S K Y L I N E | Prevention through Design
Design will not solve society’s ills.
Issue 71. Feeling deprived of the full NYRA experience? Remedy that by subscribing to our print edition.
What do you think this diagram is showing?
On Tuesday, a gunman entered an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, opened fire, and killed 19 children and two teachers. Searching for ways to explain the third-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, some commentators pointed to the school’s design as a culprit. The building’s numerous points of ingress/egress, they say, presented an unnecessary security risk. Underpinning this line of argument—tying criminal behavior to architectural and urban form—is the concept of “defensible space” and its corollary Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). Both are associated with names likely familiar to architects, including Jane Jacobs and Oscar Newman.
Last year, in his introduction to Skyline #12, NYRA publisher Nicolas Kemper briefly surveyed the 2013 National School Shield Report, published by a National Rifle Association–funded task force. The report adopts a “CPTED lens” as a “standard school of thought for minimizing a facility’s physical susceptibility to attack and other undesired behavior.” Moreover, the authors liken their analytic approach “to our nation’s approach to terrorism after 9/11…focus[ing] on prevention through deterrence.”
Kemper tied the scale of such changes proposed by the task force to the fundamental transformations of urban space forced to accommodate the automobile during the 20th century. If, as Paul Virilio said, each technology invents its own negation—“the invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck”—then are we forsaken to live with the technology that brought about this deadly event, and so many else like it? Are we to sit by and let it fundamentally reshape the built environment, as many technologies have done before?
Back to the diagram, which can be found on page 24 of Appendix A of the report. It illustrates a concept named as “prevention-in-depth,” a tactic recommended by the Department of Homeland Security for “establishing concentric ‘layers of defense’ around the valued asset.” While the report presents this as a diagram of a school, it may as well be showing an embassy, a military base, or a house. It is a securitized parti, one that society has become increasingly familiar with since 9/11, and one it seems we are poised to repeat endlessly if the focus remains exclusively on prevention through design.
Specifics will flow out of Uvalde for some time to come, but the New York Times reported yesterday that the school had already made significant investments in what the report calls “physical security measures,” like the fence which the shooter scaled before entering. Let’s focus on dealing with the gun. Leave architecture out of it.
— Nicholas Raap
5/24: Why build a fence when you can build a boardwalk?
The Cooper Union End of Year Show 2022
ASTOR PLACE—After a two-year hiatus, the COOPER UNION’s all-school End of Year Show (EYOS) opened in-person this week. Inside the iconic Foundation Building, sprawling models are in prodigious supply, and the walls are plastered with mylar and vellum sheets. What’s more, the student work covering every surface of the building brims with urgency.
Studios and workshops headed up by leading thinkers like HAYLEY EBER and ELISA ITURBE present designs that confront the climate crisis head on. Just as urgent is the work of NORA AKAWI’s thesis students, which takes aim at the crisis of capitalism. One student, TIAM SCHAPER posited an upstate community as cool and dense as any neighborhood in Brooklyn, only without private property: Why build a fence when you can knock it down, making a boardwalk? Similarly, SANJANA LAHIRI’s thesis imagines a city where property is held in common in the form of community gardens and community spaces.
The best work at the Cooper EYOS, which marks the end of dean NADER TEHRANI’s tenure before he rejoins the faculty in 2023, redefines what it means to be a “good” architect. This next generation has rejected the model handed down by predecessors, making work that makes a case for a genuinely radical practice.
— Emily Conklin
5/25:Unfolding an Exquisite Corpse
SAH Virtual Roundtable: A Conversation with Itohan Osayimwese
PITTSBURGH (ZOOM)—Late last month, the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) held its annual conference in Pittsburgh. While the event concluded on May 1, the SAH sponsored a series of virtual discussions through the end of the month. The last of these saw keynote speaker ITOHAN OSAYIMWESE, an associate professor at Brown University, in conversation with ANTONIO PACHECO, a doctoral student at MIT, about the politics of cataloguing, exhibiting, and repatriating colonial plunder. Osayimwese has researched the ramifications of returning the Benin Bronzes, as well as other dismembered architectures, to their place of origin (present-day Nigeria, in the case of the Bronzes). She likened her methodology to the “exquisite corpse” model, in which a drawing done by many hands can yield surprising, even insightful results. Likewise, a researcher returning to well-trodden archives may seize on overlooked details, prompting new, perhaps serendipitous, lines of inquiry.
