ARCHITECTURAL TILES, GLASS AND ORNAMENTATION IN NEW YORK

A blog about architectural tiles, terra cotta and other ceramic surfaces, architectural glass and ornamentation in and around New York.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

"A Factory As It Might Be" and the 2016 Ortner Preservation Award

A FACTORY AS IT MIGHT BE

In January 2017 the London architectural design collective, ASSEMBLE Studio (http://assemble studio.co.uk) came to Greenpoint, Brooklyn to build an installation as an exhibit--a temporary, mini tile factory--within the confines of a new innovative design community’s workspace, design academy and meeting space, A/D/O (https://a-d-o.com). ASSEMBLE’s installation “takes the form of a ‘model factory’, equipped with a single machine: an extruder, and a single material: clay. In this factory, chance and improvisation are introduced to an industrial process so that each component produced is different and production is treated as a creative activity.  ...Working to these principals, a range of experimental, extruded products have been developed by the group while in residence at A/D/O over the past two months. Starting out as a simple shell of a building, the factory’s first products were designed to complete the structure itself. A cladding of ceramic tiles was made for the facade, alongside planters, dinnerware and door handles, creating a richly decorated building that is part workspace, part display space.”(1)

The title of this article refers to a three part essay by William Morris written in 1884. The ASSEMBLE project takes this title, and the socialist philosophy behind it, seriously. William Morris “[...imagined] the ideal factory as one where work, leisure and education are combined, in a building ‘built with pleasure by its designers.”(2) ASSEMBLE’s project “will look at how one machine[--a clay extruder--]can be used as a creative tool on a production line aiming at endless variation, proposing their own alternative means of production.”(3)

Currently, there are two major architectural design streams[...worldwide]: some designers “...branded their careers upon a signature feature, their trademark image subsequently produced and reproduced in design journals. Other, younger...architects “...have begun to challenge this custom[, and] to instead orient their practice around what might be referred to as the ‘political object’. These spatial activists operate from the sidelines as facilitators, utilising design not as an end in itself but as a means to pursue a specific objective. [...Young architectural] collectives...are adopting alternative and entrepreneurial working methods that set them apart from established practice. ...The climate is ripe for architects who wish to exhibit a social agenda through their design process and built work. [...The] number of architects working explicitly with a political agenda appears to be increasing and, it can be argued, have now gained enough visibility to begin to influence the mainstream profession.”(4)

Some of these politicized architects and studios are Yasmeen Lari of Pakistan, who uses local building materials to benefit flood stricken regions; Ricardo de Oliviera of Brazil, who builds in Rio's Rocinha favela; Kunle Adeyemi of Nigeria, who works to alleviate flooding in Nigeria’s slums; and Vo Trong Nghia of Vietnam, who works to create green spaces in the cities as well as housing for the poor (5); Duvall Decker(6) in Jackson, Mississippi; and Architecture 00, among others, which works on projects with community components. One such architectural design collective in Calabria, Italy, La Rivoluzione delle Seppie, has produced a manifesto that verbalizes the principles of this movement:(7)

¶ Don't make a product, create a process.
¶ Examine the artistic expression beyond the traditional academy.
¶ Come together and create.
¶ Make a commitment towards the world through social creativity.
¶ Blur the conventional social and cultural barriers.
¶ Learning is a way of teaching.
¶ Accept any impactful method.
¶ Integrate living, learning and working.
¶ Valorise the complexities of culture and context.

The internet is seen as an unparalleled resource by these activist architectural groups. "Internet connectivity appears to be pivotal to both how these architecture collectives are conceived and how they engage with their cause. They utilise social media platforms to promote themselves online, gathering huge volumes of followers and therefore the capability to rally people around events. Collectives brand themselves online and navigate the emerging open-source culture to appropriate free programs and tools. ...While some young practices see their work as remaining within the realms of architecture theory or discussion..., others are realising their ideas in the form of workshops or built prototypes. The design workshop, once conducted within the architecture studio, appears to increasingly be used as an active on-site process to spontaneously generate ‘ground projects’ or, as a tool to forge contacts with local actors, industries and institutions to enact a 'participatory design process'."(8)

ASSEMBLE Studio has also been involved in “spacial activist” architectural design in the United Kingdom, and is solidly in the second stream of this modern architectural movement. One of ASSEMBLE’s projects, for example, was based in the remaining four block area of the Granby Street section of Liverpool. These four blocks were the remains of a larger historic community that was razed by city authorities. The remaining community fought to restore the area, and with the help of ASSEMBLE seems to have succeeded.(9)



A/D/O, 29 Norman Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. A/D/O renovated and combined buildings to create their cooperative space. (Color photos by Michael Padwee unless otherwise indicated)

My first visit to A/D/O coincided with the first day that the facility was open to the public. It was also the first day of a conference being held there, “Utopia vs. Dystopia: Designing Our Imagined Futures.” This conference was slated to explore “the role of design in navigating a world of profound change[...because of] cultural disruptions and scientific advances such as robotics, artificial intelligence, automation and new production technologies[... . It] asks whether designers will...tip the scales toward utopia or dystopia.”(10) The ASSEMBLE/Granby Workshop tile factory was designed as an exhibit for "Utopia vs. Dystopia."


