Franz Xaver Messerschmidt at the Neue Galerie

There’s a wonderful show at the Neue Galerie, on view until January 10th: Franz Xaver Messerschmidt 1736 – 1783: From Neoclassicism to Expressionism. Messerschmidt was a sculptor working in Vienna where early in his career he produced well-wrought portrait busts of empresses and scholars and other worthies. Something took an odd turn for the artist – he perhaps became mentally ill – and by the 1770s he had left Vienna and begun sculpting what would come to be known as his “Character Heads.”

A strangely affecting and at times disturbing group, the Character Heads depict the artist and other sitters making the kinds of crazy faces usually only seen on clowns or comics or hyperactive children. (Apparently, to produce the faces, Messerschmidt would violently pinch himself in the leg or abdomen.) Despite the grotesque or melancholy aspects of many of the sculptures, they are beautifully made and lifelike, rendered in a lead-tin alloy, a few in alabaster. After his death the Character Heads were given silly and misleading names (such as “The Yawner” and “Childish Weeping”) and exhibited as novelties before being championed by art critics. A fairly beguiling character, little seems to be agreed-upon about Messerschmidt, his mental state, and the impetus behind this work; there’s a fascinating section about him in Margot & Rudolf Wittkower’s Born Under Saturn, a book that examines the relationship between creativity and madness, which is where I first heard of the artist. This show marks the first time Messerschmidt’s work has been exhibited in the US – so see it before they pack it off to the Louvre.

"The Yawner," compliments of the Neue Galerie.

Also currently on view at the Neue Galerie is a show of Wiener Werkstätte postcards, each a lovely little multicolored jewel, celebrating fashion, holidays, architecture and the like – and of course the museum’s wonderful permanent collection, which has among its many treasures the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I of Gustav Klimt, which caused a stir when it was purchased in 2006. The building itself, designed in 1914 by NYPL architects Carrère & Hastings and once the home of Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III, is worth a visit in its own right.

Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, compliments of Wikipedia.

The Neue Galerie has extended Friday night hours with free admission the first Friday of every month, as well as two cafés – Café Sabarsky and Café Fledermaus – which, I’m told, serve some terrific palatschinken.

Tony Schirripa Passes the AIA NY Gavel

Tony rouses the crowd at his inauguration last year. Photo by Sam Lahoz.

At the Center for Architecture on December 7th, Anthony P. Schirripa, FAIA, IIDA, passed the gavel to Margaret O’Donoghue Castillo, AIA, LEED AP, the new President of the AIA NY Chapter. During Tony’s tenure, he took as his theme “Architect as Leader,” which explored the positive impact that architects can have not only on their projects and firms, but also on the larger community. Tony’s speech on Tuesday evening touched on the many high points of his tenure as president, including the Architects’ Fast-Track Leadership professional development series launched in September of 2010, events and exhibitions put on by the chapter (such as Innovate: Integrate, on view until January 15th, 2011), and new technology initiatives implemented. He finished by thanking the AIA NY Board, staff, and volunteers for their many contributions. To read Tony’s speech in full, go to eOCULUS. We congratulate him on a successful year!

Happy Holidays

Photograph by Grey Crawford.

Congratulations once again to the Mancini•Duffy Retail Group, whose design for Bloomingdale's Santa Monica has placed in RDI's International Store Design Competition. The level of award will be announced at a reception in Manhattan on January 10th. Best wishes go out to the team behind the Santa Monica Place design, which included Senior Associate Edward Calabrese, Creative Director; Senior Associate Lisa Contreras, Resource Director; Senior Associate Marian Crawford, IIDA, FRDI, Project Director; Stan Kao, Senior Designer; Courtney Kemper, Project Designer; George Winsper, Job Captain, 1st Floor; and Alex Mai, Job Captain, 2nd Floor. Go here for more about the store.

Photograph by Adrian Wilson.

In the organization’s own words, the London International Creative Competition “aims to bridge the gap between uniquely talented artists and an international audience. The artwork is judged by a board of internationally esteemed artists, writers, curators, gallery owners and other luminaries of the arts.” Awards are given in everything from sculpture to illustration to printmaking to architecture and beyond. Go here for the homepage of their website, and here to see the details of our honorable mention-cited entry, the third floor at Saks Fifth Avenue's flagship.

Made in New York

The AIA New York Chapter/Center for Architecture’s MADE IN NEW YORK exhibition is currently up in the West 4th Street subway station, and will run through October 31st. In the words of the organization, “MADE IN NEW YORK solicits works of all scales and types – small, large, commercial, residential, public, private, interiors, historic preservation, engineering, landscape and urban design – presenting the scope and quality of work being done by AIA New York Chapter members across the globe.” Mancini•Duffy has four projects on display in the show: AOL, BT Americas, Cushman & Wakefield, and Fitzpatrick Cella Harper & Scinto. The show is “free with subway admission.”

