CITIES: NYC, Athens, Beijing, Miami, Pittsburgh, Detroit

CITIES is a monthly column that looks at urban design, development and cultural life. Come back often!

Grand Central exhibition opens March 6.

On Time/Grand Central at 100 exhibition opens March 6. Image courtesy of Pop Chart Lab.

New York: Grand Central Station’s  Centennial  (Feb. 1) is actually a year-long shindig.  If you’re in the city or arriving, take advantage of the day’s events: VIP presenters (Keith Hernandez, actress Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City), Caroline Kennedy et al; 1913 pricing in shops and restaurants; music and dancing into the evening; replica of Grand Central in Lego™ bricks; and giveaways that include luggage tags and vintage-style whistles.

Grand Central Centennial

Grand Central Centennial Courtesy of Grand Central Station

There’s a new book, commemorative express mail stamp, and 12 more months of festivities. Annual holiday train show on view through Feb. 10.  Who saved Grand Central in the 1970s ? Read the New York Times backstory of how Jackie Onassis and Kent Barwick saved the day.

Several great facts about Grand Central: The world’s largest Tiffany clock, measuring 14 feet, resides at the center of the sculptural group at Grand Central’s 42nd Street entrance. Famed tight rope walker, Philippe Petit walked the length of a wire stretched high above Grand Central’s Main Concourse in 1987. Learn more

Detroit Future City

Detroit Future City

Detroit: $150 million pledged by the Kresge Foundation for a 5-year period is intended to help fulfill the Detroit Future City strategy, which contains hundreds of recommendations for urban renewal. The plan is designed to take advantage of neighborhoods with robust economic and demographic anchors to create “new densities.” Goals include creating “blue” and “green” infrastructure in the form of farms on vacant lands and artificial ponds and lakes designed to capture rainwater and reduce runoff into the city’s sewer and drainage systems. Full report or the executive summary

See the Jan 8 story on Detroit in Green News Update

Dutch house printed with 3D printer

Mobius-shaped house (detail) will be built with a 3D printer/Courtesy Universe Architecture

Amsterdam Architect’s 3D House: Landscape House, designed by Janjaap Ruijssenaars of  Universe Architecture is planning a Möbius strip-shaped house of around 1,100 square meters that is made using the world’s largest 3D printer. How is that possible? Roboticist Enrico Dini designed the printer, which “prints” objects (up to 6 by 9 meters) with a mix of ground rocks or sand held together with a liquid binding agent. This collaborative project is the first building produced that’s actually going to be occupied. Sure hope they videotape the whole process. See the story and photo gallery. Story on Enrico Dini of Monolite UK. Stay connected to the project through facebook.

Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscape

Living Roof Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes

Pittsburgh: Mark your calendar for February 12 –public opening day for the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL), a center for education, research and administration, and the newest jewel in the crown at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Already notable for its LEED® certified Visitors’ Center, energy-efficient forest conservatory that is a new model of design, and many other green amenities including a certified restaurant, the Phipps has hit the trifecta with the CSL, by meeting or exceeding the three highest green standards.  It was purposely planned as a Living Buildings Challenge, LEED® Platinum, and SITES certification (Sustainable Sites initiative). The Phipps now has bragging rights to being one of the world’s first certified living buildings. Check out all the bells and whistles.  And try the animated flyover.  Come back this spring: Green News Update will have a feature story on the Phipps as part of a “green museums” issue.

Polluted Air: Three continents, take your pick. The air quality stinks in Beijing, Tehran and Athens and is putting people at risk for heart attacks, asthma-like reactions and more. What’s up?

In Athens, people in extreme austerity cannot afford oil heat to keep their homes warm, so they are burning in fireplaces and wood-burning stoves anything they can find– used Christmas trees, old doors and windows, even scrap wood that may be treated with chemicals. According to National Public Radio, someone finished off the remains of a 3,000-year-old olive tree where it is said Plato sat to teach his students. Listen to the story 

Air pollution on Tehran/Courtesy IRNA

Covering up against air pollution/Courtesy IRNA

Jump over to Tehran and there’s more than burkhas covering faces. Residents are wearing masks and scarves to cover up against the yellow haze from extreme pollution. Turns out this is an annual event caused by a combination of cold air and fumes from millions of cars, exacerbated by the “home brew” gasoline manufactured in Iran that adds benzene and lead to the atmosphere. Several provincial towns nearby are among the world’s 10 worst cities for air quality according to a 2011 World Health Organization report. Read the story.

Air pollution satellite image over Beijing/Courtesy NASA

Satellite image of pollution over Beijing//Courtesy of NASA

Choking on foul air in Beijing is no joke and it’s a chronic situation. Air pollution in Beijing regularly exceeds 500 on an index that measures particulates in the air with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers; a daily level of about 20 is considered safe by the World Health Organization. Any level above 300 is considered hazardous. On the weekend of Jan 12-13, measurable pollution reached a level of 700. So people living with pollution at 30-45 times the safe level are  vulnerable to chronic bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory diseases. (The US Embassy has a special air filtration system to rid the pollutants – no solution when you step outdoors to go home.) NPR radio  storyHuffpost video

NOTE: Soot is the #2 human-made contributor to climate change, according to a newly issued study published in the  Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.  What is it ? Black carbon (fine particulate matter)  results from combustion of poor-quality diesel fuel and domestic wood and coal fires, according to Piers Foster (University of Leeds School of Earth and Environment), who is one of the authors. More news on the soot study

Research study abstract in pdf format

Cloisters Museum

Cloisters Museum perched at the edge of the Hudson River/Courtesy MMA

Polluted Vista: The Cloisters Museum, an outpost of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in northern Manhattan, has a timeless view that is now in peril. Why care? Unique among US cultural institutions, the Cloisters is constructed of architectural elements from five European cloisters built in the Middle Ages.  In the 1930’s John D. Rockefeller, who underwrote the Cloisters project,  bought 700 acres across the river along a 13-mile stretch of the Palisades in New Jersey to protect the vista from visual pollution.  Now, the LG Electronics Corporation (South Korea) is planning a US headquarters in Englewood Cliffs NJ, designed by esteemed firm Hellmuth Obata Kassabaum/HOK,  that will tower above the treeline of the Palisades. The tower will be 143 feet despite the original zoning limit of 35 feet.  LG claims it is building “an iconic green structure” that will be a leader in energy efficient design (New York Times). Preservationists have countered with lawsuits to protect the view and keep it green. Protecting vistas is not new. The “Ladies Association” at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon Estate in Alexandria VA succeeded in protecting land across the Potomac River (in Maryland)  to give modern visitors a view that suggests what the President himself may have seen from his river-facing porch. The answer? Reduce the height, stupid. Check out North Jersey’s Record story. 

Ocean Avenue Miami Beach

Ocean Avenue Miami Beach/Courtesy MDPL

Historic Preservation, Miami Style: Saving the Art Deco and Moderne hotels in Miami Beach in the 1970’s spurred an urban revival that is still going strong. Now, historic preservation mavens are tackling notable single family homes that could be demolished for multi-million dollar mega mansions. “We have reached a tipping point on Miami Beach where we are losing too many pre-1942 single family homes,” says William Cary, Miami Beach assistant planning director (and former NYC preservationist). Preservationists have applied for landmark status on a $7.6 million Star Island property whose owner wants to tear it down and build a pile. Read more about what’s at stake. Check out the Miami Design Preservation League.