Q&A: Laurie Beckelman on New York City’s Culture Scene

Laurie Beckelman, founder of Beckelman+Capaliano, shows a pragmatic understanding of her New York City.

Park Avenue Armory Explorer, photo by James Ewing.

On the weekend of October 6th and 7th, Open House New York (OHNY) will celebrate its 10th anniversary of opening up our city’s great buildings, residential and public, as well showing off our parks, streetscapes, public works, signage, and views to the public at large. It’s a chance to experience the city, not just as a pedestrian or a transit rider—which, in itself, is a grand adventure of infinite variety that brings you close to people, places, ideas, and memories—but as a kind of “house guest”. I asked some members of the 10th OHNY anniversary committee to talk about their favorite city. Here Laurie Beckelman, founder of Beckelman+Capaliano, and a major contributor to New York City’s culture scene through her work with such organizations as the Museum of Art & Design on Columbus Circle, the Guggenheim on Fifth Avenue, and the Public Theatre downtown, shows a pragmatic understanding of her New York City. 


Fading Ads of New York City, photo credit Frank Jump.

Susan S. Szenasy: As someone who’s involved in shaping our large scale urban environment, as an insider in the development and preservation community, what should everyone know about the design and planning secrets that make New York City the unique place it is?

Laurie Beckelman: There are no secrets; it’s simply about understanding all of the necessary regulations. It is a challenge. You need experts and you need patience and passion for enriching the city.

SSS: The Joseph Papp Public Theater, for which you were executive director, gave us the always-exciting Shakespeare in the Park venue. What, in your estimation, has this venue provided for the city?

LB: The idea that Joseph Papp has been presenting Shakespeare to New Yorkers for 50 years is truly astounding. And how fortunate are we New Yorkers and visitors to experience some of the most imaginative performances ever presented in the world! There really is nothing else like it.

SSS: What are your 10 favorite New York City buildings, interiors?

LB: I have at least 11, including the MOMA garden, the Seagram Building, the Rockefeller Guest House, Lever House, the Customs House on Bowling Green, Sailors Snug Harbor in Staten Island, Grand Central Terminal, the Guggenheim Museum….


Grand Station Terminal, photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

SSS: What is your favorite building, on the urban scale of New York City?

LB: Grand Central Terminal, a city within a city, the great public gateway to the city.


Grand Central Terminal Great Room, photo courtesy of Civil Society Trust.

SSS: If you could fix one thing about the city’s planning and design, at any scale, what would that be?

LB: That we figure out a way to keep the high standards for design excellence that Commissioner Amanda Burden has affected during her tenure.


Watertower by Tom Fruin

Categories: Arts + Culture, Cities