Dec 8, 2010

Experiments in Applied Reporting

Rosa Valado of Woven Spaces curated a great show in Greenpoint last month, Golden Blueprints: Grids, Blocks, Charts and Graphs, that displayed imaginative visions of North Brooklyn by local artists, hosted by the publisher of Williamsburg Greenpoint Art + News, Genia Gould, at the WG Gallery. I showed documentation of some of the projects I've participated in as an advocate and producer in the past year. Above is a slide show I created for the digital installation. It argues for an expanded role for reporters as cultural producers in response to changes in print and digital media, applying journalistic techniques to pragmatic activities in order to influence issues being reported on. The practice of applied reporting raises questions of conflict of interest that I will discuss in another place, but for now I'm posting this visual representation of how these different activities embody an engaged practice of urbanist reporting.




























I met Valado through Ethan Pettit, an urbanist with a long history in North Brooklyn who used to be a co-director with me at the Collective: Unconscious performance space on Ludlow Street in the late Nineties. Pettit showed drawings of the land mass between the East River and the Newtown Creek-- the shipping canal was recently designated a Superfund site by the federal government and the area just received a $25 million community benefits package from Exxon Mobil as compensation for the massive decades-old underground oil spill. In one drawing, a statue of a Romantic figure inspired by Caspar David Friedrich's Wanderer above the Sea of Fog stands in a grandiose public plaza overlooking a view of the landscape from above, as if surveying it from the point of view of a helicopter, or maybe a massive skyscraper in Sunnyside, Queens. The absence of 20- and 30-story high-rises zoned for the waterfront in the piece--as in all of the works in the show--only defers the question of how the city will accommodate the million residents projected to arrive in the next decade, but I love the big gesture.



Nov 15, 2010

Moderately Effective Practices in Public Art


COMMUNITY FRAGMENTS

It's been over a month since Creative Time, the once-pioneering Manhattan public art institution, convened an impressive list of speakers for its second annual conference, ambitiously titled, The Creative Time Summit: Revolutions in Public Practice. I hope the third summit, if there is one--and there should be--tones down the rhetoric and brings its name into closer correspondence with reality. Creative Time's curator since 2007, Nato Thompson, who organized the conference and served as its overall microphone-wielder for attendee participation, has a history of activism that goes back to the early 2000s, before he began ascending the ranks of the professional curatorial class. I interviewed him in 2001 for an unrealized Metropolis article--unrealized because the claims being made by activist groups were not very credible and the art was not very good--about the aesthetics of the post-Seattle World Trade Organization protest movement.

At the time Thompson was a Chicago organizer of the Department of Space and Land Reclamation, one of the unaffiliated Reclaim the Streets-type groups that took inspiration from the London anarchists who were throwing street parties, trucking big speaker systems into places like Trafalgar Square and having spontaneous flash raves. These types of events were meant as protests against cars and lack of public space and the commercialization of the visual landscape and a lot of other things, but they were shut down by the police wherever they happened and had little lasting impact. Nonetheless, in the past decade, a growing public desire for better pedestrian and bicycle pathways and a transportation-policy-reform spirit among city, state and federal officials has taken hold across the country, resulting in traffic-calming streetscape improvements and more bike lanes. Maybe these public-space protests were just a product of the process of reurbanization of the college-educated classes that has taken place over the past 30 years.

It almost impossible to remember how much activist culture was changed by the September 11th attacks and the wars that followed and continue today. The activist marches of that time were overwhelmingly preoccupied with the aesthetics of branded advertising in public space and McDonalds and Starbucks as symbols of globalization, led by people like Kalle Lasn of Adbusters and Naomi Klein, who wrote the book No Logo. It all seems incredibly superficial and practically irrelevant today. I always thought that the idea of protesting against the World Trade Organization itself was pretty seriously misguided, considering it was the only international organization that enabled poorer countries to negotiate for fairer trade policies, even if they were inevitably ignored by the more powerful countries. A small, poor, landlocked dictatorship like Burkina Faso was at least able to argue publicly against agricultural subsidies in the developed world, which it pointed out were creating more poverty than all the international aid in the world could compensate for. So it would have made more sense to me if the protests had been focused toward advocacy of specific issues, like an end to agricultural subsidies, rather than being against globalization, or against capitalism, which are pretty improbably abstract things to fight against with makeup and signs, or by breaking a Starbucks window, though that is pretty fun.

There was also the irreconcilable conflict between a critique of international trade as promoting inequality between richer and poorer countries and a critique from the point of view of nationalist labor interests: the first one called for freer trade--or should have--the second called for protectionism and enforcement of international environmental and labor standards. Somehow both joined in common confusion: anti-globalization. The reaction of Islamic extremism to cultural globalization would practically erase all that.


BILLIONAIRES FOR BUSH

The pre-9-11 protests were more entertaining and made more of a splash than the dreary anti-war protests that followed, with the return of all the hack puppeteers and bubble-letter poster-ers and face painters and angry costumes and overwrought street theater and false fake-preachers. I appreciated the festive presence of the Hungry March Band at these events, and Billionaires for Bush was among the rare humorous and entertaining exceptions, organized by a group of Living Theater performers, but they had been doing that since the 1960s. Judged by its result all of it was pretty meaningless and ineffective, along with being artistically uninspired, which is worse when you're writing about aesthetic innovations in contemporary protest movements.

In the aftermath of the failure of these large-scale protests, however, a more localized community-based, small-scale political art practice has emerged that has been moderately effective at the scale in which it operates. A number of groups whose events and projects I have participated in were represented at the Creative Time event, including Kickstarter, which I used to help fund a public art festival in my neighborhood. The Bruce High Quality Foundation University creates a great community for sharing ideas and meeting people and collaborating in the art world, despite their terrible presentation. They always seem to be trying to thumb their nose at the fancy art world that they have quickly become players in, which I respect. FEAST (Funding Emerging Art with Sustainable Tactics), which helps raise funding for small-scale community-based projects by hosting dinners, in which attendees vote for the best project to give the money to, did an entertaining theatrical piece recounting the story of their organization and why they do what they do.


AGNES DENES, WHEATFIELD--A CONFRONTATION (1982)

It seemed to me that the presentations examining Food as a subject for activist art were the ones that had the most clarity of purpose and effectiveness at a local level. The amazingly sharp and focused keynote by Claire Pentecost inadvertently implied that these small efforts are probably vastly outweighed by the magnitude of the problem of unsustainable agriculture--this is what it sounds like when someone has something to say, finally!--but they're certainly exerting a cultural influence over the way we think about food, and it's having a broadening impact on municipal and federal policy.

