Robots Provide Design Freedom

Event: Gramazio & Kohler: Digital Materiality in Architecture
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.10.09
Speakers: Matthias Kohler — Partner, Gramazio & Kohler
Organizers: AIANY Cultural Facilities Committee
Sponsors: Consulate General of Switzerland in New York; Think Swiss; Swiss International Airlines


Image from upcoming site-specific installation of Gramazio & Kohler’s work.

Courtesy Storefront for Art and Architecture

The Swiss firm Gramazio & Kohler explores the interface between architecture, design, and construction through digital control and fabrication. It investigates full-scale applications of programming processes in precise designs with a goal to “transform the physical structure of architecture,” according to firm partner Matthias Kohler. He hopes this digital/material reorganization will lead to a shift in the expression of architecture.

Expression of material properties has been limited by designers’ means of representing those properties in the planning and design phases. Gramazio & Kohler’s approach is to program a paradigm or process with aesthetic parameters into a computer system that can allow an automated system to express the qualities of the material in a new way. For example, by using a robotic arm, the firm has discovered a new way to articulate common masonry units that redefines the relationship of space and decoration to modern architecture, according to Kohler.

Gramazio & Kohler has produced new material expressions using a range of computers, from those found in mobile phones (mTable) to intelligent networks placed throughout the light system of a public park (Uster Municipal Park). To see the firm’s work, Gramazio & Kohler will be featured in an exhibition at the Storefront for Art and Architecture opening on September 30.

Intermodal Transportation Links to Future

Event: Design for Living: Intermodal Transportation Facilities
Location: Center for Architecture, 12.08.08
Speakers: Peter David Cavaluzzi, FAIA — Principal, Ehrenkrantz Ekstut & Kuhn Architects; Jeff Dugan, AIA — Principal, Dattner Architects; Peter Scaglione, AIA, AICP — Associate Partner, Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners
Moderator: Robert Davidson, FAIA — Senior Vice President, STV Incorporated
Organizers: AIANY Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; New York New Visions
Sponsors: Champion: Studio Daniel Libeskind; Supporters: Gensler; Humanscale; James McCullar & Associates; Friends: Costas Kondylis & Partners; Forest City Ratner Companies; Frank Williams & Associates; Hugo S. Subotovsky A.I.A. Architects; Mancini Duffy; Magnusson Architecture and Planning; Rawlings Architects; RicciGreene Associates; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Syska Hennessy Group; Trespa North America; Universal Contracting Group

The Myrtle-Wyckoff Station by Dattner Architects with Domenech Hicks & Krockmalnic.

Dattner Architects

The way architects design intermodal transit facilities is changing rapidly. The fundamentals of new urban structures and planning are being studied and applied throughout the U.S. — and locally, as NYC prepares for new urban growth. Three projects of different scales were recently presented in a panel.

The Gateway Center in Los Angeles, designed by Ehrenkrantz Ekstut & Kuhn Architects, will link subway, rail, and bus transit in a rapidly expanding downtown location near Union Station. The new transit hub was influenced by analysis of circulation patterns and is designed to remain at the center of the urban core as the city grows, according to firm Principal Peter David Cavaluzzi, FAIA. It will offer plazas, city sightlines, and circulation paths to help anchor developing neighborhoods.

At the other end of the size spectrum, the Myrtle-Wyckoff Station, designed by Dattner Architects with Domenech Hicks & Krockmalnic, is sited at the heavily urbanized border between Queens and Brooklyn. The station has a central rotunda with a channel-glass cylinder rising above the public entrance and crisscrossing elevated catwalks and stairways. Public art spans the round ceiling. Even though it is not truly an intermodal facility, the station is close to the future site of a bus terminus being planned around the corner. It is not clear, however, whether there is an intention to link the two into a single facility.

The Hoboken Terminal project is a large-scale renovation of an existing intermodal facility. On the National Register of Historic Places, the complex accommodates rail and waterborne transit. Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners used the building’s history to influence the rebuilding of the main terminal hall. Using original plans and modernizing the lighting scheme, stained glass and copper complement the Victorian-styled structure. The original clock tower was replaced with prefabricated sections that were stacked on-site. The pride shown in the exacting restoration of the public spaces will encourage greater use of the facility, stated Associate Partner Peter Scaglione, AIA, AICP.

Firm Faces Contemporary Challenge: Restoring Modernism

Event: Restoration of Bauhaus Building
Location: Museum of Modern Art, 07.09.08
Speakers: Winfried Brenne & Franze Jaschke — Partners, Brenne Gesellschaft von Architekten (Berlin)
Moderator: Barry Bergdoll — Philip Johnson Curator of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art
Organizers: The World Monuments Fund with support from Knoll

The external staircase and balcony that wrapped around the ADGB Trade Union School was walled off with concrete under East German rule (left). Brenne Gesellschaft von Architekten restored the original building to appear as intended in 1930.


