Category Archives: Architecture

New York/Roosevelt Island

Long Island City from Roosevelt Island — © Brian Rose

On Sunday I took a tour of Four Freedoms Park, a memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, currently under construction on Roosevelt Island. The island is located in the East River opposite Midtown and the Upper East Side. It is accessible by aerial tram and subway, and by a bridge from Queens. In the past, the island was primarily used for prisons and hospitals, a convenient location to keep separate from society certain people–notably the mentally ill, small pox patients, and victims of polio. In the 1970s a planned community of high rises was built for middle income residents, and more recently, market rate housing.

It was damp, foggy morning, and I joined about 25 other Cooper Union alumni for the hour-long tour at the far southern end of the island. The memorial was originally designed by Louis Kahn in 1973, but it was not built because of the city’s fiscal problems. The project was resurrected a few years ago and is now going forward using the Kahn design. I snapped pictures of the construction site as well as views across the East River and historic structures on the island.

FDR Four Freedoms Park under construction — © Brian Rose

The memorial culminates in a granite enclosed “room” at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island opening onto a vista of the river and the adjacent United Nations complex in Manhattan–enveloped in fog above.

The complete series of ten photographs can be seen here.

The park website is here.

New York/Solar Panels

Fair Lawn, New Jersey — Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

I read with some amusement an article in the New York Times on New Jersey residents complaining about solar panels mounted on utility poles in their neighborhoods.

“I hate them,” Mr. Olsen, 40, said of the row of panels attached to electrical poles across the street. “It’s just an eyesore.”

Some residents consider the overhanging panels “ugly” and “hideous” and worry aloud about the effect on property values.

Yes, looking at the photograph above there clearly is a problem. The street is cluttered with old wooden poles festooned with transformer boxes and draped with telephone and electrical wires. The solar panels merely add to the visual cacophony. This is how residential streets look all over the country–and I am sorry to say that most people have become blind to it. Moreover, in the current political and economic climate there is little hope that this design cancer will be addressed.

Tassafaronga Village, Oakland, California (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Recently, I photographed Tassafaronga Village in Oakland, California  for architect David Baker. It is comprised of low income and middle income housing. In the shot above I am looking over an undulating green roof toward townhouse apartments with solar panels mounted on stanchions and on the roofs. Utility lines are invisible–only the solar panels remain exposed. Imagine the street in New Jersey with a series of new appropriately designed poles mounted with solar panels. The panels would be plainly visible, of course, but the overall look greatly simplified. It could be done elegantly.

Tassafaronga Village, Oakland, California (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Here is another view of the project looking toward a larger apartment building containing community rooms and support offices. The previous view was shot from one of the narrow vertical windows on the second floor. Solar panels face south along the street.

As a society we are neglecting the public commons. Our communities are visually polluted with all kinds ill-considered utility structures, cheaply built municipal buildings, and unregulated strip developments. Present day political discourse is all about what we can’t do rather than what we can do.

New Jersey: require the utility companies to bury those lines.


New York/Williamsburg

Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

A new building from local firm Loading Dock 5. Despite the many mega housing projects in Williamsburg, the best architecture is often found in small infill projects like this one. The windows echo the off-the-shelf frames of the two aluminum sided houses on either side. A glimpse of the light filled interior can be seen through the tall vertical window.


New York/The Bowery

Cafe on the Bowery — © Brian Rose

An article about the Empire State Building, built during the Great Depression, it was once referred to as the Empty State Building because of the high vacancy rate. Nice to see an architectural view used so prominently in the paper. It looks a lot better here graphically rendered in black and white than it does in color on the NYT website–wrong time of day and hazy looking.

New York/Colonial Williamsburg

Last weekend I went to AIPAD, the giant photography dealer’s fair at the Armory on Park Avenue. I don’t have any particular opinion about what I saw–a lot of photographs–no trends spotted. Not enough time or energy to think critically about such a dizzying display of dreck to pearls. Primary observation: more galleries present and a number from outside New York. Business seems to be picking up. So far, it’s not helping me.

