Thursday, July 29, 2010

Job Talks for Architects

Perhaps architects and planners should have "job talks," where we present papers to each other, in the spirit of how the Academy hires a new faculty member. They could be organized by groups with appropriate affinities (such as "campus planners" or "commercial interior designers") but representing varying opinions.

In some ways it would resemble the juries of our architectural education, but be more about ideas than specific designs. We would learn learn how to better communicate our worldview, and hopefully learn from each other's work.

Why the Center for Architecture should not emulate a Community Board

One more thing about last night's program at the Center for Architecture... while I understand the reasons behind inviting the "community" into discussions of public space, not every forum is the appropriate venue for a "town hall" format. An event at the AIA New York Chapter's HQ, a facility whose physical plant and programs are paid for by our (very steep) dues, should be for the primary benefit of architects. It's nearly impossible to talk about limiting the involvement of the general public without sounding hopelessly elitist, but there is a need for professionals to have conversations with other professionals on topics on which those professionals are knowledgeable.

Last night, nearly all of the questions posed to the presenters were about overly specific concerns, often unrelated to the topic at hand ("the sign at my bus stop is in the wrong place," etc.) So really, we have the commissioner of the Department of Transportation of the largest city in the US, the directors of the Times Square Alliance and the Alliance for Downtown New York, and dozens of (presumably talented, or at least engaged) architects in one place, where vital and potentially transformative discussion COULD have taken place, and the Q&A was given over to the picayune grumblings of lay citizens.

Yes, those grumblings deserve to be heard, but that Center for Architecture program is most certainly NOT the appropriate forum for such questions/comments. IT was not fair to the audience, not fair to the speakers, and also not fair to the questioners, who would have likely gotten a better response by logging their complaints with 311.

Sadik-Khan on Politics and Public Space

I heard Janette Sadik-Khan speak on the NYC Department of Transportation's transformative initiatives at the Center for Architecture last night. I'll admit some pretty heavy skepticism about her going in, but by the time I left I was convinced that she is a new model of leader, one from which I had much to learn.

While I still have beefs about some of the project designs that have come out of her agency, the very existence of those projects is, in New York City, somewhat of a miracle. The real creativity on view here was the use of operating and maintenance funds to create experimental case-studies, whose very temporality allows "cover" to the agency and politicians (to borrow a phrase from Tim Tomkins of the Times Square Alliance, another speaker) which allows the notoriously contentious New York public to withhold judgement until the project is experienced, which forces the conversation from "should we do this" to "HOW should we do this..." which is a critical distinction.

I was also struck by how effortlessly collaborative she was, in the sense that she actually listened to the somewhat insane questions by the audience, managed to craft a constructive response to each on the spot, and then offered, and offered believably, that questions like that were helpful.

She also stood up to some cyclists that were clearly baiting her on safety and pedestrian/automobile/bicycle conflicts by both admitting that it was an ongoing process of education and learning, but also reminding the questioner of HIS responsibility as a cyclist and a citizen to make it all work...

I have some real concerns about the Broadway corridor project outside of our office, and wondered if I could actually be heard. From what I saw last night, it actually seems like she'll listen.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It really is depressing to see how foolish building owners and their architects can be with tectonics... I mean, really.