In the course of reporting my piece on Edward Mazria, I had a very interesting conversation with Andrew C. Revkin, for years an environmental reporter for the New York Times. Today he writes the paper’s Dot Earth Blog and also teaches at Pace University. A big admirer of Mazria, Revkin has an altogether clear-eyed view of the environmental road ahead. An edited version of our talk follows:
Martin C. Pedersen: First off, what’s your role at Pace?
Andrew C. Revkin: I am Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding at the Academy for Applied Environmental Studies. And I co-teach three courses. One is a new course I’ve launched called Blogging a Better Planet. In the spring I co-teach a documentary production course, where we do films on sustainability topics, and an environmental science communication course.
MCP: You’ve been aware of Ed’ Mazria’s role in the environmental movement for a while. How would you characterize it?
ACR: His case—and it’s a good and simple one—is that buildings really matter. He’s trying to shift how we design them, and how we design architects, as well.
MCP: How does his advocacy differ from someone like Bill McKibben http://www.350.org/?
ACR: I think Ed is focusing on things that are imminently more doable. Bill is very good about building movements around numbers, but has not adequately articulated how you get there. In other words, besides yelling at fossil fuel companies. That may be something that needs to be done, but it’s not a path that will actually change a lot of things. Ed is working in a space where there’s a lot to be done, both on existing structures and on new buildings. There’s huge potential to make big gains.
Photo by Bogdan Mohora
Baltimore’s Northeast Market—a fixture in the city’s Middle East neighborhood since 1885 and a cultural anchor of its community—is not the kind of place that sells cage free eggs and locally grown kale. It does, however, boast some of the city’s best lake trout (technically Atlantic whiting but so fried and delicious who’s checking?) and homemade Snowballs, two beloved local delicacies. The 36,000 square foot public market sits at a crossroads between Johns Hopkins Medical Campus and the mostly African American residential community of East Baltimore, providing a critical point of interaction between local residents and the institution, who have had a difficult and sometimes antagonistic relationship. But the relationship is complex: Johns Hopkins is both the largest employer in the area and a key institutional partner in the adjacent $1.8 billion redevelopment project, a project which has been a point of contention in the community for the last decade.
Photo by Bogdan Mohora
Photo by Bogdan Mohora
Photo by Bogdan Mohora
“Sculpture to be Seen From Mars”
Model (left)1947 (destroyed)
Photo: Soichi Sunami
Isamu Noguchi’s prodigious and expansive artworks spanned the world of sculpture in stone, metal, paper, wood, and ceramics. His striking vision conquered territory in architecture, landscape design, playground and park design, furniture and lighting design, and theater set design in collaborations with Martha Graham.
Born of an errant Japanese poet father and American mother whose mission in life was to have her son become an artist, Noguchi struggled with the duality and ambiguity of his origins all his life. He bridged both cultures with a restless, modern, and exquisitely crafted oeuvre rooted in Japanese aesthetics. He lived and had studios in both countries. Though he always felt he was searching for home, his friend R. Buckminster Fuller once observed that Noguchi was “always at home – everywhere.”
Noguchi with “Contoured Playground” 1941
Noguchi’s birthday on November 17th marks the second annual “updated chapter” launch of a mammoth, collaborative work by The Noguchi Museum – the art of Isamu Noguchi rendered as a digital catalogue raisonné. Merging traditional artistic scholarship with contemporary publishing technology, the museum now brings the art and life of Noguchi to your glowing screens.
Isamu Noguchi carving “Childhood” in stone
Photo: Michio Noguchi c. 1970
In the past you may have had to wait decades, literally, for such revisions to be issued in a cost prohibitive, inflexible catalog. Now, in our digital age, you will have access to both confirmed and “pending” research. In fact, you can engage directly with the process of discovery and documentation.
Aerial shot of the South Bronx. The Hunts Point peninsula is dotted with warehouses and distribution centers reflecting varied industrial uses along the waterfront, with a small residential pocket at the upland core.
Photo credit: Hunts Point Vision Plan
Hunts Point Landing in the South Bronx, our latest project, was described by Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times, “River of Hope in the Bronx” this July. It is the fourth in our 20-project South Bronx Greenway master plan, conceived in 2006 to reclaim portions of the borough’s industrial waterfront by transforming brownfields into greenways and park space and providing public access to the river for the first time in 60 years.
Greenway routes and destinations from the South Bronx Greenway Master Plan (2006).
Photo credit: Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects/NYC Economic Development Corporation
The Hunts Point peninsula, loosely bounded by the elevated Bruckner Expressway and ground level rail lines, is a relatively isolated locale. It is laden with massive food distribution operations, oil depots, waste-handling operations, scrap metal dealers, auto salvage yards, a sewage treatment plant, a prison, and a small mixed-use residential community. Our park is located at the former terminus point of Farragut Street at the Long Island Sound, wedged between a food distribution center and a City of New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY) salt shed.
Clearly, the site’s constrained size presented considerable design challenges. In addition to these, our Green Team was also faced with an additional quandary—what to do about massive amounts of contaminated soil from a coal gasification plant that used to occupy the site? To meet our goal of restoring the degraded shoreline to a functioning tidal marsh and to treat all of the site’s stormwater in a biofiltration pond, we knew we had to excavate it. But the disposal of that much fill would have been very expensive. Trucking, lack of available receiving facilities, and disposal fees would have quickly added up to a large sum.
Material excavated from the shoreline (right) was stockpiled on site and dewatered prior to placement and fine grading of the upland berm.