My unanswered question for the conference, posed during the Geographies panel to my friend Eyal Weizman, the London-based Israeli architect whose work has immeasurably clarified the way that West Bank colonization processes operate within physical space, and Trevor Paglen, whose work I admire as a kind of aestheticized reporting on secret military practices, has to do with what it means to talk about "revolutions" in public art. Almost no one seemed at all concerned about indicating whether the work had any practical social and political effects. What is the word revolution supposed to mean in this context? The term is normally used to signify the overthrow of political institutions and fundamental changes to the social order. Here I think the word was only meant to signify well-intentioned and sometimes genuinely positive local practices that are promising and could some day have an impact if they were more widely adopted.

Creative Time, for its part, is an organization that has always relied on money from the city, state and federal government, along with grants from foundations, and was established through an integral collaboration of then-young artists with downtown development agencies, the city government, and real-estate developers. So it is not, and has never been, a revolutionary arts organization. It nonetheless has had a profound influence on the way public art is practiced, making the city itself and the world as we find it the site of artistic intervention, usually through temporary installations that are performative and interactive and make space more public in active and participatory ways. This is "revolutionary," in the weakest sense, in relation to the way public art used to mean statues installed in squares--but not revolutionary in any proper social or political sense. It's this confusion that reigned throughout the conference. Local practices that in many cases seemed to be temporarily effective in their small specific contexts and had modest social or political implications were often being presumptuously asked to claim a broader importance, though in most cases they would be unnoticeable beyond the clique of the art world or beyond their own local environment.


BRING TO LIGHT, NUIT BLANCHE NY

The conference came on the heels of a project I produced in my own neighborhood with the help of a group of young public space activists and associates from a class at the Bruce High Quality Foundation. We had the thrilling experience of temporarily transforming five blocks of the neighborhood from a series of underutilized industrial warehouses with almost no public access into a place lit up with art and video projections with thousands of people walking through the streets. My hope for the project was always that it could be made into a tool of advocacy for activating areas along the Greenpoint waterfront and making them public in a participatory way, a realization of a theory of applied urbanist reporting in which the investigation of spaces, the critique of their use, and the exposure of public policy could be done through realized projects in physical space alongside words in print and online.

No one had any illusions about the embeddedness of this project in real-estate development processes that were inevitably going to increase the value of property for the owner of the warehouses and make it easier for the buildings to be turned, according to current zoning law, into high-rise condos. Within that framework, though, I believe that participatory art and public programs can influence the way that public areas of the waterfront are planned and designed, and articulate new possibilities for their use. A window was briefly opened into a part of the city and how it could be transformed. It will take years and maybe decades to find out whether it will have any lasting impact.


SMALL SCALE, BIG CHANGE OPENING

There's also a worthwhile show curated by Andres Lepik at the MoMA, Small Scale, Big Change about a similar set of concerns in architecture, part of a really refreshing activist streak at the ultra-establishment institution that is totally unexpected--and that Barry Bergdoll has played a leading role in with his amazing Rising Currents show. A wonderful exhibition at Exit Art compiles an impressive body of research on the history of alternative spaces founded to address the needs of young activist artists, which also has an important relation to these issues.

In this context, I have to just mention the mixed efforts so far of the new Storefront director to engage public issues in architecture. I'm rooting for her and the institution, but I'm disappointed by the apparent capture of the proudly independent institution by Columbia GSAPP, another ultra-establishment institution that is less--almost not at all--engaged in important issues of our time. My friend Olympia Kazi is doing somewhat better at the helm of the Van Alen Institute, opening up some useful discussions, such as one on Ecological Urbanism and Green Gone Wrong, as part of her Reading Room Exchange series. I'm less interested in the subject of biennials for another series of discussions: they are already overexposed and overrated. But I'm especially concerned by the obsession of both institutions with securing associations with the most established names in the field, probably a symptom of the endless drive for fundraising, rather than focusing on finding new ways to engage issues, influence policy, reveal new practices, produce projects, and include young people outside the mainstream who have no institutional representation, no funding, and not many jobs either.


EXIT ART, ALTERNATIVE HISTORIES

I attended an absolutely pointless discussion at Storefront last week about Bernard Tschumi's new book--previous dean of the Columbia architecture school--that only reeaffirmed that he was out of ideas, as he practically admitted. I like his work generally, but the content here was utterly lacking. It was part of a new series of discussions called Interrogations, but the "interrogation" featured Tschumi and the British ultra-establishment eminence grise Peter Cook congratulating each other for their supposed importance. Add a couple more architects with exaggerated bad English accents and you've got a Monty Python skit. Apart from being complete self-absorbed bores, I was infuriated their failure to talk about anything of any distant relevance to the time we are living in. Words are fooorrmms. Really! Your drawings are so preciiise. It took everything for me to restrain myself from shouting, "What are you talking about and why should it matter in any way to us?" Yes, I also attended because of the significant names, but their words had no content.

What I'm looking for in all of this activist artistic culture is inspired work that has a transformative effect on spaces, discussions that bring important issues and facts into the public sphere, institutions that create communities and serve underrepresented groups, and ultimately, moderately effective practices with a demonstrable impact on public understanding, government policy, or people's lives. Otherwise it better be really fucking beautiful and cause everyone, especially architects, to stop speaking.

-STEPHEN ZACKS

Oct 1, 2010

Nuit Blanche NY: Illuminating the Greenpoint Waterfront


You might have noticed that this year a huge new park has opened in Brooklyn, designed by the renowned landscape architect Michael Van Valkenberg. I was kind of laughing at its design a few years ago in a commentary about how waterfront parks are all soporific cow-grazing fields envisioned for mothers to push strollers and lonely people to lean over railings as if getting ready to jump, how there's rarely any drinking or eating imagined or incorporated, and nothing I would normally consider to be fun. The Brooklyn Bridge Park turned out beautiful visually. Its tiny cafe has more than a dozen tables. A lot of people lying on the grass. The park is great to look at.


Meanwhile, in Greenpoint, I've been waiting since 1998 for a little glimmer of legal public access to the East River in the neighborhood. Currently the entire Greenpoint stretch of the East River waterfront consists of private property, largely owned by Orthodox and Hasidic property owners, and street ends landscaped with fences and concrete blocks. Our amazing North Brooklyn parks administrator Stephanie Thayer was able to temporarily open the Transmitter Park site at the end of Greenpoint Avenue until the construction documents and money were collected, and it's now under construction for a 2012 opening.


