Category Archives: Architecture

New York/East River Park

Williamsburg Bridge and East River Park — © Brian Rose

I went to East River Park to my son’s soccer game yesterday evening. 107 years ago when the Williamsburg Bridge was opened, this area, just to the south–called Corlears Hook–was comprised of docks, factories, and tenement housing. 19th century Corlears Hook had an unsavory reputation due to its thieves and prostitutes–hence the term “hookers.”

Today, the docks have been replaced by parkland, and towering housing projects dominate the area.

New York/Kahn Bath House

Louis Kahn bath house, Trenton, New Jersey — © Brian Rose

Here are a couple of before/after photographs of the Louis Kahn bath house in Trenton. The older pictures were made on a cloudy day in February 2010 while being shown around by Michael Mills of FMG Architects, the firm heading up the restoration of the bath house.

One of Kahn’s earliest commissions, this small project–changing rooms and showers for the adjacent swimming pool–served as an opportunity for Kahn to try out ideas that were later incorporated into his major projects. The bath house, originally built in 1955 for a Jewish community center, had fallen into disrepair, and eventually came into the hands of the local county government.

The entrance to the bath house was through an unobtrusive opening marked by a mural of Kahn’s design. It, too, had deteriorated and was painted over. The mural has been repainted based on Kahn’s drawings, a splash of color and decoration in an otherwise austere structure.

Kahn mural and bath house entrance — © Brian Rose

Louis Kahn bath house, Trenton, New Jersey — © Brian Rose

Most of the original structure has been retained in the restoration. The cinder block wall to the left had to be replaced, but the pyramidal wood roofs were in excellent condition and needed little work. The circular shape at center echoes the complex’s original pebble garden, which was later paved over. Michael Mills speculates that Kahn may have had some kind of water feature in mind for the circle, perhaps a fountain for rinsing one’s feet. Whatever the case, a circle inside a square is typical of Louis Kahn architecture, and returning it to the center of the bath house–even as a wheelchair accessible flat surface–is an important move.

New York/Trenton

Photographing the Louis Kahn bath house in Trenton, New Jersey
Photo by Meredith Bzdak

Wednesday I photographed the newly restored Kahn bath house in Trenton. The building itself is done, but the landscaping is far from finished. So, this will be an interim set of pictures–there are magazines anxious to do stories about the restoration–to be completed in the Spring.

I will be putting up photos shortly of both the exterior and interior of the project. Many of the interior pictures–this is actually an open air structure with walls–are fully finished. As I was shooting, the landscapers were cleaning up some of the weedy raggedness around the building, and it was amazing how much better the structure looked when set off cleanly.

But there is more to the story of the Kahn bath house than the bath house itself, which I will get into in a later post. A separate ensemble of structures that was part of the original site plan had fallen into ruin has also been restored. Stay tuned.

New York/Infrastructure

Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant (digester eggs) (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

The existence of New York is based on its extraordinary infrastructure both natural and man-made. The building of the Erie Canal opened up the west, and connected New York to limitless sources of prosperity. The building of New York’s water system with its reservoirs and aqueducts provided clean water to the city, and current expansion and replacement of that system guarantees the future viability of the city. The subway system, even Robert Moses’ hated arterial highway system, provide critical mobility, and current expansion projects under Second Avenue and the extension of the 7 line on the west side of Manhattan are examples of a continuing commitment to enhance that mobility.

Getting rid of the waste of an enormous metropolis has also required huge infrastructural investments–even visionary thinking. The Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, above, is an example of that thinking with cutting edge technology and stunning architecture. New York Harbor with its rivers and estuaries remains one of the greatest assets of the city. But New York would not have prospered without the building of the Brooklyn, Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Queensborough Bridges, among others, to the east. Nor would it have thrived without being connected to the west, to the rest of the country through the Hudson River tunnels, both highway and rail, and the George Washington Bridge.

Yes we can.

The building of these projects all required extraordinary vision and political will. Along the way there was wasted money, corruption, construction flaws, and a plethora of other evils. But in the end, the public’s money paid for an infrastructure that makes New York one of the greatest cities in the world.

No we can’t.

Yesterday, the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, broke faith with the vision that created that greatness–the greatness not just of New York, but of the United States. His decision to cancel the state of New Jersey’s participation in the building of a second rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River, an enormously important project which would double the capacity to move commuters and travelers to and from the city, is depressingly short sighted and is indicative of so much that is wrong with the U.S. At precisely the time when reinvestment in the infrastructure of the nation is desperately needed to keep up with Europe, Japan, and the rapidly expanding economies of Asia, Christie says no, we can’t afford to go forward.

