Oculus - Fall 2015 - (Page 47)

last words LETTER FROM THE INTERIM EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR What We Build Tells Us Who We Are ©Inbal Newman/Center for Architecture David Burney, FAIA H ousing - the theme of this issue of Oculus - is a current hot topic. And I don't just mean the astonishing mushrooming on the New York City skyline of very tall apartment buildings. In the context of the affordable housing crisis we are now experiencing, these are troubling symbols of inequality. As Martin Filler so aptly put it in the New York Review of Books, discussing the excellent exhibition "Sky High & the logic of luxury" at the Skyscraper Museum, "the smokestack-like protuberances that now disrupt the skyline of midtown Manhattan signify the steadily widening worldwide gap between the unimaginably rich and the unconscionably poor. Those of us who believe that architecture invariably (and often unintentionally) embodies the values of the society that creates it will look upon these etiolated oddities less with wonder over their cunning mechanics than with revulsion over the larger, darker machinations they more accurately represent." Paul Goldberger, in his book Why Architecture Matters, commented, "Architecture is surely our greatest physical symbol of the idea of community, our surest way to express in concrete form our belief in the notion of common ground. The way a community builds tells you, sometimes, all you need to know about its values." If we were to rate ourselves as a society by Goldberger's measure, we would surely not be doing too well. But what are architects to do? In housing policy, a society either has to pay people enough money to compete in the housing market, or subsidize the production of housing to make it affordable. Since we do neither, it is no surprise that we have a crisis. And the conspicuous consumption exemplified by the recent $100 million sale of one apartment in Midtown just rubs salt in the wound. Too often, the solution is cast as a design and construction problem. If the architects can just produce cheaper designs, and the builders can build more efficiently, then we will have affordable housing. But it's not so easy. Construction costs are only Home Game: Winning with Housing one part of housing expenditures, and they can be driven down only so much before quality suffers and long-term maintenance costs rise. The city hopes that by upzoning land to allow more marketrate housing, we can persuade developers to build some "affordable" housing for "free." We can cling to the disgraceful 421-a tax abatement program in the hope that it will work as an incentive. But upzoning has its own price to pay (which is a longer story), and, in the end, inventive design alone can't deliver housing that average people can afford. In my view, we have to constantly remember Goldberger's observation of architecture as "our greatest physical symbol of the idea of community." As designers, we must think holistically about the design of our community, beyond the $100 million apartment to our vision of the entire city. We should design from a place-making perspective that considers all the elements of good neighborhoods. It is critical for us to collaborate with finance and policymakers and make our voices heard in the political process of how resources are allocated in our society. The exhibition "Designing Affordability" that opens at the Center for Architecture this October showcases some fascinating examples of the ingenuity of designers and innovative policymakers in creating socially meaningful housing. With the current mayoral administration, we have strong potential partners in Commissioner Vicki Been and Deputy Commissioner Daniel Hernandez at NYC Housing Preservation & Development; Commissioner Mitch Silver, FAICP, at the Department of Parks & Recreation; and Chairman Carl Weisbrod at the New York City Planning Commission. At the Design Commission Awards last July, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glenn gave some very encouraging remarks about the city's commitment to design excellence. Over the coming months, the AIANY and the Center for Architecture will be working to establish that partnership and bring architecture to its rightful place as the physical symbol of the idea of community. David Burney, FAIA Interim Executive Director AIA New York Chapter and Center for Architecture Fall 2015 Oculus 47

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Fall 2015

First Words Letter From the President
Letter From the Editor
Center for Architecture
One Block Over
Opener: Affordability: Many Paths to a Solution
Housing for the 99%
Tower Power
An Active Market for Passive
Ahead of the Class
It Takes a Village
Support System, Modular Style
From Learning to Living
The DIY Approach to Housing
In Print
118-Year Watch
Last Words
Index to Advertisers

Oculus - Fall 2015

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