Afterward, I dashed uptown to the Guggenheim to meet my sister who was visiting from San Francisco. We wanted to see a video installation by Omer Fast who in 2005 made a piece dealing with Williamsburg, Virginia, the restored colonial capitol, and where we grew up.

From the 2008 Whitney Biennial:

In Godville (2005), a 51-minute, two-channel color video, historical reenactors at the Colonial Williamsburg living-history museum in Virginia describe their eighteenth-century characters’ lives and their personal lives in ways that seem interchangeable. Fast splices the reenacted and real biographies together, often word-by-word, into a rambling narrative that is as aurally fluent as it is temporally dissonant. The work tells the story of a town in America whose residents are unmoored, floating somewhere between the past and the present, between revolution and reenactment, between fiction and life.

Godville by Omer Fast — seen at the Guggenheim Museum — © Brian Rose

Both my sister and I played roles in the open air museum of Colonial Williamsburg. I was part of the fife and drum corps, a professional musical group that performed regularly for visitors as well as for presidents and dignitaries. My sister was a costumed ticket taker, and later a costumed sweeper hostess at the nearby Busch Gardens “old Europe” theme park. A sweeper hostess, as I understand it, picked up trash and chatted with tourists.

I found the film fascinating, though unsure about its ultimate message. I liked the idea of intercutting between real and fictional, and in the process blurring the lines. I have made photographs of the architecture of Colonial Williamsburg, and was particularly interested in the juxtaposition of views of the historic structures and contemporary suburban neighborhoods. Confusing, however, was that many of the contemporary architectural and landscape images shown were not made in Williamsburg, but in unidentified generic locations.  Some of the images included mountains and scenes from the west, which I presume was intended to allude to larger American mythological themes.

Godville by Omer Fast — seen at the Guggenheim Museum — © Brian Rose

Three costumed reenactors spoke either in character or from their real life experiences. Some of the time they were shown speaking uninterrupted, other times their words were chopped up and reconnected. The depiction of these people–and their words–is extremely manipulative, but I can’t say that they were shown unsympathetically or portrayed unfavorably. It is, however, a highly problematic approach. Knowing what I know about art and media, I would be very wary of participating in such an enterprise.

Godville by Omer Fast — seen at the Guggenheim Museum — © Brian Rose

In so many ways Colonial Williamsburg is an easy mark. It is easy to see it as kitsch and a distortion of American history. Too easy. There is lots of room for critical analysis, but unfortunately most of it to date has been facile. Omer Fast’s Godville, despite my reservations, is worth seeing and thinking about. Not that many people visiting the Guggenheim are doing that. In the hour that I spent watching the video in the museum on a busy Sunday afternoon, not one person gave it more than a minute’s attention.

Colonial Williamsburg outbuildings  (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Which brings me to my own work dealing with Williamsburg. A number of years ago I photographed the outbuildings and surrounding gardens behind the main buildings. The pictures deal with the structures as architectural vocabulary filtered through modern interpretation and context. On the one hand they reveal the complex dichotomy of old and new, and on the other hand they are what they are–formally composed, often beautiful, collections of little buildings, fences, and trees.

Since it appears I will be continuing to go down to Williamsburg in the future–my father still lives there, and my mother may return there soon, I am thinking I should revisit the project. The idea I have is to photograph some of the new urbanist communities that have been developed outside of the restored area–places that recycle the architectural and urban planning vocabulary of the past–and juxtapose those pictures with the ones I have taken of the outbuildings and dependencies of Colonial Williamsburg.

New York/Cooper Square

Cooper Square (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

The small federal-style building at center dating from the early 19th century may not stand much longer. It is now surrounded by scaffolding, and demolition of the roof has begun. The city has just issued a stop work order, but my guess is that it will only postpone the inevitable. The preservation groups seeking to save the character of the Bowery–this is the northern extension of the Bowery–are admirable, but rather late as you can see by the architectural context. Here is the latest news.