The governor may be thinking of his presidential future–I killed that financial rathole of a project–or maybe he is a true believer in small government with its attendant lower expectations. Whatever the case, this is Christie’s “bridge to nowhere,” or rather, his tunnel to historical ignominy–and hopefully, oblivion.

New York/h2hotel, Healdsburg, California

h2hotel, Healdsburg, California — © Brian Rose
(mouseover the image for evening view)

Photographs like the one above (day and night versions) are fairly straightforward to make, but there is nothing wrong with such simple compositions. Architectural photography is first and foremost about the buildings, not necessarily the photographer’s vision. I believe the latter comes through, but it is often only discernible by looking at the photographer’s overall body of work.

That said, a straightforward shot like the one above can get pretty complicated. The hotel I was shooting faced east, meaning the main facade was sunlit only in the morning. Locals in Healdsburg told me that the mornings had been foggy for days, the mist not lifting till noon, which would be too late. I needed some luck. Sure enough the next morning was pretty much socked in, but I set up my camera with my assistant, and we waited. As you can see, I got lucky. I even got a couple of bicyclists in front who were heading out for a ride.

The photograph has one car in it–a Mustang parked there since the day before–but during the couple of hours we were out in front of the hotel, numerous cars and trucks attempted to park or make deliveries. My assistant had to run across the street repeatedly to negotiate with the drivers. In small town California, dealing with people is pretty easy. In New York City, fuggedaboutit.

The evening shot was much more dynamic. The street was busy and the bar and restaurant were opened to the sidewalk and full of people. I set up my camera at least a half hour before “magic hour.” It’s considerably less than an hour. As the moment approached, a waiter from the restaurant came across and informed me that two of the patrons sitting at a table directly on the sidewalk did not want to be photographed. A potential deal breaker.

Fortunately, the architect and hotel owner were present and also sitting in the restaurant. I asked them to intercede and gave them a 4×5 instant print to show the diners how insignificant they were in the composition. Problem solved. Later, I spread the day’s prints out on the bar for the architect to look at and discuss, and take home. A lost practice when shooting digital.

San Francisco/New York

The Good Hotel — © Brian Rose

Back in San Francisco I checked in to the Good Hotel on 7th Street. There are three hotels grouped together here–under the same ownership–each with its own theme. The Good Hotel is half motel, half vertical hotel, decorated for a youthful hipster crowd. The Americania, across the street, evokes a Route 66 motel of yesteryear, and the Carriage Inn is old pre-earthquake San Francisco. The Good Hotel  is described as “the first hotel with a conscience.” They have recycled carpets and gave me free parking for driving a hybrid, and when I went to bed, the word “goodnight” was projected above me on the ceiling. I felt good about myself–even a little smug.

The Good Hotel — © Brian Rose

These 7th Street hotels are great for me because they are located in the part of town easily accessible to the projects I am photographing. But for the average tourist, this is a decidedly dicey part of town. The seediness of the Civic Center and the Tenderloin spills over into this area. Soma–South of Market–is actually a vibrant neighborhood, but it’s often gritty and requires a certain degree of local knowledge to fully appreciate.

The Good Hotel — © Brian Rose

My room was located on what the desk referred to as the courtyard–see above. It’s a narrow airshaft with walkways leading to rooms and netting to keep out the pigeons. There’s a great view, if strange and incongruous, of the Federal Building, designed by Thom Mayne of Morphosis towering above. I don’t know if it’s good–in the fuzzy Good Hotel sense–but it is real.

Here’s a quote from Jack London, who I wrote about a few days ago while staying in Oakland:

I cannot help remembering a remark of De Casseres. It was over the wine in Mouquin’s. Said he: “The profoundest instinct in man is to war against the truth; that is, against the Real. He shuns facts from his infancy. His life is a perpetual evasion. Miracle, chimera and to-morrow keep him alive. He lives on fiction and myth. It is the Lie that makes him free. Animals alone are given the privilege of lifting the veil of Isis; men dare not. The animal, awake, has no fictional escape from the Real because he has no imagination. Man, awake, is compelled to seek a perpetual escape into Hope, Belief, Fable, Art, God, Socialism, Immortality, Alcohol, Love. From Medusa-Truth he makes an appeal to Maya-Lie.

—Jack London, The Mutiny of the Elsinore

I’m back in New York with lots of post production work to do. And jury duty, which could present a problem.

Oakland/Tassafaronga Village

Tassafaronga Village — © Brian Rose

A major priority in returning quickly to the Bay Area was to photograph Tassafaronga Village in Oakland for David Baker + Partners. It is a mixed income development in a difficult area of Oakland. My understanding is that the new village of apartments and townhouses replaces barracks-like public housing blocks. Some housing activists, apparently, objected to the razing of the old housing as well as the money spent on quality design.

