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Kris
May 24th, 2003, 09:48 AM
May 25, 2003

New Look for Bronx Civic Crossroads

By DAVID W. DUNLAP

http://graphics7.nytimes.com/images/2003/05/25/realestate/cov.184.enlarge.jpg
In the renovation of the 161st Street-Yankee Stadium station, the artist Vito Acconci designed "Sliding Walls." Tiles seem to peel away from bedrock to form seats on the platform.

It takes imagination and audacity to look at the East 161st Street corridor, as Borough President Adolfo Carrión Jr. does, and envision it as "Downtown Bronx," a civic, commercial, recreational and cultural crossroads.

But it requires less imagination today than it did a few years ago, because physical evidence of the area's redevelopment is beginning to accumulate. (Audacity is still needed. The very idea of "Downtown Bronx" is not universally embraced.)

Stretching from Yankee Stadium to Third Avenue, the 161st Street corridor is at once tended and neglected, a jumble of activity and abandonment, high-density and low-rise construction, landmarks and eyesores. In a word — Mr. Carrión's word, in fact — its identity is fuzzy.

That is changing. The most striking harbinger of transformation is the 10-story steel superstructure of the $324.7 million, two-block-long Bronx Supreme/Criminal Court complex, rising between Sherman and Morris Avenues. In its openness, the framework hints at what will be a remarkably transparent glass facade, by Rafael Viñoly Architects and DMJM. Samples of the glass wall have been tested successfully for bomb blast resistance at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

At 163rd Street and Sherman Avenue, the $60 million Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice is nearing completion, to designs by the Hillier Group.

At 165th Street and the Grand Concourse, Arquitectonica has designed a faceted $8.2 million addition to the Bronx Museum of the Arts. The city's Design and Construction Department expects to begin the project this summer.

The artists Vito Acconci and Helene Brandt have contributed to the recent renovation of the 161st Street-Yankee Stadium station on the B, D and 4 lines.

Between Joyce Kilmer Park and the Bronx County Building is a parking lot that is grandly styled Lou Gehrig Plaza. It is to be turned into a true plaza under a relandscaping by Thomas Balsley Associates as part of a larger street reconstruction project by the Transportation Department. The agency, which has just renovated the Macombs Dam Bridge, also plans to build the city's first major cable-stayed bridge, reconnecting 153rd Street across the broad Mott Haven rail yard.

With silvered cables splayed like spidery fingers from two slender masts, the four-lane, 500-foot-long, $40 million bridge would do more than carry vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians. "A project like this is a great symbol of the revitalization of the city and of the Bronx," said Iris Weinshall, the city transportation commissioner. Construction is to begin in 2006.

Looking further ahead, local officials imagine redeveloping the 32-acre Bronx Terminal Market along the waterfront. "This has tremendous potential as a destination retail center," said Paula L. Caplan, deputy director of planning and development in the borough president's office.

Mr. Carrión estimated that more than $630 million was committed to the area or had recently been spent there. "What this collection of projects begins to do is define a downtown for the Bronx," he said. It also reflects planning efforts going back more than a decade to a concept called Bronx Center, developed by community leaders, city agencies and civic organizations when Fernando Ferrer was borough president.

"What is happening here is very exciting," said Purnima Kapur, director of the City Planning Department's Bronx office. "It fits into the overall concept of creating a vibrant South Bronx, Downtown Bronx, whatever you want to call it." (Some object to "Downtown" on the grounds that there is no reason to change names now that the South Bronx is rebounding. Others say the new name is more hopeful than accurate.)

No matter what the area is called, though, its future is tied to Yankee Stadium.

Yankee Stadium
Building in a Park to Stay in the Bronx

No one can say for sure what the Yankees will do. But their preference is a 50,000-seat covered stadium in Macombs Dam Park, designed by HOK Sport Venue Event.

"A new Yankee Stadium will in many ways be an anchor tenant in the Bronx," said Randy Levine, president of the Yankees. "We're staying in the Bronx for five years in good faith while going through the planning process." The team has extended its lease until 2006, but Mr. Levine said that was the limit of its commitment to the House That Ruth Built in 1923 and that New York City rebuilt in 1976. "The present Yankee Stadium is not going to make it for very much longer," Mr. Levine said. "The cost of renovating the stadium is more expensive than building a new one."

Among many hurdles faced by a new stadium is that it would eliminate city parkland, a step that would have to be approved by the State Legislature.

