It wasn’t a masterwork, but it was the master’s work. Every day, hundreds of people walked by the gleaming space, but few may have realized its significance. A hidden gem in plain sight, the Hoffman Auto Showroom at 430 Park Avenue, opened in 1955. It was one of just three Frank Lloyd Wright projects in New York City. And now, it’s gone.
The sleek showroom captured by the astute eye of Ezra Stoller, 1955. Courtesy of Ezra Stoller © Esto / Yossi Milo Gallery
Wright’s bijou, as he described it,[i] was the architect’s first permanent work in the city, his first constructed automotive design, and one of his few interior-only projects. Realized during New York’s post-World War II commercial construction boom, it was the architect’s single gesture along the corporate corridor of International Style buildings designed by his rivals, the “glass box boys.”[ii] The showroom’s signature ramp was also one of Wright’s several design experiments with the spiral, culminating in the Guggenheim Museum.
The showroom was a bijou to me, too. It’s a character in my book, Frank Lloyd Wright in New York: The Plaza Years, 1954-1959. I spent considerable time studying, visiting, and writing about it. Imagine my shock on a warm day last month when I walked by showroom and witnessed it being gutted. A woman in construction gear, standing in front of the open doorway waved pedestrians past clouds of dust and dumpsters filled with the showroom’s remains en route to a nearby dump truck. (more…)
On Monday night, a crowd of 200 assembled at a construction site in Harlem for the first panel in a series called “Changing Architecture.” The discussion, moderated by Metropolis editor-in-chief Susan S. Szenasy, focused on the need for architects to develop a wider skill set that will enable them to take a more involved role in the building process of their projects.
Among the evening’s panelists was Peter Gluck, founder and principal at the firm Gluck+. He is a strong believer in architects getting their hands dirty at the construction site, working with communities, and being held responsible for a project coming in on budget. He remarked that “Architectural thinking is seen as a luxury item not relevant to the real needs of the development process…Architects need to acquire multi-faceted knowledge and accept previously shunned responsibilities in order to change this perception.”
Design-build firms like Gluck+ have established successful practices by creating teams of skilled architects who have a firm grasp of making a building and everything that goes with it—a deep understanding of how their designs will be made by the craftsmen and builders involved. By utilizing this knowledge and following their work through the entire building process, the firm can ensure that the quality and cost of the finished building is in keeping with the needs of the developer and the surrounding community. (more…)
News earlier this week that New York’s venerable Cooper Union would begin charging tuition for the first time in more than a century was met with howls of predictable outrage and a good deal of genuine sadness. Something important is being lost.
Lower Manhattan’s Battery Park City has seen several major disasters in recent memory, a fact that was not lost on the presenters at Thursday’s topping-out ceremony of the area’s new SeaGlass carousel. “This community, you cannot bring us down,” said Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer, who spoke at the ceremony. “You can attack us, flood us… but we are about building and creating.”
Borough President Scott Stringer speaks at the SeaGlass topping-out ceremony.
The carousel, designed by New York firm WXY, will be the centerpiece of the newly redesigned Battery Park. Several speakers at the ceremony lauded it not just as a new neighborhood landmark and beautiful work of design, but as a symbol of the resilience and strength of a community that has endured both the 9/11 attacks and hurricane Sandy.
Attendees admired the completed exterior. Inside, banners were placed to indicate the scale of the carousel seats. (more…)
As Neil Harbisson lifted a red sock up to the end of the narrow, black device extending from the back of his head, a note sounded. After a moment he set down the red sock and reached for a blue sock, this one playing a different note as he brought it to the sensor suspended over his forehead. Repeating the gesture several times, new notes sounded for each different sock – he was playing a “color concert”. Although Harbisson cannot see colors, the device attached to his head, known as an eyeborg, allows him to perceive them through the frequencies they emit, including many which are not perceptible to normal human eyes. The performance was a fitting end to the 2013 PSFK Conference, a day of talks, panels, and presentations centering on the latest in technology, design, and brand innovation.
Neil Harbisson performs a concert using his eyeborg and different colored socks.
Much of last week’s PSFK conference, which took place April 12th at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan, centered on the connections between humans and technology, and how advances in technology are changing how we relate to the world. Other major topics of the day were strategies for successful branding, and several plans to reshape New York City for the better in the coming years.
Harbisson, who in addition to his concert was also the day’s first speaker, explored the possibility of augmenting human senses with technology, similar to how he has done. He believes that, in a way, we are all handicapped in that our natural five senses do not allow us to perceive the full range of inputs from around us. Through the use of technology, our range of perception can be expanded and our awareness increased. His group, the Cyborg Foundation, works to help people augment their senses through technology, as well as advocating on behalf of cyborgs like himself.
