Looking Back at the Last Six Years

In my first Soapbox I commented on the uncertain state of the profession emerging from 2005 — a banner year for natural disasters wreaking havoc on communities, most notably Hurricane Katrina. “Strife reigns, pinning the public against developers, politicians against each other, and the public against politicians. Architects and city planners are absorbed in the mix.” Has anything changed in the last six years?

For me there have been many milestones since 2005 that demonstrate how the profession has grown. Perhaps the thing that has most profoundly influenced architecture in the recent past is sustainability. 2006 saw green go mainstream, with Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” 2007 launched the Mayor’s PlaNYC2030. In 2008, the new building code adopted many of the sustainable practices already incorporated into the International Building Code. However, with the close of the decade, the economy began to take a turn and the term “greenwashing” began to give sustainability a bad name. There was a rejection of the simplistic checklist approach that the profession began to take, with the USGBC and LEED bearing the brunt of criticism.

Today, our approach to sustainability is much more complex than it was six years ago. We consider our carbon footprints, embodied energy of materials and systems, improving our health with active design, and we think both in terms of long- and short-term benefits. While there is, of course, room for improvement — we are far from living holistically — I think we are headed in the right direction.

Physical architectural milestones include both small and large developments citywide. The High Line, Lincoln Center, Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, 7WTC, the Bank of America Tower, and Brooklyn Bridge Park don’t even scratch the surface of what’s risen in the last six years. NYC is once again becoming a global force in architecture, with starchitect-run firms Atelier Jean Nouvel, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, and Gehry Partners finally constructing buildings in the city. International firms, such as Studio Daniel Libeskind, to Snøhetta and Grimshaw Architects, are making NYC home and are flourishing. Whether it’s Morphosis’s 41 Cooper Square, Grimshaw/Dattner Architects’ Via Verde, or the TKTS Booth and Revitalization of Father Duffy Square, by Choi Ropia, Perkins Eastman, and PKSB Architects, the quality of architecture in the city is having a positive effect on both the public and the profession.

Ultimately, nothing has defined the developing face of the city more than what has happened at Ground Zero. When I started editing e-Oculus, AIANY was advocating for Michael Arad, AIA’s “Reflecting Absence” — a memorial that was not inevitable at the time. Now, the memorial is not only open to the public, but Davis Brody Bond and Snøhetta’s National September 11 Memorial Museum is well underway, and SOM’s One World Trade Center is at 92 stories as of last week.

I have done my best to deliver timely news about the built environment in NYC over the last few years. With the help of my contributing editors Linda G. Miller and Murrye Bernard, LEED AP, I hope we have done the publication justice. Thank you to my mentors Kristen Richards, Hon. AIA, Hon. ASLA, and the late Stephen A. Kliment, FAIA; the AIANY Oculus Committee; Rick Bell, FAIA; and the tireless AIANY Staff. It has been a pleasure serving the Chapter, its members, and the more than 11,000 architectural enthusiasts that read the e-zine on a regular basis. And I look forward to seeing e-Oculus take new directions as Benedict Clouette takes over as the new editor.