Raise a Glass to New York

Davidson and Renfro discuss architecture in New York while a full house looks on.

Greta Hansen

Event: Cocktails & Conversations
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.16.12
Speakers: Charles Renfro, AIA, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Justin Davidson, New York Magazine
Cocktails by: Toby Cecchini, Bartender & Author
Organizer: cultureNOW and the AIANY Architectural Dialogues Committee
Sponsors: MechoSystems and Porcelanosa

Cocktails & Conversations, a new series at the Center for Architecture, encourages especially-pointed architectural discussion by pairing architects with journalists. The lubricant? A custom-concocted cocktail at each Friday evening event.

For the inaugural discussion, Charles Renfro, AIA, a partner at Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), joined Justin Davidson, classical music and architecture critic for New York Magazine, for a discussion over a mystery whiskey drink. After an introduction to the yet-to-be-named cocktail of the evening by bartender and author Toby Cecchini, Renfro presented a few well-known and some unseen projects by his firm.

When Davidson asked whether or not it is true that architects don’t often do their best work in the city, Renfro agreed – in the case of non-New York architects. But, he said, “New York has benefited from a really enlightened city government” – the best design here is made by locals (such as DS+R, of course, a decidedly New York firm).

In a discussion about New York architecture, the word “contextualism” definitely found its place. Agreeing that the city seems to call out for “provocative juxtaposition,” Davidson and Renfro added that thoughtful risk-taking should take place even within the order of New York’s contextual fabric. But what about a designing in a contextual void, as in DS+R’s upcoming projects for the last phase of the High Line, which will wrap around the new Hudson Yards development and their “Culture Shed,” a new museum, exhibition, and performance space within the development? “We have to anticipate how our buildings will interact. And not just with brick contexts: 80 new condominium projects are going up around the High Line.”

Davidson continued by naming a contextual epidemic of city rebuilding: glass. “It’s a given that every time you demolish a building you’re going to get a glass building instead.” Renfro admitted that glass is often “a cheap shot,” but mused over the possibilities of a more profound take on the material: “Hopefully we can look forward to an enlightened view of glass. You can see through it, you can make it opaque, you can turn its opacity off and on, you can still break it… and you can drink from it.” Cheers!

But what, exactly, was the name of the cocktail we were sipping? Audience suggestions included: “The Skin Job,” “The Reverse Mullet,” and “The Architect’s Demise,” all contextually relevant to the conversation. “High Line Grass,” however, was my favorite – a nod to the local ingredient of the cocktail taken directly from the park’s gardens.