Open House New York at AAP NYC!

On Saturday, October 13, AAP NYC opened its doors to the world as part of Open House New York (OHNY) Weekend. The weekend coordinates free access to hundreds of architecturally and culturally significant sites around New York City that are usually closed to the public. The event is an opportunity to marvel at prime examples of New York architecture as well as to increase civic engagement in conversations about the built environment and the future of urban life.

Person looking at three panels depicting architectural drawings.
An AAP NYC visitor investigates work produced over the summer by M.S.A.A.D. students // photo: A. Rayner

Open House began in 1992 in London as a way to bring people outside the field of architecture and into conversations about the present and future of the built environment. The idea was that by opening access to locations that are clear examples of the incredible potential of architecture and urban design, as well as the studios where this work to form the city continues to happen, the event would spark public interest and lead to increased civic engagement year-round. New York City became the second city to host an Open House Weekend in the early 2000’s. Since then the concept has spread to forty cities worldwide.

Individuals walking between panels showing architectural drawings.
Work displayed at the studio included current student works-in-progress and projects from previous semesters in the Art, Architecture, and Planning programs // photo: A. Rayner

Walking through the lobby of 26 Broadway I saw visitors marveling at the high ceilings, vintage metal work, and other left-over adornments from this building’s luxurious past. Upstairs, prospective students, intrigued city residents, and alumni now implementing these ideas in practice inter-mingled among models, diagrams, and floor-length visions of approaches to today’s major urban problems.

Man smiling and pointing to map on wall.
AAP alumnus, Raphael Laude (BS URS ’18) explaining how his current work at WXY Studios connects with the studio projects in Red Hook // photo: A. Rayner

Beyond OHNY Weekend, Open House New York has been putting additional effort into organizing year-round programming to direct attention towards more specific aspects of urban change. These include Projects in Planning, presentations investigating the details of major new projects still in early development; Making Place, highlighting sites of architectural and cultural significance in neighborhoods facing major changes; and the Urban Systems Series, a year-long series focusing in-depth on an important issue in New York City’s built environment. These programs draw more specific links between form and impact, for example this year’s Urban Systems Series an investigation of the architecture and infrastructure of New York City’s criminal justice system.

Open House New York, the non-profit that organizes and operates Open House New York Weekend, was founded in 2001. Following 9/11, the organization was a major advocate for maintaining transparency and access in a landscape full of new barriers justified by increased security measures. OHNY has worked to establish a vision of architectural conversations based in trust of the public to appreciate and learn from these opportunities, insisting that openness is vital to an informed and engaged civic life. The need to break down barriers and expand conversations to include those who are experts in city life from living it is as important today as ever.

Orientation is Over, Long Live Disorientation

As we move into the second full week of classes and internships, I am glad to finally feel oriented enough to begin to embrace the chaos of New York City. I know which sink in the bathroom never works, not to take the J train on a Saturday if I’m in a hurry, and that I am never going back to the disappointing ramen place on 28th Street again. I know that the number of times I can get away with claiming I’m late because the train was delayed are dwindling, and my poor time management will soon be exposed for good. I know my studiomates well enough to no longer avoid eye contact in the hallway, making friendly chitchat out of growing connections not just obligation of proximity. And as I think about what is to come and what it will feel like, I am excited to realize that I don’t really know, something I haven’t been able to claim in a while.

Bob Balder (URS ’89) and Shiyu Kong (MRP ’19) at a Saturday visit to the Museum of the City of New York. (Photo/Shaun Wu URS’19)

Last Monday, both the urban design and architecture studios visited Red Hook, Brooklyn. This semester all students at AAP NYC will be focusing our studio projects on this neighborhood for the entire semester. Today, desks are littered with sketches of street sections, photos of building density, and annotated diagrams of block typology. Maps, collages of architectural detail, and demographic charts are pinned on the wall. It’s hard to believe that less than two weeks ago we visited this place for the first time.

Urban Design students taking a ferry for the site visit. How young and carefree we were back then. (Photo/Shaun Wu URS ’19)

The weather was gloomy, but it seemed very appropriate for a visit to a community so connected to the water. Although the ferry was highly modern (even boasting a members-only Margarita Mondays out of the full-service snack and drinks bar) being in such close proximity to the Hudson on such a foggy day felt rustically nautical.