On the Newtown Creek, the first phase of George Trakas's incredible waterfront walkway next to the sewage treatment plant was completed a couple years ago through the good graces of the Percent for Art program, and there's also a kind of parking lot park at the end of Manhattan Avenue. There's another East River park planned in the cove between Greenpoint and Williamsburg, Bushwick Inlet Park, which the city is still assembling parcels for. On the Williamsburg side a soccer field has been built and a community center is nearing construction. Otherwise, the bulk of the parks and waterfront walkways planned for the area are dependent on new construction that may or may not happen as a result of the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning plan approved in 2005.


So a couple of months ago, when Anna Muessig, a curator friend from the Bruce High Quality Foundation University class I participated in last year, sent me a note about a public art event called Bring to Light being planned on Oak Street, within spitting distance from the waterfront and right in front of the Greenpoint Terminal Market, I was curious. It turned out that a group of young public space advocates called DoTank: Brooklyn who met through their work with Project for Public Spaces had been talking to businesses on the block about closing down the street for a Nuit Blanche, an all-night festival of light art and projection, in the manner of similar festivals in Europe and Canada. They had already sent out a call for proposals and received almost 50 submissions. It seemed like a great chance to talk about the waterfront issues in the neighborhood, try to get access to spaces on the river, and program them in a way that imagined a future public use.


I started sending emails to anyone who might be able to help with the process of getting a street activity permit from the city to close down the block and install art. Ken Farmer, one of the DoTank: Brooklyn organizers who led the permitting application process, was told that it was impossible. The local police precinct said it was too late, there were no more permits being issued. The permit office rejected our application, saying we could not close multiple blocks, and we needed to have the participation of a nonprofit organization and the Department of Cultural Affairs. Stephanie Thayer immediately said the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn would be our nonprofit sponsor. When we needed a tax-exempt ID, she sent them that. She suggested I call Cathy Peake, the constituent services liaison for 50th district State Assemblyman Joe Lentol, who immediately sent a letter to the Department of Cultural Affairs supporting our efforts. Anna Muessig called Rami Metal, the constituent services liaison to North Brooklyn for our city councilman, Steve Levin, who immediately mobilized dozens of people to call the Department of Community Affairs to ask them to give us a permit. The street permit office quickly relented, on the condition we stop calling. They said they would give us the permit for one block, that we had to choose one of three we applied for, that the event had to end by 9 PM, and there could be no amplified sound.


The process dragged on for another month, we got the support of more local politicians, advocacy groups, and neighborhood businesses. We chose Noble Street as the block to close when the residents of Oak Street expressed doubts about the event. We got in touch with Philip Tuan, one of the owners of From the Source, an Indonesia reclaimed-wood furniture company that has been in the Greenpoint Terminal Market since long before the fire in 2005, and told him about the event. They loved the idea of being a part of it. Penny Emmet shepherded the organizing process with us and Kristin Riccio took over its realization.


Another friend from the BHQFU class, artist and film producer Ethan Vogt and I started discussions with the site manager and agents of Seret Studios, the film production facility that rents out sites in the Greenpoint Terminal Market. We wanted the event to flow inevitably through the warehouse down the alleyway and culminate in a spectacular view of midtown from across the water, with an afterparty in the Seret Studios space. Local residents and community groups deeply mistrust the building owners and told us we should have nothing to do with them, but I believed that if we approached their agents openly and had discussions in good faith about the project, they would see how much it was contributing to the value of the property and the community. They wanted a minimum of $4,000, wanted us to apply for a temporary place of assembly permit from the Department of Buildings, and said we couldn't have alcohol. We tried to raise the money. My architect friend Philip Hesslein came with us to tour the site and advise us on its compliance with the fire code and buildings department regulations. He had serious doubts. There was a tornado.

video

I called some of the amazing artists I've met or written about over the years, Jenny Holzer, Leo Villareal, George Trakas, Krzysztof Wodiczko, to see if one of their patrons would sponsor an installation in the spectacular alleyway. It was far too late, less than three weeks before the event. We scaled back, tried to persuade them to accept $1,000 to allow us to use just the alleyway and the courtyard, project light on their buildings and get access to the water. They didn't accept. They wanted to prohibit any of their tenants from participating. Bob Fireman, the owner of From the Source, called the landlord and he said as long as they didn't touch any of the property they weren't leasing it was fine. Eventually, the owner reluctantly signed a letter allowing us to project light onto the buildings, which was required for the street activity permit.


This Saturday, October 2nd, it's happening, and in almost as big a way as I would have hoped. Sadly, for me, there will be no public event on the waterfront. But three square blocks of waterfront adjacent buildings, streets, a park, and a ten story water tower will be lit up with projections, beams of light, installations, and various art projects by nearly 80 artists. Our street activity permit for Noble Street is until 11:30 PM, and our park permit is until 1 AM. An event hosted by From the Source with lounging areas, an absinthe bar, Ahasi beer, Original Sin Hard Cider, and food vendors recommended by Joann Kim of the Greenpoint Food Market will provide rare public access to the guts of the 19th century Greenpoint Terminal Market, with its skywalks and courtyards, from 7 to 11:30 PM. Fowler Arts Collective will be having an opening party for its gallery and artist studios on the second floor. Le Gamin will host a $40 preview fundraiser from 6 to 8 in their new restaurant across the street from the festival. Greenpoint Open Studios will be having events and openings in industrial buildings and apartment houses all over the neighborhood all weekend.


My band the Depressionaires will be playing in the American Playground, which will be installed with projections and textiles and stand-alone light art pieces. Please come, and support the scene if you can. We think it will be a beautiful event. - STEPHEN ZACKS

Sep 7, 2010

This Summer's Playful Urban Engagements




























Back after a long break despite many many projects that deserved to be written about this summer so much more than they were and more than I will here. The summer began with the not-completely futile effort to engage the land-use and zoning process by testifying at a hearing of the New York City Council on the New Domino development. That project will continue in other forms in relation to the Domino site and many others and built lots of useful alliances, including with the old-school provocateurs at Ex-Static Press and Urbanum Tremendum, who are just issuing a downloadable, mystical ode to the theory, practice, and meaning of graffiti writing, In-Krylon-Not-Sharpie.


















Harvard GSD issued its crucial tome on Ecological Urbanism, which defines an emerging field of research and practice that makes sustainability in architecture and urbanism as seductive and intellectually engaging as the subject deserves to be and must be to exercise a compelling influence. It will be the subject of a discussion on September 24 at the Van Alen as a part of its new Reading Room series, launched earlier in the summer with a talk with Sharon Zukin, Rosten Woo, and Samuel Zipp on Manhattan Projects: The Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York and CUP's new book Street Value: Shopping, Planning and Politics at Fulton Mall, another must read.
 