Under an agreement reached in the final hours of the Giuliani administration — and now sidelined by the budget crisis — the city would have issued $800 million in bonds through a local development corporation to finance the project. The Yankees would have assumed slightly more than half of the $46 million annual debt service, paid 4 percent of the gate revenue to the corporation and picked up the operating costs.

About a new Bronx stadium, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is noncommittal. He said in 2001 that "we should have great cultural and athletic facilities, and the issue is really can we afford them." His position is unchanged, a spokeswoman said last week.

Mr. Carrión, too, is careful neither to dismiss nor endorse the politically controversial idea. "We ought not get tied down by the question of an old stadium or a new stadium," he said, "but look at the larger picture. It may make sense to look at a new stadium along with all the other opportunities that Yankee development offers us."

By that, he means a sports-oriented district centered on the stadium, with a new Metro-North station, a new ferry landing, a hotel and convention center, a high school for sports-industry careers and a Yankee hall of fame. Mr. Levine said these projects are "not at the core of what we're doing, but we would explore them."

Works of Art
An Old Fountain Near a New Station

A small but symbolic turning point on 161st Street was the restoration four years ago of the Heinrich Heine Fountain, also known as Die Lorelei, in Joyce Kilmer Park. The monumental statue by Ernst Herter had been dreadfully vandalized, not just by graffiti, which reached up to the figure of the Lorelei siren, but by outright destruction. Mermaids at either side of the base had lost their heads and arms. Their tails and fins were broken or chipped. And the fountain had long since stopped working.

Under the Municipal Art Society's Adopt-a-Monument program, the fountain was restored, largely through a grant from the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation. It was rededicated in 1999, the centenary of its original installation; heads, arms, tails, running water and all. "What is most gratifying," said Phyllis Samitz Cohen of the society, "is to see how warmly the people in the park respond to it daily."

At the foot of the park is Lou Gehrig Plaza, where about 40 vehicles park. Mr. Balsley has redesigned the median with seating, planters and gingko trees; an amiable extension of the rather forbidding public space around the Bronx County Building on 161st Street. "We fought very hard to get the parking eliminated," he said. The new plaza is part of the Transportation Department's planned $35 million reconstruction of the Grand Concourse and 161st Street underpass, to begin next year, that has been financed in part with federal money obtained by Rep. José E. Serrano.

Two blocks away is a remarkable work of contemporary art: the recently renovated 161st Street-Yankee Stadium el and subway interchange, with "Sliding Walls for the 161st Street Subway Station" by Acconci Studio and "Room of Tranquillity" by Ms. Brandt. The architect was John di Domenico of di Domenico & Partners.

In the subway station, the white and orange tile walls seem to have slipped from their moorings to reveal black, craggy expanses of bedrock. Along the platform, walls are peeled away to form seats. Another platform wall appears to have broken through the floor to the mezzanine above at crazy angles, its "161st Street" mosaic plaque sheared into three parts.

"The entire piece is about getting you to think about the place you are in from an architectural point of view," said Sandra Bloodworth, director of the Arts for Transit program at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The artwork accounted for about $100,000 of the $14.7 million renovation, which was completed two years ago.

Innovative Designs
A Cable-Stayed Span, an Origami Facade

"The issue is not pretty buildings," Mr. Ferrer said of the Bronx Center plan in 1990. "The point is to create a new economic engine." But pretty buildings — or in any event some striking architecture — will characterize the area's future.

Most arresting on the skyline would be the 190-foot masts of the 153rd Street bridge, which Ms. Weinshall called the first major cable-stayed span in New York City. (The only one like it is Rockefeller University's pedestrian bridge across East 63rd Street.)

Cable-stayed bridges are especially light and airy because of their simplicity, with slender towers carrying the structural load.

The 153rd Street bridge has been designed by Transportation Department engineers, including Lawrence King, Kamal Kishore and Ali Mallick, working with CTE Engineers and Daniel Frankfurt. Ms. Weinshall said the design was prompted in part by a desire to have as simple a structure as possible over the Metro-North tracks.

An earlier bridge over the Mott Haven yards was closed to traffic in 1988 because of deterioration and demolished in 1992. The new bridge should be completed in 2008.

Though the new bridge would reopen what is now a quiet cul-de-sac next to Cardinal Hayes Memorial High School, the principal, Msgr. John Graham, said it "would certainly be a help to traffic, safety and security."

