Public Effect

Poster Designers, Get Ready

CUPMPPposter.jpgCUP, Tropolism's favorite NYC urban activist group, is at it again. As you may know, they publish a smart poster every few months announcing their initiatives; the poster is called Making Policy Public, or MPP. This time around, they are partnering with some innovative groups; most interesting to us is FIERCE (or Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment; yes the acronyms are fatiguing). FIERCE is probably most known for their organizing of youngsters who hang out on Christopher Street and on the Village piers, and have been harrassed by both West Village residents and the police alike. But like the piers themselves, the crowd has evolved, is better organized, and even has its own mission statement. And, now, involved in the conversation about the development of public space. My, how the children have grown.

CUP has issued a call for designers for the next MPP poster. If you were looking for a time to get directly involved in these conversations, I am here to tell you that that time has arrived.

Atlantic Yards: The First Post

missbrooklyn.jpgAtlantic Yards by Frank O. Gehry: we never liked it. It might be too big. It was a stadium for basketball, a sport we just don't care about and whose only reference point for us is "Madison" "Square" We Knocked Down Pennsylvania Station For This Pile Of Crap "Garden". It had open space on the roof that was accessible by only residents of a bunch of towers. But, it was Frank O., and it was glassy, and it was interesting. It would have densitized (densified?) a neighborhood, adding (more) life but also more traffic, congestion. It was going to amplify the city, this ever-pregnant corner of Brooklyn where it seems like something great should be built but is actually where nothing great has been built, and along with that building would be all the side effects that greatness brings: dirt, noise, change, conflict, and many messy conversations. In short, it was urban.

I took a wait and see attitude: the drawings and models looked somewhat great, but it was difficult to understand how it was going to interact with Brooklyn. Folks were up in arms about it, but these days you have to judge these things for yourself, because what with the internet and all, folks yell about everything in this town, as if every concerned citizen is a self-appointed Jane Jacobs, and every little brick repointing project a city-destroying commission by Robert Moses. Judging for yourself: it is the very purpose of Tropolism. It is what Tropolism means. Watch as the Atlantic Yards Project unfolds, better drawings come out, the project makes its way through court, and something happens, so that you can find your time to weigh in.

What happened you all know, or can easily find out: Gehry designed something awesome, the developer, Forest City Ratner, got all sorts of tax breaks and court victories, many riding on the fact that that particular design was going to be built. Then it turned out that design was too expensive, so Gehry redesigned it and it was less interesting. But OK so what, the central idea was still there, and it was still Frank O.

05gehry_600.jpgThe recent replacement of Frank Gehry as the architect of the project isn't the problem with the new Atlantic Yards design, although Nicolai Ourousoff's reaming article would imply otherwise. Ellerbe Becket doing a super simple and cheaper-design version of Gehry's design would have worked just fine, given that they followed his floor plan and massing outlines to the letter. Instead, the project has simply been redone, shorn of its residences and shops and now it's simply become one of those deadening black holes in the city, just like "Madison" "Square" "Garden". It's a classic, bald-faced bait-and-switch, which is a cute New York way of saying that Forest City Ratner are crooks. They have stolen the public's patience and benefit of the doubt in exchange for their own personal profit. The effect of which is that this part of Brooklyn will be dumb and cold and dead until 2050 when some even more stupid gyration will have to happen in order to renovate the dumb thing that might get built right now.

Atlanticeastbig.jpgThere is some crap glassy entrance so that yes 50,000 people or whatever can stream on through on their way to basketball a few nights a year, but nothing else except a huge box stadium. We get it. The roof looks like a basketball. This is the opposite of great architecture: this is cheeky architecture trying to get on our populist good side, while simultaneously sucking all the life out of our home city. There is no add here, only subtract: subtract money, subtract street life, subtract public conversation, subtract density.

And our great omission has been to not bring up, years ago, that this was a possibility all along. That the devil in Gehry's plan was that if Gehry didn't do his design, and someone did even and almost-version of his design, then the effect would be this drek. Our apologies for being quiet. It won't happen again.

U.S.A.'s Venice Biennale Pavilion Comes Home


[photos courtesy of Rain Yan Wang]

Earlier this month, the U.S. Pavilion from the 2008 Venice Biennale opened at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at the New School. Into the Open: Positioning Practice attempts to realign architectural thought towards socially relevant issues. All sixteen studies ask us to “reclaim a role in shaping community and the built environment, to expand understanding of American architectural practice and its relationship to civic participation”. Highlights include Teddy Cruz’s examination of the border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana as well as Laura Kurgan’s view of incarceration through Architecture and Justice.

Upon entering the gallery, we found the exhibition’s rhythmic series of text intensive pilasters to be a bit daunting and overbearing. The models and graphic components receded into the background as they were clearly overshadowed by the bold text. However, as the evening wore on, the exhibit’s true potential emerged. Within the niches of the display’s formal structure, patrons were invited to contribute their own personal touch. A tertiary artistic endeavor superimposed itself upon the gallery. The interactive quality served the dual purpose of contextualizing the exhibit while reminding us of the continually shifting dynamics of the social order.

Posted by Saharat Surattanont.

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Tropolism Films: Brooklyn DIY

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Last week’s world premiere of Brooklyn DIY brought a motley crowd of artists, performers, and groupies to MoMa. Through interviews and photographs, the film documents the “creative renaissance” of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Employing an ambiguous timeline, the narrative favors subjective experience over specificity. However, the disjointed “mapping of memory” is grounded by focusing on a handful of seminal moments that defined the neighborhood.

