Adams Administration Infrastructure Priorities for Architect's Newspaper

The Adams administration promises it will make improvements in New York’s built environment—only it isn’t ready to talk about any of it, Architect's Newspaper, Jun. 2, 2022.

Judging by the halting responses of various press offices within the newly formed mayoral administration of Eric Adams to a basic question about its infrastructure priorities, I fully expect that in a matter of weeks New York City will collapse into a pile of fiery debris: Its bridges will fail; its subways will be permanently inundated by stormwater; and its residents, having taken to homemade rafts, will begin scavenging for food, water, and shelter. More patient, less alarmist observers suggest the mayor’s staff simply don’t know how to answer the question yet.

That said, clues to the intentions of the Adams administration for better governance can be found in a couple of places, including a plan for economic recovery released by the mayor’s office in March, a two-pager shared by the Department of Transportation (DOT), and a trickle of information from other sources.

Suggestions offered by former mayoral staffers, scholars, and expert practitioners could also help guide infrastructure policy toward a more ecological, equitable, and beautiful city (if it’s still standing). We gather from Thaddeus Pawlowski, who worked as an emergency planner for the city in Bill de Blasio’s administration, that the former Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency is being renamed the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice to combine several offices under a single umbrella. Crucially, the office will also be placed under the oversight of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which has substantial capital budgets.

The appointment of top-level officials hailed as smart and competent, such as Rohit T. Aggarwala as DEP commissioner, has also created a sense of optimism among outside observers like Pawlowski. (Initial missteps by the Adams administration, including the hiring of Bernard Adams as director of mayoral security, and the bulking up of police presence on public transit, were deflationary, to say the least.) However, none of these officials were made available to speak to AN after dozens of queries, nor were any current agency staff members, though three deputy mayors and an acting Department of Buildings commissioner spoke at a breakfast sponsored by the New York Building Congress in early April.


Boathouse by Prentiss Balance Wickline Architects for Dwell

A Streamlined Boathouse Perches Above the Water in the San Juan Islands, Dwell, May 27, 2022.

"One of the main goals was to recreate the shore’s edge, so that it’s as natural as possible," says Wickline. "We reduced the amount of in-water structure by 98 or 99 percent by creating these really thin columns. We touch that shoreline as minimally as possible to allow for the natural ecosystem to come back to what it once was." 

Now they can open up the windows and connect with the animals inhabiting the terrain. They share the waterfront with salmon, herring, river otters, crabs, eels, dolphins, and whales—as well as foxes, deer, raccoons, and all kinds of birds (including at least one bald eagle).

Brownstone Minimalism by David Cunningham for Dwell

A Design-Savvy Couple Turn a Worn-Down Brownstone Into a Minimalist Home, Dwell, Apr. 18. 2022.

Brooklyn-based architect David Cunningham had helped them inspect the property. When they sent him the detailed brief to turn it into a triplex with a garden-level rental, the extensive thought put into the document impressed him. "It’s pretty unusual for a client to do that," he says. "We’ve never seen it before. A lot of people make lists of things, but they had an overall vision or concept of how everything would hold together."

The brief called for a warm family home that preserved historic details while introducing a more modern aesthetic—and this aim defined the main tension in the building’s transformation. Initially, the couple emphasized the wish to preserve historic details, their appreciation for craft, and a desire for a minimalist but approachable aesthetic. They also mentioned "refraining from anything that is too precious."

As the design progressed, though, much of the Neo-Grec shouldered arch door-and-window trim fell away—only original and well-preserved elements in some rooms were saved—in favor of greater openness on the inside, and the need to add insulation to the front and rear facades.

Future 100 Student Design Portfolios for Metropolis

Future100: These Students Channel Personal Narrative into Supportive Housing, Metropolis, Apr. 8, 2022. 

Among this year’s Future100 students, some express a certain interiority of personal experience through residential architectural forms. Ethical concerns pervade their portfolios. These projects are not technocratic solutions to general problems of housing and programs for institutional clients; rather, they are extensions of an inward search for meaning and a turn toward the particulars of things that matter on a social and existential level. 

For example, when Syracuse University undergrad architecture student Kristabel Chung designs migrant domestic worker accommodations, reflecting on discriminatory labor laws in her mother’s native Hong Kong, her research process involves in-person interviews and quantitative surveys asking workers to evaluate and draw their own spaces. One of her projects performs a forensic study of the 23 holes, tears, and stains on a hoodie her mother wore while doing domestic chores, attempting to replicate the force required to create them, and dissecting the marks through diagrammatic representations. 

