Public Effect

Door To Action, Continued

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The Door to Action continues. Tropolism is happy to announce a competition to rebuild Louisiana, sponsored by the School of Architecture and Design at University of Louisiana, in Lafayette. The school is the closest architecture school to New Orleans, and so particularly suited to be the locus for this kind of conversation. Submissions are due via downloadable PDF on November 1, so do not dawdle!

NYC Ice List


(above: skating at Rock Center, 1941

I'm an architect. And I make lists. Welcome to my world.

I'll let you in on a secret: I've not visited this list for years. But today's news, that Bryant Park is going to install an ice rink, is welcome news. First, because Bryant Park is a case study on how to create more density in a city, and have it pay for the improvements in a public park. Bravo! Second, because I studied this idea for a former employer while working on our own new-park proposal. We got the job in part because of our Ice Idea.

List of Ice Rinks In New York City


-Wollman Rink in Central Park

-Lasker Rink in Central Park

-Rockefeller Center

-Bryant Park

-Chelsea Piers Sky Rink

-Madison Square Garden


-Abe Stark at Coney Island

-Kate Wollman in Prospect Park


-World's Fair Rink

Staten Island

-Staten Island War Memorial Ice Skating Rink

2 Columbus Circle Underway


Are we the only ones who are wondering why everyone suddenly loves this building? Where were the ├ętudes before someone suggested they make the building, like, useable. I understand the argument about the "turning point in Modernism", but I am left with an unshakeable feeling that this is the same kind of reactionary preservationist talk that's resisting tearing down a mundane 1920's parking garage on West Charles Street.

The earlier versions of this project left us uninspired. However, the rendering above gives us hope that the building will be a better object at the intersection of Broadway, West 59th Street, and Central Park West than the lollipop building is. And Mr. Cloepfil appears to be taking more design risks as the project moves forward, a startling contrast to WTC, which is becoming more safe and annoyingly boring as the project continues.

Curbed is all over this story.


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Freedom Conversation: Cancelled


Bad: Pataki Cancels Freedom Center. I mean, who saw that coming? I'm outraged that the discussion of international freedom, and the context of terrorism, is being removed from the Trade Center site.

Worse:AIA discussion of the role the Freedom Center would play at WTC is cancelled. (yes, you have to scroll down to 1pm today). I'm surprised that a public post-mortem wasn't even subsituted as a topic. Are we going to stand for this idea, or just let it exist at the whim of the Governor? At least the roundtable on starting an Architecture firm is still happening tonight. Bonus: you can ask Greg P all about why he was so fussy about the whole Zaha non-scandal.

The Door To Action


Tropolism means appreciating urbanism wherever it is, in whatever form, even though it may not be suited to our taste. We prefer super-dense cities like New York and Tokyo and London to quasi-dense second-tier urban patches like Chicago and Atlanta and San Francisco.

(For instance, my brother, sister-in-law, and my two nieces absolutely love the 50,000 house development called "South Riding, Virginia", even though I have yet to determine if this is the name of a town nearby, or if that is only the name of the super-development. I think it's boring and uninteresting, but it's a form of urbanism, of density. Low-density, for me, the New Yorker, is simply low-interest.)


But there's one city that is small, compared to New York, yet has a cultural power to rival NYC. It's New Orleans, the abandoned city, the evacuated city, the city under water. America's dream of Venice. As Mr. Koolhaas pointed out in 1976, we here in the USA always dream in terms of disaster scenarios.

Eulogy For Garbage Truck Parking Triangle Where Canal Park Used To Be (1920-2005)


Tropolism means occasionally not sitting at your desk and hoofing it for material.

On yesterday's flaneur-tour, the first stop was one I've been anticipating for a long time: the re-opening of Canal Park. It's going to reopen in the next week or two, I would imagine. There's only a little sand to put between a few of the paving stones, one man-day of work, which should take public authority contractors about seven business days to accomplish.

The park was forgotten in 1920, re-buried by Robert Moses in 1930, and rediscovered in 1999 by neighborhood residents. And you thought progress on WTC was slow. The neighborhood groups sued, and brought it back! And now, it's like it never left: the new park replicates the 1888 Calvert Vaux and Samuel Parsons Jr. design that first gave the public access to this ancient city square (the title was deeded to the city in 1686 by a king! I so totally didn't think we went back that far). Please, don't take my word for it. There are other people doing the real reporting while I go out to take pictures and soak up a little of la joie de vivre.

