New Yorker 1/21/2013 – “Ganster Squad” & “Psychology of Space”

“Ganster Squad” has gotten pretty bad reviews all around. The latest from Anthony Lane was really funny.

Gosling, who did such demanding work in “Blue Valentine” and “Drive,” must have laughed when he got the “Gangster Squad” script and realized that his principal duty, as Sergeant Jerry Wooters, would be to deliver The Look. You know the one: imagine that your local animal shelter sends out a fund-raising leaflet, and Gosling is the beagle on the cover. It never fails.

Another article from this issue of the New Yorker that i liked is about the Norwegian architecture firm: Snøhetta. “The Psychology of Space” – Solving the problem of Times Square. The firm’s most famous work is the Norwegian National Opera House in Oslo. The roof of the opera house become a public square that attracts lots of residents and tourists.

Rising from a fjord, Snøhetta's Oslo Opera House has become a kind of public square.

Rising from a fjord, Snøhetta’s Oslo Opera House has become a kind of public square.

The firm is also chosen to build the SF MOMA expansion project (2013-2016).
sfmoma_expansion

expansion_design_from_ybca expansion_design_howard_entrance_view

The article spent most of its attention on how Snøhetta will solve the Times Square problem. One interesting aspect of the article is how observant these architects are. They are trying to understand how people use a public space and what will appeal to them. The main problem of current Times Square is “Ninety per cent of the people using TImes Square are pedestrians, yet ninety per cent of the space was devoted to cars.” Once Snøhetta is done, TImes Square will look very different. Snøhetta’s landscape architects made an interesting observation during their survey of the place.

“…Times Square isn’t flat. It’s actually hammock-shaped.” Three creeks once flowed together near the low point, not far from the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Ave. Although the old streambeds are now buried deep beneath asphalt and concrete, the depression they created remains. … “We blew up a photograph and connected the dots of all the heads of all the people, and when we did that the elevation change was obvious. There’s an eight-foot drop over two or three blocks, and that’s the reason the area floods in a heavy rain. ” The topography of the square compounds the sense of congestion, creating a kind of “nightmare” zone near the bottom of the hammock; to a pedestrian walking there, the crowds to the north and the south seem to be pressing down from above. Snøhetta can’t change the city’s contours, but its redesign should reduce the sense of menance, by widening the pedestrian space near the pinch point.

Timessquare
I’m so looking forward to the completion of this. Times Square always seemed such a claustrophobic place to me. It was a place I desperately wanted to escape from the first time i set foot there.

A couple of other highly interesting tidbits the architect at Snøhetta shared with us in the article.
1. Architect as sheepdog

Both the TImes Square and the Oslo Opera projects are attempts to use architecture to alter a city’s relationship to itself. Both also depend on successfully managing the complex psychology of public space – a Snøhetta specialty, and a field in which the firm has drawn insights from an eclectic range of sources. Dykers told me that among his architecture influences for Times Square are books and articles about livestock management by the animal scientist Temple Grandin, Whose work has been informed by her autism. “There’s so much emphasis on consciousness in philosophical discussions,” he said. “But I think consciousness is a small part of who we are. I have a friend who had a sheepdog, and he said whenever he had a party it would herd the guests. It would tap their ankles or their knees, until, by the end of the evenig, everyone at the party was in one corner. The dog was happy, but the important thing was that nobody noticed. As architects, I think, we have to try to be like the sheepdog at the party.”

2. Gum Splats and Subway Doors

Dykers and I … took the subway uptown to look at the site. As we waited for an express at Fourteenth Street, he said that in most stations you can anticipate where the doors of the next train will open by looking for concentrations of chewing-gum splats near the edges of the platforms. (Subway riders apparently tend to spit out gum either just before entering or just after existing a train.)

How fun!

While i was searching for their design images, i came across this interview. Quoting an interesting Q&A below:

What are the big differences between working in the United States and internationally?

There are different ways of understanding what an architect does. In the United States, clients like to be heavily involved in the design process and often like multiple alternatives to choose from. In Europe, where we’ve done much of our work, if you come to the table with several alternatives, they’ll say, “Why are you showing us these” We hired you to provide us the best. What are these other two things doing here??