in the Public Realm
Want to receive the CultureNOW newsletter in your e-mail inbox? Click here to sign up for our mailing list!

Previous Newsletters Vol. 3 Issue 10 - October, 2013

We at cultureNOW are professional volunteers. We seem to be genetically programmed to be helpful which kicks in whenever anyone solicits our advice. Since we are pushovers, we find that we are continuously being offered previously unimagined opportunities for supporting many truly worthy causes while portfolio building, networking, enhancing social skills and improving civic awareness at the same time. Whatever objection we might raise is instantly dismissed as a trifling inconvenience. Should we face scheduling challenges, clever solutions for more optimal time management are presented so that we can do our day jobs while still completing the tasks that they require. Compensation is barely mentioned. We know that funds are tight, budgets stretched, grants nonexistent, expenses barely reimbursed. Maintaining good interpersonal relations is of fundamental importance in our lives. We are not social scientists, but we have noticed that the degree to which our colleagues are aimiable correlates with the amount of pain and suffering it will require for us to satisfy their desires to their exacting standards.

Our resumes overflow with accomplishments: committees we have served on, brochures we have created, books we have reviewed, articles we have written, programs we have organized, tours we have run, maps we have made. We are now so well rounded, that no one has a clue as to what we can actually do. We have considerable trouble explaining it ourselves. This is the time of year chock full of pro bono opportunities. We are naturally proud to have been chosen to be one of the 53 cultural organizations participating in Archtober. We have been promoted to being the 'official app', a designation that sets a high bar. Our fingers are numb from typing the hundreds of events we struggle to list. We are equally delighted to be part of openhousenewyork. Yesterday we hosted a tour of the Forgotton Heroes of the Revolutionary War in Lower Manhattan where wreaths were laid at Trinity Cemetary. And the month is still young.

Since we can't explain our career path in a sound bite, we wondered who can. We thought we should look at the Archtober participants and see who is better at packaging themselves when they have a wide range of work that blurs traditional boundaries. We have never met an architect who didn't think they could design everything from a teaspoon to a city. Calvin Tsao and Zack McKown are one of the few firms who have actually done it. Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi have been exploring the borders between buildings and landscape in a way that embraces both disciplines. Our artists too easily move between art, landscape and architecture. James Wines started S.I.T.E (Sculpture in the Environment) in the 70's with a series of art projects that transcended their suburban settings. Wopo Holup draws rivers on paper, but also in terrazzo and metal which are often incorporated into the buildings themselves. We're also featuring Indianapolis Art collections. Like most cities, art collections are owned and managed by various municipal agencies. Separately, there are many entities that commission and manage public art in the city, Indianapolis promotes it through The Arts Council of Indianapolis which gives it more gravitas.

Abby Suckle, President


When we made a public art map of Manhattan in 2007, we discovered art everywhere. It is in parks, civic buildings, educational institutions, hospitals, incorporated into infrastructure, as well as in museums. Pieces are both commissioned and maintained in many ways. Jurisdictions overlap. We tried to document it all; it took us three years. We got to 1700 artworks and it's probably incomplete.

We have nothing but sympathy with cities who try and coordinate their cultural richness. That is why we were delighted to showcase the approach that Indianapolis is taking to try and unify everything under a single umbrella because we think it can be a model for other municipalities. In total there are about 275 works of art in the city. There are 21 collections with the bulk of the work owned by Arts Council of Indianapolis, the City of Indianapolis, the International Airport Authority, the Universities, State House, Museums and Indianapolis Cultural Trail. There are also six cultural districts in the city.

Crescendo is the implementation of the Indianapolis Art Center’s first National Endowment for the Arts grant. Midnight Flight is one of 14 glass panels Martin Donlin installed at the airport which feature poems by Indiana poets, and Prairie Modules 1 & 2 by M12 was commissioned for the Indianapolis Cultural Trail and constructed in partnership with Indianapolis Power and Light.

Crescendo (2012) Beth Nybeck
Indianapolis, IN, Photo © courtesy of the artist

Midnight Flight (2008) Martin Donlin, Indianapolis Airport Authority Collection, Photo © Arts Council of Indianapolis

Birth of Flight (2010) Todd Frahm , Indianapolis Airport Authority Collection Photo © Arts Council of Indianapolis

Prairie Modules 1 & 2(2010) M12
Arts Council of Indianapolis, Photo © M12


James Wines is the poster child for not easy to pigeonhole careers. He began as an artist in the late 60's and started a firm called S.I.T.E. (Sculpture in the Environment) in then edgy Soho. One of the first real commissions that they had was for the Ghost Parking Lot in Hamden, CT. It consisted of burying 20 empty automobiles in the front of a suburban strip mall, and covering them with asphalt. It was widely published.

