Commemorating Walt Whitman’s 191st Birthday



Yesterday, May 31st, commemorated Walt Whitman’s 191st birthday. His modest birth-home, a farmhouse,  is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Our design of the adjacent interpretative center was conceived to shelter the farmhouse and visitor experience from the bustle of twenty-first century Long Island; the natural and built environments are joined with the presentation of cultural history through a curving cedar wall time-line that starts within the exhibit space and leads across the grounds to a point directly in front of the house where Walt Whitman was born.

The Interpretive Center brings together several design aspects that have characterized the work of elemental – environmentally sensitive, energy efficient architecture. The use of passive solar gain and thermal storage, and gravity ventilation — both characteristics of nineteenth century vernacular building design — can be seen in the large, south facing windows of Whitman’s house.  Similar features have been incorporated into the Interpretive Center.


The new facility serves three interpretive functions: the building is a gateway from the modern world to the historic site; it includes the exhibit space which encourages the visitor to experience Whitman’s life, writings, and philosophy in an environment that reflects the poet’s lifelong concern with the interrelationship between humankind and nature, and in full sight of the birthplace building. Once the visitor has passed through the gateway onto the historic site, the building and the extended cedar wall establish a peaceful precinct, shielding the view of cars, trucks, signs and neon lights.



To learn more about the Birthplace Association, click here.

New York Times Op-Ed: Don’t LEED Us Astray


In the May 19th issue of the #NYTimes, Alec Appelbaum writes a well positioned Op-Ed piece on the question of green, LEED-rated buildings potentially loosing their luster once in full operation.  Mr. Appelbaum essentially promotes the idea of a creating an incentive program for buildings to go beyond LEED certification, a benchmark that many new construction projects can achieve, and that those buildings should receive credits/subsidies to maintain and promote further energy and resource conservation – a position we fully support.

While we’re fully in support of LEED and the sea change it has created,  Mr. Appelbaum’s view and critique of where LEED certification leaves off is one we also maintain.

Read the full piece here.

Invitation – Westbeth Artists Housing 40th Anniversary Celebration


You are cordially invited to join the Westbeth Artists Housing Association in celebrating its 40th Anniversary and designation as a National Historic Landmark on Monday, May 3, 2010.

Located in the far West Village of New York City, Westbeth provides affordable living and working spaces for artists and their families. Opened in 1970, through funding provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and the J.M. Kaplan Foundation, Westbeth continues to offer affordable artists’ housing and an array of cultural activities.




Master of Ceremonies:

Carl Stein, FAIA, Principal, Elemental Architecture

Brief Remarks by:

Jerrold Nadler, United States Congressman

Kate Levin, Commissioner, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs

Robert Tierney, Chair, NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

Wint Aldrich, Deputy Commissioner for Historic Preservation, NYS Parks

Joan Davidson, Trustee, J.M. Kaplan Fund

Richard Meier, FAIA, Principal, Richard Meier & Partners

Steven Neil, Executive Director, Westbeth Artists Association

George Cominski, President, Westbeth Artists Residents Council


Gallery show beginning at 5:30 with brief remarks at 6:45

Jazz by Westbeth musicians

Light refreshments following remarks.

South Jamaica Branch Library – AIA COTE Top Ten Green Projects Award



In recognition of Earth Day, the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment (COTE) annually recognizes the Top Ten Green Projects in the profession. The COTE Top Ten Award is considered by many as the best recognition program for sustainable design excellence. In 2000, the South Jamaica Branch library was honored to have been selected as a winner of this prestigious award. It is one of only five such projects in New York City. It was also the first building designed under the NYC High Performance Building Guidelines.

Among the building’s many features, the library reduces the embodied energy and embodied pollution through the use of low energy and recycled materials and provides enhanced indoor environmental quality through the use of chemically and physically stable materials and special filtration systems.


The “saw-tooth” shape of its roof not only introduces sunlight into the main reading room, but also promotes hot air stratification, concentrating at the peaks. The building has two return/exhaust air systems; one collecting air at the peaks and one collecting air near the floor.  In the winter, the hot air from the peaks is recirculated throughout the building, its heat being stored in the slabs and masonry walls.  Exhaust air is taken from the cooler air near the floor.  In the summer, the hot air from the peaks is exhausted and the cooler air is recirculated.


The building established goals to consume significantly less energy than that allowed by the New York State Energy Code: 48% less for lighting; 62% less for heating; and 34% less for cooling. Unsurprisingly, the actual electric meter readings after two years of operation demonstrated that the building has out-performed these goals: by 30% for heating and 50% for electrical (lighting & cooling).


For more information on the COTE Top Ten and to see the other winners, click here..

Construction Update: Shepard Hall TSRU Models



Fabrication has begun of the models needed for the production molds for the thin-shell replicas that will replace the deteriorated terra cotta. Together with the previous nine phases, more than 60,000 pieces have been replaced making this by far the largest historic reconstruction of its kind in the world.

The thin-shell approach was developed in 1986-87 by Elemental (then The Stein Partnership) as a means to rebuild the failing structure on an accelerated schedule and still allow for a cladding that accurately reflected the original material.

At the project outset, more than one third of the original terra cotta had already failed and been removed to protect the public safety. As a result, many of the sculptural elements required either partial restoration or total recreation based on the surviving fragments and old photographs. Here, from the first phase (1986-1991) are original grotesques with missing heads, replicas awaiting installation and the rebuilt turrets with the new thin-shell cladding.