Subversive engagement with the digital as it interacts with human environments is a particularly salient theme throughout the portfolio of University of Massachusetts Amherst MArch student Cami Quinteros. They explore fluid dynamics, mass burial sites in Chile, codesign with computers, and migration patterns in Chiapas, Mexico, through computational line drawings that challenge the political neutrality often attributed to numerical processes. 

North Fork House by MESH Architectures for Dwell

 A Creative Couple’s Long Island Beach House “Bubbles” With Life, Dwell, Apr. 7, 2022. 

Liftin convinced them to design a rigorously energy-efficient passive house. A geothermal well supplies energy for heating and cooling using a ground-source heat pump, offset in upfront costs by 50 percent in federal and state tax credits. Triple-glazed windows, thick spray-foam insulation, and airtight seals provide the highest level of energy conservation, and an energy recovery ventilator circulates air. A contractor who built one of the first passive houses in the area brought local knowledge to the project.

A few lively design details nearly upstage the spectacular views of the ocean. Just beyond the entrance, brightly patterned hexagonal tiles overflow from the open kitchen into the living room, blending softly into blond pine floors. A tall, west-facing window directs afternoon sunlight into the Scandinavian-style space, making the bold patterns stand out in contrast to the shoreline in the distance.

"Surfaces have an incredible effect on our psyche, and we’re very affected by those that we come into contact with," Liftin says. "They have the ability to emotionally affect us. This is about a sense of life that bubbles through the building." 

New Affiliates Exhibition Design for Metropolis

New Affiliates Design Exhibitions that Expand the Imagination, Metropolis, Mar. 25, 2022.

The architecture office of New Affiliates has sometimes been warned by colleagues not to get pigeonholed as exhibition designers. Their response: “Why not? It’s kind of the dream.” Regular design commissions for show spaces like Hauser & Wirth, Park Avenue Armory, and The Shed have placed the young office, co-founded by Ivi Diamantopoulou and Jaffer Kolb in 2016, in close contact with the radical imaginaries of artists like Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Agnes Denes, Rashid Johnson, Rashaad Newsome, Martha Rosler, and Tomás Saraceno. Most recently, they designed Manhattan’s Jewish Museum’s current show, Jonas Mekas: The Camera Was Always Running with curator Kelly Taxter, in addition to the 2019 Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything.

“What has been particularly fun is just being in conversation,” says Diamantopoulou. “There is a very clear idea that everybody comes to the table with. We work with really intelligent curators who are like, ‘Here’s what I care to say. Here’s the thesis for the exhibition.’ We’re also super fortunate to work with artists who are well into their careers, very aware of their projects, and able to articulate what the space should be about.”

On the technical review process for Oculus

A Sure Vet: How the technical review process holds design to a higher standard, Oculus, Spring 2022.

In 2020, AIANY decided to adopt the Common App for all Design Award applications, integrating sustainability as one of the key criteria for design excellence in all projects, while maintaining a special award for sustainability. This year, sustainability ceased to be a separate category and became fully merged into the process of evaluation for Design Awards.

Corbin says the merging of design excellence and sustainability has improved the way the awards reflect the Chapter’s values. “Integration led to greater success in seeing submissions across all categories rise to the top on sustainability metrics into the jury room and receiving awards,” he says.

Some members have raised doubts about AIANY using a technical review process to vet projects for the Design Awards. They suggest it could lead to a mechanistic process valorizing designs that meet quantitative performance standards, while neglecting the qualitative, humanistic values of architecture. Yet what is great architecture if not the art of gracefully deploying a variety of technical skills to achieve deliberate purposes? Technique is the baseline for protect-ing the built and natural environment from catastrophe as well as for creating beautiful, meaningful places.

The technical review process is designed to fully embrace the social and environmental values of the Chapter while allowing the wild diversity of project types by New York members to rise to the top of jury selections. “So many projects are on a different continent, in a far-off place, that it is difficult to funnel them into a language or system here in New York,” Corbin says. “We have to provide some confidence that, if you do your work in an appropriate way and apply yourself in an overlap-ping mindset that you see in the Common App and the Framework for Design Excellence, the jury members will look at your submission more favorably than you other-wise would have thought.”

Dublin 8 House by Studio And for Dwell

 A Dilapidated Dublin Home Gets a Playful Addition With an Indoor Swing, Dwell, Mar. 18, 2022.

"We were dealing with a relatively small existing structure, but we wanted to create something that didn’t feel small," says Studio And’s Ciara McGonigal, a longtime friend of Brionna’s. "We wanted the extension to genuinely extend the space—so that as you step in, you get this feeling of expansiveness."

