not Raise Hairs with Locals

Event: Films and Conversations with the Architects: Peter Eisenman: University of Phoenix Stadium for the Arizona Cardinals. Producer: Edgar B. Howard Director: Tom Piper
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.12.09
Speakers: Peter Eisenman, FAIA — Founder and Principal, Eisenman Architects; Suzanne Stephens — Deputy Editor, Architectural Record
Organizers: Checkerboard Film Foundation; AIANY
Sponsors: Peter Jay Sharp Foundation

University of Phoenix Stadium, designed by Eisenman Architects with HOK Sport.

Photo: David Sundberg/ESTO. Copyright Arizona Cardinals

The University of Phoenix Stadium was not designed to create change; nor was it intended to leave an overwhelming impression, explained its architect Peter Eisenman, FAIA, at a recent discussion and film screening about the stadium at the Center for Architecture. Eisenman, in conjunction with HOK Sport, set out to develop a “powerful symbol of community for Glendale,” rather than a “canonical” or “great” structure. The short film, produced by Edgar B. Howard and directed by Tom Piper, highlighted how Glendale itself inspired the stadium’s design.

Glendale residents value agriculture and the outdoors, and Eisenman looked to the surrounding landscape — particularly the indigenous barrel cactus — to inform his design. With double curvature and a hovering skin, the building bends in on the east, stretches out on the west, and retracts to open to the sky above. The metal skin reflects the surrounding environment and the glass slots between the panels provide interior views of the horizon. With the first fully retractable natural grass playing field in North America, the stadium floor can also accommodate public conferences and trade shows — a need that Eisenman discovered while listening to local residents.

Although the University of Phoenix Stadium may appear to be a departure from his theoretical work, Eisenman believes every building is open to interpretation. During the discussion with Architectural Record Deputy Editor Suzanne Stephens after the screening, he used the City of Culture of Galicia, currently under construction in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, as an example. He explained that projects are made for interpretation. “I don’t know what makes great, or good, or canonical. It just happens.” For the people of Glendale, the stadium has been all of those things, along with being the strong community attraction it was intended to be, Eisenman concluded.

Libeskind Sweeps Museum Architecture

Event: Films and Conversations with the Architects: Daniel Libeskind: Denver Art Museum: Frederic C. Hamilton Building. Producer: Edgar B. Howard; Director: Muffie Dunn
Location: Center for Architecture 01.29.09
Speakers: Daniel Libeskind, AIA — Principal Design Architect, Studio Daniel Libeskind; Suzanne Stephens — Deputy Editor, Architectural Record
Organizers: Checkerboard Film Foundation; AIANY
Sponsors: Benjamin Moore

The titanium-clad exterior of the Denver Art Museum’s Hamilton Building.

Courtesy Denver Art Museum

After being recognized for many of his museum designs in Europe, the Frederic C. Hamilton Building, an extension to the Denver Art Museum, is the first built work in the U.S. by Daniel Libeskind, AIA. Using inspiration from the Rocky Mountains, Libeskind’s museum is like a crystal cantilevered from a central point. The sharp angles and sculptural form create new forms while keeping the building in an open dialogue with the existing environment.

Libeskind uses this form to produce an ever-changing experience that stays true to Denver. Outside, the titanium cladding picks up light and creates shifts in color; the structural folds invite natural light and sweeping vistas of the mountains. The variety of walls and spaces inside allow artists to come up with innovative ways of displaying their art. But for the visitor, it is the journey through these varied spaces and the experience of the plaza outside that is important.

Libeskind’s other recent endeavors include the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco; Tangent in Seoul; Westside in Brünnen, Switzerland; Zlota 44 in Warsaw; and Fiera, Milan. Each uses his design language and expresses his desire for challenge, celebrating the impossible.

The next Films and Conversations with the Architects event is this coming Thursday, 02.12.09, featuring Peter Eisenman, FAIA. Click here for more information.