DAVID GRIDER ARCHITECT

Blog 

As practitioners in New York City, we often come across buildings, technologies or communities that are many decades old and largely unheralded; this blog is dedicated to presenting some of the things we've found. Contact us at info at davidgrider dot com.


April 14, 2014
Discovery: Hand Powered Sidewalk Elevators
by David Grider

A walkthru of an old property led us to the sidewalk vault (a cellar level room beyond the property line, beneath the sidewalk) and revealed an interesting artifact: there, at the ceiling, an assembly of three pulleys held together by an iron plate and supported by a rusty post - what can this strange device be?


A bit of digging around on Google Books led us to believe we'd found the remnants of a hand-powered sidewalk elevator; all that remained were the iron cross-heads and their distinctive 3-pulley arrangement.


The gear-driven, tension wire lifting mechanism was gone, as was the wooden platform that would have shuttled goods from cellar to sidewalk and back, but it was easy to imagine the utility of the mechanism.



And here it must be said: between the devastation of 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, these ingenious stand-alone hand-powered mechanical contrivances of the 19th century hold a great, comforting appeal. I can't wait to share this "new" wonder...

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January 3, 2014
Battle of Trenton: The Revolution Will Not Be Reenacted
by David Grider

A spontaneous Saturday train ride to Trenton had us wandering its empty downtown, engaging in real estate fantasies (entire townhomes for sale for about a years worth of NYC rent! entire office buildings to lease for a song!) and wondering what this eerily quiet place was like during the week when the loud crack of gunshots drew our attention: finally, here were some people!


Armed with muskets and a cannon, volunteer actors in revolutionary costumes were playing "The Battle of Trenton" with live black powder explosions, moving the skirmish line past the nail salon and deli in a loosely choreographed routine of loading, firing, walking down the street.


On the high ground between an apartment complex and the bank parking lot, the actors had placed a loud cannon lobbing smoke, flame & sound north over the Assunpink Creek, not far from their out-of-state cars.


It was a terrific spectacle, but as we walked the abandoned streets back to the train station, past the forlorn Mercer Cemetery, we were struck by an unsettling statistic: more people were murdered in the city last year (at a rate over 3x that of NYC) than were killed in the whole Battle of Trenton.

It made us wonder what downtown Trenton's residents thought of this day of gunfire, and whether their daily battles would ever be reenacted...

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December 6, 2013
MS Nutcracker: NYC Happy Holidays
by David Grider


The cast & audience of a Brooklyn Middle School's Nutcracker performance

A middle school auditorium packed to the gills with young performers and their fans, the building a well-seasoned & comfortable 60-year old vessel, standing between us and a freezing season to give everyone's mind the freedom to be focused on the spectacle of light & music itself - there are few higher purposes to Architecture. Here's to a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2014.

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November 4, 2013
Abstract Expression: Deconstruction in a Cast Iron Loft
by David Grider


An orange wall hidden for decades.


Glimpses of Malevich in a purple and black ceiling.


A utilitarian load-bearing arch of the 19th Century peeks from behind the horsehair plaster.


1965 (PH-578) by Clyfford Still; the abstract expression of deconstruction...

There are inspirational moments in the renovation of a space when the building reveals its history and secrets in a way that gives fresh thoughts to the eye and imagination - removing the accretion of recent decades to expose matter placed by hand a century ago, a picturesque of color and gesture neatly captured by the great Abstract Expressionist painters of the 1950s and 60s; how long ago that moment seems now...

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October 21, 2013
Civic Virtue: Fountain as Social Movement
by David Grider

In connection with the recent completion of our design for the new setting of
Frederick MacMonnies' controversial statue Civic Virtue as relocated to & restored by the Green-Wood Cemetery (marble restoration by Kreilick Conservation) from its forlorn condition in Queens, we learned a fascinating 19th century social movement: Temperance Fountains.


Civic Virtue in its new setting at The Green-Wood Cemetery, October 2013; the original fountain base, as designed by architect Thomas Hastings, remains in Queens.


A neglected Civic Virtue atop its fountain base, Queens, October 2012

Temperance Fountains were an ill-fated effort to persuade men against entering saloons by slaking their thirst with fresh water, deployed by the (sinisterly naive) 19th Century forces that grew after the Civil War to bring us the Prohibition of the 18th Amendment in 1919.


Temperance fountain in Tompkins Square Park, gift of Henry Cogswell to the Moderation Society in 1891, photo courtesy of Famous Ankles.

Angelina Crane, the posthumous patron of Civic Virtue, willed upon her death in 1891 the enormous sum of $50,000 ($1.3m in today's dollars) to NYC for the erection of a "drinking fountain"; for temperance or horses, is not clear.


Civic Virtue as originally installed at City Hall in the 1920s. Some drinking fountain: note the parched onlooker against the rail, both man & beast kept from slaking their thirst by fencing and lawn (photo courtesy Public Design Commission).

It took thirty years for her gift to be turned to marble by MacMonnies, and the result, an arrogant nude man standing amid the entanglements of sirens & pelagic creatures, is anything but temperate...


A horse drinks at a public fountain, the provision of which was the direct result of activism by Henry Bergh and the ASPCA.


But it is critical to remember: the Temperance Movement, with all its faults, was enmeshed with a remarkable tide of mid to late 19th century American social emancipation efforts, including Abolition, Women's Suffrage, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

The legacy of these efforts grace our lives in untold ways, and despite its conflicted imagery, Civic Virtue stands as another physical totem of these remarkable movements that began in New York City, with something as simple as a drink of water.

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December 21, 2012
WTC Lights: NYC Happy Holidays
by David Grider


View of 1 World Trade Center from the future PATH station floor.

Here's to a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2013.

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November 12, 2012
Playground of the World: Coney Island's Beach after Hurricane Sandy
by David Grider


Looking southeast from Coney's boardwalk on an unexpectedly natural looking landscape.


The beachscape at Coney Island once included dunes (from The Century Illustrated, 1880)


An adventure playground.

Setting aside the terrible human loss, pain & destruction wrought by the storm, there was a moment on the beach at Coney Island, a few days after the storm, where it seemed possible that our contracting new world - one stalked by global warming - might turn out ok, as the kids ran the suddenly wild-looking beach looking for treasure amid the dunes as they might have a 100 years ago.

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October 11, 2012
F-POPS: Hoop for your POPS
by David Grider


Bringing together hula hoops & animal-costumed musicians to protect New York's privately-owned public space.

As Chairman of Friends of Privately Owned Public Space (F-POPS), I'm happy to report that our Hoop for your POPS event of Oct 11 was a success, demonstrating that even a forlorn public space can be brought to life.

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July 17, 2012
Camouflage: In Defense of the Eisenhower Memorial Tapestries
by David Grider

The Frank Gehry designed metallic tapestries planned for the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington DC have been subject to scathing criticism, but I find them deeply poetic for a reason that seems to have gone unnoticed: their direct relationship to camouflage techniques of World War II.


Cover of WWII-era camouflage manual on left, mock-up of memorial tapestry on right featuring a tree from an idyllic Kansas landscape.
(Composite by David Grider, Mock-up courtesy of Gehry Partners, LLP, 2012)

As shown in the following images, all varieties of steel mesh, cloth strips and patterning were used for concealment during World War II, from the theaters of operation to coastal factories in the United States.


Technical Manual TM 5-267 Camouflage, May 1 1943, pgs 28 & 29
(Scan by David Grider)

And while I find the Gehry mock-ups beautiful in their own right, displaying a rich figuration capable of rewarding the eye from far and near, to think, suddenly, that gazing at & deciphering these screens relates directly to the act of visual inspection in wartime, to dangerous revelation or concealment of fire, to success or failure at Normandy - well, that gives me chills.


