The Omnibus Roundup – Huxtable on Empire State, Martin on OWS, Skyscraper Anatomy, Marathon Courses, Transpo2030 and Post-industrial Waterfront

Photo by Collin Erickson

For her latest installment in The Wall Street Journal, architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable focuses her attention on the extensive renovations of the Empire State Building and where the New York City icon fits in this “age of the superskyscraper,” in which technological innovation and “the timeless incentives of ego and profit” push our buildings to ever-higher heights. Despite its iconic status and popular appeal, by 2006 the Empire State Building was losing its value and appeal to business tenants. Facing a choice between selling the property or significantly investing in its renovation, building owner Malkin Holdings LLC decided to plunge into a restoration effort to the tune of $550 million. Mr. Malkin hired Beyer Blinder Belle, architects in charge of the restoration of Grand Central Terminal and other landmark structures, to bring the Empire State Building back to its original glory. Unfortunate additions and renovations from the 1960s were removed and a modern building even truer to its historical form emerged. Artwork in the 5th Avenue foyer was restored and recreated; unrealized chandelier drawings from the 1930s were brought to Rambusch Studios, the firm responsible for much of the original decoration, and produced. What resulted, according to Huxtable, was an all around success. Attention to historical detail coupled with a comprehensive modernization effort has finally brought the commercial success to the Empire State Building that its historical success long indicated it deserved.


Photo by Kadambari Baxi, via Places.

Increasing attention is being paid to the spatial ramifications of Occupy Wall Street. This week in Places, Reinhold Martin has published an architectural call to arms. Citing the discipline’s “decades of voluminous research and activist practice in slums, emergency housing, and encampments of various sorts worldwide,” Martin maintains that architects have a responsibility to question the political structure that dictates the built environment both within the OWS movement and the general public. “Rather than be content with emergency measures, the field of architecture can take inspiration from the steadfast refusal to leave signaled by the Occupy movement, by refusing to play by the rules as written by developers and banks. And architectural thinking can contribute something invaluable to this extraordinary process by offering tangible models of possible worlds, possible forms of shelter, and possible ways of living together, to be debated in general assemblies both real and virtual.” Read Martin’s complete piece, “Occupy: What Architecture Can Do,” on Places.


As a site devoted to nerding out about how cities are made and managed, it’s surprising that we’ve never talked about Kate Ascher’s The Works: Anatomy of a City, a fantastic book chock full of facts, diagrams, illustrations and stories about the systems that keep New York City running. This week, Ascher released her latest book, The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper, which explains the inner workings of our tallest buildings in similar fashion. To promote the book, Ascher spoke to Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air about how much skyscrapers sway, the soundproofing of plumbing, live loads and dead loads, and an astounding fact about how the world’s tallest building handles its sewage. Check out the interview and excerpts from the book at For another peek at the inner workings of a skyscraper, look back at our feature “City of Systems: Skyscraper Mechanical,” posted earlier this year.


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The New York Times offers two unconventional ways to look at last weekend’s New York City Marathon. The interactive desk has put together an interactive map tracking ethnic and economic shifts along the marathon route since 1976, when its course first wove through all five boroughs. Accompanied by an article and a slideshow of photographs, the piece offers a glimpse into the transformation of a city, seen through the eyes of thousands of runners. Meanwhile, for his latest installment of his Abstract Sunday column, Christoph Niemann live-illustrated the marathon, running with pad and markers and tweeting his sketches along the way. Check out his 46 sketches over 26.2 miles here.



TRANSPORTATION 2030 CONFERENCE: On November 18, Manhattan Borough President Scott String and CUNY’s John Jay College will host a conference meant to examine the contentious transportation debates and imagine ambitious solutions for the city’s transit future. Details about speakers have not yet been released, but the agenda includes conversations on financing, technology, parking reform, transportation deserts, waterways, street design, accessibility and safety. The conference is free to attend, but pre-registration is required. Find more information here, or click here to register.

ON THE WATER’S EDGE: Last month, we talked to the minds behind Civic Action: A Vision for Long Island City, an initiative developed by the Noguchi Museum and Socrates Sculpture Park that invited artist-led teams to propose visions for the future of the Queens waterfront neighborhood. This weekend, as part of their series of public programs accompanying the exhibition now on view, the institutions are hosting a panel discussion entitled “On the Water’s Edge.” Two of the artists participating in Civic Action, George Trakas and Natalie Jeremijenko, will join landscape and urban designer Diana Balmori and community activist Katie Ellman, for a discussion of the reinvention of the area’s post-industrical urban waterfront, moderated by Carter Craft. Find more information here.

WATER, EARTH, AIR AND THE CITY: If you can’t see Diana Balmori in Long Island City on Sunday, make your way up to the 92nd Street Y on Tuesday for a conversation between her and MoMA’s Peter Reed about how deign affects urban life and landscape. Balmori (who recently listed us as one of her favorite websites — thanks Diana!) will focus on the connections between, rather than the divisions between, art, nature and the city. Find more information here.


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.