The rear extension has a pitched roof and double-glazed windows on all sides, which create an airiness and a feeling of being immersed in the outdoors. McGonigal custom designed the kitchen cabinetry and benches in an affordable birch ply, which is accented by colored formica on the countertop and table. The skirting, living room bookshelves, and upstairs door trim also are in birch ply. A brick plinth at the base of the remodeled fireplace serves as a bed for the family terrier, Brun.

In Memory of Srdjan Jovanović Weiss for Architect's Newspaper


Remembering the expansive legacy of Srdjan Jovanović Weiss, Architect's Newspaper, Mar. 11, 2022.

Srdjan Jovanović Weiss died tragically last week at the age of 55, leaving behind decades of inventive essays, architectural concepts, research projects, and speculations, often in collaboration with close friends and colleagues. His work drew from his experience in post-communist Yugoslavia before and after its dismantling, as well as on-site research in places as disparate and far afield as New York City, Flint, Michigan, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Inner Mongolia, China, and Birobidzhan, a Jewish settlement in far southeastern Siberia, Russia, to theorize and iterate architectural concepts.

His essays on the architecture of the former Yugoslavia, where he was born in Subotica and grew up in Novi Sad, in the Vojvodina region northeast of Belgrade—before attending the University of Belgrade and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, graduating with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture in 1995 and 1997—belong to a tradition of historical criticism that cataloged Yugoslavia’s distinctive form of constructivist modernism after its break with the Soviet Union. His style of analysis was joyfully mischievous, finding delight in the upending of expectations and in aberrant phenomena, celebrating them through clever theoretical inventions.

Take, for instance, his 2000 essay in the first issue of Cabinet, where he was an early regular contributor, on “NATO as Architectural Critic.” He analyzes the bombing of the Army Headquarters building in Belgrade during the Kosovo intervention: The building seemingly had a great strategic value, yet it had been long ago emptied of personnel and equipment. If the action was instead a symbolic one against a state institution, the building appeared devoid of the usual pomp and circumstance of a monument, having been designed in a non-ornamental style that lacked classical representations of power. Its eventual bombing was a form of criticism, according to his theory, because it signified its failure to live up to its architect’s intention to design a monument to Yugoslavia’s national identity. It didn’t count as a protected cultural treasure by NATO, and therefore could be destroyed. He loved this kind of playful analysis of the social history of architecture, the stakes heightened by humanitarian conflict and cross-cultural misunderstanding. He wasn’t seeking to teach a moral lesson by it; he was enjoying the exploration of the ideas.

Another article for Cabinet magazine, republished in a 2011 volume he co-edited, Evasions of Power, analyzes the “wonderful neglect” of a modern apartment building in Kalesija, Bosnia. Weiss speculates on a photo of the building, which had evidently been repaired and repainted on the outside, except for one floor. A satellite dish noticeably larger than its neighbors is visible on the balcony. But the exterior of the building outside the unit—and only that unit—remains markedly un-renovated, the original concrete material exposed, pockmarked by bullet holes.

Should its disrepair be read as a deliberate act of protest by the unit’s owners to preserve the traces of a war that had displaced Serb inhabitants from the area? A response by a housing cooperative to its owner’s refusal to pay renovation fees? An indicator of the limits of urban renewal where the municipality lacked resources to clean up its public face? Weiss did some research and found that another apartment remained unrenovated on the opposite side, filling in some details about the owners. The point wasn’t to find definitive answers, though: it was to theorize an absurd situation and draw from it an unexpected possibility: neglect could be a deliberate choice, a legitimate form of expression.

“The owners of the two unrenovated apartments in Kalesija answered these questions with their inactions. What is striking is the precision and respect with which the town officials marked out the owners’ dissent. The perfectly delineated edge marking the boundary between what personal property is renovated and what is not speaks to the new ability to refuse the image of reconstruction. It is an inspiring precedent that suggests a future for neglect as a tool for integrated exceptionality.” 

Long before “normalizing” things made its way into the common vernacular, Weiss founded the Normal Group for Architecture with Sabine von Fischer in 1998. That year, the office won the competition for the main office of Mies Van der Rohe Foundation in Barcelona with an unrealized concept for the Blur building. They designed a Rubber Bar for the Swiss Institute in 2000 and a gallery on Rivington Street for Participant in 2003. In the same year, Normal produced a concept for Housing for Elderly Socialists, a sprawling sloping structure designed for an unspecified mid-sized post-socialist town. The renderings glorify fashionable elderly socialists in over-the-top schematic designs, which characteristically leaned toward the absurd and satirical.

