Saturday, May 11, 2013

Manhattanville Changing

A few weeks ago I found myself in West Harlem and decided to check out the progress on Columbia University's Manhattanville project, designed by Renzo Piano with SOM and James Corner Field Operations. The 17-acre project is controversial for its use of eminent domain, but that's ancient history and the first phase of the development plan is full steam ahead. In this view looking north from the 125th Street elevated 1-train station, the white steel of the Jerome L. Greene Science Center can be seen rising:
Manhattanville Under Construction

Here is a view looking east from atop the Riverside Drive viaduct (per the Manhattanville project's first-phase site plan, that boarded up building in the foreground will be coming down):
Manhattanville Under Construction

My reason for being in the area was a "Changing Architecture" panel hosted by GLUCK+ (formerly Peter Gluck and Partners) in the Malt House, a factory building they are transforming on West 126th Street. The evening focused on transforming the process of architecture through architect-led design-build, which GLUCK+ (and very few other firms) practices. Parts of the evening felt like an exercise in branding—with a series of "What's your plus?" queries starting the evening, and "Our plus is (blank)" being in lots of responses to other questions—but Peter Gluck, his son, and the three other principals made some convincing arguments for their process, which was strengthened for me after getting a tour I got of their office a few doors east.

"Changing Architecture" Panel Discussion

While I like the idea of architect-led design-build, I understand the trepidation that most architects would have with abandoning traditional practice and delving into the relatively uncertain waters of the process, where each architect serves as architect and construction manager. In this vein, I'd argue that employees at GLUCK+ should serve a maximum of 3-5 years, thereby learning enough about the process to then embark on their own and "spread the gospel" of architect-led design-build. To really have an impact this alternative practice needs to expand beyond the confines of firms like GLUCK+, and this is one way to accomplish that, just as firms like OMA have served as a place for educating a certain type of architect before they start up their own companies.

To bring this post back to Manhattanville, one of the (many) positive attributes of Gluck's firm is the way it is invested in the welfare of its community, but in a much different way than Columbia University. Small projects like the Malt House have a major impact in the area, without the displacement of buildings and people and the bullying associated with that. This investment can be shared by more traditional architects, but the design-build aspect of GLUCK+ extends that, especially when combined with the strong relationships they have with local developers, one in attendance on the panel. More discussions are planned with GLUCK+ in West Harlem, and based on the first they will be highly recommended.

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