The addition to the Bronx Museum of the Arts by Arquitectonica, architects of the new Westin New York at Times Square, has just won an award for design excellence from the city Art Commission.

The facade of glass and aluminum panels — enclosing new galleries, offices, public program space and a cafeteria — will "angle and twist like an architectural origami, demystifying the wall on the street and making it permeable," wrote Bernardo Fort-Brescia and Laurinda Spear, co-founding principals of Arquitectonica.

Money is available for the project in the capital budget, said Matthew Monahan, the assistant commissioner for public affairs at the design and construction agency.

Civic Center
Homes Are Built for Courts and School

The biggest project is the court complex being built by the state Dormitory Authority to designs by Mr. Viñoly, the architect of Jazz at Lincoln Center in the AOL Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle, and DMJM, architects of the American Airlines terminal at Kennedy International Airport.

The structure is a companion to the fortresslike 26-year-old Criminal Court but will be far different aesthetically, with a 500-foot-long glass curtain wall that is meant to make the building less forbidding and to reinforce the transformation of 161st Street into a vibrant corridor. "At a certain point," Mr. Viñoly said, "a grand gesture has to occur." The rear facade is enlivened by cantilevered stairwells.

The 750,000-square-foot complex includes 47 courtrooms, 110 holding cells, grand jury rooms, judges' chambers, offices for the district attorney and city agencies, a virtually freestanding circular jury assembly hall in which some 600 prospective jurors can gather and a 200-space garage. It is to be substantially completed in 2005 and fully operating in 2006, said John V. Andrus, chief project manager for the Dormitory Authority. A second phase would bring the complex up to about 1 million square feet.

Obvious even now is that there are no perimeter columns; they are instead recessed 20 feet from the facade, which would help minimize structural damage in the event of a blast. The curtain wall is designed to be flexible enough to absorb and dissipate the energy from an explosion.

Richard A. Kahan, president of the Urban Assembly, which founded the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, thinks the courthouse has done damage of its own by effectively turning its back on the new red-brick school building on 163rd Street. The six-story structure, being built by the School Construction Authority, is to be completed in September.

The specialized public high school prepares students for law-related careers. It opened in 1997 and is housed at the Health Opportunities High School, 350 Gerard Avenue. The program will be extended to the sixth grade in the new school, Mr. Kahan said, which accommodates 733 students. The building's scale and masonry facade serve as "a bridge to the community," said Barry Shapiro, an associate at Hillier.

Among the special features of the school will be a crime lab, forensic lab and mock courtroom with a judge's bench, witness stand, jury box and attorney's tables. As for the lack of a direct connection between the school and courthouse, which were supposed to be more closely related, Mr. Kahan said, "We'll walk around the block."

http://graphics7.nytimes.com/images/2003/05/25/realestate/COV.184.2.enlarge.jpg
Addition to the Bronx Museum of the Arts.

http://graphics7.nytimes.com/images/2003/05/25/realestate/COV.184.3.enlarge.jpg
Model of Bronx Supreme/Criminal Court complex from rear, with circular jury hall.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

Kris
May 24th, 2003, 11:57 PM
http://www.danielfrankfurt.com/images/projects/E153rd.jpg
The 153rd Street bridge.

Very schematic rendering, I hope. If I'm not mistaken, you can see the site of the future court complex through the gap between the projects.

Kris
June 23rd, 2003, 04:36 PM
http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/gif/morrisania/thirdavemap.jpg

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/morrisania/morrisania2c.html

Kris
February 13th, 2004, 03:23 PM
http://www.nycsca.org/images/gallery1/10031.1.02.jpg

http://www.nycsca.org/images/gallery1/index.html

billyblancoNYC
February 14th, 2004, 02:35 AM
Is that the court building next to the school?

Also, the bridge is nice, but I'm not sure I like cutting the park like that.

Well, this could finally spark the full-on build out in the Bronx, as we are seeing in many other areas of NYC. Looks good, looks very good.

Kris
February 14th, 2004, 03:00 AM
Is that the court building next to the school?

Yes.

Bronx Criminal Court Complex (http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=3685)

Kris
February 14th, 2004, 07:20 AM
Yankee Stadium Station (http://bronxart.lehman.cuny.edu/pa/acconci_161.htm)

Kris
January 7th, 2006, 09:56 AM
Has anyone passed by the art museum recently? Any sign of construction?

