Sarah Wesseler


Sustainability on Roosevelt Island: How Morphosis and Arup Are Making Cornell's Bloomberg Center Net Zero

© Cornell University / Kilograph
© Cornell University / Kilograph

When the first images of Cornell University's new campus on Roosevelt Island were unveiled last year, the First Academic Building (now known as the Bloomberg Center) was highlighted as a design driven by sustainability. In this interview, originally published by Arup's newly-revamped online magazine Arup Doggerel as "Net zero learning," Sarah Wesseler talks to members of the team from Morphosis, Arup and Cornell about how they designed the building to be one of the most sustainable education facilities in the world.

For its new tech-focused New York City campus, Cornell University set out to create one of America’s most sustainable university centers. With the net zero Bloomberg Center now in construction, I interviewed three leaders of the design team — Diana Allegretti, Assistant Director for Design and Construction at Cornell; Ung Joo Scott Lee, a principal at Morphosis; and Tom Rice, a structural engineer and project manager at Arup.

Bloomberg Center exterior rendering. Image © Morphosis Architects © Cornell University / Kilograph Bloomberg Center exterior rendering. Image © Cornell University / Kilograph © Cornell University / Kilograph + 14

Inequality and Informality in New York: SITU Studio's Proposal for MoMA's Uneven Growth Exhibition

When it comes to discussing informal housing, it's usually cities in developing nations that take the spotlight - however, as revealed by SITU Studio's contribution to MoMA's Uneven Growth exhibition, issues of informal housing are indeed present in cities across the spectrum of development. In this interview, originally posted on Arup Connect as "Inequality and informality in New York," Sarah Wesseler speaks to SITU Studio principle Bradley Samuels about their unconventional proposal to address an issue that is frequently overlooked in New York city policy.

Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities, a newly opened exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, focuses on the complex relationship between urbanization and inequality. Over the 14-month period leading up to the launch, six interdisciplinary teams explored how these issues are playing out in different parts of the world, each developing an architectural response for a specific city.

Architecture firm SITU Studio (together with Cohabitation Strategies [CohStra]) was tasked with studying its home city, New York. (Arup transport planner Michael Amabile also consulted with the team.) We spoke with SITU principal Bradley Samuels about the project.

SITU documentation of shared housing in East New York, Brooklyn. Image © Jeyhoun Allebaugh SITU documentation of Jackson Heights apartment shared by nine people. Image © Jeyhoun Allebaugh Heat map of illegal conversions. Image © New York City Department of Buildings Drawing showing proposal for implementation of incremental community-driven growth. Image © SITU Studio + 10

When Buildings React: An Interview with MIT Media Lab's Joseph Paradiso

Responsive Environment lab "Chain mail" project ("a flexible, high-density sensor network"). Image Courtesy of MIT Media Lab
Responsive Environment lab "Chain mail" project ("a flexible, high-density sensor network"). Image Courtesy of MIT Media Lab

Not so far in the future, smartphones and laptops will go the way of the beeper and fax machine, fading into obsolescence. Soon, according to MIT Media Lab's Joseph Paradiso, we will interface with the physical world via wearable technologies that continually exchange information with sensors embedded all around us.

Paradiso has been at the forefront of these developments for decades, exploring new applications for sensor networks in everything from music (he will lead a presentation of the lab’s musical innovations later this month at Moogfest) to baseball. In recent years, his group’s research has focused increasingly on smart buildings. I spoke with him about the implications of his work for the future of architecture and the built environment.

You run the Responsive Environments group at the Media Lab. Can you describe some of your work in the building realm?

Fixing a Road in Johannesburg: 26'10 South Architects on Informal Architecture

This interview first appeared in Assembly, a new magazine that ArchDaily contributor Sarah Wesseler is working on.

According to the United Nations, 1 billion people currently live in slums. Over the next two decades, this figure is expected to double. In recent years, slums (also known, more neutrally, as informal settlements) have increasingly attracted positive attention from academics and design professionals impressed by their efficient deployment of scarce resources, community-based orientation, and entrepreneurial vitality. Architect Rem Koolhaas celebrated the slums of Nigeria in his 2008 book Lagos: How It Works, while Teddy Cruz has become well known for his work with shantytowns on the U.S.-Mexico border. And no less a traditionalist than design enthusiast Prince Charles, prone to harsh public attacks on contemporary architecture, has championed Dharavi, the Mumbai neighborhood portrayed in Slumdog Millionaire, praising its “underlying, intuitive ‘grammar of design’” in a 2009 speech.

Detractors claim that these and similar attempts to examine the slums through the lens of design romanticize poverty and ignore the sociopolitical forces responsible for their creation and proliferation. However, although some projects involving informal design are doubtless better conceived than others, in general there can be no real question that it is appropriate for architects and planners to concern themselves with a phenomenon fundamentally tied to design-related issues such as land use, infrastructure, and materials. And given the failure of so many top-down modernist schemes for housing the poor over the past century, it is logical for the profession to turn its attention to a housing model which continues to mushroom organically around the globe: the shantytown.

