Category Archives: Architecture

New York/Liberty Island

liberty08Liberty Island, superintendent’s house (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

liberty02Liberty Island, superintendent’s house (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

After finishing with photography of the Statue of Liberty a couple of weeks ago, I set up my view camera and walked around the perimeter of the island. I was looking, in particular, for views of 1 World Trade Center that might go in my upcoming book WTC. One of the peculiarities of being on Liberty Island is that you can’t get back far enough from the statue to really see it well, and getting it and the skyline of New York together isn’t possible. But I found several views toward the city quite compelling nevertheless.

Two of them were in and around the superintendent’s house on the back side of Liberty Island. Renovation work on the Statue of Liberty was actually complete last October, and the island opened for visitors. For one day. Hurricane Sandy hit New York on October 29th flooding Liberty Island, knocking out power to the statue, and damaging various infrastructure and support buildings, including the superintendent’s house. The cleanup took months, and the statue was just reopened on July 4th.

My understanding is that the house will be torn down — it is part of a small complex of buildings of little architectural or historic importance. I found the house just beyond the contractor’s trailers sitting abandoned and exposed to the elements. I did one picture in front looking toward Lower Manhattan, and another in the living room looking toward a picture window framing a view of the skyline, a ruined piano and couch in the foreground.

Reminders of the vulnerability of New York, natural or otherwise.



New York/Liberty Island

liberty05View of skyline from Liberty Island (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Two weeks ago, I photographed the Statue of Liberty on assignment. It was a two-day shoot focused on improvements made to visitor circulation inside the statue’s pedestal, and various other infrastructural upgrades that will be mostly invisible to the public. Liberty Island was a beehive of activity as construction workers sped to complete renovations in time for the July 4th reopening.

At the end of the second day of photography, I got out my view camera and made a number of images looking toward the city and 1 World Trade Center. By 4pm, most of the construction workers had left, and I had the island, more or less, to myself.

The sun, blazing most of the day, became partly obscured by clouds producing a more muted palette — something that suits me fine. Although I use a digital camera for architectural shoots, I still work with the big camera for my own work. Switching cameras was a relief. I slowed down, found a groove, and made several images that I think are potential keepers.



New York/Art School/Protest

Step Down, Cooper Union, with student leader Victoria Sobel seated on floor
© Brian Rose

Art school, protest, and how I got to Cooper Union

Before transferring to Cooper Union in 1977 I was attending MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art). It was an expensive private art school — tuition is now just over $39,000 per year. I remember the college president telling the incoming class in a welcoming speech what percentage of students would complete their degrees and go on to find careers in art. It was a discouragingly low number.

Previously, I had studied urban planning and architecture at the University of Virginia, and art school was difficult step for me. But my interest in photography had blossomed, and I saw myself becoming a fine art photographer down the road. At first, the diverse course offerings for obtaining a BFA were daunting — I hadn’t done any drawing or painting before — but I became increasingly appreciative of the interconnectedness of the different media, and as I became more confident in my abilities, I began to evaluate the students around me as well as the quality of the professors I was studying with.

It was a mixed bag. Many of the students seemed more enamored of the art lifestyle than the actual practice of art. And many of the professors, especially the entrenched tenured ones, seemed to be coasting as artists. There seemed a lack of ambitiousness all round. A large faculty art show in the college gallery confirmed my suspicions. The work was weak and directionless, and to me, it was insulting to those of us paying a ton of money to attend the school. So, a friend of mine and I engaged in a little guerrilla action, creating a flyer printed in black courier type that panned the faculty show and suggested that our tuition money was going to waste. We taped these flyers up everywhere on the campus — on walls, doors, in classrooms, restrooms, inside drawers and underneath desks. It caused quite a sensation.