Derek2k3
January 26th, 2006, 11:15 PM
The Real Deal
Bronx arts museum building addition
January 24, 9:22 am

http://www.therealdeal.net/

The Bronx museum addition, above, will include a restaurant.
A $15 million addition is being built at the Bronx Museum of the Arts on Grand Concourse Avenue at 165th Street. The addition will include a sculpture court and a restaurant, and is expected to open by spring



NY Sun
New Life on Grand Concourse Avenue
Architecture
By JAMES GARDNER
January 24, 2006

http://www.nysun.com/article/26343

Kris
January 27th, 2006, 09:23 AM
Thanks, I'm relieved as I was a little worried it had been quietly canceled for lack of money.


New Life on Grand Concourse Avenue

Architecture

By JAMES GARDNER

January 24, 2006

On an unusually warm and lustrous January day last week, I thought it would be fun to return to the Bronx, whose new library on Briggs Avenue I wrote about in a recent column. Heading into the sun, I descended Grand Concourse Avenue on foot all the way to where Madison Avenue Bridge spans the Harlem River, leading you into Manhattan at 138th Street.

The Grand Concourse is odd as avenues go. It does not bear out the vitality that it promises at its northern end, near East Fordham Road. For most of its length, it is a vast, gray, treeless expanse whose pre-war buildings never coalesce into a coherent aesthetic. It betrays some spark of early 20th-century City Beautiful planning around Joyce Kilmer Park before plunging into the 1970s gunk of Hostos Community College and a perilous tangle of infrastructure just outside the gates of Manhattan.

Nevertheless, two structures stand out: the Bronx Housing Court and the ongoing expansion annex of the Bronx Museum of the Arts.

The first building, completed in 1997, is one of the most effective works of Rafael Vinoly, a native of Argentina. In a city with all too few iconic structures, this one comes as a pleasant surprise, especially since it inhabits a part of the city that, I would guess, design types do not often visit.

Rising nine stories, the courthouse stands in striking contrast to the Art Deco and Art Moderne vocabulary of most buildings on Grand Concourse Avenue. It is not a machine for living, a la Corbusier, but rather a purely ornamental tribute to that functionalism. Nor for that matter does it look especially like a courthouse. Its hulking facade is covered in sandstone and Roman brick that alternate in a series of horizontal bands over a concrete matrix. At various points - along the base, at the summit, in a vertical strip on the left - the blockish structure is punctuated by glass and aluminum curtain walls, whose emphatic grids recall the pure geometry of Sol Le-Witt's early work.

What is most striking about the exterior are the bold, volumetric recessions of the facade, the way, for example, the entrance recedes from the street line even as its cantilevered canopy shoots out beyond it. Especially elegant is the way the bulkiness of the whole is challenged by three needle-sharp flagpoles to the left of the entrance.

Only a few blocks south you will find the Bronx Museum of the Arts at the northeast corner of 165th Street. This institution, which began life in the lobby of the Bronx County Building, eventually took over a postwar synagogue designed by Simon Zelnick in 1961. By 1988, it expanded into the squat and darksome glass-and-steel edifice you see today, by Castro-Blanco, Piscioneri & Feder.

Rising up just to the north of that structure, a strange and jaunty building is being born. It recalls, perhaps inadvertently, a bandoneon, or Argentine accordian. This is the work of Arquitectonica, a Miami-based firm with a strong Latin flavor to its creations. Given the largely Latino cast of this part of the city, it is perhaps no accident that the present project, like the previous expansion and the Housing Court, was designed by architects with strong Latin American connections.

Arquitectonica is one of the more visible, "edgy" new firms on the stage of world architecture. If nothing else, it speaks well for the New York City Department of Design and Construction that it had the enterprise to engage Arquitectonica for this expansion.

Until now, the firm's presence in New York has been hardly illustrious. It was responsible for the truly atrocious Westin Hotel at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, with its coated windows of irregularly colored glass and a crass arc of light that, in the evening, swoops up and down the entire southern expanse of the building. Such failure was especially regrettable given that the work Arquitectonica has done outside of New York, especially in Miami, has been far, far better. The firm's signature is a kind of jazzy, ethnic take on Modernism, with a trace of winsome deconstruction thrown in, that recalls the pulse and tone of southern Florida.

