Plans for the Seaport Go Public

You’ve seen the ENYA ideas competition exhibition at the Center about the “South Street Seaport: Re-Envisioning the Urban Edge”; now you can also see a free exhibition about site owner General Growth Properties’ plans for this important historic waterfront site.

GGP Seaport Rendering

Rendering of the South Street Seaport from above

Source: General Growth Properties, www.thenewseaport.com

The developer is working with the City to proposed a new mixed-use area with 400,000 square feet of retail, two hotels, several spacious public plazas, and some residential units. The buildings and public spaces will be designed by SHoP Architects. The project team hopes this development will appeal to a wider range of visitors, including the growing residential community in Lower Manhattan.

According to this article, the exhibition is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 191 Front Street. Go see it, and report back: would this vision for the Seaport draw you to the East River?


What is the AIA NY Policy Board?

This post was co-authored by Rick Bell, Executive Director of AIA NY, and Laura Manville.

Some of our readers may be wondering how or why the Chapter testifies on design issues such as 980 Madison Avenue, St. Vincent’s, and Silver Towers. Some years ago, a “Policy Board” was formed to advocate on behalf of excellence in design and planning in New York City. This Board consists of the members of the Executive Committee of the AIA NY Chapter Board, who are elected each year by the Nominating Committee, who is elected by the membership. The popularly-elected Nominating Committee, somewhat like the federal government’s Electoral College, assures diversity of representation and participation. Consequently the Policy Board is empowered to speak on behalf of the membership of the AIA New York Chapter.

The purpose of the Policy Board is to “to promote effective dialogue with regard to design and planning issues in the New York Metropolitan region,” through the formulation of policy statements that are then distributed to elected officials, regulatory agencies such as the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the City Planning Commission, or other stakeholders. Chapter staff, including the Executive Director and Policy Coordinator, as well as Board Members and Committee Chairs, often go to the relevant public hearings to testify in person, speaking on behalf of the Policy Board and membership. You can see all of the Chapter’s testimony on the News webpage, which is updated often.

The Policy Board limits its scope to those issues of citywide importance that affect the quality of the built environment through design and planning. Anyone can request that the Chapter provide input on a project, as long as the request conforms to the above criteria. The Board takes positions based on conversations with Committee Chairs, AIA members with relevant expertise, project architects, clients, and community leaders.

This blog was formed to bring a new dimension of input to the AIA NY’s policy statements, as well to inform our membership in a timely manner about these positions. For those who disagree (or agree) with positions taken by the Chapter, get involved! Join Committees, post comments, make your voice heard. The strength of our organization is its diversity and openness to competing ideas.


Practicing Interior Design


Inside the Center for Architecture

Credit: P. Aaron, Esto

There is a bill currently awaiting vote in the Senate that affects many AIA members in the changing field of interior design. Currently, there is no restriction on use the title of “interior designer,” in contrast with the restriction on use of the title “architect,” which is reserved for licensed professionals. This bill seeks to change that, and the NY Chapter supports it as it has supported other efforts promoting excellence in interior design.

Joan Blumenfeld, FAIA, IIDA, has advocated throughout her career and as past president of the AIA NY Chapter for recognition of interior design as a professional, distinct practice. She wrote a letter to Governor Paterson urging that the bill be passed. The letter was signed by current AIA NY president James McCullar, FAIA and future Chapter presidents Sherida Paulsen, FAIA and Anthony Schirripa, AIA, IIDA. See the letter here.


Silver Towers at Landmarks

I.M. Pei and Partners’ Silver Towers complex being right around the corner from the Center for Architecture, I walk by it every day. The plaza and composition of the buildings complement each other elegantly, the Picasso/Nesjar statue visible from all sides and the open space particularly welcome given the height of the towers. Although it was an urban renewal project that razed more organic urban forms, and although the superblock has fallen distinctly out of favor with urban planners, Silver Towers has stood the test of time and is now considered a successful design.

silver towers

Silver Towers

Source: Landmarks Preservation Commission

Yesterday the Landmarks Preservation Commission heard testimony on the designation of the Silver Towers complex as a New York City Landmark. The speakers, including NYU, many residents of the buildings, and the AIANY Chapter, were entirely in support of the designation. The Chapter’s testimony can be downloaded here.