One of the successes of the Bauhaus school was the completion of the ADGB Trade Union School in Bernau, Germany. The building marked commercial and architectural success for the influential functionalist school. Designed by Bauhaus Director Hannes Meyer and architect Hans Wittwer, it became one of the most significant completed Bauhaus projects. Sited near Berlin in the former East Germany, its condition was for many years unknown and its existence almost forgotten by the West.

The 1930 building complex, consisting of administration, classroom, dormitory, refectory, and gymnasium space, was unlike other Bauhaus buildings of the time. Built out of butter-toned brick and stretches of red steel-framed glazing and glass block, it stood apart from the white-walled buildings associated with the Bauhaus style. In the dormitories, walls were color-coded according to floor and building — yellow, green, blue, and red.

When the project to restore the ADGB School began, these details were submerged beneath layers of architectural debris added by two totalitarian regimes. The National Socialist Party and the German Democratic Republic consecutively enclosed the complex’s broad glass walls beneath layers of brick and paint. The school was gradually surrounded with new buildings designed in the modern classical style favored by the itinerant regimes.

Rediscovering the colors locked beneath the additions was key to rehabilitating the school. The partners of Berlin’s Brenne Gesellschaft von Architekten, Winfried Brenne and Franz Jaschke, took an archeological approach to unearthing the hidden layers. Demolishing walls had to be carried out with care as clues constantly emerged about the design philosophy and how the building was originally finished. Sifting through original documentation, they re-oriented the complex to return to its original functional intent.

For the office of Brenne Gesellschaft, confronting a historic puzzle proved to be an ongoing challenge. Many original details featured construction methods and materials no longer available, requiring in-depth research on how to reproduce them. Facing budgetary constraints and constant new discoveries, the architects were continually involved in the process of evaluating information and creating solutions on the fly.

The inaugural World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize, awarded for the preservation of modern architecture as part of the Modernism at Risk Initiative, was awarded to the Berlin firm for their work in revitalizing the ADGB School, representing a new focus on the forgotten challenges facing Modern buildings.

Insiders Discuss Jump-Starting Moynihan Station

Event: Moynihan Station: What Needs to Happen Next?
Location: The Urban Center, 05.13.08
Speakers: Kent Barwick — President, Municipal Art Society; Richard L. Brodsky — Assemblyman, New York State Assembly; Anna Hayes Levin — Chair, Community Board 4; Daniel A. Biederman — President, 34th Street Partnership; Kathryn Wylde — President & CEO, Partnership for New York City
Moderator: Charles Bagli — Reporter, The New York Times
Organizers: Municipal Art Society

The stalled Moynihan Station proposal by the Empire State Development Corporation.


Moynihan Station may be the linchpin to open up the last undeveloped frontier in Manhattan, according to speakers at a recent discussion hosted by the Municipal Art Society. In an unusual display of agreement, speakers representing a local community board, developers, and politicians posited that the key to opening up the West Side to new growth may be to start work on what is achievable: Moynihan Station. Acknowledging the departure of Madison Square Garden from negotiations, among other realities in a limited West Side plan, panelists agreed that moving ahead with the proposed Moynihan Station in limited form would be most productive.

Fred Papert, founder of the 42nd Street Development Corporation and audience member, addressed the panel about what will happen to the Farley Post Office building site. “Why don’t we just get going?” he asked, pointing out that the Moynihan plan had already secured over $1 billion in funding from the Federal Government. Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, echoing the sentiment that the project should move ahead, proposed a new authority to run the West Side development project, and an up-or-down vote on developing the Farley Post Office.

Environment Reigns in Young Architects Forum

Event: Young Architects Forum: Resonance
Location: The Urban Center, 05.08.08
Speakers: Xu Tiantian — Principal, DnA_Design and Architecture (Beijing, China & Issaquah, WA); Geoffrey Thün & Kathy Velikov — Principals, RVTR (Toronto)
Organizers: The Architectural League of New York

Pampas House, Buenos Aires by RVTR (left) will maintain zero-carbon emissions. The Visitor Center in Changbai Mountain by DnA_Design and Architecture (right) incorporates unusual sight lines to govern circulation and diminish the barrier between public and private spaces.

Courtesy Velikov + Thün/RVTR (left), DnA_Design and Architecture (right); courtesy The Architectural League of New York

“Resonance,” was this year’s theme of The Architectural League of New York’s Young Architects Forum. It tackled the question: are architects developing productive ways to engage with today’s global priorities? Beijing- and Issaquah (WA)-based DnA_Design and Architecture attempts to blur the boundaries between the natural and built environment, while Toronto-based RVTR uses a process they call “collective intelligence” to produce zero-emission projects.

