Welcome to the Y.our E.nvironment O.f the W.eek!
We’re sharing inspiring and influential project solutions to increase the presence of design in our practice as we have the responsibility of shaping environments in the world for ourselves and the future.
Along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Barnes museum presents an unassuming air, with crisp, elegant stone detailing recalling the Modernist work of Philadelphia architect Louis Kahn. Contained within it are the galleries re-created from the museum in Merion.
At the west end of the Barnes, the light canopy cantilevers over a terrace. A limestone rainscreen is attached to the steel-framed gallery building (at right) and a poured concrete pavilion wing (at left).
The shaped ceilings in ancillary first floor galleries echo the barrel vaults of the galleries in Merion
On the first floor of the wing containing the Barnes collection, the main hall’s coves feature Henri Matisse’s “The Dance” murals. Williams and Tsien kept the proportions, scale, and placement of the installation intact, redesigning the cornices and moldings, lighting, and window coverings. The floor is Tennessee marble. This main gallery is oriented to the Parkway; visitors can view the murals from the balcony.
It is looking more and more likely that the “Mayan Temple” design (pictured) from STUDIOS architecture is going to become a reality as part of the massive North Bethesda development by JBG and MacFarlane Associates. The county has official signed off on the project, which includes what will be the tallest (and most pixilated) building in the county ringing in at close to 300 ft in height.
In addition to the residential and office towers there is going to be some major retailers. Ground breaking is scheduled for next Winter. [Credit: JBG and MacFarlane]
[Renderings: Vornado/Charles E. Smith]
With the new NPR building in NoMa well under construction, we have finally gotten our hands on the final design rendering from Hickok Cole Architects and just as suspected, it looks very similar to the version sent in by a tipster back in 2010. Once complete next year, the new 330,000 sq-ft space will include all of NPRs reporting and broadcast facilities under one impressive geometric roof.
[Credit: Hickok Cole]
Apparently Crystal City is on the verge of getting a brand spanking new 24 story office building and the site plans are currently under consideration for over 730,000 sq-ft of new gleaming glass space. The development will be on a parcel currently occupied by an old empty 12 story Federal office building that’s a victim of BRAC and would be torn down to make way for 1900 Crystal Drive. Very cool looking cantilever designed roof that will be interesting to see in execution. Much more to come…
Construction of the new Washington-Highlands Neighborhood Library is nearing completion. The new building (above) will open in early 2012 with over 22,000 sq-ft of new community space. Though the buildings look nothing alike, the design is also by the Adjaye and Weincek team.
You may want to start avoiding the area between 9th and 11th street NW for the foreseeable future because today (April, 4, 2011) marks the ground breaking of the massive City Center DC on the site of the old convention center. Developer Hines-Archstone has officially taken control of the 10 acre super block to get started on the long awaited multimillion sq-ft mixed use development.
This project has some serious potential to be an amazing gathering central pedestrian plaza to define the downtown, so we are excited to see the progress!
This development can’t come soon enough to open up the area directly across from Nats Stadium to the riverfront and in that regard, the new plans look pretty decent. The design includes around 40 boat slips and an esplanade and public plaza with space for some type of iconic sculpture. What do you think?
Density is all the rage these days. Urban economists, some of whom could be heard extolling the praises of "sun, skills, and sprawl" just a few years ago, now see increasing density as the key to improving productivity and driving economic growth. In his story for The Atlantic, "How Skyscrapers Can Save the City," Harvard University’s Edward Glaeser put it this way: "As America struggles to regain its economic footing, we would do well to remember that dense cities are also far more productive than suburbs, and offer better-paying jobs ... tall buildings enable the human interactions that are at the heart of economic innovation, and of progress itself." Well-intentioned planners and preservationists drive up prices when they stand in the way of taller and taller buildings, he argues. Overly restrictive height limitations not only impede economic progress, but make cities less, not more, liveable.
There can be no doubt that density has its advantages. In general, denser cities are more productive, more innovative, and more energy efficient. But only up to a point.