Douglas Rushkoff discusses the phenomenon of “present shock.”
Following our site visit to Congo Street Initiative in Dallas, the Bruner Foundation team headed to New York City to our next 2013 Rudy Bruner Award finalist site, Via Verde. Submitted by Jonathan Rose Companies and Phipps Houses, Via Verde (the “Green Way”) is a 222-unit affordable housing development in the Melrose section of the South Bronx. The project, completed in 2012, was designed as a model for healthy and sustainable urban living.
View of Via Verde from fourth floor fruit tree orchard. Photograph: ©David Sundberg/Esto
We spent two cold, windy days on site, touring the project with the design and development team, taking photographs, as well as meeting with people involved in its development, design, and operation in the Bronx and Manhattan. Like the Congo Street Initiative, Via Verde illustrates another approach to designing affordable, sustainable housing, albeit at a larger scale and catalyzed by a different set of circumstances.
Via Verde grew out of two international design competitions that were part of the New Housing New York (NHNY) Legacy Project, which sought to create a new standard for affordable housing and development. The first, the 2004 NHNY Design Ideas Competition, was sponsored by AIA New York (AIANY) in partnership with New York City Council and the City University of New York and solicited design concepts for three sites. Powerhouse: New Housing New York, an exhibit and public programming supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, showcased selected entries at AIANY’s Center for Architecture. (more…)
The art historical legend-making machine has yoked Gordon Matta-Clark (1943-1978), he of the split-down-the-middle, half-Surrealist surname, with his “building cuts,” particularly the wood-frame house in Englewood, New Jersey that he bisected in 1974. This series of works ultimately led him in two different directions as he shifted his attention to the subterranean city—New York subway tunnels, Parisian catacombs—and finally, looked to the sky, where he imagined floating, sustainable cities. An eye-opening exhibition at New York’s David Zwirner gallery focuses on the ideas and trajectories that Matta-Clark pursued with tools ranging from a chainsaw to a movie camera in the final years of his life, which was cut short by cancer.
“With this show I want to emphasize how much there was to Gordon’s practice,” says independent curator Jessamyn Fiore, who co-directs the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark with her mother, Jane Crawford, Matta-Clark’s widow. “There are a lot of layers, but there is a lot still left to be uncovered and explored.” That much is clear upon encountering the first work in the exhibition, City Slivers, a 1976 film that fragments the screen with vertical stripes of footage, each showing a different perspective on bustling city life, yet always with a human scale that Matta-Clark, trained as an architect at Cornell, managed to keep constant throughout his disparate projects, all while fiddling with variables of space, time, and medium.
One of his most ambitious cut works, “Conical Intersect” (1975), in which he carved holes in two buildings that dated from 1690 on the eve of their demolition to make way for the Centre Pompidou, is shown in a sketch, film, and accompanying photographs—cibachrome prints made from collaged still photos, film footage, and jazzy bands of tape—along with a pair of clasped stone hands. Stolen from their pious owner several centuries ago, the hands were discovered by Matta-Clark in the midst of his Paris cutting. “This is what he held on to, as a personal memento in his own home,” says Fiore. “He always loved the idea that he was cutting through history, as if taking a geologic sample but of humanity, and revealing the layers of life lived in these structures.”
GORDON MATTA-CLARK “Conical Intersect”, 1975
Courtesy The Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark and David Zwirner, New York/London (more…)
Amidst all the post-Sandy commotion and the excessive media coverage, it was confusing to keep up with all that was going on, be it just a few blocks away or in the far reaches of the wide spread New York City. This was further compounded by media outlets scrambling to report properly on the unprecedented storm; their efforts were patchy, to say the least.
Last week when I sat down with Local Office Architects, Walter Meyer and Jennifer Holstad to discuss their projects, I was taken aback by their description of the degree of destruction on the Rockaway Peninsula. But I was also positively surprised to learn of the relief efforts they described (and were intrinsically involved with, having spearheaded some of them), and some of the initiatives to bring that beleaguered community back to life.
One initiative, PS1’s VW Dome 2, officially opens this Friday, March 29th. The temporary dome (a slightly smaller scale version of the one installed at PS1’s courtyard, gifted by VolksWagen) aims to give the Rockaway community a place to gather and be inspired, whether they’re hosting talks, watching movie screenings, or taking in exhibits.
It’s no secret that the United States Postal Service is hitting hard times. Budget shortfalls have led to talk of ending Saturday mail deliveries, meanwhile delivery operations have already begun consolidating across much of the country. And while snail mail may be anachronistic in the era of electronic communications, the retrenchment puts at risk many of the storied structures that have housed the Postal Service for decades. In New York City, several historic structures face uncertain futures as they are considered for sale as part of this process.