Fortunately, that quality is borne out in the Bronx Museum. Even in its partial state of completion, the three-story structure of the building has assumed something very close to its finished form, a series of shifting and irregular planes that float from north to south along the avenue. The three other faces of the building, besides the signature facade on Grand Concourse Avenue, will be covered in metal and concrete block masonry whose varied patterns are intended to suggest the brick patterns of the neighborhood's Art Moderne heritage. According to the rendering, these are enlivened on the sides by a sequence of razor-thin strip windows and a perforated wall at the base. The cantilevered canopy, which recalls that of the new library three miles north, not only has Modernist credentials, but recalls the Art Deco spirit of many buildings in this part of the city.

The $15 million addition to the present 34,000-square-foot museum will expand its gallery and exhibit space while providing classrooms, a sculpture court, administrative offices, and a restaurant. It is scheduled to open to the public in the spring of 2007.


Bronx Housing Court (http://www.rvapc.com/ht/HTProject.aspx?Base=Projects&projID=135)

Kris
January 27th, 2006, 09:24 AM
What about the bridge? I haven't seen any update.

Wrightfan
March 9th, 2006, 04:45 PM
http://home.earthlink.net/~nashionale/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/603west1.jpg
http://home.earthlink.net/~nashionale/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/603west4.jpg
http://home.earthlink.net/~nashionale/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/603west2.jpg
Nice building...

Kris
March 10th, 2006, 03:36 PM
Thanks for the photos. It looks nice indeed; its façade's sharp dynamism is certainly appealing.

Although this project is modest in size, note the apparent indifference it elicits compared with the interest provoked by the mounds of trash rising in Manhattan.

krulltime
March 10th, 2006, 03:43 PM
Wow it does look amazing! Now I have to go see this myself.

BigMac
September 29th, 2006, 02:59 PM
New York Sun
September 29, 2006

Museums

Beauty in the Bronx

By KATE TAYLOR
Staff Reporter of the Sun

http://www.nysun.com/edition/575_large.jpg
The $15 million addition to the Bronx Museum of the Arts expands the institution’s gallery and exhibit space. Designed by Arquitectonica, the building is scheduled to open to the public on Tuesday.

It's taken nearly two decades, but the Bronx Museum of the Arts will open an architecturally dramatic new building next week. With more space, a bold new image, and an executive director plucked from the downtown art scene, the museum is poised to be a symbol of the borough's revitalization.

On Tuesday morning, Mayor Bloomberg and the new executive director, Holly Block, will attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony and preview of the first exhibition in the new building, "Tropicália: A Revolution in Brazilian Culture."

The building — created in brushed steel and glass by the Miami firm Arquitectonica — doubles the museum's size. The project cost $19 million, which came from sources including the City of New York, the office of the president of the Bronx, Adolfo Carrión, and the Small Business Administration, through earmarks introduced by Rep. José Serrano.

The South Bronx has experienced a rebirth in recent years, partly because of an influx of artists. Ms. Block, who was a curator at the museum in the mid-1980s, said she has noticed many changes in the neighborhood. "There are lots of new businesses," she said. "There's been a big expansion of studio space for artists. There's a bunch of new parks that have been renovated."

There are also several galleries in the area, including Haven Arts, the Ironworks Gallery, the Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos Community College, and hagansaintphilip. The Bronx Museum, founded in 1971, was a pioneer and has led the subsequent cultural development, Mr. Serrano said.

"There wouldn't have been this resurgence of the South Bronx as a place where factory buildings are being turned into loft apartments, where galleries are springing up all over the place –– if places like the Bronx Museum and the Point [a youth and cultural development program in Hunts Point] had not done this when it wasn't fashionable," he said.

Ms. Block thinks the enlarged presence of the museum — whose permanent collection focuses on artists of African, Asian, and Latin American descent, as well as those who have lived or worked in the Bronx — will further stimulate the neighborhood. "Having a new building on the Concourse is great for the vibrancy of the community," she said.

But the road to expansion has not always been easy. The new building's completion is a triumphant third act in a drama that has lasted more than 15 years. In 1989, the city, under Mayor Koch, allocated $19 million for a construction project that would have quadrupled the size of the museum. Rafael Viñoly was selected as the architect. The funds eventually went elsewhere, although exactly why is a matter of disagreement. The executive director of the museum from 1978 to 1991, Luis Cancel, said in an interview that after Mayor Dinkins took office and made large budget cuts, Bronx Borough President Freddy Ferrer decided "for political reasons … to divert the funds to other capital projects in the Bronx."