The key function of a city is to enable exchange, interaction, and the combination and recombination of people and ideas. When buildings become so massive that street life disappears, they can damp down and limit just this sort of interaction, creating the same isolation that is more commonly associated with sprawl. As Jane Jacobs aptly put it: "in the absence of a pedestrian scale, density can be big trouble." Skyscraper canyons of the sort that are found in many Asian mega-cities, and that are increasingly proposed in great American cities, risk becoming vertical suburbs, whose residents and occupants are less likely to engage frequently and widely with the hurly-burly of city life. Edward McMahon of the Urban Land Institute cuts to the chase, differentiating between density and high-rise buildings in his recent post for Citiwire, “Density Without Highrises?”. If the pendulum originally swung too far in the direction of sprawl over the past 50 years, the risk today is that it is swinging way too far back toward high-rise skyscrapers. "To oppose a high-rise building," he writes, "is to run the risk of being labeled a NIMBY, a dumb growth advocate, a Luddite — or worse. Buildings 20, 40, 60 even 100 stories tall are being proposed and built in low and mid-rise neighborhoods all over the world. All of these projects are justified with the explanation that if density is good, even more density is better"
Bicycles have already become an essential part of our culture, but now they're shaping our urban and social spaces too.
New York City isn't known as a biker's paradise, with its overcrowded subways, pedestrian-packed sidewalks, yellow taxis snarled in traffic, and noisy buses. Yet even New York City is heading in the direction of places like Portland, Paris, and Copenhagen, which have embraced and promoted bike culture and bike sharing in the urban environment. Over the past four years, the Bloomberg administration has rolled out more than 250 miles of bike lanes. And this summer NYC will introduce its own bike-share program with 10,000 bikes and 600 docking stations around the city.
While New Yorkers pride themselves on always being first, the city is just catching up when it comes to bikes. In fact, the bicycle is the most commonly used mode of transportation around the world. Think of a bike as a tool, a toy, a connector and a mode of expression with a low barrier to entry. It's probably the most hackable (and hacked) simple machine on the planet. Bikes not only get us from place to place, they are the focus of a number of conversations about how we organize communities and define and share social boundaries, and how we can harness human power to recycle energy back to the grid. Most importantly though, bicycles are an intrinsic part of how we imagine and design the city of the future. They will play a significant role in shaping identity and communities and influencing social dynamics in urban areas, because they are the next great technology platform. Mode of Self-Expression
Most people remember their first bike. Mine was a BMX, which immediately gave me a shared identity with the coolest guys I knew. It also made me more adventurous. I felt I could go anywhere and do anything because my BMX gave me freedom not only to roam, but also for self-expression. I customized my bike to look like my favorite BMXer bikes. But it wasn't just about the look; the changing features and functionality I made were my first steps toward creativity and experimentation. I tweaked the bolts on the front axel so they accommodated foot pegs I had fashioned to do certain tricks. I designed and built my own ramps to help me jump higher. Bikes were already inspiring me to add things to my environment. I was becoming a designer.
Here in New York we're seeing that search for self-expression on a much larger scale in the form of subcultures like the Black Label Bicycle Club, a so-called "outlaw bike club" whose members custom-make "mutant" cycles known as tall bikes (two conventional bike frames soldered one atop the other). This community of bikers go dumpster diving for spare parts. They also find vegetables to share at vegan meals, an activity directly tied to ideas about reusing resources wasted by others.
Black Label and similar groups can also be seen as a form of anarchic and anti-consumerist expression, as symbols of freedom. Bicycle culture is their inspiration to live off the grid. My brother has traveled to New York from Nashville several times to participate in Black Label's annual "Bike Kill" tall bike jousting event. He often travels here via a tight network of tall bikers that can be likened to an underground railroad, a community that connects cities. Community
Go to a bike shop in your neighborhood and you're likely to find a social space where you can not only buy a new saddle, but also get in touch with like-minded members of the biking community. People swap ride stories and repair tips. Bike shops are community hubs, where groups and new friendships are forged and social activism takes root.
You see this in the emerging movement to open nonprofit bicycle shops in large urban areas to engage troubled youth and redefine the behaviors of communities. One organization called Red, Bike and Green, a community-building collective of black urban cyclists founded in 2007 in Oakland, California, wants to create a "sustainable Black bike culture" that will improve the physical and mental health of African-Americans and improve their neighborhoods. RGB is a direct response to a number of health and environmental problems that are the result of misguided city policies.