His approach to practicing architecture embraced a variety of collaborative research projects, public forums, exhibitions, and explorations of urban spaces and national territories. In 2002, Interactive Normalization brought architects and thinkers from Western Europe and the U.S. to Yugoslav modernist sites in Belgrade like the reflectively domed Museum of Aviation for a series of forums. The agenda was ambitiously experimental: to theorize ad hoc activities and everyday actions as seeds of radical utopian possibilities that could be incorporated into pragmatic organizational strategies.

In 2003, he reconstituted his office as Normal Architecture Office (NAO), collaborating closely with Katherine Carl and Thaddeus Pawlowski—then a former student at the University of Pennsylvania, now director of Columbia GSAPP’s Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes—on exhibitions, installations, and architectural concepts. Some of the more significant conceptual projects from this period were a crematorium for a cemetery in his childhood hometown of Novi Sad, Serbia, and conversion of a handball stadium into a new media center for, also in Novi Sad.

In an essay for the German publication Stadtbauwelt in 2005, republished in his 2006 book Almost Architecture, Weiss coined the term “turbo architecture,” borrowing from the musical genre of “turbo-folk,” a kitschy techno style popular in the post-Soviet period, and “turbo culture,” describing the extravagant patterns of post-communist commercial development. He used it to characterize the postmodern architectural tendencies emerging in the aftermath of Yugoslavia’s breakup and the collapse of socialism.

The signs of excess echoed what was happening in New York and other highly capitalized places around the world: “[A]nything that ends up being called ‘turbo culture’ will . . . house greedy dreams of extended individual comfort which then will result in bunkers of extra-legal wealth, bunkers that we will eventually be tempted to call architecture, places that we will be tempted to call the city,” he wrote of the “blitzkrieg of popular and illegal construction” happening in Serbia.

“By and large, this architecture. . . with bulky forms, rounded edges, bold and shiny, clad with an array of metal and glass panels, in distorted and sometimes soft shapes, clashing postures of primary geometries, as additions of pieces, computer rendered, with mushroom looking mansards, unfinished, incomplete, symmetrical, as bunker-like mini castles, with triumphant arches, stripped surfaces, or quasi-Byzantine, neo-classical, looking inflated and big, reflective, round, red, yellow, gold, pitched, lush inside, cheap and glitzy, amorphous, awkward, clumsy, hulking, placed on roofs, on terraces, impenetrable, in big numbers, and bulbous, silver, clad in marble, domed, wavy, semi-curved, with concrete arches, cantilevering parts, balustrades, round towers, spikes, cornices, tiled roofs, looking corpulent and hovering.”

Weiss also co-organized and named the Lost Highway Expedition, a roving 2006 research exploration of the republics that had formerly constituted Yugoslavia. Joined by Kyong Park, Marjetica Potrč, Azra Aksamija, Ivan Kucina, Marc Neelen, Ana Džokić, and Katherine Carl and eventually hundreds of friends and colleagues, the group set off on a monthlong journey, using the incomplete Highway of Brotherhood and Unity connecting the Balkans as a guide and metaphor, and coordinating public programs at independent art spaces that had sprung up since the breakup along the way. In the chaos of the unplanned postwar period, the expedition took the notion of self-organization as a model for reconnecting people in Ljubljana, Zagreb, Novi Sad, Belgrade, Skopje, Pristina, Tirana, Podgorica, and Sarajevo who had been severed by war and collective trauma and had never crossed the new borders between places.

The search for something absent even became the premise for a pedagogical model: the School of Missing Studies, which he initiated as a project with Katherine Carl in 2003, and used this experimental method to research places undergoing rapid transition. In practice, it involved observational site tours of places like Yugoslav architectural monuments and overdeveloped neighborhoods in New York with groups of students. The goal was not to develop architectural projects, however, but to provoke critical thinking about the politics and history of spaces, to engage participants in the social meaning of their development in a particular manner.

In 2008, Weiss was invited by Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron to participate in Ordos 100, a quixotic development project far out in the Mongolian desert in which 100 architects were selected to build villas as part of a Chinese state-sponsored development scheme. Relishing the project’s absurdity, for Villa 62, NAO proposed a tiered structure responsive to natural elements. According to his plan, the house would eventually disappear into the sandy landscape, prophesying the destiny of the few villas and public buildings constructed in the failed development site.

