Green Building Codes Progress Report: NYC on track to become the greenest city in America.

Two years after New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg established a Green Codes Task Force that made 111 recommendations for reducing New York’s carbon footprint by greening building codes, the city has issued a progress report and the news is good.  The newly adopted green building codes are putting the City on track to meet PlanNYC’s goal to lower carbon emission, energy consumption and to become the greenest city in America.

According to the report released last week,  29 of the 111 recommendations have been adopted.  While seemingly a small fraction of the total, the 29 recommendations have had a dramatic impact thus far, diverting 100,000 tons of asphalt from landfills each year; reducing greenhouse gas emissions citywide by 5 percent; lowering the costs of lighting energy by 10 percent; and providing $400 million in savings by 2030.

”When we launched PlaNYC five years ago, we put forward a bold vision to make our City more sustainable, and meeting those goals is now a part of how our city develops,” said Mayor Bloomberg.  “The forward-thinking proposals enacted in the last two years will benefit buildings that make up this City and the people who inhabit them.  Echoing the Mayor’s enthusiam, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn said, “We are well on our way to making New York the greenest City in America. “

Tom Kundig comes east for a talk and sell-out book-signing event

Seattle-based architect Tom Kundig, of Olson Kundig Architects was in New York last week to talk with Town and Country Editor, Mark Rosso, about “the role of place, nature, materials and craft” in his signature, award-winning designs.  Over 100 people attended the event, which was held at the New York Public Library.  Afterwards, Kundig signed copies of his new book, Tom Kundig: Houses 2, for an eager and patient crowd.   Published by Princeton Architectural Press (PA Press), Tom Kundig: Houses 2 is a sequel to the architect’s first and monograph, Tom Kundig: Houses.   It features 17 stunning houses ranging from a 500 square foot cabin in the woods to a house built out of solid rock.  I tried to get my hands on a copy of the book but it was sold out at the event.  PA Press representatives assured me that it will be restocked soon.  The popularity of the event and the book suggests that the public continues to be fascinated with the work of this architect.   Tom will be sitting on the jury panel for WAN’s House of the Year Award 2011 and was a past winner of the award himself with The Pierre, which graces the cover of Tom Kundig: Houses 2.

courtesy princeton architectural press

On the sidewalks of New York: Urban Umbrella makes its debut

Urban Umbrella, which is designed by Agencie Group and Young-Hwan Choi as a better alternative to the traditional scaffolding used to protect pedestrians from construction activity above, is now installed at 100 Broadway in Lower Manhattan.  University of Pennsylvania architecture student Choi won an international competition to design the shed and the N.Y. Department of Buildings, one of the competition’s sponsors, agreed to build it and possibly some of the other finalist designs.  The hope is that contractors will install the new sheds but they will still have the option to erect the old ones.  Choi’s design, which incorporates a structural system based on an umbrella, is highly transparent and incorporates LED lighting.

Character-changing NYU expansion plan heats up

New York University’s proposal to develop two superblocks in Greenwich Village has received certification from the Department of City Planning, thus beginning a seven-month process of scrutinizing the project, including its impact on mass transit, pedestrians and the environment.  But first, the University must convince the neighborhood that the project has a greater upside than downside.  That won’t easy, judging by the tenor of the community board meeting, the first of many, held last Wednesday, January 9, at the Center for Architecture where a packed crowd estimated at 500 filled the room, many eager to weigh in. 


For its part, NYU claims a major feature of its plan, which has been in the works for the past five years, has been vetting the project with the neighborhood.  But the community does not agree, as evidenced by such  impassioned statements as this one, from Andrew Berman, executive director of Greenwich Village Society for Preservation (GVSP), which opposes the project.  “NYU is …asking for long-term neighborhood zoning protections to be lifted, for open space preservation requirements to be gutted, for public space to be given away, (and) for urban renewal deed restrictions to be taken off the books,” said Andrew Berman.  “That can only happen if our city officials vote to give that to them, and we’re here tonight to say we’re not going to let you do that.”  

Public meetings with the community will continue over the next two weeks, after which the Community Board will issue a written recommendation.  Following that, Borough President Scoot Stringer will review the proposal.  A majority of City Council is needed to approve the proposal.

A Conversation With Ball-Nogues Studio

This is the first in a series of  chats with former winners of MoMA’s Young Architects Program and the New York Architectural League’s Emerging Architects Program.

Although they work and live in Los Angeles, you might say that Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues got their start (well at least a boost to their careers) here in New York.  Both are past winners of the New York Architecture League’s Emerging Architects program and MoMA PS1’s Young Architects program.   I sat down with Ben to see what he and Gaston are up to now and, more specifically, to ask how these programs, which are known to make rock stars out of emerging talents, have impacted their careers.  Why Ball Nogues?   In a talk delivered to the School of Visual Arts Design Criticism program last year, Christopher Hawthorne, the Architecture Critic for the Los Angeles Times, said, “Ball Nogues is among the most important young architects working today.”  With a validation like that you might say they are emerging no more but rather that they have arrived.