Cooper Square — © Brian Rose

Presumably, the vacant lot at the corner of Third Avenue and E6th Street would be joined with the land under 35 Cooper Square to create a larger site for development.

Cooper Square in 1917

Even in 1917 few of the federal period buildings remained in this part of town.

New York/WTC

Smith Street, Brooklyn (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

I finally got the film back from the subway trip to Smith Street in the area near the Gowanus Canal. The image in WTC was from my small digital camera–the one above is from a 4×5 negative. Several pictures I took there are usable, but I think I will stick with this view.

West Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

This is the 4×5 version of an image posted earlier show 1 WTC and 7 WTC in the center.

Info kiosk with 1 and 7 WTC (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

I will update my WTC book with the images above and the two below. I’ve felt that the series needed strengthening near the end. These should do the trick.

At this point, unless something unexpected happens with a publisher, I am planning on putting this book out on Blurb in two sizes–the full size 11×13 hardcover and an 8×10 hard and softcover. The smaller books will sell for $45 to $55 as opposed to $100 plus for the larger size. From an aesthetic standpoint, the 11×13 best conveys the monumental nature of the subject, but the small book will look good, too. All three of my self-produced books will be available in the 8×10 format including Time and Space on the Lower East Side and Berlin: In from the Cold.

I’ll post a new link to the updated book once it’s ready. Link here.

New York/Ground Zero

Greenwich Street, Fireman’s Memorial  (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Church Street, St. Paul’s Chapel Churchyard (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Earlier this week I picked up the film from my two days of shooting around ground zero. So these are scans of 4×5 film. Despite difficult snowy conditions, and a 30 second exposure for the evening shot, both negatives are razor sharp. The tall building at center of both images is One World Trade Center. The sweeping view of the site made next to the Fireman’s Memorial was, until a few weeks ago, blocked by the remnants of the Deutsche Bank building behind the blue fence to the left. I’m very pleased with these images and intend to work them into the WTC book. Stay tuned for several more images.

It’s taken me a while to get these up because I had jury duty–two days on call–didn’t get picked. A jury of your peers in Manhattan can be a pretty rarefied group. A hundred of us were taken into a courtroom for jury selection and 18 were interviewed by the prosecution and defense attorney. You were asked to respond to basic questions about career, education, and family. 17 of the 18 in that first group had college degrees. Many had masters degrees. The jury was selected before I had a chance to be interviewed. It was an armed robbery.

New York/WTC

Vesey Street — © Brian Rose

I went back to the WTC site yesterday and spent much of the day there–mostly in three spots. It was a cold cloudy day with snow occasionally falling. Conditions like that make using the view camera difficult, but it was not so extreme as to be unmanageable. I started out in the area around the Path Train station adjacent to 7 WTC, the one element of the new World Trade Center already completed. Tourists milled about an info kiosk, looked at the various renderings and photos plastered to construction fencing, and craned their necks up at 1 WTC, now more than 50 stories high.

Information Kiosk — © Brian Rose

Transportation Center rendering, Vesey Street — © Brian Rose

St. Paul’s churchyard — © Brian Rose

St. Paul’s Chapel survived 9/11 relatively unscathed including the historic gravestones in its churchyard. The sign at the bottom of the photo above shows the spire of the church situated between the former Twin Towers. I did several photographs in the churchyard and then headed back to my studio to warm up and get more film.

Fireman’s Memorial, Greenwich Street — © Brian Rose

When I returned to ground zero the snow had picked up. I did several views in the area around the Fireman’s Memorial. The Deutsche Bank building, which has taken almost ten years to demolish, is now down to the last floor, opening up a panoramic vista of skyscrapers including 1 WTC going up at center of the photo above. I made this iamge by holding my digital camera against the top of the view camera. The exposures with the 4×5 were in the 15 seconds to 1 minute range. Could be snow on the lens, so we’ll see how things turn out when I get the film back.

