Thursday, December 29, 2011

Book Review: New York Dozen

New York Dozen: Gen X Architects by Michael J. Crosbie
Images Publishing, 2011
Hardcover, 224 pages

The following review appears in slightly edited form in Yale School of Architecture's Constructs, Fall 2011 issue.

A June 2011 report by the Center for an Urban Future on the economic impact of New York City’s architecture and design fields asserts, not surprisingly, that the city has “the largest collection of architecture firms of any city in the U.S.” With 8 percent of the nation’s architects, over 1,300 architecture firms call NYC home; as well the number of designers working in the city has almost doubled in the last decade. This density and diversity of talent make singling out particular architects above the rest a difficult task, but Michael J. Crosbie, Chair of the Department of Architecture at the University of Hartford, has taken it upon himself to highlight a dozen young offices that are emblematic of their generation in these still early days of the 21st century.

Inspired by the popular 1972 book Five Architects: Eisenman, Graves, Gwathmey, Hejduk, Meier—what then New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger called the “New York Five,” a moniker that has stuck—Crosbie’s “New York Dozen” includes Andre Kikoski Architect, Architecture in Formation, Arts Corporation, Christoff:Finio Architecture, Della Valle Bernheimer, Leroy Street Studio, LEVENBETTS, MOS, nARCHITECTS, Studio SUMO, Work Architecture Company (WORKac), and WXY Architecture. In a different way Crosbie is also inspired by another former Times critic, Nicolai Ouroussoff, who asserted, when Charles Gwathmey of the New York Five passed away in mid-2009, that in the ensuing decades since the New York Five the country’s creative energy shifted to Los Angeles to nurture a younger generation of architects without equal in New York. (The next day New York Dozen’s Andrew Bernheimer penned an open letter to Ouroussoff at Design Observer, challenging the critic’s assertion.) This collection of 50 projects by 12 firms clearly shows that some of the best architecture of their generation is being created in New York, be it installations, interiors, houses, apartment buildings, or ambitious unbuilt projects of various types. Crosbie’s list, like any, is definitely open to debate, but his semi-objective methods (referencing MoMA PS1’s Young Architects Program and AIANY’s Oculus journal, in particular) have yielded a diverse yet representative crop of architects who embrace collaboration, social and environmental responsibility, and experimentation.

In his introduction Crosbie calls Five Architects “the first self-promotional publication to appear in the new age of media attention to architecture.” Self-promotion in architecture is at an apparent saturation point today, with print and online media encompassing monographs, contemporary collections (of which New York Dozen is a part), magazines, blogs, and architects’ own web pages. In essence, Crosbie’s book resembles the last, in the way it collects photographs, drawings, and the architects’ own words, sometimes adding more than a firm’s own online documentation. Concise statements by the Dozen on their values, philosophies, and practices are helpful lead-ins to the projects, but pushing the content even further beyond what can be found online would have been appreciated; of course, in the print-to-digital content shift underway, that is becoming harder every day.