Building of the Day #12: Betances Community Center and Boxing Gym

Building of the Day #12: Betances Community Center and Boxing Gym
546 E 146th Street (at St. Anns Avenue)
Bronx, NY


© Laura Trimble/Center for Architecture

When is a Center really a center? Well first of all it’s got to have a center, don’t you think? The Betances Community Center has a splendid gym holding strong in the middle of the plan, full of warm, white light modulated by the south-facing glass block wall and monitor side walls of Kalwall. Originally intended to house a boxing ring and bright orange bleacher seating, the space is now multi-purpose with the bleachers accordioned to the walls; the famous boxing program moved elsewhere. Even without the ring, the architecture packs a wallop of clarity, modesty, attention to detail, and programmatic resolution.


© Edith Bellinghausen/Center for Architecture


© Edith Bellinghausen/Center for Architecture

So much transparency is rare for community center projects, says architect Stephen Yablon, AIA, principal of Stephen Yablon Architect. He credits David Burney, FAIA, his then client at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) for establishing the clear statement of values and goals for the center. Built in an area challenged by crime, the large areas of glass would seem to invite the errant brick. Quite the contrary: the very high quality of the design has engendered unusual respect for the facility. This is a community center with a community that has found identity in the architectural expression of its public amenity. Now filled with after school programs, performing arts, art classes, and fitness, the Betances Center has had only one broken pane, and that one was inside. It’s all proof positive of the power of architecture to bring out the best in us.

Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, AIA, is the Managing Director of the Center for Architecture. She was previously a partner at Butler Rogers Baskett, and from 1989-2005 at Swanke Hayden Connell. After graduating from Princeton (AB 1975, M.Arch 1979) she worked for Philip Johnson, held faculty appointments at the University of Virginia, NJIT, and her alma mater. She is spearheading Archtober: Architecture and Design Month NYC. ckracauer@aiany.org

© Laura Trimble

Building of the Day #11: The Museum of Arts and Design

Building of the Day #11: The Museum of Arts and Design
2 Columbus Circle
New York, NY


© Nicole Friedman/Center for Architecture

The Landmarks Preservation Commission was established to weigh and balance the competing interests of the community in the special treatment to be afforded certain structures, regardless of their owner’s desires. Former Chair of the Landmarks Commission, Sherida Paulsen, FAIA, wrote in her scathing New York Times op-ed piece on July 30th, 2005: “In order to be considered a landmark in New York City, a building must meet certain criteria. It must be at least 30 years old, and it must have contributed to the city’s development in the fields of architecture, history, or culture.” By contrast, Herbert Muschamp proposed his own definition of a landmark, the following year: “Landmarks are not created by architects. They are fashioned by those who encounter them after they are built. The essential feature of a landmark is not its design, but the place it holds in a city’s memory” (New York Times, January 8, 2006).


© Edith Bellinghausen/Center for Architecture


© Edith Bellinghausen/Center for Architecture

I hope we don’t forget the vigorous debate over the re-skinning and renovation of the Huntington Hartford Gallery of Modern Art, originally designed by Edward Durell Stone in 1964, into its current incarnation as the Museum of Arts and Design by Brad Cloepfil, AIA, of Allied Works Architecture. Buildings can have friends, that’s for sure, and the original structure counted among its devotees Tom Wolfe, Chuck Close, Frank Stella, Barry Bergdoll, and Robert A. M. Stern, FAIA. But even such a fine cast of cultural luminaries was unable to persuade the Landmarks Commission to vet the controversy with public hearings.

I admit that I never counted myself among that old building’s inamorate. But I can’t get it out of my mind when I look at the new version. The old one is still there in the proportion and mass; what’s changed is the material and patterning of the surface and fenestration. What the old one had was architectural, historicist, and maybe even down right fruity decorative columns—the lollipops—and the corner grille treatment of punched circular openings. The new one, well, maybe somebody needs to explain it to me, because even though I generally test well for recognizing architectural language trying to express itself, this one seems strangely mute. How curious that now that all the shouting is over, we are left with such quiet.

Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, AIA, is the Managing Director of the Center for Architecture. She was previously a partner at Butler Rogers Baskett, and from 1989-2005 at Swanke Hayden Connell. After graduating from Princeton (AB 1975, M.Arch 1979) she worked for Philip Johnson, held faculty appointments at the University of Virginia, NJIT, and her alma mater. She is spearheading Archtober: Architecture and Design Month NYC. ckracauer@aiany.org

© Center for Architecture

Building of the Day #10: Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons The New School for Design

Building of the Day #10: Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons The New School for Design
66 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY


© Benjamin Kracauer

Lyn Rice, AIA, and Astrid Lipka, AIA, conducted today’s sunny tour of the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons The New School. From its “pedagogical billboards” to its tilted windows on Fifth Avenue, the complex intervention creates broad pathways connecting four prewar academic buildings. Clearly representing the New School’s commitment to the new, the materials are unexpected—one room is clad in bark, evoking a natural element otherwise absent in the urban agglomeration of hexagonal patterned aluminum cladding, electric dayglo green accents and student designed wallpaper. Clever details in the student gallery space allow troughs at the base of exhibition walls to function as wire management for the many video installations. (I’m jealous: we use a lot of white gaffers tape to hide all our cords in the Center for Architecture galleries.)


© Benjamin Kracauer

Both Rice and Lipka are graduates of the advanced Master’s Degree program at Columbia. In doing my background research I found an excellent interview on the Archinect website.


© Benjamin Kracauer


© Benjamin Kracauer

The stand-out spaces are a network of internal streets. Behind the bark wall covering is a small, wood-clad womb of a room; when you visit, make a point to see the auditorium as well. Incidental perching places show a clear appreciation of the students needs for slouching and slumping into nooks and crannies. Once again, though, the architect’s metaphor is pretty loose. “New urban quad.” Hmm… like Renzo Piano’s “piazza” at The Morgan Library and Museum, it’s residual space, broadened and decorated to enhance its legibility. The spaces to linger in are on the perimeter, in the windows. The skylit “quad” is divided by a gracious ramp into multiple passing zones… and without music blaring from the dorm windows and crazy lacrosse players whipping those white balls around it doesn’t quite shout quad to me. Nonetheless, there’s a lot going on in these broad halls that is commendable. And commend we did:  as a project in 2007, as an educational facility in 2008, and with an Interiors Merit Award in 2009.

Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, AIA, is the Managing Director of the Center for Architecture. She was previously a partner at Butler Rogers Baskett, and from 1989-2005 at Swanke Hayden Connell. After graduating from Princeton (AB 1975, M.Arch 1979) she worked for Philip Johnson, held faculty appointments at the University of Virginia, NJIT, and her alma mater. She is spearheading Archtober: Architecture and Design Month NYC. ckracauer@aiany.org

Building of the Day #7: IAC Headquarters

Building of the Day #7: IAC Headquarters
550 West 18th Street
New York, NY


© Nicole Friedman/Center for Architecture

The IAC Headquarters is Frank Gehry’s first building in New York. Neither a symphony hall nor an art gallery clad in riveting titanium that creates its own economic system, it is rather a diminutive swell of faceted glass with a graded white frit. It is a very personal-sized office building, built as-of-right, and opened to little in the way of the usual star-architect fanfare. Perhaps because it’s hard to find the front door. What you may not know is how bird friendly the building is.


© Laura Trimble/Center for Architecture

Glass buildings are responsible for 100 million to 1 billion bird deaths every year in the United States. New York City is on a major migratory route, and our tall glass buildings kill millions every migration season. New York City Audubon has created a handbook for architects to help them avoid design decisions that prove deadly to our avian companions. So IAC is fine for our feathered friends.

Another point of interest is that Gehry is very big with art potters. He was chosen to design the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, MS. Gehry said of George Ohr, a great American Arts and Crafts potter: “The freedom of expression and spontaneity that George Ohr’s works embrace have long been an inspiration for me. His flowing shapes imply a sense of movement that is similar to the gestures of some of my buildings.” (ArcSpace, 10.10.01)


© Nicole Friedman/Center for Architecture

I have a stubby little pot by A. W. Finch (1854-1930) that looks a lot like the IAC Building. Finch was a Belgian-born painter-turned-ceramicist known for his work in Finland at the turn of the 20th century. He is considered to have revolutionized modern Finnish ceramics. This little pot has a similar short, twisty swing and a feeling of both weight and movement. It’s fun to see it in a new context.

Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, AIA, is the Managing Director of the Center for Architecture. She was previously a partner at Butler Rogers Baskett, and from 1989-2005 at Swanke Hayden Connell. After graduating from Princeton (AB 1975, M.Arch 1979) she worked for Philip Johnson, held faculty appointments at the University of Virginia, NJIT, and her alma mater. She is spearheading Archtober: Architecture and Design Month NYC. ckracauer@aiany.org
 

Building of the Day #6: Hearst Tower

Building of the Day #6: Hearst Tower
959 8th Avenue
New York, NY


© Nicole Friedman/Center for Architecture

As written in the AIANY Design Awards issue of Oculus, Summer 2007:

"With its efficient use of resources, abundant natural daylight and fresh air, and modern technologies, this 856,000-square-foot building designed by Foster + Partners and completed in 2006 is the first in New York City to receive a LEED Gold rating for its core, shell, and interiors. Most notably, it was constructed using more than 80% recycled steel. The diagrid framing uses 20% less steel than conventionally framed towers, and it was designed to consume 25% less energy than most Manhattan towers.