Speaking of which, CUP's latest Making Policy Public pamphlet, Immigrants Beware, focuses on the particular dangers to immigrants of getting caught in the criminal justice system. It's downloadable for free as a PDF. A close friend of mine who has been defending people threatened with deportation for many years was excited to be able to use this to explain the law to his clients. Their new project on Community Benefits Agreements also looks promising.
















Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu of So-Il's Pole Dance project for WarmUp was the most playful winner of the Young Architects Program that I can remember. This is Kyra Johannesen's dance piece choreographed for the installation.
















Cassie Thornton and Christopher Kennedy created School of the Future in a park next to a BQE onramp and turned this odd, neglected place into an extraordinary site for community outreach, an elementary school classroom, experimental arts education for adults, and lots and lots of playful moments and potluck feasts. I walked there frequently in the early afternoon for a break and was unable to tear myself away from the discussions.





















A valuable show and series of talks on the long-term policy influence of the Lindsay administration, despite its ostensible failure to prevent the city from falling into crisis, at the Museum of the City of New York and the Center for Architecture. Don't miss the upcoming September 15 talk, Who Broke New York? John V. Lindsay & the Fiscal Crisis, featuring a heavy-duty panel of experts on the 1970s fiscal crisis, New York's recovery, and the lessons for today's lawmakers.















Socrates Sculpture Park had a wonderful series of installations for its annual summer show that were captivating explorations of material and site.





















The Living Pavilion on Governors Island by Ann Ha and Behrang Behin installed a curving archway composed of recycled upside-down milkcrates planted with shade-tolerant liriopes to create an intimate shelter. I had the pleasure and good fortune to participate in a crit of Behin's amazing GSD engineering thesis project a few years ago, advised by Hashim Sarkis, which rethought the idea of a carbon-neutral city in the Arabian peninsula. It's great to see him collaborating on projects like these and working for the renamed Polshek Partnership office, now known as Ennead.





















A rolling Mason Jar Cart designed by Janette Kim and Josh Draper and manned by Christopher Kennedy for Groups and Spaces to explore and share knowledge of artist groups and spaces in communities.
















Swell, a great show by architect and curator Jacqueline Miro and Tim Nye on California surf art at Nyehaus Gallery, Friedrich Petzel Gallery and Metro Pictures.

Assemblyman Joe Lentol and Joann Kim fear the flying water balloons.




















A water-balloon fight on India Street attended by Assemblyman Joe Lentol of the state's 50th district, who has been extremely helpful in supporting the light-art festival I'm producing in Greenpoint on October 2nd, Bring to Light, along with the indefatigable Stephanie Thayer of the Open Space Alliance and our new David Yassky, Steve Levin, representing the 33rd district in the City Council, with the tireless help of his Brooklyn Community Board 1 constituent service assistant Rami Metal. You can help support it as well on Kickstarter.

The Assemblyman looking brave in the face of battle.


The Assemblyman was on hand to raise money for another project happening the same weekend, Greenpoint Open Studios, a celebration of local artist studios, workshops, and apartments, open to visitors for one weekend this fall, October 1-3. You can donate to this great project, organized by Joann Kim, who also put together the temporarily ill-starred Greenpoint Food Market, at IndieGoGo.

Jul 18, 2010

Nicolai Ouroussoff: Radically Ambivalent Servant of the Master Class





























I keep coming back to one piece written by Nicolai Ouroussoff at the beginning of the recession in December of 2008, entitled "It Was Fun Till the Money Ran Out" as the touchstone for everything that's wrong with architecture criticism. Here we have the overwhelmingly dominant New York Times architecture critic, the single-most powerful voice in architecture writing--not by virtue of quality of writing or acuity of vision or eloquence but by the stupid circumstance of having been hand-picked by the previous architecture critic--reflecting on the past decade in which he was responsible more than any other single voice for saying what was good or bad in the world of architecture. His conclusion: "one of the most delirious eras in modern architectural history" might have been merely a "fantasy," a "poisonous cocktail of vanity and self-delusion" that "threatened to transform [Manhattan's] skyline into a tapestry of individual greed." "Serious architecture was beginning to look like a service for the rich," he wrote. The "high-end bubble has popped" and the "public's tolerance for outsize architectural statements that serve the rich and self-absorbed has already been pretty much exhausted." But a lot of "wonderful architecture is being thrown out with the bad," especially a luxury skyscraper by Jean Nouvel that he dearly hopes will be completed (pictured above), along with a Whitney Museum satellite in the awful Meatpacking District by Renzo Piano.

It's not that the self-righteousness of this look backward was exactly hypocritical: Ouroussoff had been hedging each and every hyperbolic celebration of so-called starchitecture with a harsh condemnation of the capitalist and oligarchical system that was producing it. (He gives us a helpful cheat sheet here of the favored few: Jean Nouvel, especially, but also the half-dozen or so famously extraordinary "talents" he has been puffing up over the years: Koolhaas, Hadid, Gehry, Herzog & de Meuron, and secondarily, Libeskind, UN Studio, Foster, Piano.) I had always seen this as part and parcel of the service aspect of architectural writing: as one friend, an architecture writer in Podgorica, Montenegro surmised, he has to write about famous architects. Does he? asked a New York architect. But assuming that he must, there's an equally powerful constituency of haters of contemporary architecture, preservationists, locals feeling threatened by new developments, the 99 percent of the city and the country that sees this kind of architecture as an imposition on its aesthetic sensibility and lifestyle. So the hedging, so I thought, is just covering all the bases.

On what basis, though, was he condemning this architecture of the rich, all the while glorifying its aesthetic quality, these "triumphs" piercing the "clouds of a bleak time"?  In the previous year-end wrap-up, in December of 2007, he rhapsodized about a year in which serious architecture had arrived in abundance in the form of "major architectural landmarks" like a corporate headquarters by Gehry on the West Side Highway, a luxury condo by Nouvel in Soho, Bernard Tschumi's Blue Building in the Lower East Side (more luxury condos), and the New York Times building (another corporate headquarters) by Renzo Piano. Ground broken additionally on a high-end condo building by Gehry, and even then the promise of the vaunted Nouvel luxury skyscraper next to the MoMA, the greatest symbol of his reign as NY Times critic, it being the one building he has repeatedly championed, begging for its completion as originally designed by the hand of the Jean God-vel. All of these works of architecture have a dark side, however, in that the "majority of today's projects serve the interests of a small elite," suggesting that the "wave of gorgeous new buildings... [are] a mere cultural diversion." Moreover, a series of large-scale projects, including the Moynihan Station project, Columbia's Manhattanville expansion, and the World Trade Center site all heighten "our creeping awareness that when serious money is at stake, business will be as usual."

