Archive for March, 2011

Field Trip Friday: Public Workshop at the National Building Museum

This week, Alex Gilliam, Director of Public Workshop, invited OHNY staff to stop by the National Building Museum to participate in his first building workshops in the Museum’s Great Hall. How could you not want to head to Washington, D.C. to have the opportunity to build some super fantastic colossal structures within the vast interiors of the former Pension Bureau building from 1887?!? Sadly we were not able to go, but we wanted to share you Alex’s awesome participatory building design experiments that took place.

Public Workshop credit Alex Gilliam

jaw droppingly gorgeous and surprisingly educational

Having spent the last four months as the 2010 Field Fellow researching the National Building Museum’s extensive Architectural Toy Collection, Alex concluded his fellowship this week with a series of group building exercises testing the limits of how we learn, design and collaborate, while helping the Museum rethink its use of the Great Hall by collaboratively making gorgeous, temporary structures. To do this, Alex designed and fabricated some 400 disks with assistance from his digital fabrication friends at Cardboard Safari in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Each day consisted of three building sessions. In the morning Alex started out with smaller, faster collaborative building exercises, allowing him to quickly test such things as participants’ pattern recognition skills, visual priming and descriptive words as design tools.

Public Workshop credit Alex Gilliam

building experiment

The afternoon was open to Free Build!, giving families passing through the Museum time to freely play with the disks.

Public Workshop credit Alex Gilliam

museum visitors sitting in the bear cave

The day concluded with a Building Adventure, which merged early creations and ideas into singular larger installation.

Public Workshop credit Alex Gilliam

making as a tool for dialogue workshop #1: silo

Disguised as a week of play, Alex had visitors of all ages working on ridiculously hard challenges that tested pattern recognition, visual priming, and the idea of making-as-a-tool-for-dialogue, and learning processes. He witnessed fantastic leaps in learning, vibrant collaborations and design innovation, and one of his teen builders even came up with some design-build slang, “I’m totally built out!” (but I’m going to keep on going.)

Public Workshop credit Alex Gilliam

inside the silo. stunning!

To learn more about Alex Gilliam’s Making As A Tool For Dialogue Workshops and see images of the other structures that were built throughout the week, check out his blog at

National Building Museum
401 F Street NW
Washington, DC


Field Trip Friday: Passive House on 174 Grand Street

Last week OHNY staff members met Sam Bargetz, an architect at Loadingdock5 and certified Passive House consultant, to tour the Passive House at 174 Grand Street in Williamsburg. (Hae-In, who lives in Williamsburg, passes this site almost daily and was especially excited to see what lay beyond the hot pink door!)

Loadingdock5 Architecture, an architectural studio also located in Williamsburg, emphasizes sustainable design solutions and efficient technologies using the Passive House standard.

door to 174 Grand Street

The Passive House concept is a comprehensive system that aims to represent the highest energy standard, reducing heating energy consumption of buildings by 75 to 90% by creating a very well-insulated, virtually air-tight building that is primarily heated by passive solar gain and by internal gains from people and electrical equipment, so that energy losses are minimized.

staircase to the third floor

This includes high performance triple-glazed windows, super-insulation and balanced energy recovery ventilation to reduce energy use and carbon emission, as well as thinking about heat gain through shading and window orientation.


174 Grand Street is a mixed use building, with 1,500 square feet of residential space on three floors above 900 square feet of retail space on the street level and basement. With this project, Loadingdock5 aims to be NYC’s first new building that adheres to the strict German Passive House standard. To become certified as a Passive House, a structure has to meet stringent guidelines that are prescribed within the Passive House standards for energy efficiency, air tightness and construction quality.


The walls are load-bearing 8″ concrete masonry units with exterior insulation and the windows are reversible windows from Walch in Austria. Sam spoke with us about working to invent systems and find the materials, products and equipment that would help meet the Passive House standards. It can take longer (and sometimes be more expensive) to find some of the materials, and also requires the architects and engineers to be smart about material use and solutions.

rooftop cooling system

Sam also took us up to the roof to see the energy recovery ventilator, to meet heating and cooling demand.

Ultimately, the idea is that more certified Passive House buildings will help lead to greater energy independence and reduced carbon emissions in the U.S.

studio space (not part of the Passive House)

Although the residential space is Passive House certified, the downstairs studio and retail space is not, as it would be hard to have a retail space where the doors are constantly opening and closing, to meet the strict requirements. The retail store will open in May.