"The original, landmarked cast-stone façade by Joseph Urban and the new tower are linked on the outside by a transparent skirt of glazing that floods the interior spaces below with natural light and gives the impression that the tower is floating above the base. The building’s main spatial element is its atrium lobby – a vast internal piazza. It occupies the entire shell of the original building and features a 340-seat company cafeteria, the 168-seat Joseph Urban Theater, and exhibition spaces. A series of diagonal escalators take riders from the street-level lobby to the atrium level. They are between two halves of Ice Fall, a cascading water-and-glass sculpture designed by James Carpenter, which cools and humidifies the air."

Writers, like architects, are constantly scrambling for work, so in uncertain times, the construction of two monumental buildings for the print media (also the New York Times Building) gave hope to writers that their craft could sustain big buildings.

Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, AIA, is the Managing Director of the Center for Architecture. She was previously a partner at Butler Rogers Baskett, and from 1989-2005 at Swanke Hayden Connell. After graduating from Princeton (AB 1975, M.Arch 1979) she worked for Philip Johnson, held faculty appointments at the University of Virginia, NJIT, and her alma mater. She is spearheading Archtober: Architecture and Design Month NYC.  ckracauer@aiany.org

Building of the Day #5: Fort Washington Branch, New York Public Library

Building of the Day #5: Fort Washington Branch, New York Public Library
535 West 179th Street
New York, NY


© Laura Trimble/Center for Architecture


© Laura Trimble/Center for Architecture

Who knows what Henry Kissinger, Lou Gehrig, Maria Callas, Ralph Ellison, Marianne Moore, and Jacob Javits have in common?

They were all kids who checked books out of their neighborhood library, the Fort Washington Branch of the New York Public Library. It is one of the original 67 New York City Carnegie Libraries. Designed by Cook & Welch Architects, it opened in April 1914. Walter Cook, along with George Babb and Daniel Willard, designed the Carnegie Mansion on Fifth Avenue and 91st Street – today’s Cooper-Hewitt.
 


© Sage and Coombe Architects


© Laura Trimble/Center for Architecture

Sage and Coombe Architects were retained to modernize the second floor children’s room.  Giant lampshades and custom carpets create kid-sized story circles with themes drawn from the neighborhood context. My favorite is the one I call “Run, bunny, run,” with “Ant Farm” a close second. Graphics for the shades are collages of images from the digital archives of the New York Public Library. These fun spaces inspire young and old alike. I think I’ll just curl up for story time!

Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, AIA, is the Managing Director of the Center for Architecture.  She was previously a partner at Butler Rogers Baskett, and from 1989-2005 at Swanke Hayden Connell. After graduating from Princeton (AB 1975, M.Arch 1979) she worked for Philip Johnson, held faculty appointments at the University of Virginia, NJIT, and her alma mater.  She is spearheading Archtober:  Architecture and Design Month NYC.  ckracauer@aiany.org

© Laura Trimble/Center for Architecture

Building of the Day #4: Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Center

Building of the Day #4:
Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Center
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY


© Center for Architecture

It’s hard to imagine that the cool and suave young architect who launched Minimalism on Park Avenue with the Jil Sander Store in 1983, is the same man who has brought us the modern apotheosis of Art Deco at Top of the Rock. Is it a space? Is it a ride? It certainly has a chandelier!

Michael Gabellini, FAIA, a principal of Gabellini Sheppard Associates, a RISD grad, and a Kohn Pedersen Fox alum, waxed poetic at the Archtober preview: “Top of the Rock epitomizes Archtober’s mission of raising awareness of architecture and design. By restoring public access, the project celebrates and embraces the ongoing life and vitality of Rockefeller Center.“

As I’ve been saying for months, almost 50 million people don’t come to New York every year to enjoy purple mountain’s majesty. They come for a different view…and from the Top of the Rock, 70 stories above Rockefeller Plaza, they get it.

Jaded New Yorkers may stay away from this tourist destination, but they shouldn’t. Gabellini has created an extravaganza of sparkle that will cheer one and all on even the gloomiest day.

Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, AIA, is the Managing Director of the Center for Architecture.  She was previously a partner at Butler Rogers Baskett, and from 1989-2005 at Swanke Hayden Connell. After graduating from Princeton (AB 1975, M.Arch 1979) she worked for Philip Johnson, held faculty appointments at the University of Virginia, NJIT, and her alma mater.  She is spearheading Archtober:  Architecture and Design Month NYC.  ckracauer@aiany.org

© Nicole Friedman/Center for Architecture

Building of the Day #3: 7 World Trade Center

Building of the Day #3:
7 World Trade Center
250 Greenwich Street
New York, NY


© Benjamin Kracauer

The view from LaGuardia Place includes the symphony of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s 7 World Trade Center and its ever-rising companion, One World Trade Center, beyond. I see the buildings every day from the Center for Architecture, and have become a fan of 7 WTC’c magical properties, both geometric and optical. It is a building made out of reflections, refractions, inflections, and colors, expressed in glass and stainless steel. The obtuse angle of the extruded parallelogram gestures to the southeast, while the north face is frontal to the West Broadway view, making two surfaces for the sky to paint its themes and variations, and impossible to imagine that the curtain walls are the same all around. We’ve covered the technics and subtleties of its curtain wall (“Good Connections,” Oculus, Fall 2005, by Carl Galioto, FAIA).


© Benjamin Kracauer

It creates a continually transforming ephemeral glowing surface that merges with the sky, and we reject those detractors who call the building boring. That’s like saying the sky is boring. Tell that to JMW Turner! The building is a beauty, tall, slender, elegant, and sharp.  It was the first LEED Gold skyscraper in the City.

But you can’t just love from a distance. If I have any issue with the design of the building it is underfoot. Yup, I’m going to talk about paving patterns. Nobody other than an architect who has had to check stone shop drawings for paving will really appreciate this, but the relentless parallelogram stone work emphasizing the shape and skew of the site boundaries is maddening. I mean really... parallelogram cobblestones? Was that necessary? And all those pointy stones....

That’s a quibble. For all of the difficulties down there at the WTC site to have so quickly resulted in such a splendid structure is a testament to the inspired teamwork of artists, architects, and seasoned developers. I like what David Childs, FAIA, said about it: “The building is a simple icon of resiliency, and thus created an extruded parallelogram tower of openness, light, and porosity.”

Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, AIA, is the Managing Director of the Center for Architecture. She was previously a partner at Butler Rogers Baskett, and from 1989-2005 at Swanke Hayden Connell. After graduating from Princeton (AB 1975, M.Arch 1979) she worked for Philip Johnson, FAIA, where, among many tasks, she checked paving and curtainwall shop drawings for the 65-story Transco Tower in Houston. She has held faculty appointments at the University of Virginia, NJIT, and her alma mater. She is spearheading Archtober: Architecture and Design Month NYC. ckracauer@aiany.org

© Cynthia Kracauer/Center for Architecture

Building of the Day #2: The Morgan Library and Museum

Building of the Day #2:
The Morgan Library and Museum
225 Madison Avenue
New York, NY


© Cynthia Kracauer/Center for Architecture

Superlatives swirled in every account of the 2006 opening of the expansion of the Morgan Library and Museum, designed by Renzo Piano with Beyer Blinder Belle. Nicolai Ouroussoff teed up: “dazzling,” “sublime,” “triumph,” and “mesmerizing” (New York Times, April 10, 2006). The AIANY jury feted it with its Architecture Honor Award in 2006, calling it “a masterpiece” (Oculus, Fall 2006).

The critics adopted Piano’s romantic metaphor “piazza” to describe the new atrium space. Maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I think that buildings face onto piazzas, showing their fronts—not their back-sides. Don’t get me wrong—the McKim library has a very pleasant blank Tennessee marble back side, and you can barely see the hind quarters of the Annex building for all the overhead extravaganzas of shading grids, light fixtures, and flying elevator platforms. The brownstone of the former residence is also obscured behind the deep cherry paneling and new pavilion that houses offices and the loading dock on the 37th Street side. When I think piazza, I think figural space—space that has defined shape and volume. The Gilbert Court space, as it is named, is vaporous and soft—it flows between the masses of the three buildings that pin its corners. It is an indeterminate medium into which the other buildings have been embedded, incidentally, not creating its own new separate order, but rather seeping in and around tiny points of entry on the behinds of the cardinal structures.

To counter the persistent absence of frontality on the space, the museum has installed a splendid plaster model of the façade of the original library building. The model came into the collection in 1961 as a gift of Walker O. Cain, an associate at McKim Mead & White. He joined the firm in 1940, and eventually created one of its successor firms. The model is fabulously detailed, but it can hardly make up for not being able to experience the full processional bounty of McKim’s little temple, originally entered through great bronze doors, which were last opened on the night celebrating its restoration. They are not likely to be reopened because of the stringent humidity requirements of the conservation environment. So, when you go visit, don’t forget to go around to the real front on 36th Street. It’s a masterpiece.