For more about MADE IN NEW YORK, go here.

A Wonderful Turn-out for OHNY!

John Sadlon with guests (left) and Kristina Piccoli and Meghan O'Reilly with young designers from Georgia Southern University
Thank you, everyone, who came to visit us on Saturday as part of openhousenewyork. We had a great turn-out: over 250 visitors stopped by our office in the course of the seven-hour day. Visitors took tours of our space and heard talks about the history of our firm and our offices at 39 West 13th Street, the design process, a proposed project in the UAE, and our recently completed Bloomingdale’s Santa Monica store, as well as participating in a learning session about workplace strategy. Our youngest visitor was two years old, our largest tour included 27 people, and we had a special visit from a group of bright young interior design majors from Georgia Southern University. Some groups stayed for as long as an hour (!). We got great feedback from visitors, including one lovely woman who said that she’d been going on OHNY tours for seven years and this was the best tour she’d ever been on.

A huge thank-you to our team who made this event such a success: Steve Bleiweiss; Peyton Cochran; Marian Crawford, IIDA, FRDI; Alan Dandron, IIDA, LEED AP; Michael Kirn, AIA; Melissa Marsh, Assoc. AIA; Meghan O’Reilly, LEED AP; Kristina Piccoli, LEED AP; John Sadlon, Assoc. AIA, as well as our OHNY volunteers, especially Tuula A. who was such a joy to work with.

We're Opening Our Doors for OHNY

Come see us at our Manhattan office on Saturday, October 9th between the hours of 10 am to 5 pm, when we’ll be opening our doors as part of the openhousenewyork weekend. Designers, architects, proposal writers, and principals of our firm will be giving tours and talks every half-hour. We’re at 39 West 13th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues – look for the orange door.

To download a full brochure of all of openhousenewyork’s many splendid events, go here.

Miami Experience

Last weekend, I was invited by Floor Focus magazine to attend an awards celebration in South Beach, Florida. Sponsoring the event were Bentley Prince Street, Centiva, Crossville Tile, Floor Focus, and Johnsonite. The magazine honored four design firms for dynamic integration of flooring within the overall design of a space. Mancini Duffy received the Grand Prize for our design of new offices for the law firm Fitzpatrick Cella Harper and Scinto, in Manhattan. A brief interview that followed the event can be heard here.

While in South Beach, I enjoyed a walking tour of the Art Deco District, focusing on the Ocean Drive properties located south of 15th Street. Art Deco made its debut in 1925 at an exposition in Paris, creating a new design vocabulary based on early neoclassical styles with the application of bas-relief motifs including flora, fauna, and strong geometric patterns. From the 1930's until the 1970's, the neighborhood was primarily home to many retirees, as well as a mix of transients, and the buildings fell into a severe state of disrepair. It wasn't until 1979, when the neighborhood was under threat of being razed to make way for new high-rise construction, that the buildings were recognized for their significance within the urban fabric of South Beach. It was at that time that preservationists first added subdued tones of color to pronounce the clean lines and finely crafted details of the Deco style. See images below.

A few blocks away, in sharp architectural contrast, I also visited Herzog and de Meuron's recently opened car park at 1111 Lincoln Road. The seven-story structure features varying slab-to-slab heights and an elegantly sweeping ramp which spirals upward, revealing spectacular views of Miami. The evolution of parking structure as pedestrian destination creates an interesting and utterly unique mix of form and function. The structure itself is quietly poetic in details, including knife-edge slab cuts and complex folding stairways, which further create a sense of theatre and discovery as you experience the building. The lasting impression is one of refinement; by eliminating any exterior curtain wall system, the building appears to be very light and airy. See images below.

AIA New York Chapter: Architects Fast Track Leadership Series

As the first in the eight-session Architects Fast Track Leadership Series running once a month at the Center for Architecture, AIA New York Chapter President and Mancini•Duffy Chairman Anthony P. Schirripa, FAIA, IIDA, will be giving a session on Financial Management on Wednesday, September 22nd, from 8:00 - 10:00 AM. As stated by the AIA New York Chapter, the intended audiences are interns and mid-career associates who are motivated toward developing their firm management skills. Go to this link for more information, such as costs.

The New Space Metric: “Space Utilization”

Image courtesy of kevinzhengli.

The current economic turmoil has forced organizations to re-evaluate their second most significant operating expense: their real-estate footprint. In an effort to build leaner and more agile portfolios that respond quickly and efficiently to unpredictable changes, more and more organizations are adopting or exploring strategies like consolidation, densification, and flexible/alternative ways of working. The parameters for workplace efficiency and capacity, therefore, have changed. No longer is the critical space metric the number of square feet or square feet per person, it is now space utilization or occupancy rate.