It's like the Bermuda Triangle of the NYC Parks department. After 85 years, Canal Triangle re-emerges exactly as it was in 1920. The railings, stone curbs, pathways, and plantings are as they were when the park disappeared from our radar, and it's suddenly popped back into being, waiting for people to pay attention to it again. The surreal effect is aided by the combination of absolutely new construction and its 19th century design.

Time to unforget: if you visit, you can make fun of the crawling traffic of Canal Street that surrounds it. The park has also grown a bit, preventing motorists on Washington Street from crossing Canal, and hopefully granting pedestrians this end of Canal Street less risk of motorcide.

PS: mad props to the star-supported Canal Park Conservancy for helping with park maintenance. Who says luxury condo owners don't care? The only way Parks can keep these little slivers open is with help with the maintenance, so in a way, the real reason this park re-exists is because of the new Conservancy.

The USA's Tallest Building


Chicago can always rely on its single-minded devotion to Modernism, as it was in 1972, to pull it through. In many instances, this is a perjorative. At other times, it is exciting.

The history of New York Skyscrapers vs. Chicago Skyscrapers, since 1950, might be characterized as so:

New York = design leads to money
Chicago = money leads to design leads to money

Tropolism means, well, we're not sure in this case. Sometimes, I would champion that the New York developer's approach, and the culture that supports it, leads to a more direct urban and architectural experience, one less encumbered by architectural theory. On the other hand, the Chicago developer's approach, and the culture that supports it, leads to purer buildings, which are nicer to look at.

What Office Workers Think


The Guardian has published a fascinating piece on what office life is like on people who work in famous buildings in England.

Tropolism means calling attention to both what works and what doesn't work.

Monday Morning Urbanism

From Friday's Economist

"The tighter security that has been in place in London since September 11th may have contributed to that. No city, however, can stop terrorists altogether. What can be said, though, is that terrorists are unable to stop cities, either. Perhaps an army, launching wave after wave of attacks, might succeed in doing so, especially if it were to deploy biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. Short of that, cities will always bounce back quickly, after the initial shock. They are resilient organisms, with powerful social and economic reasons to shrug off terrorism. New York and Madrid both show that, triumphantly."

We have observed two American terrorist events, and one in Europe, that supports this claim:

  1. Florence 1993. I arrived and went to my hotel. A bomb went off at the Uffizi a few hours later. I awoke to a crowded city of Florentines holding banners, signs, and buttons telling the terrorists to kiss off (sorry, Tropolism's translator is unavailable at the moment)
  2. Atlanta 1996. Evening, and I'd just flown into the city. My flight was late. My Atlantean friend picked me up. He asked if I wanted to go to the concert that night. I said no, I was too tired. The next morning, we woke up and heard that the concert we had skipped was the with the bomb. I expected all the midwesterners and southerners, non-urbane all, to stay at home. Instead, one after one, the folk interviewed said the same thing: this is our Olympics, our city, f*** off terrorists.
  3. September 11, 2001, NYC. People stopped what they were doing for days, weeks, and months on end, looking for a way to help out. And, of course, letting everyone know that this town was still ours, and we were all still here, living.

Ken Smith's Takeover Foiled By Nicholai Ouroussoff!

Clearly, there is no reason to describe, in depth, the landscape architect's contribution to this project. N.O. to Ken Smith: you shall not pass!

N.O. describes the landscape, but not in terms of who did it. Frankly, this is the way we'd like to see things described: Tropolism means worrying less about authorship, and more about results. Yet SHoPP (two Ps for big Gregg, who is the only one mentioned by name) and Richard Rogers are described as authors of specific pieces of the project, and the landscape is just accent, a necessary furnishing for occupation. I could care less about the landscape/architect divide, because it's a false distinction, but I do find it interesting that this article describes some of the project as just designed, and some of it as the genius from the masters at work.

Libeskind: Eternal Optimist

JMcK-10-03-2004-Libeskind-smiling.jpgJust when I was starting to believe the media carping about him, I read something that inspires me:

"The most important quality an architect can possess is optimism."

