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April 8, 2015
by Greta Hansen
AIANY Global Dialogues Committee co-chairs Dan Gallagher, AIA, and Hana Kassem, AIA. Credit: Eve Dilworth Rosen
AIANY 2015 President Tomas Rossant, AIA, introduced the event.Credit: Eve Dilworth Rosen

A developer, an architect, an urban planner, and a professor of urban planning were rounded up by architect Diane Lewis on 03.18.15 for a mash-up of diverse takes on what the city ought to look like.

Lewis began with discomfort over the term “master plan” as it connotes Modernist carte blanche planning, which nevertheless constituted many of the master plans in Lewis’s survey of 20th-century plans. Her taxonomy included nine discreet types.

Elliot Sclar, professor of Urban Planning at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, approached the problem of master planning from a less expository point of view. Amidst the endless and inevitable complexity of the city, can we even master plan at all? He answered himself: “It depends…“

Sclar conceded that he alone among the panelists had the luxury of skirting the question. The three speakers that followed presented work so disparate that their juxtaposition questioned the definition and purpose of the master plan itself. Jennifer Pehr, AICP, an associate principal at Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), described an unbuilt project for Gamashi (an AIANY 2014 Design Award winner), a historic urban slum in the heart of Accra, Ghana, which wrestled with the competing impulses to, on the one hand, purify the neighborhood and raise the overall standard of living, and, on the other hand, leave intact longstanding traditions rooted in place. Luckily or unluckily, KPF’s investigation did not succumb to a test.

Michal Samuelian, AIA, AICP, vice president of The Related Companies, introduced the Hudson Yards project as a kind of master plan unto itself, describing the complexity of the infrastructure at its base. This project depended on an enormous critical mass of money, and could not have occurred until the real estate became valuable enough to support it. Lewis stressed the point that real estate value isn’t created out of thin air, and that Hudson Yards will owe its success to the cultural institutions of New York – and will, therefore, owe the city in return.

Adam Lubinsky, managing principal at WXY Architecture + Urban Design, presented a 10-step process to engaging stakeholders in a conversation about future planning. His bottom-up, grass-roots, charette-based method was the antithesis of Lewis’s Modernist scapegoats and the Hudson Yards plan.

In the heated discussion that followed, Lewis reminded us that no matter how amazing Hudson Yards seems, it is still a beautiful parasite in our great city. She wants us – as architects – to feed the host.

Event: Big Dreams
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.18.15
Speakers: Michael Samuelian, AIA, AICP, Vice President, The Related Companies; Jennifer Pehr, AICP, Assoc. Principal, KPF; Adam Lubinsky, Principal, WXY; Eliott Sclar, Professor, Columbia University, GSAPP; and Diane Lewis, Professor, Cooper Union (moderator)
Organizer: AIANY Global Dialogue Committee
Sponsor: American Standard

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