Documenting Activist Design: Art Omi revisited urban interventions with a display of work from four architecture collaboratives. The Architect's Newspaper, Jul. 20, 2023.
A show on the community-engaged projects of four architecture collaboratives based in the U.S., Central America, and England, Shared Space—Collective Practices, was on view at outdoor sculpture park Art Omi in the Hudson Valley for the first half of 2023. Organized by Art Omi architecture curator Julia van den Hout, the exhibition within in the Newmark Gallery revisited a form of social activist design work known as urban interventions that emerged in the mid-to-late 2000s: a way of organizing small-scale projects to activate vacant spaces, advocate for social and political issues, and serve historically discriminated-against and economically disadvantaged groups.
Featuring a selection of projects by WIP Collaborative, FUNdaMENTAL Design Build Initiative, Colloqate Design, and Assemble, the show exhibited photos and videos documenting the four practices in the gallery of Art Omi’s stone-and-glass-walled visitor’s center, designed in 2008 by Ghent, New York–based FT Architecture & Interiors. A series of sloping, multicolored platforms with varying surface textures designed by WIP is the center point of the gallery. The colorful platforms are being reused after the show in the organization’s education pavilion.
The four collaboratives share a style familiar to many community-oriented design initiatives: ad hoc, colorful, joyful, and often temporary, they react to the unique situation of a place and engender a sense of belonging among residents normally ignored by government programs and private finance-led redevelopment. They create places of identification and inspiration that signal intangible, unseen possibilities. While the scale of these projects can often seem inadequate in the face of larger-scale systemic and institutional failures, the work has a self-evident value. They serve as pilots, models, examples, and inspirations, change agents stimulating others to act, and opportunities to expand the imagination for people with little exposure to art and design. They can have substantial results when adequately funded and expanded into policymaking regimes. And the collaborations with community members can be incredibly fun, meaningful, and rewarding.
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Grand Junction Glow-Up: Land Collective and HWKN complete a park in Westfield, Indiana, that supports the lives of residents. The Architect's Newspaper, Jun. 30, 2023.
Above the start of Grassy Branch of Cool Creek in the small city of Westfield, Indiana, a wooden boardwalk snakes through a renaturalized streambed where pedestrians can hop over the stream or get their feet wet in the flowing water. Nearby, the new park, the Grand Junction Park & Plaza, accommodates dedicated spaces for open-air performances; a glass-walled cafe with a cascading, stepped Indiana limestone facade; and a Great Lawn for lounging. Park users can picnic and play, ice-skate in the winter, or enjoy the many comfortable wooden benches from which they can peacefully observe the resurgence of wildlife.
The park, which officially opened last year, was designed by David Rubin of Land Collective with architecture by Matthias Hollwich of HWKN in collaboration with RATIO Architects and signage and wayfinding by Bruce Mau Design, along with an extended team of civil engineers and riparian-corridor specialists. While the end result is impressive, the effort began as a more limited project focused on flood control.
“All of these assets became possible because there was a social overlay to infrastructure,” Rubin said. “It was that marriage that made this all possible. We came up with this vision for the park that resolved the climate crisis issues and the riparian-corridor reparation issues that then had this social overlay that would create a new central park around which development could happen.” The creek at the downtown crossroads of Westfield had overflowed throughout its history. After the Swamp and Overflowed Lands Act of 1850, the Army Corps of Engineers fixed the problem in the rough- and-tumble way of early American settlements: It channelized Cool Creek to keep water from destroying productive farmlands, inserting a pipe through which the normal flow of water could pass. But in the last 20 years, regular 100-year storms began to repeatedly overtop the levee, overwhelming the pipe and flooding the area.
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Reinventing Dealey Plaza: Mark Lamster, Stoss Landscape Urbanism, and MPdL Studio offer a new public terrain for downtown Dallas that addresses its violent past. The Architect's Newspaper, Jun. 28, 2023.