DnA_Design and Architecture uses context to mold and form space to create interior landscapes. The Ordos Art Museum in Inner Mongolia creates a circulation pattern that both highlights the works on display and carries the visitor through a series of panoramas and planned interior gardens. Locally quarried stone cladding echoes the forms of the surrounding rocky dunes. As centerpiece of a massive new city in Inner Mongolia, featuring hundreds of thousands of square feet of new housing, studio, and educational spaces built in a vast desert, the museum will feature contemporary Chinese artists and designers. Ordos city is being developed by more than 100 young firms from 27 countries, made possible by a local tycoon.

RVTR works through communication and networking to create architecture that contextualizes ecological awareness. Stressing a creative process that integrates mixed media and video, principals Geoffrey Thün and Kathy Velikov argue that they are able to provide a product that responds intimately to client’s desires while reducing its ecological impact. In the Buenos Aires Pampas House, RVTR designed an international recreational retreat for a globetrotting client that maintains zero-carbon emissions. The complex offers open spaces interspersed with organically-shaped penetrating and extending chambers for specialized functions, ranging from outdoor sport viewing stations to interior chambers where sommeliers may cultivate their palates.

Highlighting their ecological concern, Thün and Velikov presented their Venice Lagoon competition entry. What they call “buoyant aquacology,” RVTR proposed a way to save Venice from rising sea levels by building on the lagoon itself. Floating barges contain algae that create food and fuel for their inhabitants. The vessels attempt to provide life in a world where humans coexist with nature rather than subjugate it.

New Group Seeks Recovery of Upper Ninth Ward

Event: Architecture and Recovery: The Guardians Institute in New Orleans
Location: Museum of Arts and Design, 04.17.08
Speakers: Jens Holm — Associate, Rockwell Group; Kate Stohr — Cofounder, Architecture for Humanity; Herreast Harrison — Founder, Guardians Institute
Moderator: Martin C. Pedersen — Executive Editor, Metropolis
Organizer: Museum of Arts and Design

Guardians Institute

The proposed Guardians Institute building in the Upper Ninth Ward.

Courtesy Guardians Institute

At the fringe of recovery efforts in New Orleans are community anchor buildings. The celebrity-driven focus on replacing damaged housing has partially obscured the city’s need to bring roots of shared place and heritage back to its communities. It is a type of project that Kate Stohr, cofounder of Architecture for Humanity, calls a “beacon of hope,” and one her organization has committed to creating in post-hurricane New Orleans. Jens Holm of the Rockwell Group, working closely with Architecture for Humanity, provided his energies to designing a new home for the Upper Ninth Ward’s Guardians Institute.

Herreast Harrison, founder of the institute — and a bit of a New Orleans cultural icon herself — explained that the institute exists to make a difference in young peoples’ lives, to bring the “living heroes” of the neighborhoods into children’s lives, connecting them with their past and orienting their future. A tradition of beadwork, crafts, theater, and family responsibility handed down through Mardi Gras Indian culture is preserved in classes for the neighborhood children and through care for the elderly. Though short on dollars, the Institute hopes to include permanent space for a museum, academic institution, and neighborhood playhouse.

Holm packs an amazing amount of program and flexibility into the proposed 2,500-square-foot Guardians Institute building. It offers multi-use space providing exhibition, performance, education, and administration functions. With roots in the design of the traditional shotgun style home, the new building will expand on and open this archetype based on free circulation. Broad façades that open for performances are visible from the street.

The institute is also designed for hurricane and flood survivability, according to Holm. Its first floor is built four feet above grade to withstand minor area flooding. The second floor is placed high enough to stay dry through floodwaters of the type encountered during Hurricane Katrina, which left a nine-foot-high watermark in the neighborhood.

Though the meeting of Harrison and the Rockwell Group was paid for in part by Architecture for Humanity, there is a continuing need for funding to advance this project. With an estimated cost of roughly $300,000, the Guardians Institute has a substantial challenge ahead of it before groundbreaking. Federal funds have not been forthcoming and other levels of government have declined to help, preferring that development come from the private sector.

A condemned home on an adjoining corner lot waits for a possible phase two design and expansion — an expansion that may not come if New Orleans’ business-first administration puts developers’ needs ahead of those of the community.

Long Overdue, Modernized NYC Museum Evokes City's History

Event: The Museum of the City of New York: New Building Addition
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.24.08
Speakers: Susan Henshaw Jones — President and Director, Museum of the City of New York; James S. Polshek, FAIA — Senior Design Counsel, Timothy P. Hartung, FAIA — Partner, Joanne L. Sliker, AIA — Associate Partner, Polshek Partnership Architects
Moderator: Ann Marie Baranowski, AIA — Co-Chair, AIANY Cultural Facilities Committee
Organizers: AIANY Cultural Facilities Committee


The new glazed gallery pavilion at the Museum of the City of New York.