Mock-up showing a Kansas prairie house, an American longing for
an agrarian peace writ in the canvas of industrial war.
(Courtesy of Gehry Partners, LLP, 2012)

We stand in our Capital looking at a benign metallic landscape of our collective memory, made of the same stuff used to conceal munitions and soldiers during World War II, a stunning, swords-to-plowshares American beauty, an altogether wonderful memorial for a general and president who led the conquering of fascism overseas and then, presciently, revealed the dangers of our looming military-industrial complex.


Steel mesh camouflage netting deployed at Consolidated Aircraft in San Diego, 1943
(courtesy San Diego Air & Space Museum)

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April 16, 2012
Building Information Modeling: Damage Control
by David Grider

Part of teaching my
Intro to BIM course at NYU involves consideration of factors leading to adoption of digital modeling, and I recently found a stunning example of analog drawings pushed to the limit of legibility: the damage control plates for the USS Saratoga CV-60.


CV-60 damage control plate courtesy of Historic Naval Ships Association (HSNA)
(click image to enlarge)

These drawings represent every compartment on the ship in an isometric view, and in this case have overlayed the emergency systems in a dense weave of red, blue and green lines to represent where these critical pieces pass through the ship, how they are connected to each room, and to serve as a diagnostic tool to repair damage and restore functionality.

Buildings generally don't have to worry about sinking, but they can share a similar level systemic complexity, and as these magnificent drawings illustrate, simply representing this information from a fixed point of view is challenging.

Add in room by room diagnostic & analysis demands (say, for boyancy in the case of a damaged ship, or tenant comfort in the case of a building) combined with the requirement that the drawings be kept current over decades of service, and the case is made for a computer-based model that allows examination from any point of view, runs simulations based on real-world conditions, and broadcasts information updates to the entire data set automatically.

Whether it is in our best interests to have our works of architecture become as complex and expensive as aircraft carriers is another question entirely...


Detail showing the overwhelming density of information, courtesy of HNSA
(click image to enlarge)

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April 9, 2012
US Navy Fleet Supply Base: From Bunkers to BrightFarms
by David Grider

The recent announcement of a
Huge Hydroponic Farm to be constructed by BrightFarms on the roof of the old Storehouse #2 of the US Navy Fleet Supply Base represents a fascinating evolution for this nearly 100 year old building.

Part of a three building complex that was built in a blistering 7 1/2 months by Turner Construction, the supply base was part of the massive complex of South Brooklyn buildings and piers (including the Brooklyn Army Terminal) that sprung up around Bush Terminal in the 24 months after Wilson's declaration of war on Germany in April of 1917.

And of the many military warehouses built in South Brooklyn from 1900 - 1940, these alone announce their War Building status in the form of observation bunkers on the roof. It is stunning to consider how much Brooklyn, let alone the nature of war, has changed in the century since their creation, but heartening that this old sword is finally being beaten to a (hydroponic) plowshare.


South facade of Storehouse #2 being rehabilitated as a center for light manufacturing called Liberty View Industrial Plaza (click image to enlarge)


The complex as it appeared, all 2,300,000 square feet of it, shortly after completion in early 1919 - a couple of months too late for WWI. It would serve as a clothing depot in the interwar years, realize its potential in WWII, then fall into disuse as the shipping industry left Brooklyn.


Section thru the complex looking west (from an original by Turner Construction) indicating the incredible weight-bearing capacity of the floors, 200 - 300 lbs per square foot.


The site of the future farm, looking north to downtown Brooklyn, with the orange panels of an addition to Storehouse #1 - now a federal detention facility - visible. Note the small structure with slit windows to the close left...


The rooftop has a network of these menacing observation bunkers, designed to at least look like they could withstand incoming shells. Likely an artifact of the Sedition Act of May 1918, they surveyed the roof for the disloyal - whether manned or not, saboteurs could never be certain - an example of architecture serving as security camera. It would be terrific to see these unique structures reused to monitor plants in the new farm.


Looking south to the water tanks of the former Bush Model Factory complex
(now known as Industry City)


Interior at top floor prior to restoration.


Interior at lower floor - note larger diameter of column.


The view west past the Erie Basin, where the canal boats used to over-winter in a makeshift community of thousands, to the Statue of Liberty beyond (click image to enlarge)

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April 2, 2012
6 1/2 Avenue: The Big Picture
by David Grider

As Chairman of F-POPS, it was a pleasure to witness
the unanimous consent given to the DOT's proposal for new cross-walks connecting six blocks of midtown privately owned public spaces (along the route of F-POPS' Arcade Parade) in a path dubbed "6 1/2 Avenue".

But what also caught our eye was a mention in a related NY Times article of a 1910 scheme by Mayor Gaynor to run a new avenue through midtown all the way from 8th Street to 59th Street. Below is a rendering, published by the NY Times in 1910, showing the new Avenue cutting through Bryant Park on its way north.


Mayor Gaynor's vision for a new avenue, May 1910. Courtesy NY Times.

Conceived a few years before Zoning and decades before Jane Jacob's critique of long blocks, this Haussmann-esque proposal to bore through the urban fabric for the sake of improving the connective tissue of the city was stunning in its aspiration - if not plainly mad...

And yet: when one considers the scale of the new Park Avenue being built one avenue over at the time, or the cut and cover operations in connection with contemporary subway construction, the idea doesn't seem as absurd.


Looking south along the future Park Ave., August 1909. Courtesy Municipal Archives.

And compared with the wholesale erasures that took place forty years later during the era of urban renewal, Gaynor's idea seems like a modest proposal...


Lower East Side looking west about 1941 showing the original streets.


Lower East Side looking west today, almost all of the original streets (and buildings) erased.

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February 13, 2012
The Radical Geometry of Leonardo da Vinci
by David Grider

On a research trip to the
S.C. Williams Library at the Stevens Institute of Technology, Mr. Adam Winger, the Digital Initiatives Librarian, provided this architect with the distinctly analog privilege of turning the pages of an ancient pressing of Pacioli's De Divina Proportione, originally printed in 1509 and illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci.

Five hundred years ago. Cut into wood. By hand.

See additional images from the Stevens Digital Collections here.





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January 31, 2012
Fort Wadsworth: The Visitor Center Catch-22
by David Grider

This architect finally made the trip to
Fort Wadsworth and you should too: it is a magnificent site laced with foot paths that offer incredible views of 19th century battlements, the New York harbor, and the Verrazano Bridge.

Just don't count on actually getting to enter the forts.

Like contemporaries such as Castle Clinton in Battery Park, Fort Jay on Governor's Island, or Fort Schuyler at SUNY Maritime, the main structures of Wadsworth, Battery Weed (the eastern structure) and Fort Tompkins (containing the former parade grounds) were constructed with 6' thick walls to withstand bombardment and the wear and tear of garrisoned soldiers.

But unlike their contemporaries, the staffed visitor facility for Fort Wadsworth is so removed from the historic buildings that Fort Tompkins is generally shown only once a day, and Battery Weed is totally off limits.

So we close and stop maintaining the perfectly serviceable historic forts to build and staff a new strip-mall-like visitor center; its not quite the same as destroying a village in order to save it, but certainly a logic that Joseph Heller would have appreciated.


Looking over the tiered granite cannon mounts of Battery Weed to the harbor beyond.


A terrific juxtaposition of construction technologies, topography & time.


Site plan indicating where the visitor center is and where it should be.


The arcade of former Quartermaster offices & shops in Fort Tompkins that bustled with people for decades and is now, inexplicably, abandoned.