Settled in 1841 by Tennessee-born trader John Neely Bryan, who opened a general store, post office, and ferry on the banks of the Trinity River, Dallas is now a major destination within Texas and the country at large. Yet like many cities, traces of a violent past remain underacknowledged in its terrain.
In July 1860, a fire destroyed the city’s business district. At the time Dallas was a town of fewer than 700 people, including 97 African Americans. The fire, occurring not long before the outbreak of the Civil War, sparked accusations of arson against abolitionist and Black leaders, culminating in the lynching of three Black men.
Manufacturing Home: At CCNY, Mass Support documented the work of SAR, led by John Habraken, and displayed alternate forms of housing. The Architect's Newspaper, May 30, 2023.
A uniquely American mania has taken hold in the area of housing reform. For the last few years, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and regional newspapers across the U.S., along with architects, planners, and real estate experts, have proffered the misguided idea that reformation or elimination of zoning would allow the free market to somehow produce an adequate supply of affordably priced dwellings. According to the going logic, if regulations were eased, real estate developers and homebuilders would flood the market with inexpensive units that they would sell at below market rates for mysterious reasons and then donate their potential profits for the benefit of society. Advocates also mistakenly believe that bankers would willfully loan money for this cause at subprime interest rates and, presumably, excuse developers who sell units at less than their offering plan.
Zoning-reform activists may not have been paying attention in 2008 during the subprime mortgage–backed securities crisis. The federal government opted to shore up the banks and allow them to take away the homes of hundreds of thousands of families rather than sacrifice the difference between their declining market value and mortgages. The same thing happened recently, when three banks collapsed in the second-largest incident in American history. The ideology of regulators is to protect bankers, who have no interest in giving away potential profits. No one is giving a break to buyers unless forced to do so. Given this trajectory, the idea that zoning reform by itself, without other regulatory mandates, will have more than a marginal effect on the price of housing is madness. The free market will not save us.
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Before & After: Elegant Arches and Curves Shape Up a Fusty Paris Flat: The apartment had potential with windows looking over the city’s biggest green space, so a young couple traded out its old rugs, wallpaper, and tight floor plan. Dwell, May 23, 2023.
Paris apartments with open views are hard to come by, so when Pierre Vérité and Allira Swick found one with three rooms of south-facing windows overlooking the verdant landscape of Père Lachaise cemetery, what also serves as the city’s largest green space, they knew they’d found something special. And there was more to love: antique chandeliers, plaster medallions, and wood paneling. Yet the apartment had not been updated since 1963 by its most recent inhabitant, a woman in her ’90s.
Pierre and Allira wanted to preserve some of its antique charms while making it their own. "We wanted the apartment to reflect Pierre and I, our tastes, and also how different we are as people and see how that could marry together, with me being Australian and him being French," said Allira. As a native of Western Australia, Allira gravitated toward earthy, matte, porous finishes that hearkened to a warm outdoor climate. Pierre envisioned a clean modern vibe animated by historic details.
Interior architect Asma Florençon of Atelier Varenne took cues from their different sensibilities, iterating the flat’s finishes and adding new ones to create something that felt whole. "It was a matter of putting different things together in a way that brought out the best features of the space, but with an added layer of what the couple were bringing to it with the next chapter of their lives," Florençon says.
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Sorkin’s Stacks: The Spitzer School of Architecture preserves the library of Michael Sorkin Studio and Terreform Urban Research in the Sorkin Reading Room. The Architect's Newspaper, May 22, 2023.
Beyond the main library within the City College of New York’s Rafael Viñoly Architects–designed Spitzer School of Architecture building, a cobbled-together space composed of a former storage area and the visual resources room has become the Sorkin Reading Room. Windows overlooking the landscape have vinyl letters that read: “Fish are symmetrical but only until they wiggle. Our effort is to measure the space between the fish and the wiggle. This is the study of a lifetime.”