Bicycles help create cohesion in communities and aid social services, especially in developing countries. In many African countries -- Zambia, for example, where frog has worked on projects -- bicycles are converted (or hacked) into makeshift ambulances that help voluntary health workers transport women in labor to far away birthing centers. Bicycles are also used to stay in touch with mothers after the birth to ensure adherence to HIV testing programs for the infant, as well to deliver critical services. Shared Social Space
These community hubs and organizations reflect how bikes help create new shared social spaces. That's because the bike is an inherently social machine. It has no walls; it's human powered and we can all (some more than others) try our hand at hacking and repairing them. In turn, bike-share programs like Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C., raise questions about ownership and social spaces. As a mode of transportation in crowded cities, bikes take space from cars, which can be seen as a form of environmental protest. Critical Mass, a cycling event held monthly in over 300 cities around the world, is a good example of biking as a mass movement that many regard as a form of political protest. Not surprisingly, a backlash is brewing against pro-bike policies: In New York, opponents of bike lanes accuse the city of favoring bikers over car drivers.
Bikes help you get around cities and can also tell you about your city and your interaction with it. The Copenhagen Wheel project, in that Danish city, transforms ordinary bikes into hybrid e-bikes (an electric bike that harvests the energy you input while braking and cycling and stores it for when you need a boost). They are also mobile sensing units that can map pollution levels, traffic congestion and road conditions -- all in real time and of course controlled from your smartphone. In this way the bike becomes a sensing platform that captures data about people, behavior, neighborhoods, and health.
Bikes have already changed our relationships to each other and the urban environment, but consider the potential for so much more.
Imagine a future where cities go beyond bike lanes and build the urban environment around bikes. What would a bike highway look like? What would city life be like without cars? Imagine a healthier city -- no more kids in the Bronx with asthma -- and reduced automobile fatalities.
The biggest opportunity here is that given what we know about how bikes change our social dynamics, how would this play out on a mass scale? Amplify that with sensing and tracking technologies on board the human battery-powered bike platform and the possibilities are endless. Handgrips that monitor your pulse and heart rate multiplied by millions will help us better understand the people who live in entire neighborhoods, and the pace of life from a global perspective. Such data will inspire exciting design solutions.
In many of the most crowded, densely packed cities around the world a bicycle is the most convenient (if not always the safest) way to move around. Now even cities with more well developed transportation infrastructure are catching up and adding bicycles to the mix. That's because bicycles are an essential part of our culture and our lives. They stir memories and self-expression. They encourage social interaction in urban environments that can be lonely and isolating. They are a mechanism for political and social organizing and activism. And with new technologies, bikes are a way to gather information about how we live and relate to one another in the shared space that is the city.
The late artist Mike Kelley spent most of his career working in Los Angeles, but his origins lie in Westland, Michigan, a working-class town 16 miles outside Detroit. One of his final works before his suicide in January reconnects with those roots using a replica of the classic ranch-style home he grew up in in the 1950s. The public art piece, called "Mobile Homestead," toured through Detroit and surrounding towns on a flatbed truck to demonstrate a symbolic reversal of the "white flight" from a struggling city to its suburbs.
The project began in 2005 when Artangel, a British organization that produces site-specific art, asked Kelley to create its first project in the United States. Kelley responded with the idea of transporting a model of his childhood home from downtown Detroit to his real-life home in the suburbs, then back again. A trilogy of films about the journey emphasize the extreme inequality between communities within the city and outside it, interviewing everyone from strippers to church officials to Ford employees along the route.
The house made stops at locations relevant to Detroit's history as well as Kelley's childhood: Corktown, the city's historically Irish neighborhood; Dearborn, where Ford was founded; Wayne, where Kelley went to school; and finally Westland, where he grew up.