We could go further back and trace this theme throughout his six and a half years of writings--I'm especially fond of the ever-pompous and contradictory "Nice Tower! Who's Your Architect?" for its classic strategy of raising up the glory of these "preening, sometimes beautiful, sometimes obtrusive [luxury condo] towers [that] could well be the last testament to this century's first gilded age" before slapping them down as "gorgeous tokens of a rampantly narcissistic age." But there's not much more light to be be found there. Our basic theme is already established in these couple of would-be "thought pieces": a total failure to reconcile the architecture being glorified with the means by which it is being produced, the manner in which it is used, and the way it functions in and serves the city.

One of my favorite absurdities produced by this irreconciliation is the review of Nouvel's condo building on the West Side Highway in which he glorifies it in part for having a representational relationship with the adjacent women's prison, thus reflecting the "grit" of the city: "Rising on the brief stretch of 11th Avenue that doubles as the West Side Highway, directly across the street from the billowing glass forms of  Frank Gehry’s IAC building and abutting a somber brick women’s prison on the other side, the tower is part of a taut composition of disparate — even conflicting — urban realities. Its shifting appearance in the skyline is a sly commentary on the conflict between public and private realms that is an inevitable byproduct of gentrification."

Not only that, it also has windows that allow you to see the neighboring prison: "The care with which the views are framed — reinforced by the windows’ simple heavy steel borders — is such that you can almost feel the city tugging at you...the building is a lesson on how to navigate an enlightened path in an era of extremes. It’s not utopia, but it demonstrates what a major talent can accomplish when he focuses his mind on a small corner of the city." This is what happens when a critic interviews the architect, and the architect alone, then uncritically swallows the entirety of his rationale, this ridiculous flimflam, practically undigested.

The effect of this composition on the critic is, as always, disconcerting and disorienting: "As you approach the corner, the facade’s riotous forms suddenly come into view, and it’s startling. Close up, the steel frames that support the windows look beefier, and the effect is more frenetic...Some of the window frames have been left intentionally empty, so that it may take a moment to sort out whether you’re indoors or out." I have described Ouroussoff's work as a sort of Pentecostalist criticism in this respect, since the experience of the architecture often resembles spirit possession or speaking in tongues. The architecture is "mesmerizing," "hauntingly gorgeous," "spectacular," "crystalline," suggesting "an atavistic preoccupation with celestial heights," and on. All the while he fiercely condemns, in ever higher pitches of emotion and contempt, the worldly means by which our "great citadel of capitalism" is being produced. 

These conflicting forces are brought into relief through a not very delicate procedure. Each review holds up the review-worthy figure of the "talented" architect having produced a work of "serious" architecture--the only type of architecture dignified by reviews by the New York Times' only architecture critic. (The unanimous conclusion of our Public School New York discussion on the subject was that even if the NY Times insists on continuing to foist this most uncritical critic on the world, they should at least have one other voice, another critic to provide some balance. Why more than one for film, art and other culture but not for architecture?) Once this work, and this talent, have been raised up to sufficient heights, the straw man of money is brought in to give architecture a good thrashing for producing "pretty baubles, even if they tend to be hollow." And what about the many "inferior", "mediocre" buildings that go unnoticed? He is only interested in reviewing buildings for which budget is apparently never an issue.

Of course, the figure of the Talented Architect is crucial here: he (and almost exclusively he, except Zaha Hadid) must be given free reign to practice his art without restraints on costs, to produce Serious Architecture. But the only types of projects that this is possible for are projects for the Rich People. If this is meant to be architecture criticism serving as cultural analysis, it's pretty clumsy. It's not very useful for looking at how good architecture gets produced in the city by hard-working architects with actual budgets. These are architects with just as much "talent," if by talent one means great educational training, extremely thoughtful design processes, exceptional sensitivity to clients, wildly original form-making, extraordinary ability to think about materials, capacity to bring projects in under budget, and every award except the vastly overrated Pritzker, and thus slightly lower name recognition. (But probably only 50,000 people, at best, around the world recognize any of these names, judged by the readership of design magazines.)

On the whole, I don't disagree with Ouroussoff on particular buildings. I generally like the same buildings he likes, hate the same ones he hates, and I embrace the notions of tallness and vision that he celebrates. I don't enjoy reading him, though, and not only because of the pomposity of his descriptions, or the repeated resort to the long-dead notion of "talent," rooted in a prelapsarian Romantic idea of genius that is absolutely useless and irrelevant to the society we live in. Where he is grievously in error is in his broader failure to grasp the city as an economic entity and to consider architecture as a product of the prevailing economic forces that are creating it. You cannot like these buildings while condemning these forces. You cannot help improve the city, or be a critic of architecture, without being attentive to them. It's not enough to regard the whole contemporary city as a province of the rich. It is that, in part, in certain places, but it's also an incredibly complex and lively place with so many other things happening that remain untouched by this sort of architectural criticism that I'm tempted to say that the New York Times hasn't really run an actual architecture review in about a decade. If this is architecture, what are the other 8.5 million of us doing here? The city will survive. But will architectural criticism? Should it?  - STEPHEN ZACKS

Jun 18, 2010

A Call for New Vision for Urban Development at the Domino Sugar Site


I had planned to write about the "poisonous cocktail of vanity and self-delusion" that is New York architecture criticism this week, the violent contradiction between its wild celebration of genius and its fire-and-brimstone condemnation of the economic system that generates the architecture being valorized, due to its utter lack of a framework for understanding urban economics. Then I got side-tracked by events and writing architecture criticism, or architecture reporting, at any rate. I was also going to write about the fun mushroom-hunting adventure in the New Cavalry Cemetery in Sunset Park with the very cool Janette Kim and Chris Kennedy as part of the Safari 7 project and the Queens Art Express, which began as a part of a project examining the city's landscape against the backdrop of the 7 train's path, a fantastic look at a slice of the communities and ecologies of New York.

