25 February 2010

BUILDING in THE FUTURE: Recasting Labor in Architecture (Book Release)

Last night, I attended the book launch of, BUILDING in THE FUTURE: Recasting Labor in Architecture. The speakers/contributers were: Peggy Deamer (theorist), Phillip G. Bernstein (technologist), Christ Noble (legalist), and Scott Marble (architect). These four seemingly wildly disparate individuals have come together to produce a cohesive and in-depth analysis of our profession today, and a prediction of where it will go in the future.

Each spoke of their viewpoint and contribution to the work, which, as Peggy summarized deals with:

1. The work we do as architects, not the products we make.
2. New technologies, but with the viewpoint that while these do support change, they are not the driving force behind such changes.
3. Our profession cannot invoke change while examining work in silos of productivity, but rather we must examine together across fields of discipline.
4. A theoretical examination need not be an abandonment of critical work, but rather a catalyst for the progression of such work.

I have highlighted a universal subject prominent in Phillip's talk below:

As you can see, Phillip discussed an idea I seem to keep running into: the popular notion of the moment that Integrated Product Delivery will be the future of building, the future of our profession. The above diagram represents the ambiguity now present between designers and constructors. Each holds a specific role, yet somewhere in between intention and execution, the linkage breaks down. Phillip raised the question, what causes this rift? Is this a question of power, productivity, or profit? A combination of the three? Ultimately, what causes this gulf of separation is the dichotomy between risk and reward. The issue now on the table: how do we break down this boundary we have spent years working to establish?

Ironically (or perhaps not), this talk raised many of the same questions the same topic did back in Chicago. For example:

Q: Is IPD synonymous with BIM technologies?
Panel answer: No, of course not. However, by the time IPD is truly a universal practice, two dimensional representations of built work will be a thing of the past.

Q: What would stop contractors from taking 'cartoon sketches' of ideas from architects and creating their own BIM models? In other words, won't this devalue the need for an architect even further?
(Somewhat nerve wracking) Panel answer: The progression of our field is up to us as architects. Contractors have already started doing just that, making it imperative that we embrace these technologies and use them to our benefit.
This brought up an excellent thought from the evening: the transition from pen to computer drafting was evolutionary, yet the transition we now face from computer drafting to Building Information Modeling will be revolutionary. This is no small feat, but rather a dynamic shift in the way our future will be designed and built.

Q: How will this help us to make more money/get sued less?
Panel answer: It is a bad habit to look to contractual documents to solve our problems. These problems need to be solved with design and with collaboration instead. They went into great detail siting personal examples of previous work, you will have to read the book for more details.

Q: How will this serve the end user? How will someone untrained in complex model software be able to use this work for building maintenance in the future?
(Radical) Panel answer: In the future, end users will simply be able to point their IPhone, IPad, I(whatever apple comes up with next) at a portion of their completed building and access Building Information Modeling information. For a very prosaic example, a light needs to be replaced - interject IPhone magic - instructions: buy X light and obtain ladder.

I simply cannot do justice to the work of these incredible individuals in a single blog post. Instead in conclusion, I commend the four speakers for a cohesive and thought provoking evening, and encourage you to read their newly released work:

I leave you with this thought, which I believe Phillip stated as the presentation concluded: 'It takes a recession for the building industry to be truly reflective and begin to make changes'.
This thought, I think, can leave us all with hope for what lies ahead for the profession and for our built communities.

22 February 2010

Broken Angel

One of my favorite qualities of New York City life is the ability to wander aimlessly around nearly any neighborhood in this vast metropolis and somehow stumble upon architectural treasures. I found this gem on a lovely Sunday afternoon stroll to a friend's abode.

Of course, after stumbling upon this enchanted castle-esque structure. I had to uncover the history behind such a building. This turned out to be almost as fascinating as observing the structure itself.

The building is located in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, at the intersection of Quincy and Downing to be exact. For those of you who are unaware, this building served as the backdrop for the documentary film 'Dave Chappelle's Block Party' in 2006.

How did this house come into existence? Through a twenty-seven year commitment of labor by two artists, Aurthur Wood and his wife Cynthia. Together, they purchased the property in 1971 for an astounding $2,000 (as this neighborhood gentrifies, the lot has since skyrocketed in value). Aurthur is a self-taught artist, contractor, and architect. He dedicated the next twenty-seven years of his life to creating his ideal home. In a truly sustainable spirit, Aurthur and Cynthia reused items to create the structure, bottles, pipes, anything they could get their hands on was used to create an artistic oasis.