At the south end of the Bronx’s Grand Concourse, the Bronx General Post office commands an entire block. Opened in 1936, the monumental structure is fronted on the outside with grand arched windows and a pair of sculpted figures. Inside, several New Deal-era murals by the prominent Lithuanian-American artist Ben Shahn cover the walls. These magnificent murals depict laborers milling textiles, farming, and engaged in other work. Shahn is well known for his left-leaning political artwork during the first half of the 20th century, as well as for his involvement with the controversial Diego Rivera mural in Rockefeller Center. (more…)
The public’s role in the long-term success of any landscape project cannot be overstated. After all, it’s people who use these spaces; they are the true arbiters of a well-designed space over time. To create a successful open public space requires a strategic framework that is mutually beneficial for both developers and the public. To help this effort along, the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) has established a zoning incentive program: Privately Owned Public Spaces, or POPS.
The primary goal of POPS is to unite function with aesthetics—to create public spaces that provide respite in the city’s dense urban fabric. In exchange for additional floor area or relief from setback restrictions the program requires a developer to provide user-friendly amenities to increase the experiential qualities of the open spaces adjacent to their properties. These spaces must meet stringent design standards to create public plazas that are open, inviting, accessible and safe.
Setting the standard for POPS, though not one itself, Manhattan’s 1967 Paley Park is a timeless landscape rich with public amenities like moveable seating, canopy trees for shade, green walls/planted areas, and water features (as permitted obstructions). Today’s zoning regulations encourage developers to build on these successes and provide public spaces that offer a variety of seating, vegetation, lighting, artwork, cafes, and other amenities. While typically located outdoors like the iconic Paley Park, POPS can sometimes be found in unique settings like lobbies, subway entrances, atriums, and building arcades.
I recently worked with fellow Green Team member Terrie Brightman on a POPS recertification permit for 2 Gold Street (Mathews Nielsen was the original designer in 2008). This time, the new process asked us to meet POPS requirements while pursuing strong and unique designs for these spaces.
The pavement extends to the street, uniting the the plaza with what would become a sidewalk. Photo: Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architctects
Circulation is a key aspect of POPS design. The stipulations for clear paths are stringent, with limited walkway obstructions that are meant to ease the pedestrian right of way. At 2 Gold Street, several circulation patterns are integral to the plaza’s design. The pavement extends to the street curbs and facilitates pedestrian movement into it, without hindering circulation at the site’s edges.
The view looking up nearly any avenue in Manhattan is more or less the same: buildings line a ruler-straight street all the way to the horizon. But the view up Park Avenue, south of 42nd Street is cut short. Grand Central Terminal, the city’s iconic train station sits over the avenue, which leads up to it like a grand boulevard. Its preeminence in the physical landscape accurately reflects the terminal’s preeminent place in New York’s cultural landscape as well. Grand Central has remained in this spot for one hundred years; it almost seems as though this is the only way it could have been.
But the longevity of Grand Central Station did not always appear so inevitable. When it was completed in 1913, Grand Central Terminal replaced the earlier Grand Central Station, itself built to expand the original Grand Central Depot. Three rail stations in under half a century? This made the new terminal seem likely to be as ephemeral as its predecessors had been. Yet, Grand Central has stood for one hundred years, and in New York City that is no small feat.
In commemoration of its centennial the New York Transit Museum has released a new book, Grand Central Terminal: 100 years of a New York Landmark. Rather than try to offer a comprehensive history, the book takes a close look at various moments in the terminal’s life. Through these vignettes, we’re reminded that it was not the functionality of the station, or the magnificent architecture alone that gave Grand Central its staying power. Rather, it was the Grand Central’s ability to carve its own special place in the city, and come to represent so many different things to different people. Imagining New York without Grand Central Terminal now is like trying to imagine it without a Central Park or a Wall Street. (more…)
Palms reflecting on Glade Lake
As much as I have enjoyed New York and its famous urbanity in the years since I moved here, a recent visit to Miami (where I moved from) reminded me of the softening powers of nature. It’s easy to forget this primeval presence when we’re underground or walking in crowded canyons of grey stone and brown brick buildings. By contrast, in Miami, I am soothed as I go about my day and catch a glimpse of unobstructed skies and expansive bay and ocean views, and the reinvigorating presence of lush flora year around and everywhere. On my last day there I went by the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden to get a good dose of that green paradise, hoping it would last for me through end of winter. The Fairchild does not disappoint!