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“Like an army of soldiers or like a meadow”

YSoA, Fall 2021
Critic: Martin Finio, Nico Kienzl, Tess McNamara
Selected for Retrospecta 45

Oiling the Seagram Building's bronze facade is slow, expensive, and extraordinarily labor-intensive. According to the building's specifications, the oiling is a nearly constant activity. The Seagram, exemplar of the machine age, has long been lambasted for the amount of handwork that goes into maintaining it. We see the same problem differently: Can the constant work of caring for buildings—from cleaning to repair to retrofit—upset the idea of the single-authored 'work' of architecture?

This isn’t just a theoretical notion, but an urgent necessity. "The case for a fix-it first agenda," writes Billy Fleming, "is economic as well as ecological." In New York City alone, the retrofit market is expected to grow to almost 20 billion dollars by 2030. This market is enormous, but there isn’t enough skilled labor to perform the retrofits. Placing a construction training program at the heart of the building, we propose using the Seagram as a laboratory to train this workforce. In the upper floors, we reorganize office floors into living spaces. Where elsewhere in Midtown, commercial-to-residential rezoning is squandered on speculative developments, we use the same law to provide workforce housing for those working in the new "fix-it first" economy. Motivated by the idea that maintenance isn't a singular event but implies practices from repair to reconstruction to domestic living, this proposal displaces the ‘project’ of Mies' architecture with an open-ended practice of remaking.

Collaborator: Heather Schneider