Now the project is about to find its final resting place. Beginning next month "Mobile Homestead" will be installed on a parcel of land behind the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, to be completed next year. The ground floor of the house will serve as a functional community space with free classes and a barbershop, while a basement designed by Kelley will provide studio space for artists and room "for more covert activities—what he called 'private rites of an aesthetic nature,'" according to Artangel. (Sounds fun either way.) The film trilogy premieres today at the Whitney Biennale in New York City.
Designed to allow the High Line to pass beneath it, the 18-story Standard hotel was constructed using sculptural piers that raise the building 57 feet above the street grid. New York–based Ennead Architects accentuated the hotel’s distinctive presence with a central “hinge” that divides the structure’s two slabs.
Jury: “The building addresses the urban scale as a tower relating to the High Line [and the Hudson River]. … There is clarity in the choice and articulation of materials and a sense of restraint, though the end result is one of high visual impact.”
Client: “I usually renovate older buildings, and this was ground-up construction. Add to that the matter of the High Line and it was a unique challenge … We had to be sensitive to this new landmark. It tramples through our site, but it also defines it. That said, we wanted to not be overly shy or reverent toward it. Whatever we put up there would have to jump the train tracks.” —André Balazs, owner, as told to Vanity Fair
But that auto upstart isn't the only company rethinking the automobile. Volkswagen issued created three concept videos showcasing imaginative new vehicles—one of which feels a little Back to the Future.
As part of its People's Car Project in China, Volkswagen solicited ideas for out-of-the-box approaches to auto designed and turned three (from about 119,000 submissions) into elaborate concept videos. The most futuristic is the emissions-free hover car, which is shown floating above electromagnetic roads. With a hover car, no more need to worry about potholes or flat tires. But if we're going to dream big, shouldn't it be driverless, too?
Pegasus Global Holdings LLC, today announced that it has chosen Lea County and Hobbs, New Mexico as the location for the Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation (CITE). CITE will be the first of its kind fully integrated test, evaluation and certification facility replicating a true modern day city in size and scope.
Pegasus Global Holdings, LLC, a private international technology development firm, is creating CITE to be the largest scale testing and evaluation center in the world.
CITE will represent a 20th century American city with a population of approximately 35,000 people and be built on roughly 15 square miles. CITE’s test city will be unpopulated. This unique feature will allow for a true laboratory without the complication and safety issues associated with residents.
CITE will be a catalyst for the acceleration of research into applied, market-ready products by providing “end to end” testing and evaluation of emerging technologies and innovations from the world’s public laboratories, universities and the private sector.
These innovations, if brought forward to the point of manufacturing, are essential for the United States to regain manufacturing superiority and to train and put a highly experienced and well educated workforce back to work – while at the same time helping to change the environment for the better through commercialization of advanced innovations in energy, transportation, infrastructure, healthcare and the environment.
The planned initial core user application areas envisioned to be tested and evaluated within CITE include, but are not limited to:
Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS)
Green Energy: Alternative Energy Power Generation (e.g. Geothermal, Solar)
Smart Grid Technologies
Resource Development (e.g. Desalinization)
As a privately-owned, privately-operated test and evaluation center, CITE is open and accessible to a wide array of public and private customer segments – domestic and international. The structure and policies in place at CITE are specifically designed to remove legal, cultural and budgetary impediments as are currently prevalent in the process of moving beyond basic research and development activities.
Rams articulates the role of design in differentiating a business and the importance of sustainability--decades before the popularity of green design.
Dieter Rams is best-known for his work at Braun--where he revolutionized the design of electronics--and his indelible influence on Apple’s Jony Ive. But he has had a decisive hand in another, much smaller company: Vitsœ, a British manufacturer that has been producing Rams’s modular shelving system for 50 years. To mark his 80th birthday, the German master has allowed Vitsœ to release the transcript of the speech he delivered in New York in 1976, in which he articulates his ethos of user-centered design and some of his famous 10 commandments. In 2012, they feel as if they were written yesterday. Enjoy--Ed.
Here’s the historic speech in its entirety:
Ladies and gentlemen, design is a popular subject today. No wonder because, in the face of increasing competition, design is often the only product differentiation that is truly discernible to the buyer.
The introduction of good design is needed for a company to be successful. However, our definition of success may be different to yours. Striving for good design is of social importance, as it means, amongst other things, absolutely avoiding waste.
