Writer: Amy Guttman
A group of New York architects is fighting the global recession with a month-long festival devoted to public and private buildings, film and lectures about the industry. With a 28% unemployment rate, almost three times the national average, Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, head of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects says the numbers inspired a call to action.
“The downturn disproportionately affects architects. Everybody’s wondering what’s going to happen in the world with capital spending and we’re the canary in the coalmine. If there’s money for buildings, things are okay.”
To encourage young, out of work architects to stay in New York, and avoided fleeing both the city and the profession, New York’s AIA decided last year, to expand what began as a one-week architecture festival into an entire month of free events, called Archtober.
The curated calendar is in October, one of New York’s times of year, when the weather is warm and reliable and school’s in session.
The idea, Kracauer says, is to expose the already strong tourism market to one of New York’s greatest exports, with events from breakfast time through dinner.
“We get over 50,000 tourists in New York every year, with a very international scope. Firms in New York export architecture to the rest of the world and design exports are one the most important rising sectors of the city’s economy. There’s an ascending spiral of international job creation associated around the design industry in New York and we’re just trying to do our little bit.”
The AIA worked with an existing architecture and design film festival to incorporate events into one programme. Every day, architects and design enthusiasts can tour a public or private building, led by either the architect or project manager, sharing their intimate knowledge of the building from challenges to unique features. It could be the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center one day, or the Morgan Library another, some are recent design award winners, others religious institutions, educational spaces, or places the public wouldn’t normally get access to.
“Tours are en plein air, out on the street, looking, talking, and people just aggregate. Those who pass by the same building every day stop to learn something new and that’s what we want. We want architects to be more accessible and the language of the buildings to be integral to our daily experience. We live in a city surrounded by buildings. People don’t come to New York for purple mountains majesty, they come to New York for culture and tall buildings.”
They also come to ride the city’s famous subway system. From its home in Greenwich Village, the AIA takes out a “station domination” media buy at the West 4th Street subway stop. The 22,000 people who pass through the station every six hours find their underground station turned into a mini-Guggenheim museum, with two sloping ramps and parallel galleries occupying all the precious ad space for the whole month.
With the success of last year’s Archtober, and preparing for an even broader schedule this year, city officials are now in talks with the AIA about collaborating on a design festival. Archtober may not be raising employment rates, or buildings just yet, but they are raising the profile and appreciation of the city’s mighty towers, and those who dream them up.