Q. What was the upshot of winning these two prestigious contests?  How did it affect your careers?

A.  Gaston and I started out in 2004.  Our careers have developed very rapidly   I’m not sure what if anything we can attribute to winning these awards. But for sure, they are a great honor and they do increase your visibility and cache. We were known within the architecture community beforehand but these awards gave us a solid legitimacy.  They change the way people perceive you and brought us to the attention of a segment of the population that didn’t know us.

Q. Did you get more calls from people wanting you to design projects for them as a result of your exposure in New York?

A. I cant say there is a direct connection between people’s interest in us and these programs?

Q. If you can’t attribute winning these awards to getting more project invitations, did they at least lead to more publishing opportunities?

A.  Given the reputation of these institutions (The League and MoMA) all the magazines picked up on it, the major architecture magazines, popular publications and The New York Times.  So yes. They did get us published in more publications.

Q. How is your shop organized and how do you get work?

A.  We work on a film industry model of practice.    We have a small studio, which varies from 4-12 employees and we ‘crew-up’ for projects.  While Gaston and I are both trained as architects our work is more along the lines of public art and installations so the focus is design and fabrication. Gaston worked at Gehry’s office for ten years as the creative fabricator there, and I spent seven years in the film industry as a designer and production manager.   We’ve had an unusual career trajectory and a bit of good luck.  We take on projects on a case-by-case basis.   In deciding whether to take a project on, we consider our schedule, what kind of people we will be working with, the potential of the venue, and whether the projects are of a scale we can manage. We also care about whether the projects are inspired by the right motivations.

Q. What are you currently up to?

A.  We just finished the largest public art installation for Edmonton Airport.   We were also commissioned to design an artwork for the Bradley West Terminal at the Los Angeles Airport that is 80 ft. tall by 100 ft long and 30 ft wide.

Q. What haven’t you done that you would like to do in the future?

A.  I would like us to do a building from the ground up.


Yucca Crater by Ball-Nogues

Ball-Nogues Studio is on most everyone’s radar these days and their future looks bright.   While Ben can’t attribute the firm’s meteoric rise to its winning the League’s prize or MoMA’s Young Architects Program, let’s just say there is such a thing as “accounting for good taste” and that these august institutions know good work when they see it.   It’s up to the winners what happens next.


All Aboard Apple’s New Flagship Store

The halls of Apple just got a bit bigger.   Last Friday, the tech giant opened a new 23,000 square foot store in New York’s Grand Central Terminal said to be one of company’s largest retail outlets in the world.   With five stores now open in Manhattan, it is as if New Yorkers can’t get enough of all things Apple.  

The new store is located on the East Balcony of the historic Beaux Arts building overlooking the majestic Grand Concourse, where it enjoys good visibility.  Like the other Apple stores, this one has an open plan, glass paneling, and features the trademark wooden tables and stools.  But unlike the other locations, this one is uniquely geared to commuters.   A new feature introduced here is Express Pick-Up, which allows customers to make purchases before arriving at the Terminal using a fee app, thus avoiding long lines and waits.    Also new are the 15-minute Express Workshops with  ‘Geniuses’ that offer tips and tricks in a streamlined fashion for commuters on a tight schedule.  While these services will no doubt  appeal to commuters-on-the-go, Apple is hoping the new location will play well residents and toursits too!    

The new store will be open from 7:00a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, and 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Aids Memorial Park Competition

Less than a month ago, the New York Times published an article about the future of a plot of land known as the Triangle located outside St. Vincent’s Hospital in the West Village, which is now closed and in the process of being transformed into luxury apartments.  One idea for the land’s reuse, which was floated by the Queer History Alliance (now AIDS Memorial Park Coalition),  spearheaded by Chris Tepper and Paul Kelterborn, was to create an AIDS Memorial Park.  As St. Vincent’s was “Ground Zero for the AIDS epidemic on the East Coast” and as there is no significant memorial in the city recognizing the more than 100,000 New Yorkers who lost their lives to AIDS, it seemed a good idea and apparently others think so too!  

On November 29, organizers and sponsors, which inlcude Architizer and Architectural Record, launched an open, international competition to design an AIDS Memorial Park and assembled an impressive jury that is headed by Michael Arad, designer of the National September 11 Memorial,  and includes Kurt Anderson, Barry Bergdoll,  Elizabeth Diller, Robert Hammond,  Richard Meier, Ken Smith, Suzanne Stephens, Bill Jones of New York Live Arts,  and Dr. Marjorie Hill, CEO of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.  Entries are due Janurary 21st, 2011.  For complete details follow the link  to the competition website provided

A Populist Makeover for New York’s Oldest Museum

The New York Historical Society opened its doors to the public last month after a three-year, $70 million renovation of its Central Park West Building.  Originally designed in 1903 by York and Sawyer, who trained with McKim Mead and White, the renovations were undertaken by Platt Byard Dovell White Architects, whose principal Sam White is the great-grandson of Stanford White and the firm an expert at renovating buildings of this ilk, which is described in the AIA Guide to New York City as “ a Beaux Arts treasure reminiscent of a Parisian bibliotheque”.

