Tag Archives: new york city

“Building Like Moses with Jacobs in Mind”

"Building Like Moses with Jacobs in Mind": Contemporary Planning in New York City by Scott Larson
Temple University Press, 2013
Paperback, 198 pages

In a little less than three months New Yorkers will go to the polls to elect the successor to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who will complete his third term at the end of the year. In Bloomberg's 12 years in office he has had a major impact on the physical state of the city, from the completion of 2/3 of the elevated High Line park in West Chelsea and the continued transformation of formerly industrial waterfronts into parks and residential uses, to the rezoning of parts of the city (such as that around the High Line) to allow more bulk and the start of large-scale projects he's steered, such as Hudson Yards, Atlantic Yards, and Columbia's expansion in Manhattanville. Some may argue that Bloomberg's achievements have only improved NYC for the better, but others, including scholar Scott Larson, would take the opposite stance and argue that he has focused his efforts on the upper classes at the expense of the lower and middle classes.

How was Mayor Bloomberg able to foster developments targeted at the upper classes, create parks in adjacent areas, and pedestrianize streets in primarily tourist areas (among other significant accomplishments)? The answer, according to Larson, lies in the administration's championing of two historically oppositional forces: Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. The influence of both on the city is undeniable: Moses modernized the city through the construction of parkways, parks, playgrounds, public housing, cultural centers, and much, much more; Jacobs embraced diversity, history, small blocks, and the human aspects of neighborhoods, in the process fighting off Moses as he tried to bulldoze highways through parts of Manhattan that are now cherished for their history, scale, and architecture.

Bloomberg and his compatriots (most notably City Planning Director Amanda Burden and Deputy Mayor of Economic Development Daniel Doctoroff) pushed a development agenda that embraced the large-scale, top-down projects of Moses as well as the small-scale, bottom-up qualities of Jacobs, what Burden called "building like Moses with Jacobs in mind." In this quote, Moses receives top billing, pointing to what is really going on: the administration imposed a particular view of the city on the public. Even PlaNYC, which was promoted as a plan developed with the public through community meetings in 2007, was basically completed as a plan before it was ever presented to the public; the meetings (one of which I attended) were basically informational, without any room for incorporating comments. So Moses represented a way of getting things done, while Jacobs was merely a way of softening the edges of various schemes—the public doesn't want a stadium in Hudson Yards? Add some public green space around it.

Larson brilliantly dissects Bloomberg's tenure as Mayor of New York (particularly the first two terms), focusing on how the administration used the prevailing legacies of Moses and Jacobs to get what they wanted done. (Bloomberg's successful repeal of terms limits to give himself more time to implement his objectives reiterates this strategy.) After some history on Moses and Jacob and the way they have come to represent oppositional means of planning, Larson discusses the mayor's large-scale plans (2012 Olympics bid, Hudson Yards, Atlantic Yards, and Columbia University in Manhattanville) relative to a synthesis of the two personalities. Next are analyses of the exhibitions and books that reappraised the legacy of Robert Moses (I wrote about those for NYFA Current in 2007), as well as reactions on the part of Jacobs advocates, like the Municipal Art Society. Outside of a chapter devoted to the Regional Plan Association's Region at Risk report from 1996 (an influential document for the Bloomberg administration), and one on the work of Moses and Jacobs outside of New York City, the rest of the book focuses on just how Bloomberg used the tactic of "building like Moses with Jacobs in mind." One focused on Burden and her means of rolling design into the agenda is of particular interest to architects and urban designers.

Considering how easy it can be to get carried along with the positive aspects of what has happened in the last dozen years (the last 5-6 years, really, if we focus on what the administration started and completed), it's good—no, imperative—to have critical voices like Larson questioning the motives of those in power. The parks and other public spaces that Bloomberg has spearheaded have given the public plenty to appreciate, but even the High Line became a means of rezoning a desirable area, making it even further out of reach for most of us. Accomplishments like these overshadow what Bloomberg hasn't done for those who cannot afford million-dollar condos. His legacy as Mayor of New York is hardly etched in stone, and this book raises a flag as to what that legacy should be, as well as to what his successor should really focus on.