"It was a big blow," Mr. Cancel said. He left the museum and later became Mayor Dinkins' commissioner of cultural affairs.

Mr. Ferrer disputed Mr. Cancel's account, saying in an e-mail message that he allocated the funds in the first place and that he only reallocated them after the Dinkins administration "flatly refused to spend the allocation for the museum." He added that in his last years as borough president, he allocated capital funds for the museum in conjunction with Mr. Serrrano.

For his part, Mr. Cancel said he was glad the museum persisted and finally managed to expand. "Even though it's a smaller expansion, it is helping to fulfill the ultimate goal of making a world-class museum on the Grand Concourse," he said. And he gave credit to Mr. Serrano for lending crucial support: "Without him, this dream would not be being realized."

For its first decade, the museum was housed in the rotunda of the Bronx County Courthouse. In 1982, it acquired and renovated its current facility, which had been a synagogue. The new building rises beside and is connected to the former synagogue. Under a long-term master plan, the old building eventually will be torn down and replaced with another building designed by Arquitectonica.

One of the architects in charge of the design, Bernardo Fort Brescia, said the new building is intended to give the museum a monumental public image."The museum [staff] felt that it always lacked a building that made a statement or even made people realize that it was a museum," he said.

The challenge was creating a visually striking building on a small, midblock lot. The architects exaggerated the building's verticality with accordion folds, which divide the façade into several tall, thin façades. "It made what was a two-dimensional façade more three-dimensional and more sculptural. It gave it a sense of movement," Mr. Brescia said.

A steep hill at the back of the building provided an opportunity to create a sculpture garden, which will be the endpoint of the visitor's ascent through the museum. "In many vertical museums, you climb, and then that's it, you come down," Mr. Brescia said. "The sculpture garden is a destination you walk through the museum and discover rather unexpectedly."

The second floor, including the sculpture garden, will also be rented out for events. "There's a shortage of beautiful wedding space" in the area, Ms. Block noted with a laugh.

On the third floor, the new building has space for the museum's education programs, including a student docent program and a teen council, which cultivates young community leaders. The museum also has a residency program, Artist in the Marketplace, which trains artists in career skills and culminates in a four-month exhibition.

Along with the new building, the presence of Ms. Block — who until recently directed Art in General, a contemporary art space in Lower Manhattan — is likely to lure a crowd to the Bronx. The director of I-20 in Chelsea, Paul Judelson, said of Ms. Block, "She single-handedly put Art in General on the map."

Carol Zakaluk, a co-director of Haven Arts — which is 30 blocks south of the museum in Mott Haven — acknowledges that she's been to the museum infrequently, but she has high expectations of Ms. Block's tenure: "If she brings that downtown brazenness and fearlessness, I will make more of an effort to go."

Ms. Block said her first priority is welcoming the local community, but she also hopes to gain broad attention. "What I need to do is build visibility –– to get people to know about the collection and to organize projects that have impact."

© 2006 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC.

Kris
October 6th, 2006, 08:18 AM
October 6, 2006
Architecture Review | 'Bronx Museum of the Arts'
Art to the People, and Vice Versa, in the Bronx
By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF

http://graphics10.nytimes.com/images/2006/10/06/arts/bronx.600.jpg
A new look: The just-completed addition at the Bronx Museum of the Arts includes a pleated facade of aluminum.

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2006/10/06/arts/bronx.190.2.650.jpg
A mural commissioned for the opening of the Bronx Museum of the Arts addition.

The way I see it, Arquitectonica has owed New York a decent building. That firm built its reputation with a series of projects in its hometown, Miami, that mixed bold forms and alluring surfaces at bargain prices. But in New York it has produced only clunkers. Its Westin Hotel tower on Eighth Avenue defines cheapness: a collage of gaudy colors with a long, illuminated arc scratched across its facade. And the muted plaid pattern that it used to decorate the first of a group of towers currently under construction in Long Island City, Queens, is not an improvement.

But with the completion of the addition to the Bronx Museum of the Arts, all is forgiven. With its pleated aluminum facade and refreshingly unpretentious interiors, the addition is a reminder of how architecture can have a profound public impact when its values are in the right place. And it demonstrates how simple it can be to bridge the divide between art and its audience at a time when much bigger, more high-profile museums and their ultra-rich boards can seem baffled by their cultural roles.