New York Historical Society/ Jonathan Wallen

While the renovation dutifully addresses the client’s directive to make the museum a more democratic place, by opening up the fortress-like structure, adding more glass and a creating a more open plan, one has to wonder if it will achieve this end or if populism will trump respectability in an effort to get more people in.   For years now, the museum has tried unsuccessfully to expand its facility, at one time proposing a controversial 23-story residential tower next to its West 76TH street building.  This time around, it has taken a subtler, less intrusive approach all the while insisting that the changes were necessary for its survival.

Many things about the renovation project are on point. On the exterior, there is a wider main staircase and an expanded main entrance on Central Park West; better sightlines into the building from the street have been created; and a wholly redesigned entrance on 77TH Street offers improved access for school groups and visitors with disabilities. But some aspects are less successful, such as the enlargement of the windows flanking the main entrance to create doors.  Given the rigorous symmetry of the building, these openings will not appeal to preservation purists.

Inside, a new gallery was added on the ground floor, improvements were made to the auditorium, and new amenity spaces were added including a new destination restaurant that will stay open after hours.   A new children’s museum, designed by Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership, was added in the lower level.  In the admissions area, a ceiling from Keith Haring’s original Pop Shop was incorporated to give the Museum a more contemporary feel and to attract a wider audience, particularly a younger crowd.

These improvements make for a more dynamic museum experience, says the museum.   Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New York Historical Society, describes the transformation thusly….”It is as if at entry level, we are going from being a beautiful treasure house to a great showplace of the American experience.”

The continuing trend on the part of cultural institutions to treat their treasure houses as populist places by dumbing down their contents to appeal to the masses and expanding amenity space, is concerning for those seeking a more authentic experience.  Making collections relevant to a broader audience, as was done here with an expanded focus on children and the incorporation of new technologies that bring materials to life in ways not previously imagined, is a good thing.  But when such measures serve to obscure history rather than illuminate it, as the New York Times writer Edward Rothstein said of the Museum’s opening exhibition,  ‘Revolution!’, history itself is the loser.

Hopefully in time the New York Historical Society will hit its stride and its exhibitions will not fall victim to the very technologies that were put in place to share its collections with new audiences.



Basking in the Uniqlo

Last month Japanese retailer, Uniqlo, known for its budget-conscious clothes, opened two new stores in Manhattan, an 89,000 square foot store on Fifth Avenue and a 64,000 square foot store on 34TH Street just around the corner from the Empire State Building.   Both are airy and contemporary with neutral finishes that allow ithe brand’s brightly colored clothes to pop.   Taking a page out of the Prada Epicenter playbook, the stores are “experience-focused” selling more a lifestyle,  which in turn generates desire for its goods, much like Nike did for its brand with its “Be Like Mike” campaign.  Uniqlo cultivates interest in its brand by enlisting interesting people to promote its goods, like actress Susan Sarandon who was on hand for store’s opening; through partnerships with high-fashion designers like Jil Sander, who produce limited collections for the brand that give it an upscale cache, and through the design of the stores themselves, which incorporate innovative merchandising concepts to lure shoppers in and keep them interested.  

Designed by Wonderwall with Gensler, the stores start  “selling” at the street incorporating facades that have a high degree of transparency and blur the boundary between public and private space.  With spinning mannequins visible through its storefronts and more than 300 LED screens dancing across its façades, the experience is a bit like street theatre and is at times dizzying.  Despite the gimmickrey,  there are some notable features at each store.    At the Fifth Avenue location, the big design move there is the 60-ft escalators that soar from the first to third level and are flanked by grand stairs lit with neon risers.  All of this is intended to create a modern shopping experience that is effortless, fun and service-focused. Whether such details translate into sales remains to be seen.

While its far too early to tell if Uniqlo is here to stay or if it will quickly disappear again as it did in the early 2000s when it opened its first US stores in suburban New Jersey malls, one thing is for sure.  With the opening of these stores,  the company is making a big play for the US market in one of the worst economies ever.   For this it is gutsy, if nothing else.

Rogers’ Port Authority Tower Shelved


Courtesy Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

The on again off again plans to build a skyscraper above the Port Authority Bus Terminal hit a major snag today.  The tower’s developer, Vornado Trust, told Bloomberg News that it is would not proceed with the project.  The reason given was the loss of development partner Chinese investor, Soho China Ltd, which planned to put $600 million into the project.  With Vorando out of the picture, the Port must go back to the drawing board and decide what it’s going to do, whether it will seek another investor for the project or scuttle plans altogether.  One thing is for certain the terminal badly needs renovating and in its current condition it is not a source of civic pride for those New Yorkers and visitors who journey through its doors each day.

In a press conference held today, Patrick Foye, the Port’s director, gave no timetable for reassessing the project.  He said only that the “transaction (referring to the cancelled deal) was important as it would provide desperately needed capital to rebuild and expand the bus terminal as well as generate tax revenue for the city and region, and create jobs.”

The project, which is called 20 Times Square and was designed by London-based Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, was cancelled once before and postponed on another occasion due to the economy.     Vornado and Soho China Ltd were selected in 2000 by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to develop the 1.3 million-square-foot office tower above the terminal, which is located on Eighth Avenue between West 40th and West 42nd streets.