US: Buy from Amazon.com CA: Buy from Amazon.ca UK: Buy from Amazon.co.uk

The Public Theater

The Public Theater in New York City by Ennead Architects, 2012.

Sometimes the smallest and most discrete of projects can have the greatest impact. Such is my take upon experiencing the new lobby for The Public Theater at Astor Place, and hearing the history of the building and project from Ennead Architects (formerly Polshek Partnership). The Public occupies the former Astor Library, which actually consists of three buildings constructed over the course of 30 years in the middle of the 19th century. The Byzantine landmark nevertheless appears as one entity, with bilateral symmetry about its taller middle section. Over the years the building changed from a library to a boarding house and then to a theater, when Joseph Papp persuaded the city to save the building from demolition in the 1960s. Small physical changes had large effects, especially the relegation of the library's exterior steps to the interior, a situation that made the lobby of The Public's five theaters less than ideal.

Easily the most important design decision in the transformation of the lobby and entry by Ennead Architects is the relocation of the steps from inside the building back to the sidewalk. This decision certainly complicated the process, as it brought the city's Department of Transportation into the picture, but the benefits to both The Public and the city outweigh any potential headaches or delays. First, ADA ramps were provided, a much better arrival than the handicap lift formerly by the front door. Second, the shallow and generous three-sided steps are a nice public amenity, accomplished by bumping out the curb in front of the steps. Third, the addition of a canopy over the stairs helps to give the institution a strong identity on Lafayette. Fourth is the fact that the exterior steps free up space in the lobby, something that gave the Ennead team, led by project designer Stephen Chu, design counsel James Polshek and management partner Duncan Hazard a bit more freedom in their lobby design.

Upon walking inside, the first impression is the fairly generous size of the space (not huge, but bigger than before). Yet the second impression is the most important: the space flows from the lobby in all directions—through the arched openings on the left and right, through the larger rectangular openings in the back wall, and up to the new mezzanine inserted above the ticket booth opposite the entry. Ennead's reworking of the circulation, in particular the fire stairs bordering the lobby, enabled them to provide access to the five theaters and Joe's Pub (formerly entered via an alley on the north side of the building) through the various openings of the lobby. Red and black text (done with Pentagram) is seemingly pressed into the white plaster, giving clear orientation from this central space.

Given the opening up of the lobby and the flow of space through the openings, it's not surprising that very little of the design is object-based; even the lighting is hidden above the beams where it highlights the coffers as it illuminates the space. The only objects inserted into the space are an elliptical bar, a chandelier above it, and the aforementioned mezzanine. The latter attracts attention through the red-glass guardrail, yet it fits with the general scheme of white, red, and black. The bar and light fixture, combined with the ticket booth behind as well as the openings on both sides, reinforce the symmetry of the building and the lobby. Most striking and dynamic is the Shakespeare Machine, the large light sculpture designed by Ben Rubin. Even as it anchors the center of the lobby with the bar, its swirling form and ever-changing readouts capture the motion of people in the space as they venture to and from shows. Yet the lobby and mezzanine are also places for lingering, something that would have been furthest from people's minds in its previous incarnation.

101 Spring Street

Art and architecture—all the arts—do not have to exist in isolation, as they do now. This fault is very much a key to the present society. Architecture is nearly gone, but it, art, all the arts, in fact all parts of society, have to be rejoined, and joined more than they have ever been. -Donald Judd, 1986

101 Spring Street in New York City by Architecture Research Office, 2013


[5th Floor, 2013. Photo Credit: Josh White. Donald Judd Art © Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, New York Artwork © John Chamberlain. © Lucas Samaras. Dan Flavin © Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Donald Judd FurnitureTM© Judd Foundation.]