The ideas behind my work as a designer have to match with a company’s objectives. This principle applies to my work not only at Braun but also at Vitsœ. I have been working for these two companies for about 20 years and--I like to point out--only for these two companies.
I am convinced that design--at least in the terms I understand it--cannot be performed by someone outside the company. I am absolutely convinced that this is true if products are designed as part of a larger system, like we do at Vitsœ.
In 1957 I began to develop a storage system that formed the basis of the company Vitsœ, which was founded in 1959. Thus the ideology behind my design is engrained within the company.
I am convinced that a well-thought-out design is decisive to the quality of a product. A poorly designed product is not only uglier than a well-designed one but it is of less value and use. Worst of all it might be intrusive. The development and changes that we have initiated with our work at Vitsœ are, I believe, positive for the development of good design as a whole.
The introduction of good design is needed for a company to be successful. However, our definition of success may be different to yours. Striving for good design is of social importance as it means, amongst other things, absolutely avoiding waste.
What is good design? Product design is the total configuration of a product: its form, color, material, and construction. The product must serve its intended purpose efficiently.
A designer who wants to achieve good design must not regard himself as an artist who, according to taste and aesthetics, is merely dressing up products with a last-minute garment. The designer must be the gestaltingenieur or creative engineer. They synthesize the completed product from the various elements that make up its design. Their work is largely rational, meaning that aesthetic decisions are justified by an understanding of the product’s purpose.
I am convinced that people have an interest in what we are doing at Vitsœ since our products are useful; I expect they also appreciate the aesthetic that follows. These qualities are the result of progressive and intelligent problem solving. Functionality must be at the center of good design.
A product must be functional in itself but it also must function as part of a wider system: the home. Vitsœ’s 606 Universal Shelving System is successful due to its high functionality and its ability to adapt to any environment. Vitsœ’s furniture does not shout; it performs its function in relative anonymity alongside furniture from any designer and in homes from any era. We make the effort to produce products like this for the intelligent and responsible users--not consumers--who consciously select products that they can really use. Good design must be able to coexist.
You cannot understand good design if you do not understand people; design is made for people. It must be ergonomically correct, meaning it must harmonize with a human being’s strengths, dimensions, senses, and understanding.
Vitsœ’s direct contact with its customers has led to a deep understanding of people. Over the years, our understanding of how you use a shelf or an armchair has increased. We have educated and diligent people worldwide who understand how to plan systems in configurations that our customers may not necessarily have thought of at the beginning.
All objects that are to be used must be subject to a clear order. The remarkable order of design at Vitsœ has the purpose of communicating the function of the object to the user. The design of a Vitsœ product clearly points out its purpose and its use--and facilitates them. The order of the elements--their arrangement, their shape, their size, and their color--is based on a thoroughly planned system. This system is the language of Vitsœ design.
But this order is not self-serving; and I would not call it ideology because it is a practical necessity. For design to be understood by everyone--which good design should strive to do--it should be as simple as possible. Design at Vitsœ brings all individual elements into proportion. An often-cited feature of the Vitsœ collection is its balance, its harmony, its belonging together. All structures, components, and finishes coexist as a well-balanced and harmonious design that gives it usability.
The majority of products that we encounter in our day-to-day lives scream for attention or try to impress us with their magnificence or miniscule size. These objects try to dictate our relationships with them. Good design creates powerful long-lasting relationships with products as good design creates objects with balanced proportions; at Vitsœ we go further by trying to create objects in balanced proportion with people.
To use design to impress, to polish things up, to make them chic, is no design at all. This is packaging. When we concentrate on the essential elements in design, when we omit all superfluous elements, we find forms become: quiet, comfortable, understandable and, most importantly, long lasting.
Vitsœ products are in constant evolution. We do not limit our products to the manufacturing technologies available at the time of their design. Built into the language of Vitsœ products is adaptability--adaptability for the user in the home and adaptability in design and manufacture. We are constantly looking for new and better technical solutions for our products. As technology and production processes are always advancing, innovations are not only possible but they are necessary for a product to continue to be considered good design.
