Correcting the RECORD: NEW YORK GETS A NEW GATEWAY

Correcting the RECORD: NEW YORK GETS A NEW GATEWAY

HISTORY IS NOT ALWAYS kind to great design. What seems like sure-footed progress in one era can often look more like series of missteps with additional hindsight and changing values. We’ve all seen renovations that only made things worse, robbing a property of its original charm, mistreating historical materials, or simply ruining the romance of a space.

However, what happened to New York’s Pennsylvania Station in 1963 stands alone as a crime against architecture. Its decapitation to make way for the new Madison Square Garden overhead—was so regrettable that it launched the historical preservation movement in the United States.

After more than five decades, New York is still reckoning with the legacy of the loss. However, in January 2021, the city partially healed an architectural wound with the opening of the Moynihan Train Hall. The result of a $1.6 billion conversion of a historic post office facility, the project finally returned a worthy threshold to one of the city’s busiest transit hubs through a little creative problem-solving and a commitment to civic grandeur.

Many young New Yorkers would be shocked to learn that Pennsylvania Station—a rundown and cramped punchline of a place with its low ceilings and confusing underground tunnels—once rivaled Grand Central Terminal in majesty. But when it was completed in 1910, Pennsylvania Station was an absolute marvel, spreading over two city blocks and flanked by dozens of elegant columns.

Designed by McKim, Mead, and White, the Beaux-Arts icon, when it opened it was the largest indoor space in the city, rivaling St. Peter’s Basilica in scale. Modeled after the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, the station’s immense, light-filled main waiting room had a 150-foot ceiling, welcoming travelers to the city with a generous and impressive flourish.

However, as rail travel fell out of favor and the city’s priorities shifted, Pennsylvania Station gradually lost its luster. The building’s pink granite had taken on the grime of the city and haphazard maintenance left the building a shadow of its former self. By the 1950s, the Pennsylvania Railroad was seeking a buyer for the building’s air rights, citing upkeep costs for the massive complex.

But when the wrecking balls came in 1963, the citizens found themselves shocked by the station’s perfunctory destruction. When a New York Times photographer captured one of the building’s sculptures in a New Jersey landfill, regret came quickly. Within two years, the city passed a landmarks preservation act, which would save Grand Central Terminal and prevent the destruction of countless other historic buildings.

For decades, New Yorkers bemoaned Pennsylvania Station’s lost glory. But serendipitously, Pennsylvania Station wasn’t the only massive Beaux-Arts building in the neighborhood. McKim, Mead, and White had also designed the James A. Farley Building, which still stands on Eighth Avenue. Originally meant to adjoin and complement the station, the complex served as a mail-sorting hall with direct access to some of the tracks.

Throughout the 1990s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late Senator from New York, began lobbying to repurpose a section of the Farley Building as a new train hall. In 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo seized the reins of the project and deputized Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to perform the conversion. Despite the pandemic, the project came across the finish line early and under budget, opening on the first day of 2021

The result is breathtaking—an optimistic and audacious combination of historical splendor and smart modern design. With its ample public space, retail tenants, and handsome waiting areas with walnut benches, it’s sure to become a destination for Instagram tourists looking to capture the New York of tomorrow.

The train hall’s stunning glass ceiling boasts exposed steel trusses and four bulbous vault sections that jut dramatically into the sky. And in the heart of it all is a beautiful Art Deco clock, reminiscent of an era when we looked up for the time instead of squirreling for our phone in our pockets and purses.

While the Moynihan Train Hall isn’t a full replacement for Pennsylvania Station, it gestures in the right direction: ahead. Talks are already underway to connect the building with the High Line pedestrian park and a long-planned initiative promises to extend the regional Metro-North railway system to the west side of Manhattan.

While Pennsylvania Station will never match its former glory, it could still return to its former prominence as old ideas—like rail travel and prominent civic spaces—come back into style once again.

Originally Published in:

THE NETWORK / MAY – JUNE 2021 – Amazing Buildings

Gold Medal in Accessibility: the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum

Gold Medal in Accessibility: the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum

For decades, Colorado Springs has been a city defined by its prominent institutions. Home to the United States Air Force Academy, the city has seen the proliferation and gradual downsizing of massive industries, including dozens of prominent defense contractors and some of the country’s largest high-tech manufacturers. But the city also has another identity altogether.

With a mild climate, mountainous terrain, and high altitude, Colorado Springs prides itself as an ideal training ground. Home to the Pikes Peak Marathon, a grueling trial run with nearly 8,000 feet of vertical climb, Colorado Springs is a place that rewards the hardy and the tough—which is perhaps why it’s become a headquarters to those seeking Olympic glory. 

Known as Olympic City, USA, Colorado Springs is home to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Training Center, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, and 24 national federations for individual Olympic sports. The result is a city flourishing with sports therapists, fitness companies, and athletic administrators. And each year, approximately 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls will make the pilgrimage to Colorado to condition, hone their skills, and grow stronger. 

For tourists drawn to Colorado Springs for its world-class hiking and natural beauty, an Olympic attraction is an easy sell. More than 140,000 visitors already flock to the Olympic Training Center each year, touring the extensive complex that can host up to 500 top-tier athletes and coaches at any given time. 

And so, Colorado Springs was also the natural fit to host a dedicated attraction that honors the efforts and accomplishments of Team USA: the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum (USOPM).

Opened in July 2020, the complex was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who also helmed the extensive, $450 million renovation of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Compared to MoMA, USOPM is a far humbler affair at $91 million and 60,000 square feet. However, its influence could be just as monumental. 

Made up of two structures and an adjoining amphitheater-like plaza, the USOPM complex sits on the edge of Colorado Springs, ready to attract Olympic enthusiasts and architectural tourists alike. 

