March 6, 2013
by: Linda G. Miller
James Russell, FAIA, in conversation with Claire Weisz, FAIA, at "Cocktails and Conversations."Daniel Fox
Toby Cecchini cracks ice for the “Shiso Hop”Daniel Fox
Cecchini hands a drink to Weisz Daniel Fox
“Shiso Hop” ingredientsDaniel Fox

The third edition of Cocktails & Conversation series paired the newly-minted AIA Fellow Claire Weisz, a founding principal of WXY Architecture + Urban Design with James S. Russell, FAIA, the architecture critic for Bloomberg News. He has written about cities, architecture, and environmental design including his new book The Agile City: Building Well-being and Wealth in an Era of Climate Change (Island Press 2012); he also happens to be the editorial advisor for e-Oculus and Oculus. They were joined by event mainstay Toby Cecchini, the master bartender and writer who designed a special cocktail called the “Shiso Hop.”

The people-pairing is as creative as the cocktail du jour, which all in attendance had the opportunity to sample. Typically, an architect is asked with whom they would like to converse, and sometimes, journalists and critics are asked who they would like to chat with and voila! An inspiring, albeit tipsy evening is had by all.

Weisz reviewed many of her firm’s projects – ranging from the Bronx Charter School for the Arts to the East River Blueway. She also presented design ideas for “East Midtown: A Bold Vision for the Future” – which primarily focus on the social and environmental transformation of the public realm at multiple scales. Somewhat nostalgically, she recalled that back in 1999, WXY (then Weisz + Yoes) was a runner-up in the competition to design the Center for Architecture, and the room that we were all sitting in could have been included in the firm’s portfolio.

The takeaway… When Russell asked why WXY does so much work in New York City, Weisz responded: “We’re now starting to understand it, after 19 years!” And when he wanted to know why the firm works on small projects, she responded that there’s “nothing wrong with tiny projects”  – to which Russell commented, “Constraint is character building.” As to her experience practicing in the public realm, she responded, “I feel I’ve gotten a Ph.D. in public works.” To the firm’s debated Spring Street Sanitation Maintenance Garage (designed with Dattner Architects) that has drawn criticism from a celeb who “didn’t want our people building near his loft,” she said, “We can’t send all of our [Sanitation] trucks to the Bronx – it’s not fair.” Her mentors? Jayne Merkel and Deborah Burke, FAIA.

And let’s not forget…

“Shiso Hop”
2 oz. Anchor Distilling Hophead Vodka
1 oz. Cocchi Americano
2 fresh shiso leaves
2 dashes pomelo/Seville orange tincture (orange bitters, for home use)

Tear shiso leaves into pieces and lightly muddle in the bottom of a mixing glass. Add ice, then liquid ingredients and stir for at least one minute. Strain into a chilled martini coupe. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

Event: Cocktails & Conversations
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.20.13
Speakers: Claire Weisz, FAIA, WXY Architecture + Urban Design; James Russell, FAIA, Bloomberg News; and Toby Cecchini, Bartender and Author
Organizers: cultureNOW and the AIANY Architecture Dialogue Committee
Sponsors: MechoSystens Inc. and Porcelanosa Group


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