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While most people have been generally obsessed for the past 15 years with buildings and the starchitects behind them, the “public realm,” for lack of a better term, went into hibernation. Now, with the economy stalled and the amount of new buildings – and their architects – stalled, the forums of our cities are getting some much deserved attention. Hey, we’re architects and we support the construction of new and renovated buildings as a matter of livelihood, but that has not ceased our intense interest in the care and development of successful urban places where these buildings live and where people move and breathe between buildings. Where we can stand back and look. And talk. And eat. And play. If our cities were just buildings, we’d be living on the Death Star. The buildings may define a city by it’s skyline, but it’s the public spaces between buildings that define a city by it’s people, their culture, and how they inhabit and move through it.

“We’ve been so fixated on fancy new buildings that we’ve lost sight of the spaces they occupy and we share,” Michael Kimmelman says in his report on New York’s amazing public spaces. He spent an afternoon walking through some of New York’s famous – and infamous – public spaces with the urban planner and architect Alexander Garvin. Earlier this year I took a class of NYU students on a very similar walking tour. The point of both walks was to point out the canvas that our building icons sit upon. How do buildings hit the streets? How do the spaces around them support human movement, transportation, relaxation, urban enjoyment? I argued on my walk that most buildings do a rather poor job of transitioning to the sidewalk. They look great from a distance and from aerial photographs – the postcard shots – but often fail at negotiating the all too important human scale at the ground. The Seagram building is seminal architecture, to be sure. The plaza in front (and on the sides) has much to be desired.

Call it “ground up” architecture instead of “trickle down.” Kimmelman writes about how the Dutch begin their urban design projects thinking about granular aspects like subway entrances, bike paths, crosswalks, and storefronts before handing off building sites to architects. here in the States it’s most often the reverse. The developers design their buildings, and the public realm has to adapt to what is given them. I am always struck in Europe with the prevalence of “square,” or, “plaza, piazza, place, ter, trg, torg, plein, platz,” or any number of translations that make open space in the city so loved and respected. It’s hip to be square.

We at Mapos are thrilled to announce the initiation of the new Mapos Internship Trimester! This internship initiative will be an ongoing program wherein we will take on one or two interns in tours of 3-4 months each. This may be part time or full time and will vary in tenure length, depending upon the availability of the candidates.

Here at “World Domination Headquarters” (a.k.a. Mapos) on the Bowery, you will not be chained to your desk and forced to generate mind-numbing CAD details for a pittance like your fellow interns in corporate firms. Rather, you will be faced with a series of mind-bending mental and physical challenges for a pittance. These challenges will range from designing our office space, light construction, helping to concept new ideas for the city, researching and collecting cutting edge materials, working with live animals (some completely feral), and entertaining the staff and partners, among many other things. There will also be ice cream and lots and lots of Kool-AidTM!

After working here, you can expect to walk away with the following:

  • A fun and amazing, hands-on experience in your field of study
  • An unfiltered, first-hand view of how to run a small and growing design studio
  • At least a couple amazing projects for your professional portfolio
  • The possibility of built work
  • Excellent references…
    • If you are good
    • Our recommendations have resulted in jobs at Shop, Avroko, Studio Daniel Libeskind, Pompei AD, and Peter Marino Assoc.
  • The possibility of working at Mapos upon graduation…
    • If you are awesome
    • All of our full time employees were former interns here

You must have strong skills in:

  • AutoCad
  • Sketchup
  • Adobe CS
  • WordPress
  • General computer skills

These traits would also preferred:

  • A fearlessness in the face of challenges
  • A proactive, “can do” spirit
  • A willingness to get one’s hands dirty
  • A sense of humor
  •  An “Eye of the Tiger,” by Survivor
  • Reliability, reliability, and reliability

Note that this is an unpaid internship, but will include a base lunch stipend to be paid 50% at the beginning and 50% upon completion of the program.

If interested, email a brief cover letter, resume, and work samples in PDF format to info@studiomapos.com. Please indicate your availability (start date, end date, weekly hours) in your cover letter. NO PHONECALLS.

 

This past Saturday, I joined a small crew at Rocking the Boat in the Bronx, an amazing organization that works with local teenagers and teaches them how to build boats. After a quick tour of their workshop, some of the kids joined us as we paddled their creations on the adjacent Bronx River and where, I believe, was the true power of the organization. Learning how to build boats teaches the kids craftmanship, team work, and those intangible skills that any focused pursuit can give to young people. Out on the river, the boats opened up whole new worlds to normally landlocked urbanites: water issues, ecology, wildlife, the environment, community context, social responsibility. The students at Rocking the Boat were born in the Bronx. Now they are studying the river ecology and restoring wetlands with their neighbors. They are camping in the Catskills and taking Outward Bound classes in the Sierra Nevada. They’re getting scholarships and going to college. A couple of oars can take you way past the Whitestone Bridge.

 

 

 

I just stumbled upon another interesting article in the NYTimes by Allison Arieff. Writing over a month ago, she looks at the persistent yet optimistic theory that design can solve the “problems” in the workplace. One of my “problems” is I’m just reading this now. My busy work life, my much needed personal life, and my odd day-offs over the summer, have not left much room for catching up with current events and the popular press. I can decry the fact that I spend time staring at my iPhone on my days off, but the fact of the matter is that my iPhone allows me to take days off, because I can use it to answer emails remotely. This multi-tasking-life-work-integration-collaboration is sweeping the professional world, and I guess I’m part of it.

But is this a “problem”? As Arieff points out, and we all intuitively know, more and more of us are working in more and more unconventional fashion. Throw in the unstable economy, and you’ve got a generation of workers working in a non-work-like atmosphere. At home. On the road. In the car. On the sidewalk. Off of a tablet. In other words, not at a desk in an office.