Tassafaronga Village town houses — © Brian Rose

In my view, good design is critical to rebuilding urban neighborhoods–providing a fresh start in places where crime and poverty have become endemic. Design is more than about superficial aesthetics. It extends to creating places (and homes) that have the potential to reshape lives and produce sustainable, more vital, communities. Tassafaronga Village may be one of the best such examples in the country.

Tassafaronga village — © Brian Rose

John King for the San Francisco Chronicle: Again and again, his (architect David Baker) buildings are imbued with an adventurous urbanism attuned to larger social and environmental concerns – traits that should be commonplace, but instead are all too rare.

Tassafaronga kids — © Brian Rose

As I set up one of my last shots of Tassafaronga, I was surrounded by kids playing in a courtyard between some of the townhouses. I stood on a picnic table for a better vantage point of one of the buildings, and a bunch of the kids stood on the table opposite me gawking at my strange camera. “What are you doing, Mister?” I said I was waiting for the sun, and a bit later when I told them I had an 11 year old son back home, one of them explained to me the difference in spelling between “son” and “sun.”

San Francisco/Oakland

One Rincon Hill and the Clocktower on the approach to the Bay Bridge — © Brian Rose

Back in San Francisco to complete shooting projects for architect David Baker. I drove up 101 through the city and headed directly for the Bay Bridge over to Oakland where I would be photographing a development called Tassafaronga Village. As I approached the bridge I snapped a view of the Clocktower, the location of Baker’s office and an early live/work loft project he designed, and on the left One Rincon Hill, a glitzy sixty story apartment tower that competes with the Transamerica Pyramid form dominance on the skyline of San Francisco.

Jack London Square — © Brian Rose

I was spending the first night in Oakland because virtually all of San Francisco’s hotels were booked, and besides, it would give me a head start on my shoot in the morning. I decided to stay in the Jack London District on the waterfront of Oakland. It’s a schizophrenic place–on the one hand an authentic urban environment with converted loft buildings, wholesale produce market, and various watering holes and restaurants. On the other hand, it is the scene of an ill-conceived urban renewal project called Jack London Square, which emulated similar waterfront developments in other cities around the U.S. On the evening I arrived, Jack London Square felt rather desolate.

Across the street from my hotel was a bar called Beer Revolution with a deck out front full of young people who seemed to know that this was exactly the place to be. I felt out of place, so I skipped Beer Revolution and wandered around the neighborhood. I ended up a while later standing in front of the reconstructed cabin of Jack London–one of two, it seems, made partially from the original logs of his cabin in the Alaskan wilderness. It now sits stranded among rows of palm trees adjacent to Heinhold’s First and Last Chance, a bar frequented by London, in all its battered drunken sailor glory, marooned, as it were, in the midst of modern office buildings.

Jack London mural — © Brian Rose

On the side of Heinhold’s is a mural dedicated to Jack London emblazoned with the quote, “The function of man is to live, not to exist.” Although I appreciate the effort to honor Oakland’s greatest writer, I am afraid that London’s memory exists in Jack London Square more than it lives.

A bit further on I stood astonished as two passenger trains and a freight lumbered down 1st Street horns blaring–cars and pedestrians apparently on their own with regard to safety. Scampering with alacrity across the street I began walking in front of the Jack London Cinema when my trained New York eye caught the familiar gray blur of a rat. I stopped dead in my tracks as the rather large critter crossed the sidewalk in front of me, scampered up the steps of the theater, and darted through the main lobby entrance. (Going to a movie I suppose.) Immediately, shrieks and screams burst from inside. At that point I decided I’d had enough of Jack London Square–for the present anyway–and made a beeline for my hotel.

New York/JFK Airport

Jet Blue baggage claim area — © Brian Rose

Former TWA terminal designed by Eero Saarinen — © Brian Rose

Back in New York after a week in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was unable to complete my assignments because the weather did not cooperate. I had to get back to NY to meet other obligations, and am heading back to San Francisco tomorrow with a good weather forecast.

Top photo, waiting for my equipment in the Jet Blue baggage area–under construction. Bottom photo, catching a cab, the wonderful TWA terminal, thankfully preserved as an icon of modern architecture.

San Francisco/Bayview-Hunter’s Point

Armstrong Senior Housing — © Brian Rose

Amstrong Senior Housing by architect David Baker.

Brian Rose in front of Armstrong Senior Housing — © Chris Gallagher

After several beautiful days, the weather has not cooperated. I spent an entire day battling intermittent fog trying to photograph Armstrong Senior Housing on 3rd Street in Bayview, San Francisco. The picture above was made in weak sunlight with a mostly white sky behind. Not what I want for this brightly colored facade.