An example of the Quartermaster offices, closed to the public except for special tours.
It is one of many spaces within the fort that would have been a fantastic for a Visitor's Center.


Instead of access to the forts, we underwrite a banal Visitor Center with blacked-out windows, an inglorious front door to one of New York City's finest sites.

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December 12, 2011
Underemployment: Telephone Exchange Buildings
by David Grider

The Postal Service's recent notice of layoffs and facility closures brought to mind another building type once full of people and now empty: the Telephone Exchange Building.

Begun in earnest during the 1870s as an outgrowth of telegraphs, the voice-carrying telephone system spread rapidly throughout urban areas, with every single telephone line returned to central buildings known as telephone exchanges. Here, these lines, tens of thousands in dense urban neighborhoods, were routed to human-operated switchboards where connections were made by hand.

In New York, the exchanges reached a zenith in the years leading up to WWII, with untold lines gathered & distributed in solid, well-appointed civic buildings that sometimes rose over twenty stories and were often humane, finely wrought works of Architecture.

Beyond hosting a once cutting-edge technology, these centrally-located buildings also provided a place of employment within their communities, where hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people - mostly women - worked shifts 24/7.

Employment demand stayed high for some time after WWII until automated switching, a technology almost as old as the telephone, finally matured sufficiently to replace local, then international, human operators.

Ben Mendelsohn's recent
Bundled, Buried & Behind Closed Doors, shows how these buildings have retained their role in the city's nervous system as internet data routing hubs, while also revealing how few onsite people are required. Many exchanges, however, sit nearly vacant and awaiting creative reuse, hundreds of thousands of square feet made obsolete by advancing technology.

And so it goes now with the Postal Service, another community-based bricks & mortar civic infrastructure, based largely on paper and human effort, that is coming to difficult terms with automated digital communication - lets hope that the men & women who have carried our mail, and the civic buildings that have housed them, can be put back to work soon.


Bell Telephone scribed into stone at a 1920s central exchange building in New York that once employed thousands and is now down to a handful of technical overseers. The architectural treatment of exchange buildings was often similar to libraries of the time.


A typical empty exchange space awaits fit-out, generous daylight exposing the ghosts of human-operated switchboard consoles still visible on the floor. A remote closet of incomparably smaller digital switches now handles all the work.


Cut copper cables that reflect both changing equipment and in this case, like vacant lots and burned-out buildings, a residential depopulation of the surrounding community; each paired strand, hundreds in each cable, used to run to someone's telephone.


Telephony was once a radical invention, and its rapid installation throughout NYC (thanks in part to bundling lines with subway construction) gave the city a huge business advantage and a distribution backbone that remains vital.


A typical Operating Room: switchboards line the perimeter of the otherwise open space, with a central desk for the chief operator.


Front & back view of the switchboards in the plan above.


The electro-mechanical genius of the human-operated switchboard.


Though the telegraph had employed young men to tap out Morse code, telephone companies preferred women employees, noting their superior voice and "agreeable temperament" - early 20th century code for hoping they wouldn't unionize.
Photo from The Outlook, April 21 1920.


Gender politics and industrial labor collide in the domestically-themed retreats that are punctuated by massive columns needed to support heavy-duty fireproofed floors.
Photo from The Outlook, April 21 1920.

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November 22, 2011
Means of Egress: 7 hours on the Tarmac
by David Grider

An observation by an architect and former pilot on the hundreds of JetBlue and American Airlines passengers trapped for over 7 hours on the tarmac at Bradley International Airport a few weeks ago.

Architects and Airline Transport Pilots (ATP)s share a similar apprenticeship: they work for many recorded hours under the guidance of senior hands, take a battery of exams for licensure, and have yearly requirements to keep their license active.

Why all the fuss? In matters of life safety, we need to know that, when it counts, a licensed professional will place regard for public safety & welfare above all other considerations - particularly those of profit, prestige or corporate policy, allegiances to which architects and pilots are equally vulnerable.

Which made the events at Bradley so disheartening: when one ATP accepts being a runway jail keeper from 2pm to 10pm it's bad enough; when a squadron of them create a medium-sized prison on the tarmac, something is seriously wrong.

It's not hard to understand their failure to act: a terrible job market; a creeping sense of powerlessness in the face of computerized replacements; equipment designed to prohibit initiative (in this case, airplanes designed to prevent deplaning without ground equipment); a fear of lawsuits - factors that are weighing on licensed professionals in all fields.

But I can't imagine the chief from my old flight school, Ted Steckbauer, a former Navy Test Pilot, being reduced to ineffectually begging a ground crew for assistance for hours on end. Once their predicament was clear, he'd have marshaled the other pilots, fetched the equipment needed to lead the passengers into the terminal and, if necessary, taken volunteers on the twenty minute walk to bring back lunch from Papa Gino's Pizza.

It may not have been as dramatic of act as, say, Sully's dead stick landing or Steven Slater's rage-fueled deployment of an emergency slide, but in an age of failed
supercommittees, pepper spray and aimless camping, leading passengers trapped by a Kafka-esque bureaucracy to their freedom would have been a splendid tonic.

And you can bet they would have never tasted a better slice.


An MD-80, one of the last common jet types that had built-in deplaning equipment - perhaps its time to reintroduce such simple contingencies?


The quick one mile walk from Bradley's ramp area to Papa Gino's Pizza -
no Air Traffic Control clearances required.

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October 31, 2011
Defying Gravity: Hair & Structure
by David Grider

For most participants, the excitement of the
Wella International Trend Vision Award 2011 event at Pier 94 took place on the runway - but for some of us, the action was on the roof.

Pier 94 is a wonderful shed, built for the Cunard Lines in 1961 and now used for an exhibition hall, but while its exposed roof trusses make it easy to hang things, they can be delicate if rigged the wrong way. For a spectacular such as Trendvision, careful arrangements are required to make certain that the weight of all the temporary equipment is hung safely.


Load-in of theatrical equipment at Pier 94, with lighting truss and chain motors used to raise & lower in the foreground. Photo by David Grider


Portion of diagram showing exact placement of loads, including circular truss shown at right.

And sometimes, safely hanging things means you have to barter with gravity.

You might, for example, trade for hanging heavier lights by promising gravity that the roof won't have to carry the snow it was designed for - its October after all, it never snows in October...


Front page of NY Post the day before Trendvision.

Until it does. The day before the event, an unprecedented snowstorm pelts NYC in thick wet flakes, as if supernatural forces had taken a sudden in our designs.

Fortunately for us, the deal held, the snow on the roof never getting so thick that we had to deploy our contingencies - and though the weather event had our undivided attention, it must be said: it wasn't nearly as hair-raising as Wella's fabulous show.


Wella 2012 Trend Reveal Catwalk, Pier 94, Hair Design by Paul Nasrallah

(Here's to the fantastic concept & design of Jack Morton, theatrical rigging and equipment by Vegas Rigg LLC, and structural review by Anastos Engineering Associates.)

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October 24, 2011
SULSA and Vickers Wellington: When will we print a building?
by David Grider

The recently developed
Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft (SULSA) offers a glimpse of a revolution in design, fabrication and material science that will alter architecture as dramatically as the blast furnace, elevator and finite analysis did 150 years ago.


Machine-printed SULSA: form is digitally optimized free of manufacturing constraints.

The SULSA team noted that they had been inspired by the Vickers Wellington, a WWII bomber of British design that used a labor-intensive geodetic structure for its airframe. But for the SULSA, this optimized structure carries no manufacturing penalty: one doesn't worry whether there are too many lines or circles being sent to the laser printer.


The Wellington Bomber: consideration of its inventive, lightweight structure was dominated by the material constraints of incredibly labor-intensive assembly.