This process continues today. Because the contemporary manufacturing processes offer a much higher level of precision than did the original, care is taken to introduce the imperfections that are characteristic of the terra cotta. These include tooling marks, irregularities on flat planes and slight variations in the characteristic “white” color from piece to piece. Depending on the level of deterioration of the original terra cotta, the process of obtaining models can vary from the direct use of terra cotta originals as new molds, to partial reconstruction of damaged terra cotta and fabrication of complete recreations based on historic photographs and interpolations from other similar pieces on the building.

Here, models have been fabricated based on typical profiles found throughout the building


In other cases, terra cotta that had suffered minimal damage serves as models, such as these florettes


This unique grotesque from the building, missing pieces of his nose and and fingers, was carefully removed from the building


and restored to serve as a model for the new GFRC replacement.


When the models are finished, rubber-lined production molds will be created. The thin shell replacement units (TSRU) are then fabricated using a sprayed glass fiber reinforced cementitious system, about three quarters of an inch thick. The description of the process will continue as the project progresses.

Stay tuned for continued updates from the field.

Carl Stein to Speak at AIANY Symposium



Carl Stein, FAIA will speak as part of the “Modernism by Choice: The Economy, Politics, and Sustainability of Preservation” symposium this Saturday at AIANY Center for Architecture. The symposium is in conjunction with the World Monuments Fund’s “Modernism at Risk” exhibition on view at the Center through May 1, 2010. See here for more information on the exhibit.

Panel 1: Advocacy for Vacant Structures:
Case Study 1: Michael Reese Hospital, Chicago, IL
Speaker: Graham Balkany, Director, Gropius in Chicago Coalition
Case Study 2: Miami Marine Stadium, Miami, FL
Speaker: Jorge Hernandez, Architect, Co-Founder, Friends of Miami Marine Stadium
Case Study 3: Bell Labs, Holmdel, NJ
Speaker: Michael Calafati, AIA, Principal, Historic Building Architects, LLC, Trenton, and Chair, AIA-NJ Historic Resources Committee
Moderator: Theo Prudon, DOCOMOMO US
Respondent: Frank Sanchis, Senior Vice-President, Municipal Art Society

Panel 2: Sustaining Operations in a Modern Building:
Case Study 1: Taliesin, Spring Green, WI
Speaker: Victor Sidy, AIA, Dean, Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
Case Study 2: Central Branch, Atlanta Fulton Public Library, Atlanta, GA
Speaker: John Szabo, Director, Central Branch, Atlanta Fulton Public Library
Moderator: Lisa Ackerman, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, World Monuments Fund
Respondent: Carl Stein, FAIA, Elemental Architecture, LLC; formerly of Marcel Breuer and Associates

Organized by: the Center for Architecture in collaboration with the World Monuments Fund, DOCOMOMO US, and World Monuments Fund, DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State.

Free for Members
$5 suggested donation for students

FDNY Rescue 1 in The Architect’s Newspaper



Aaron Seward of the ‘Architect’s Newspaper’ discusses our design of Rescue Company 1 as the first among a new generation of firehouses for elite FDNY companies.  Read the post here.

Construction Update: Shepard Hall Entry Ramp & Facade Work



Entry Ramp Takes Shape:
Central to the entry redesign is the reconstruction of the original ground floor entrance. In addition to the salvaged schist stone wall, concrete retaining walls form the stair opening leading down to the original lower level stone arch entry.  Earth and gravel fill are compacted to serve as a supporting base for the new concrete stair slab.

Facade Reconstruction Underway:
Scaffolding has been erected and selective demolition and removals have begun on the main building. The first step of the facade reconstruction is the selective removal of existing terra cotta sculpture to serve as models for new Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete (GFRC) replicas.



A rigorously tested thin-shell GFRC, strong, light weight and durable, has been the material for all the terra cotta reconstruction. The entire reconstruction, totaling over 65,000 pieces, is currently the largest GFRC reconstruction project in the world.

Following careful removal of the representative sculptural pieces, demolition of the remaining terra cotta will begin.
Steel lintel Investigation:
Meanwhile, the demolition of the existing terra cotta window surrounds exposes the original steel lintels that support the window openings. Each steel lintel is inspected to determine its structural viability. Where possible, salvaging the original steel is preferred.


Schist Stone Sounding:
Local Manhattan Schist stone is the primary façade material of Shepard Hall as well as the other campus buildings originally designed by George Post.  Through a process called “sounding,” each stone on the building is struck with a mallet and the sound produced is an indicator of the stone’s integrity.  Stones that sound “hollow” or are visibly damaged or deteriorated are marked by the design team for replacement.

Stay tuned for continued updates from the field.

Carl Stein – Renewable Energy World North America: “Renewable but Finite”


Renewable Energy

Carl Stein’s article in Renewable Energy World North America ‘Defining Renewable’ segment is available in print and for download now. As Carl concludes: “With remarkable shortsightedness, we have come to believe that the petroleum-era paradigm which was made possible by the availability of plentiful, cheap energy represents the natural order. In fact, it is not sustainable and is tending toward catastrophic results. The shift to renewable energies as our primary resources will reconnect us to the cultural/ethical continuum of humankind; a new paradigm.”

Read the article here. or download PDF .

Construction Update: Shepard Hall, Concrete Underpinning



As construction continues, efforts to utilize the original schist stone entry ramp wall that was recently unearthed continue to make progress. Concrete underpinning (for an explanation of underpinning, click here) along with new steel reinforcement, will allow the original schist stone wall to be incorporated into the new entry design. Meanwhile, as the entry ramp work continues, Elemental Architecture and the team are preparing to commence full scale reconstruction efforts on portions of the main building itself. Stay tuned for continued updates from the field.