Cross-posted from No Mean City, Alex’s personal blog on architecture.
The new architecture critic of the New York Times, Michael Kimmelman, recently focused his attention on a brilliant New York city idea: a program that brings top-quality architects from around the world to work on low-key projects like police stations, firehouses and water treatment plants.
Run by the city’s Department of Design and Construction (yes, they’ve centralized the work of developing city sites), it’s the Design and Construction Excellence Initiative Initiative. It was introduced by mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2004, and the idea is simple: the city has established a shortlist of architects who deliver high-quality work, pre-qualified them, and decided to go to them first when the city needs design work. Project managers make sure the integrity of the design is preserved. And small projects are kept for small firms, which need the work (and who, in this line of business, are likely to work very hard to create a showpiece).
The shortlist of architects is amazing, including international lights like Snohetta (who are designing Ryerson’s new student learning centre), strong local firms like Della Valle Bernheimer, and locals with an international reputation, like WORKAC – who I’ve written about, and who are working on a reno of the Kew Gardens Hills Library in Queens, in the image at the top of this post.
If you want to design a stimulus program that benefits creative industries and small businesses, you couldn’t do better.
Then there’s the promise of financial savings the city finds through such work. The program’s head, David J. Burney, tells Kimmelman: “People tend to think design means more money. But the truth is that the tighter the budget, the more expertise you need to squeeze something good out of the process.” And this, as any builder can tell you, is very true.
But the design results are pretty remarkable as well. See the Times’s slideshow here for proof.
So why couldn’t Toronto do something similar? The structure of city government is different, but construction and architecture are all tendered centrally. Would it be hard to create a similar A-list of architects to do business with the city?
Some of our city agencies, particularly the Toronto Public Library, have already been producing excellent spaces and buildings. But if every community centre, TTC garage and park bathroom got the same level of attention…