In 1968, artist Donald Judd (1928-1994) purchased a 5-story cast iron building in SoHo for $68,000, subsequently moving his studio and his family there from further uptown. Constructed in 1870 by Nicholas Whyte, the impressive gray and glass building is located on the northeast corner of Spring and Mercer Streets. When Judd moved in, the area was an empty assemblage of industrial buildings that was on the cusp of the transformations (at first clandestine and later embraced by the city) that eventually helped turned SoHo into the pricey enclave it is today. That the Judd Foundation has been able to keep hold of the property (it's the only single-function building left in SoHo) and restore the building for public visits is both remarkable and necessary—now people can better appreciate Judd's work, his relationship to the city, and the evolution of New York City in the latter half of the 20th century.


[Exterior, 2013. Photo: John Hill.]

New York City's Architecture Research Office (ARO) is the project architect for the restoration, accompanied by a small fleet of architects and engineers. Most notable are Walter B. Melvin Architects, the exterior restoration architect, and Arup, the engineers responsible for MEP and fire protection. The latter's role is especially important, given how little space was available for mechanical and fire protection systems—ingenuity with space and technology allowed the systems to follow the mandate of the whole project: The structure and Judd's interventions should appear the same after the three-year restoration as they did before. In this sense, ARO's role would appear to be architectural sleight of hand, and to a certain degree that is true. But considering that for most people the building at 101 Spring Street was a place shrouded by scaffolding (installed in 2002 for safety), experiencing the building and its spaces will be a novel one where art and architecture merge.


[1st Floor, 2013 Photo Credit: Josh White. Image © Judd Foundation. Donald Judd Art © Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, New York.]

Visiting the building, as I was able to do on a recent spring afternoon, one of the first impressions after taking in the crisp restoration of the cast iron is the mottled appearance of the glass, which looks to be anything but intentional. But intentional it is, with new glass replicating the unique visual texture that surrounded Judd when he lived and worked in the spaces. The first floor was initially Judd's studio, but he moved it to the third floor for more privacy. After the building opens to the public in June, the first floor will serve as an events space; a couple floors in the basement—lit by glass blocks in the sidewalk—serve as the Judd Foundation's offices. The first floor is anchored by a couple Judd pieces, a precarious-looking sculpture by Carl Andre, and a roll-top desk that Judd found in the building, restored, and used.


[2nd Floor, 2013 Photo Credit: Josh White. Image © Judd Foundation. Art © Ad Reinhardt. Donald Judd FurnitureTM© Judd Foundation.]

The second floor is the living space, most impressive for the Judd-designed kitchen that tucks itself partly under the stair and a sleeping loft. This floor feels domestic, yet as if it exists synergestically with the art and furnishings that occupy the large open space. The third floor is more museum-like, with art and some drafting instruments on display, but a similar domestic sensation continues on the fifth floor (the fourth floor was still being worked on at the time of my visit), where bedrooms, closets, and sleeping loft anchor the north end of the building, in a similar location to the kitchen downstairs. This floor also houses an enormous Dan Flavin light sculpture running the whole length of the floor, an element that makes a strong argument for uniting art, architecture, and life into one whole.


[2nd Floor, 2013 Photo Credit: Josh White. Image © Judd Foundation. Art © Ad Reinhardt. Donald Judd FurnitureTM© Judd Foundation.]

I have not visited Marfa, Donald Judd's well-known outpost in West Texas, but I'm guessing both places share the characteristic of control. This word (not used in a critical way) colors Judd's precisely machined forms and the importance of their placement within natural and artificial environments. Everything at 101 Spring Street, be it art by him or others or even domestic implements, is carefully positioned, following Judd's use of the building. This lends the space a feeling that is similar to other house-museums, such as much older ones in the city run by Parks and Rec and the Historic House Trust. But where those and other houses may use period furnishings (original and not) to convey a sense of the place and time, 101 Spring Street exhibits the lived-in experiment that Judd made of the building, an important distinction that stresses the importance of thinking about expression and the environment in which it happens.


