The incoming architecture graduate students at the University of Hartford were treated to a day in New York City on August 26th. I led this third annual tour of the city’s cultural institutions, joined by 17 students and 3 other faculty from the department. This tour was similar to the previous two, though I attempt to make variations with each iteration. Our itinerary included the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and the Center for Architecture. We ended the day at Saigon Grill on University Place, having worked up a healthy appetite.
The images above are of the installation by the Starn brothers on the Met rooftop titled “Big Bambú.” I tried to see it earlier in the summer but was turned away due to rain, so I was really excited to finally visit the growing structure-as-art looming 50 feet above the roof. You can walk along the pathway built into the structure with special, get-up-at-7am-to-wait-in-line tickets, so long as you meet certain criteria (over 4’10”, under 400 lbs) including not being drunk. The only irony there is that alcohol is readily bought and sold on the Met rooftop. Big Bambú is really fantastic, and working on it has to be the best summer job ever. It’s not built the way an architect or engineer would build it—it’s not efficient. Rather, it’s highly fetishized, with extra bits of string hanging down from all the lashings, footings rendered useless by continued construction that leaves them dangling a half-inch above the ground, reams of cloth tied up to provide shade to the mountain-climbers-turned-builders, and wrapped objects likes stones embedded into the bamboo network. It is awesome. And it’s only up until October 31st, so go see it.
The first year grads will be working on an addition to the Whitney Museum, the one Renzo Piano tried to do directly adjacent to Breuer’s building, but the neighborhood said “no” too many times. (Instead the Whitney is building a brand new Whitney downtown by the High Line.) I believe it’s their first project of the semester. Ergo, we visited the Whitney, were one sees that Breuer’s excellent expressed windows are blocked from the interior. The stairwell, however, can be fully experienced, and it’s one of the best ever designed in an urban museum. (Tod Williams and Billie Tsien said Breuer’s stair was an inspiration to them in their design of the American Folk Art Museum’s central stair.) Like Big Bambú, in fact, it’s playful and unexpected. There are hidden treasures, like a tiny adobe village sitting above a window ledge (Charles Simonds’s Dwelling, on site since 1981), and unexpected benches in warm, low spaces. It’s very much like Paul Rudolph’s stair in the newly christened Rudolph Hall, but darker and more womb-like. It’s also very finely detailed, like Kahn’s stair at the Yale Center for British Art.
Our tour began at MoMA, where thanks to a family “Fellows” membership I was able to have all 21 of us admitted for $35. (Wow.) Of particular interest was “Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront”. Pictured here, L to R: a model/board in sharp isometric projection by nARCHITECTS, who are Mimi Hoang and Eric Bunge; objects collected from the project site (Bayonne, NJ) by Matthew Baird Architects; a view of Saint Thomas Church through a gap between buildings in the MoMA courtyard. Views like this, which express how a city is built in layers over time, cannot be experienced in the suburbs where most of our students grow up and learn their visual language. Bringing them to the city is designed to inspire inquiry into urbanism as an architectural/humanist value as much as to expose them to great exhibitions and museum spaces.
Which brings me to the sophomore trip of June 22nd. I had promised my spring sophomore studio a tour of New York City’s great outdoor spaces, some of which they learned about from William H. Whyte’s famous video, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Since I could not conduct the trip during the semester, I held it in June. Unfortunately, only 3 of the 12 members of the class were able and willing to attend. Here they are, browsing through the architecture section of The Strand Bookstore, the great used and discount bookstore on Broadway below Union Square.
Here is our breakneck itinerary, which left me unable to walk for about half a day afterwards:
- Metro-North train from New Haven, CT to Grand Central Terminal
- Walk to Bryant Park and sketch
- Walk to Times Square TKTS booth (Perkins Eastman)
- Walk back and check out the main reading room for the New York Public Library (Carrere & Hastings)
- Stop at the Austrian Cultural Forum (Raimund Abraham)
- Eat lunch in Paley Park (Zion & Breen)
- Visit Seagram Plaza (Mies with Philip Johnson)
- Walk west down 53rd street past MoMA (multiple architects), the Folk Art Museum (TWBTA), and Black Rock (CBS HQ, Saarinen)
- Take the subway to 23rd street and 8th avenue
- Walk along the length of the High Line Park (Field Operations and D,S,& R)
- Take the train back uptown to Central Park, check out the Conservatory Pond (Olmstead and Vaux, though not part of the original design)
- Eat snack
- Hop over to the Met Museum (wanted to see Big Bambú, but it rained on us, so we went to the modern American galleries instead)
- Take the train to Union Square
- Check out the Architectural League Prize at Parsons
- Stay for the lecture, part 1 of 2 by Prize winners (I was laughing the whole time and the students were the youngest folks there, so the event photographer kept snapping pictures of us. I have to keep an eye out to see if they show up anywhere.)
- Go back to Grand Central and go home!