While a perfect solution for aeronautical engineers, for architects, this new technology raises questions about Expression.

Architecture as we know it is dominated by a number of economic rules (steel is rolled in straight pieces; glass is made flat; there are many pieces that are be put together, etc.) against which all buildings are designed. Meaning comes from, among other things, the success with which these rules are exploited.

But when walls, for example, can be "printed" in container-sized panels, in any form, with integrated glass and structure, we'll see many of our present experiments in architectural form as both fairly tame and generally crude in execution.

One needs only to look at typewriter-composed reports, Kodachrome slide shows or hand-drawn acetates on overhead projectors from forty years ago to understand what is coming to architecture and its existing practices.

As digital fabrication tools for buildings become more common & powerful, the creation of form will stem increasingly from a numbers-based paradigm as computational tools, unfettered by constraints in form or material, seek every optimization: economic, environmental, contextual relationship - any parameter can be included.

So, like chess players, airline transport pilots or even writers are finding, our ideas of creativity, problem solving and meaning will be challenged by our digital counterparts, and it will be the machines' imagination for form, optimized in ways that will exceed our abilities, that will become the rule against which we judge (or reject) our notions of success.

Flat floors, desire for sunlight, and private property regulations are likely to remain constants; everything else will soon be up in the air.

(We will explore these and other digital themes in my Introduction to Building Information Modeling(BIM) seminar at NYU, January 20th & 21st)


Architectural Drawing: a script (the visual display of logical connections between algorithmic modules) used in the generation of complex form (courtesy Parametric Wood.)


From dust: a Nendo Diamond Chair caught in the process of being made (these photos are staged - in actual manufacturing, the form is printed in its entirety and then carefully excavated from the tub of unfused particles). A laser hardens a thin layer from the nylon medium (similar to the laser/toner operations in a printer), the table is lowered the thickness of the layer, and the next layer is "printed" in an additive process.


This printed metal prototype of a pipe manifold is notable for making a fantastic HR Giger-esque optimization of the interstitial structure into an unremarkable technical achievement, as meaningful as a ball-bearing (or Duchamp's urinal).


Herzog & de Meuron's beautiful Prada Tokyo:
A hand-crafted glimpse of the machine-printed future.

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October 16, 2011
Arcade Parade: The dedication of Holly Whyte Way
by David Grider

As the Chairman of Friends of Privately Owned Public Space, it's a pleasure for me to report that our
Arcade Parade yesterday was a great success. Below are a few images of the event, with others coming to the F-POPS website soon. You can also download a map for your own self-guided walking tour here.


Graham Coreil-Allen calls the parade to order and prepares us to march under the gaze of Barry Flanagan's Hare on Bell at the south end of the AXA Galleria POPS. Photo by Jill Burgess.


After a ceremonial watering of the AXA Galleria's POPS logo, the Hungry March Band and our Sol LeWitt-inspired flags leads us across West 52nd Street. Photo by Jill Burgess.


The Hungry March Band briefly pauses at the Flatotel Galleria POPS. Photo by Jill Burgess.


David Grider reads the rules of seating design, flanked by Graham Coreil-Allen and Brian Nesin, at the spike-capped seat walls of the Metropolitan Plaza POPS. Photo by Jill Burgess.


Simone & Claire Ghetti perform the rain-inspired sound piece Storming the Corporate Lobby as Brian Nesin deflects the security guard's increasingly belligerent demands to "keep moving" through this public space at 127 West 55th Street. Photo by Jill Burgess.


Graham Coreil-Allen, Brian Nesin, and David Grider offer final commentary on public space at the Le Premier plaza at West 55th Street. Photo by Jill Burgess.

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September 19, 2011
Galloping Ghost
by David Grider

A brief observance of the awful crash of a modified P-51 Mustang at the Reno Air Races that, as of this writing, has claimed eleven lives. Its been twenty years since I've been to Reno, but as a pilot and someone who's been enthralled with World War II flying machines his whole life, I hope they find a way to keep the old birds circling the pylons.


David (left) and Andrew Grider with F-4U Corsair, San Diego, mid-1970s.
Photo by George Grider.

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September 13, 2011
9/11 Memorial: Avoid Condition
by David Grider

As an architect who witnessed the towers collapse and walked home among ash-covered survivors it was a privilege to see the 9/11 Memorial Plaza so soon after it opened.

It was a nice plaza to visit, tastefully designed with modern details and several architectural pavilions of warped polygonal geometry.


click to enlarge

And the memorial fountains were awesome in a way not unlike the original towers, seductive in their brute power and impersonal majesty.

But seeing the old WTC columns sequestered behind glass & hidden below grade was a reminder of what was sorely missing from the space: any direct physical sense of what had happened there and the terrible wreckage that New Yorkers witnessed and lived through.



The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, destroyed during World War II, came to mind as one example where incredibly powerful, genuine remnants of catastrophe coexist with the everyday requirements of dense urbanity.


click to enlarge

It's unfortunate that all sense of 9/11's catastrophe - the Pile, the Shard, the Bathtub - has been banished from the public plaza.

Combined with the terrified bunker taking shape at the base of One World Trade, the nondescript blocks of World Financial Center at the western horizon, and the massive amounts of energy being consumed to keep it all operational, it feels more like a memorial to 20th century corporate architecture than the site of tragedy and remembrance.


click to enlarge

So here's a modest suggestion.

Place the old WTC columns where they belong: on the plaza.

Let them stand as mute witness to a terrible day, broadcast their solemnity to the otherwise unconcerned, and fill this highly-stylized and tightly controlled void with a sorely needed, difficult and authentic presence.

The columns are tough enough to handle the exposure. Can't we?

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September 5, 2011
Labor Day: Observations from the New York State Fair
by David Grider

With the recent national budget debacles and stock market jitters resembling some financial version of
pilot-induced oscillation it felt poignant to visit the New York State Fair.


The goat and pig exhibit shed.

Here were agricultural sheds of great utility and beauty, spaces built years ago with economy, generosity and ease of maintenance that continue to serve as shelter for genuine wealth: cows, chickens, pigs, goats, the fruits of farm labor with their proprietors sleeping nearby and showing off the best of their work.


Interior of the Poultry Building.


1913 Exterior rendering of Poultry Building. James A. Randall, Architect.

And here was the Midway, drawing the crowds and taking their money. The funhouses and other amusements trucked in for the fair, fold-out facades and warped mirrors, rigged games and roller coasters, were lined with people gladly handing over cash for another go.


The back side of a mobile funhouse, ingenious in its own right.

It was easy to imagine, within the confines of the fair, that these two eternal realms of the USA were in balance. And when our national worth and purpose seems as fragmented and unstable as it does right now, this spectacle of a self-contained, grass-roots, localized economy (however illusionary it might have been) was a heartening scene.

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July 25, 2011
The Lavanburg Foundation: Requiem and Beyond
by David Grider

Fred L. Lavanburg was an early 20th century industrial magnate in the concern of making colors, an alchemic art of mixing caustic ingredients to arrive at beauty. His fortune was built in New York, based on ingredients from all over the world, and as he ascended in wealth his eyes turned to philanthropic architecture.

The principal legacy of this effort is the Lavanburg Homes, a precedent-setting experiment in low-income housing that was completed by his Foundation shortly after his death in 1927 and still exists at 124 Baruch Place.


The Lavanburg Houses at 124 Baruch Place with exterior repairs underway, July 2011.

A less well known but perhaps more colorful example is the former Lavanburg House for Working Girls and Welcome Home Settlement, built in 1927 at 331 East 12th Street – a building that we came to know while renovating its second floor for The Educational Alliance’s Project ORE.

