The utterly bearable lightness of being in New York this spring is evident in several new structures, and one classic now topping the charts. This is a great time to walk the sidewalks of Manhattan, from Columbus Circle to the Battery, from Harlem to City Hall Park.
Seven is Up
Blue-purple LED lights in the metallic base of the new office building known as 7WTC (See "A Clockwork Blue," Sept/Oct 2006.) announce that something different has risen at the site of the World Trade Center. Designed by David Childs, FAIA, of Skidmore Owings & Merrill, Childs called on New York-based Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design to turn the architectural concept into lighting reality. The ground level of the structure benefits from collaboration with public artists James Carpenter, Jenny Holzer, and Jeff Koons. Carpenter's light touch helps dematerialize the otherwise solid streetwall, enclosing an electrical substation. The 9/11 destruction of the building's namesake predecessor symbolized one of the darkest points in New York's history. With an exciting new façade, and the lights on in newly occupied offices, including those of the National Academy of Sciences, this American Institute of Architects (AIA) award-winning building expresses resilience and elegance.
Staten Island Too
The recently revamped Whitehall Ferry Terminal, also known as South Ferry, is an exciting new work of architecture by Frederic Schwartz of Schwartz Architects. With embodied photovoltaic panels facing south to the harbor, the building's shimmering façade greets ferry commuters from Staten Island, as well as visitors from around the world who have learned that this cheap ride (round trip for two bits) brings people close to the Statue of Liberty and our maritime history. The terminal beckons as a portal to the city, where waterborne transport has been resurgent. A multi-modal facility, the new terminal straddles the Number 1 Local subway, whose trains screech as they grudgingly make the slow turn to head back uptown.
In the 2007 Harris Poll of America's Favorite Architecture, commissioned for the 150th Anniversary of the AIA, the Empire State Building topped the list. Designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon and completed in 1931, the building was for many years the tallest in the world. The Empire State endears itself nightly to New Yorkers and tourists by its nightcap of color. Holidays are predictable—red and green predominates in December. But for many baseball fans, the October blue-and-white lights signify the preeminence of the Yankees. The building won "fave" honors as a supporting player in the films An Affair to Remember, King Kong, and Sleepless in Seattle. It is also the fulcrum of New York's striving skyline and makes the empirical gesture—onward and upward.
The Center for Architecture
The Center for Architecture, at 536 LaGuardia Place in Greenwich Village, benefits from daylighting on all three of its floors. This would not be so unusual, but for the fact that two of these levels are underground. Open since October 2003, the Center for Architecture, created by the AIA New York Chapter (AIANY) and the Center for Architecture Foundation, also houses the Illuminating Engineering Society of New York (IESNY) among its many professional organization partners. Multi-disciplinary discourse has engendered over 2,000 programs and 70 exhibitions to date. One recent exhibits sponsored by the IESNY, Light | Energy | Impact (May 17 - July 12, 2007), highlighted the work of architect and lighting designer Richard Kelly. And just this January, London-based LED light-artist Jason Bruges' installation Visual Echo, co-sponsored by the Royal Society for the Arts, was on view (See "Visual Echo Opens in New York," Jan/Feb 2007.)
During Lightfair there will be new exhibitions on affordable housing, design excellence, and the history of New York's buildings and neighborhoods since 1857. Visit the Center for Architecture (www.aiany.org) to get oriented, hear what's happening, and to learn more about what is most enlightening on the New York architectural and lighting scene.
Rick Bell serves as executive director of the New York Chapter of the AIA where he has worked to raise involvement of the architectural and design communities on public policy and development issues. He was elected a Fellow of the AIA in 2000 for his work in public facility design.