I should say here, however, that some of my motivation was simply unearned hubris, and that some of my professors were excellent. Furthermore, not knowing what things are like at MICA in these days, this should not be construed as criticism of the present school. However, I was right about needing a more challenging environment, and as a result, began looking into exchange programs with other art schools. Above all, I wanted to explore color photography. It was 1976, and color was just becoming a viable medium outside of advertising and magazines, and seeing that Joel Meyerowitz, one of the pioneers of color photography was teaching at Cooper Union, I knew where I should go. I did my one semester exchange, hung around unofficially for another semester auditing classes, using my student ID good for a year, and eventually got in as a transfer student. The dean of the art school later told me they accepted four out of 450 applicants for transfer that year.

It had to be Cooper. My parents had pretty much given up on me and my educational wanderings, and had cut off my funding. Cooper, of course, was tuition free, making it possible for me to continue my dream even without parental support. A full telling of the story would describe in detail how life-changing the experience of attending Cooper was. How terrific the teachers were. How brilliant the students were. How it was understood without questioning that we were artists, and would go on to be artists in the real world, in New York City just outside the door, our campus and hometown. And that’s what happened for me. I was able to immediately begin an extended photography project upon graduation, and have been pursuing my dream for 30 years since.

Art School, protest, and (the end?) of Cooper Union

On Saturday I attended both Show Up, the annual end-of-year student show at Cooper Union, and Step Down, the renegade art show on the 7th floor of the Foundation Building just outside the office of Jamshed Bharucha, the college president. As those of you following the news already know, the president’s office has been occupied by students demanding that he and the chairman of the board of trustees resign. The sit-in was precipitated by the decision to begin charging tuition to close a budget gap brought on by financial mismanagement and the lack of imagination and leadership required to fix the problem. This alteration of Cooper’s central mission of providing free education to all, regardless of economic status, threatens to destroy the egalitarian meritocracy that has made this place a unique treasure.

Step Down is an openly polemical show full of anger and biting humor. The work was provided by students, alumni, and friends. I donated my book Time and Space on the Lower East Side with a letter to the students who are leading the effort to save Cooper Union. The letter explains that Time and Space would not have happened without Cooper, and that it reconnects, for me, the gap between the present and that time when I first arrived in New York City. The student protest at Cooper goes far beyond my modest flyer of 1976, but both actions, on different levels, are about the quality and the value of education.

The book is displayed on a table, and you can read my letter below. (Click on the letter for an easier to read view)

Time and Space on the Lower East Side at Step Down — © Brian Rose

Letter accompanying my book at Step Down 

Step Down, Cooper Union — © Brian Rose

The art blog Hyperallergic wrote about Step Down:

…the exhibition Free Cooper Union put together, in only a week’s time, is probably one of the most significant and symbolic shows of the year. …this is an important exhibition, singular in capturing a raw provocation to authority. It’s an endeavor as worthwhile as it is rare.

And another article from ArtInfo.
More photos of Step Down here.

The New Academic Building, Cooper Union — © Brian Rose

As I was leaving the 7th floor, I pointed my camera out the window and made the photograph above across Cooper Square. Normally, when a university constructs a major new building it gets named for a prominent donor who helped make it possible. At Cooper the NAB, or New Academic Building, is a grand architectural statement bereft of a benefactor’s name. A large part of Cooper Union’s financial woes are connected to that fact. It was a complex real estate deal so they say, but, in a nutshell, the trustees chose to borrow the entire cost of construction, and now find they are unable to make the mortgage payments. As a result, they have shifted the debt to the students and abandoned the mission as expressed by Peter Cooper that education should be as “free as water and air.”


New York/Around Town

statenislandStaten Island Ferry terminal in Manhattan — © Brian Rose

Now that my exhibition is down, and Time and Space on the Lower East Side is about 2/3 sold, it’s time to shift gears to my next book, another long-term project dealing with New York City. A couple of years ago it occurred to me, almost out of the blue, that I had in my archive enough photographs taken over the years for a book about the World Trade Center. This was not a premeditated project, but something that grew organically, one series of images at a time.