Adriana Hidalgo (MLA ’19) photographs site conditions. Lady Liberty quietly encourages. (Photo/Leyi Zhang MRP ’19)

The planners and landscape architects were guided by Eugenia Di Girolamo, one of the instructors of the Urban Design Studio and an urban designer at the NYC Department of City Planning. Learning about a place while walking through it was fascinating, our first foray into the “city as classroom.” We learned about gentrification pressures while commenting on the building materials of luxury housing development and the creative programming of repurposed warehouse spaces. We discussed the neighborhood’s spatial isolation while attempting to traverse the horrific pedestrian experience underneath the Gowanus Expressway and passing by infrequent bus stops for the singular line servicing the neighborhood. We witnessed immense variability, from brick townhomes to active warehouses to one of the largest NYCHA public housing complexes in the city. It was incredible to witness so much packed into a community only one mile across, and so exciting to think about all the other neighborhoods yet to explore on my own time.

A Rayner (URS ’19) and Shaun Wu (URS ’19) listen to Eugenia’s infinite wisdom. (Photo/Leyi Zhang MRP ’19)

It is an undeniable cliché that time passes differently in New York City. Being at Cornell in Ithaca can feel like treading water or swimming against a current. You try to focus on your individual movements in the hope you’ll make slight progress toward an endpoint that is probably still there but is most of the time out of sight. New York City feels more like being pulled by a mild undertow. I was prepared for the time to fly by, but not this sense of constant forward motion. Perhaps it’s the monumental development projects all around us, the spatial chronicle of hundreds of years of history, or maybe it’s just the momentum of the millions of lives constantly moving beside, above, and below us. This semester is clearly going to be one of exploration and discovery. Onward!

Lynne Cooke and Alison Gingeras

On April 12, we had the pleasure of listening to a lecture and conversation by curators Lynne Cooke and Alison Gingeras at our AAP space at 26 Broadway. This discussion marked the ending to an eventful day of gallery visits (Terry Winter’s show at The Drawing Center, and Cy Twombly’s drawing exhibition at Gagosian Gallery) for the BFA students, all as part of our Professional Practice Seminar class organized by Linda Norden. Lynne Cooke and Alison Gingeras, renowned writers and curators, each shared with us their recent projects, as well as the ideas and decisions behind their research.

Cooke introduced us to her recent exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Outliers and American Vanguard Art, which explores the works of outlier/outsider artists over three periods in American history. Spanning over 200 works, Cooke’s curatorial work includes self-taught artists who pushed the boundaries of the art world, concurrently with mainstream artists—and this examination extended to the more recent entry of work that questions what it means to be an outsider of the mainstream art world. Her presentation was one that compelled us to inspect more closely the definition of “American,” and all who stand outside of it—outsider, primitive, naïve, visionary, folk, however the work may be categorized. Cooke’s selection of artists and artworks, as well as the questions of “What is American, what is American art?” posed by the overall exhibition, complementing our focus on Pop Art as a recurrent subject in our recent classes (Masha Panteleyeva’s art & architectural history, as well as recalling our trip with Linda Norden to the Whitney Museum to hear Donna De Salvo’s discussion of her upcoming Warhol retrospective conceptualization and planning).

Alison Gingeras presents her project Sex Work: Feminist Art and Radical Politics in the AAP NYC lecture hall.
Photo by Aiza Ahmed (’20)

Gingeras talked about her recently published book, The Avant-Garde Won’t Give Up: Cobra and It’s Legacy, and about Sex Work: Feminist Art and Radical Politics – her curatorial project that was originally presented at the 2017 London Frieze Art Fair, and will soon be presented in book form. The Sex Work project surrounded nine women in the 1970’s and 80’s whose lives and careers were hobbled by the fact that they were making explicit sex a primary focus of their work, and therefore dealt with art censorship in ways that paralleled one another and addressed the importance of intent in visual representation. Gingeras started by presenting Jeff Koons’ Made In Heaven to the audience  as a “symbol of white male gender privilege,” and stipulated that the “Jeff Koons we know today” has been formulated by the agency he derived from his porn star wife’s (Cicciolina) already developed conceptual project. Gingeras questioned “what else was erased?” and extended this challenge towards other moments in feminist history that intertwine with erotic representation, linking them with the “intellectual history of the political/activist writings around questions of sexual agency.” She threw back to us the nagging question — “is it possible to ever create a revolutionary erotica?”

During the conversation between Lynne Cooke and Alison Gingeras which followed the individual presentations, Gingeras stated that even the most radical artists can be self-centering, and described herself as a dissident feminist, or an “accidental dissident,” as termed by the artist Betty Tompkins.

Q + A conversation with Lynne Cooke and Alison Gingeras
Photo by Aiza Ahmed (’20)

The two curators also answered questions related to inclusion and integration in exhibition spaces. In our own conversations that followed, it seemed that many of us found the presentations useful and informative for our own practice, and would influence the way in which we approach conceptualizing narratives for identity.

Site Visits with Silman

The Crew Assembles – M.Arch ’20 visiting New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary
Photo/Hafsa Muhammad – M.Arch ’20.

