The panel of practicing architects and landscape architects discussed the transition from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s current administration and their projects for the city and its various agencies. dlandstudio’s Susannah Drake, FASLA, AIA, of dlandstudio, made the point that “work does not stop from one administration to another,” and gave an overview of city and state agency projects she has been designing, including for the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), and Department of Design + Construction (DDC), as well as Design Trust for Public Space.
Listing a number of projects, including a portion of the East River Esplanade, AECOM’s Gonzalo Cruz, ASLA, resounded that designers of public space have to engage the agencies and, more importantly, the public for whom they are designing. “Agencies want nothing more [than the RFP scope] and have nothing more to give,” he said, “but through design and efficiencies you can get away with a lot” – such as the street furniture and fencing his studio designed for Pearl Street Triangle in DUMBO.
Architecture Research Office’s (ARO) Adam Yarinsky, FAIA, showed a number of projects ranging from public art display panels for DOT, to a large, multi-building housing development proposal in the Bronx for the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and an urban design project in Greenwich South. Each engaged public space as an amenity with its own constraints and opportunities. The firm is currently completing work on the adaptive reuse of a warehouse for a DPR education center and outpost in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Each panelist highlighted the need to initiate projects through research. ARO used a Latrobe Grant to study water inundation and resiliency, which they, along with Drake’s dlandstudio, developed into the “Rising Currents” exhibition for MoMA. Furthermore, Drake has been experimenting with a network of green infrastructure based on modular “Sponge Parks” for the DOT, which, with the Design for Public Trust, proposes a system for utilizing the space under elevated roadways for program while cleaning water runoff. Cruz suggested a bridge over the Peconic Waterway in South Hampton.
“Good design is always under attack by the left and the right because design is seen as a luxury,” stated moderator William Menking of The Architect’s Newspaper, but the panel offered several pieces of advice. Drake, who received one commission from 30 mini RFPs, cautioned young firms about pursuing public work because it can be very expensive and small firms can quickly overextend themselves, which can be perceived as a failure of design. Cruz suggested finding advocates within the client agency, someone who can coach and support. Another tale cautioned designers to include maintenance, which is one of the biggest hurdles for continued success of landscape projects. In the past, funds allowed only the construction of the project, but now costs of endurance must be included in budgets. In addition to collaborating with several agencies and organizations, a pervasive strategy is to combine functions, such as planters with furniture or security bollards. Drake confirmed this, and started working with community groups to address local needs with innovative implementable projects.
During questions and comments from the audience, Adrian Benepe, former New York City Parks Commissioner, countered the popular criticism that landscape projects are targeting Manhattan and more affluent neighborhoods with examples of citywide attention to community parks. Despite the innovation and vision coming from the design field, David Burney, FAIA, former DDC commissioner, lamented, “We don’t have enough young designers in public service.”
James Way, Assoc. AIA, Marketing Manager at Dattner Architects, frequently contributes to eOculus.
Event: A Changing Landscape: Public Space and the New Administration
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.03.14
Speakers: Susannah Drake, FASLA, AIA, Principal, dlandstudio architecture + landscape architecture; Gonzalo V. Cruz, ASLA, Creative Director, Landscape Architecture Studio NYC, AECOM; Adam Yarinsky, FAIA, Principal, Architecture Research Office; and William Menking, Editor-in-Chief, The Architect’s Newspaper
Organized by: AIANY Marketing and Communications Committee