[3rd Floor, 2013 Photo Credit: Josh White. Art © Larry Bell. Image © Judd Foundation.]


[5th Floor, 2013 Photo Credit: Josh White. Donald Judd Art © Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, New York. Dan Flavin © Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.]


[5th Floor, 2013 Photo Credit: Josh White. Donald Judd Art © Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, New York. © Claes Oldenburg. © Lucas Samaras. Dan Flavin © Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Donald Judd FurnitureTM© Judd Foundation.]


[2nd Floor, 2010 Photo Credit: Mauricio Alejo. Judd Foundation Archives. Image © Judd Foundation. Donald Judd FurnitureTM© Judd Foundation.]


[3rd Floor, 2003 Photo Credit: Rainer Judd. Judd Foundation Archives. Image/Art © Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, New York.]


[4th Floor, 2010 Photo Credit: Mauricio Alejo. Judd Foundation Archives. Image © Judd Foundation. Flavin artwork © Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Donald Judd FurnitureTM© Judd Foundation.]

Alexandre Arrechea: No Limits

No Limits in New York City by Alexandre Arrechea, 2013.

Since 2000 the Sculpture Committee of The Fund for Park Avenue and the Public Art Program of the City of New York’s Department of Parks & Recreation have collaborated with artists and arts organizations to install sculptures in the middle of Park Avenue. Since 2007 the exhibitions have occurred on a regular basis, twice a year. The first for 2013 is No Limits, featuring pieces by Cuban artist Alexandre Arrechea, who currently lives in Westchester County. Ten large sculptures extend from 54th to 67th Street. Each one is based on a famous building in Manhattan, many of them on or near Park Avenue.

On a Monday morning walk from 59th Street to Grand Central Terminal I was able to look at and photograph half of the sculptures. Easily the most striking of these is Sherry Netherland, seen in the first four photos. The actual building, a hotel, is located at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park. Arrechea curls the building in on itself, like a snake biting its tail or a circle that is cracked to reveal the decorative top. As with the other pieces, it's hard not to wonder what the deformation says about the building, but the playful forms can be appreciated without any intellectual investigation.

I believe the same way that a building is exposed to daily elements and changes - cold, heat, rain, fog - it is also exposed to constant changes in function - increases and decreases in market value, tenant use, and therefore purpose and social value. These persistent modifications are something I want to capture and embody in my work, creating a new model in constant negotiation with its surroundings. -Alexandre Arrechea

This quote by the artist gets to the heart of the transformations: What people usually think of as static—buildings—are actually flexible in various ways. Arrechea sculpts the scaled-down buildings in steel, a material that is seen as rigid and cold, but which is liquid and hot before its "final" formation. This choice makes perfect sense, and it lends the pieces a certain impossibility: How could a steel model of the Sherry Netherland curl like that? How does the Seagram Building get wound up like that?

Arrechea's statement about flexibility and change is fairly broad, but I think that each piece is making a statement about the particular building it references, be it about the form or something deeper. The Seagram is wound like a tape or hose as if to say that the stacked floors can be repeated almost endlessly; there is no vertical variation unlike the Sherry Netherland, for example. The Flatiron takes away the building's signature triangular plan and turns the facade into a flag or sign, a symbol of itself that borders on the two-dimensional. And if the artist's drawing at the end is any indication, both CitiGroup and Court House are kinetic; the former spins like an off-kilter top, suitable given the tower's asymmetrical top; and the latter's pendulum swing must be a metaphor for this country's legal system.

The sculptures are best seen from the sidewalks to the east and the west, as most of them are oriented to the sides. This means that views up and down the avenue from within the median are not as strong, but getting close to the pieces is also a treat; a close-up photo of Seagram shows some details not visible from afar. Many of the sculptures get lost against the backdrop of Park Avenue's skyscrapers, but I think as the trees bloom the art will stand out even more, lending some appreciation to the sculptures and the buildings they reference.