An ongoing research project being carried out by 26’10 South Architects, a young South African firm headed by husband-and-wife architects Thorsten Deckler and Anne Graupner, provides an interesting look into this type of work. The couple have spent the past year and a half studying the spatial dynamics of Diepsloot, a Johannesburg suburb created in 1994 to house the poor. Today, approximately three-quarters of Diepsloot’s residents live in slums.

The interview after the break.

AD Interviews: Scot Horst

LEED Platinum: Water+Life Museum Campus / Hemet, California / Lehrer + Gangi Design + Build (image courtesy Benny Chan w/ Fotoworks)
LEED Platinum: Water+Life Museum Campus / Hemet, California / Lehrer + Gangi Design + Build (image courtesy Benny Chan w/ Fotoworks)

Over the past decade, sustainable design has been transformed from a fringe movement to big business. However, given the sheer scale of the environmental damage caused by the built environment, it’s clear that far more must be done. To prevent future catastrophes, the industry must both scale up its green initiatives and increase their effectiveness.

On the quantity front, the entity most responsible for the explosion of green building is LEED. Developed in 2000 by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), the voluntary project rating system has won over the industry by providing both a convenient set of guidelines for sustainable practices and a clear marketing incentive for designers and firms to go green (or at least appear to).

AD Interviews: Paint and Architectural History, Natasha Loeblich

Sample BRS14, visible light, 100x magnification
Sample BRS14, visible light, 100x magnification

Architectural paint analyst Natasha Loeblich traces the histories of structures from such as the Revolutionary War-era buildings at Colonial Williamsburg, by studying what’s on their walls. I spoke to her about her work and the field.

AD Interviews: Michael Kubo on Architectural Publishing

For the past month, Boston’s experimental design exhibition space Pinkcomma Gallery has hosted Publishing Practices, an exploration of architectural publishing throughout the last century. Designed by architect and editor Michael Kubo in conjunction with gallery directors (and fellow architects) Mark Pasnik and Chris Grimley, the exhibit provides an in-depth look into the relationship between reading, writing, and design.

I spoke with Michael Kubo about the exhibit and its history.

AD Interviews: David Schalliol

© David Schalliol
© David Schalliol

While working toward a PhD in sociology at the University of Chicago, David Schalliol has spent several years examining the built environment of his adopted city both as an academic and an artist. In photographic studies such as his Isolated Building Series, Schalliol highlights the relationships between architecture, history, and policy, focusing in particular on the city’s historically underprivileged South Side neighborhoods.

After the break, you can read an interview we made to David a few days ago.

Architects' Book Collections Featured in Unpacking My Library

Steven Holl's library © Carlos Solis
Steven Holl's library © Carlos Solis

Through February 2010, New York’s Urban Center Books is exploring the relationship between architecture and print with Unpacking My Library, an exhibition of the book collections of prominent New York architects such as Steven Holl and Michael Sorkin.

AD Interviews: Kieran Timberlake

Stewart Middle School, Sidwell Friends School © Halkin Photography LLC
Stewart Middle School, Sidwell Friends School © Halkin Photography LLC

Interview conducted, condensed + edited by Sarah Wesseler

What do research and development mean in today’s design field? To learn more about architectural R&D, I turned to KieranTimberlake, a Philadelphia-based firm that has earned wide acclaim for its innovative work in arenas such as prefabrication and sustainable design. Partner Stephen Kieran and research director Billie Faircloth spoke with me about the history and practice of the firm’s in-house research team.

FlyNY: Kite-Wielding Architects Descend on New York

For generations, architects have helped shape the New York skyline into one of the most remarkable sights in the world. This spring, they will add hundreds of new forms to the city’s silhouette—only this time, they’ll do it with kites.

On May 9th, architects, designers, artists, and assorted kite lovers will converge on Manhattan’s Riverside Park for the first annual FlyNY, an international kite design competition. Participants will put their designs to the test before a panel of judges including, among others, architect Michael Sorkin, Surface magazine co founder Riley Johndonnell, and Queens Museum of Art curator Erin Sickler. The top three designs will be featured in an article in the June issue of Metropolis magazine, and all winning kites will be auctioned off at a party in Chelsea on May 28, with proceeds benefiting Architecture for Humanity.

Building on Canvas: Sarah McKenzie and the New American Landscape

In recent years, the art world has played host to a number of lively explorations of architecture and the built environment. (In 2006, The New Yorker went so far as to snipe, “Painting about architecture has become popular to the point of excess, much the way seventies artists went overboard on the cube.”) By looking at architecture through the lenses of politics, psychology, humor, and more, artists have been helping to enrich the conversation about the field.

Last week I sat down with painter Sarah McKenzie, who was in New York for the opening of her new show, Building Code, to discuss her thoughts on art and architecture. McKenzie, who first came to public attention for her aerial views of suburban developments, currently uses images of construction sites as her source material.

The interview after the break.