Space utilization or occupancy rate is defined as the percent of time space is occupied. The effort now is not to minimize space per person, but to achieve 100% space utilization. In view of the new workplace strategies being adopted, measuring space utilization is not only considered imperative to building a business case for implementing these strategies, but also seen as an important tool to assess and allocate space where and how it is needed. There is also a need to not view this as a one-time study, but as an ongoing effort to track real-time data in order to re-balance space across teams and functions, since business needs and processes are now more volatile than ever.

There is a huge gap between perceived space utilization and actual utilization. In a webinar entitled “Getting Strategic about Space Management” presented on July 15th by Phil Wee, Manager, Occupancy Planning, and Curtis Knapp, Global Director of Occupancy Planning for Jones Lang LaSalle, it was stated that JLL identifies an average of 26% more vacancy than initially reported by their clients. Per Maureen Moody in her article “Mastering All You Survey” in the June 2010 issue of FM World, Cerys Jones, Director at Cochrane McGregor, a UK-based workplace consulting firm, and Bernard Crouch of Gunnersbury-Consult report that the perception of space utilization might be 60%, but surveys could show as little as 28%. This translates into a large potential for gaining efficiencies.

A number of data collection technologies are out there in the market today and, depending upon the level and type of detail of the information required, the right technology can be easily selected. The technologies can be broadly categorized into four types, in order of the detailed information provided: video-based, sensor-based, observation surveys, and in-place reservation/checking-in systems.

All technologies come with built-in reporting, which might reveal statistics on occupancy by rooms, departments, floors, traffic in specific areas or between certain groups/teams, maximum usage showing patterns, and actual usage vs. reservations. Video-based and sensor-based technologies are able to record intensive data over a larger period of time and are very accurate, but might have a “big brother” feel to them, as well as being expensive solutions. Human observation methodology is still the most popular, since it is the easiest and cheapest, but organizations are increasingly choosing to use more sophisticated technology to get exhaustive data.

Irrespective of the technology selected, organizations are realizing that tracking space utilization gives the real picture of how space is being used, which in turn helps inform better workplace decisions and can also result in huge cost savings.

Reality Check: A Student Visit

Here we are around the table sharing design ideas with Kean University students. To my left is Lisa Contreras, the Mancini•Duffy Retail Group Resource Director.

Earlier this summer we were visited by a group of bright young people enrolled in the Interior Design program at New Jersey’s Kean University. Led by Damon LaCapra, an Assistant Professor in the School of Design (and a colleague of mine from way back), the students, most in their second and third year, impressed me with their curiosity and savvy about the business of design. They asked many questions, and while they understood and appreciated aesthetics, they wanted to know about practical concerns: How does our firm get work? What’s a typical project schedule? How deadline-driven is the industry in general? As a group, they seemed to have gotten past the “glamorous” part of being a designer, and instead turned their questions to the skills and assets they would need to be successful in their careers. For me, it was something of a reality check – perhaps their attitudes reflect the state of the current economy and the need for today’s young person to be that much more of a go-getter to land a job in such a climate.

On a related note, I was pleased that we managed to impress this savvy group of students as well – whew! – by our work, our client list, and the diversity of the industries we design for. In all, it was a mutual learning experience.

Iraq, notes from the field

Below is a day-by-day diary from a recent trip to Baghdad undertaken by Yves Springuel, AIA, a Principal in our Washington DC office, Mancini•Duffy Winstanley. Yves took the trip on behalf of our client, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and AECOM and the Iraqi Council of Representatives, in order to interview users, conduct a visioning session, and survey the Parliament building, which will be renovated to house the Iraqi Center for Parliamentary Development.

Tuesday, 6/22, 7:00 PM local, Noon EST

This has already been an eye-opening adventure! And with a bit of luck and much hard work, it’ll be a great project. I landed this morning and, after many delays, including combat zone ones, arrived safe and healthy this afternoon at the housing and office compound in Baghdad.

My communications will be sporadic and limited: both because I won’t be adding any value by telling you everything at this time and due to technical difficulties—already the power has gone out twice. The limited distribution of this communication is to reassure my firm that I am fine, to confirm that the systems we set up are working, and to provide project information.

Baghdad remains a city torn asunder. However, the airport could have been anywhere. The world’s most sophisticated technology landed on a perfect runway, taxied, and parked far from a gate. A stifling heat (109 F) slammed us on our walk to the terminal, a place of incomprehensible paperwork that I navigated in about two hours. It cost us $2.00 to replace my visa.

