8 Black Designers Whose Socially Impactful Work Challenges the Status Quo in Dwell

8 Black Designers Whose Socially Impactful Work Challenges the Status Quo, Dwell, February 18, 2020.

Places convey whether they are designed for us or not in often subtle ways. Cultural values lurk behind aesthetic choices, and small details signal inclusion or exclusion—both in the development process and the ultimate design. We spoke with eight Black designers whose work manifests social impact, both on a large scale—addressing deep-rooted sources of system injustice—and on a more intimate scale—creating interiors that cause a psychological shift.

The oracular visions of Agnes Denes are on display at The Shed in the Architect's Newspaper

The oracular visions of Agnes Denes are on display at The Shed, Architect's Newspaper, February 7, 2020. 

With its global environmental themes, conceptual graphs of the totality of human knowledge, and exaggerated post-human scale drawings, the exhibition speaks to a millenarianism powerfully present today among anyone paying attention. Yet, much of it she conceived a half-century ago. 

Accessibility by the Book: The Case of Hunters Point Library in Oculus

Accessibility by the Book: The Case of Hunters Point Library, Oculus, Winter 2020. 

The federally mandated requirement for public buildings is the 2010 Americans with Disabilities standards for accessible space. In addition, the City of New York has guidelines in its construction code, which is based on the International Building Code. Dombrowski points out that enforcement of these codes is only by litigation. “There’s no federal entity that goes around and checks buildings to meet the requirements,” he says. “It either comes from a complaint—in this case, a patron of the library could complain to the Department of Justice and say they don’t have equal access, and the Department of Justice would come and investigate.” Otherwise, the local jurisdiction is involved in enforcing its own code during permitting and construction. Most don’t check for these issues, he says.

An Apartment Renovation in Haifa by Michael Peled With Views of the Sea for Dwell

Budget Breakdown: A Gloomy Apartment in Israel Does a Full 180 for $115K, Dwell, January 4, 2020. 

"I said to them, ‘You must turn it all around to face the view,’" architect Michael Peled says. "I told them, ‘I know it’s a really limited budget for this project, but the main effort needs to be to open all the crucial spaces in the apartment to that beautiful view.’" 

Long-Term Plans: To Build for Resilience, We’ll Need to Design With—Not Against—Nature in Metropolis Magazine

Long-Term Plans: To Build for Resilience, We’ll Need to Design With—Not Against—Nature, Metropolis, January 2020.

Thirty years ago, as a high school student at the Cranbrook boarding school in suburban Detroit, I wrote a research-based investigative report on the environmental crisis for the student newspaper. I had been encouraged to do so by a faculty adviser, David Watson, who lived a double life as a radical environmentalist writing under the pseudonym George Bradford for the anarchist tabloid Fifth Estate. His diatribe How Deep Is Deep Ecology? questioned a recurring bit of cant from the radical environmental movement: Leaders of groups like Earth First! frequently disparaged the value of human life in favor of protecting nature.

Today, we hear some version of this more and more: Earth will continue to exist; nature will rebound, with or without people. It is resilient, we are not.

A Community of Eco-Friendly Cottages by Grigori Fateyev in Dwell

Photo by Scott Benedict

A Community of Eco-Friendly Cottages Pops Up in Massachusetts: Modeled after New England barns and surrounding a shared garden, these sustainable homes form a forward-thinking co-housing community. Dwell, Jan. 17, 2020. 

A developer and interior designer bought the lots in 2012 and hired Hillsdale, New York–based Grigori Fateyev of Art Forms Architecture to design a co-housing community of small-footprint, ecologically sustainable homes on the site. The existing, preserved Victorian on the site was meant to provide shared amenities, but as contingencies pressed against plans, the collection took another form: a set of extremely energy-efficient, 2,000-square-foot homes adopting a near-passive building approach, oriented around an edible landscape on the edge of the Housatonic River. 

Design for Aging in the Big Apple: No Picnic in L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui

The building at 175 Delancey Street recently finished construction within the large-scale Essex Crossing megadevelopment, containing a total of 99 well-appointed studios distributed to qualifying applicants through a lottery system, half of them from the neighborhood, with income-based rents ranging from $396 to $1,254 a month. A medical facility run by NYU is on the ground floor, and the building features planted rooftop lounging areas and a cafĂ©, if you’re lucky enough to win the lottery and you don’t die first. It had 65,000 applicants. The wait lists to get a senior apartment are seven to ten years long, and you can’t apply until you’re 62. My mother’s approval came in the mail about a year after she perished. 

PS1's Young Architects Program going on hiatus in the Architect's Newspaper

MoMA and PS1's Young Architects Program is going on hiatus, Architect's NewspaperNovember 22, 2019.

If SHoP’s origins as a young firm are hard to remember, it’s even more difficult to retrieve the imperative that once made PS1 so improbable and ingenious a proposition in the first place—and the Young Architects Program an innocent delight—when its enterprising founder Alanna Heiss somehow convinced the Queens borough president to hand over a closed-down public school to a group of misfits from the SoHo/ Tribeca alternative space scene who proceeded to saw through floors as sculptures.

Notably, one of the names that appears as a funder in the first decade of YAP, along with Bloomberg, Agnes Gund, and Isaac Liberman, is none other than real-estate-reality-show-specter-turned-president Donald J. Trump. How a contemporary art center can meaningfully respond to the current situation, if at all, could be a starting point for the continuation of the program or its eventual cancellation, but the Young Architects Program unquestionably pioneered a model of temporary urban pavilion imitated worldwide, activating public spaces that without major capital improvements or altering their historic character remained inhospitable and inflexible for contemporary needs.

Rikers replacement process begins in the Architect's Newspaper

Rikers replacement process begins as New York issues RFPs, Architect's Newspaper, November 19, 2019.

Whether or not you believe in the abolition of the carceral state in New York City—in its case, 9,400 people in jail are waiting for trial on any given day—the announcement of the start of the Rikers Island jail replacement project may be good news. The Department of Design and Construction (DDC) will start issuing Request for Proposals (RFPs) for early program work later this month, in preparation for four design-build projects to create new jail towers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.

The brief will aim to create a new borough-based jail system comprised of smaller, safer, more humane facilities, located within easier reach of courts, families, lawyers, social workers, educational services, and care providers.