At the National Design Awards Ceremony at the White House on September 20, Michelle Obama confessed that Barack really wanted to be an architect—but he wasn’t talented enough. This was recounted by Henk Ovink, senior advisor to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, at the 4th Municipal Art Society (MAS) Summit, held October 17-18 in New York City. During the event, the themes of Innovation and Leadership heralded the upcoming New York mayoral election and the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.
The Summit is a testing ground for MAS’s current and future work, and there couldn’t be a clearer indication that this institution has moved beyond the shadow of its most historic achievement—the saving of Grand Central Terminal—decades ago. MAS’s commitment to New York as a livable, globally-competitive city that is socially, economically, and environmentally resilient—note that last watchword—is a hallmark of President Vin Cipolla’s leadership. In more than 40 sessions over 2 days, here are some of the highlights of the Summit.
The Municipal Art Society recently commissioned and released four versions of a re-imagined Penn Station. It commissioned Diller Scofidio + Renfro, H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, SHoP Architects, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to prepare drawings of what a new terminal would like for the busiest train station in the country.
It has now come to light that actually a fifth concept was prepared but not presented at MAS’s “press conference.” The design by the firm Michael Sorkin Studio builds on MAS’s legendary 1970s protest against the destruction of Grand Central Station. In that protest Jacqueline Onassis famously joined forces with other powerful Manhattanites to stop a proposed Marcel Breuer high rise slated to be built above and across the southern front of Grand Central.
Madison Square Garden has been on the move since its inception in 1879 as a 10,000-square-foot boxing, bike racing, and ice hockey venue in an old railroad depot at Madison Avenue and 26th Street. The facility later moved into an ornate Moorish-style building designed by famed Stanford White, architect of the Penn Station, which the arena notoriously replaced at its fourth and current home on 33rd Street in Midtown (after a brief stop on 50th Street). Now, if community boards, civic and planning groups, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer get their way, the venue will be sent packing once again.
In response to the New York City Department of City Planning’s proposal to rezone Midtown East, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) has asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission to give landmark status to 17 buildings in the 78-block area concentrated around Grand Central Terminal. It is a last ditch effort to preserve several prominent structures—with styles ranging Beaux Arts and Renaissance Revival to Neo-Gothic and Mid-Century Modern—before Midtown gets the green light to raze old structures and erect new (and taller) buildings that provide modern features for tenants who “want open space plans” wrote the DCP in its proposal. The New York Times described the re-zoning as part of the Bloomberg administration’s vision to re-vamp midtown and turn it into a more competitive business district.
Some notable buildings that have made MAS’ list include the New York Health & Racquet Club in Gothic Revival Style, the Graybar Building with Art Deco accents, the Neo-Gothic Swedish Seamen’s Church, and the Yale Club noted for its neo-classical façade.
After today’s announcement of Norman Fosters next project in New York, a luxury condo tower at the United Nations, we just can’t get enough of the British starchitect. Luckily, a stash of video renderings and presentations from the firms behind the planned 425 Park tower can provide just the fix. It wasn’t too long ago that the starchitect-filled competition for the new Park Avenue tower selected Foster + Partners as its winner. Now after the design presentations at the recent MAS Summit and the release of photo renderings from all players—including runners up Richard Rogers, Rem Koolhaas, and Zaha Hadid—we can indulge in the virtual demonstrations of their designs.
As night descended on a memory-laden New York City on Sunday, September 11, 88 light cannons were powered up, shooting beams of light into the air representing the profiles of the original Twin Towers. We stopped by Saturday night, as crews were putting the finishing touches on the display and double checking that all the lights performed flawlessly, and the close-up result was nothing short of amazing.
Perched on the rooftop of a parking garage in Lower Manhattan a few blocks from the World Trade Center site, two groups of 44 light cannons pointing skyward will soon project high-intensity beams of light into the night sky for Tribute in Light, marking the tenth anniversary of the 911 World Trade Center attacks. Last week, as a crew of 30 workers was positioning the lights and laying cable to a large generator on the sidewalk, we stopped by to learn more what’s involved with the massive display.
In an extended period of belt-tightening, it is often the arts sector that grapples with some of the harder aspects of fund-raising. With heavy competition from other non-profits clamoring for support from the city’s enlightened wealthy, institutions must be creative and resourceful to attract new and more generous donors. For the Municipal Art Society (MAS), this dedicated support has come in the form of Robert W. Wilson.
A veteran MAS donor, a philanthropist, and a former Wall Street hedge fund manager, Wilson has committed $600,000 over the next three years to match new or increased gifts of $1,000 or more on a one-for-two dollar basis. Effective August 1st, the aim is to help MAS strengthen and sustain its base of unrestricted support, which puts control of distribution into the hands of MAS rather than a targeted program.