Built by Lavanburg as a place to house young Jewish working women at a time of few societal safety nets, 331 East 12th Street accomodated various owners and uses in correspondence with the rise of the modern welfare state: Corner House, a home for homeless youth; Youth House, a detention facility for delinquent boys; Callagy Hall, a shelter for girls and young women that slid into intolerable conditions in the late 1960s and was shuttered in 1972; and, finally, reopened by the City nearly forty years ago as the Sirovich Senior Center.


The former Lavanburg House for Working Girls and Welcome Home Settlement,
now Sirovich Senior Center, July 2011.

The Lavanburg Foundation itself had a remarkable run, providing philanthropic support a full 84 years beyond its founder’s passing - but, as of June 30, 2011, it has closed its doors and transferred its papers to an archive at the Main Library on 42nd Street.

Though the foundation has closed, the handsome, unassuming building it created on East 12th Street remains open, is being adapted and used in arguably its most successful configuration yet, and is poised for many more decades of service – another great legacy for Lavanburg, and a fine example for Architecture.

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July 12, 2011
James Gregory Bell: Shinnecock Coast Guard Station
by David Grider

Another Gregory bell has surfaced at the
Shinnecock Coast Guard Station.

As described by Weapons Petty Officer Michael Fusco "the bell is sitting in front of our flagpole and is a staple amongst the crew here. We would love to put up a pedestal sign with the history and origin of this bell."

Note the subtle change in inscription format from Gregory's Dreamland Bell.

Bell by James Gregory, Cannon Street, 1890.
Shinnecock Coast Guard Station Bell by James Gregory, Cannon Street, 1890. Photo courtesy of Weapons Petty Officer Michael Fusco.

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April 24, 2011
WTC: Site Visit
by David Grider

This architect’s recent tour of the massive construction site that is the former World Trade Center brought forth an unexpected memory: that of his first glimpse of the Grand Canyon.



In both cases, despite much to see at the horizon and sky, the eye was drawn to the depths below, and the scale of the vista was so immense that it was difficult to judge distance or depth of field - almost like viewing a painted cyclorama instead of something real.



With the
9/11 Memorial scheduled to open in a few months, it's fitting to recall the practical, fearless words of the Grand Canyon's first American explorer, the intrepid John Wesley Powell, on the eve of his 1869 departure down the Colorado River:

We have an unknown distance yet to run,
An unknown river to explore.
What falls there are, we know not;
What rocks beset the channel, we know not;
What walls ride over the river, we know not.
Ah, well! we may conjecture many things.





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January 3, 2011
MTA Nostalgia Train: Unstoppable!
by David Grider

The NYC MTA runs their Nostalgia Train for a few weekends around the winter solstice, but don’t let the name and the maudlin posters of yesteryear fool you – as spirited as any New Yorker, this subway train and its crew are all business, running regular passenger service on the main line, making each stop as timely as the modern cars and just as ruthlessly closing its doors on the dumbstruck and laggard alike.


Nostalgia Train pulls into 2nd Avenue Station to pick up passengers

Of course the train is clearly not of our era - there is no air conditioning; the ten cars are a variety of ages (40 – 80 years old) and do not match; the finishes are generally not vandalized but instead are deeply-worn and layered with repairs; the lighting is dim, the sounds are loud and clanky; breezes flow through the cars from leaky windows & open doors; and a half-dozen operators are constantly roving through the cars to attend noises, stuck doors, and other signs of mechanical insubordination.


An operator quickly unjams the door before departure; note exposed lamp bulbs, whirling fan blades, and glorious lack of waivers to be signed

But since this string of ancient machines performs its essential task in the exact manner of a modern train (people get on, people get off), using the same rails and power, it offers an interesting comment on the nature of preservation and technology, manifest in the astonishment of fellow straphangers who board warily, as if stepping upon an apparition, but are soon washed by a commuter's blank face and circumspect eyes, establishing a timeless normalcy on this diehard jalopy.


The unpolished appeal of the functioning rough & tumble

And there is something else: mired in a recession and a sense of sagging national confidence, there is something magnificent about having this old bird make its way down the line, kept running through frugal ingenuity, plenty of human labor, a thorough soundness of design & engineering, and a bit of shared sacrifice. There are worse ways for us to travel.

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December 6, 2010
New York City and the Nation at War: 1917
by David Grider

A few remarkable images to illustrate the frenzied mobilization that swept through New York City after the United States joined World War I.


German Submarine UC5 on the Sheep Meadow, October 1917.

While these temporary interventions in our beloved public spaces were short lived, many massive, permanent infrastructure projects were created during this period that remain with us today and will be subjects for future entries.


Submarine was converted to a Liberty Bond Booth, rechristened from UC5 to U-Buy-a-Bond.

One imagines that German submarine on the Great Lawn still reeked of diesel and brine, a wrecked leviathan of the kind that had destroyed the RMS Lusitania and 1,200 of her passengers sailing from New York, utterly terrifying for a city so tied to sea-faring commerce and transportation.


Navy Recuiting Station in Union Square, looking east towards 15th Street, Summer 1917

In this Holiday Season, as we grind our way into the tenth year of our latest war overseas, it’s worth a pause to remember the great sacrifice, costs and unimaginable anguish that continues to be demanded of so many people as a result of this fighting – and perhaps to ask ourselves how we’d feel about a giant recruiting station in Union Square.

Peace and Goodwill to All.

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November 17, 2010
The Dream of Industry: Bush Terminal
by David Grider

The recent issuance of EDC's Bush Terminal Ground-Up Development RFP recalled research we’d done earlier this year for another site at this former industrial marvel.


Site Plan from 1916.

Completed in 1913 and consisting of over 200 acres of “model factories”, warehouses, and double-decker piers, it was at the time the largest single warehousing facility in the world and offered a turn-key shipping arrangement for tenants: if you set up an enterprise in one of Bush’s model factories, they would handle loading and unloading of rail cars as part of the rental agreement.


The working waterfront, 1914.

This facility, in connection with the former
Navy Supply Depot to the north and the Brooklyn Army Terminal to the south, made South Brooklyn/Sunset Park an oceanic & rail shipping port with few peers until the era of containerization and the interstate highway system made its transport systems mostly obsolete.


Rail yard looking north, 1914.

Despite the loss of all of its piers, much of the original landside infrastructure remains and is still being used, at relatively high occupancy rates, for manufacturing & warehousing. It is a remarkable testament to the flexibility (and durability) of these 100 year-old buildings that they can still support these uses, and there are lessons here (for better and worse) for those of us who may be tasked with their refurbishment and replacement.



Though the rails are gone, and the ships of the sea are no longer 'longside, these yards are still used to load & unload vehicles, and though not obvious there are goods in storage and small manufacturing outfits behind the windows.

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November 8, 2010
Veterans Day: The Running Gear of the USS Intrepid
by David Grider

The USS Intrepid is a site of remarkable heritage: she has witnessed everything from the fiery impact of suicidal aviators to the triumphant recovery of humans who’d orbited the earth, and she has become one of New York City’s most popular museums whose decks now throw banquets and weddings instead of Vigilantes and Crusaders.


Engine room repeaters.

While her superstructure was being overhauled in 2008, this architect had the opportunity to visit her below deck areas and can report that her boilers, low & high speed turbines, screw shafts – the compartments and running gear that steamed her around the planet, sometimes at War Emergency speed – are quietly rusting away.


Propellor shaft.

Of course, this gear is obsolete, will never run again, is laden with asbestos, is accessible only through the narrowest of passages, and could only be recycled by tearing the ship apart – leaving it to entropy is about its only fate.


