Parking structure, Roosevelt Island, New York
Do you ever wonder how another person does what you love doing? As a photographer, trained in architecture, I do. So when I get a chance to talk to a person who’s as turned on by cities, structures, and details, I grab the first chance I get a conversation going. Meeting fellow photographer Heike Buelau, known for expressing herself through capturing the poetic aspect of our constructed environment, was like meeting a kindred spirit. As I was to find out, we share some aesthetic sensibilities, but how she arrives at her vision is completely her own.
Jean Nouvel, Chelsea condo tower, New York
With training in classical operatic singing, the German born Heike brings a sound/musical sensibility to her photography, framing every shot she takes, brining to the appreciation of the city and buildings a special flair. Used to the language of rhythmic tempo, the pauses, the piano forte, the crescendos, Buelau visually re-interprets the city as if composing a piece for chamber music: gentle, subtle, every note essential, regardless of how simple.
In a temporary hiatus from the U.S., with her a new show opening in Torino, Italy–as she was preparing the imagery she created while exploring new horizons, sights, cityscapes in the Far East, from Dubai to Abu Dabi and Kuwait–I caught up with Heike and asked her to elaborate on her views on architecture, art, and the Dubai urbanscape.
Smith Gill Architects, Burj Khalifa Tower, Dubai
Paul Clemence: What catches your eyes as you navigate the city?
Heike Buelau: Detail, small, hidden, largely undetected detail.
PC: You talk about silence a lot, how you value it….Amidst the urban chaos, how do you find it?
HB: This question ties beautifully into the first. To me a moment of silence is a moment in which I get to experience a pause from the constant influx of imagery and information in daily life, which generally sets off a never ending and unwanted noise in my mind. I have come to find that pause, that silence more and more in the detail of things and structures. The more I close in on the finest feature of a particular building, for example, the more I get drawn into its absolute beauty. Subsequently this results in that magical moment of silence. A moment of having discovered something in which all else gets shut out. All that exists to me at that point is the creative genius of the architect and my very own response to it.
Asymptote , project, Yas Hotel Abu Dhabi
Tablets are revolutionizing how people interact with information. We can now walk around with libraries in our knapsacks and the touch screen interface has enabled us to bridge the physical-abstract divide. The universe is now pushed and prodded, and just as the universe is expanding, so is our access to digital information.
A new app by Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, called Ecological Urbanism, is the start of a deep dive into innovation research, with real prospects for finding urban sustainability treasure.
This fall season’s shows and programs promise to bring important educational opportunities for anyone interested in the built environment. The most intense learning opportunities in New York City are coming to the Center for Architecture, home to the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIANYC). Among the upcoming programs is the exhibition Beyond Zuccotti Park, September 10–22, looks at public space as a follow-up to the Occupy Wall Street protests which put New York City in the national headlines.
I have been involved with the Center’s programs (as a member of the Exhibitions Committee and program moderator) since it opened in 2003. On each visit to the building on LaGuardia Place, I discover a hive of activities on street level, in the basement, and sub-basement alike. As I watched the number of scaffoldings multiply this summer on New York City streets, I wondered how and to what extent the local architecture community is involved in this seemingly positive happening , and as I began to anticipate the fall’s activities, I approached Rick Bell, the Center’s executive director, to discuss what an active group of architects can do for themselves, their profession, their city, and the world.
Susan S. Szenasy: In this summer of powerful downpours, I have often been saved from getting drenched by the many scaffolds that line New York City sidewalks these days. Hundreds of buildings are getting fixed up. Are architects involved in these projects? If they are, how? If not, why not?
Rick Bell: The scaffoldings that cover our sidewalks usually indicate that building façade repair work is going on above. The 6,000 “sidewalk sheds” in New York City stretch over a million linear feet, more than the distance from Brooklyn to Baltimore. They protect pedestrians from the risk of falling debris caused by masonry re-pointing and other building maintenance.
Periodic inspections of street-facing walls have been obligatory since a Barnard student, Grace Gold, was killed in 1979 by falling masonry on Broadway and 115th Street. Local Law 11 of 1998 toughened the regulations, and since 2008 some 12,500 buildings are required to have timely repair. Many architects conduct the inspections, as well as specify the remedial work necessary to assure public safety and allow for the removal of the protective scaffolding.
Standard-issue sidewalk sheds have long been criticized as unsightly. In fact, AIA New York partnered with the NYC Department of Buildings on the urbanSHED International Design Competition, launched in August 2009, to come up with a better and more environmentally appropriate 21st century version. Think of the scaffolding as a kind of umbrella – needed at some times, but put away when the rain stops. The winning scheme of the competition, in fact, was called Urban Umbrella (PDF) and architect Andrés Cortés, AIA is working to see his design realized citywide.
It is also worth noting that sidewalk sheds surround not only the locations where older buildings are being restored or repaired. Many new buildings continue to be erected in all five boroughs and architects in New York City are guardedly optimistic that an improving economy translates into more design opportunities and construction starts.
Indicative of the civic yearnings of the Upper East Side–They want a High Line of their own! –the competition’s results hinted at some of the unique qualities of the Upper East Side, Harlem, and the East River.
The winning idea–a blue skye concept entitled “3X: 300% More Esplanade,” designed by Joseph Wood—would expand the esplanade with a series of canals and pathways that wind their way through the streets of the Upper East Side and Harlem. While not remotely feasible, the bold proposal shows the necessity for connecting the communities of the Upper East Side and Harlem with the East River.
“3X: 300% More Esplanade by Joseph Wood
If the benches in Hastings Hall were sparsely populated last Thursday, it’s because the word “sustainability” has gone gently into that good night at Yale School of Architecture. The arduous task of its resuscitation that evening fell to Adrian Benepe. The New York City Parks and Recreation Department commissioner brought insight rarely heard in the hallowed halls of architectural education, as he acknowledged the social and economic roles of good park design and the struggles of designing in the public realm.
The blurry definition of “sustainability” tends to obfuscate its application in contemporary practice. Benepe chose a holistic approach, offering up the 1987 Brundtland Report’s definition of sustainable development as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This view opens up possibilities for urban park design beyond the technical interventions mastered by LEED advocates. The commissioner argued for design that fundamentally betters the lives of city dwellers. Citing the way Central Park’s romantic landscape continues, even 155 years after its opening, to serve as a means for New Yorkers to escape the crowded city through immersion in nature, he argued for a park design that incorporates timelessness and responsiveness to primal human desires, beyond computations of carbon gains and losses.
Photo by Roger Edwards
Photo by Matthew Pillsbury