The Omnibus Roundup – Place Pulse, Public Housing, Critical Writing, CityFacts, Geologic City and the IRT Rides Again

Place Pulse

When we familiarize ourselves with new surroundings, we often rely on our instincts more than guidebooks or demographic studies. We feel it out, without consciously asking ourselves the questions of whether a neighborhood seems safe, active, clean, unique. Place Pulse, a new tool from the Macro Connections group out of the MIT Media Lab, wants to tap into these urban perceptions through online crowdsourcing. Place Pulse shows photos from cities all over the world and asks users to rate the pictures (without geographical knowledge) based on a uniqueness, safety and class level. The data from the ratings is then geographically coded, creating a database of crowdsourced gut reactions. Read more at Co.Design.

The Randolph Houses South

NYCHA and HPD have recently partnered in a search to find a private developer to retrofit the Randolph Houses on West 114th Street into a mix of 140 new public housing units and at least 155 affordable housing units. The properties are yet another entry in the infamously long and ever deteriorating list of “white flight”-era abandoned housing. Built in the 1890s to house the influx of European immigrants, the tenements today are mostly vacant, with only 109 of 452 units currently occupied.  This project will help to reoccupy an “entire block of historical architectural significance,” and help to repair many units that have been subdivided into arrangements that are dangerous and/or illegal. By cross-subsidizing the project with a private developer, the city is able to get more bang for their buck out of the new developments, despite a net reduction in the number of units in the buildings. For more on what makes this deal innovative and perhaps exemplary (the development marks the first time “affordable and public housing units will be intermixed within the same buildings”), read Matt Chaban’s article in The Observer.

Let’s Get Critical, a new collection of critical writing curated by Alexandra Lange, debuted this week. The premise of what Lange refers to as a “short-form blog” is to create a centralized location where one can always find enjoyable and interesting cultural commentary. Similar to other quality article aggregators, Lange aims to have each featured piece on the new site “well-written, its point of view clear, its language hooky.” For more criticism, check out Lange’s Let’s Get Critical, or revisit our On Criticism series.


Crain’s New York, a valuable source for reporting on all things business and industry in New York City, releases an annual report on the city’s economy entitled “CityFacts.” This year, they’re also offering an online resource that allows readers to explore the enormous amount of data they have mined for the issue. CityFacts is devoted to showing, in an attractive and legible way, how New York City is doing financially, educationally, demographically, commercially and transportation-ly. Learn more about this year’s CityFacts from the “This Week in Crain’s” podcast, keep up with Crain’s numbers-based news on their Twitter feed @StatsAndTheCity, or check out the CityFacts mini-site here.

Everybody knows the red pin that marks locations in Google Maps. It marks the starting point of a trip or an important location. It casts a shadow on the map and, notably, if you just type in the name of a city, it picks a point somewhere within the city that Google Maps has decided is the center of the city, casting that shadow on the surrounding city features. In an effort to show us just how much the digital world is bleeding into the physical, artist Aram Bartholl is installing “life-size” map markers in the Google Maps centers of a handful of cities. Read more at Architizer, or check out an interview with the artist on the Rhizome blog.

Boardwalk Empire IRT | via Gothamist

If you are like us, then your favorite part of the MTA Transit Museum is walking through the old trains, looking at the ads, and imagining what life was like in an era when people got to ride on them. In some ways it must have been wonderful (padded seats), in others, less so (no air-conditioning). Well, you’re in luck! The IRT is back! (for the month of September). The team at HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, in an effort to advertise their period piece drama, has retrofitted a 1917 IRT train to run along the 2/3 track in Manhattan from noon to 6pm on Saturdays and Sundays starting September 3rd.


Geologic City

Last year, Jamie Kruse and Elizabeth Ellsworth gave Omnibus readers a taste of the “Geologic City Field Reports” they’ve been publishing on their blog Friends of the Pleistocene, to get us thinking about how deep geologic time is connected to the built environment of New York. Now, Kruse and Ellsworth are launching Geologic City: A Field Guide to the Geoarchitecture of New York, the result of their research and explorations. Join them along with dynamic urban-systems-and-architecture duo Geoff Manaugh (BLDGBLOG) and Nicola Twilley (Edible Geography, Foodprint ProjectOmnibus contributor) next Thursday, September 8, at Studio-X for the launch of the Field Guide and a related exhibition. Find more information here.

Also during the exhibition, sound artist Kevin Allen will be demoing his exploration of what he calls “the secret lives of material objects” with his ongoing project Sonic Geologic, cataloguing the acoustic conductivity of infrastructure such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the subway. Other artists and musicians have already tried their hand at similar “Aeolian harp” phenomena, from Alex Metcalf’s Tree Listening to David Byrne’s Playing the Building. Bridges, a new project from sound engineer Rutger Zuydervelt and designer Gerco Hiddink, asks eight well-known experimental musicians to field recordings or four Dutch bridges. What results is a coherent soundscape; in effect “the bridge becomes an instrument played by the city revealing hidden harmonies within the built environment.” Preview and purchase Bridges here.

Part of the Van Alen Institute’s ongoing Brown Bag Reading Series, held every Wednesday at 12:30pm, this week’s talk is on The Power of Pro Bono. John Cary, founder of pioneering nonprofit Public Architecture and a Senior Advisor to Next American City, will discuss the national impact of pro bono work in public-interest design. More info over at VAI.

The Roundup keeps you up to date with topics we’ve featured and other things we think are worth knowing about.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.