The talk had been organized for grad students, yet the questions all came from seasoned practitioners thirsty for insight. Specifically, they wanted to know about the repercussions of repatriation initiatives launched by institutions such as the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Just days earlier, the U.K. announced that it would begin exploring the potential restitution of the Elgin Marbles to Greece. Osayimwese is a historian, not a psychic, and she wondered along with the audience as to what might have motivated the announcement. After all, provenance research takes years, she said. Why tease this major development when that work has yet to begin? A cynical answer: the benevolent return of stolen artifacts may operate in place of human rights discussions that align with their paths.
— Angie Door
NYRA ON THE TOWN
NYC’s Housing Crisis with Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Karen Blondel, Nicholas D. Bloom, Ingrid Gould Ellen, Moses Gates, Lisa Gomez, Brian Kavanagh, Michael Kimmelman, Brian Loughlin, Marc Norman, Benjamin Prosky, Muzzy Rosenblatt, Hillary Sample, Jamie Smarr, Ahmed Tigani
MIDTOWN—Center for Architecture director BENJAMIN PROSKY launched into a half-day conference about New York’s housing crisis with just two words: public investment. He addressed a coterie of professionals from almost every rung on the housing ladder, all of them gathered on the seventh floor of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library. The rhetorical question that followed—why a design-focused organization would turn its attention to policy—set the tone for the three keynotes and three panels that followed.
The most radical proposal of the event came from New York Times critic and architectural doyen MICHAEL KIMMELMAN, who called for establishing a “right to housing.” KAREN BLONDEL, founder of the Public Housing Civic Association and the only resident of public housing speaking on the day, argued that while policy discussions are important, they need to move out from the conference room into the public realm. “It’s about you speaking to the residents,” Blondel told the architects in the audience. “Don’t start with the tenant leader either, and I’m a tenant leader. That’s one person in a development; you really have to do your work and talk to the residents.”
Comments from the panelists, which included Brooklyn Borough President ANTONIO REYNOSO, State Senator BRIAN KAVANAGH, and ALICKA AMPRY-SAMUEL,U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Region Administrator, were wide-ranging. A full event breakdown will appear in NYRA’s forthcoming issue, due out in late June. Subscribe to secure a copy.
— Nicholas Raap
EYES ON SKYLINE
Last week, readers were curious to see who were the finalists for the GSD’s Wheelwright Prize.
IN THE NEWS
The first cohort of the New City Critics fellowship was announced, including NYRA contributor Alicia Ajayi…
…the Architects Billing Index continued to show signs of improvement in April…
…Ross Barney Architects took home two Metropolis Planet Positive Awards for their sustainable design of the Chicago and Walt Disney World McDonald’s flagships…
…ArchDaily announced 40 finalists for its 2022 Architectural Visualization Awards…
…the Graham Foundation awards over $500k to writers, designers, and podcasters advancing architectural discourse…
…four faculty from Northeastern University were awarded the $100,000 Latrobe Prize by the AIA College of Fellows…
…in more McDonald’s news, Ye and Muji industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa revealed new packaging designs for the Big Mac and accompanying fries…
…and finally, in escapist fantasy news, the Jardin Majorelle villa in Marrakesh, Morocco, is for sale.
— news contributed by Anna Gibertini
In the week ahead,
Social (In)Justice and Spatial Practice: Decentralization with Lillian Cho, Stephanie A. Johnson-Cunningham, Kemi Ilesanmi, Koray Duman, Peter Zuspan
7:00 AM | AIANY Cultural Facilities Committee
Current Work: DnA_Design and Architecture with Xu Tiantian, Calvin Tsao
7:00 PM | The Architectural League of New York, Cooper Union
Style Without Substance with Misha Kahn
10:00 AM | Friedman Benda
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
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