Location, Location, Location: Real Estate & NYC Design
Every discussion about design in New York—whether it’s deciding where to move your studio or the location of the offices of the national organization that champions the advancement of design—has to include a discussion of real estate. That’s just they way it is.
In 1961, AIGA National rented a floor in a small building on Third Avenue in New York City, near Bloomingdale’s and architecture and interior design offices and showrooms. The Upper East Side was the place to be for high-end design, and the then 50-year-old organization managed its operations, including holding exhibitions and publishing journals and annuals, from there for 33 years. In the 1980s, graphic designers began building offices in former warehouse and loft spaces in the Flatiron District, and by 1994 it was considered essential for the AIGA to have its own building and the presence of a street-level gallery: The AIGA National Design Center on Fifth Avenue at 22nd Street.
Things are changing again. Design offices are no longer clustered in the Flatiron and Chelsea districts, but scattered in various Manhattan neighborhoods including SoHo, the East Village, Hell’s Kitchen and the Meatpacking district, and in Williamsburg and Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and Long Island City, Queens. The AIGA building was recently sold, and the organization moved its HQ to the Woolworth Building near City Hall, just north of the Financial District.
Design is moving downtown — way downtown.
Notwithstanding the occasional attention of major venues like the recent Paul Rand exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, many designers have been concerned that with the sale of the AIGA building and the move to 17th-floor offices, graphic design will not have a public face or presence any more.
Enter AIGA/NY — the New York chapter — and Howard Hughes (no, not the eccentric tycoon played by Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Aviator,” but the Howard Hughes Corporation, a national developer of retail properties and master-planned communities). Working with architect/urban designer James Sanders, Hughes is building a cultural hub on the East River in the historic Seaport district — considered one of the 25 top tourist destinations in the world — where AIGA/NY and the AIA, Eyebeam, the Guggenheim, and Art Start will share cobblestone streets with high-end shopping and dining establishments. The centerpiece will be a rooftop entertainment venue on Pier 17 offering dramatic views of the Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty and NYC skyline.
Last July, AIGA/NY was given free space through the end of 2015. Chapter members quickly put together a pop-up gallery — the AIGA/NY Annex — for exhibitions, talks, workshops and social/networking events. Alicia Cheng designed the windows with her firm, MGMT, and Greg Yang was the architect.The Annex held the opening reception for “Looking, Thinking, Making in The City,” on August 17, one of the hottest, steamiest nights of the year. 180 people came. “It was so great to see our community together,” says AIGA/NY director of operations Stacey Panousopoulos. “And now, every day, fifteen to 40 people visit.”
According to Juliette Cezzar, AIGA/NY president, “The New York chapter never had its own space before, and our presence at the Seaport has had significant impact on our thinking about who we are as an organization and what our relationship could be with each other and the public. And it’s a convenient second home base for Stacey (above).”
“The AIGA HQ on Fifth Avenue was a good idea for a long time,” Cezzar continues, “but the gallery didn’t communicate a specific position on what it wanted to be or whom it wanted to reach. I recognize that doing so is enormously difficult because graphic design has always had a hard time understanding what to do with itself in a gallery. Do you display the work as art? As historical artifacts? As science and method? As design became less artifact-oriented and more fragmented, the exhibitions shifted towards documenting the past rather than talking about the present. The Seaport space is a huge opportunity to experiment with programming and with making things public, to position ourselves as a pedagogical engine for design that says more about the future than it does about the past.”
At the “Looking, Thinking, Making” exhibit, coordinated by Alicia Cheng, on view until October 1, five NYC-based studios — (l – r) MTWTF, Ming, Doubleday & Cartwright, MTV, and Nothing in Common — use long rolls of paper to demonstrate how they envision, create and manage a project from research through final production.
Upcoming in October: a new exhibit that will showcase a dozen projects that illustrate the impact that designers have on the city, physically and in terms of perception, policy and coalition-building. The plan is to demonstrate how designers can partner with non-designers to have impact on the issues they care about as New Yorkers.
Cezzar says that she’s excited about AIGA National moving to the Woolworth, too, “because it’s so close to our space in the Seaport. And our friend and former board member Eric Adolfsen is the co-owner of The Wooly club space downstairs, where we have our MIX “Designers and Drinks” parties. So in a sense, it’s another kind of coming together.”
The AIGA Annex is located at 192 Front Street (between Fulton and John Streets), NY, NY 10038. It’s free and open to the public 10 – 7 Tuesday through Friday and 10 – 8 Saturday and Sunday.
More AIGA News: The AIGA Design Conference, October 8-10 in New Orleans, is nearly sold out. Register by October 1.