Although the concept is growing in the U.S., Sam mentioned that in Europe, over the past 10 years or so, more than 15,000 buildings, ranging from single and multifamily residences, schools and office buildings, have been designed and built to the Passive House standard.

174 Grand Street will be another new site during the upcoming OHNY Weekend, October 15 & 16, 2011! Follow the design and building progress by checking out their blog and map of Loadingdock5’s other projects around the city.

174 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Field Trip Friday: PS 90

A few weeks ago, OHNY staff met architect Mark Ginsberg of Curtis + Ginsberg up in Harlem to tour PS 90, a 1906 Gothic style elementary school restored into a residential condominium. The tour also included a sneak peek of the National Dance Institute‘s 18,000 square foot Center for Learning and The Arts in the same building. NDI is a non-profit that provides free dance instruction to 40,000 NYC public schools students every year, and will finally have a studio space of its own.

NDI space under construction

Constructed in 1906, PS 90 was designed by Charles B. J. Snyder, superintendent and chief architect for New York City public schools from 1891-1922. It features his “H” plan layout and is one of several similarly planned schools in Harlem designed by Snyder. During his time there, he oversaw the construction of more than 400 public schools and 300 of them are still in use today. PS 90 was abandoned as a school building thirty years ago.

exterior of PS 90

PS 90 is a great example of collegiate Gothic-style architecture, with elaborate masonry work on its terracotta and limestone exterior, and stone gargoyles and eagle carvings (all re-pointed and restored). On the exterior, the main entrance was lowered one level to allow for better accessibility and allow for a beautifully landscaped courtyard garden and double-height lobby space.

lobby of the building

Mark, the project’s reconstruction architect, explained that while the exterior was in good shape and intact, the building’s interior structure was compromised by neglect. Much of it was damaged beyond repair, like the concrete floors which had to be torn out and replaced. The original stairways were removed and stairwells relocated in order to apply to today’s codes.

Mark Ginsburg shows us the apartments

The building features a mix of studio, one, two and three-bedroom homes and each unit features high ceilings, up to 12 feet, which allows for great views and wonderful light. The floors are a herringbone pattern made of European oak with Quartzite counter tops and custom walnut toned cabinetry.

apartment kitchen

One thing that really stands out about PS 90 is the pricing. Out of the building’s 74 units, 20 will be middle-income, which helps market the affordable apartments. The remaining 54 market-rate units include three studios, 18 one-bedrooms, 32 two-bedrooms and one three-bedroom.

roof garden

The drought-resistant gardens are designed by Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and the rooftop garden provides a beautiful oasis. The building utilizes sustainable features such as natural lighting and energy-efficient heat pumps.

living room

The large windows are also worth noting, as the building was designed before the widespread use of electrical lighting. These windows made the apartment layouts and placement of walls a bit tougher, but also add a sense of airiness and allow for the taller ceilings as well.

residents lounge

The building also features amenities, which we have seen in several new developments now, including a fitness center, terrace, residents lounge, work studio, media room and bike room.

Opened in August of last year, as of December 2010, West 147th Associates LLC and Halstead Property Development Marketing announced that 50% of units are sold. PS 90 is a great example of reuse and with incentives still available for developing abandoned Harlem properties as condominiums, hopefully there is more to come.

We are also excited to have PS 90 and NDI join us as OHNY Weekend sites for 2011!

PS 90
220 West 148th Street, New York (between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevards)

Field Trip Friday: Brooklyn Art Library

A few weekends ago, OHNY staffer Hae-In went to the Brooklyn Art Library in Williamsburg for the opening of the Sketchbook Project: 2011.

Brooklyn Art Library

The sketchbooks have been submitted by 28,838 artists from 94 countries and anyone could participate, using provided moleskin sketchbooks. The results are on display before the show goes on the road, beginning a tour of galleries and museums around the nation later this week on March 6.


The sketchbooks will be traveling across the country, from the Austin Museum of Art to 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco, with stops in Chicago and Atlanta along the way. After the tour, all the sketchbooks will come back to Brooklyn and enter the Brooklyn Art Library’s permanent collection, where they will be available for public viewings again.

library rules

Each book has been given a unique barcode and is cataloged into The Brooklyn Art Library system. Readers receive a library card and can then check them out (although they cannot leave the space), or have the librarians pick at random from a list of categories such as “Magical Maps” and “Coffee and Cigarettes.” The system also allows the artists to track where on the tour their book is viewed and how many times someone pulled it from the shelf.

