I’d first heard about Open House three years back but never got the chance to go to one until this past weekend. The concept is intriguing – a string of architecturally significant private/public buildings and design firms open their doors for a weekend of guided tours and a chance for people to peek into places usually closed off to the general public. The aim of this initiative was to invite people to explore and understand the value of a well designed environment. Open House was founded in London in 1992 and has been since taken roots in cities like Toronto, Barcelona, Melbourne and Chicago annually.
So without further ado, I’ll jump right in to the rundown of my experiences.
Site #1 Mercedes Benz Manhattan by Enrique Norten. Half opened, half in construction. As my first tour of the day, it was LAME. I anticipated an ARCHITECTURAL tour of the building, but instead was subjected to a sales pitch for a 1-bedroom apartment unit. “Look at the great views” “yes, you are allowed to partition the room”. Seriously? For such a massive 1.3million sf mixed use development, we were ushered into the sales office, scurried into a service elevator and given a 10 minute pitch in one of the cramped units. Not what I signed up for. The 15 minutes I waited in the lobby to get into this tour was the only part where I got to see any communal space of this entire building. Even at that, the details in this spanking new lobby were poorly crafted. Much was left to be desired.
I was losing hope in this endeavor. Throw in a sad little $1.47 cheeseburger at Wendys (long story) and I was beginning to regret making the long trek up to New York. Nevertheless, I am nothing if not resolute. Off I marched to the Lincoln Center for my second stop.
Site #2 – Lincoln Center Public Spaces. There were over a hundred people milling about in the indoor David Rubenstein Atrium at 62nd and Broadway. Half were there for the tour, the other half just enjoying the space. You could tell right away that it was a success story as far as public spaces go. Every niche was inhabited by some urban dweller reading, sipping coffee, taking a break, maybe even just ..dwelling. Despite the crowd, the atmosphere in there was chill and relaxed. Maybe it was the water feature, or the leafy bio-wall or the felt panel art. Combined with soothing light from the 16 occuli above, the space exudes an unexpected calm in the middle of a large city. Designed by Tod Williams & Billie Tsien, we were given an extensive briefing by one of the firm’s architects. Originally built as the Harmony Atrium, the space was one of the 503 Privately owned Public Spaces (POPS) sanctioned by the city of New York. This program provided zoning incentives for an owner by allowing them to exceed the permitted Floor Area Ratio if they provided an accessible public space on the street level. You’ll see many of such POPS scattered around the city. (hmm.. fodder for future blog post) wonderful little oases in a desert of concrete.
Next we proceeded to the newly renovated public plaza by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Two architects from the associate firms FXFowle and Beyer Blinder Belle provided the background and did a marvelous job going into the history and evolution of the design. 2010 was the approaching 50th anniversary of the Lincoln Center, a playground of performing arts venues designed by a plethora of renowned architects – Phillip Johnson and Eero Saarinen to name a few. The original design of this collection of buildings needed a revamp. The charge was to open up the plaza to be more pedestrian friendly. As it stood, the center was an island in itself, quite cut off from the flow of traffic. I wish I had some ‘before’ pictures I could post but you’ll just have to either trust me on this or google it yourself.
One of the things Diller Scofidio + Renfro did was to reconfigure the vehicular and pedestrian flow so that the pedestrian was given priority over the car. Now as you approach from Columbus Ave, a cascade of travertine stairs pull you upwards towards Robertson plaza. Cleverly illuminated bands on the risers display upcoming events. Culminating the plaza is a reimagination of the iconic fountain. The centerpiece Revson Fountain now deftly floats above a mirror of water . The existing buildings flanking the plaza were respectfully left untouched. Even the two new swooping cantilevered glass canopies simply glide between the columns, providing cover and bookending the stairs.
Okay peeps, it’s getting late , this post is getting long and my eyes are turning to mush.Also, I realized I did not take enough photos of the Lincoln Center. Aughhh! So sorry, I only had my iPhone that day. I’ll continue part 2 of my Open House NY experience in my next blog post – the Ukrainian Institute and the irish American Society.