The Omnibus Roundup – Port Authority Smackdown, Highway Map, Valentine Heart, Public Policy Lab, Warm-Up, Foreclosed and Gridlock

This week in the roundup: gubernatorial criticism of the Port Authority, interstate infographics, an architectural Valentine, service design for government, an exhibit about planning, HWKN’s design for Warm-Up 2012, and as suggested stuff to do: the opening of Foreclosed and live events on traffic flow, Stanley Greenberg‘s photography and the Delancey Underground.


Michael Powell, Gotham columnist for The New York Times, questions the accuracy and consistency of calls for reform at the Port Authority issued by Governors Christie and Cuomo in the face of what Chris Ward, the former head of the bi-state agency, managed to achieve at Ground Zero in his four-year tenure. In the article (but not in regional politics) the final word goes to Mayor Bloomberg, who dismisses the way an audit ordered by the governors characterizes spending under Ward’s leadership, pointing out that the “site is perhaps the most complex construction project in the history of the world, legally, politically, engineering-wise.”

Image by Cameron Booth

By systematically compressing distances and limiting all angles to 45 or 90 degrees in his map of the London Underground in 1931, Harry Beck, an engineering draftsman who devised the scheme in his spare time, revolutionized urban cartography and created an icon of modern design. New York’s answer to the diagrammatic Tube map, designed by Massimo Vignelli in 1972, was passed over in favor of more geographic fidelity in the current version, designed by Michael Hertz in 1979. But the influence of Beck’s design still looms large in information graphics, and this week Co.Design highlights a smart and useful take on the US highway system whose clarity benefits from the Tube map’s principles of simplicity and elegance.

Times Square has never been high on subtlety, and the architectural installations that appear when Valentine’s day is nigh — part of the robust public art program that we explored with Glenn Weiss last year — are no exception. In years past, designers of the iconic heart have included Gage / Clemenceau and Moorhead & Moorhead. This year, Bjarke Ingels has assembled a heart cube out of 400 special LED-filled tubes to create what Architizer has called “an interactive, urban emoticon.” So for those of you who like a little public art with your romance, bring your valentine through Father Duffy Square. Check out photos on The Observer.

When Laura Forlano investigated the emerging field of service design in 2010, the clients cited as the profession’s early adopters were primarily in the private sector: finance, health care, media. But often the services most in need of a design tune-up are those provided by government. This week in The Architects’ Newspaper, Branden Klayko looks at the work of a new non-profit called the Public Policy Lab to “to improve interactions between public services and those served by them through research, advocacy, and technical assistance.” First up, an “out-of-the-box” collaboration with the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Parsons’ DESIS lab to streamline how the agency interacts with developers, property owners and residents. The Public Policy Lab also has its sight set on improving user experience at the DMV. We wish them luck.

This week we heard from Shin-pei Tsay about how urban planners could intervene directly in neighborhoods, just as artists and architects have increasingly found ways to do in recent years. Meanwhile, BLDGBLOG points to an exhibit that recently closed in London that aims to make planning not only more relevant and responsive to community needs, but also more popular, principled and understood.

“Wendy” HWKN’s design for MoMA / PS1 | Image courtesy of HWKN via ArtInfo

While the summer may seem impossibly far away, the announcement this week of the winners of MoMA / PS1’s coveted Young Architects commission means we now know what one recurring summer-in-the-city tradition will look like in 2012: HWKN’s design, “a doozy, a mass of fabric spikes christened ‘Wendy,'” has been selected for its innovative merger of green engineering — the structure will literally clean the air — and the exuberant shelter and shade it will provide for summer party-goers. The air cleaning function is accomplished by coating the structure  with Titania nanoparticles, in which sunlight “triggers a catalytic and chemical reaction that neutralizes nitrogen dioxide.” Read a Q&A with the designers, Mark Kushner and Matthias Hollwich, on ArtInfo.


Next Wednesday, the Museum of Modern Art’s anticipated new exhibition, Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream, will open to the public. On view will be the work on five interdisciplinary teams of architects, urban planners, ecologists, engineers, and landscape designers — led by MOS, Visible Weather, Studio Gang, WORKac, and Zago Architecture — who worked in public workshops at MoMA PS1 “to envision new housing and transportation infrastructures that could catalyze urban transformation, particularly in the country’s suburbs.” In advance of that event, Jeanne Gang and Greg Lindsay, two members of team Studio Gang, authored an op-ed in today’s Times that looks at the under-reported phenomenon of new immigrants in suburban America as an inroad to understanding the role — and responsibility — of design and urban planning in redressing some of the damage wrought by the foreclosure crisis and our country’s extravagant land use patterns that precipitated it.

Many thanks to the 87 people from around the world who submitted to our first essay competition, which urged writers to reflect on the Manhattan street grid as a paradigm, rubric or muse for urban life. We’ll announce the winner(s) early next month, but in the meantime, if your fascination with the grid and its evolution over the past 200 years is not yet sated, you have until April 15th to check out a pair of exhibitions at the Museum of City of New York (organized in collaboration with the Architectural League), and next week, the Museum is hosting a panel discussion with traffic and planning experts called “Gridlock!: Congestion and Flow on New York City Streets” that will look at the reshaping of traffic flows in the city thanks to the introductions of pedestrian malls, bike lanes, bus-only lanes and other traffic engineering innovations. Wednesday, February 15th, 6:30 pm at the Museum of the City of New York. For more information or to book tickets, click here.

When we spoke with Stanley Greenberg about his photographs of infrastructure and construction projects, he mentioned his forthcoming book Time Machines, which chronicles the machinery of large-scale physics experiments around the world. The book is now available, and  he’ll be sharing stories, images and reflections on his process next week. Join him Thursday, February 16th, 6:30pm, at Studio-X New York.

That same night, the Tenement Museum is hosting Dan Barasch and James Ramsey to discuss the “history, current state, and potential future of the abandoned trolley terminal below Delancey Street” and to ask if “it can be transformed into a cutting edge subterranean green space for the Lower East Side.” Thursday, February 16th, 6:30pm, at the Tenement Museum.


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.