You can see the book dummy here on Blurb. And here is the CNN story about it. The mural based on seven close-up images of the Twin Towers’ facades can be seen here.

Most of the book is done. It’s just a matter of pulling it together with several images of 1WTC reaching its full height on the skyline, and possibly a few more thematic images that act as connective tissue. Awhile ago I did a walking tour through the St. George area of Staten Island and came across a mural of the Twin Towers and firefighters. I snapped a couple pictures with my pocket camera. On Saturday I went back with my view camera. As is so often the case, the whole situation seemed different–different light, different atmosphere, vehicles blocking some of the sight lines to the wall. But you never know about these things. I found other ways to photograph the same subject. I’ll post the results when the film gets developed.

Randalls Island rail viaduct — © Brian Rose

My son Brendan plays baseball with his middle school team and little league. Fields are hard to come by in Manhattan, and those that are available are usually artificial turf, oddly shaped, and somewhat difficult to get to. This year, we’ve had to go up to Randall’s Island several times. It’s a mess to get to by public transportation. Situated in the East River adjacent to Harlem, it has historically been a place to hide things like psychiatric hospitals and sewage treatment plants. Recently it has become a recreational park with, track and field, tennis, soccer, and baseball facilities.

Randalls Island is crisscrossed by major transportation infrastructure, the Triboro Bridge, famously built by Robert Moses, and the Hell Gate bridge that carries Amtrak and freight trains into and out of the city. The massively built structure passes over the entire island and a bicycle and foot path runs beneath the arches. Here’s an aerial view made some years ago:




New York/Seagram Building


The Seagram Building (375 Park Avenue) — photo by Ezra Stoller

A few days ago the Times ran a story about Phyllis Lambert’s book Building Seagram, which tells the story of her role in the selection of Mies van der Rohe for the commission. The Seagram Building (now 375 Park Avenue) is regarded by many as New York’s finest skyscraper of the modern era. Lambert was the daughter of Samuel Bronfman, the head of Seagram, and her zeal for architecture and civic responsibility led her to take up the cause in New York and in her hometown of Montreal. It may sound unlikely, but there is a small connection to Time and Space on the Lower East Side in this story.

In the late 70s at Cooper Union, one of my professors was Richard Pare, who at the time was assembling a collection of architectural photographs for Seagram under the direction of Phyllis Lambert. Those photographs, acquired by Pare, from all over the world, would eventually comprise a unique part of the collection of the Canadian Center for Architecture, another Lambert initiative. Soon after graduating, I began the Lower East Side project with Edward Fausty. After a number of months of work — once we had gotten some momentum going — we contacted Pare and showed him our pictures.

I remember visiting Pare in the Seagram Building on Park Avenue in 1980 bringing a box of 11×14 prints. We eventually sold a dozen or so prints to Seagram, which helped fund the project at a critical time when our money was running low. I also remember meeting Lambert, and attending an event honoring Berenice Abbot, the great photographer of New York City. I’m not sure I appreciated her importance until then.

There were several key funding moments that made the Lower East Side project possible — a New York State CAPS grant (similar to today’s NYFA grants), an unexpected windfall of $10,000 left to me by a deceased relative, and the Seagram/Canadian Center for Architecture purchase. Without those three sources of money, it’s doubtful that the Lower East Side project would have been completed, and my career — such as it is — launched.

Thank you Phyllis Lambert — and Richard Pare.





EMP in Seattle — © Brian Rose

EMP is not one of Frank Gehry’s better buildings. It tries way to hard, makes too many moves, is junky rather than elegant. Nevertheless, there are moments. Here’s Jimi Hendrix and the undulating skin of the building.



