S K Y L I N E | Queer Ecologies
Queer Joy and Reclaiming Urban Space
Issue 117. Like dancing in the street? Subscribe here.
Dolla dolla bills flew through the air as drag queens danced on rooftops at the Brooklyn Pride Block Party. Hosted by Good Judy, a queer venue on Fifth Avenue, the event saw queers from across the five boroughs gather to drink, dance, celebrate, and of course, cruise in a public space. (I noticed one couple emerge suspiciously from behind a bodega fridge.) It was a testament to how queers are adept at transforming any old space (including the White House’s South Lawn) into one of queer joy, reminiscent of AARON BETSKY’s claim that queer space “allows us to place ourselves in the world, define ourselves in relation to others, and create another, artificial world that replaces the one we have remade.” This was certainly the case as girls and gays overtook neighboring straight bars (and during a sporting event at that!) to use the restrooms and momentarily escape from the heat. While most were happy for the patronage, one establishment strictly enforced gendered bathrooms (eyeroll), a reminder how across the nation pride events have faced conservative backlash and that even in a city like New York, we still have a long way to go toward inclusion. Yet, the Block Party, subsequent parade, and countless other pride events across the planet–such as a ball in The Hague, covered below–demonstrate that queer space is something we make together through unashamed gathering. (And as MARIAH CAREY reminded us during her campy LA Pride performance, even online sites like Grindr can be spaces of joy and solidarity.)
The festivities coincided with a rise in temperature and summer feeling around the city. On the Upper East Side, New Yorkers filled the streets and cultural institutions as part of the Museum Mile Festival. Meanwhile, a new (good?) public art sculpture was unveiled in Chelsea. Passionate advocates for climate-change regulations found spaces to air their frustrations and hopes. Perhaps the lessons of queer gathering can be extended to our urban environment as we learn to reclaim our streets for celebrations of community and art while stewarding our ecological resources. Reversing Betsky’s words, can we recreate a real world out of the artificial one of concrete and pollution? Could we call this a queer ecology?
— Zachary Torres
6/1: Leave It at the Gate
SAN FRANCISCO— What does it mean to “leave it at the gate?” In the context of Disney Parks, the phrase is a friendly inducement to dump all your worries by the ticket checkpoint and open yourself up to magic. Or so BARBARA BOUZA, FAIA, led attendees at the 2023 AIA National Conference in San Francisco, to believe. As president of Walt Disney Imagineering, Bouza was on hand to discuss all the constructive work the multinational entertainment conglomerate is doing. She recounted her first childhood visit to Disneyland and stressed the importance of fantastical storytelling to Disney’s mission. She also joked about temptation to veer off the script, even as she skillfully avoided the fracas kicked up by Florida governor, Ron DeSantis.
In the recent past, the AIA has made a concentrated effort to look beyond, or at least one step removed from, NCARB’s textbook definition of an architect for inspiring keynotes. These speakers are both an incentive for members to attend and a plea to the general public that architecture is fun. Bouza closed her talk by reciting an adage from Encanto’s Abuela. She urged those of us in the audience to “open your eyes,” but I wonder if we (AIA, included) are seeing the same thing.
— Alexandra Oetzel
6/1: Not a Dumb Law
CLINTON HILL — If you’re unaware of Local Law 97, look it up. But here’s the gist: this groundbreaking legislation was passed as part of the city’s 2019 Climate Mobilization Act, or what’s colloquially known as NYC’s Green New Deal. It would introduce a system of monetary fines for all buildings over 25,000 sq. ft. that do not meet an overall 80 percent carbon reduction by 2050. But the DOB has yet to publicize its draft rules and regulations. Intent on learning more, I biked over to Vanderbilt Ave in Brooklyn for a debriefing of activists within the NEW YORK COMMUNITIES FOR CHANGE (NYCC).
I listened in on a conversation that signaled out the (surprise) real estate industry as the culprit. If the Adams Administration made any move to enact LL97, people said, then the bloc of developers and landlords, plus their lobbyists, would immediately move to undermine it. Corporate loopholes would be exploited, energy credits would be manipulated and leveraged against. A campaign of fearmongering would ensure. Of all this, the NYCC members present felt convinced; and yet, they evinced a belief that the mandating of upfront retrofit costs or fines would lead to a ruinous outcome for the real estate empires of New York City. What a thought!
Ironically, that puts the activists on the side of the law. “Did we pass a dumb law? No. We are not stupid hippies,” said one presenter. “This law is flexible, which is different from building codes. It sets a cap and tells building owners, ‘You choose how you want to meet it.’” It's not often that I trailblaze for more rules and regulations in the field of building. But just as we all feel the climate crisis, like suddenly struggling to breathe fresh air, I left the conclave feeling a keen need for curbing our bad behaviors.