Photo credit: Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects
Paula Scher is principal at the well-regarded New York City design practice, Pentagram. She’s held that august position since 1991, and during her busy tenure she even found time to redesign Metropolis magazine when we went from a large, tabloid size to a smaller format with the November 1999 issue. Paula has continuously given her special brand of identity design to such New York institutions as the Public Theater (a spectacular poster campaign that caught my attention when we were looking to redesign Metropolis), Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the New York Botanical Garden, among many others. Her knowledge of the city, form the inside out, also landed her on the Open House New York 10th anniversary advisory council. On the eve of OHNY celebrating its first decade of programs (October 6th and 7th), I asked Scher to talk about her favorite city, including the often overlooked graphic element, signage.
Susan S. Szenasy: If there is one thing you could tell a friend from abroad about New York City, as it relates to the design you encounter here every day, what would that be? Please explain.
Paula Scher: For me, the most exciting thing about New York City is the distinct personality of its ever-changing neighborhoods, especially the ones I know best in Manhattan and Brooklyn. This is a result of ethnic groups banding together, artists and other trail blazers continually hunting for cheap space, real estate developers taking some risks, all under the seemingly invisible hand of City Planning, the Economic Development Corporation, the Parks Department, the Department of Transportation, and the Business Improvement Districts.
SSS: What is unique about the planning and design of the city that makes it work for you?
PS: New York has such a big vocabulary in such a small space. I never cease to be surprised by a changing block, a crazy store or restaurant popping up in an unexpected place. I also love the expansion of parks that has occurred under mayor Bloomberg and parks commissioner Benepe, they have changed and revitalized neighborhoods all over the city.
As a “trigger happy” photographer, aided by the convenience of the digital camera revolution, selecting images from my extensive archives for an exhibit is a challenge. Most recently this challenge came when I was offered a show at a prestigious design showroom in Sao Paulo as part of the BoomSPdesign/DesignWeekend. I began the assignment by gathering clues, first from the event itself.
BoomSPdesign, now in its fifth year, has become known as a gathering of high profile designers and architects. So I decided to pay homage to the event by selecting images from my files that document the work of five well-known architects known around the globe for shaping contemporary architecture.
Basel Messe New Hall, by Herzog & de Meuron. Photo by Paul Clemence.
I found the second clue in the space itself. The showroom, Creative Original Design (C.O.D.), is in a landmark building by Brazil’s Pritzker Prize winner Paulo Mendes da Rocha. It’s a most unusual and inspired space. So I thought I would do something to create a dialogue with the building’s rigid geometry and stark concrete.
I’ve been standing on my soapbox, preaching the virtues of aligning the workplace with the goals and objectives of each organization as well as with their workers’ activities. Some of you, I suspect, disagree with that idea. But if we were to engage in a debate, we might be discussing how this shift actually plays out in reality, and not the shift itself. Recently I came across an article singing the praises of ‘breakthrough’ office-less offices (USA TODAY, June 6th) and another one decrying the soullessness and dysfunction of open-plan (The NEW YORK TIMES, May 19)
Alternate realities: loving or loathing an open-plan office
Why such polar opinions to, and experiences of, the workplace? Why is this so hard to get it right? And why, if we generally agree that my thesis is directionally correct, aren’t we moving there more quickly and easily?
Well, there’s the obvious answer. Change, no matter how desirable, is intimidating and seemingly risky. After all, we’re exchanging the known for the unknown. I’ve been known to glibly summarize the steps involved in “change management” which refers to defining and communicating the reasons the status quo is no longer acceptable; paint a compelling picture of the possible future; slay the monsters on the path from “current state” to “future state” so that people are less afraid to make the move. Each of these steps requires serious decision-making, conscious commitments of resources, and a deep and broad willingness to drive both cultural and structural change. Sayin’ it, don’t make it so.
Robert Hammond is executive director and co-founder (with Joshua David) of Friends of the High Line. The non-profit group is responsible for the High Line park located on a once derelict, elevated rail line that was built in 1934 on New York City’s west side. Their phenomenal success in reviving this remnant from the past continues to inspire projects and people all over the world and has brought a new vitality to the west side, as well as to the city itself. Hammond, who is a Rome Prize fellow and co-recipient of the Jane Jacobs Medal from the Rockefeller Foundation, delivered the commencement speech at New York’s New School on May 18th. –SSS www.thehighline.org
I was not sure what to say today. The only other graduation ceremony I have been to was my own, almost 20 years ago, and I don’t remember any of the speeches.
I have seen those videos of graduation addresses that are sent around on Facebook at this time of year, and it seems like most people tell uplifting stories. And I love inspirational stories and self-help books. Actually… I used to be embarrassed about reading them, but now that the High Line is open, I don’t mind so much. I can say with confidence that the self-help books really did help.
Yet, talking about positive affirmations and my inspirational story seemed kind of lame, kind of like being caught on the subway while reading Eat, Pray, Love—which I did read and really liked. So no, I am not going to talk about self help. Instead I thought it might be more interesting to talk about rejection and a little bit of the High Line story.
[Holds up stack of rejection letters] This is the stack of my job rejection letters from the year I graduated from college. That was 1993, back before the rejection email.
Robert Hammond, photo by Jerry Speier.
Google’s Project Glass caught my eye while reading the New York Times. These augmented reality glasses that promise to display maps, charts, and other visuals right in front of our eyes, are one more piece of seductive technology. Before we buy in, we need to consider the social and design issues raised by such terrifically exciting innovations.
When we ran out and bought iPod Touches for our kids, we didn’t consider the difficulties these devices would create in carrying on focused conversations. Neither did we think of how these highly appealing objects would act on the long-term unintended impacts on the kids’ emotional and physical development. Similarly, I’m seeing a lessening in quality of conversation in day to day interactions in business and out in public with so many of us multi-tasking on some device or another. So given these recent experiences what are my larger concerns with Project Glass?
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