What modern buildings would you like to see landmarked?


Opposition: Foster + Partners’ 980 Madison Avenue Addition

The second attempt by Aby Rosen and Foster + Partners to seek approval for a new structure atop 980 Madison Avenue suggests that the Landmarks Preservation Commission should swallow the serious problems this project presents. In fact, this design would inflict much of the same damage as the first proposal.

The addition has no relationship to the scale, materials, or spirit of the original Parke-Bernet Gallery building. The design has the perfunctory character of a zoning diagram rendered in glass and steel. Like many Modern buildings — and 980 Madison is exactly that — this landmark depends on a few critical qualities for its stature: proportion, massing, and details. The proposed addition compromises these qualities.

As a glass-and-steel box, the scheme is unsympathetic to Alfred Easton Poor’s architecture and a banal non sequitur in the context of the Upper East Side Historic District. 980 Madison presents a spare and elegant reading of classical proportion. And, as a relatively low building along Madison Avenue, it marks the foreground for some of the taller and more significant hotels and apartment/hotels in the neighborhood.

The addition uses the floor area available under the zoning code, but as the Commission has demonstrated before, in this district and others, the criteria of Landmarks designation trumps the zoning code.

Approval of this addition would set a precedent for many property owners in this district to expand buildings. Therefore, this expansion would radically transform the character of the neighborhood.

In 1949, architect William Adams Delano singled out the Walker & Poor-designed Parke-Bernet Gallery as a building that ” combines all the best of traditional and modern schools of architectural thought” (Walker & Poor, 1949) and “demonstrates to others that distinction in commercial building pays” (Williams Adams Delano Papers, Yale University). The 1981 Upper East Side Historic District Designation Report (see pp.285) described it as a “significant post-war addition.” Given the building’s significance and quality, I hope it won’t become a base for Sir Norman Foster’s proposed box.


980 Madison Avenue at Landmarks

Yesterday, the Chapter delivered testimony at the Landmarks Preservation Commission in support of a proposal to build an addition on 980 Madison Avenue. Because it is located in the Upper East Side Historic District, any construction at this building must be granted a “Certificate of Appropriateness” by the Commission. This design is the second for developer Aby Rosen and architect Norman Foster, Hon. FAIA, who proposed a more vertical design for this project in 2006.

980 Madison Rendering

Rendering of Proposed Addition to 980 Madison Avenue.

Source: Foster + Partners

Under this proposal, the original building’s fenestration and the facade would be restored; over time, these have been modified significantly (see below). The modern addition evokes in color and texture the upper floors of many of Madison Avenue’s elegant residential buildings. The architects used the proportions of the original building to scale the addition; rather than build to the maximum floor area, the project keeps to 10 floors.

980 Madison Original

980 Madison Avenue shortly after completion, 1950.

Source: Foster + Partners

Do you think this design is appropriate for a historic district?


Advocacy update: Buildings Commissioner Qualifications

The City Council is still undecided on Intro. 755, which would take AWAY the requirement that the Buildings Commissioner be a licensed architect or professional engineer. This is an issue that’s important to many of our members and those in the design profession, and AIA NY has collected hundreds of signatures on our petition protesting this proposed legislation.

Phone calls and faxes to your council member’s office, and to Speaker Christine Quinn’s office, can be extremely useful at this juncture. Below are some points to make when you contact your elected officials on this issue:

-Be sure to state that you’re a practicing architect or design professional and that you’re concerned about this issue in that context.

−Emphasize that the removal of this provision will lower standards for appointment of the New York City Commissioner of Buildings at a time when safety should be paramount.