Seattle/Public Library

OMA’s (Rem Koolhaas) public library in Seattle, a fixture of downtown, now almost ten years old. I had seen photographs, which were impressive, but having been disappointed by some of Koolhaas’s buildings in the past, I wanted to see this one in person. The exterior is a bit jarring–wedged tightly into a difficult sloping site–like the nearby city hall. But its origami-esque planes make it a strong, if impersonal, sculptural form, next to the comparatively fussy civic building by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. Inside, there are familiar Koolhaas concepts like the continuous ramp linking the different levels of book stacks, and the industrial metal egg crate railings and cheesy padded acoustic panels are materials he’s used elsewhere. What’s different, however, is the drama of the interior spaces–at times vertigo inducing–but tightly controlled and organized conceptually. What was great was to see this most challenging architectural environment full of people, using it comfortably, reading, lounging, working on computers. But Koolhaas’s buildings never sit cozily, nor play by the rules. Certainly not this one.

Here are some snapshots taken with my point-and-shoot.















New York/Border Photos



A time out from my Lower East Side book and exhibition.

My photographs of the former Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall are currently featured in the journal MAS Context. To quote their website, MAS Context, a quarterly journal created by MAS Studio, addresses issues that affect the urban context. Each issue delivers a comprehensive view of a single topic through the active participation of people from different fields and different perspectives who, together, instigate the debate.

The photographs shown begin in 1985 when I first began traveling across Europe with the view camera documenting the landscape of the Iron Curtain and come forward to a few years ago when I was last in Berlin. I have continued to photograph the area where the Wall once ran through the city. Although the border zone has become less visible over the years, there are still moments of urban disjuncture, as well as historical markers, remnants of the Wall, and the presence of new architecture and monuments.

In the last picture of the series, an East German Trabant, the iconic mini car, hovers from a video screen next to the Brandenburg Gate.




New York/The Cooper Union


Cooper Union, Foundation Building — © Brian Rose

I have not previously weighed in on the controversy embroiling my alma mater The Cooper Union, one of the most prestigious and historic schools in America. I read the paper, I look at websites, and hear things, but I have no inside track on what is going on. What I do know is troubling, and I believe the school’s viability is in grave danger.

In a nutshell, Cooper was founded by the industrialist Peter Cooper as a school for art, architecture, and engineering that was affordable for all regardless of ability to pay. It was located, appropriately, on the edge of the teaming Lower East Side, and for decades it has been tuition free. One of the few all scholarship institutions of higher learning in the world. Many of its graduates are now leaders in their respective fields–and have a particularly important impact on New York City.

Due to hard economic times, mismanagement, and the growing cost of higher education, Cooper finds itself in financial trouble. The board of trustees is about to make a momentous decision on whether to charge tuition possibly ending the school’s unique charter as stated by Peter Cooper to be “open and free to all.”

With regard to the art school, should the board decide on charging tuition, Cooper will then have to compete head-to-head with several highly esteemed art schools in New York City, as well as many other fine schools around the country. Cooper’s strength has always been the quality of its students–astonishingly bright and talented–the best of the best chosen without regard to ability to pay. Cooper’s facilities, two architecturally outstanding buildings notwithstanding, are meagre compared to other art schools. Cooper, being a small school, has fewer course offerings than others, and its faculty, while outstanding, is equal to those who teach elsewhere, but not necessarily better.

Charging tuition will end the uniqueness of Cooper Union and place the school at a competitive disadvantage. It will no longer be the most sought after art school in the city. The best students will choose schools with more to offer for their money. The money raised from tuition on a mere 1,000 students will not ultimately solve other structural financial problems. A death spiral is possible, if not likely.

A way has to be found forward that will retain Cooper’s unique tuition free status. The principles espoused by Peter Cooper must be reestablished, and the school should embark on new fund raising efforts. Those of us who do not have much money to give, do have our work, which could be leveraged to raise money. The art alumni need to be engaged, not simply asked for pledges. While doing my Kickstarter campaign last year to fund my book, I thought about how Cooper might undertake a similar campaign, except on a much larger scale, using the work of alumni as rewards for donations. Forget phonathons and other outmoded fundraising models.

It’s not just about money–it’s about engagement. A sense of belonging and responsibility. Should the board choose for tuition, many alumni will walk away, and that will be the beginning of the end.