I was also going to take that opportunity to talk about what a state of disarray the Columbia graduate architecture program otherwise remains in after years of inattention and institutional inertia, with a lot of the same faddish people who seem better equipped to train young fops than practicing architects still there--despite great new hires like Vishaan Chakrabarti and the emerging landscape architecture program--but maybe this has changed since I last spoke with some of the graduates and great people nonetheless teaching there. (I never totally understood who Mark Wigley was but he seems more politically connected with the architect establishment than intellectually engaged in the world. From what I gather his main credential is having curated the largely discredited Deconstructivist Architecture show more than 20 years ago. What does Columbia GSAPP have to say and what is it doing in relation to this enormous, dynamic, evolving city we live in? Producing more speculative studios? I love theory but the intellectual tradition that his framework for architecture criticism is grounded in is extremely outdated and useless for making anything happen. Columbia needs to take its great housing studio program led by Michael Bell and use it to start contributing to a vision for New York City affordable housing development that can be made into a reality. Bell ran a wonderful studio last year on Hunters Point South, the site on the edge of Long Island City that is being developed into a massive complex of 5,000 units of affordable housing by the NYC Economic Development Corporation, but without the studios being eventually gauged against to the economic feasibility of the designs, they cannot contribute to a new model for housing in the city. However, Rafael Vinoly's design for New Domino would not have made it past the first week in Bell's studio. It is a massing diagram, not a design much less a concept.)

Instead I ended up embroiled in discussions with a group of North Brooklyn natives and long-time residents who are kind of disappointed by the results of the rezoned waterfront so far. Though I had been arguing with them in defense of condo development for many months, I had to agree that it was merely OK, and the design, planning, programming, and overall vision could be so much better. I wrote a letter in support of their call for a new model of development in the plan for the New Domino project currently seeking approvals from the City Council, posted it as a note on Facebook, and invited people to sign on to it. I added a statement that in a very provisional way assembles some ideas to suggest another "vision" for the site and the neighborhood, inspired by my friends whose Domino University provocation started the conversation. I blame them. I intend to read whatever part of it is readable in 3 minutes to the City Council on Monday. There will also be a rally against the project at 10 AM led by some local pols, Steve Levin, Joe Lentol, and Vito Lopez, the head of the local Democratic machine, and one in favor of it at 9:30 led by district Council member Diana Reyna. (None of them even mention it on their websites.) If you would like to join me, read a part of the rest, or contribute your own new vision, please join us, or sign on to this statement:


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Dear Honorable Members of the New York City Council:

As a part of the New York City community of architects, designers, and urbanists, we recognize that condo developments in upzoned areas have brought enormous benefits to the public through new tax revenues, high-quality architecture, affordable housing, waterfront parks, and remediation of brownfield sites. But as the market has seemed to have been over-saturated by condos and the rental vacancy rate remains unaffected by the inclusionary rezoning process, we are inviting you to consider a new model of development for the Domino Sugar site, one of the great icons of manufacturing in the area of North Brooklyn and, indeed, the United States.

As you may know, Domino was the first sugar company to use branding to sell its products, and it remains one of the most recognizable brands in the country. We believe that the current plan to preserve the landmarked buildings and provide open space, affordable housing, waterfront access, and generous community space is a good start, but we think there can be a more ambitious and visionary approach to this site—and to waterfront development in general—which embraces the history of Domino and uses the site to prove that there is another way.

As a city, we have progressed far beyond the point when we had to beg developers to invest in New York. We are in the unique position of having investors compete for the right to put billions of dollars into complicated sites that require hundreds of millions in infrastructure, even during the worst recession in decades. The Domino site presents an absolutely unparalleled opportunity, and we ask whether its redevelopment according to the same model befits its enormous significance. While we have made great progress, this model still has not lived up to the standards for design and urbanism that the city must aspire to for the next century. The Domino Sugar site is Williamsburg’s High Line. It is clear that the market is still supporting well-designed, high-quality architecture and urbanism. These unique sites are opportunities to generate new forms of urbanism and orders of magnitude greater revenue, instead of producing the high volumes of similar units that are now languishing on the market. We believe that Rafael Vinoly is a superb architect capable of great work, but this inclusionary condo model does not permit the creativity and dynamism that could be supported by this architect, this community, this site, or this city. We ask you to send this plan back for revision, to incorporate the care and attention to detail in site planning and land use that it deserves.

As a body empowered with the ability to accept or reject this plan but not, perhaps, to propose a new model of development, we ask you to embrace a new vision. We all remember the terrible plight of New York during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, and we never want to go back to a time when burning buildings was more profitable than designing new ones. Rejecting a 1.5 billion dollar investment in our city, especially one that is loaded with community benefits, is an ambitious step. It’s a vote of confidence in New York City: that we can do better, that we can begin to create a city and an architecture, and a model of urban development that is fitting for a world-class city, a city that embraces its immigrant communities, a city that is in constant transformation as every generation takes hold of it and reshapes it for itself. We ask you to consider the Domino site an example for what can be accomplished in every neighborhood and every district in the city with more attention to detail, more care, more originality, and a greater level of inclusion, not represented by percentages of units, but by a vision that connects to the history of the place and the future of the city. The Domino University plan is the beginning of a process that can begin to impact the core problem that we still face after decades of redevelopment: a rental vacancy rate that remains below three percent. We need new housing in New York City, but not of this kind. It's time to explore a new way, and the Domino site is the place where it can begin to happen.

Respectfully,


James Andrews, artist and teacher
Magda Biernat-Webster, photographer
Kristi Cameron, editor
Cameron Campbell, designer
Daniel D'Oca, architect, planner and professor
Dennis Farr, community activist
Deborah Gans, architect and professor
Christoph Gielen, photographer
Lisa Kahane, photographer
Nadya Karyo, design talent headhunter
Olympia Kazi, director of the Van Alen Institute
Janette Kim, landscape architect and professor
Cedomir Kovacev, designer
Sara Kraushaar, filmmaker
Ryan Gabrielle Kuonen, community organizer
Garret Linn, artist
William Menking, architect, founder and editor of The Architect's Newspaper
Alan W. Moore, artist, activist, and co-founder of ABC No Rio
Amber G. Myers, activist
Thaddeus Pawlowski, architect
Ethan Pettit, urbanist
Arleen Schloss, performance artist and video pioneer
Jesse Seegers, Masters of Architecture candidate 2013, Princeton School of Architecture
Astrid Smitham, architecture graduate student, ETH Zurich
Amy Stringer-Mowatt, architect
Eva Schicker, photographer
James Trimarco, writer
Stephen Zacks, writer and reporter


A Vision for the Future

As architects, designers, urbanists, and city leaders we are constantly volunteering and being asked to imagine new ways of creating spaces and adapting old spaces to new uses. We participate in competitions and design studios, we engage in discussions and write reviews, we look at plans and proposals and give them our approval or disapproval. We are rarely agents of urban development and site programming. But now, with New York City having achieved a unique status as a “superstar” city, we are in a position to create a new model that corresponds to our idea of what a great city should be. A $150 million dollar investment in the High Line produced billions of dollars of value-added real estate investment around it; for a comparable investment in historic preservation and environmental remediation on the Williamsburg waterfront, we can transform Domino into a social, educational, economic, and commercial center for one of the most creative and diverse communities in the world.