I met up with the head of the South African team that provides our security, was instructed on the wearing of the flak jacket and helmet, and then was taken as part of a three-car motorcade—all for me—in a bulletproof GMC SUV out of the secure perimeter of the airport. The highway to the International Zone is lined with Jersey barriers 12 feet tall or more; you glimpse what is beyond as you are treated to the stories of the security staff and their passengers’ adventures…

We went through five checkpoints, notable as the only public place I saw American military (in a convoy of their own) in the parts of the Green Zone still active, which is where the parliament is located. There we had two spare hours, since the rest of our convoy was finishing a meeting. We touristed! I have a picture of me under the old regime’s crossed swords, and I heard my first Call to Prayer. The walls reminded me not in the least of the ones we all know so well in old Europe; instead they’re all the harsh technology of modern precast, and set at the road’s edge. And yet, all the same, glimpses to something wonderful are to be had over them.

After connecting with the rest of our convoy coming from the parliament, we motored over the Tigris, the first place I got a truly long view of the city. And what a city! While dirty and damaged, the street life is just as real as anywhere you have been. Markets, advertising, construction, children darting out, traffic, police (and soldiers), crowded side streets—you name it, I glimpsed it.

Now in the compound, after my first briefing, I go to dinner. Tomorrow I survey the building, Thursday interview the Senior Staff of the Parliament. We present our findings and solution on Monday. We have a lot of work to do!

It’s great to be an architect.

Wednesday, 6/23, 8:00 PM local, 1:00 PM EST

Tonight’s note will be short—jet lag is catching up!

One hundred and four degrees, not quite a sandstorm I’m told, more like an atmosphere where the humidity we all know in DC is replaced by a sandy dust carried on the breeze. And of course my principal activity was the most physical of the entire deployment: the building survey! It’s one of the key things we had to accomplish here, and it went well. Tomorrow will be the visioning and requirements interviews.

In the building, no A/C or air movement, but sufficient light to work. The entry foyer has something of the wedding pavilion scene from the Godfather to it. The old National Assembly Hall has sufficient geometric order and restraint to be called a national treasure. And we start with good bones for our project: the office parts are a calm and white interior, though the quarter inch of dust everywhere is a novelty! Outside the building we were fortunately inside the T-walls of its compound; so we did not have to wear our personal protection.

I was also treated to a convoy search. Six fully armed Afrikaners looking out for just you make that a good story, although better told in person…

Still the jet lag is an excuse; I’m pooped—good night.

Thursday, 6/24, 11:00 PM local, 4:00 PM EST

Very busy day conducting the interviews at the Council of Representatives.

You may have seen the building in the news. It’s the old convention center, a horizontal slat/vertical silo, bunker-looking mid-rise. It was the American HQ before the surge. I might best describe it as a fully occupied construction site, with every resident a designer, no superintendent, no completed project or task, and not a day laborer nor dumpster to be found.

Friday 6/25, 11:00 PM local, 4:00 PM EST

It’s the first day that I did not leave the compound, and the city is certainly quieter on this, their holy day, punctuated by the Call to Prayer. I spent the day developing our design presentation, and conducted a 15-minute tourist visit of my surroundings.

We occupy four city blocks bound by a few two-story houses, and buildings up to six stories tall. Two or three are hotels or apartment buildings, the others office buildings. All seem occupied by foreigners (that’s me), and there are barracks for our guard force and the office of the private contractors and classrooms providing the English teachers’ classrooms. The perimeter is closed by the T-walls. The four streets leading in are blocked by a rabbit warren and double gates, and each is manned by several guards. There are pillboxes on all the heights and most every building. Downtown is at the intersection of two main streets; our motor pool of a dozen armored SUVs has this prominent address. It is completely forgettable except for the racket of at least 17 tractor-trailer size generator sets, most of which restart at every blackout. If you are following the news, you know that these are incessant.

There are about 40 of us in the compound this week, and 200 Afrikaners and Gurkhas assuring our security and transport. During the work week, we’re augmented by a local office and labor force, and up to 25 students. Those office folks have been my best contact and given me the most wonderful perspective on this, the cradle of civilization.

The dust subsided today, but I think the haze on everything is a permanent fixture in all seasons. There is no PX; however, the owner of the souvenir gift shop in the lobby of our hotel impatiently awaits my presence. Perhaps I will get a bargain….

Sunday, 6/27, 10:00 PM local, 3:00 PM EST

We presented to the Senior Staff of the Parliament, who approved our concept. Tomorrow we present to the Center’s governing board and that should do it—then it’s home to write the report and produce a scope set of drawings. I discovered that working like this is successful, if not easy.

I also think I discovered that much of the local challenge is because of the security, not in spite of it. For example, I spent two hours this morning waiting in the sun outside the Parliament because my paperwork wasn’t there.

On the way back, the others talked our ride into stopping at the liquor store. We went down a bumpy dirt road to a sweets and ice-cream shop, behind which were three serious retail establishments for the necessities of our western world. Just like high school! And a bargain to boot. Too bad that I have the confiscation line to go though before I come home.

And now back in Compound, the A/C has finally completely given out. Anybody want to trade places?

Juicy Two-Handed Goodness

I wouldn’t call it a fetish – it’s closer to an addiction – but I love gadgets. Not the kitchen-type stuff (althought I love that too) but the high-tech toys, the iPhones, Netbooks, e-readers, etc. etc. So, sooner or later, I had to get an iPad. I was hoping to put off the purchase till later, when the second version arrives sometime next year – it will probably sport a camera by then – but AT&T and Apple forced my hand when they announced a new data pricing plan. They eliminated the unlimited data plan and, if I wanted that, I needed to buy the device before the new plan went into effect. Given the financial situation that is affecting us all, a new toy and data plan were stretching it but, given the potential of what the device can do as an online tool, and the data it can chew up, I decided it was a good investment. OK, so I’ve given up a lunch here or there, but I had to have an iPad. Here are my impressions of it.

I’ve had it for more than a month as of this writing, and I was looking to offload some of the things that I would do with my Netbook (small laptop). I had such high hopes that I could replace my laptop and e-reader but, as of today, the iPad can probably replace my e-reader, but it can’t replace my laptop: it does more than an e-reader but a lot less than a laptop. It will let me surf the net, read digital magazines, interface with Facebook and other social networks, play games, and run mini-apps. It’s a great interface device for interacting, and that’s exactly what I do with my iPhone, except now I can interface on a larger screen. I can consume loads of info and make a note here and there. I can view websites, but not those in Flash. I can read email, view email attachments and Microsoft documents, listen to music, and watch videos. However, the operative words here are View and Consume. I can create some documentation – but with limitations.

It would be nice if I could add the capital-letter words Modify and Create to describe what I can do with the iPad; unfortunately, I can only use the small-letter words for it. It’s just not a laptop replacement. The limitations to modifying and creating depend on what applications are available, as well as the limits of the device. Some of these limitations are pretty big. For instance, I can’t really modify an email attachment. I can’t create/reply to an email and add an attachment, and file viewing is limited to images unless you have a mini-app (if I purchase a mini-app, I can have some editing ability with Microsoft documents). I can view some PDFs, but don’t try a floor plan or a set of construction documents – the contractor will have the problem fixed by the time you have the file open. I’m limited to what iTunes allows me to sync with the iPad; for instance, I (currently) can’t take a document off my hard drive and place it on the iPad. If iTunes can’t add it to its library, you can’t sync it.

It’s a great-looking device and I love to use it daily, because I can just sit on the train, plug in my headphones, and catch up with the world: read my New York Times, view CNN and ESPN, and read my comic books. But only if I’m sitting. It’s a little heavy for one hand, and it’s too big for my thumb to get from one side to the other. It’s a two-hander – like a really big cheeseburger.

Avery Miyasato Handy, IIDA patiently waits to accept the award for “Commercial under 50,000 sq. ft.” from Dale Alan Greenwald, IIDA, the 2009-2010 IIDA New York President. Photo by Natalie Severson.

We were thrilled to receive two nominations and one win in the 2010 IIDA NY Lester Dundes Awards – picking up the most recognition of any architecture firm represented. In the Retail category, Saks Fifth Avenue’s third floor in its Manhattan flagship, completed by Mancini•Duffy’s Retail Group, got a nod, as did our 130,000-sf project for law firm Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto in the “Commercial over 50,000 sq. ft.” category. The big prize for “Commercial under 50,000 sq. ft.” went to our Fortune Global 500 Investment Center project in Charlotte, North Carolina. Congratulations to everyone who worked on these projects, and special thanks to our Charlotte team, which included Avery Miyasato Handy, IIDA; Lee Devore, LEED AP; Jeremiah Hancock, Associate AIA, LEED AP; Courtney R. Kemper; Manuel Garcia; Dale Peterson, AIA; Anthony P. Schirripa, FAIA, IIDA. Go here to see images of the project as well as all of this year’s winners; go here or here to see the judges’ comments on the space.

And in other big news, our own Alan J. Dandron, IIDA, LEED AP stepped up as 2010-2011 President of the IIDA New York Chapter this month. Congratulations, Alan!

Thank You, Students!

Tim, Brian, Melanie, and Richard

We’re so grateful to our students and for the invaluable help they’ve provided during their time at Mancini Duffy. We are sad to see them leave and wish them the best of luck as they head back to school.