Soot blower and aux 600lb steam lines.

But there is one thing that could be done: figure out a way to allow the public to see it.


Double-reduction gearcase.

For all the topside memorials, films, and testimonies, there is a technical complexity and authenticity in these unrestored spaces that is affecting and powerful. And if it comes across as unglamorous, claustrophobic, dangerous – well, what better to remind us civilians about the realities of war.


15 feet below the water line.

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November 1, 2010
The Stacks of the Gould Memorial Library
by David Grider

Stanford White’s magnificent domed
Gould Memorial Library sits beautifully at the western edge of the Bronx Community College, serving as a point of interest and inspiration for campus development since it was erected (under the banner of New York University) in 1899.



Yet for all the firmness and delight of the exterior and rotunda, its once vital stacks, the building’s raison d'être, glass-floored armatures for the storage, protection & access to books, stand as abandoned, forlorn and powerful as any ruin.


Glass-floored stacks with light well and tension rod hangers.

Arranged as compact decks and compartments squeezed between the rectilinear plan of the exterior walls and the circular inner wall of the rotunda, one comes upon their empty disarray and thinks of what repositories of stone tablets must have looked like a century after paper was invented; imagines how people once flowed through the narrow, radical passages as they now flow through the circuits composing the internet; and confronts how they have been decommissioned as permanently as the great battleships.


Curved wall of rotunda to left.

Despite the elegic feeling of the place, it’s not clear what’s really lost or what there is to commemorate. The books once held there are more widely accessible online, and the spaces themselves are like the bowels of a ship: disorienting, difficult to navigate, easy to get lost in. In their fragmented, radial layout the Gould’s stacks violate every principle of the open, easily accessible modern library.


The audacity of narrow passages and steep stairs.

But for those of us who remember getting lost in the physical stacks, spending a day following a solitary interest from book to dusty book, without concern for the card catalog or the clock, simply in the immediate present of the printed page illuminated by daylight – well, it must have been a magnificent place to embark on such a journey.


The 1899 version of a 4GB thumb drive

My deep thanks to my former collegue Ms. Robin Auchincloss AIA LEED-AP, the BCC's Director of Campus Planning, for leading our tour of Gould, 11 years after my last visit.

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October 25, 2010
On Being Direct: Unloading an 18-wheeler in Arkansas
by David Grider

A brief entry this week as the photo, snapped while driving north on Route 61 on the way to Osceola, Arkansas, largely speaks for itself – though it was unclear whether the driver remained in the truck while it was lifted.

Its terrible majesty - will it launch? - reminded this observer of the old Yale Express Truck advertisement that was perched on a building on the West Side (and has since been removed).

That truck/billboard had a sublime menace about its skewed proportions and uncertain construction, a sort of truck taxidermy gone wrong, that as it turns out was doomed: New York City’s Waterfront Zoning Signage Regulations strictly prohibit such exuberant signage displays in new construction.

One wonders whether a genuine working truck, such as the Arkansas example, would be any more accepted…


Hydraulics lift the whole truck to get it to spill its guts.


The old Yale Truck Sign at 39th St & the West Side Highway (since demolished).

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October 18, 2010
Preservation & Climate Change: How a Train Grew in Brooklyn
by David Grider

The confluence this past week of the Municipal Arts Society’s Conference on Preservation and Climate Change and complaints about construction along the 2nd Avenue Subway line (eighty years in construction and still nowhere near done) naturally led this observer to thoughts of the 4th Avenue Subway line in Brooklyn.

Built in 1909 – 1911 (and documented in a remarkable October 1912 report to The Municipal Engineers of the City of New York by Mr. Henry Oestreich, Senior Assistant Division Engineer, Public Service Commission) the line was run through a dense urban area in a series of open cuts, tunnels, temporary scaffolds to support existing above-grade trains, and other mammoth-scale interventions that are almost inconceivable in today’s litigious (and, lets admit it, safer and more comfortable) world.

This line was also run through former salt marshes, the Gowanus Swamp, and in doing so had to deal with construction techniques, storm sewer relocations and waterproofing issues that will become more common as global warming lifts sea levels.

And look closely at the 1912 map below: the swamp contour is from 1776.

A significant year because it was near this swamp where, on August 27 1776, Stirling's Maryland Troops stood & fought the British to cover Washington's retreat at the
Battle of Brooklyn , the first major battle of the Revolutionary War. This courageous, desperate action helped the surviving Continental Army to fight another day; it is a battlefield where American patriots lost their lives.

Mr. Oestreich's enterprise proves insensitive to history, devoting 14 words of recognition (“…where it was hoped to find some relics of The Battle of Long Island”) before getting back to the business of slurry walls, Edison cables and vitrified pipe grade-crossings. Whatever relics were there are lost now, and doubtless some historic buildings were lost too.

But the entire line, a marvel of transportation efficiency that has kept tens of thousands of cars off the road every day for a hundred years, was finished in just 24 months.


1912-era map showing route of 4th Avenue Subway (north is pointing left) superimposed with 1776 contours of the Gowanus Swamp (which was dredged & bulkheaded into the Gowanus Canal).


Typical cut & cover operation, a loud, disruptive, and an incredibly fast way to build a subway.


View at the intersection of 4th Avenue and 10th Street prior to the construction of the F-Line. Compare with modern image below.


Modern view of the intersection with the viaduct for the F-Line at the north side of 10th Street; George Washington didn't get much sleep here.

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October 11, 2010
Report: The New East River Science Park (& Mall?)
by David Grider

A brief report on the public space of the recently opened Alexandria Center for Life Science (ACLS), which is the initial phase of the East River Science Park being realized in the blocks directly south of the Bellevue Medical Center.

The clean modernism of the ACLS’s physical environment could have been airlifted in from present-day Berlin, and it reminded this observer of the spirit (if not the architecture) of the utopian plains of many La Jolla-based biotechnology industries: cool isolation.

But New York abhors cool isolation, and has provided a savory surprise – arriving at the base of the gleaming tower, one is enveloped in the noise and glares of the drivers on the FDR, as if the new plaza was supposed to focus our attention on the old Moses-designed East River Drive itself.

I found the experience both unnerving and, in an odd way, poetic: the decaying road and cars, as surely as the river, serve as a barometer of our own well being. This stretch of the FDR is, after all, a relic that seems held together with patching cement and layers of paint, a thoroughfare for solo humans being carted around by 4,000lb pollution machines, a virulent survivor, an old New York institution that has not been gentrified, a large-scale walking coronary that we have the privilege to view from behind delicate stainless steel guard railing, all which could help focus, for better and worse, deeper research into life sciences…

My reverie was interrupted by a guard telling my kids to get off some bench height stone walls. It was a mall-inspired moment (“kids can’t walk on there, that’s how they want it”) that does not bode well for public space; let’s hope it was merely opening week jitters.


Entrance to the new Alexandria Center with the Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital to the left and river side plaza straight ahead. The Psychiatric Hospital was supposed to have become a bespoke hotel but remains a homeless shelter, which like the FDR seems a living reminder: Attention Must Be Paid.


The FDR as extension of the river side plaza.


The Child moments before being told to live life off the wall.

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October 4, 2010
Introduction to Building Information Modeling, 1940s style!
by David Grider

An architect discussing their computer systems seems a little like a chef talking about their kitchen utensils – yes, other chefs may find it interesting, but for diners, the kitchen is usually someplace unworthy of exploration.

However, in consideration of my upcoming
Introduction to Building Information Modeling (BIM) course at NYU, I mention a transformation underway in the kitchens of architecture: BIM is an evolution in digital design & fabrication software that will allow a building to be fully designed, sourced & manufactured from a 3D database.