Artist Residence and Studio

Artist Residence and Studio in New York City by Caliper Studio, 2010.

In the late 1980s artist Roy Lichtenstein moved into a two-story warehouse that was converted to a residence and studio by 1100 Architect. Lichtenstein died in 1997, and the building, located across the street from Westbeth Artists Housing, is now occupied by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, a "private operating foundation [that] aspires to encourage a broader understanding of the art of Roy Lichtenstein and of the contemporary art and artists of his time." In 2007 the Estate of Roy Lichtenstein hired Caliper Studio for restoration and renovation work.

The most overt outcome of the process happens on the 6,000-sf (557-sm) roof, where "a quiet landscape of wall to wall sedum plants" now exists. The L-shaped roof is crowded in by buildings on three sides, but it does reach toward Washington Street on the west, in the direction of Westbeth (photo at right). People walking up and down the street can glance atop the one-story garage to get a glimpse of one of two large-scale Lichtenstein sculptures installed on the roof, in this case "Endless Drip."

"Brushstrokes" sits at a remove from the street, between a rebuilt penthouse office and new concrete shell skylights. A locust-wood deck snakes its way from the office to a rebuilt kitchen; the gray bricks of each volume stand out from the original building, marking these as new constructions. Further, Caliper Studio -- which is comprised of Caliper Architecture and Caliper Fabrication -- is responsible for much of the fabrication: skylights, canopy, trellis, planter, window frames and grates, railings. Their construction documentation is worth a look, particularly for the forming of the skylights.

Below the roof level, much of the work carried out was in keeping with the original conditions of Lichtenstein's studio and residence. According to the architects, "The quality of the space and its character have been maintained through original artifacts including the artist’s built-in wall easel system and paint splattered floor." This leaves the roof as the canvas, if you will, for the architects, who chose sedum as their primary medium, even as they crafted other pieces in wood, metal, and concrete. The roof landscape softens the space between the various buildings and gives Lichtenstsein's sculptures a contrasting background, something akin to a sculpture garden in the middle of the city.

Photographs are by Ty Cole, courtesy of Caliper Studio.

Wendy

Wendy in Long Island City, New York by HWKN, 2012.

Wendy is the name Matthias Hollwich and Marc Kushner (HWKN) gave their competition-winning entry for the 13th Young Architects Program (YAP) at MoMA PS1, which was recently unveiled and is on display until mid-September. The YAP "is committed to offering emerging architectural talent the opportunity to design and present innovative projects." Some basic and minimal criteria -- providing shade, seating, and water -- and a generous courtyard allow for varied experimentation, some successful, some not. Wendy is more the former than the latter, an iconic form that is dynamic, explosive even, yet actually quite rational.

HWKN explains that Wendy "is composed of nylon fabric treated with a ground breaking titania nanoparticle spray to neutralize airborne pollutants." This is the same nanoparticle that was used in Richard Meier's design for the Jubilee Church in Rome, though there it was part of the concrete admixture, not applied on top. HWKN is using it as a coating, potentially creating a precedent for applying it to exterior facades, both old and new, as a means to protect them from pollution and clean the air. To maximize the surface area of the fabric, Hollwich and Kushner pulled the material in and out, in and out, creating a blue starburst enclosed in scaffolding.

This scaffolding is the second element in the installation's design, a cheap armature for the expensively coated fabric. Or as MoMA curator Pedro Gadanho describes Wendy, "[it] is slightly trashy and provocative — as it uses scaffolding systems, but also a visual language that is graphic and pop." The almost cubic grid of scaffolding is like a fine,wire-like enclosure from a distance, but it never entirely disappears. The closer one gets, the stronger its presence. Its role is important, not only for structuring the fabric and the interior space, but for the way it sets up an orthogonal grid against which the angular form reads. It is a datum for the explosion happening within.