I am hoping that a few of these images can be incorporated into the WTC book bringing the narrative up to 2011.

New York/WTC

West Street — © Brian Rose

I went downtown this afternoon just after a light snowfall. It was cold, but tolerable and not overly windy. I did several shots with the view camera, one similar to the image above. 1 WTC is now over 50 floors up–almost as high as the adjacent 7 WTC. Visually double the height, and add a spire. That’s how tall this building will be when completed.

I may go back tomorrow. The Deutsche Bank building, which was damaged on 9/11, is now down to its last floor or two. It has taken this long because of a series of delays caused by the discovery of human remains, complicated asbestos removal, an accident, and a fatal fire. The building’s absence opens up new vistas on the overall site and removes a curse–if you believe such things–from ground zero.

My WTC book proposal will be reviewed by a publisher next week. Keep your fingers crossed–if you believe such things. See the book here.

New York/WTC

Lower Manhattan Skyline, 1982 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose and Ed Fausty

This is lower Manhattan at its most heroic and romantic seen from the upper floor of a building in Brooklyn Heights. Since 1982, several bulky buildings have blocked up the foreground and obscured the thin spires of the early 20th century–and of course, the Twin Towers are gone. 1 World Trade Center is about 50 floors up now, and soon it will begin to rise above everything else.

After receiving a hardcopy version of WTC, my new book proposal concerning the World Trade Center, I decided to make a few changes. Text smaller, a few sequence tweaks, and a new end piece. I also created a text page opposite the image of the Deutsche Bank building, a cursed structure if ever there was one, only now about to fully demolished. It needed some explication.

I am reaching out to everyone I can about the book. I have some very good contacts, but limited. I need someone to come through for me on this. Otherwise, I’m not sure how this book will see the light of day.

The new version of WTC can be previewed here.

New York/WTC Book

Front cover of WTC — © Brian Rose

I’ve more or less finished with the first draft of WTC, my photo book about the World Trade Center. Like so much I’ve been doing lately I have no idea what the outcome of it all will be. This ought to be a “popular” book, but it’s an oblique glance rather than a series of straight on architectural views. The fact is, none of the earlier photos were ever intended to be primarily about the WTC or the Twin Towers. Only the later pictures, the ground zero views, and the found vernacular images of the Twin Towers were consciously made as such. In many ways the book is about memory and the ephemeral presence of the towers on the skyline. My favorite illustration of the Twin Towers is the New Yorker cover done by Art Spiegelman–black towers against a black background. They are barely visible.

New Yorker cover by Art Spiegelman

The book is comprised of a number of different sections corresponding to time period and camera format. The earliest pictures were made in the late ’70s on 35mm Kodachrome, the ’80s pictures were made on 4×5 film, and most of the recent ground zero photos were done on 4×5. The post 9/11 Twin Towers collection was mostly done with a digital pocket camera, either a Ricoh GR or Sigma DP1. It’s interesting to see them together in a book all printed at the same scale despite coming from drastically different file sizes.

Close up of the skin of WTC tower — © Brian Rose

To break up the parts, or chapters, of the book, I’ve made made tightly cropped images of the skin of the Twin Towers–the pin striping that made the buildings seem to shimmer or appear slightly fuzzy from a distance. These cropped images bleed to the edges of the page and act as dividers.

Close up of the skin of WTC tower — © Brian Rose

I haven’t decided whether to make the book public on Blurb as yet, but I will make it semi-public here on my blog. Take a look. Any feedback is, of course, appreciated. Be kind. I’ve put days and days into this not counting the shooting itself. Be sure to look at the full screen preview.