The Domino Sugar factory is situated at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge, which connects north Brooklyn to downtown Manhattan. The area is home to many of the city’s immigrant communities and a foothold for young migrants from the rest of the country and the world. It is a community filled with entrepreneurs busy inventing software, designing spaces, opening shops, crafting objects, making clothing, producing magazines and newspapers and websites, working in and starting some of the best restaurants, fashion houses, and design firms in the city. They’re college graduates turning rooftops into farms, and kitchens into start-up companies selling organic food and creating beautiful and unheard of fusions of ethnic cuisines. They’re milling the interiors and industrial designed products and modeling the high-design spaces of Manhattan and the rest of the city and country. They’re teaching in the city’s expanding universities, creating new musical genres, writing movies, books, and dramas for television. They’re performing scientific and medical research, curing diseases, and transforming our ability to live healthy lives.

Instead of taking the profits from market-rate condos and using it to pay investors and fund other market-rate developments, Domino Art City would be a self-sustaining development that nourishes creative and immigrant communities in the city. We propose to redevelop the site in such a way that 70 percent of the 2,200 housing units will be raw live/ work rent-stabilized units freely adaptable by tenants and maintained by a private nonprofit management company. These units would be rented on a preferential basis through a special lottery system to second-generation neighborhood residents unable to afford market-rate rents, past area residents displaced by development, and new under 35-year-old migrants to New York who will apply for artist and immigrant residencies. Another 30 percent of the units will be devoted to supportive housing for at-risk youth aging out of foster care, low-income tenants from other areas of the city, and other groups in need of supportive services, with the help of state and federal funds. The cost of site preparation and historic preservation will be funded by grants, matching funds, and the sale of tax-exempt bonds.

The 140,000 square feet of community space already allocated within the plan will be designed to accommodate the Domino Educational Community, including an elementary school, kitchens for entrepreneurial start-up food companies, an urbanism think-tank and development company that conceives and produces community-based projects, expandable annexes for educational workshops, green urbanism research and training, pilot schools such as Domino University, the School of the Future, and Public School New York, and a large open raw warehouse space for ad hoc musical and performance events, flea markets, exhibitions, art installations, and other large-scale indoor gatherings.

The area facing the waterfront esplanade would be rented to small-scale businesses and revenue generating recreational facilities, including a large beer-garden, a foodie village, and an amusement park. A part of the facility would be specifically programmed by stakeholders from the Eastern European, Puerto Rican, Italian, and Jewish communities that have made the area their home, along with the West Indian communities to the southeast whose historical relationship to sugar plantations and Domino sugar is particularly important.

This growing, vibrant community would be a part of a new vision for downtown Williamsburg that would extend its benefits to the under-served communities of the JMZ subway line, extending into Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, East New York, Brownsville, Cypress Hills, Ridgewood, Middle Village, Woodhaven and Richmond Hill. A new subway stop for the JMZ trains at Broadway and Bedford and a reconfigured route that fluidly links it to the commercial and business centers midtown would ease pressure on the L train and support billions of dollars of new investment extending to the east. The subway stop would be integrated into an urban design plan for the transportation infrastructure of downtown Williamsburg, where automobile traffic from the Williamsburg Bridge and the BQE overpass haplessly intersect with the elevated JMZ train, the bus depot, and the pedestrian overpass. This would be integrated with the new landscape design for the BQE trench currently being undertaken by Susannah Drake of Dland Studio.

A series of public forums and short competitions would be held, including an ideas competition for the programming and overall landscape urbanism scheme for the site, an urban design competition for the downtown Williamsburg transportation infrastructure, and then the Domino site would be divided into separate parts to be designed by several different architecture firms to maintain the fine-grained character and diversity of the city.

ABOVE: An image from Dland Studio's study of a Cobble Hill section of the BQE: RECONNECTION STRATEGIES: BQE TRENCH IN BROWNSTONE BROOKLYN. It has expanded this work to the Williamsburg section of the BQE.
 
Towards a Greater City

This project if fine. It's OK. You should vote for it if you want New York to be fine. You should vote against it if you think we can make great neighborhoods. Don't just vote no. Let's start a process by which we can make this project great. Let's form a working group within the city's department of design and construction in cooperation with the NYC Economic Development Corporation that actively develops sites like these in neighborhoods everywhere around the city. Let's create special places that we LOVE and think of with affection. The skills and competency are here. We have great architects. They're doing great projects around the world, designing whole neighborhoods and cities. Let's let them work here too.

We'll form a committee composed of appointees from a couple of neighborhood organizations (NAG and OSA), the head of DDC as a representative of the mayor's office (David Burney), representatives from the council (Diana Reyna and Steve Levin), a development expert (Vishaan Chakrabarti), a representative of the city's Economic Development Corporation, a few architecture experts (James Corner, Mark Robbins), and a representative of the MTA.

We'll hold a 6-week competition for ideas for the Domino site and its relation to the transportation infrastructure of downtown Williamsburg that includes two programs, one for downtown Williamsburg, one for the Domino site. We'll have a well-publicized presentation of the ideas in a large warehouse in Williamsburg and take comments from the community. We'll revise the program according to the best ideas for design, development, and urbanism. We'll invite two short lists of architects, one with urban design, planning, engineering and landscape urbanism expertise, the other with architecture and landscape architecture expertise, to create landscape urbanism designs for the sites. Then we'll take that plan, divide it into separate projects for the housing, waterfront, community space, education, transportation, parks, and other components, and issue RFPs for each of them to be designed by separate teams of architects, landscape architects, and engineers.


The link below is a sketch of the initial Domino University proposal on the part of long-time Williamsburg residents and colleagues, Dennis Farr, Ethan Pettit, and Eva Schicker. I think it needs to be expanded and revised and could use the help of professional architects, planners, and developers, but it could be the seed perhaps of a new way of thinking about sites like these that could take advantage of the many other ideas and possibilities out there.
http://www.facebook.com/notes/urbanum-tremendum/domino-university-further-consideration/10150189551780371

William Harvey at Williamsburg Greenpoint News + Arts has penned an editorial calling for a North Brooklyn creative economy zone that resonates with this project as well.