New York/Lower East Side

Brendan, my 14 year old son, at the Manhattan Bridge — © Brian Rose

Last week my ICP class went to the area around the Manhattan Bridge on the Lower East Side. We were working off an iconic photograph by Berenice Abbott of Pike Slip looking toward one of the bridge towers. At the time her photograph was made, tenements crowded around the massive stone architecture and steel engineering that began near the Bowery and soared over the city before spanning the East River. The bridge continues to exert a dominant presence in the urban landscape, though most of the tenements have been torn down, replaced by housing projects, parks and ball fields. However, a part of Chinatown still borders the bridge with its hustle and bustle, and colorfully cluttered shopping malls have been constructed beneath the supports of the bridge. At Monroe Street, a there is an elaborate skatepark  hemmed between the massive stone piers of the bridge. It is a spectacular setting, a mecca for skateboarders and bmx’ers.

Yesterday, I took my 14 year old son with me for a photo walk around the bridge.


Manhattan Bridge — © Brian Rose


Under the Manhattan Bridge — © Brian Rose


Skatepark under the Manhattan Bridge — © Brian Rose


Skatepark under the Manhattan Bridge — © Brian Rose


Skatepark under the Manhattan Bridge — © Brian Rose


Park adjacent the Manhattan Bridge — © Brian Rose


Under the Manhattan Bridge — © Brian Rose




New York/Tassafaronga Village/Oakland, CA

Tassafaronga Village, David Baker + Partners, Oakland, California — © Brian Rose

In today’s New York Times, architecture critic Michael Kimmelman reviews two mixed income housing projects in the San Francisco Bay Area designed by the architect David Baker. Although Baker’s work has been published in various professional magazines, his profile outside of the Bay Area has remained relatively low. Low, in spite of the fact that Baker has achieved something few others have even tried–to bring sophisticated design to the task of providing housing for low and middle income people.

© Brian Rose

Tassafaronga Village in Oakland, California is a large complex of mostly new buildings that replace a troubled housing project set in the middle of neighborhood of small houses, factories, and stacks and stacks of rail containers. It’s a tough area, lying in the shadow of Oakland Colosseum where the Athletics and Raiders play, and crime is high.

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

There are several aspects to the project. One is a single building situated behind the undulating facade that you see above. It contains low income apartments grouped around a courtyard. Entry is through a spacious lobby, seen above. Some of the street side apartments have individual doorways.

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

Throughout the project there are solar panels mounted on masts, and in the shot above, a green roof can just be seen in the foreground. Other parts of Tassfaronga Village include townhouses facing streets with courtyards and walkways within and between the groupings of houses. Large galvanized steel farm troughs are used as planters.

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

While the houses do not attempt to mimic historic styles, they do evoke characteristics of Bay Area architecture, with bright yellows and reds punctuating the generally white, gray, and muted green palette.

© Brian Rose

There is limited parking on the street in the complex, but a bus loop connects to the nearby BART subway system.

© Brian Rose

An existing building–a former pasta factory–is integrated into the complex. Seen above, a sloping metallic mesh screens the windows along the south facing end of the building. The red door is a signature element found somewhere in almost of all of David Baker’s projects.

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

The question asked, and perhaps answered, in Kimmelman’s positive Times piece, is whether good design can enhance quality of life and even dampen social ills. It would appear so with Baker’s projects–for a number of reasons. One important one, is that there is always an active engagement with the street and with public spaces. The interior courtyards, playgrounds, and gardens encourage use, and can be easily watched over by surrounding windows. Baker does not plop down alien looking, monolithic blocks into the fabric of existing neighborhoods. His buildings look like they belong. However, his eclectic architectural vocabulary, which is as likely to quote European influences as American, is bracing and new.