The addition is the centerpiece of a string of building projects that promise to shore up the Bronx’s dicey image as well as help reassert its former identity as a haven for the middle class. Bulldozers have already begun clearing the site for the new Yankee Stadium a few blocks away, a bold new criminal courts complex designed by Rafael Viñoly is nearing completion just down the street, and the Grand Concourse is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar face-lift.

Of these sites the museum is the most steeped in the Bronx’s turbulent social history. Founded in 1971, when the Bronx was still substantially white and middle class, it first made its home in the streamlined Moderne rotunda of the 1930’s-era county building. Curators joke that its audience was mostly defendants being dragged to court, conjuring the image of an art therapy class rather than a serious museum.

The story is only half true, but it hints at the museum’s struggle to form an identity in a borough that was undergoing dramatic social changes. In 1982 the museum moved to its current location, a former synagogue at the corner of Grand Concourse and 165th Street that had been abandoned by its congregation as the neighborhood became increasingly Latino. An awkward 1988 renovation by Castro-Blanco Piscioneri & Associates provided a more formal entry, but its corner lobby and cramped balconies had the feel of a suburban mall.

Arquitectonica’s new addition slips into this messy context with surprising ease. In keeping with their populist agenda, the firm’s principals, Bernardo Fort-Brescia and Laurinda Spear, don’t try to hide the building’s low-budget construction. Instead, the main facade is conceived as an enormous folding screen, its glistening aluminum surface draped over the building’s crude concrete block structure.

The facade gives the building a wonderful lightness. And it brings to mind an updated version of the streamlined Art Deco designs of 1920’s architects like the Los Angeles firm of Morgan, Walls & Clements, which created a populist architecture for the emerging car culture. As in those earlier designs, the glistening vertical folds of Arquitectonica’s facade act as a visual counterpoint both to the horizontal movement of the cars streaming by on the concourse and to the heavy brick buildings that flank the museum.

But the playful exterior forms also reflect a wonderfully nuanced interplay between the inner life of the museum and the public world outside. The vertical bands of windows are set deep inside the facade’s creases, so that from directly across the street you barely notice them. As you approach the museum along the sidewalk, however, you catch diagonal views into the lobby, luring you inside.

That bond — between art and public — continues right up through the building. A single column anchors the vertical lobby, accentuating its height, while a long ramp at the back of the space feeds into a new 2,500-square-foot gallery at the back of the building and the old galleries off to the right.

The creased facade is even more effective from inside. The tall, angled windows offer picturesque views of pedestrians strolling up and down the boulevard. As you step deeper into the building those views disappear, which helps refocus your attention onto the art.

A warning: Don’t expect anything fancy here. The main gallery is a simple white box with raw concrete floors. The standard steel railings and light fixtures have a straightforward institutional quality. And although the old galleries have been given a slick new paint job, they are just as utilitarian. But this only serves to make the museum feel more open and accessible. It reinforces the sense of public ownership that is so crucial to a museum’s success.

It also seems to have liberated the curators, who appear to have eagerly responded to the building’s populist theme. The addition opens with “Tropicália,” a show about the period of experimental Brazilian art that began in the late 1960’s, and the artwork spills into every corner of the museum. A mural commissioned for the opening, by the collaborative group Assume Vivid Astro Focus, covers the back of the lobby in a swirl of Day-Glo. Sculptures by Rodrigo Araújo and Marepe are scattered across the lobby floor, where they will be visible from the street.

The museum’s ambitions don’t end here. Fund-raising has yet to begin for a second phase of construction that would expand the museum to the south, replacing the old 1988 Castro-Blanco building with new galleries, a performing arts space and a residential tower. The proposal, also designed by Arquitectonica, would erase some of the nice historical tensions embodied in the current museum, but it would give the institution a much-needed coherence, something that it richly deserves. And revenue from the residential tower could provide some financial stability for one of the city’s most underappreciated art institutions.

But for the time being, the new addition proves what can be accomplished with few resources and a lot of heart. It is a reminder that not all museum expansions are driven by media-savvy self-promoters, that the big, bad corporate machine has not yet penetrated every corner of the culture world. Increasingly in today’s New York, the most humble projects are the most moving.

The Bronx Museum of the Arts reopens tomorrow at noon. It is located at 1040 Grand Concourse, at 165th Street, Morrisania, (718) 681-6000.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Kris
December 11th, 2006, 04:47 PM
http://www.arcspace.com/architects/arquitectonica/bma/bma.html