And yes, Wendy does enclose an accessible space. A flight of stairs on one side of the cube leads to a landing and two branches up to another landing. Within the space one is up close not only with the scaffolding -- made up of diagonals as well as orthogonal members, keeping the perimeter gridded -- but also large fans that cool the space and blow mists of water out of some of the tapered projections. This is the last of Wendy's elements: water. In addition to the mist, there are some pools in the northeast courtyard and a stream of water that arcs from one side of the same courtyard to the other. The fabric, scaffolding, fans, and water combine to create a memorable experience. While people cannot literally see they fabric cleaning the equivalent of 260 cars' emissions over the summer, they can see the shape of what it takes to do such, and perhaps even the future of "clean architecture".

New York City Landmarks

New York City Landmarks, photographs by Jake Rajs, text by Francis Morrone
Antique Collectors Club, 2012
Hardcover, 236 pages

What are the new New York City landmarks? The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, Central Park, and the Brooklyn Bridge obviously spring to mind when considering the city's tried-and-true landmarks, but this book by photographer Jake Rajs with historian Francis Morrone spurs consideration of the city's 21st-century landmarks. It's a loaded question because, outside of official designations coming from New York City's Landmark Preservation Commission, the label is one that comes from a building or space's longevity and its appreciation by both residents and tourists. To call something a landmark, legal label or not, is to see the city and the landmark in synonymous terms: Think of New York City and the Statue of Liberty comes to mind; think of the Statue of Liberty and New York City comes to mind. But can the same thing apply to new buildings and spaces?

Of the 76 entries, I count around 15-20 entries dating post-2000. Defining this number is complicated by the fact that many of these 21st-century buildings are additions or renovations to historical structures, such as the Morgan Library & Museum, Hearst Tower, the Museum of Modern Art, the High Line. Like the city itself, these projects have evolved over time, gaining more buildings as they gained more land, adding amenities in response to contemporary times, renovating buildings or infrastructure for other uses, whatever the case may be. So a count of ground-up, post-2000 buildings (like the historical structures mentioned at the beginning of this review) brings us to a third of that, five or six, maybe seven. Buildings designed by Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, and SANAA are accompanied by a memorial in Lower Manhattan, twin-ish towers overlooking Columbus Circle, and two cubes: the Apple Cube and the Rose Center for Earth and Space. The defining characteristics of these new landmarks during a time of prevailing stylistic pluralism are attention-getting facades, lots of glass, and a desire to stand out from their neighbors. If they will still be landmarks in 75 years, just as the Chrysler Building is now (initially it was greeted with lukewarm reception), certainly remains to be seen.

This search for 21st-century landmarks illustrates that this guidebook offers plenty for travelers, not just the same old historical structures. Rajs and Morrone acknowledge the changing facets of the city; the former turns his camera on these attention-getting buildings while the latter tempers his usual distaste for contemporary architecture (people may remember his articles at 2 Blowhards). They are both adept at highlighting the best the city has going, be it the formal aspects and plays of light upon a building's surface or peeling away the historical layers to present obscure but remarkable stories about a place. With its handsome photographs and skillful descriptions, it's a book that is as fitting a memento as it is a guide.

US: Buy from Amazon.com CA: Buy from Amazon.ca UK: Buy from Amazon.co.uk

National September 11 Memorial

National September 11 Memorial in New York City by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, 2011.

It was a cold, gray and windy day when I finally made my way to the National September 11 Memorial last week. Given that it was also the middle of a work day, the crowd at the Memorial was sparse. It was also a breeze to trek through the cumbersome routine required for visiting: reserve a timed visitor pass online; stop by the Preview Site northeast of the World Trade Center site to pick up the pass; walk to the southern end of the site for the Memorial entry; walk through airport-like security screening; follow the path to the western edge of the site to step foot on the plaza to finally see and hear the Memorial footprints up close.

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is the full name of the project that encompasses the Memorial designed by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, and the Museum designed by Snøhetta and Davis Brody Bond. The latter is set to open in September 2012 (recent disputes make that improbable), so for now the experience is limited to walking about the plaza and circling the two pools whose footprints correspond with the locations of the World Trade Center's North and South Towers destroyed on September 11, 2001. Entry to the plaza is basically tangent to the southern edge of the South Pool, meaning that most people gravitate to the southwest corner of that pool to look into the cascading waterfalls. The wearing away of the parapet's bronze finish in this corner (little to no wear is evident in other places) made me wonder how people's interactions with the Memorial will add a layer of patina to the place: The bronze parapets will exhibit the residue of people's movements and reflect which names have been touched the most.

"[The 9/11 Memorial's] design conveys a spirit of hope and renewal, and creates a contemplative space separate from the usual sights and sounds of a bustling metropolis." -National September 11 Memorial & Museum website

While securing the World Trade Center site is one reason for the circuitous route to gain access to the plaza, the horseshoe-shaped entry sequence also stems from the rebuilding that surrounds the Memorial on three sides. Both 1WTC and 4WTC are rising to the north and east, respectively, as two glass towers among the four planned. Between them is a lot more construction closer to the ground, the bulk of which won't be complete for at least five years. This means that the separation from the "usual sights and sounds of a bustling metropolis" is still some years off. Yes, the water does a good job of drowning out the blast whistles and other sounds of construction, but only so when right up against the guardrails that are home to the names of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks and the February 1993 bombing. So presently the surrounding construction is a distraction, but so is the Snøhetta-designed Visitor Pavilion, a stainless-steel-clad angular insertion that will provide access to Davis Brody Bond's below-grade museum, but which currently steals attention away from the footprints. As the one element in the rebuilding that is most befitting Daniel Libeskind's winning masterplan, it is interesting as an object, but its dynamic form is an odd counterpoint to the tranquil pools.

This digression about the Visitor Pavilion is not to say that the Memorial is perfect, or that it needs to be respected by the other buildings in order to be successful. If anything the Memorial is most powerful when one confronts it directly, removing the surroundings from one's periphery and looking closely at the names on the parapet and taking in the sounds and enormous expanse of the black void. I'm still saddened that Arad and company didn't fight harder to keep the names underground, per his initial design; this would have ensured a removal from the city around the Memorial for the full experience and carried some metaphorical heft, in terms of death, burial, light, etc. As is the footprints feel like they almost make a great memorial; the voids are too large and distant to pack an emotional wallop for people who aren't searching out the name of a lost loved-one on the parapet. Nevertheless as the swamp white oak trees in the plaza age, and as the rebuilding draws to a close, the Memorial will have a better chance of becoming a place of solemn remembrance.

Pier 15

Pier 15 in New York City by SHoP Architects, 2011.

A month ago the latest addition to the East River Waterfront Esplanade, which stretches for two miles along Manhattan's old industrial waterfront from the Battery Maritime Terminal to Montgomery Street, opened without fanfare. The uneventful opening of Pier 15 probably stems from the fact it happened at the beginning of winter, but also because, while the two-level park is complete, the glass pavilions that sit on the lower level are empty. The planned restaurant and maritime museum are yet to be, but nevertheless Pier 15 is a strong destination jutting into the East River just south of the South Street Seaport Mall on Pier 17.

Designed by SHoP Architects with Ken Smith Landscape Architect, the pier's presence is shaped by its edges: To the west is the elevated FDR Drive; the tall ships of the South Street Seaport are docked directly to the north; the south is all water until Wall Street's Pier 11 (designed by Smith-Miller + Hawkinson); across the East River to the east is the Brooklyn cityscape. The design responds to these respective conditions: It creates a front door with three access points and cantilevers on the top to look over the FDR Drive; a set of stands on the top tier look upon the masts of the tall ships; a park between the glass pavilions is a pleasing spot for looking south and soaking up some sun; and the eastern end of the pier provides seating for looking at Brooklyn and the famous bridge that links the borough and Manhattan.