New York/Barclay-Vesey

Barclay-Vesey building with 1 and 7 WTC (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

This is one of my favorite buildings in NY–the Barclay-Vesey building–one of the great Art Deco telephone buildings. I’ve photographed it before–this time, from a few months ago, with the 4×5 camera. It’s a wonderfully athletic structure doing a sort of architectural twist at the hips. Already, the 1 WTC is twice is high, and will soon fill the entire patch of sky to the right.

New York/On the FDR

On the FDR Drive — © Brian Rose/Ed Fausty

Manhattan back in 1982 had many areas that were extremely quiet, even desolate. Few people lived in lower Manhattan then, and the weekends were exceptionally still. One Sunday morning Ed Fausty and I actually walked up on the FDR Drive and took several photographs. You would not want to try that today at any time of the week.

This is a new–and dramatically improved–scan of an image on my WTC webpage. I’ll update those images once I’m finished with the new ones.

New York/Noho/Nolita

Lafayette and Bond Street — © Brian Rose

The New Museum — © Brian Rose

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows

Song lyrics by Leonard Cohen

New York/Greenwich Village

West 4th Street subway station — © Brian Rose

I came across a photo of mine in the West 4th Street  subway station–part of a large installation called “Made in New York,” which features the work of New York City based architects. It’s the image on the top row, second from left, of the Holocaust Center at Queensborough Community College by TEK Architects.

Here’s an article about the project. And another.

New York/Trenton

A photographic impromptu done while documenting the Louis Kahn bath house and day camp pavilions. The series starts with a view of the pavilions and then takes in the grove of trees, sheds, and various objects that dot this nondescript, but oddly compelling landscape.

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

New York/Trenton, Kahn Bath House

Louis Kahn Bath House, Trenton, New Jersey — © Brian Rose

As I suggested in an earlier post about the Kahn bath house, there is more to the project than the cinderblock changing rooms that most people are familiar with. The photo above shows the central courtyard of the bath house with floating pyramidal roofs resting on hollow piers, which act as separate spaces–as baffles for access to the changing rooms, and as storage and mechanical spaces. The complex is rigidly symmetrical. Four square rooms and a square central court with a circle inscribed in the pavement.

Kahn was originally hired to create a campus for the Jewish Community Center, which was to include a pool/bath house, a community building, and a day camp for outdoor activities. Only parts of it were carried out. In the plan above you can see the bath house and pool in the upper left. At the lower left is a collection of small pavilions that comprised the day camp. These were built, and despite falling into disrepair, survived to be restored as part of the overall project headed by FMG Architects of Princeton.

Here is a historic view of the pavilions in use. The columns were made of terracotta pipe material filled with concrete. My understanding is that the outer material soon cracked and was stripped off leaving the bare concrete pillars. When I photographed the bath house last February the day camp pavilions were in ruins.

Kahn day camp pavilions, February 2010 © Brian Rose

Kahn day camp pavilions, October 2010 © Brian Rose

The day camp stands perhaps 100 yards from the bath house, and the four rectangular pavilions are arranged asymmetrically inside an earthen circle. The pavilions were meant as open air and indoor space in which various activities could take place. Today, there is an amphitheater adjacent, and a collection of small sheds or play houses. The terracotta columns have been recreated.

Kahn day camp pavilions, October 2010 © Brian Rose

The pavilions while made from utilitarian materials with a very prosaic recreational purpose, evoke an ancient temple complex set  in a clearing, raised slightly on a plinth. Moving through and around the pavilions provides a constantly changing series of spacial and visual relationships.

Around the pavilions, the day camp has built a collection of small huts, which I imagine are club houses, or play houses for kids. Their toy-like presence echoes and contrasts with Kahn’s serious temples of play nearby.

The Louis Kahn bath house, now restored, consists of two groupings of buildings–the pool complex and the day camp–juxtaposed across an open field. In these two extremely modest constructions, Kahn, early in his career, experimented with the architectural elements that would serve as the basis for his most ambitious work. For the first time in many years, these two pieces of Kahn’s unfinished site plan can be viewed together, in relation to one another.