by Anna Gibertini
On 10.04.2017, the Center for Architecture hosted “Displacements: Capital,” an investigation into the ways in which the influx of unprecedented, predominantly foreign capital into the city has galvanized architects to pursue design innovation at a scale and pace unseen since the Modernist era, often in the form of luxury and ultra-luxury residences.
The invited speakers came from prestigious firms like Ateliers Jean Nouvel, KPF, SOM, DS+R, SCDA Architects, and Thelen Design Group. Eric Howeler of Howeler + Yoon attempted to steer the conversation towards discussing the ethical ramifications of these developments in his introductory remarks, drawing on Koolhaus’ seminal work Delirious New York and Carol Willis’ incisive Form Follows Finance, and again in the discussion.
The projects discussed featured everything from integrated green infrastructure to multi-generational housing to fabrication by craftspeople rather than mechanization. Environmentalism, a nod to the working man, and social cohesion (the staples of 21st century progressive archi-speak) were there, but the conversation lacked any significant discussion of the severe need for investment going into public or affordable housing, the glaring issue of our time.
Satoshi Toyoda of Viñoly broke down the absurd price differences between the view from a mid-level floor and a top-level floor in a luxury residential tower. He joked that at these prices, one might as well purchase a private plane and fly around the world for a “cheaper” view. Toyoda was also the only person to mention why the lack of investment in public and affordable housing was such a critical issue: by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in an urban area. How many of those will inhabit New York City? Where will they live? No one seemed to have an answer for this or much interest in addressing it. One pie-in-the-sky solution was to just wait for the cyclical nature of history to render these ultra-luxe buildings into middle-income housing, à la the historic interior neighborhoods of Paris. One audience member loudly groaned “oh come on” in response.
At one point, Howeler questioned what the role of the architect was within this context. This was the important question and one that requires more digging.
Event: Displacement: Capital, 10.04.2017
Location: Center for Architecture
Speakers: Bertram Beissel Von Gymnich, Director, Ateliers Jean Nouvel
Soo K. Chan, Founder, SCDA Architects
Douglas Hocking, Partner, KPF
Chris Cooper, AIA, Director, SOM
Satoshi Toyoda, AIA, Partner, Viñoly
Neil Thelen, Founder, Thelen Design Group; Associate DS+R
Moderator: Eric Howeler, AIA, Principal, Howeler + Yoon Architecture; Author, Skyscraper: Vertical Now
Organized by: AIANY Global Dialogues Committee