This digital integration began in other industries many years ago. Naval architecture, aeronautical engineering, music; each has seen huge impacts in terms of both design & production, and lessons will be drawn from these examples in my course.

But in the spirit of this blog, shown below are instructive examples from the 1940s of how complex form-making and intense engineering coordination requirements were met before digital technology.

And its awful for this BIM-evangelist to admit, but: those models, huge cameras and the laying around on the loft floor making drawings looks kinda fun...


Analog Sheet Sort Management: Designers shuffle their barn-door sized drawings in a climate controlled room


Analog Clash-Detection: General Motors engineers coordinate trades over a large physical model.


Analog NURBS: The circa 1940 process of translating the compound curves of physical aircraft models to full scale templates involved giant cameras and squads of drafters in loft rooms scribing projected lines into enamel-coated, temperature-controlled aluminum. From Popular Mechanics, Sept 1940 issue.

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September 27, 2010
The Great Hall: Wallace K. Harrison, ArcAttack, and the resuscitation of Architecture.
by David Grider

The
New York Hall of Science’s Great Hall has been closed for years but for those of us Maker Faire attendees who witnessed this weekend’s Tesla-coil performances of ArcAttack, the effect was haunting: suddenly, out of the refined, proper modernist manners and child-oriented design of the institution’s recent additions, this space from another world crackled to life and struck us dumb: here was a great work of Architecture.

Designed by Wallace K. Harrison for the 1964 World’s Fair, its magisterial presentation of blue stained glass owes a debt to Paris' 750-year-old Sainte Chapelle, and has much in common with the 1961 Chapel by Egon Eiermann at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin.

But the Great Hall's catechism is Science. Its curved walls are willful, playful, the deliberate venture of a rational mind seeking spatial affects within the limits of the concrete grid construction system. Its interior is outer-space itself, a luminous deep blue curtain flecked with bits of ruby red glass like so many planets. It is a far-out, space-age geode that is puzzling at the exterior and jaw-dropping beautiful inside.

And animated by the live wire sounds of ArcAttack it fulfilled the highest sensory aspirations: a concert of pure abstraction, of deep physical and aural quality, thickly layered sounds heard and felt as the lightning crazed against the deep blue backdrop, a unity of space, sound, light and theme as inspired as Bach in Reims.

The present institution's well-intentioned additions and exhibits are sorely missing the messy heart of science: a sense of Wonder. ArcAttack's 1/2 million volts just restored its pulse; lets hope they keep it alive by keeping the Great Hall open!


The interior of the Great Hall with lightning by ArcAttack, photo by David Grider


Detail of colored glass, photo by David Grider


The Plan of the Great Hall showing the undulating walls atop a hexagonal base.

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September 20, 2010
The Ongoing Life of the Brooklyn Army Terminal
by David Grider

On the heels of a recent visit to the Brooklyn Army Terminal (BAT), I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Eva Cramer, the leader of
SUNY Downstate's BioBAT Initiative, an ambitious biotechnology program which has joined with a number of other EDC-managed enterprises to bring life back to this Landmark building. It seems a poetic inversion that a building once devoted to the global export of materials of war is now being positioned to export ideas & materials that cure & heal.

And in this regard, I caught a detail: the original renderings of the Cass Gilbert designed project, from 1919, were delineated by none other than Hugh Ferriss, a virtual unknown at the time who would later become the hand of urban setbacks and mood, and who in 1929 published a collection of renderings including Night in the Science Zone accompanied by the following passage. Reflecting upon its publishing just ten years after the horrors of WWI (117,000 Americans killed) and on the eve of the Great Depression, it is an invigorating manifesto of architecture and optimism as we head into Fall:

Buildings like crystal.
Walls of translucent glass.
Sheer glass blocks sheeting a steel grill.
No Gothic branch.
No Acanthus leaf.
No recollections of the plant world.
A mineral kingdom.
Gleaming stalagmites.
Forms as cold as ice.
Mathematics.
Night in the Science zone.


A recent waterside view of the BAT, photo by David Grider


Interior atrium of BAT, photo by David Grider


An empty floor ripe with possibility, photo by David Grider


Hugh Ferriss' 1919 Rendering of BAT from Turner Construction's A Record of War Activities


Hugh Ferriss' 1929 Rendering of Night in the Science Zone

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September 13, 2010
Derelictitron: Kayaking the shipwrecks of the Staten Island Sound
by David Grider

Along the west shore of Staten Island lays a cove of shipwrecks, derelict craft jutting from the water in amazing states of disrepair and framed by views of the Fresh Kills Landfill/Park and a pair of enormous (and apparently abandoned) LPG tanks. As led (and photographed) by my brother Andrew Grider, we paddled amid the ruins in inflatable kyacks, a powerful contrast between the rusting immobile hulks and our light, flexible, human-powered systems that could be folded into a duffel bag and carted away at the end of the voyage.


Rusting ship & kayak, photo by Andrew Grider


The techtonics of a wooden ferry wreck and red lead paint, photo by Andrew Grider


A rig of unknown purpose assembled from left-over trusses, photo by Andrew Grider

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December 20, 2009 Updated October 21, 2010
William Buckley, Bell Founder

by David Grider

“… so a new bell was cast from the metal of the old one by James Gregory of Cannon Street, the brass founder, who had been in that location since about 1850, being the successor of William Buckley, the bell founder.”

-   History of New York Ship Yards, John Harrison Morrison, 1909

Buckley Bell: Halifax, Virginia
While there is no direct evidence of it, it seems likely that William Buckley cast the original Mechanic’s Bell in 1834, and this is why Gregory was given the recasting commission in 1880. Thanks to Mr. Douglas Powell, the Historian for the
Halifax United Methodist Church, we now have evidence of Buckley’s bell handiwork. Mr. Powell wrote to me:

Our church bell shows the name "W. Buckley, New York” as can be seen in the attached image - they must be the same company. Our church was built ca. 1829; we know the bell predated the Civil War, and may even predate the church building to a previous ca. 1818 building.

As a result of Mr. Powell’s note, I again called on Theresa LaBianca, Green-Wood’s Archivist; together, we learned that William Buckley is also interred at Green-Wood, in an unmarked plot that was owned by James Gregory and his siblings. Buckley was interred on Jan 7, 1850, apparently single and aged 68 years. His last residence was 98 Cannon Street, and his birthplace was Ireland. He died of hydrothorax.

It appears that Gregory was a true apprentice of Buckley, not only taking over his business upon his death in 1850, but apparently also possession of his burial plot – heavy responsibility for a 23-year old Gregory.

Bell by William Buckley at Halifax United Methodist Church
Bell by William Buckley at Halifax United Methodist Church, cast in New York City


Buckley Bell: Monroe Township, New Jersey (Oct 21, 2010)
Another Buckley bell has surfaced, this time in Monroe Township, NJ. As described to me by historian John D. Katerba and picked up in this story by MyCentralJersey, the 70lb brass bell was found in the ruins of a building that had burned to the ground in the 1870s. The site was at the original crossroads of Bordentown Turnpike, and had been occupied by Mr. James Buckelew, the founder of Jamestown, NJ.

As for the bell itself, it’s mounting and purpose is for the moment unknown; all we can say with some certainty is that it was born on the Lower East Side.

Bell by William Buckley, Monroe Township, NJ
Bell by William Buckley recovered in Monroe Township, NJ by John D. Katerba.

