Originallly posted December 9, 2010 on interiordesign.net
Roosevelt Island, formerly Welfare Island, has a rich and unusual architectural history. As an island next to a metropolis, it was used during the nineteenth century to sequester the insane and the infirm. (For a treatment of the cultural basis of such insanity, see Michel Foucault’s seminal “Madness and Civilization”). The dominant structures were Andrew Jackson Davis’ 1839 NYC Lunatic Asylum, which included the still-standing Octagon, and James Renwick’s 1856 Smallpox Hospital. Also included was a workhouse built in 1852 that continued to house petty criminals until the completion of the jail at Riker’s Island.
The shift from institutional to residential brutalism began in 1969, with the leasing of the island to NY State’s Urban Development Corp. (UDC). From the beginning of the lease, the island became a planned community, expressing modernist architectural concerns with housing and planning, as well as appearance. Philip Johnson and John Burgee contributed the plan, which created housing for 20,000 mid-income residents, such as teachers, under the aegis of Mitchell-LAMA.
A walk around the grounds of the Riverview and Eastwood apartments puts one in mind of Corbusier in Marseilles, or Oscar Niemeyer in Brazil. The direct connection here is Jose Luis Sert, who designed the Eastwood, completed in 1975. The Spanish-born Sert, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design at the time, was a protégé of Corbusier, and worked on urban planning projects in Latin America before landing at Harvard. The lead architect of the Riverview, John Johansen, was himself a 1939 graduate of the Harvard program, and a member of the Harvard Five, along with Philip Johnson. If not intellectually surprising, then, the striking modernist vistas at Roosevelt Island are nonetheless unexpected. The buildings themselves reflect the austere geometry of the International Style–boxes and rectangles–but tempered for human needs, including the need for visual diversity. The step-backs and ample fenestration provide panoramic views of the river and the City; a walkway with benches loops the island; both the Eastwood and Riverview have indoor pools.
As for the appearance, it is textbook Brutalism: texture, pattern, and color temper the structural geometry. Beton brut–raw concrete–is the dominant material, followed by brick, slate, colored ceramic tile, and painted metal. Elements such as the painted tubular ducts, reminiscent of a ship, add nautical local flavor. The colors–orange, yellow, blue–recall Corbusier, as does the use of pilots.
A close look at exterior detailing reveals a tapestry of pattern, material, shape, and color, such as at the entrance to the Rivercross. Even a view up the façade shows a juxtaposition of line and shape, horizontals and verticals that change with the light and weather. The interiors of both buildings feature orange and yellow tiles, and spare but warm furnishings mixing wood and metal with leather and fabric. Highly textured concrete walls in the recently restored Rivercross become visual features. Unfortunately, I was not encouraged to photograph the interior at Rivercross, or I’d be sharing those images here. I’m not sure what type of reception you can expect, but it is worth a trip on the tram to look at these two buildings, and to experience the quirky and somewhat quixotic architectural moment of 1970’s Brutalism.
There is no simple way to respond to this, and no way to summarize all the different things that all architects do. We basically spend our days resolving problems in creative and innovative ways.
But the term “architect” is used to encompass many types of architects. Architects in larger firms tend to specialize in two ways (smaller firms tend to have architects that play more than one of these). First by role in a project/office. There are designers, planners, technical, managers, business developers, and others depending on the firm focus. Second by typology. There are residential, commercial, education, healthcare, institutional and many other types of architects.
So I haven’t been answering a lot of asks and that’s kind of just because the amount of energy I have to do so has been very low because of how many really difficult things have been going on. However, one of my big problems is about to be solved! My girlfriend was committed to a residential mental health institution a little over a week ago, and I’ve been worried sick about her. But tomorrow she’s finally getting out. I’m so happy right now!! I realize this isn’t at all related to the blog, but it’s a big enough change in my life right now that I felt like I should tell you all about it since honestly y'all are the best.
Letchworth Village was a residential institution in New York that at its peak consisted of more than 130 buildings and over 4,000 inhabitants. While it was at first praised as a state-of-the-art institution, reports of abuse and maltreatment began to filter out. Irving Haberman took a set of photographs that exposed the true nature of the institution: It was severely overcrowded, the patients were often malnourished and sick, feces and other wastes littered the floors, and many patients were unclothed, unbathed, and altogether neglected. Patients were given medicine from the same spoon, and many who were fed by the staff ended up choking to death on what little food they received.
It wasn’t just the patients who suffered there; many staff members also reported being abused by co-workers, including accusations of rape.
Many patients are buried without names, and some believe they may still walk the halls: Those who have explored the abandoned and dilapidated buildings report a range of paranormal phenomena.
New York City is one of the most walkable cities in the country, and over half of the city’s households don’t have a car. But what does it mean to be a “walkable” city? Even in NYC, neighborhoods vary in how walkable they are, and a recent NYC Health report also reveals that the walkability of a neighborhood can affect the physical activity rates of local residents.
In 2011, NYC Health conducted the Physical Activity Transit (PAT) Survey to understand whether neighborhood design is linked to patterns of physical activity in local residents. The survey and report defined walkable neighborhoods as having high intersection density, high residential density, a mix of residential, commercial, recreational and institutional land uses, few retail stores set back behind parking lots, and good access to public transit.
The report used a “walkability index” to measure and score neighborhood walkability. The results ranked Manhattan as the most walkable borough, followed by Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island.
The report also showed that New Yorkers who live in very highly walkable neighborhoods are more likely to be physically active than those living in low walkability neighborhoods, averaging 100 more minutes of physical activity per week. This difference translates to 690 verses 1200 calories burned per work, a large enough difference to impact obesity rates.