Sharks! in the Press

We were excited to see that today’s NYTimes includes an article on the rebuilding of the New York Aquarium post-Sandy, and features the new Ocean Wonders: Sharks! building currently under construction.

As Architects of Record for the new building, we’ve blogged about this project’s development more than once, and it’s great to see it garnering some media attention.

While the sharks will of course be the star of the show, the exhibit will also showcase scenes of realistic shipwrecks, as well as immersive and interactive exhibits displaying a myriad of aquatic life. On the exterior, visitors will appreciate exhibits of a different sort, strolling along the curving ramp promenade from within the park up to the roof deck – offering views above adjacent exhibits, the Coney Island Boardwalk, and out to the Atlantic Ocean. The project is expected to open to the public in 2018.

Read the article here.

Rivington House

Last weekend, the Neighbors to Save Rivington House came together to present to the community stories from the building’s conversion and use as a nursing home for individuals with AIDS. Community members spoke of their personal experiences during Rivington House’s 20-year history.

ESKW/A partner Andrew Knox, a long-time neighbor to the building, attended the forum and spoke to the building’s characteristics and suitability as a nursing care facility.

The event was covered by The Lo-Down; the full article can be read here.

Office Book Club: Devil in the White City

By Michael Kowalchuk

Last week marked the beginning of ESKW/A’s newest tradition: office book club. Four intrepid readers gathered to discuss Erik Larson’s compelling work of true crime history, The Devil in the White City. Larson’s book, though meticulously researched and faithful to fact, reads like a novel. A 2003 New York Times bestseller, the book is especially relevant for architects due to its treatment of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition as a backdrop for Dr. H.H. Holmes’s grisly murders. Even though some of us have already read the book, we chose it for our first book club because of its juicy merging of crime drama and architecture.

Palace of Mechanic Arts

The book details the planning, design and construction of the fair as Holmes commits his crime spree. It was interesting to compare the design culture of the late 1890’s with that of today. We find our working relationship with engineers and landscape architects as collaborative, while the fair seemed rife with rivalries. The nineteenth century inflated egos of the extremely male-dominated profession are happily diminishing in modern practice. One theme that persists in many practices is the perceived dichotomy between the architect as artiste and the architect as businessperson.

The World’s Columbian Exposition (also known as the Chicago World’s Fair) was fascinating for many reasons: the clash between tradition and modernity was almost palpable, the fair saw the largest gathering of people (during peacetime) in world history and it was one of the first times the United States flexed its muscles on a global stage. The fact that the fair was held in Chicago, “America’s second city,” proved that even places once considered provincial backwaters could pull off an event as stunning as those held in Paris, London or New York.

Larson made clear that darker forces animate the human Ferris Wheel psyche as well. In addition to Holmes’s 12+ confirmed murders (the highest estimates were around 200), the story shed light on the underbelly of Chicago which the fair tried so hard to obscure. Both Holmes and the lead architect, Daniel Burnham, exploited their laborers, though obviously to different ends. Workplace injuries or deaths were common, the eight-hour workday was a dream, and unions were only just beginning to learn their true strength. While the fair’s buildings may have been spray-painted a glimmering white, garbage was thrown down the same staircases used by guests and visitors died in accidents caused by shoddy oversight and a general lack of safety standards. On top of all that, the fair was financed by the city’s ill begotten slaughterhouse wealth and unsavory business practices that put the 2008 crisis to shame.

At the end of the day, however, the human spirit triumphed. Holmes was discovered, first as a fraud and then as a serial killer, thanks to the dedication of a persistent detective and concerned citizens. While the fair wasn’t perfect, it introduced dozens of new concepts, values and products (including PBR!) to the general public. The Ferris wheel was unveiled for the first time, allowing regular people to see the world in a previously-unthinkable way. The so-called White City lives on in the City Beautiful Movement’s neoclassical civic buildings that dot virtually every small town across the country.

World Trade Center Transportation HubOne thing we lamented was the lack of a contemporary event as impactful as the World’s Columbian Exposition. Yes, we have our biennales and dazzling new structures that defy gravity like Calatrava’s transportation hub but it seems like the next analogous experience will exist with the help of the virtual, not the built environment. Pokémon Go was just a small taste of what is possible with augmented reality and future endeavors have the potential to greatly affect millions of lives without corresponding changes to the physical world. We also lamented the lack of comprehensive documentation of the Chicago World’s Fair, as Burnham forbade amateur photography to control the way his masterpiece was viewed by the world.