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October 11, 2009
James Gregory and the Dreamland Bell
by David Grider

“The silver watch of the ringer and the silver tones of the bell still linger in the memories of thousands of American shipwrights”

- The Old Shipbuilders of New York, Harpers Magazine, July 1882

James Gregory, the fabricator of the recently recovered Dreamland Bell, ran a brass foundry at the corner of Cannon and Stanton Street in Manhattan, and is known to us principally because, in 1880, he cast the Mechanic’s Bell.

Marked simply “Mechanic’s Bell - Gregory – New York 1880”, it had a storied history. As fully described to me by Pat Prescott, the resource librarian at The Webb Institute, the bell was a triumph of The New York Journeymen’s Shipwright’s and Caulker’s Benevolent Society, rung by the workers of Manhattan’s 19th century shipyards to mark the 10-hour day they had won from owners accustomed to working them much longer. The bell was initially installed in 1831, recast and enlarged in 1834, and when it cracked in 1880, Gregory melted and recast it. 

Mechanic's Bell in 1845
View of original placement of Mechanic's Bell looking SE toward the East River, NYC, 1845

As the shipyards declined and left the city, it lost its purpose and was donated to the Webb’s Academy and Home for Shipbuilders in 1897. It remained in their custody until WWII, when to aide the war effort it was melted for scrap.

The Dreamland Bell, marked “James Gregory – New York - 1885” appears to have been a virtual twin to the Mechanic’s Bell. Five years younger, of approximately the same size, and in a similar four-sided framed mount, it stood at the end of the Coney Island’s New Iron Pier to announce the arrivals of steamships. It was in active duty until the 1911 Dreamland Fire. But where fire would consume its older sibling, for the Dreamland Bell it was a savior, burning the pier out from under it, allowing it to fall into the safety of the sea.

The 1885 Dreamland Bell as recovered by Gene Ritter in 2009
The 1885 Dreamland Bell as recovered by Gene Ritter in 2009

With its recovery, the fates of both bells were now known; but it was unclear what happened to Gregory himself.

We found tantalizing clues using Google Books: he was mentioned in an 1853 catalog; in 1861, he cast a part for the USS Monitor and was cataloged in Trow’s New York; in 1871, he was given an honorable mention for a gong and contributed $25 to the Chicago Relief & Aide Society for victims of the great fire; on Feb 5, 1889 his foundry was visited by the fire department.

But with nothing conclusive about his fate, I followed a hunch: I reached out to The Green-Wood Cemetery.

Green-Wood is a 478 acre National Historic Landmark in the heart of Brooklyn, a beautiful, active cemetery that was created in 1838 and is still serving as a cultural repository and final resting place for much of New York’s history.

Theresa LaBianca, Green-Wood’s Archivist, worked with me for many days to see if any of their James Gregorys was the right one. Addresses were compared, dates reviewed, grave sites checked, but still nothing conclusive.

Then Theresa’s fax arrived: “Eureka!” she proclaimed, and included a copy of a letter on James Gregory’s letterhead (“Brass Bronze and Composition Castings”), addressed to Green-Wood, dated Sept 25 1888, with instructions for his family plot.

James Gregory Letterhead
James Gregory Letterhead

I soon stood in front of his tomb, a marble slab inscribed with text as simple and direct as his bells. He rests in Brooklyn, next to his wife, among the shipbuilders and Coney Islanders within Green-Woods gates, and about 5 miles from the Dreamland Bell. His firm appears to have carried on for several years past his death, run in part by his brother William, but this is a story for another day.

James Gregory Tomb at Green Wood Cemetery
James Gregory's Tomb at The Green-Wood Cemetery

So here is Gregory removing the Dreamland Bell from its loam mold; and here, 124 years later, is diver Gene Ritter, wrestling the bell from the ocean sand in a similar act of revelation. With the help of the Coney Island History Project, it now travels Brooklyn, protected from oxidation (and perhaps fire) by a continuous sheet of water, representing layers of history extraordinarily rich and deep.

But history and time dissolve in the right-now joy of pulling the clapper and ringing the Dreamland Bell, hearing the peals that Gregory and almost three decades of Coney visitors would have, and being in the immediate presence of it's silver tones.

My sincere thanks to Gene Ritter, of Cultural Resource Divers, and Tricia Vita, of the Coney Island History Project, for inviting me to join their adventure.


SE corner of Cannon and Stanton Street, NYC, 1938
Vicinity of James Gregory' Shop, corner of Cannon and Stanton Street looking toward the East River, as it appeared in 1938.Everything visible in this image (and much more) was torn down to build Baruch Houses - just one of dozens of superblock projects executed by the NYCHA. The scale of condemnation, displacement and demolition employed in support of NYC's mid-20th century housing projects is staggering. (Photo courtesy NYCHA Archives)


NW corner of Cannon and Stanton Street, NYC, 1953
NW corner of Cannon and Stanton Street as it appeared in 1953 (Photo courtesy NYCHA Archives)



Composite of Google Earth imagery and 1879 Bromley Map (courtesy www.davidrumsey.com) indicating site of James Gregory's shop and the original location of the Mechanics' Bell. Note proximity to other machine shops and industrial uses, notably the Aetna Iron Works, suppliers of the engines for the USS Dunderberg as built by William H. Webb's shipyards (a few blocks north at East 6th Street) in 1865. Thomas Edison bought Aetna in 1881 to form the Edison Machine Works and for eight years produced the world's most advanced electrical power machinery before decamping to Schenectady in 1888. By 1893 Gregory's shop had become a coat & clothing manufacturer; by 1915 through at least 1941 a movie theater; and, by 1959, condemned and razed by the NYCHA to build the Baruch Houses.)


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Previous Posts:

Battle of Trenton: The Revolution Will Not Be Reenacted

MS Nutcracker: NYC Happy Holidays

Abstract Expression: Deconstruction in a Cast Iron Loft

Civic Virtue: Fountain as Social Movement

WTC Lights: NYC Happy Holidays

Playground of the World: Coney Island's Beach after Hurricane Sandy

F-POPS: Hoop for your POPS

Camouflage: In Defense of the Eisenhower Memorial Tapestries

Building Information Modeling: Damage Control

US Navy Fleet Supply Base: From Bunkers to BrightFarms

6 1/2 Avenue: The Big Picture

The Radical Geometry of Leonardo da Vinci

Fort Wadsworth: The Visitor Center Catch-22

Underemployment: Telephone Exchange Buildings

Means of Egress: 7 hours on the Tarmac

Defying Gravity: Hair & Structure

SULSA and Vickers Wellington: When will we print a building?

Arcade Parade: The dedication of Holly Whyte Way

Galloping Ghost

9/11 Memorial: Avoid Condition

Labor Day: Observations from the New York State Fair

The Lavanburg Foundation: Requiem and Beyond

James Gregory Bell: Shinnecock Coast Guard Station

WTC: Site Visit

MTA Nostalgia Train: Unstoppable!

New York City and the Nation at War: 1917

The Dream of Industry: Bush Terminal

Veterans Day: The Running Gear of the USS Intrepid

The Stacks of the Gould Memorial Library

On Being Direct: Unloading an 18-wheeler in Arkansas

Preservation & Climate Change: How a Train Grew in Brooklyn

Report: The New East River Science Park (& Mall?)

Introduction to Building Information Modeling, 1940s style!

The Great Hall: Wallace K. Harrison, ArcAttack, and the resuscitation of Architecture

The Ongoing Life of the Brooklyn Army Terminal

Derelictitron: Kayaking the shipwrecks of the Staten Island Sound

William Buckley, Bell Founder Updated Oct 21, 2010

James Gregory and the Dreamland Bell

Other blogs we enjoy:

A Daily Dose of Architecture

Failure Magazine

Design Observer

No Tech

Core 77

Doors of Perception

Engadget

SlashDot




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