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Letter from Ecuador: Final Assessment

On their last day in Tingo Pucara, a cluster of engineers squatted around the exposed nub of a six-inch PVC pipe. One dangled a flashlight into the opening to illuminate the hollow. The vertical PVC tube joined perpendicularly into the grid of subterranean water pipes that crisscrossed the Andean village four feet below ground. Over the past week, we had…

Book Review: The Battle for Gotham

This book is about Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs and their storied clashes, but it’s also about how those conflicts defined the city. And, threaded into that public history, it’s an account of author Roberta Gratz’s own life in New York.

At first glance, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything exemplary in the layout of Willets Point, Queens, with its jumble of auto repair shops, junkyards, and the cars, broken down and not, that litter the spaces between buildings. The city hasn’t built sidewalks there—neither has it installed sewers—so the main drag is both street and sidewalk, and the neighborhood looks…

Like eBay, for Wealthy Architecture Nerds

The vast majority of the architects and artists that submitted work to Contemplating the Void–an ongoing exhibition at the Guggenheim that re-imagines Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic building in fanciful, and often humorous, ways–have also contributed those pieces to an online auction that will run through next week. About half of the 178 items up for auction have yet to receive…

Accessibility Watch: Navigating New York’s Building Code

In our running series on accessibility issues in buildings and cities, we’ve looked at some ways that New York City in particular may fall short when it comes to providing easy, well-maintained design for people with limited mobility. So when our publisher noticed what appeared to be a dearth of handicap-friendly design at a well-known restaurant–one that happens to sit…

Slow Is the New Fast

If things go as planned, the Aircruise might just be the future’s slowest way to get around. For now, however, the 265-meter-tall airship isn’t a finished product; an announcement the other week billed it as a “visionary transportation concept.” Seymourpowell, the design firm working on the project, and Samsung C&T, the construction company helping to develop the idea, present the…

India’s 21st-Century Model T

Images: courtesy Tata Motors The Tata Nano, on display now through April at the Cooper-Hewitt, looks a lot like a Smart Car, though it’s sold for about a fifth of the price. The Nano is billed as “the People’s Car,” mostly because it retails for around $2,500, and while it’s currently designed, built, and marketed exclusively in India, Tata expects…

Smarter Energy for New York

For years, New York City’s electricity grid has strained under the stress caused by peak demand, the times (like midday or, in a seasonal cycle, the summer) when residents are most apt to use electrical appliances and max out the municipal power network. Stress on the aging system will likely only increase in coming years, with some experts predicting a…

Facade Follows Function

If you think Thom Mayne designs buildings that stand out for the sake of standing out, you’re only partially correct. Last week, at the Center for Architecture in downtown Manhattan, Mayne gave a talk on  “performalism,” a portmanteau that describes how architectural form can influence building performance–the way, for instance, the scrim-like façade of Morphosis’s San Francisco Federal Building effectively…

New Sheds for New York

Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg and the Department of Buildings commissioner, Robert Limandri, announced the winner of the urbanSHED competition,which, last summer, asked for redesigns of the city’s sidewalk sheds (the plywood constructions that shield pedestrians from exterior building renovations). The winning project, Young-Hwan Choi’s* Urban Umbrella, beat out 163 designs, including those by the two other finalists, the New York firm…

Skyline by Committee

At the newly unveiled Web site Shape Vancouver 2050, users are given a digital model of the Vancouver skyline, the ability to extrude buildings upwards, and a visual gauge of the resulting effects on the city’s downtown. As the user drags the digital towers higher and population density increases, meters at the bottom of the screen go up too–energy saved,…

Chicago Takes Climate-Change Action Online

Just before Christmas, the Chicago Department of Environment launched a redesigned Web site for its Chicago Climate Action Plan. The new site details some of the city’s goals for greenhouse-gas reduction (an 80 percent decrease from 1990 levels by 2050, with incremental reduction markers in the meantime), and it provides informational resources to residents: PDFs on the effects of climate…

Robert, Sarabeth, and Danny

Robert, a new restaurant in the Museum of Arts and Design When Sarabeth’s closes its Whitney outpost in the middle of this month, it will mark the end of the restaurant’s 19-year presence in the museum’s basement (it was the first private restaurant to operate within a New York City museum). And when Robert, on the top floor of the…

Architects and Third-Graders Agree …

We knew architects liked the Chartwell School after it was voted one of the Top Ten Green Projects for 2009 by the AIA. Apparently, students like it too. Last week, UC Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment (CBE) picked Chartwell, an elementary school in Seaside, California, as the recipient of its 2009 Livable Buildings Award. The prize, given for outstanding…

Winter Books Roundup

. Learning from Hangzhou By Mathieu Borysevicz Preface by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown Timezone 8, 330 pp., $45 China is urbanizing at an astounding rate. Those of us who don’t live there might know this from statistics (like: the country consumes more than half the world’s concrete.) Borysevicz, an artist, writer, and filmmaker who splits his time between…

Fall Books Roundup

This is part one of our fall roundup of new and notable books on architecture, culture, and design. Stay tuned for the second installment later this month. . Shigeru Ban: Paper in Architecture Edited and designed by Ian Luna and Lauren A. Gould Cover design by Kenya Hara Rizzoli, 232 pp., $65 Having outlined the architect’s key design principles in…

Speed and Spectacle in the UAE

If oil money is the figurative blood of the UAE, dazzling architecture might be its skin. And if that metaphor seems a bit strained, it should make more sense once you’ve seen images of Asymptote’s new project in Abu Dhabi. The 500-room Yas Hotel, which sits alongside the city’s Formula 1 racing circuit, features 5,800 pivoting diamond-shaped glass panels–its epidermis,…

Fiberglass Fluidity

Sixty years in, Vladimir Kagan has found something new. Kagan, the furniture designer whose signature forms–organic and sinuous–made him an important figure in midcentury Modernism, this month unveils a new line of furniture built entirely in fiberglass. It’s the first time the designer’s worked in the medium, but, according to Kagan, the effort fits an aesthetic he’s played with throughout…