Designed by Elisabetta Terragni with red-carpeted floors and a long seminar table alongside KEEP bookshelves designed by Keller Easterling, the Sorkin Reading Room houses the book collection of architect, critic, urban theorist, and author Michael Sorkin, who died in late March 2020 due to COVID-19. Had he survived, the pandemic would be the type of crisis about which Sorkin would have much to say. Given the spatial, economic, and political dimensions of the crisis, which continues to impact us today, the milieu would have become material for a compelling argument about how to better organize social and political space.
The library embodies the thick history of this form of thinking. Terragni painstakingly documented the arrangement of the books in the studio to preserve their order. The shelves are stocked with an extensive collection of titles under headings like Utopia, Green Cities, Suburbia, Green Eco-Ecology, Globalism/Imperialism, and an international array of regional urbanisms. Terragni will eventually fully restore the studio’s books in the order Sorkin left them.
“I knew Michael very well in his work, but to go through all the books helped me to understand how these books were the tools for him to write and to think,” Terragni told AN. “If you flip through any of the books, you can find notes, letters. The work I did is just the beginning. Now they’re there to open up for research and studies, because there are a lot of clichés about Michael. He was a talented writer, he was an agitator, he was all of these things, but it’s high time to go deeper and to start to talk seriously about his work.”
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Budget Breakdown: Hate Your Gable-Sided Home? Shield It: A strategic renovation with a striated facade helps a New Orleans homeowner meld his modern ambitions with his more historic home. Dwell, May 9, 2023.
Eric Roland doesn’t mind being a little contrarian. "People love historic New Orleans charm, and I’m not saying I hate it," says the longtime resident of the city. "But it’s not my favorite." That was clear back in 2021, when he was on the hunt for a two-family home that he could turn into an owner-occupied house with a rental apartment. He found a two-story, two-unit brick building just a block and a half from streetcar-lined St. Charles Avenue and the stately Garden District. The gable-sided home with a half-moon attic window had been a characteristically neglected rental owned by an absentee landlord. The structure was perfect, but the style? "I’m on the younger spectrum, so it’s kind of the old school/new school divide going on," Eric says. "I like clean lines. I don’t like anything circular. I even hated the gable roof."
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A Resonant Retrofit: Beyer Blinder Belle builds a contemporary theater behind a historic facade for La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. The Architect's Newspaper, Apr. 4, 2023.
La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club has reopened behind its original landmarked red brick facade, spiffing up its Renaissance Revival and Neo-Grec cast-iron decorative details. Inside, the brick walls are nearly all that remains of the original 1873 structure. Renovated and restored by Beyer Blinder Belle, led by architect Chris Cowan, working with theater and acoustic consultants Charcoalblue and theater consultant Jean Guy Lecat, the project transplants a new interior into the guts of La MaMa, resituating its raked, brick-lined theater club from the ground level to a newly inserted, expanded second level. Above, the club and new programming and amenity spaces in the lobby and third and fourth levels are hoisted on earthquake-safe and sound-isolating steel beams, brackets, and floor plates.
The $24 million renovation maintains a close spiritual connection to the intentions of La MaMa founder Ellen Stewart, the African American Saks Fifth Avenue porter-turned-fashion designer-turned-theater impresario, dearly departed in 2011, who rented a basement theater on East 9th Street in 1961 to create a venue for her brother, playwright Frederick Lights. Stewart stumbled onto the 4th Street building looking for expanded performance space in 1967, guided by her intuitive feeling about people and places—what she called her “beeps.”
“That’s how she programmed shows,” Mary Fulham, managing director of La MaMa, told AN. “If she met you and she felt her beeps, she would give you a show. She was totally intuitive in that way. It was about the artist. Who are you? Do you need the space? What do you want to do? If it resonated with her, she called it her beeps.”
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A Ribbon of Red Seating Ties Together a Sublime Concrete Home in India: A Bangalore couple build a simple, sustainable getaway in the city’s relaxed, leafy south side so that they can spend weekends close to their parents. Dwell, Apr. 3, 2023.