-Tell them that any proposal of this magnitude should be the end product of a thoughtful investigation that results in concrete legislative recommendations for DOB, and not a hastily-conceived temporary solution like this one.

− Explain that the Commissioner of Buildings is required to exercise judgment on highly technical matters that require specific training and experience. To have a non-licensed commissioner is putting the public’s safety at risk.

− Remind them that once the Council removes the license requirement from the City Charter, it can’t reinstate it without a public referendum. While the current mayor has a good record of appointments, the City cannot risk a political appointment to such an important post in the future. In removing the licensing requirement, this is more likely to be the case than not.

More resources, including a comprehensive contact database for City Council Members, can be found here.


For Buildings Commissioner, Demand the Real Thing

This editorial was written by AIA NY Executive Director Fredric Bell, FAIA.

There are 41,000 professional engineers (PEs) and registered architects (RAs) in New York State. One of them should be the next commissioner of the New York City Buildings Department, replacing Patricia Lancaster, an architect who resigned last month.

Some in New York’s City Hall are questioning whether a professional license is needed or even desirable to effectively run the largest and most complex buildings bureaucracy in the country. In answer, architects and engineers have sent mailbags full of letters and emails to the City Council chambers to explain why—with safety concerns on our sidewalks paramount—now is not the time to relax the professional qualifications needed for this difficult job.

Noting that the Surgeon General must be a doctor, and that the Architect of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., should be an architect (although that, too, is currently being questioned by a congressional oversight committee), registered architects and professional engineers were heard chanting “No PEs, no justice” on the steps of City Hall in late May. The commissioner of the Department of Buildings must have the knowledge and experience that comes from being a registered architect or professional engineer. The current city law, which requires this level of tested expertise, is both logical and necessary.

Read the rest of this entry »


St. Vincent’s Hospital: Hardship Application

hospital rendering

Updated rendering of the proposed hospital building by Pei Cobb Freed Partners

Courtesy of St. Vincent’s Hospital website, http://www.svcmc.org/

Yesterday, Rick Bell testified on behalf of the AIA New York Chapter at a Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing on St. Vincent’s Hospital. The hearing was one in a series of hearings on a proposal by the hospital that will result in new medical facilities and revenue-producing residential units.

In recent weeks, the Hospital has submitted a “hardship application” under Section 25-309 of the Administrative Code of New York City (see code here, though it’s not easy to find!). This law allows the applicant to “seek in good faith” to demolish a protected building that is “not capable of earning a reasonable return.” The O’Toole building, proposed site of a new hospital building, is unsuitable for adaptive reuse, but is crucial to the continued existence of St. Vincent’s as a modern medical facility that serves a large part of our city.

The Chapter’s testimony, which will be available here soon, addresses the specific architectural obstacles to adaptive reuse of this building, and supports demolition. The issue will be heard again in the coming months by the LPC; what do you think?


Take the Stairs!

burn calories, not electricity

New York City’s official stair prompt

Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

“Fit-City” is a year-round initiative at AIANY that involves partnering with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s (DOHMH) Built Environment Program on various important efforts to promote physical activity through design.

You may have noticed a new, bright green “stair prompt” at the Center for Architecture following the Fit-City conference on May 20th. “Burn Calories, Not Electricity!” it says. It is a new design from DOHMH and the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) that was unveiled in our space. The Center is proud to be among the first to put up the new prompt, which points out the link between healthy living and the environment. Our staircase, with its bold red color and the magnetic hold-opens on the doors, is more attractive and accessible than most.

Increasing your physical activity goes hand-in-hand with being green, and taking the stairs and saving on elevator trips isn’t the only example. Users of public transit walk far more than those who drive, and neighborhoods with well-designed and ample park space boast a higher rate of activity among residents.

Studies (PDF) show that a stair prompt like this one (other examples here) can increase stair use by over 50% when correctly placed and well designed. Do you think this sign would make you think twice about taking the elevator?