by Alexander Luckmann
Jeffrey Dugan, AIA, is a principal at Dattner Architects who specializes in projects in the public realm. His interest in the everyday experiences of New Yorkers has resulted in projects ranging in scale from major infrastructure redesign to educational and housing projects. Notable recent projects include the Myrtle-Wyckoff Station Complex, which reimagines a transit node as a community hub on the Brooklyn/Queens border. This pilot in the MTA’s Design for the Environment program exemplifies Dugan’s ability to bridge the gap between infrastructure and the communities it serves. Similarly to Myrtle-Wyckoff, the firm’s New Settlement Community Campus uses a specific use—primary education—and expands the brief to open up certain school facilities to local residents, and to include a community center. Dugan combines his innovative architectural practice with music, and is the founder and owner of recording label GD Stereo. Here, he discusses how he sees New York developing and why he’s been playing more acoustic guitar lately.
Q: Your practice has focused on large-scale urban projects, particularly in the infrastructure and transportation sectors. What drew you to this kind of work?
A: In the beginning I was drawn to work with Richard Dattner. He and Bill Stein, an associate at the firm when I joined in 1998, introduced me to public work, specifically the subway. A quick digression: I moved to NYC in 1990 and one of the key issues was dispensing with the automobile in favor of the subway. Consequently stepping into the world of transit design was easy—I loved learning about the infrastructure and systems that make it work. Years of riding the subway gave me a sense how we interact with each other in a transient public space. It’s part of a natural fascination of mine to be involved in subway design.
Q: Most of your projects are municipal or public in one way or another. How do you see the role of architecture as a civic instrument?
A: I feel connected to community building as a professional in service to the public for the greater well-being of the community. I am involved in the design of schools, housing, social infrastructure, and transportation as they are the basis of my well-being. Architecture can be many things—sculptural, experiential, intellectual, private, etc—but when it is public it has the most impact on us, especially in the urban environment. I realized that working on the design of projects in the public realm, especially the subway in NYC, that I can always go to the project and use it after completion—any time, 24/7. It is something to be shared both in experience and memory. It is always a pleasure to have a conversation with a stranger or new acquaintance about a public or civic project where I or my firm has been involved. Public or civic architecture is a shared experience that facilitates conversation, collaboration, and congregation.
Q: Many of your built projects are in New York. Do you expect to see any major trends in the city’s infrastructure or urbanism in the coming years?
A: It is imperative that the city’s subway system be rehabilitated in the short term and potentially replaced in the long term. Can we see the subway working much the way it does today 50 years from now? 100 years from now? Projections for growth in the city (1 million people in the next 15 years), the Mayor’s commitment to affordable housing, and low interest rates for project financing, has produced a plethora of development.
Although it does not feel like infrastructure is keeping pace, the MTA—subsequent to the completion of the Fulton Transit Center, the 7 line Extension, and the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway—is pushing forward with station enhancements for the subway, Metro North, and Long Island Railroad. The Moynihan Station Project at the historic Farley Post Office is underway. Eastside Access at Grand Central Terminal is in construction to bring LIRR to GCT. Planning is underway for Penn Access, a project to add four stations and to bring MNR to Penn Station on Amtrak’s Hell Gate Bridge line. Penn Station is inching towards total rehabilitation. Next is the Gateway Program including the replacement of the North River Tunnel, new associated bridges, and the expansion of Penn Station to the South.
The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey is planning to extend PATH to Newark Liberty International Airport where, in addition, the AirTrain will be replaced and a new Terminal will be built. The Port Authority Bus Terminal must be replaced as it is at capacity and past its useful life.
What does this mean for urbanism in our metropolis? It means more connectivity, atomization of the center, and continued densification in the region. Although centered in and around NYC, these are regional infrastructure improvements that serve the northeast corridor from Washington to Boston, and nationally via the airports.
Q: You are also a musician. What music do you play, and how does this passion influence your work as an architect?
I have been involved in playing music since 1980. I was in a punk rock band in the early 80’s, a noise band through the mid 80’s, electronics and improvisation through the mid 90’s, musique concrète and phonography through the millennium. Recently I have returned to the acoustic guitar, playing off the grid. It is analogous to picking up a pen or pencil to sketch. It’s quick and rewarding. Over the years I have attempted to combine architecture and my interest in music through the use of film and recorded sound with musique concrète. I founded the recording label GD Stereo in 1998 which often publishes work involved in the sense of place, the environment, and architecture.
While music and architecture may have a lot in common, musicians and architects have a very similar working relationship with their audience. We listen, engage and explore.
Q: How are you involved with AIANY, and why is it important to you?
I have been involved with the AIA since 1982 when I first began working in an office. In New York City I have been involved with the Chapter’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for many years and became a co-chair in 2011. I always find a challenge at the Center for Architecture, where as a committee member and co-chair I am involved in planning programming, developing policy statements, and interfacing with local government agencies. It has been a great professional experience to meet local, national, and international colleagues involved in similar practice areas as well as allied professionals who share similar interests. It’s a social experience, learning experience, and cultural experience that is an important aspect of my life as an architect in New York City.