We have experienced that people are more willing than ever to change their lifestyles; that they accept innovative solutions--not fake ones--and are able to rid themselves of old and cemented habits with our products. They expect such innovative solutions, particularly from Vitsœ.
Ladies and gentlemen, our environment is changing rapidly. How will these changes affect our design concepts? Can design that claims longer-range validity be reactive to current circumstances or must it be proactive for the future?
In a room where the proportions are noticed we feel better and we think differently. A neglected and uncared-for landscape will have a different effect on our lives than one that is natural and orderly. There is a lot of work to do on the topic of our physical surroundings affecting our psychological functions. This is the work we do at Vitsœ.
But Vitsœ only makes furniture today. There are larger questions that we need to answer about our urban environment and how it affects us as individuals and as a society. What effects do electricity pylons, skyscrapers, highways, street lighting and car parks, for example, have on our psyche and relationships? We know that the residents of anonymous concrete blocks can become depressed as a result of their surroundings. But who is researching these things systematically? Who takes all of this really seriously?
I imagine our current situation will cause future generations to shudder at the thoughtlessness in the way in which we today fill our homes, our cities, and our landscape with a chaos of assorted junk. What a fatalistic apathy we have towards the effect of such things. What atrocities we have to tolerate. Yet we are only half aware of them.
This complex situation is increasing and possibly irreversible: there are no discrete actions anymore. Everything interacts and is dependent on other things; we must think more thoroughly about what we are doing, how we are doing it and why we are doing it.
Indeed, the collapse of the entire system may be impending.
I have spoken of our surroundings but let us look at the wider environment: the world we live in. There is an increasing and irreversible shortage of natural resources: raw materials, energy, food, and land. This must compel us to rationalize, especially in design. The times of thoughtless design, which can only flourish in times of thoughtless production for thoughtless consumption, are over. We cannot afford any more thoughtlessness.
The complexity of systems and shortage of natural resources should compel a change of individual attitudes and attitudes as a society. We learn as individuals and we learn as a group. We are beginning to understand the changes that we are only just seeing. We must take notice with increasing soberness and, hopefully, with growing alertness and rationalism.
Ladies and gentlemen, if we at Vitsœ have contributed towards intelligent, responsible design and a higher quality of objects, I believe we owe our thanks to a great degree to the unselfish enthusiasm and the always-consequent attitude of one man: Niels Vitsœ. At the same time, thanks to all the members of staff, who sense that they have done a little more than just produce another short-lived consumer product.
Good design is a reality!
Top architects are tackling historic buildings in surprising ways.
By Jorge Otero-Pailos
What makes the Neues Museum shocking is the level of restraint the architects demonstrated, at a time when it was common to hire world-class designers precisely to intimidate preservation commissions into allowing egregious “adaptations” of historic buildings into contemporary “icons.” Against the grain of the grand gesture, Chipperfield and Harrap opted for the precision of discreet interventions. Their design consisted mostly of removing historically insignificant elements. When they did add, they did so to enhance what was there, as one adds salt to bring out the flavor of a dish instead of covering it with sauce. For instance, they added subtle tints to the lacunae in decorative patterns to reintegrate the losses into a complete image. Even the most emphatically new elements, like the grand staircase, echo the form of the lost original.
This echoing approach to situating architecture is a key departure from previous models. An echo is by definition not a facsimile of the original voice, and therefore not a “restoration” in the traditional sense. It is the return of that voice from the future, transformed by the time that separates it from the original. An echo cannot return the original in its pure form. It returns a cleft original, bearing the dividing mark of a split temporality that cannot be easily located as part of the present. The Neues Museum was brought back deceptively intact, but in fact profoundly changed.
Prior to the High Line, “adaptive reuse” was invariably understood to mean the process whereby an old building suffered changes for the satisfaction of new uses according to a fixed logic of contemporary architecture. With the High Line, the meaning of the term began to shift to signify the mutual adaptation of contemporary architecture and old buildings to each other. The shift is subtle but important because it implies a revision of one of our discipline's foundational ideas: that contemporary architecture comes into existence through its confrontation with building. We had taken it as a given that the word “building” stood for new construction. Now it is clear that contemporary architecture can also emerge by adapting an old construction. The old criterion that new architecture was only possible through a new building is dead.