And from one such of those tiny points of entry I am injected into such opulent splendor that I gasped: “This is what it means to be rich.”

Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, AIA, is the Managing Director of the Center for Architecture. She was previously a partner at Butler Rogers Baskett, and from 1989-2005, at Swanke Hayden Connell. After graduating from Princeton (AB 1975, M. Arch 1979), she worked for Philip Johnson, held faculty appointments at the University of Virginia, NJIT, and her alma mater. She is spearheading Archtober: Architecture and Design Month NYC. ckracauer@aiany.org

Building of the Day #1: The Center for Architecture

Each one of the “Buildings of the Day” has received a Design Award from the AIA New York Chapter.  For the next 30 days—Archtober—we will write here about the architectural ideas, the urban contexts, programs, clients, technical innovations, and architects that make these buildings noteworthy.  This is a personal account.  Daily posts will track highlights of New York’s new architecture.


Building of the Day #1:
The Center for Architecture
536 LaGuardia Place
New York, NY


© Cynthia Kracauer/Center for Architecture

At the intersection of trade and art, practice and expression, between Bleecker and West Third Streets, in the middle of a unique three-block stretch, aptly named a “Place,” fronting grand superblocks of New York University, with its descending jutting voids the opposite of Breuer’s overhead solids at the Whitney, lies the Center for Architecture.  The Center is home to the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIANY) and the Center for Architecture Foundation.  The 12,000 square feet of galleries as meeting spaces, and meeting spaces as galleries burrow two stories underground from the sidewalk level.  A cut-away section lets the speakers at the podium the lowest-level Tafel Hall, the centerpiece of the ensemble, look up from their notes and see passers-by looking back.  The life of the city, connected, to the discourse on architecture.

The architect, Andrew Berman, AIA, (www.andrewbermanarchitect.com) was selected in 1999 in an open competition.  AIANY, housed at the time in a showroom building on Lexington Avenue, yearned to have an architectural presence that would engage the public and add member value to the annual fees paid by architects who join to use the AIA moniker, share in its fellowship, and receive  continuing education.  Founded over 150 years ago in New York City, the American Institute of Architects continues to provide a validation akin to licensure for its members, lobbying for the interests of practitioners, most of whom are in small firms of less than 10 people, and trying, with some success, to be a voice for the civic ideals of a noble profession.  With a storefront on the street, the architects sell themselves retail-style to the general public.


© Matter Practice

The central double-height space at the street front window provides the Center with Simon Doonan-ish  window dressing moments:  an opportunity to create for passers-by a diorama about what’s deeper inside.  Sometimes we fill the space with what I call “chandeliers”—things hanging from the Unistrut track system, that occupy the void that feels like a moat separating the exhibition space from the sidewalk.   


© Emily Nemens/Center for Architecture

Other times, we install signs.  For the Jugaad Urbanism show, with its hand painted cartoon of an Indian chawl on one side and a colossal photograph of Mumbai on the other, we spanned the space with fabric festoons swinging from wall to wall.  You could almost smell the curry and hear the strains of Bollywood music from that window, long after its festive opening. (February–May 2011). 

The Margaret Helfand Gallery recalls in a small stainless-steel memorial plaque the contributions of the stylish architect  (Margaret Helfand, FAIA, 1947–2007)  who, with others, led the Chapter and Foundation through the design process for the Center.   Her gallery addresses the street directly.  It has housed controversy:  the Center was picketed by unhappy preservationists when it displayed the model for the renovation of the Edward Durell Stone folly on Columbus Circle.   And it has provided closure:  a lone fragment of a steel beam from the World Trade Center silently marked the 10th anniversary. 


© Emily Nemens/Center for Architecture

It has been the home for a model office (Architecture Inside/Out 2007), a Sukkah (above, 2010), the twists and turns of the designs for the World Trade Center site, and right now, a colossal calendar, designed by our friends at Pentagram, to celebrate Archtober,  this inaugural month of celebrating architecture and design.

Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, AIA, is the Managing Director of the Center for Architecture.  She was previously a partner at Butler Rogers Baskett, and from 1989-2005, at Swanke Hayden Connell.  After graduating from Princeton (AB 1975, M.Arch 1979) she worked for Philip Johnson, held faculty appointments at the University of Virginia, NJIT and her alma mater.  She is spearheading Archtober:  Architecture and Design Month NYC. ckracauer@aiany.org

© Kristen Richards

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