President Obama’s second-term White House is still in transition, with Ray LaHood out and rumors of an NTSB replacement, Sally Jewell likely in as Secretary of Interior. Among the non-Cabinet-level appointments, the President appointed Michael Graves to a member of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, an agency “devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities.” Graves, who uses a wheelchair after an illness-induced partial paralysis, has been a leader in promoting accessibility in architecture, recently designing prototype houses for wounded and disabled veterans.
This month, Graves will also be launching a new line of more than 300 products at retailer J.C. Penney, including kitchen appliances, candlesticks, and a toaster shaped like a piece of toast. The Indianapolis-born architect will return to his hometown on March 28 to give a lecture at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and he recently spoke with the Indy Star about delivering papers for the publication as a child, architecture, and the new product line. An exhibition of Graves’ work, From Towers to Teakettles, is also on display at the Virginia Center for Architecture through March 31.
Last month, Ray LaHood made an off-the-cuff remark at a post-inaugural party that he would be “sticking around for a while” as President Obama’s Secretary of Transportation, but last week LaHood made his final decision to step down from the position after four years on the job. The Republican made a name for himself in urbanist circles for his support of High Speed Rail, efficient urban transportation policies, and safety pushes, most notably his efforts to curb distracted driving. Reflecting on his tenure at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), LaHood remarked in a letter to DOT employees across the country,
“Our achievements are significant. We have put safety front and center with the Distracted Driving Initiative and a rule to combat pilot fatigue that was decades in the making. We have made great progress in improving the safety of our transit systems, pipelines, and highways, and in reducing roadway fatalities to historic lows. We have strengthened consumer protections with new regulations on buses, trucks, and airlines.”
In an exit interview with the Huffington Post, LaHood said, “We are behind on high-speed rail,” but remained optimistic that the topic will still maintain a top spot his successor’s agenda: “As long as President Obama is in the White House, whoever sits in this chair will have high-speed rail as one of their top priorities.” LaHood will continue in his role as Secretary until his successor is found.
President Obama is expected to nominate Sally Jewell, the President and Chief Executive Officer of national outdoor retailer REI, to succeed Secretary Ken Salazar as the head of the Interior Department.
Jewell, a former engineer for Mobil Oil and commercial banker, has run the $1.8 billion company for over a decade and has established herself as a strong advocate for land conservation. The Washington Post reported reported that she is one of the founding board members of Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, and serves on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association.
The Department of the Interior manages and protects the country’s lands, water, wildlife, and energy resources, along with relations with tribal nations. As extreme weather patterns put climate change front and center of the policy debates in Washington DC, the Secretary of the Interior will take on an increasingly critical role this term.
Forget for a moment that President Obama bumped the New York Times’ Jill Abramson from the dais to deliver this year’s commencement address at Barnard and not his alma mater, Columbia College. Tonight, the Times’ architecture critic Michael Kimmelman will be delivering a lecture at Barnard’s Diana Center, titled Public Space and Public Consciousness. However, a busy Kimmelman also appeared last night at GSAPP, for a conversation with Columbia Professor Gwendolyn Wright.
Last night President Obama spoke at the ceremony for this year’s Pritzker Prize winner, Eduardo Souto de Moura. He invoked Thomas Jefferson, the architectural glories of Chicago, and praised Souto de Moura’s work for balancing “form and function with artistry and accessibility.” Obama is close to the Pritzker family, and Penny Pritzker was one of the most significant fundraisers for his campaign. Still it is nice to see the White House bringing some attention to the “Nobel Prize of architecture.” Check out our recent interview and comment on Souto de Moura.
In lower Manhattan, especially today when President Obama was in town to lay a wreath, the world’s media was fast talking about Ground Zero. Very few call it the World Trade Center. The GZ term is so widely used that few think twice about it.
And yet, just yesterday, a contingent of men and women responsible for rebuilding the World Trade Center braved the cold rain for a conference hosted by the Building Trade Employers Association (BTEA) and found themselves struck on the semantics of just those words. The event brought together the builders and suppliers of the 16 acre site for an update on building progress. Very little was said about the momentous events of the past week or the impending presidential visit, which, like the rain, was going to slow down work. This was a group with a singular focus: rebuilding.
BTEA President and CEO Louis Coletti introduced speakers who in turn discussed a particular aspect of the project. But when one speaker referred to One World Trade as “the Freedom Tower,” Chris Ward, the executive director of the Port Authority grimaced, held up his index finger to signify the number one and said, “It’s One World Trade.”