The main building’s elegant, origami-like shape is intended to evoke both nearby Pikes Peak and an athlete in motion. Clad in 9,000 entirely-unique reflective aluminum panels, the building feels simultaneously rounded and angular, the taut drape of the facade forming a kind of architectural spandex over four petal-like volumes. The building stretches upward like a runner in starting position, an abstract but recognizably athletic form. From above, the structure is modeled after a spinning discus-thrower. 

However, the most remarkable thing about the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum is its pioneering devotion to universal accessibility. Every effort has been made to accommodate visitors of all capabilities, ensuring total ADA compliance and developing the museum’s content in ways that reach all visitors. 

Exhibit cases take multiple viewing heights into account, ensuring those in wheelchairs get the full benefit of the displays. And guests are issued RFID-embedded lanyards that enable tailored engagement with interactive exhibits, prompting captions, descriptive audio, or translation where preferred. 

Crucially, though, the museum’s visitors take its journey together—no matter their abilities. Whereas many museums push accessibility features to the margins with afterthought ramps or hidden elevators, the USOPM has planned a common path open to all. Visitors share an elevator ride to the top floor and then descend continuously along a gradual, gentle ramp over its three stories and twelve galleries.

Due to the pandemic, the immediate future of the Olympics is uncertain, with the planned 2020 Tokyo Games pushed to 2021. Questions surround travel, attendance, and how the games themselves can adjust and accommodate the challenges we currently face.

Until we’re able to gather en masse again, the spirit of the Games, along with its icons: torches, medals, and uniforms, are on full display in Colorado Springs, where masked visitors can make their socially distanced way through the museum. In a perhaps-fitting twist, visitors’ RFID lanyards also make things safer in the time of Coronavirus. They enable the museum to monitor guest movement and prevent over-crowding—proof that thoughtful design isn’t merely a matter of altruism or generosity. It’s also our best way forward. 

Originally Published in:

THE NETWORK / MARCH – APRIL 2021 – Amazing Buildings

Celebrating the Carver Theater

Celebrating the Carver Theater

The Carver Theater, named after George Washington Carver, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1950, this state-of-the-art theater for African-Americans in New Orleans hosted bands, shows, and community events. In its heyday, the Theater was a magnificent building serving as a cultural center bringing people together. The Carver was retired as a movie theater in 1980. The theater sustained heavy water damage during Hurricane Katrina, Yet, the building was completely renovated by Perez and opened in 2014 after the $8 million renovation. #weareperez celebrating #blackhistorymonth

TODAY

Claiborne Avenue Civil Rights Memorial

Claiborne Avenue Civil Rights Memorial

Perez was on the design team for aesthetic and site/civil improvements (landscape, lighting, storm drainage) to a length of the 80-foot wide median along South Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans, extending for a one mile stretch from Napoleon Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. One day during the design phase, Landscape Architect Brandon Adams was standing at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial on MLK Boulevard and noticed the list of 9 other individuals that had lost their lives as a result of their involvement with the Civil Rights Movement.  At that time, Mr. Adams decided to propose at a community meeting that a design of a memorial for those nine leaders be included in the project. The final design included a curvilinear walkway, lined with Date Palm trees, leading from the existing Martin Luther King Jr. memorial to a new memorial structure dedicated to the nine Civil Rights advocates. The memorial designed by Brandon Adams of Perez contains text describing the life of each person and their contributions inscribed in precast concrete panels on the ground level under a concrete and steel structure. The project was completed in 2014. Thanks to the design team lead All South Consulting Engineers, LLC; New Orleans Department of Public Works; New Orleans Regional Planning Commission; US Army Corps of Engineers; and Landscape Architects Brandon Adams, Johanna Leibe, Charlotte Cox.

Gambit Article on the Memorial

Bojangles Park of Harlem

Bojangles Park of Harlem

“Perez is proud to be associated with Brandon Adams PLA, the Landscape Architect that designed the renovation of the Bojangles Park in Harlem for the NYC Parks and Recreation back in 1992. The renovated park was published in Landscape Architecture Magazine soon after completion. The photographic mural of Bill Bojangles Robinson, designed by Mr. Adams, has been designated a New York City Monument. The Park was recently refurbished, with the refurbishment design done in-house by the NYC Parks & Recreation. They did not change much of Brandon’s original design. The ribbon-cutting happened on December 11, 2020.  The following is a link to an article on the renovation and opening. #blackhistorymonth #weareperez

NOMA Louisiana celebrates Mr. Lonnie Hewitt, Jr.

NOMA Louisiana celebrates Mr. Lonnie Hewitt, Jr.

NOMA Louisiana celebrates the legacy and mourns the loss, of one of our chapter’s founders and longest-standing supporters. Mr. Lonnie Hewitt, Jr. last week passed away at the age of 75 due to complications of COVID-19.

Born in New Orleans in 1946, Hewitt attended L.B. Landry High School in Algiers, graduating in 1964, and the Southern University School of Architecture in Baton Rouge, graduating in 1969. In 1978, he partnered with James Washington to form Hewitt-Washington and Associates, a partnership whose architectural and planning work can be found throughout the city of New Orleans and south Louisiana. The firm’s bold postmodern buildings house businesses and civic institutions like public schools, libraries, churches, and the Regional Transit Authority, while its contributions to planning projects like the 1984 World’s Fair, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, and the Moonwalk enhanced New Orleans’ civic realm. Mr. Hewitt was a mentor to dozens of minority architects, including many past and present members of NOMA Louisiana, and a passionate advocate for minority representation in his field.  

A more complete account of Mr. Hewitt’s life and legacies can be found in these obituaries published in the Times-Picayune Advocate and in New Orleans CityBusiness. Mr. Hewitt’s family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations in his memory be made to NOMA Louisiana Project Pipeline