©Polshek Partnership Architects

New York’s museum has languished without attention for much of its lifetime. Situated on Fifth Avenue across from Central Park, the Museum of the City of New York had to wait from its construction in 1929 as designed by Joseph J. Freedlander until 2005 for its first modernization. Today, it is set to open Phase One of its renovated and expanded gallery space.

Polshek Partnership Architects has worked in phases. First came the addition of HVAC and updating of the building’s infrastructure, then the gallery addition and other expansions. These next phases will redistribute spaces within the landmark building, bringing gallery, administrative, and storage spaces up to par with current design and technology. In the vacant plot east of the building, Polshek’s team, led by partner Timothy Hartung, FAIA, has created a new gallery space and expanded subterranean storage area to add 20,000 square feet to the museum’s original 90,000.

The new glazed gallery pavilion offers a double-height exhibition space open to an outdoor patio. Its sun-filled space can be darkened for presentations and lectures. A drop ceiling creates a light pocket around the top seam of the gallery.

Below the new gallery, a storage expansion will give the museum a new haven for its over 1.5 million objects and images. Relocation from the previously crowded attic levels will relieve the building’s space crunch and allow the curatorial and administrative staff to breathe in two newly opened floors of interconnected, sky-lit office space.

Central to the scheme within the existing building is a renovation of the entry court rotunda that previously connected the north and south wings and allowed access to the second floor “Marble Court” via a spiral stair. The rotunda and the stair will remain as designed, save for a new connection and window below the stair providing access to the new east pavilion. Hartung hopes the final decision to create two centrally oriented openings and preserve the original stair will integrate the new east pavilion to the circulation order. The rotunda will include a new bookshop and café. Galleries on the first three floors now offer unfettered spaces devoted exclusively to exhibitions.

War-Torn Rwanda Emerges as Model for Urban Planning

Event: Reimagining Risk: Rwanda
Location: The Urban Center, 02.28.08
Speakers: Alfred Ndabarasa — Second Counselor, Republic of Rwanda’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations; Carl Worthington, AIA, ASLA — Director of Planning and Urban Design, OZ Architecture (Colorado); Cathy Leslie, P.E. — Civil Engineer, Tetra Tech & Executive Director, Engineers Without Borders-USA
Moderator: Andrew Blum — Journalist, Contributing Editor, Metropolis & Wired
Organizers: The Architectural League of New York

Kigali Master Plan

Existing conditions in the Gitega community (left), and neighborhood opportunities possible with improved infrastructure and surgical master planning (right).

OZ Architecture

Emerging from its four-year war in 1994, Rwanda was saddled with the social memory of brutal genocide and devastation of the country’s already limited infrastructure and economy. Despite this, a decade of quick recovery saw reconciliation, increase of GDP to prewar levels, rapid population growth, and a return to democratic political structures.

The new government moved to tackle problems created by the rapid urbanization of the capital, Kigali, which had expanded from a population of 6,000 in 1962 to almost 1,000,000 today. The plan, called Vision 2020, forecasts a strong Rwanda with solid institutions, tough on corruption, democratically decentralized, focused on developing human capacity, and equitable to men and women of all ethnic groups. The plan proposes that Rwanda become the transit hub of Africa, thanks to its central location.

OZ Architecture was selected to provide what would amount to a country-wide urban plan, encompassing urban planning in the Kigali city center, land management planning in the northern and southern wildlife preserves, transportation and energy management, and ecological mapping of watersheds and natural/agricultural uses. The team needed to provide not just design expertise, but also to create public-policy solutions to the myriad of problems common to many developing nations.

Watersheds will play an important part in new urban forms. The plan for Kigali and other proposed satellite centers calls for efficient use of land that doesn’t interfere with runoff and handles drinking water and effluent through natural processes. Part of the proposal addresses the shortage of energy and water through the recycling of waste in biogas generators. The proposals for city living are an evolution of existing town development patterns rather than a redesign imposing foreign cultural values.

The OZ team’s work has reached from the very large scale, such as the newly planned Bugesera International Airport, to the exceedingly mundane, such as the design of a new type of brick that can be produced locally and frees individuals from the need to procure expensive factory-produced building materials for their homes. The integration of these scales will provide an efficient resolution to the problems facing the country, as the multiplicity of individuals working at the small scale will have a collective positive effect on the ecology of the country and the quality of life of its citizens, while macro projects will link the new structures with regional neighbors and the international community.