Tag Archives: diller scofidio + renfro

Architecture Local Reno Park Project Theory

How can Fort Reno’s history come to life?

Fort Reno Park is not a great park. It’s mostly unstructured green space: empty and unpleasant. It does have a great community garden, tennis courts, and two playing fields. But, those uses collectively occupy only a fraction of the land. And they don’t really draw anyone in. Even Fort Reno’s most popular event, the summer concerts, are a lucky accident.

In fact, the only users who really enjoy the park are dogs. The empty fields at Fort Reno are great for letting dogs run free. The only problem is that it’s illegal. Dogs must be on a leash on NPS land. There is just nothing right with Fort Reno Park, is there?

renodogs

Now, it’s easy to spitball amenities to fix the park, but Fort Reno is uniquely charged with history. There’s was a Civil War Fort and then a Black town bound up in its formation. Buried under the grass are vast possibilities to impregnate our lives with history. On the other hand, as more and more residents return to the district, we will really need useful parks.

So, how do you take this kind of site and interpret it while also making it a great urban place?

A recent project in Brooklyn shows us a few ways.

photo copyright nic lehoux

Strategy One: Put a frame on it 

Take a look at the Weeksville Heritage Centerlocated in northeastern Brooklyn. Not so much of an open space as a corner of East New York, the site preserves five houses from a historical Black settlement. Most of Weeksville came down for projects during Urban Renewal, but a tiny portion remained, wedged laterally into a block.

Like Tenleytown, Weeksville was quite some distance away from the city (Brooklyn), but was later absorbed by urbanization. Unlike Tenleytown, none of the roads were converted into the grid, and few of the houses were. Tenleytown used to be two settlements: a largely White area near the Wisconsin-River intersection, and the Black town occupying what is now Fort Reno Park. Very little of both remains.

1907 tenleytown baist s

Weeksville was “rediscovered” in the 1960s by an extension class at the Pratt Institute. Residents were still floating around, but its history was unofficial and uncollected. In the same sense, Tenleytown was rediscovered in the 1970s, as the last people to remember it tried to collect their memories. Weeksville has been slowly doing the same for years.

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Architecture

Now, Ourousoff is just clueless

Nicolai Ourousoff, the architecture critic (or something) for the New York Times, has lately been letting out evidence of what a lightweight polywanker he really is. The most recent evidence that he has no idea what is going on in the architecture profession came in a reflection on the death of Charles Gwathmey, in which he lamented the lack of heroes in the New York architecture scene. First off, it’s ludicrous to whine about New York losing its hegemony over the design field, like rich white men whining about discrimination. Secondly, it shows ignorance of the many cutting-edge practices in New York he claims do not exist or otherwise do not count. Finally, it’s backwards to wax nostalgic over the handful of heroes whose primary accomplishment was to separate formal Modernism from its revolutionary social program.

Gwathmeys final building, one of his best. Click for more pictures
Gwathmey's final building, one of his best. Click for more.

Luckily, цarьchitect favorite Andrew Bernheimer, defended fair Manhattan’s honor. Bernheimer mentions a number of practices that perfectly suit Ourousoff’s criteria, except that the architects have remained committed to teaching and social issues, in addition to formal investigation and self-promotion. This is just basic research he could do – he doesn’t even mention Diller Scofidio + Renfro, even as they drive the East Coast architecture scene. Besides, it sounds like Ourousoff is simply looking for new autonomous heroes to worship, rather than supporting teams of architects that manage to maintain their individuality while also accepting responsibility for the environment, the public, and the context. After all, the New York Five made their careers through wealthy patrons with large, auto-centric houses. The future cannot sustain those kinds of heroes. That period is over.

Just fire the kid already, he won’t learn unless he fails.

Architecture planning

Biggest urban gamble of the past 20 years opens

The High Line opened today. The much-vaunted and extremely chic park built on a former railroad viaduct south of Penn Station will be a test of both urban design theories and the exceptionality of New York. Diller Scofidio + Renfro have built what appears to be a truly beautiful modern park that appeals to theorists as much as hipsters and bankers. It’s also an elevated pedestrian structure, with limited access and some other design decisions that contradict basic public space design practice. But it’s popular and it’s going to get a lot of attention; many cities are already looking to copy it. 

There hasn’t been a place in New York that deserves close  observation since the West Village in 1961. The degree to which this works could change the way governments approach marginal spaces, just as the Embarcadero and the Central Artery/Tunnel projects have show the civic potential of highway removal. We’ll just have to wait and see if this is the same.