There’s something wonderfully uncontroversial about a park. A park can’t be bad. We love trees. We love water. We love sunshine and flowers. Cities need open space, right? That built-in pleasure response means people are less likely to think of the cost of a park, to see only the leaves and grasses rather than the concrete and steel beneath them. They are also less likely to think of a park as precluding other, future uses. We do call it “open” space, after all.
This mindset was the background for the parallel proposals, in London and New York, of two projects by designer Thomas Heatherwick: the Garden Bridge in London and Pier 55 in New York (with landscape consultants Mathews Nielsen). Both were offered as gifts to the city, privately funded with a small public contribution. Both were backed by celebrities and mayors. Both proposed parks as they had never been seen before: floating over their respective cities’ signature rivers, and ostensibly creating “new” land for circumscribed metropolises.
How to update buildings designed with nothing to hide? Tales from the renovation architects who know Louis Kahn best
I do not like ducts, I do not like pipes. I hate them really thoroughly, but because I hate them so thoroughly, I feel that they have to be given their place. If I just hated them and took no care, I think that they would invade the building and completely destroy it.
bq. Louis I. Kahn in World Architecture, 1964
Reyner Banham quotes Kahn in The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment (1969), a book that marks a critic’s first attempt to grapple with the technological innards of the building, his hand forced by an architect’s insistence on giving them form. Banham points to Kahn’s Richards Memorial Laboratories (1961), at the University of Pennsylvania, as the project that has caused him to retrace the steps of modernism, looking for poetry in radiators, overhangs, and curtain walls. “Effectively,” he writes, “what Kahn has done is to provide the laboratories with monumental cupboards in which the services he hates can be forgotten because [they are] outside the plan of ‘the building.’”
What Kahn could not put in a cupboard—faced in brick and grouped to form a protective carapace around the windowed labs that were the primary purpose of the building—he threaded through the concrete trusses of the ceilings, correctly assuming that most would be so distracted by the structure, they wouldn’t mind the spaghetti.
Banham continues, “This solution was taken to be universal and general, and imitation was so instant that Colin St John Wilson had to enquire (Perspecta VII) “Will ‘servant spaces’ be the next form of decoration?” And lo, they were, with the Centre Pompidou’s facade of pipes and ducts as chief example.
How do you enter the new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art? The obvious answer is, through the old San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Mario Botta’s 1995 building, a symmetrical, postmodern palace of textured brick, striped marble columns, and a central sliced cylinder which creates an oculus supported by four attenuated columns. It is iconic in the truest sense of the word (one of the museum’s cafés sells a tiny cake in its image). That entrance, while low and dark, is off the neo-modernist public space Yerba Buena Gardens. There’s a path through the gardens—located in the city’s South of Market district—that leads to the museum, but its asymmetrical stripe doesn’t quite line up with the one down the museum’s face. In a foreshadowing of things to come, design fights with itself.
Those in search of novelty should enter off Howard Street, where the base of Snøhetta’s $305 million, 235,000-square-foot expansion touches down with a high glass podium, the better to showcase Richard Serra’s double figure-eight-shaped Sequence (2006). The long, narrow addition is pressed to the west side of its site, applied to the back of the old building, leaving an open-air pedestrian walkway along its side, with access to the museum’s parking garage and tiny Natoma Street.
How a Dutch landscape architect is reinventing the park.
The landscape architect Adriaan Geuze hopped onto the grass, cupping his hands to his ears. “You can hear a million insects,” he said, in his vowelly Dutch accent. “You think, Wow, you are in the jungle.” I heard crickets, birds, a passing jet. Purple and yellow wildflowers crowded the edges of the asphalt path where I was standing, which was dramatically lined with snow-white concrete. Not quite a jungle, but it was hard to believe that we were seven minutes from lower Manhattan, deposited by ferry on Governors Island.
The island has shimmered with architectural possibility since being sold back to the people of New York for a dollar, in 2003. Now, because of Geuze, when you pass from the island’s historic district through a vaulted archway in Liggett Hall, a former Army barracks designed by McKim, Mead & White, you shift more than a century in sensibility. On one side, there are gracious officers’ homes with porches. On the other, a curved, man-made landscape rolls out in front of you, like a living map. Ten years ago, the view would have looked very different: as flat as a pancake, and dotted with derelict Coast Guard buildings, including a salty Burger King. A visitor in 2016 finds four paths outlined in thick white concrete curbs that rise and fall from ground level to seating height, like a topographic doodle. Signs point to a lawn, hammocks, and what you are really here to see: the Hills, New York’s newest peaks, crowning a forty-acre park.
From the opera to Twitter, Jane Jacobs’s cultural afterlife.
What would Jane Jacobs sing? That was the question that gripped me in the minutes before the March pre-premiere of A Marvelous Order, a.k.a. the Moses-Jacobs Opera, a.k.a. the latest leap for urban planning off the page and onto the stage. A variety of images flashed through my mind. Would she wear glasses? Would she wear gloves? Would she be hanging out at the White Horse Tavern?
A Marvelous Order is only one of a number of contemporary projects, graphic, documentary, and social, that call upon Jane in a variety of ways beyond simple biography. Jane Jacobs is a historical figure, of course, and this fall Knopf will publish Robert Kanigel’s Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs. But as someone who wrote a version of the now commonplace coupling of Bob (Moses) and Jane (Jacobs) 10 years ago, I would argue that she is now also an avatar, a figure onto which urban advocates project their desires for a different kind of dialogue, a different kind of planning, a different kind of hero. Many of us have a Jane in our imagination: a Jane who fights the power, a Jane who explains the city, a Jane who parents, a Jane who sings.
On Tuesday, April 19 the Landmarks Preservation Commission is set to consider a proposed $190 million renovation to the Ford Foundation, the 1967 building by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, with a landscaped atrium designed by Dan Kiley, that is New York’s youngest interior landmark. Although many aspects of the building have long been outdated—interior designer Warren Platner thought telephones would forever fit his brass-stemmed walnut tables—it is health and safety, not aesthetics or technology, that initially drove the foundation’s plans.
The city has given Ford until 2019 to bring the building up to code for fire safety and handicapped accessibility. But since they had to scratch the building’s surfaces, Ford Foundation president Darren Walker and his staff decided to go further, upgrading not just by adding sprinklers to the ceilings and greater access to the atrium, but new security, new lighting and mechanicals, and a new spatial organization.
“The building is very hierarchical, very 1960s,” says Walker. “The best offices are distributed to the most senior executives and that is no longer appropriate for a social justice foundation. We will have very few offices and much greater transparency and openness.”