People reading

Founded in 2006 by Steven Peterman and Shane Zucker, Art House Co-Op opened the space on North 3rd Street last December, as a physical home for the collective’s creative projects — their “archive of visual inspiration.” In addition to serving as a storefront reading room, the library also serves as exhibition space and and sells a variety of sketchbooks, journals and stationary, including vintage books and their own line of paper goods, called Pocket Dept.

library cards station

Art House Co-op conceptualizes and produces interactive group art projects. Each new project always has two phases: the collection of work from a community of artists around the world and the work’s presentation.

check out station

They are currently seeking submissions for an ongoing photo project called A Million Little Pictures. Professional and amateur artists are equally encouraged to submit their art. The Photomobile is a custom-built library of photographs housed inside an Airstream trailer. In September 2011, it will embark on an epic U.S. tour, traveling to galleries, museums, and alternative project spaces. Viewers will be able to enter the Photomobile to experience the exhibition and to use it as an extensive picture library, searching for photographs by name, theme or location. You will have 27 frames to explore your subject matter, keeping with one of their guiding themes like  “People I Know” or “Lights and Beams,” and your fully loaded camera is due back to Art House by March 31.

Find out how to get involved here.

The Brooklyn Art Library is open Tuesday to Sunday from 12 – 8pm.

The Brooklyn Art Library
103 A N 3rd St
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Join OHNY’s Volunteer Council

Hello, fine friends and enthusiasts of OHNY! I’m Andrew Watanabe, former volunteer coordinator and current OHNY Volunteer Council member.

Andrew at OHNY's Wrap Party 2010

As OHNY staff and VC members begin start mapping out sites and programs and lining up outreach strategies for this year’s OHNY Weekend, you may be thinking to yourself, “You’re planning for OHNY Weekend already? Yet I’ve only just finished plying my sweetheart with dinner dates and… well intended but poorly executed gifts?” And to that, I snap back, “Exactly! Excuse my mixed metaphor, but Valentine’s Day is just a cog in the whole enchilada: we’ll need that leverage to get you out of that trip to their sister’s Pomeranian’s half-birthday party in Massapequa during the Weekend.”

But I digress. Every year, we see more and more interest in our programs and volunteer opportunities, so I’m reaching out to you today to find out whom of those among us have the enthusiasm, the know-how, the gumption, and, most important, the time and energy to commit to joining the VC. You may be wondering to yourself, “What is the VC? What does it do? Is it a secret society? Can it be transmitted through casual contact, like holding hands or kissing?” And I would reply solemnly, “It’s a little bit of both? But with the House of Representatives and that game where all the tiny, different-shaped pieces pop out into your face if you’re too slow sprinkled on top.”
The VC is a hodgepodge of individuals from all over the city, and all walks of life, who commit to a minimum of two years of service. We meet the second Tuesday evening of every month to discuss strategy and assist the staff at year-round events: from recruiting and training volunteers for the annual OHNY Weekend, to filling the room with friendly, knowledgeable faces at OHNY’s year-round programs and fundraisers. We organize the recognition ceremony for five-year volunteers, and we also lend our individual talents (mine is getting other people drunk, apparently), knowledge, and connections where they are helpful. It’s really exciting to get to have a hand in planning the largest architecture & design-related event in the country!
Of course, we do have a few teeny-tiny prerequisites for VC membership that are, I swear, not onerous at all. We are looking for the following characteristics in you:
  • A genial, well-rounded personality
  • Experience volunteering for OHNY Weekend at least once in the past few years
  • A firm commitment to come to the monthly meetings
  • Willingness to sacrifice your OHNY Weekend to be a District Coordinator. Which, if I might add, is not really a sacrifice at all: you are OHNY’s eyes and ears during the Weekend, visiting a handful of sites on both days, interacting with program and site sponsors and volunteers, and being available if a site needs extra help. IN FACT, you can still see a bazillion sites in and around your district, and it introduces you to some sites and programs that you wouldn’t necessarily make a beeline for, but that end up being the highlights of your weekend.
And that’s all! If it sounds like something you’d be interested in doing, send an email to and let us know that you want to hop on for the ride.
Hope to see you at our next meeting!