Most importantly, we had a great time and found yet another reason to socialize out outside of office hours. Up next is Rachel Kushner’s debut novel, Telex from Cuba, a fictional account that chronicles the lives of Americans living in a United Fruit Company enclave on the eve of the Cuban Revolution.

ESKW/A Inaugural Office Book Club

ESKW/A Inaugural Office Book Club

Progress at the Thomas S. Murphy Clubhouse

Some of our longer-term fans may recall our excited post from 2 years back at the very beginning of our pool renovation project at the Thomas S. Murphy Clubhouse, in Flatbush, Brooklyn, for the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club.

ESKW/A and the Owner’s Representative LOM Properties brought a photographer on board to snap underwater photos of the kids from the club swimming to be featured in a large-scale tile mosaic mural in the pool room.  Annie Kountz, Project Architect, described her personal connection to the Boys & Girls Club, and we shared a fun video capture of the kids in action.  The project is now in construction, and the tile mosaic has arrived in annotated panels and is being laid out in preparation for installation later this week. We can’t wait for the kids to see the project, and for those who were part of the photoshoot to see themselves immortalized on the walls of their club.

The Necropoli of Sicily

Amanda Royale Sengstacken

There’s plenty for an architecture dork to feast on while traveling in Sicily – the island is home to a plethora of ancient Greek and Roman ruins, many in remarkable condition. In fact, the Sicilians seem to simultaneously harbor deep respect and nonchalance towards the antiquities in their midst: you can find yourself standing on a plain-ish portion of 2,500 year-old mosaic while peering over a protective gate at its more elaborate counterpart and feel a bit concerned about damaging the stones under your feet.

Anyway, ruins are all well and good but I was most taken with the necropolises.

I traveled to Sicily with two friends. One with no Italian heritage to speak of yet enough passion for the land and culture that he’s bought a second home there; the other an American whose last name betrays his family’s Sicilian heritage – in which he has no particular interest.

We two non-Sicilians recognized an opportunity for story making, however, and gleefully force-marched our friend on what was for us an emotional tour of his birthright, packing him into a car for several hours to visit his grandparents’ hometown of Floridia and propping him up against various churches and landmarks for photo ops. We even managed to communicate to a kindly local in a few halting words of Italian that our friend, too, had been born of that very earth, eliciting what seemed to be a very positive if long-winded and unintelligible response.

Finally, with lumps in our throats and our poor friend heaving a sigh of relief, we were headed back home to Ragusa Ibla when we drove past a walled-in cemetery and turned to him once more.

“We have to stop and see if your family is in there!”

Maybe he was finally starting to feel the stirrings of his roots, or maybe he’d learned that there was no deterring us, but our captive half-Sicilian agreed.

Cemeteries in Sicily are elaborate cities in their own right. In fact they seem to be laid out to mirror their associated living town, with identical street names. This we garnered from the caretaker who pulled from his wallet something like a social security card, showing us the address on it and gesturing around to indicate that the address of his birth would also one day be the address of his resting place.

But the feeling of walking through a literal city of the dead comes predominantly from the fact that while some in-ground graves of the type we’re most familiar exist, the bulk of the cemetery is composed of, essentially, mini-houses. We strolled through endless rows of elaborately designed shrunken mansions, each bearing a family name and permanently housing as many as a dozen members.

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On overview of a typical cemetery; the backs of the family chapels are visible to the left.

The architectural styles vary widely, with sections of intricate Baroque designs grouped next to more Brutalist collections. Whether each structure simply reflects the zeitgeist of the moment it was built or whether it was purely a matter of the clients’ taste is unclear, but the necropolis as a whole provides a rich dose of every imaginable phase of architectural history dating back a few hundred years.

We three found ourselves claiming aspects we liked for our own future perma-homes; “I like the ivy in front for sure, but probably not the sphinxes.”

“This one with the skylight, I like the natural lighting.”

Researching online yields little information about these family chapels, and I’m left wondering what the professional process is like. Are there architects whose practice is devoted entirely to these monuments? Are there firms using modern technology to render their proposals, and BIM to streamline the construction? (In this case a Revit family could, indeed, be an actual family … sorry.) For three awed interlopers it was an unusual and thoughtful exercise to imagine in what style we would wish to represent our families for all eternity.