Baker has rewritten the rules for subsidized housing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Working with knowledgeable developers, he has helped transform whole neighborhoods of San Francisco and Oakland, and he has demonstrated repeatedly that low income housing can be integrated into the urban landscape. Every day I walk out of my building here in New York and am confronted by the dispiriting brick wall and windows of a subsidized housing project, typical of what is done in this city and around the country. Tassafaronga Village, and other David Baker projects, shows another way forward.



New York/The Low Line

The Lowline exhibition

Underneath the street at the foot of the Williamsburg bridge is an abandoned underground trolley storage facility. Until recently, few knew about this hidden space.

From the New York Times:
James Ramsey and Dan Barasch, come to the project with prestigious résumés (Yale and NASA in Mr. Ramsey’s case, Cornell and Google for Mr. Barasch). They want to convert the space into a subterranean park, using fiber-optic technology to channel in natural light — enough light, in fact, to allow photosynthesis to occur and, as a result, for plants to thrive.

The proposal is called the Lowline, named  to echo the High Line, the elevated park built on the old rail viaduct slicing through Manhattan’s westside. Ramsey and Barasch and a host of other supporters and collaborators have put together an exhibition in a disused market building adjacent to the trolley site. In it they have built a prototype of the sun collectors and created a mini landscape comprised of a tree, ferns, and moss. I had been somewhat skeptical of the concept until seeing the exhibit–I imagined the lighting being indirect and dim. But the actual impression is of a shaft of sunlight penetrating the darkness. An array of these collectors would produce an underground world brightly illuminated by daylight.

There are a lot of  reasons for the Lowline to fail–the fact that the Metropolitan Transit Authority owns the space and wants to maximize the value of this otherwise dead space. The cost of building and maintaining such an elaborate piece of infrastructure. The bureaucratic red tape inherent in any New York City project, no matter how straight forward–and this would be anything but straight forward.

On the other hand, more than 10,000 people have passed through the Low Line exhibition in two weekends, an extraordinary number. The project has clearly seized the imagination of the city and beyond.

While visiting the exhibit yesterday I met briefly with Margaret Chin, Lower East Side city councilwoman, who is supporting the project, and then spoke with Dan Barasch. He was familiar with my book Time and Space on the Lower East Side, and I suggested that there might be a way I could support their project through my photography. I would love to be involved in some way.









New York/Buffalo

Manhatta Timeline, ArtSpace Buffalo — © Brian Rose

I am presently exhibiting work at ArtSpace Buffalo, a non-profit gallery, along with paintings and drawings by  J. Tim Raymond and Robert Harding. Tim, who is the organizer of the show, lives in Buffalo, and Bob Harding is a painter from New York City. The gallery is in an old factory buildings converted into artists lofts, and because of its immense size, I opted to show large pieces. The photographs are 40×50 inches and the mural, WTC, which I previously mounted on a sidewalk shed on East 4th Street in the East Village, is 4×28 feet.


Manhatta Timeline, ArtSpace Buffalo — © Brian Rose

The title of my part of the exhibition is Manhatta Timeline and takes its name from the short film made by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand in 1921 featuring images of New York City. The name is derived from the original Indian name for the island, Mannahatta, and the film includes quotes from the Walt Whitman poem of the same name. Timeline refers to the sequence of four images that begin at the north end of Manhattan in Inwood Park with the Hudson River and Palisades in the background. The sequence then moves down the Hudson to the World Trade Center in the 1980s, and concludes with a multi-layered urban scene from 2012 that includes a sign with the names of those killed on 9/11. The montage of WTC closeups is itself a visual yardstick with a searing strip of blue sky in the middle.

…I see that the word of my city is that word from of old,
Because I see that word nested in nests of water-bays, superb,
Rich, hemm’d thick all around with sailships and steamships, an
island sixteen miles long, solid-founded,
Numberless crowded streets, high growths of iron, slender, strong,
light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies…

from Mannahatta by Walt Whitman


Inwood Park (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose


Hudson Heights (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose


World Trade Center (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose


Washington Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose