Sunday, August 26, 2012

Thursday, August 23, 2012

if you build it...

They will come... and they will continue to come. 

A recent Op Ed piece from the NY Times talks about the overwhelming success of the High Line and discusses the effect on the neighborhoods the park snakes through. The author observes, similar to what I have noticed in recent visits, that the park has become over crowded and a magnet for tourists. 

Further, the author brings up the radical transformation of West Chelsea that has spawned from the High Line. Where once working class people and light industry occupied homes and warehouses, over the years, these people have been pushed out and local, middle class shops and industry pushed out in favor of luxury housing and high end retail. Much of this gentrification has been brought on by the High Line, even as far as the rezoning of much of the neighborhood to allow for a multitude of new, multi-million dollar housing endeavors. 

So, from one vantage point, one can say the High Line has been a success, transforming a once neglected set of infrastructure and catalyzing a major change in the community. However, from the opposite view, the extreme success has contributed to one of the highest rates of gentrification in Manhattan. Also, if we imagine what the place will become in 5, 10, 15 years, it's possible to imagine major, global corporations to infiltrate the real estate. The author uses the example of Sephora and the idea that the current businesses, as trendy as they may be, just won't be able to compete financially with larger corporations.  

From the perspective of landscape architecture, it's amazing what one project is able to do - grab the attention of the world, the rich, the famous and the curious. It's also amazing how powerful the brand is and how much it will continue to strengthen. 

It makes me think, though, what if the design language was different from the beginning - what if the design wasn't as much about slick contemporary forms and attractive gathering spaces but instead about maintaining the wild vegetation that had grown over years and just allowing simple access? As the author points out, what if it was for the people living there at the moment, not for those who would eventually come?

How would that affect the way we are talking about the High Line now?

Monday, August 20, 2012

domino sugar factory: change on the brooklyn waterfront

A few years ago, I wrote a cultural landscape research paper on the Domino Sugar Factory located on the Williamsburg waterfront. The site, overlooking the Williamsburg Bridge and East River, with spectacular views to Manhattan, is a long sought after piece of real estate. I just learned from an article by the New York Daily News that the site was bought by a new developer (different from the ownership when I wrote my paper). 

I'm intrigued to see how the process unfolds. I'm certain that the controversy of the site will only intensify as development becomes a more concrete reality. Between the "promise" of affordable housing and maintaining the identity of the historical buildings and iconic "Domino Sugar" sign, there's a strong set of supporters both for and against the future plans. 

Keep checking back here for more updates. Depending on what happens over the next months/ year I may bring my research paper back to life and try to submit to a peer reviewed journal.

Would love to hear any of your initial thoughts on the site, the importance of waterfront development, what it means to Manhattan, to Brooklyn and specifically, to the changing character of Williamsburg. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Let it speak for itself

I saw this yesterday at an exhibition titled, cultureNOW, at the Boston Society of Architects Space. Since we seem to live in a time of excessively bullshitting everything that we do or creating some ridiculous post-rationalization of what we design, this is a refreshing quote.

The bike is simple, highlighted not by glam or extraneous description of this and that, but instead by its essential form, clean tones and necessary connections. No bullshit, just designed and built.

Every now and again I fall into the excessive bullshit category. This is a refreshing take on design. Just shut up and build it, let it speak for itself.

Friday, August 3, 2012

we can design, hopefully. but can we manage?

"What gets you promoted, doesn't make you a great leader or manager of people. When you start out in your career, how do you get promoted? You get stuff done. Whether you’re an accountant, a lawyer, or a tech exec, ( +/or designer), you do a lot of work and you do it well. What gets you promoted when you’re a manager of people? Getting a lot of people underneath you get stuff done."

This quote comes from an article I recently read from Forbes about why companies are terrible at selecting, retaining and motivating their talent. It's particularly relevant for the design community, since, as many of us know or find out after some time practicing, that designers are not the best managers. Seeing as we want to do great work, we really do need skills in project management and should be more conscious of how we utilize and treat members of a design team - including consultants and colleagues.

We go to school for design and learn the fundamentals of design - critical and creative thinking, process, documentation, etc. - as an individual. But, we don't often embrace team work until the last few semesters and usually don't like working in teams. We complain that part of the team doesn't work well, doesn't hold up their end of the work load.

However, the professional setting is this... all the time. As much as the biggest ego designer wants to admit he or she does it all, it's not true. We need a team of people to go from concept to construction. If we don't learn to manage that team, keep them focused and inspired then the final product will suffer. If not the final product, then it will wear on future projects.

So, if we want to think sustainably about the culture of our office, of our team, for this project and then many in the future it is vital to think about team management. Keep the best contractors on board to build the best ideas. The best ideas are generated by the best designers and staff of all levels. Keep them motivated and inspired.