Niamh Riordan, who is writing a brochure for this exhibit, believes that it's placement in Greenpoint followed in a long tradition of ceramic art and innovation in Brooklyn's Greenpoint district. In the mid to late 1800s "Green Point" contained  major ceramics industries that were on the "cutting edge" at the time.




Diagram of A/D/O. The courtyard space is where the ASSEMBLE tile factory and tile installation was set up.


The workers in this tile factory will use one machine, the clay extruder, to make tiles to clad the workspace facade, and to make other products for both their own use and as prototypes of products to be made by the Granby Workshop. 



The clay extruder prior to being moved into the space to be tiled in the A/D/O courtyard.

The team members cut out dies in plywood using a band saw and a drill.



Plywood dies.


One person places clay pugs into the back end of the extruder, and they are pushed through the die on the other end.



Louis Schulz and Jade Crampton working the clay extruder. The extruded clay is cut to size and then shaped. (Color photos courtesy of Michael Padwee and taken with the permission of ASSEMBLE Studio)

Some of the team that run the tile works are from ASSEMBLE Studio and the rest are from the Granby Workshop Project in Liverpool, one result of ASSEMBLE’s act of “spacial activism”. The Granby Workshop website explains:

“The demolition of all but four of Granby’s streets of Victorian terraces during decades of ‘regeneration’ initiatives saw a once thriving community scattered, and left the remaining 'Granby Four Streets' sparsely populated and filled with tinned up houses. The resourceful, creative actions of a group of residents were fundamental to finally bringing these streets out of dereliction and back into use. Over two decades they cleared, planted, painted, and campaigned in order to reclaim their streets. In 2011 they entered into an innovative form of community land ownership, the Granby Four Streets Community Land Trust (CLT), and secured [ten] empty houses for renovation as affordable homes.(11)


"As new occupants finally moved into freshly renovated terraces that had been empty for thirty years, Assemble set up Granby Workshop as a means of continuing to support and encourage the kind of hands on activity that has brought about immense change in the area.”(12)



Mollie Anna King cutting the extruded clay. This clay piece has a central hole. The cut sections will be bent into “horseshoe” shapes and will be used as handles. Other extruded pieces will be formed into objects that will, ultimately, be brought back to the Granby Workshop as prototypes of future salable products.



Jade Crampton and Mollie Anna King bend the cut, damp clay pieces into shape for drying.



Drying racks (rear), and dried tile forms waiting to be dipped in colored slip.



Colors that will be added to slip clay and then applied to the ceramics.


The dried and slip-decorated tiles and other pottery are fired in a small electric kiln, allowed to cool, and are stored on racks until used in the project’s space.



Louis Jones with the ASSEMBLE/Granby Workshop kiln.



After the tiles are fired, they’re stored on shelving, waiting to clad the facade wall of the mini-factory.



Early colored slip experiments.


The space to be enclosed and then tiled was an unroofed interior space in the A/D/O building.



The A/D/O interior spaces are to the left. There are three spaces that are without a roof and open to the elements including this space. ASSEMBLE hired local construction workers to roof and enclose this area. (Photo taken on 1-27-2017)




The extruder, tiles and worktables will be moved into this area when the shell construction is completed. (Photos taken on 2-3-2017)


The exterior wall of the ASSEMBLE space has horizontal wood strips at set intervals. Since this wall is only temporary, the blue exterior wall tiles will be hung so they can be removed and recycled.



These tiles are uncolored at their straight ends as the tiles will be hung to overlap one another. The uncolored ends will be covered by the bent ends of the tiles above them.




"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night... .” The ASSEMBLE/Granby Workshop team experienced a snow storm the week before February 12, when these photos were taken, and were working on February 12 in an icy rain in order to clad the outer wall of the factory/workspace by February 14. The middle photo is the interior view from the street entrance. The tile extruder is on the left, and the kiln is behind the racks on the right. The bottom photo is the interior view from the rear. Shelving was built along the side walls to hold tiles and other products made from extruded clay by the team’s potters.