So while designers and contract furniture makers try to re-design the cubicle and make the office a more creative atmosphere, the larger issue continues unabated and often ignored: we continue to work in erratic ways and erratic locations. We continue to live and work in more flexible ways, juggling life and family and work in one great creative act. Our lifetyle, not our office or our mobile tools, is the primary driver dictating this schizophrenic behavior. So the solution won’t be better desk or a smarter office, but a clear and honest understanding of how we want to be.

(Working in the “green” world, we have become keenly aware that the answer to climate change is not some new technology. Motion sensors, PV panels, heat-transfer systems, are all great at reducing green house gas emissions. But to truly get us on a path to energy intelligence we have to honestly look at how our behavior can affect energy use and change the way we live. It’s a nice day today. And we just got another obscene electricity bill in the mail. Today we turned off the ACs and opened the windows. Simple and effective.)

The related question, of course, is our varied lifestyle conducive to being productive? While each of us exhibits our individual creativity, very few jobs get accomplished in solitude. Work spaces need places for conversation, team work, and the freedom to collaborate and ideate. But does too much freedom lead to chaos? While a desk can be confining, I find it helps me focus and deliver. Personally, I could not do my job effectively if I were constantly on the run and dialing in from coffee shops. While I could use a better desk. What I really need is a better calendar.

It’s encouraging to hear that “productive conversations” between a farming initiative and Detroit bureaucrats are happening. Mapos sincerely hopes that this is genuine and not just wishful thinking. If there is something Detroit does not need is another hollow reason to get their hopes up.

My Detroiter brother sent this link that outlines these conversations as well as the pros and cons of building a substantial commercial farm within city limits. As with any urban “project,” the concerns are real and should not be discredited: an increase in truck traffic in residential areas or a conflict with existing agricultural businesses in Michigan that rightly need support for their own continued existence. What should not happen is to let a very good idea die because it is difficult to implement or simply because it is not business-as-usual. I do not think urban agriculture will cure Detroit’s ills. At least not alone. What is certain, however, is that business-as-usual will not.

“I think it’s better to generate some tax revenue from somebody,” says a local zoning attorney. Take a cue from New York, where Mayor Bloomberg readily tries new programs by couching them as prototypes and urban experiments so he can circumvent lengthy bureaucratic approval processes. If they don’t work, shutter the program and move on and chalk it up to a valiant effort that didn’t pan out. Something, anything, is better than nothing.

Mapos is all about better, smarter, more sustainable design strategies for our cities (and buildings, and homes, and parks….) What is happening in Europe is a fabulous example of more pedestrian friendly cities. As the author of this recent NYTimes article points out, businesses in car-restricted districts actually thrive with more pedestrian access, countering the long held argument by car-first advocates that businesses will suffer. All good stuff. We would be remiss, however, if we did not point out a strange oversight in the logic of the non-car set. they promote “people over cars” but seem to forget that people are driving those cars. Alternatives do exist. This is a model to celebrate. But let’s not dismiss a viable and sometimes necessary transportation alternative for many people.

Be sure to check out the first of 4 episodes on NBC’s Open House featuring the construction progress of the Montagnaro House. In this episode, Glenn Callahan and David Jackson of American Green Home Builders touch upon some green design strategies that everyone should consider when building a new home. Hats off to the greenest and most camera-ready GC team out there!

Be on the lookout for Mapos in a forthcoming episode dedicated to smart water management!

Colin joined a panel at YRG Sustainability on Green Building in Retail Environments last Thursday. The topic is of timely relevance as retail sits at the crossroads of construction – which is being heavily affected by new sustainable building technologies – and brand identity. How can retail brands best communicate their green initiatives to their customers? Should they? And why do they do it in the first place?

Of course there is no simple answer to these questions, but certain things are apparent. The culture at large is asking, and sometimes expecting, that their favorite brands turn the green corner. And that in competent hands (ahem, Mapos), being green can be synonymous with making beautiful, comfortable, inviting, and inspiring places where people want to BE. Starting any design project with the goal of promoting personal happiness tends to align all the following issues into sustainable a order.

The GUIDE has been sleeping on our server (and in our brains) for over three years: a visual and experiential narrative of what we like about New York City. Part derive (a la Debord), part analysis, part history, all obsession, the GUIDE covers the sites, buildings, parks, places, and things that catch our collective eyes and spark imagination. Why? Well, we don’t know for sure – it’s the intangible that makes this city what it is. We do know we want to explore them more and explain why they make this city so, well, awesome.

Last Monday Colin gave the first Mapos Tour to a group of NYU students (thanks to Prof. Lauren Yarmuth for the invite). On showcase was the Midtown portion of the GUIDE. Look for more exciting tours to come, and keep asking us about the soon-to-be-released digital (and hard copy) version of the GUIDE.

The Mississippi State architecture school asked Mapos to speak as the headliner of their NOMAS Symposium. The topic: emerging practices in architecture.

This gave us an opportunity to share our work of the (challenging) past three years through our passion for saying “YES.”

A good architectural education, like a good architect, is proficient in many things: design, technology, strategy, process, and most of all, the ability to communicate through various media. We draw. We make 3D models (virtual and physical). We also can write and talk. Create a narrative about the many things we do as architects. Design is increasingly being valued for its creative ability to approach and define complex issues – and to communicate it. We too often take for granted the extraordinary powers we have to create beauty and to reach people with new ideas that affect their lives in meaningful ways. It is humbling. It matters. Say YES to bridging and connecting and designing solutions in a world that desperately needs them.