Weiss’s exhibition-and-installation designs such as Anne Tyng: Inhabiting Geometry at ICA Philadelphia in 2009, Yona Friedman: About Cities at the Drawing Center in New York in 2007, Repurpose Philadelphia in the Belmont neighborhood of West Philadelphia, and projects for Flint Public Art Project’s 2013 Free City festival tended to be roughly fabricated with inexpensive, accessible materials like cardboard, rope, and plexiglass, using them to define ad hoc, site-specific spaces. His Z-Block injection-molded Styrofoam modular stacking seating system, conceived for the 2009 Ideology of Design exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Art of Vojvodina, was reproduced by the CUNY Graduate Center’s James Gallery for the 2011–2012 Shifters exhibition, traveling to Flint for use in a variety of public events.

From 2007 to 2013, Weiss completed a doctorate in Eyal Weizman’s Research Architecture program at Goldsmiths University of London. He revisited the theme of Balkanization in socialist architecture to analyze the figurative reappearance of monuments as ruins. In the book Socialist Architecture: A Vanishing Act (2012), he collaborated with photographer Armin Linke to document the idiosyncratic informal local activities happening around discarded monuments, discovering in them a kind of magical new life, their reappearance with unintended meanings. Then, in Socialist Architecture: The Reappearing Act (2017) he wrote a more scholarly history of the architects and their intentions drawn from his doctoral work but still inflected with experimental exploration, and an unexpected twist:

“These locations are now emptied of the ideology that made them. On the other hand, they are full of a new kind of life, and today this significance is more open-ended than ever intended… The effects of the lack of a decisive outcome for their abandoned socialist architecture creates the spatial experience and the fate of historical Yugoslav architecture—as a form of success.”

Like many of his peers who grew up in Yugoslavia, only to become citizens of Serbia—a nation they didn’t recognize with which they didn’t identify—dark humor and absurdity played a continuous role in his thinking. In Weiss’s case, being of Jewish descent from the Vojvodina region of Serbia, it was a double or triple alienation. From his early architectural proposals for ex-Yugoslav institutions through his writing for Cabinet, books, scholarly work, and reviews for the Architect’s Newspaper, positivistic goals and quantifiable outcomes of the kind typically funded by foundations and cultural institutes are generally absent. His 2015 exhibition on dictators, Romancing True Power, at the New School with Nina Khrushcheva made a sport of playing with double entendres comparing building scale and heights of the representative architecture of dictatorships with the reputations of the “dicks.”

Despite its spirit of play and enjoyment, in the background of Weiss’s research architecture, tragedy was never far away. His collaboration with Forensic Architecture, for instance, looked at Staro Sajmište, a Belgrade fairground that became a death camp during the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia. It’s the kind of site that is difficult to view ironically, and which Weiss didn’t usually concentrate on. In sites like these, relativism fails. Without the resort to moralizing, meaning tends to collapse. The consolation of the absurd, however, is to be immersed in nonsense as a kind of revolt against the fiction of meaning. Weiss’s work belongs to an avant-garde tradition that is unable or unwilling to sustain the illusion of meaning: the suspension of disbelief in the stories we tell to disguise the ubiquitous realities of homelessness, heartbreak, death, and destruction. Yet its truth still brings us joy and laughter.

Strelka Institute Pauses Operations for the Architect's Newspaper

Moscow’s Strelka Institute pauses operations, possibly permanently, Architect's Newspaper, Mar. 8, 2022.

On February 24, in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine that day, the Moscow-based Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture, and Design posted an image on Instagram and Facebook reading “NO TO WAR.” It published the same message—this time in Cyrillic—on the Russian social media site VKontakte. Four days later, as the war’s toll on Ukrainians worsened, the institute announced a pause in all its programming.

“We consider it impermissible to carry on business as usual in the present situation while lives in Ukraine are being lost,” reads a statement it issued. “Establishing dialogue and cessation of hostilities in Ukraine is the single most important goal right now. Strelka Institute stands in solidarity with everyone pleading for an immediate end to this armed conflict.”

According to Benjamin Bratton, Strelka’s graduate education director, the statement set off an immediate reaction within certain circles in Russia. Administrators found themselves the target of vitriolic personal attacks and even physical threats. The institute quickly shifted into crisis mode, helping on-site staff find safe passage out of the country. Those who participated in street protests have been arrested and subjected to steep fines. (On Friday, March 4, the prosecutor general’s office announced that antiwar protesters would be prosecuted as extremists, making antiwar speech equivalent to terrorism.)

The fallout, Bratton suggested, may very well put an end to Strelka’s project to reshape public space and imagine an alternative future for Russia itself. Neither Strelka Institute nor any of its directors in Moscow responded to multiple requests for comment.