A detailed view of the tiled back wall. Since tiles are dipped in colored slip individually, there are variations in each tile’s coloring.

The final set of photos, taken on February 16, show the mini-factory after the facade was completed. The interior of the factory was left as it was when the team broke off work on February 14. The factory will now be on exhibit through April. Various events will be planned using the clay objects produced there, such as a dinner at the A/D/O on-site restaurant, “Norman”, using plates and utensils from the factory.



From the top: View of the factory entrance from the street; view of the factory interior through the street window; view of the fully tiled facade.



Three interior views of the factory: some of the North wall shelves; drying/work table; some of the South wall shelves.




Close-up views of shelves/clay products.




The kiln.



The extruder and a combined photo of the dies on the bottom part of the table to the left of the extruder.

“At the end of the project, the exterior shell that the factory started in will be removed, leaving behind its output: a diverse collection of ceramic products. The skills and designs developed throughout production will be continued at Granby Workshop, the social enterprise set up by Assemble as a part of the ongoing rebuilding of a neighbourhood in Liverpool, UK. The factory’s equipment will also return to Granby - the experimental production line resumed and improvisational extrusion continued.”(13)



*****


I’d like to thank the ASSEMBLE Studio and Granby Workshop team for contacting me about their project and allowing me to make multiple trips to take photos.

For more about Greenpoint's past ceramic heritage, see https://tilesinnewyork.blogspot.com /2013/11/nineteenth-century-brooklyn-potteries.html.


*****

Endnotes:

1“A Factory As It Might Be”, a folded four-page leaflet, [ASSEMBLE, 2017].


2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Hannah Wood, “Spatial Activism: Profiling a New Wave of European Architecture Collectives and Their Spatial Manifestos”, Archinect, http://archinect.com/features/article/149989510/spatial-activism-profiling-a-new-wave-of-european-architecture-collectives-and-their-spatial-manifestos, pp. 1, 2.


6 Anne Marie Duvall and Roy Decker have developed a series of foundational beliefs over the past twenty years that include:
"Architecture is public work.  Over the past 158 years we have seen the profession evolve from a civic art into a business service, and service to largely private interests and priorities.  The movement towards service has also been a movement away from risk, public leadership and relevancy.   Architects now ask how to regain public value.  Value cannot be claimed it has to be created.  This means risk and leadership.   We should measure our work not on accomplishments of service or appearance, but on the public effects and benefits in the community.  The public consequences of the work are a much larger and truer measure of the  value of practice.  We ask ourselves, “What are the affects and qualities that we create outside the lot lines?”  This is a path to relevancy.
"The practice of Architecture today is often overly focused on appearance, and as a result it unwittingly falls prey to the most superficial measures of value- market taste.  Form for us is neither the thing nor its consumption.  We work for the space and the nature and quality of the transactions between.
"The establishment of the service professional out of the criticism of the modern utopian project for architecture has left the purpose (value) of architecture empty.  A service architect working without a culturally critical (educational) position will more often than not be seen as necessary but not valued.  Architects have lost why.
"Communities have origins, stories, connections to family, institutions, the land and weather, they function or fail in a particular economy.   Effective planning begins with a commitment to listening and research.  Communities are complex organisms made up of human transactions, both private and public.  The quality of a community is measured in its resident’s well-being and members sense of belonging, in their pride and legacy, in their sense of security and opportunity for growth.  This is the planning goal; to affect these deeper measures of quality.  Transportation, infrastructure, tax revenue, access to food, jobs or recreation are systems; tools and resources to make a better community.  Too often planners think the systems are the community and overlook the deeper needs, stresses, and desires that characterize a community.  Understanding these is essential for healthy revival and growth." (https://www.duvalldecker.com/what-we-believe/)

7 La Rivoluzione delle Seppie Manifesto; 
http://larivoluzionedelleseppie.org

8 Hannah Wood, “Spatial Activism: Profiling a New Wave of European Architecture Collectives and Their Spatial Manifestos”, Archinecthttp://archinect.com/features/article/149989510/spatial-activism-profiling-a-new-wave-of-european-architecture-collectives-and-their-spatial-manifestos, pp. 4,5.

