Hockenberry Stimulates Big Ideas

Event: AIA New York 2009 Design Awards Luncheon and Ceremony
Location: Cipriani Wall Street, 04.22.09
Keynote Speaker: John Hockenberry — WNYC & PRI Host, “The Takeaway with John Hockenberry and Adaora Udoji”
Master of Ceremonies: Bruce Fowle, FAIA, LEED AP — Principal, FXFOWLE Architects
Organizers: AIANY, with Boston Society of Architects for the Building Type Awards
Sponsors: Benefactor: ABC Imaging; Patrons: Cosentino North America; Syska Hennessy Group; The Rudin Family; Lead Sponsors: Dagher Engineering; The Durst Organization; HOK; Mancini Duffy; Sponsors: AKF Group; Arup; Building Contractors Association; FXFOWLE Architects; Hopkins Foodservice; Ingram Yuzek Gainen Carroll & Bertolotti; JFK&M Consulting Group; KI; Langan Engineering & Environmental Services; MechoShade Systems; New York University; Pei Cobb Freed & Partners; Rogers Marvel Architects; Steelcase; Studio Daniel Libeskind; Tishman Realty & Construction; VJ Associates; Weidlinger Associates; Zumtobel Lighting/International Lights

“All economic booms are alike; prosperity is alike; but bubbles burst in their own ways.” Loosely referencing Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, WNYC and PRI Host John Hockenberry urged architects to think beyond President Obama’s stimulus plan to help bring NYC out of the recession. For Hockenberry, it’s history’s great design ideas that have helped pull the country out of recessions before — whether it was the Bonneville Dam, Lyndon Johnson’s idea for rural electrification, Rockefeller Center, or the Empire State Building. In the 1930s, design was equaled with prosperity. The bigger the idea, the more wealth was associated with the city. The Empire State Building did not relate to the rest of the city in terms of scale. It wasn’t a typical structure, such as the repetitive, unoriginal glass boxes that are scattered through the city currently, stated Hockenberry. Instead, it projected the idea that people can do something huge, something that transcends the poor state of the city.

Hockenberry thinks “stimulus” is the wrong word; it does not have meaning, it is not sustainable. He does not understand how money is being divided around the country, yet nothing seems to be reaching the places that need it most. For example, stimulus money could be used to make the U.S. accessible. To him (wheelchair-bound himself), that would not be a simple gesture. It would demonstrate that this country cares about people with disabilities in a way no other country in the world does. It is through design that the country could be elevated to new levels. Referring to this year’s Design Awards recipients, Hockenberry hopes that ideas bigger than “stimulus” will inspire a new age of prosperity.