Koolhaas's master plan to update the Hermitage Museum, in time for its 250th anniversary in 2014, is another example of producing contemporary architecture through (as opposed to next to, or on top of) old buildings. Koolhaas claims to avoid “declarative architectural interventions,” and turns to preservation for a new form of expression. His strategy is to forensically retain all traces of the old buildings, even the dusty showcases, but to relocate every object, leaving some rooms empty in anticipation of what the future may bring. So he expresses contemporary architecture as an ephemeral process more than a permanent object, a way of opening (old) buildings to new meanings. The Hermitage signals another important new direction, away from the past as history and toward questions of temporality. In the wake of Postmodernism, we are more aware and critical of the way the past is constructed. Yet we are beyond the Postmodernist antics of simply denouncing the artificiality of the past, or reproducing it ironically. The past is never delivered pure, but always comes as reconstructed evidence. We know that our answer to what makes architecture emerge within a building will be incomplete. The last word will be delivered retroactively from the future.
This circumspect attitude toward the past makes contemporary architecture not just more open to what the future might bring, but more concerned with temporality, rather than the “imageability” of space and form. The challenge is that our architectural understanding of the temporal is not as sophisticated (yet) as that of the spatial and formal dimensions of building. We are only beginning to develop the critical tools to understand the aesthetic expression of architectural temporality in political, cultural, and ethical terms. So far, time has been explored mostly as a “natural” aspect of buildings, manifested in weathering and other changes in their appearance. Yet it is also the enabling element of “cultural” aspects of buildings. Consider that the role buildings can play in collective practices of remembrance and identity formation is a function of their longevity. Preservation involves designing and formalizing such practices, and as such, it helps people use buildings to imagine themselves as part of local communities, and even larger societies. Perhaps this is partly why contemporary architects have turned with new urgency to preservation, precisely in this historical moment of crisis, when the ethical bankruptcy of banking and the dysfunctionality of politics strain the social contract to the breaking point.
Preservation is our repository of over two centuries of experiments in how to think about the temporal dimension of architecture in political, cultural, and ethical terms. Think of Ruskin's romantic defense of architectural “time-stains,” the patterns of dust deposited on old building stones according to the chisel marks of ancient stone carvers. His championed aesthetic cannot be dissociated from his left-leaning politics, for he saw every modernizing effort to resurface old buildings as an attempt to deny working-class craftsmen their rightful place in the history of architecture. Ruskin's lineage ran through the Arts and Crafts movement, but inverted its political inflection in the American hands of Louis Comfort Tiffany, famous for opulently patterned interiors.
Herzog & de Meuron's attention to pattern is perhaps the closest that any contemporary architect may comfortably come to Tiffany. In restoring the interiors of the Armory, they deftly adapted their architecture to the old building, in an effort to open it to new political interpretations. The Armory's original, refined aesthetic reinforced social segmentation within the military, by making uneducated servicemen feel unwelcome. As the army democratized, the interiors were remodeled accordingly. Rather than recreating Tiffany, or imposing a new architectural language, the architects created a contemporary architectural aesthetic by overlaying traces of the pedestrian elements they removed as ghosted outlines, such that their erasure seems incomplete. By keeping the ghosted layers of kitsch added by less refined middle-class officers, they both return the Tiffany originals and change their political charge to reflect the military's long (and imperfect) pursuit of social equity through meritocracy. Herzog & de Meuron return an echo of Tiffany in a palimpsest. Through preservation, they achieve an expression of architectural temporality that attends to the political ramifications of culture more than they have in any of their other works.
Architects' shift from the pursuit of signature styles to a creative exploration of preservation enables them to deepen the significance of form and space through sharper expressions of temporality. In the process, architects are becoming more critically engaged in the inherited cultural, political, and ethical issues that define our moment, without feeling the need to celebrate or deny them. Our profession's current commitment to preservation will most likely not last long. Its impact on how we think about architecture and how we articulate our commitments through design, however, may well find echoes in the future.