Microblogging entrepreneur Aprameya Radhakrishna and nutrition and health coach Parinita Narain live in central Bangalore with their young child, across the city from the Jaynagar neighborhood where they were born and raised. A few years ago, they acquired a 3,800-square-foot lot in the south Bangalore locale with the aim of building a home where they could spend weekends closer to family—and they called upon childhood friend Shalini Chandrashekar of Taliesyn Architecture to design a small, cabin-like retreat.
The double-height, glazed entrance framed with sustainably harvested ash wood makes a grand statement, but the home’s style otherwise exhibits a spare, minimalist restraint worthy of the name Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright estate that serves as a namesake for Chandrashekar’s firm, founded in 2010 with G. S. Mahaboob Basha.
"We were initially very influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and the nuances that he brings into spaces—especially the attention to detail," says Chandrashekar. "He used very clean lines, and he paid a lot of attention to natural resources. We drew from what he did and tried to bring in our own take on his architecture."
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Majora Carter and STUDIO V to transform a 1908 Cass Gilbert train station for Bronxlandia, an event and performance space. The Architect's Newspaper, Feb. 24, 2023.
Land of the Free Market: Zaha Hadid Architects is building a libertarian metaverse whose vision of the future looks remarkably similar to our current reality. Outland, Feb. 24, 2023.
Beyond Accommodation: Architects Are Learning that Physical Design Solutions Are Only Part of the Answer, Oculus, Winter 2023
In David Gissen’s The Architecture of Disability: Buildings, Cities, and Landscapes beyond Access, published this winter by University of Minnesota Press, he dreams of another way of designing. Instead of an approach that identifies specific groups, needs, and hindrances, ensuring inclusion or non-exclusion by complying with guidelines layered onto forms conceived without disability in mind, Gissen imagines an architecture that transcends an additive approach. Up to now, design in the modern tradition has emerged from metaphors and symbols shot through with notions of deformity. What if disability itself became a motif, a generative starting point?
Gissen offers as an example the Salón de Pinos in Madrid RIO—a park designed by Burgos & Garrido, Porras La Casta, Rubio & A-Sala, and West 8, along a recovered river in Madrid—in which a section of plantings is composed entirely of pine trees that had been damaged, repaired, and reshaped into beautiful, resonant forms. As an amputee with a prosthetic leg, he can think of almost no other examples. In his essay “Disabling Form” (e-flux Architecture, May 2022), Gissen argues that the modern discourse of form itself relies on terms such as aberration, disfiguration, deformity, and imbalance to aggrandize “an expressive overcoming of gravity and physical force, optical and mobile perception, and the kinesthetic production of architectural ideas and spaces.”
“One theme of the book is that the reason why buildings, nature, and history are inaccessible in the first place is not because people don’t care about disabled people or ignore their needs,” says Gissen. “It’s because the very idea of history, nature, and form actively positions impairment as a negative. There are ideas of incapacity within the very ideas that understructure what history, form, environments, and construction are and what they do.”
In this sense, the seemingly neutral framing of inclusivity may position the already-included as a tacit “norm” and the excluded as an “other” to be paternalistically allowed in, but only if we comply with a mandate of conformity to an existing order. “I wrote The Architecture of Disability with younger practitioners or students in mind who may have impairments and may doubt they can find a place in architecture,” Gissen says. “It’s a book for my younger self that I wish I had starting out in the field, written as a way for people with disabilities to find a place for themselves in this discipline—a place that is forceful and shows them how they can change it as well.”
In lieu of notions of inclusivity, it may be more precise—if rather clumsy and unpoetic—to talk about “those who have historically been discriminated against” to emphasize that individual projects, small or large, do not in themselves portend a larger change to structural and institutional norms that tend to make the society as a whole extremely unequal. For example, New York City has a 0.5149 “Gini coefficient”—a standard measure of income inequality, which can range between 0 and 1. (A coefficient of 0 indicates a perfectly equal distribution of income, while a coefficient of 1 represents a perfect inequality.) New York’s value is the worst in the U.S., alongside the District of Columbia, making it the 15th highest in the world, comparable only to that of developing nations.