9 The Granby Workshop Catalogue 2015 contains two historical articles about the Granby Street area of Liverpool: “Granby: A History” by Madeline Heneghan and Tony Wailey and “Why were the Four Streets emptied out anyway?” by Jonathan Brown. (Both articles can be found at https://www.granbyworkshop.co.uk/blogs/articles)

10 Conference registration handout.

11 A Community Land Trust is “a community-owned not-for-profit organisation with a geographically-defined membership, open to anyone living or working within the local area, providing genuinely affordable housing for local people.” The land is commonly owned--”taken permanently off the market and managed collectively on behalf of the community. [...Although the] land is owned collectively by the trust, ...the buildings can be individually leased from the CLT. Any profit...is held collectively...and reinvested for collective use... .” (Matthew Thompson, “What exactly is a Community Land Trust”, Granby Workshop Catalogue 2015, pp. 56-57)

12 https://www.granbyworkshop.co.uk/pages/about-us 

13 “A Factory As It Might Be”, a printed brochure explaining the project, [ASSEMBLE, 2017, p. 2].


*****


THE ORTNER PRESERVATION AWARD

We have been discussing local architectural activism above, and my block association has been presented with an award for organizing neighborhood opposition to, and intervening in, an attempt to build an a-historic building in our historic district. The 14th Street Block Association was the recipient of the Park Slope Civic Council's 2016 Evelyn and Everett Ortner Preservation Award for neighborhood intervention. Our block association has been active in Brooklyn since the early 1970s, which is the era when the original Park Slope Historic District was first approved by New York City (1973).



A group photo of some of our block association members and the theater: Michael Padwee, Marilyn Bloom, Judith Hooper, Lee Anne Shaffer, Mark Grashow, Sheri Salzberg, Ben Posel and Botz. The theater is closed in this photo (December 2016) and is awaiting renovation and a reopening as a dinner-theater. (Photo courtesy of Audrey Mazur)

Our block was the southernmost block in the original historic district, but the 1928 Sanders Theater on one corner was excluded from the protection afforded by historic designation. This theater, which had fallen on hard times in the 1970s and was closed by 1978, anchored one end of a traffic circle--Bartel-Pritchard Square--that was the southern entrance to two historic districts, Park Slope and Prospect Park, with its entrance that was designed by Stanford White just prior to his death. 




The Bartel-Pritchard Square entrance to Prospect Park with Stanford White's Acanthus Columns. (See https://tilesinnewyork.blogspot.com/2016/02/inside-prospect-park-parks-rustic.html for an article about the internal architecture of Prospect Park.)

In 2012 the Park Slope Historic District was expanded and now included the Sanders (now the Pavilion) Theater and the circle and the buildings on the west side of the circle. However, a one-story building on the circle that was attached to the theater, was left out of the expanded district.



The one-story building and the theater. The structure erected on the roof of the theater is a model of condo penthouses and "mechanical systems" to be built on the roof of a condoized theater. The building to the left, next to the one-story building, is part of the extended historic district.

The new owner of the theater and one-story building wanted to build a six-story luxury condo and modern commercial stores on the site of the single story building and attach it to the theater, which would be converted to more condos and a small theater. Our State Assemblyman, who also lived near the theater, alerted our block association to the developer's plans. Our Community Board, which should have kept us informed, didn't notify us. (Our block association fought two previous attempts by developers to create a hardware store and condos out of the theater in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s the theater was reopened as a multi-plex.)


This is the developer's initial proposal. It would marry a new 5-story building plus penthouse floor to the theater. The modern storefronts didn't look like the other storefronts a block away, and the modern lighting would have caused "light pollution" in the circle and around the entrance to Prospecr Park across the street. The windows, doors, masonry to window ratio, and cornice line were criticized in our proposal as a-historic. One resident likened the new construction to a prison with a corrugated-metal top hat.


Our block association leafletted the neighborhood, organized meetings, and with the help of architects on our block and the support of the Park Slope Civic Council's "Historic District" Committee produced a critique and plan that was more in tune with the neighborhood, both historically and architecturally. After our local community board and city councilman approved the developer's plans with some minor modifications, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing on the developer's proposal. Community residents flooded the meeting and spoke against the proposal. The LPC, however, voted to accept the modified proposal with a few more small changes.


One of our block association leaflets. This one compares the developer's model (left) with our counter-proposal (right).


The developer's next step would have been to go back to our community board to get approval for land use--construction plan, underground parking, garage entrance and curb cuts on 14th Street, and so forth, and then go before the NYC Board of Standards and Appeals for a final hearing/approval on the overall construction plan. The block association was also preparing for these hearings.

The process, however, was never completed. A neighbor on 14th Street, whose house was partly connected to the back of the theater, sued the developer for about 400 square feet of land that their property had the use of since 1928 when the original theater owner, who once owned their house, took the land from the theater for his family's own use. The suit was settled in our member's favor. Then, the developer sold the theater, and the new owner rented it to a company that ran a successful dinner theater in another area of Brooklyn and wanted to expand into our neighborhood. At this time, we do not know of any plans for the one-story building.



*****


LINKS TO MY PAST BLOG ARTICLES




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