Right this way for the full film review...

Biloxi Homes

On August 29, 2005, Katrina made landfall in Biloxi, Mississippi. It was their 9-11. In an effort to help rebuild the city, the Biloxi Model Home Program paired design professionals with families affected by the disaster. “This program approaches reconstruction that facilitates good design solutions by standardizing processes and partnership strategies as opposed to standardizing design.” Last week, Architecture for Humanity New York sponsored a happy hour honoring the volunteers who journeyed south for the “blitz build” week.

The evening’s presentation felt more like a Peace Corps event. The testimonials ranged from the hopelessness of a distressed neighborhood to the “foreignness” of the regional cuisine. The consistent sentiments were the personal bonds established between fellow volunteers. For a moment, I had forgotten that they were speaking of a US city. The stories concluded with the tale of a local resident who made a point to hug all 70 plus volunteer that came down for the week.

It became clear to me that it wasn’t just about rebuilding homes. It was about restoring a neighborhood.

Posted by roving NYC correspondent Saharat Surattanont.

Crazy Coney

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In what must be the most bizarre, yet most refined, inventive, and weirdly beautiful collection of images yet, the Municipal Art Society has posted a flickr album with a selection of results of their Imagine Coney project. Curbed smartly whittles the results down further for those who can't be bothered to slog through the 36 images in the album. Or favorite is pictured, Historic Path.

Less Stuff Is Better Design

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I know I've been harping about this since I first got the idea for the Two Dozen list in 2004: the Roaring Two-Thousands created a lot of drek by designers because they were "designers", not because the designs were actually great. A lot of my writing has been focused on pushing designers to do better. What better opportunity for designers to really push design when all this money is sloshing around? Why not make things more efficient, more accessible, more inventively designed, and more beautiful, even if it costs a bit more? When the cycle downturns, we'll be happy to get scraps from the woodpile to make our stuff. Since September, most of us have been looking for that scrap pile.

Michael Cannell over at The Design Vote wrote a great article in the New York Times encapsulating these sentiments, looking quickly (as in long-blog-post quickly) at where product designers and architects are going to go from here. He champions sustainability in the production of goods and a good project by Lorcan O'Herlihy architects in Los Angeles that champions density over size of lawn. Welcome to the end of the decade, folks. We couldn't be more thrilled.

The High Line Construction Progress, 2008

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Friends Of The High Line has sent us a year-end summary email, chock full of construction images that we hadn't seen yet. Try as we might, we were unable to find these on their website, so we have included two more after the jump. If you don't get their newsletter, stop by their website to sign up. Better yet, make a donation.

More images this way...

Flushing, Queens: Too Many Cars

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Daily Dose gives us the diagram action, again, by delving into a NYC DOT study of 6 of New York's streets. The report focuses on how streets affect the character of urban areas (this is how far we've come since Jane Jacobs first put herself on the line: the DOT is sensitive to how streets affect cities). Daily Dose points out how Main Street in Flushing, Queens demonstrates the power of diagrams. In the above diagram the information is startling: for about 26 feet of sidewalk space, 100,000 people must pass from 8am-8pm. About 50,000 motorists pass in 6 lanes of one-way traffic in the same period.

Artists Subway, With Trees

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The Starn Brothers, every 1989 college student's favorite artists, are back! They are finishing up construction on a large installation in the South Ferry Station of the New York City Subway called See It Split, See It Change. Their focus on unnerving closeups of nature has not changed, nor has their geeky obsession with new materials. In this case a curved, fused glass printing technique that will last a century and took a year to develop. We're gonna be the first ones there.

Tropolism Books:New York City Landmarks

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One book we haven't gotten a review copy of yet is New York City Landmarks, the 4th Edition of the book put out by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. It's so new, it's not even available on Amazon yet. It's fieldbook sized, so perfect for running around town, but I'm frankly more interested in how they cover the buildings involved in some of their more controversial decisions (if at all).

Helvetica And The New York City Subway

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Even though we are architects, we have a special hobby called typefaces. We love them. We collect them. Our favorite are the sans-serif fonts developed in the middle of last century. We collect books that heavily feature them. And so this long, in-depth, and heavily illustrated article about the story of the typeface Helvetica (and Standard!) in the New York City subway is nothing short of rapture for us.

And we're not the only ones.

New Orleans Does Even More Installations

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File under density: New Orleans hosts yet another installation-heavy event this week with DesCours (pronounced like the cajuns do, not the Parisian pronunciation). The New Orleans AIA presents installations by 14 architecture/design firms, spread around the Quarter and Business District. They have a handy map of all the installations and an official bike rental company for getting around, too. This being NOLA there are of course a full schedule of related music performances. Time to party, again.

Pictured is Iwamotoscott Architecture's "Voussoir Cloud".

NYC Ice List: UPDATED WITH MAYBES

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Three years ago we published one of our favorite lists: the NYC Ice List. Today we are happy to announce a maybe addition to the list: the Brooklyn Bridge Park Ice Rink. You know, under the Brooklyn Bridge, where the New Brooklyn Bridge Park will someday be located, maybe. As that article says, they are starting it THIS MONTH (said on the last day of November). The rink awesomeness is designed by landscape architects dlandstudio, they of the first ever Pop-Up Park, which was located this summer just on the other side of the bridge.

Word is the ice rink is getting fundraising help from the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, so perhaps we'll see this on the Ice List for real next year.

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