Jun 7, 2010

Notes on N.O.: On representational architecture, political design, the importance of ideas, social and economic processes, and aesthetic judgment
















Several years ago I wrote a slightly unfair article making fun of a vacation house for a Serbian expatriate who emigrated to Ohio that was designed to be built in suburban Belgrade. (Unfair in the sense that he is a young and unrecognized architect, but he submitted it for publication, it landed on my desk, and I thought it was funny.) Now I'm compounding the error by using it as a primary example of the difference between architecture that could conceivably have a real effect in the world and architecture that is emptily representational but has no practical consequences. The house was designed by a one-time student of Peter Eisenman and was intended as a symbolic critique of the NATO bombing campaign of Serbia that helped stop Albanians from being forced out of Kosovo. I bring it up because it reminded me recently of the claim that Jean Nouvel's condo in Chelsea has some representational relationship with an adjacent women's prison that gives it a political significance. This is obviously the kind of nonsense architects spoon feed to critics all the time, and it's part of the responsibility of critics to ridicule them for it, not valorize them. We'll come back to this though.















I've been harping on this a lot lately, but another favorite example of inconsequential political design is the work of Teddy Cruz. Since he continues to appear as a lecturer with a disturbing regularity at any meeting having any vague claim to be about serious issues in architecture and urbanism--one would think that he was the only Latin American architect in the country or the only one talking about immigration issues, and he's so busy lecturing that he usually has to apologetically leave panels early before taking questions to go to his next lecture--I'll take the liberty of criticizing him again in this context. Above is a rendering of a shantytown or series of dwellings designed by Cruz to be built of recycled materials from San Diego exported over the border to Tijuana to build what looks like a flimsy town at the bottom of a future mud-slide. It's a celebration of the ad hoc manner in which people of little means construct their own dwellings and then get crushed by them whenever there's an earthquake, flood, or other natural disaster. (Then Architecture for Humanity can hold a huge competition and architecture schools can go down there and do design studios and build a chicken coop or a soccer field.)

Cruz has been showing this image for probably a decade as part of his broad gloss of the north-south dimension of immigration and the "neo-liberal" economic system that he continually confuses with an imperial system that was destroyed about a half-century ago by two world wars and successive national liberation movements. (What about South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, India, China, South Korea, etc. etc.?) The imperialist critique that he is using is at least a half-century out of date, and there are very real reasons why political scientists don't use these terms any more. They don't work. They don't apply in any useful way to the present organization of the economic and political system. They are not useful for providing more power to disempowered populations. They are not useful for building houses. They are not useful for planning. They don't help explain why the United States has the most open immigration policies of any country in the world and conceives of itself as a nation of immigrants. They have no application except for the purposes of his career lecturing to very politically naive architects with good intentions who have never studied social or political science. This is probably why Cruz has not produced any architecture or changed any zoning regulations or had any useful effect on the lives of the people for whom he claims to work and to speak. He was also written about very uncritically by Ouroussoff--glorified really--relatively early in his Times reign, but that's worthy of its own separate investigation.

Incidentally, Cruz also sees his work as a reaction against the symbolic and representational formal architecture of the previous generation. The problem is that his explicitly political and economic critique of architectural practice, apart from being based on an outdated understanding of contemporary political and economic structures, does not hold itself to a pragmatic standard of trying to achieve real political and economic effects in the world. His critique is so ideological, in fact, that it could not even conceivably have any real consequences. He even admitted in an interview a few years ago, in which he was shocked and angry to be asked implicitly critical questions, that he was against micro-credit regardless of its positive effects and concerned that shantytowns could be "gentrified" if the residents are given title over property! If poor people are granted the ability to buy and sell property and improve their conditions through their own initiative, this is "neo-liberalism."


















A few years ago, architect and Columbia professor Michael Bell completed this lovely house in upstate New York, intended as a vacation home for a gay couple, one of them a screenwriter and the other a photo editor and writer. Bell is the kind of architect who cares deeply about ideas and devotes an extraordinary amount of time to coaching and encouraging his students. He committed a huge amount of time and energy to thinking about this house. As a result, it is invested with a lot of ideas, some of which were possible to be realized in it--experiences of visual perception and space that orient the self in relation to other people in the house and produce a very special sense of the natural world--and others that are not really possible--a transformation of consciousness that would extend a political critique of the contemporary social order beyond its practical use as a weekend and summer home for bourgeois intellectuals. That's just to say that I do believe that ideas have consequences and that the unique experiences produced by architectural spaces have the capacity to make us think differently and exist in the world differently, but one has to be very careful about attributing a larger significance to these effects beyond the context in which they are situated.





















This addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City by Steven Holl Architects is an extraordinarily beautiful (and expensive, at $550 million) project that takes a similar set of ideas, especially in regard to spatial experience and perception, and applies them to public space (admission is free), so that these effects could have some broader social consequence. As a project partly intended to boost the civic pride, tourism, and international profile of a city still recovering from the decline brought on by suburbanization, I also think it's a kind of work that, when successful, deserves a certain amount of credit for operating in a useful way in relation to its social and economic context.
















And finally, I just want to put in a word about Dubai, that much-ridiculed poster-child for the supposed excesses of the Oughts. Here, again, is an architecture that aspires to a larger social and political significance, the building of a modern city-state in a region that has remained crucially at odds with the West and dependent on a single natural resource for its economic relationship with the world. The notion is to build a city that engaged the world and produced a non-petroleum-dependent economy through design, architecture, urban planning, infrastructure, ports, international trade, tourism, new technology, financial markets, and liberal social policies. I don't hesitate to continue to support that project and hope for its recovery from the financial crisis. One could easily ignore the context in which this city is being built and fulminate against "excesses" and conspicuous consumption and "evil paradises," but that would be simply a refusal to try to come to terms with the contemporary world, and not hugely informative or a great service to criticism.















This is an image of a middle-class housing development in Dubai that I found out about by doing the normal research you do as a reporter investigating other aspects of a story that are not being covered. Many many of the master-planned developments are of this non-spectacular nature, built for people working in the technology and financial sectors, which to a large extent has been locating regional headquarters there. This, along with major shipping ports and airports that serve as hubs for the region, is the foundation of the Dubai economy and the basis for the emergence of its tourism sector. This has a slightly tangential relationship to the work we'll be talking about in New York, but it has to do with thinking about the social and economic processes and the extent to which aesthetic judgments bear a relationship with the framework through which their objects are understood to be produced.

Now to the Pentecostalist Criticism of Ouroussoff, a wild celebration of his direct relationship with a few architects possessing a mysterious and extraordinary talent, combined with an equally wild fire-and-brimstone condemnation of the social and economic processes by which their work has been produced in the contemporary world. The bewildering, mesmerizing, delirious, glittering revelations produced by these works and processes may yet have our dear critic speaking in tongues.  - STEPHEN ZACKS