Five organizations held five different visions for the pier. We synchronized these objectives into a cohesive whole. -SHoP Architects, from SHoP: Out of Practice

As mentioned three options are available upon arrival at the western end of Pier 15. The hexagonal paving that defines the rest of the East River Waterfront Esplanade extends to the eastern end of the pier on the lower level. This path takes one past the two glass pavilions and the south-facing garden that is open to the sky. The red plastic slats of the ceiling define the overhead undulating plane of the path and the rest of the lower level. They comprise the most visually striking part of the pier, owing to the color of the material but also the way they bow like the hull of a ship. SHoP has used this sort of repetitive construction on a number of other projects, and its use here is effective in creating a sense of place and linking the building to its nautical neighbors.

The second path is to the right, up some stairs that bring one to the boardwalked top tier surrounding a couple patches of grass. Open where the lower tier is enclosed, the top is like a truncated High Line, an elevated walk suitable for slow strolls. This level is reached by the third path, a ramp that ends at the stage-like steps that face the ships to the north; additional seating comes in the form of a long row of black benches above the steps. The ramp continues to a prow that looks eastward to Brooklyn. Alternatively one can descend via stairs to the end of the lower tier. Overall the system of circulation is simpler than it might be described here, and it is easy to navigate. One can experience the pier like a Mobius strip, moving up down and around to look this way and that, sitting, strolling, and someday eating and visiting a museum.

Holding Pattern at MoMA PS1

Holding Pattern at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, New York by Interboro Partners, 2011.

The name of Interboro Partners' winning design for the 12th annual Young Architects Program at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens is apt, but not immediately so. Approaching the museum -- a distinctive pairing of an old Romanesque Revival public school in brick and a late-20th-century courtyard addition in concrete -- a series of ropes with cloth tied to the concrete walls and suspended over the courtyard are all that is visible. While this "soaring hyperboloid" stood out when the designers were announced as the winner of the YAP competition, it is only one aspect of the design, and probably the least significant when looked at in detail.

Entrance into the courtyard to see the installation, which is geared to the summer Warm Up series that started last Saturday, now occurs through a new entrance kiosk designed by Andrew Berman Architect. Walking into the courtyard, the draping cloth has a strong presence, but it barely shades the courtyard in the summer months when the sun is predominantly overhead. This stems from the way the fabric is hung from the ropes as well as the spacing of the ropes, but it serves a more metaphorical role: it caps the courtyard and acts as a unified container for the varied objects found underneath it. This extends to the distinctive shadow patterns that trace the gravel, walls, and the parts of the installation.

To create Holding Pattern, we asked MoMA PS1's neighbors the following question: Is there something you need that we could design, use in the courtyard during the summer, and then donate to you when Holding Pattern is deinstalled in the fall? -Interboro Partners

So what occupies the various courtyards, big and small? What are the things to be donated to MoMA PS1's neighbors? My daughter made a beeline straight toward one a handful of kiddie pools. Nearby are some chaise lounges, a lifeguard station, and a platform misting water through holes in one corner. Beyond are picnic, ping pong, and foosball tables, a bike stand, and four rows of trees in planters. Trees are also found in one of the small courtyards to the side of the large triangular one, but these trees are composed in a maze with straw bales. The smallest, squarish courtyard is lined with mirrors to be donated to the Long Island City School of Ballet.

Tying most of these disparate objects together are the plywood and plastic that Interboro Partners used in their basic designs for the planters, pools, and seating. Combined with off-the-shelf pieces (ping pong table, foosball table, bike rack, mirrors), these custom pieces strike a balance between the needs of MoMA PS1 for Warm Up and the needs of the museum's neighbors. The most striking insertion are the trees, a bit of green and purple in the gray courtyards. In all cases (except for perhaps the canopy, it's not clear what will happen to that), the installation is a literal holding pen for the diverse elements. Holding Pattern continues the social and environmental awareness of WORKac's Public Farm 1 from 2008, admirably tying an annual event frequented by people outside Long Island City to the members of the community that might not otherwise be able to take advantage of MoMA PS1's presence.