In the next few weeks, Richard Miller be headed for Pratt Institute, where he’ll enter as a freshman to study architecture after transferring from New York City College of Technology (City Tech) of the City University of New York (CUNY); Brian Rocks will return to Allegheny College, where he’s majoring in Computer Science, for his sophomore year; Tim Vassallo will return as a junior to Penn State, where he’s majoring in architecture; and Melanie Weismiller will return as a junior to Cornell, where she’s majoring in architecture. We send them off with our thanks and best wishes for their future!

Howard Roark, disguised as Gary Cooper, imagines the future.

Creative Director Ed Calabrese, along with Lisa Contreras, leads Mancini•Duffy’s Retail Group, whose award-winning interiors include work for Bloomingdale’s and Bliss across the country, as well as Saks Fifth Avenue’s third floor at their Manhattan flagship, unveiled in late 2009. In his career of thirty years in the industry, Ed has overseen hundreds of retail and hospitality projects from New York to Barcelona to Doha to Warsaw to Jakarta to Boca Raton – so this man should know what he’s talking about. (Mary)

On a recent evening, I toured the Smyth Hotel at 85 West Broadway at Chambers Street with a small group from the AIANY Architecture of Hospitality Committee. As a boutique hotel and condominium, it’s successful and has all the requisite bells and whistles. There were some really good details and hardware throughout, and some of the best-designed bathrooms I’ve seen.

The building was designed by BBG-BBGM, with interiors by Yabu Pushelberg. The lobby is dark, with oiled steel, wenge wood panels, and brown leather; a vaulted ceiling clad in a mosaic tile adds some interest. Like so many of these hotels, the bar and lobby space are the same. This trend goes back to the days when Morgans Hotel and the Royalton were the hotspots and revived hotel spaces as destinations.

The guestrooms, designed by Richardson Sadeki, were nice. The way the details fit together like a Swiss watch was impressive. The bathrooms are compartmented but there’s no real wall between the bath and the bedroom – there’s a frosted glass partition and that’s it. Not for sharing with the shy or prudish. The furniture was textbook retro, all beige with one red wool lounge chair (for punch, I guess), with the requisite wenge wood panel behind the bed and the plasma-screen TV. They didn’t skimp on materials: everything was top quality, with all the textiles in raw silk, wool, and glove leather.

We were shown the penthouse, which is a 1200-square-foot two-bedroom apartment for sale at $7 million. There is a great floating-glass stair (very Howard Roark) up to the terrace, which is on the apartment’s roof. Of course, there was one of those Italian kitchens, where the refrigerator is a series of drawers and everything is sleek, requiring a contract with Windex. I loved the view from the corner living room, where you could see all the way uptown and, to the west, the Hudson and Goldman Sachs.

For some exterior photos, go here.

Minds Matter!

Meghan (right) with her co-mentor Arthur and their mentee Stephanie at the “Million TreesNYCSpring Planting Day. That day 250 volunteers planted 2,500 trees and shrubs in a forty-acre shrubland on the northern edge of Floyd Bennett Field.

Minds Matter is a not-for-profit mentoring organization whose volunteers help students who have the potential and ambition to go to college, but lack the resources to do so. Started by six Wall Streeters in 1991, the organization has grown to six cities, and has an amazingly high success rate as far as college acceptance: 100% of graduates of the Minds Matter program have been accepted to a four-year college or university. Meghan O’Reilly at Mancini•Duffy has been involved with the organization since last year, and recently told us about it.

Q: So, tell me what volunteering entails.

Meghan: Most of the work is done on Saturdays, and a typical Saturday will go from 9:30 to 2:30. In our group, there are six students, twelve mentors, and a team leader – so it’s kind of a team effort. What you do in the program is dependent on what year your student is. The student I mentor, Stephanie, is a sophomore, and so the curriculum for her year focuses on writing and critical thinking, public speaking, debate, and PSAT prep. The goal for the year is to place students in a college summer program so they can get a taste of what college will be like – hopefully, they’ll get introduced to a wider world beyond what they know. Minds Matter pays for the cost of the summer college program, so it’s all about a student’s motivation, and not their financial resources.

Q: What are some of the activities you do with the students?

Meghan: As an example, each week a student will present an article from the New York Times, and lead a discussion about it. The program helps open up the students to a multiplicity of attitudes, of ways of learning. And a lot of the time is spent piloting students through the admissions process – Stephanie and I have completed at least five applications for summer programs. It’s time consuming, but it’s also good practice for college applications, and it certainly helps them hone their writing skills.

Q: What are the students like?