One of the many benefits of having a practicing structural engineer teach our structures class, in the City of New York, in the dense built environment that it is, is site visits. Most faculty at AAP NYC have taken a special interest in enhancing our experience of the city, and when it comes to site visits, we are all geared up. Hard hats: check, safety goggles: check, XXL neon vests: check and check!

Scott Hughes, principal at Silman Engineering, and amicable faculty member for our Building Technologies class, introduced us to the young construction manager who has been in charge at the New York Jewish Theological Seminary since it broke ground last year. From the day to day scheduling and problem-solving, to the precise planning of the order of construction logistics, he was able to walk us through the planning of the project. As we made the trek up and beyond Columbia University, we immediately realized that we were in a unique part of the city where grade changes were noticeable and dramatic. The building is designed by  Todd Williams + Billie Tsien, who are also well known for winning the Obama Foundation Library.

Left to Right: Maureen, Catherine, Joe, Sarah, Ellie, Henry, Claudia from the M.Arch ’20 class, with Scott Hughes, cruising in their XXL neon vests and hard hats.
Photo/Hafsa Muhammad – M.Arch ’20.

In its latest built form, the building continues to maintain its role of cultural and religious prominence. Construction schedules work around the Sabbath as people are still living in the dorms. What became immediately apparent (from what our minds could make of the plans on the white board) is that the construction schedule was especially challenging.

Haoran Wang (M.Arch ’20), affectionately known as Henry/Hank, and also part of the resilient Hellie Hankson team, contemplates the logics of construction.
Photo/Hafsa Muhammad – M.Arch ’20

We were really there to get a sense of the realities and repercussions of our designs. As may be true with all projects in NYC, and as is evident with the renovation and new expansion of the Jewish Theological Seminary, building in the city is rarely straightforward. The complexities of dense building permits, preservation laws, and working around buildings that are only compliant with century-old codes, made it apparent how difficult even the most elegant architectural designs can become as they make their way through construction. From foundation strength and limitations of the island of Manhattan like grade changes and rock striations, to basically every other kind of logistical hoop that one jumps through, projects can easily become quite complex.

Absorbing new insights into concrete construction.
Photo/Hafsa Muhammad – M.Arch ’20

The relationship between Scott and the construction manager was a lesson in professional practice, and it became clear to us just how important it is to maintain a good partnership when working together for the benefit of the client. Given that it was our first site visit as a class, with some of us understanding more of what was happening on site than others, we were especially enthused talking about concrete construction with our self-important hard hats. Nothing was more glaringly obvious by the end of the day than the fact that perhaps it’s best to just stick with steel-framed construction.

Exposed mechanical systems towering over Ellie (M.Arch ’20) and Scott Hughes as they discuss details.
Photo/Hafsa Muhammad – M.Arch ’20


“Seeing Red”

After a grueling but energetic two weeks of preparation in the form of project proposals, discussions, and studio hours, the BFA students’ first group exhibition finally opened on March 26, and concluded successfully in time for Spring Break. “Seeing Red” was held in the AAP NYC Gallery at 26 Broadway, and included works from Beverly Semmes’ studio class, spanning various media and themes chosen by the artists.

Seeing Red exhibition poster by Kelechukwu Mpamaugo (B.F.A. ’20)

Friends and family convened throughout the week to walk through our intimate maze of visual, audio, tactile works. Starting from a word search-style graphics covering the walls and floor of the entrance, visitors were led throughout the space to experience ideas behind the sense of “red.” Simultaneously cataclysmic, slow, and fast, this exhibition explored works that unraveled concepts of vulnerability, passion, progression, luck, energy, masculinity, sexuality, spirit, blood, death, fear, urgency, offense, beauty, fantasy…“red” is obviously a broadly associated idea in all such directions.

”Red has countless meanings, infinite connotations. I think we managed to collect so many of them in one room, Seeing Red represented multiple facades of this word.” – Cagla Sokollu (B.F.A. ’20)

BFA students at their opening reception for Red. photo Aiza Ahmad (B.F.A. ’20)

Many of us took this opportunity to experiment with mediums unfamiliar to our practice. The show included graphite portrait drawings, a digital painting, acrylic, oil, gouache paintings, print collages, a collaborative video and banner installation, a handbag, experimental sound piece, garments installed by yarn, and a fake Louis Vuitton handbag.

Linda Norden and Jane Benson kindly joined us for our group critique led by Beverly Semmes, and we were able to finish our week with a rewarding conversation which fleshed out our ideas, thoughts, concerns and criticisms. Now that we are back from break, we are inspired and ready to create more wonderful objects and content together.