This led to a series of stores for Best Products. At the time Best was similar to Target, a big-box retailer with stores peppered throughout the country. Sydney and Francis Lewis who owned Best Products loved modern art and were enthusiastic about commissioning the showrooms. The idea was to tack a new facade onto the 'ugly and ordinary' stores that would change perceptions about shopping. Walls tilted, facades peeled, there were forests and aquariums to enter through. It worked. The stores generated considerable attention which in turn generated sales. Sadly, almost all of them are gone today; one of the few remaining has been turned into a church.

But in the process of using buildings to create art, S.I.T.E. became an an actual architectural firm and began producing actual buildings. James Wines is now a Tenured Architecture Professor at Penn State who just won the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement. Shake Shack, a kiosk in Madison Square Park which was built to formalize a food cart has helped spawn an industry. Not only is it one of the highest grossing restaurants in Danny Meyer's Union Square Group, it is also a Building of the Day.



When we run walking tours, we notice
that no matter how compelling the topic and how limited the exercise, not everyone remains till the end.

Isuzu Space Station - Children's Plaza Yokohama, Japan (1989) SITE Photo ©James Wines

Shake Shack (2004) SITE,
New York, NY Photo © Peter Mauss/ESTO
Should we be hoping for an audience of 20 at the conclusion; we cap reservations at 80.

Revolutionary War Tours are a whole different baileywick; people are absolutely fascinated by the period and hang onto every word. This Saturday we ran a version of our Midnight July 4th Revolutionary War Tour as part of openhousenewyork.

It culminated in the First Annual New York City Commemoration of the American Victory at the Battles of Saratoga at Trinity Church Cemetary. Our partners were the Peter Minuit Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Sons of the American Revoution, and the National Democratic Club. Even the weather cooperated. And our guide, James Kaplan was knowledgeable and engaging.

Ghost Parking Lot (1978-2003) Hamden, CT,
Photo© James Wines

BEST Indeterminate Facade Building (1975) SITE, Houston, TX
Photo © James Wines


One of our favorite features of Archtober is the Building of the Day. Everyday we celebrate one of the more interesting buildings around the city.

photo © Dan Cornish

Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi

Structural Engineer:
Alexandre Gustav Eiffel
Original Architect (1886):
Richard Morris Hunt
Renovation Architect (2013): Swanke Hayden Connell,
The Office of Thierry Despont

When the Statue was selected to be a Building of the Day , it was to celebrate the post-Sandy renovation. Shuttered with the rest of the National Park Service facilities, it was finally reopened to the public over the weekend with the State of New York footing the bill until the Federal Government is funded again.


photo © William Short

Original Architect (1956):
Frank Lloyd Wright
Renovation Architect (1992):
Gwathmey Siegel & Associates

The Guggenheim has a wonderful collection of original photographs that they made available to us on our app.

photo © Michael Moran

Architect: Toshiko Mori

This is one of the largest galleries and also the furthest north on the 3rd part of the High Line.

Photo © Chuck Choi

Brooklyn Navy Yard Center: Building 92

Original Architect (1857): Thomas Walter
Renovation Architect (2011):
Beyer Blinder Belle

The repurposing of Brooklyn's large former Navy Yard into a national model for sustainable industrial parks has been underway for several years. Originally designed as the Commander's House, it is now an exhibition space.


Yves Klein Saut Dans Le Vide, photo © Harry Shunk

Date: Friday, Archtober 18
Time: 6:30 - 8:30 pm
Location: Center for Architecture

Join us for a conversation between architect Calvin Tsao FAIA Partner, TsAO & McKOWN and Karen Stein Design Consultant and Writer, with cocktails by bartender
Eben Klemm.

Karen wrote a piece on the firm published in Saturday's Wall Street Journal Magazine that talked about its direction, especially in China. We hope that the discussion next Friday will expand on the topic.




In this context, what we find compelling about Wopo Holup is that she is an artist who looks to the landscape, its ecology, history and natural systems for inspiration so that she can anchor her art to the place. For many years she has been working on a series of drawings and sculptures about rivers which she calls, "nature's flow -- its branching and dividing -- and the disbursements of energy. Rivers, traffic patterns, and cultural hierarchies are all forms of this flow." In the process her works have begun to expand beyond traditional reliefs and drawings that decorate a surface into the landscape itself.