I'm still annoyed at the Cincinnati condo, though. And I'm not saying I was ever enthralled by the symbols created for the site. It is the idea of eternal optimism I'm inspired by.

I like to say that architects must be their buildings before they are built. No one else knows them better, until construction begins. The architect must build a community around his project, which will bring the building into being. Otherwise, it's just a design you made up. In short, you must always believe in the possibility of the building, and never believe what people are complaining about.

I have intentionally left hyperlinks to complaining out of this post, as much as they may satisfy my tendency for cattiness. They are too numerous to list, anyway.

An Open Email To City Planning

Ms. Burden:
I am an architect who lives in the far West Village. As both designer and resident, I have a dual interest in the development future of the far West Village.
I am writing to tell you of my support of the West Village zoning plan being proposed by your department. I support your efforts to preserve the scale and character of my neighborhood, and as always am impressed by the level of commitment that you have shown to good public space in New York. I have encountered your sound, balanced decisions many times: I was an associate at Rogers Marvel Architects for seven years, until I left last August to start Chad Smith Architect. We had a brief introduction after our presentation for the High Line competition.
At RMA it was clear to us that City Planning, directed by yourself, was committed to the transformation of New York's public realm into the finest public space possible. What was particularly encouraging was that your department treated development as a powerful partner in the creation of good public space. I have since moved on to become an advocate for good public space in my own right through my office, through a weblog at the soon-to-be launched, and through my writing for the Village Voice.
I was urged by a co-tenant to write in opposition of the zoning exclusion of the Whitehall Storage site. I declined to do that. Instead, I was inspired to write in support of keeping this site, and others like it, eligible for development. The neighborhood gains nothing by keeping the 1950s parking garages and 1930s storage buildings. In addition, I think encouraging limited development in this area has had some bright spots: Richard Meier's third tower, at 168 Charles Street, is one of the best buildings in Manhattan. The market finally delivers a gem.
To that end, I have proposed in my writing (I have devoted several recent entries to this zoning topic) that development in the far West Village be vetted by your office, or just you, to ensure it is of the finest architectural quality. There is no need to impose a historicist character to anything, and the limited number of sites available will ensure the Village stays the Village. The fringe sites are the perfect places for inspired design, both of buildings and the public spaces they create. In short, encourage buildings like Meier #3, discourage Morton Square. I invite you to take action on this proposal.
Feel free to contact me at any time, through phone or email. Thank you for your time.
Chad Smith

Stadium Wrapup

Dr. N.O. has conveniently put together a few interesting stadiums for your review. As an enemy to completists, nothing can compare to print journalism.

I invite you to search this site for some more, too. I wasn't saying weblogs were a completist's friend, yo.

Stupid Preservation Tricks, coda

And when I got home Friday afternoon, my building had distributed a letter-writing campaign to fight the development I referred to in Friday's entry. Brought to you by the guy on the 19th floor, who also owns the 20th floor and the 21st floor. To fight the 20 story building on the next block. From our 22 story building built in 1989, under huge protest from the entire West Village. Irony never rests, ever.

Stupid Preservation Tricks

One of the preservactivists leading this effort, the one who contacted me about a letter-writing campaign, lives on the 19th floor of the tallest building in the West Village. He is trying to stop the new 17-story residential tower from being built on the next block, which would involve knocking over the oldene timey historick Whitehall Mini-Storage Building.

Our building was constructed in 1989. No one liked it when it was built. The lack of recognition of the irony (and hypocrisy, how the two are twinned in our culture these days!) of this situation is appalling.

The stupidest trick: including parking garages built in the 1950s in a historic district plan to prevent new residential buildings from being built. It's the same prevarication as allowing the gays who got married in Massachusetts to stay married, but banning all future gays from getting married.

I submit that Meier's buildings, which stand in stark contrast to the historic character of the West Village, are prime examples of exactly what to do with fringe sites like this: get inventive. A little contrast is what makes our cities interesting. This is more in the spirit of Jane Jacobs than any reactionary don't-change-a-single-blade-of-grass-in-my-backyard preservation. I propose that the design get vetted by someone like Amanda Burden, someone with design taste. Pass on the cost of celebrity design to the developpers, who will pass it on to wealthy people buying apartments. Invest in the neighborhood.

Please note that none of this defense of creative neighborhood architecture applies to any Charles Gwathmey work since 1979.