— Zazu Swistel
6/5: Eden in the Concrete Jungle
MANHATTAN WEST— If you consider the recent spate of luxury development on Manhattan’s West Side as billionaires building themselves an Eden within the concrete jungle, then the arrival of CHARLES RAY’s Adam and Eve on the corner of 31st and Ninth, bears interesting fruit. The two-figure solid stainless-steel sculpture depicts the biblical couple in their dotage, dressed in modern attire. Adam stands tall, rumpled, and rather proud, as though he’s about to begin monologuing. Eve sits on a stump and looks past him, as though she’s long ago stopped listening. The pair, whose feet nearly touch, leans away from each other in a manner that parallels the dancing tilt of the two SOM-designed Manhattan West towers overhead, while at the same time seeming to disavow any special kinship with these blue-tinted echelons of power. Actually, our oldest putative ancestors look rather cast out, as though they might be preparing to hail a taxi.
Ray came up with the idea for the commission—to date, his only realized work of permanent public art—while reading biblical apocrypha during the pandemic. Apparently, Adam and Eve lived to be 937 years old, and at one point gathered their many generations of offspring to tell them the story of Genesis. In Ray’s modern context, that means all of us, including the flood of tourists who will soon be passing by on their way to Moynihan Train Hall or the High Line and will maybe stop to linger for a moment. Adam and Eve is one of those rare public artworks that serves neither to challenge nor beautify the corporate expanse, but rather draws out the attention of even the lowliest passerby, sparking a personal encounter between them, the work, and the human condition.
— Nolan Kelly
6/13: Social Streets
UPPER EAST SIDE — During the 49th Museum Mile Festival all I could think about was how I've never noticed how nice this part of town looks. Trees, buildings, sidewalks, atmosphere: the Upper East Side has never seemed more friendly. This was probably because from 82nd to 96th Streets, no cars or bikes were allowed on Fifth Avenue, making the neighborhood more walkable and the buildings pop. DAVEY MITCHELL, a performance artist and area resident, has been coming to the festival for years. “When there aren’t cars or trucks or bikes, it allows for more social interactions. People talk to each other more,” he said to me.
Many participating museums opened their doors free of charge. There was a jazz band in front of the Jewish Museum and the Church of Heavenly Rest, ice cream and food vendors everywhere, and arts-and-craft activities for younger attendees. A major highlight was the performance by the QUEER BIG APPLE CORPS! Their energy and contagious enthusiasm electrified the crowds with a spirit of rejuvenation like no other. All in all: less cars, more happy.
— Michael Piantini
NYRA ON THE OTHER TOWN
Boots the House Down
THE HAGUE— Although I had a feeling it would start late, I still found myself rushing on a series of buses and trams to the Y2K Cyber Ball. The ballroom event was being held at PAARD, which, in 2003, underwent an extensive renovation by none other than OMA, of nearby Rotterdam. That project finished two years late and over budget. To be sure, I had not hurried through the Dutch city for the opportunity to inspect OMA’s handiwork up close. Rather, I was spurred on by an urgent desire to be surrounded by community: for the next seven hours or so, this same concert hall that has welcomed artists such as Prince, Mick Jagger, and U2 became a safe haven for queer people to celebrate their culture and pride by dancing boots the house down. Unlike the tale of the Trojan Horse, that inspired the venue’s original name (Paard van Troje), we queer people do not need to hide ourselves before taking over this or any other space. In a way, that’s the beauty of ballroom events: they have the power to convert any space into a welcoming one, where we all feel like family. When the time comes, we might throw some shade while battling each other on the runway for the grand prize, but off stage, we’re still sisters.
And, yes, the event did start late but finished on time. Unlike OMA.
— Brandon Koots
EYES ON SKYLINE
Last week, readers were intrigued by Beyoncé and Jay Z’s new minimalist(-maximalist) home.
IN THE NEWS
This week, the architectural lexicon expanded with the term “yacht spaghetti”…
…the altitudinally privileged expressed their angst…
…while queers were taking to the streets, the mob was taking back the construction industry…
…NCARB reported a decline in registration (probably because it’s so damn expensive)…
…the Architectural League announced its new executive director…
…and literary icon, Cormac McCarthy, passed away
In the week ahead, events continue to focus on public space and ecology, and some architects get a prize…
Direct Action Exhibition Opening with Francisca Benítez & The Stop Shopping Choir
4:00 PM EDT | Storefront for Art and Architecture
Arguments Lecture Series with Shannon Mattern
11:30 AM EDT | Columbia University GSAPP
Docomomo US National Symposium: Complexities of the Modern American City
5:00 PM EDT | Docomomo
Shaping Spaces for Healing
6:00 PM EDT | Urban Design Forum
Latitudes: Latin American Architecture Now 6:00 PM EDT | Center for Architecture
League Prize 2023 Night 2 6:30 PM EDT | The Architectural League of New York
Our listings are constantly being updated. Check the events page regularly for up-to-date listings and submit events through this link.
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