We thought we would look at some of her Rivers. The first piece for MTA Arts for Transit, Flight was about the movement of a flock of birds. At Battery Park, on the southern tip of Manhattan, the images on her fence reference the busy port Manhattan once was; the original Indian name for the Hudson Estuary was 'Mahicantuck' or River that Flows Two Ways. In Kansas City, The River references the Missouri River, the eagles that roost along its banks and the eagle as a symbol of the Kansas City Police Department; the artist “mapped” the Missouri River as it flows across the state, from the Academy to the Police Station.

River That Flows Two Ways (2000) Photo © Battery Conservancy
New York, NY, NYC Dept of Parks and Recreation Collection

Florida Constellations Photo © Wopo Holup
Tampa, FL,Hillsborough County Aviation Authority

The Tree of Life (2000) Farmington, CT,
Connecticut Office of the Arts / DECD Photo © Wopo Holup

The River (2007) Kansas City, MO. Photo ©Wopo Holup
Kansas City, Missouri: One Percent for Art Collection


Even though Marion Weiss & Michael Manfredi started their practice more than 20 years ago, probably the project that put them on the map was the Seattle Art Museum: Olympic Sculpture Park. It was conceived as a new model for an artpark that would reclaim Seattle's last undeveloped waterfront property by the Museum and the Trust for Public Space. The Competition Winning scheme consists of a Z-shaped path that meanders through the 9-acre site from the Visitor's Pavilion to the Water through series of four distinct landscapes which addressed not only the relation of art to the landscape but reclamation of brownfields. They were able to further develop their design ideas into the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor's Center. Here the long sinuous building is buried below an extension of the garden, so that the roof is planted.

Our Building of the Day is the just opened Hunter's Point South Waterfront Park with Landscape Architect Thomas Balsey Associates. The project is part of New York's initiative to transform its 520 miles of waterfront into its 5th borough and create an international model for urban ecology. In addition to active and passive recreation, there are many features of the post-Sandy design featured a ferry terminal, bike-share station, and even plantings selected for their resistant to the brackish water that will cover them during the next storm surge. Weiss/ Manfrediis also known for their growing portfolio of academic buildings including the Center for Nanotechnology at Penn which officially opened on October 4th.

Hunter's Point South Waterfront Park (2013) Queens, NY
Thomas Balsley Associates Landscape Architects, Weiss/Manfredi Architects Photo © Wade Zimmerman

Seattle Art Museum: Olympic Sculpture Park (2007)
Seattle, WA Weiss/Manfredi Photo © Ben Benschneider

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Center (2012) Brooklyn, NY
Weiss/Manfredi Photo © Albert Vecerka/ESTO

Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology (2013)
Phila, PA Weiss/Manfredi Photo © Albert Vecerka/ESTO


Of all the architects we know, Calvin Tsao and Zack McGown have the widest range of projects at all scales happening at the same time. Typically an architecture firm starts out with small mostly residential projects and scales up as it grows. With TsAO & McKOWN, it didn't happen. Yes, they were designing apartments in New York and dishes for Swid Powell when they began. But, they were also working on Suntec City Development, a 5.7 million sf mixed use development including the Convention Center for Singaporeat the same time.

The range of scales and project types never quit; they have managed to blend projects in the US and in Asia, especially China. The clear lipstick case for Shu Uemura, for instance, was designed in 2006. Two years later the Jianzu Palace Museum in Beijing's Forbidden City which was completed; a careful restoration in a very sensitive historic site. Unsatisfied with the caliber of many of the developers in China, Calvin Tsao and his brother Fred have formed their own company, Octave as an alternative to the uncontrolled development taking place in China.

Last week the Archtober exhibition opened at the Center for Architecture. Entitled Practical Utopias: Global Urbanism in Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo, it highlights a recent body of work by Americans in these five cities. TsAO & McKOWN's buildings are featured in the exhibition.

Agora (2012) Quindao, China
TsAO & McKOWN, Photo © Karun Ip

Sagaponack House(2007) Sagaponack, NY
TsAO & McKOWN, Photo © Michael Moran

William Beaver House (2010) New York, NY
TsAO & McKOWN Photo © Richard Bryant/Arcaid

Jianfu Palace Museum Beijing, China TsAO & McKOWN
(2008) Photo © Chang Shouqi China Heritage Fund
cultureNOW is a 501c3