Meghan: These kids are very determined, very smart – they not only give up their Saturdays to do this, but spend time during the week on the writing assignments we give them. This is of course in addition to their regular schoolwork. A lot of the students are first-generation in this country, and the first in their families to go to college, so often there’s not a lot of experience with the college application process. My personal experience has been terrific – Stephanie is so motivated. I love being able to help her navigate through this process and, because of the nature of the program, I’ll be working with her for the next two years as well. So it’s a big commitment but, for me, the rewards of doing this kind of work – helping a talented young person to succeed – are huge.

A truly volunteer-driven organization, Minds Matter estimates that the value of time volunteered for their programs since the program began is $2,000,000. The volunteer-to-paid-staff ratio is approximately 275:1, an extremely efficient ratio for a charitable organization. To make a tax-deductible contribution to the New York Chapter of this 501(c)3 organization, go

Inside the Williamsburgh Savings Bank

Image compliments of the NYPL.

In this video, architectural historian Christopher Gray, who writes the “Streetscapes” column for the New York Times, takes you into the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, built by Mancini•Duffy’s parent company Halsey, McCormack & Helmer in 1929. He also wrote a terrific, invaluable article for the New York Society Library called “A Guide to Researching the History of a New York City Building” which is a great starting point for anyone interested in doing just that. Go here for the website of Mr. Gray’s firm, the Office for Metropolitan History, which has a Building Permits Database that allows you to search NYC buildings that went up from 1900 to 1986. We love this guy.

Big Bambú

In a city where we rarely look up, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is giving us a reason to do just that; but watch your step!

Doug + Mike Starn, a pair of identical twins with a studio located in Beacon, New York, are transforming the roof of the museum one bamboo stalk at a time. Currently, they have organized over 40,000 bamboo shoots to feel, at one glance, like an organized chaos of sticks and ropes, but with the turn of the head suddenly the piece becomes an ebbing and flowing wave of sculpture.

The Starn Brothers, originally from New Jersey, bring from their previous photographic work the same transformative aspect of movement and honesty to their latest project, but this extreme three-dimensional work allows a more elaborative emphasis on the connectivity of the medium. There is no disguising the colorful loops and knots that keep you floating thirty-five feet over the roof.

The project’s stiletto-bamboo, structural members firmly rooted on the roof deck and the connecting ramps and steps were carefully planned by the brothers and a crew of architects and engineers using 3D modeling software. While the brothers still follow the growth of their art piece, they leave every detail of how each stalk continues to be attached and connected together to the sole discretion of the construction crew, who are not architects or engineers, but rock climbers who work on the project each weekday.

On my Memorial Day visit, this wave had reached only thirty-five feet above the Met’s roof garden, but by its close on October 31, 2010 it will reach fifty feet. Plan ahead as you must have a ticket to walk through the structure and there are several restrictions on what you may carry or wear on the tour. Check the Met’s website for more information.

The Ridgewood Savings Bank Turns 70

The Ridgewood Savings Bank in 1940.

The AIA Guide to New York City – which will soon have its fifth edition out, hurray! – called Mancini•Duffy’s parent firm, Halsey, McCormack & Helmer, “the deans of outer-borough bank designers.” Our best-known project along those lines is decidedly the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, a building whose four-sided clocktower acts as a beacon to guide many a Brooklyn transplant home at night. Slightly less known is the Forest Hills Branch of the Ridgewood Savings Bank, an Art Deco beauty that recently celebrated its 70th anniversary.

To read about the celebration, check out this article in the Queens Courier. For more images of the bank, have a look at the Rego-Forest Preservation Council’s very robust flickr photostream, which includes current photos as well as archival images such as the one above. And, compliments of the Neighborhood Preservation Center, if you go here, you can download a PDF of the Ridgewood Savings Bank’s Landmarks Preservation Commission report, which is a real treasure trove of information, containing everything from a quick history of bank design in the early 20th century to a précis about the source of the term Art Deco – the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, the Paris World’s Fair of 1925.

The Bag

On any given day, I would have my netbook, my nook, my notebook, a change of clothes, a bottle of water, a set of redlines and anything else that I might need that day. I live out of my bag, so I am always looking for the ultimate bag. A bag has to have a lot of pockets, a padded compartment for my tech, and a big central pocket for everything else. It's gotta look good and, because I call myself an architect, it has to be cost-efficient. So I've found this bag company, "Crumpler," – they are Australia-based and they have the best bag that I've come across: "the Dreadful Embarrassment". It comes in black and some funky colors as well, They will also custom build a bag for you as well. Check it out.

Street Sighting: Architectural Packaging Materials

Does anyone remember staying up all night trying to make these out of chipboard/resin/wax/plaster??