Jorge Otero-Pailos is an architect, artist, and associate professor of historic preservation at Columbia
Preservation has returned to the center of architectural theory and practice, after languishing in the margins for over half a century. Just a decade ago, it would have been impossible to think that the stakes of the field would be set by projects like David Chipperfield and Julian Harrap's restoration of the Neues Museum in Berlin, Diller Scofidio + Renfro's subtle morphing of Lincoln Center and the High Line in New York, Rem Koolhaas's forensic preservation of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, or Herzog & de Meuron's adaptation of the Park Avenue Armory in New York. Back then, such figures rarely involved themselves in preservation—not simply because they had defined their careers through new construction, but because they saw it as rather unimaginative work. Now these architects approach preservation projects with anxious care. It is as if preservation were the hardest move, the piked double Arabian with full twist, of architectural gymnastics. If so, then a profound reordering of the criteria for judging architectural excellence is taking place.
At BSA Space, over 280 trillion possibilities await. Screen Walls is a sculptural wall comprising 16 blocks, designed, fabricated and constructed collaboratively by students from the Boston Architectural College and Radlab. Each block can be arranged in eight different ways, resulting in 281,474,976,710,656 possible configurations
New York City has just embarked on a new $4.6 million program to clean up its stormwater, and it could serve as a national model for other cities. To serve the goal of replacing pavement with rain-absorbing green spaces, green roofs and other porous surfaces, the program enlists 11 mainly non-commercial facilities and organizations that are common to many urban areas including schools, a church, a social service organizations, an advocacy group, a labor union and even a zoo.
Shifting stormwater from gray to green
The initiative is just part of an 18-year, $2.4 billion public-private plan to reduce storm runoff from the city’s streets. The general problem is that sewers and other conventional “gray” infrastructure in older cities were originally designed simply to shunt storm runoff directly into waterways.
Over the years, New York and other cities have deployed intercepting sewers, holding tanks and other strategies to steer more runoff into treatment plants, but in many cities it is difficult if not impossible to find enough space to build this type of infrastructure up to a sufficient scale. In addition, massive infrastructure projects of this type are incredibly expensive and often involve significant community disruption while construction is in progress.
Green infrastructure has been emerging as a solution for a number of years, and the movement is now gathering full steam. The basic idea is to create more absorbent green spaces within the urban landscape not only by preserving and expanding parks, but also by exploiting rooftops and paved surfaces.
New York City expects to save billions by investing in green infrastructure over gray, and with this particular group of projects it also aims to demonstrate that the investment can result in additional benefits to individual facilities and communities that gray infrastructure simply cannot provide.
The Bronx Zoo and green infrastructure
On top of accomplishing the standalone goal of reducing polluted runoff into local rivers, green infrastructure can be deployed strategically to help advocacy organizations improve their ability to deliver on their mission. The Bronx Zoo provides a good illustration.
A major water feature of the zoo is the Bronx River, which runs for about a mile through the center of the grounds. However, runoff from the zoo’s large parking lots have contributed to poor water quality in the waterway.
Under the auspices of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the zoo will get nearly $1 million to redesign its Asia parking lot with permeable pavement and an educational exhibit, which will result not only in better water quality downstream but also an improved public profile for the zoo’s conservation mission.
Green infrastructure for better public housing
Another illustration is provided by a green infrastructure makeover for a housing project in the Bronx. The site is located within the East River watershed and it also happens to be officially rated as one of the 200 worst buildings in the city.
The redesign will include green roofs, new porous pavings and a community green space, which will benefit the river while helping to create a healthier living space for residents.
Plumbers and green infrastructure
Just one more more example will round out the concept. The Local 1 Plumbers Union building, which is another site in the East River watershed, will get a new green roof that includes a rainwater harvesting system.
In addition to reducing stormwater runoff, the new roof will help reduce the “heat island” effect in the neighborhood. More to the point, the new system will alsoserve as an important best practices educational tool for Local 1, which happens to be the largest local in the U.S.
All in all, it looks like this sustainable “twofer” strategy is the wave of the future for urban areas. New York City is not alone in its endeavors, as Philadelphia has just embarked on a major new green infrastructure partnership with the U.S. EPA.