As you can see, I’m still using the 4×5 view camera, but I don’t know how much longer I will do it. The current plan is to keep using the big camera for my personal projects, and go to digital for client assignments. I don’t relish returning to loading holders after a couple of decades of using pre-packaged film. Fuji has stopped producing the film, though there is enough in the stores to last six months or so.

Armstrong Senior Housing — © Brian Rose

The courtyard with David Baker signature red door.

Armstrong Senior Housing and light rail station — © Brian Rose

Bayview-Hunter’s Point, a largely low income neighborhood–mostly African American–feels remote from the rest of the city although a light rail line along 3rd Street has greatly improved its accessibility.

Armstrong Avenue — © Brian Rose

The house above with the orange windows is used as a church. While I was there, dozens of people, mostly Asians, came running from all directions with carts and bags to pick up free food being distributed in the church parking lot.

The following day was little better with substantial cloud cover much of the day. I did several pictures of the courtyard, and managed to catch the sun peeking through a few times. But at this point I have to return to New York to meet other obligations. I’ll be headed back to San Francisco as quickly as possible to complete the work.

Healdsburg/San Francisco

h2hotel in Healdsburg, designed by David Baker, is a beautiful hotel–a relaxed environment where every design detail has been thought out. I’ll post some images of the building when I get the 4×5 film developed. But here are some interesting bits and pieces.

h2hotel, Healdsburg, California — © Brian Rose

An undulating green roof echoes the nearby hills.

h2hotel, Healdsburg, California — © Brian Rose

A basketball floor dismantled and randomly reassembled.

h2hotel, Healdsburg, California — © Brian Rose

Architect David Baker’s  signature red doors.

New York/World Trade Center

World Trade Center and Woolworth Building, 1982 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose/Ed Fausty

One key image of the World Trade Center that I did with Ed Fausty in 1982 has been missing for many years.  I’ve been through every negative I have from that period of time. The 4×5 is definitely gone forever. Recently, however, I found a print of that image in one of my boxes–a 16×20, slightly yellowed, but otherwise in pretty good shape.

I have scanned the print at high resolution, and the much reduced jpeg can be seen above. My vantage point is somewhere on the raised plaza of Police Headquarters–not sure that the same spot can still be reached. To the right above the trees is the cupola of City Hall, and the spire of St. Paul’s is center left.

Be sure to click on the photo for a larger view.

New York/World Trade Center

Battery Park City and 2 WTC, 1981 — © Brian Rose

After completing the original Lower East Side project in 1981, Ed Fausty and I were asked to join several other photographers in documenting Lower Manhattan–funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Initially we worked together, as with the LES photos, but eventually began shooting independently. Many of the images included the World Trade Center, some of which can be seen here. I am in the process of rescanning everything at higher resolution–I’ve also gotten a lot better on Photoshop and want to rework the images I did four or five years ago. The image above was never printed or scanned until now.

New York/Greenpoint

Commercial and Franklin Streets, Greenpoint, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

An abandoned factory building from the 1930s, and now an environmental superfund site. Made plastic sheeting. Very simple moderne architecture–unlandmarked. Very difficult to track down much on the building, but found this in the Brooklyn Paper. And this from the New York Times. The chain of ownership with regard to this property may be more complicated than the articles imply–who or what is 49 Dupont Realty, the owner of the property and many others nearby. And neither article addresses the legal responsibility of the owners, past or present, for allowing chemical storage tanks to leak into the ground water.

New York/World Trade Center

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

As the “debate” swirls around the “ground zero mosque,” (which isn’t a mosque and isn’t at ground zero), here is another view of construction underway on the site. Similar to the small camera shot I posted a few weeks ago, this was made with the view camera.

New York/World Trade Center

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

Another image from my walk around the WTC site/ground zero a few weeks ago. The fire truck is answering a call from Ten House, the fire station located on the corner. In the center of the photograph is 1 WTC under construction. To the right is WTC 7, which replaced the tower that collapsed on 9/11 due to collateral damage from the falling Twin Towers. It was the first major building rebuilt on the site.

To the left of 1 WTC is a sliver of the Verizon Building, an Art Deco tower heavily damaged during 9/11, now restored. To the left of that is the new Goldman Sachs headquarters, also a post 9/11 development. To the left of Goldman are older World Financial Center buildings. On the far right is WTC 4, under construction.

New York/World Trade Center

1 WTC, West Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

I finally got my film developed from a few weeks ago. An afternoon walking around the World Trade Center site with the 4×5 view camera. This is a view of 1 WTC, previously known as Freedom Tower, which is well underway, looks like more than 20 stories up. The lower part of the building has a dense network of steel to support the height of the tower as well as provide protection. The horizontal structure is a walkway carrying pedestrian across West Street to the World Financial Center.