3/25/10 - Peter Miscovich @ Teknion

This morning Peter Miscovich gave a presentation at the Teknion showroom titled “Workplace + Technology: How will technology enhance workplace performance?” Key discussion points included mobility, the adoption of digital formats, and knowledge networks. The presentation referenced many of the “buzz” technologies we hear about in the news, but are never really forced to think about until they are right in front of us, on our phone, etc. Peter cited several technologies only recently available (mobile internet, microblogging) that are already having truly transformational impacts on the way we work, and the potential for those currently in development (cloud computing, social software suites) to really redefine work and life as we presently know it.

Mobile technology suggests that the workplace as we know it now will shrink, but maybe more interesting to imagine is how the spaces and places that we consider non-work will change and grow to compensate. Thirty-thousand-square-foot Starbucks, occupying a former post office building, with recycled systems furniture, on-site technology support, customer behavior policies, and – “Oh yeah, they stopped brewing coffee like five years ago”?

And what of the traditional workplace? A conference center, except with only one large conference room, an elaborate reception counter, soothing lighting, discreet branding concealed in architectural finishes, maybe some branded merchandise here and there, evocative music, and some really fancy coffee?

Is it possible?

Gallery Opening: Henri Cartier-Bresson at the MoMA

photo credit: Tony the Misfit's Flickr photostream

On Thursday, April 8th I had the pleasure of attending an opening party for the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the MoMA with one of my fellow MDers (Courtney Kemper). Cartier-Bresson was an influential photographer, who started his career in the early 1930s by capturing life as it was happening. The curator organized the show in groups of time periods of work in the US, as well as geographically documenting Cartier-Bresson’s travels in Europe and Asia. He was a photojournalist as well as an artist, and the National Geographic magazine and various newspaper articles featuring his photography were on display below the original prints. He captured some amazing celebrations and demonstrations, as well as candid shots of daily life around the globe.

For me, some of the most interesting shots displayed Cartier-Bresson’s ability to capture emotion with his shots; despair, happiness, surprise, indifference. It felt like you were looking at life in the 30’s, 40’s or 50’s through his eyes. To top it all off, the night was beautiful and cocktails were served out in the courtyard where we mingled with other patrons and sculptures. It was a great way to spend an evening.

2010 AIA New York Chapter College of Fellows

Anthony P. Schirripa, FAIA, IIDA at the podium.

In early March, the AIA New York Chapter hosted a reception for members elevated to the College of Fellows in 2010. Among the fourteen new Fellows – and the 134 nationwide – was Mancini•Duffy’s Chairman and CEO Tony Schirripa, 2010 President of AIA NY and a major force in helping establish the Center for Architecture back in 2003. Fellows on hand shared with a packed hall career highlights – such as the Queens Botanical Garden Visitor Center (Joan Krevlin, FAIA, LEED AP) and the stunning renovation of the Eldridge Street Synagogue (Walter Sedovic, FAIA, LEED AP) – that left many of us in the crowd feeling awed and inspired. For a full list of the New York Chapter member Fellows, go to the March 9th edition of eOculus.

Susan Szenasy rocks the house!

On a rainy night in March, we opened up our offices to a group of students, professors, and design professionals for a screening of Brilliant Simplicity: 15 Designers Research Collaborate Innovate, a short film from Metropolis magazine that “traces the many ways innovation can happen.” It’s an inspiring 25 minutes, offering quick takes on projects designed by winners and runners-up in Metropolis’ Next Generation competition. For me, some of the highlights among the many ingenious works and products featured were: the Hydro Wall, a thermal building skin that collects rainwater during the day, allows it to be warmed by the sun, and the resultant heat to be re-radiated into the building at night; lunar-resonant streetlights, which respond to ambient moonlight just as indoor light sensors respond to available daylight; and the work of Single Speed Design, who built a surprisingly beautiful prototype house out of infrastructure refuse recycled from Boston’s “Big Dig” highway project.

After the screening, Metropolis Editor-in-Chief Susan S. Szenasy – an engaging, enthusiastic speaker and seemingly tireless presence – led a wide-ranging discussion that touched on everything from how LEED certification is helping to push the A&D community to ask more questions about materials sourcing, to an animated discussion about the film The Greening of Southie, to how we can learn from earlier innovations – an example of this being how the jacquard punch card was an early step in the development of computing hardware.

Szenasy also put in a plug for the Design Revolution Road Show, a travelling exhibition that’s currently bringing “product design that empowers” to schools across the US—by means of an Airstream trailer that’s loaded up with incredibly thoughtful, humanitarian design solutions, such as the Lifestraw, a point-of-use water purifier for use in developing countries; toys and learning tools for handicapped persons; cleaner-burning cook stoves; and Grow, “solar ivy” which harvests energy through wind as well as the sun.

The event at our offices was sponsored by Kimball Office, and many of us took home a capacious Kimball tote bag – which one could use for anything from shopping to schlepping home materials samples to, perhaps, carrying your bags of kitchen compost to the Union Square Greenmarket.