In this home, they cultivated a spirit of creation and experimentation. Many of the 'rooms' were exposed to natural elements. I read that they kept a jar full of water in their kitchen and when the water froze, they sent their son to stay warm with friends. Many of the 'stories' were simply half-formed slabs, precariously suspended from walls and ceilings. The Woods lived peacefully in their sanctuary until a fire in 2006 finally gave the Department of Buildings just cause to inspect the property. I don't know the details of what they found inside, but the building was vehemently disapproved for habitation, a risk to human life. What followed has become a battle of epic proportions between artist and developer, those who want to preserve and those who want to create a unified, condo driven street scape.

Of course, I am in support of such eccentricity and a strong proponent of preservation, if merely for the building's ability to invoke critical thought. A film was created by Margot Niederland and filmed at the Sundance Film Festival in 1991. She is quoted in an LA Times article as referring to Wood as "a crazy New York Gaudi". While this sentiment may draw a question mark for many architectural historians, there is something special at 4 Downing Street in Clinton Hill. Just last month, Cynthia Wood passed away after a long battle with cancer, the community has left this homage to her memory. I hope that the community can also find a way to create a lasting, and functional memory from this fascinating dedication to the built form.

I will leave you with this thought, from Aurthur Wood himself. It was said that Aurthur questioned whether people should live in the bottom of a cube of space. Rather, he questioned why people can't exist diagonally in this cube. Despite the apparent legal 'unsafe and unlivable' conditions that this sentiment provoked in the Broken Angel, the question bears cause for thoughtful contemplation and critical architectural thought.

20 February 2010

A Vegetable Grows Here

A very important petition is underway. The citizens of New York are taking action, and working to show Mayor Michael Bloomberg that an organic vegetable garden in front of City Hall would not only improve the health and wellbeing of New York's urban population, but would also set a precedent for cities around the world.

The petition reads:

To Mayor Michael Bloomberg:
We, the undersigned people of New York City,
respectfully request that a vegetable garden
be planted in front of City Hall.

This garden will represent New Yorkers' commitment to
education, public service, healthy eating, and
environmental stewardship. This garden will be tended by
NYC public school students, in collaboration with the
NYC Department of Parks & Recreation and our region's
talented gardeners and farmers. The harvest will be
donated to a nearby food pantry to feed the hungry.

This garden will represent the vision of a more sustainable,
livable City for all New Yorkers, and will contribute
to achieving the intents of PLANYC by 2030.

As New Yorkers look to the first lady for inspiration, we are showing that we are ready to take the next steps in making New York a more sustainable, healthy city.

A post in New York Time's Diner's Journal highlights key points advocating for the garden and its beneficial elements. Please read and also sign the petition to make New York City a greener place: http://peoplesgardennyc.org/petition/

I look forward to updating on the progress of this petition and the garden that will soon grow in front of New York's City Hall.

12 February 2010

Urban Density vs. Natural Landscape

A driving passion behind my architectural studies has always been the dichotomy between urbanity and the natural world. Can the two worlds exist together? Can an intensity of both concepts exist to support and even enhance the other? I have struggled with this concept for years, basing much of my thesis research around this harmonic notion.
The idea is a simple one in theory, yet it is so rarely found in American society. Usable open space often becomes overlooked and taken for granted in the suburbs and lusted after in dense urban settings.

So the battle becomes one of lifestyle choices. Does one forgo one luxury to achieve the other? Families flock to the suburbs to provide their children with safe outdoor areas, while giving up access to other areas of the city and the ability to travel anywhere without a car. Others value urban connectivity to the extent that they are willing to give up an abundance and freedom of outdoor space to stay connected to their urban roots and culture.

Ironically, my new home is located in an extremely accessible area of Brooklyn. My subway station is only one block away and I travel can from Lower East Side music venues to my bed in less than 45 minutes, I timed myself last night. I live in a six story building, yet can see Prospect Park from my writing desk! That's right, I have the delicate balance of dense urbanism and natural environments at my fingertips. So, this begins a series of posts dedicated to my continued study of the relationships fostered between inhabitants of this dense neighborhood and the sprawling natural environment to which we all enjoy access. How does it affect the lives of those who live nearby? How does it influence neighborhood connectivity and interaction? I intend to dedicate a portion of the following year finding out!

In addition, to show off how lovely this urban oasis is, I will update photos of the Park throughout the seasons. As you all know, we all got hit with a blizzard this week, thus follows the Park in all of its winter glory.

Even Apollo loves his access to nature!

Crossing into the Park.

08 February 2010


The New York State Motto.
The title of a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
A bar near my new home.

So marks a change in location and a new direction for this blog.
As I transition into a new life as a New Yorker, I carry the Latin translation of this word with me, and am reminded, 'ever upward'!

I leave you with the opening stanza to Longfellow's poem:

The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, 'mid snow and ice,
A banner with the strange device,