Big Architecture: AIA New York Has Shaped the City, But Can it Reshape City Hall?

City Hall, under renovation. (Spencer Tucker)

This creates its own challenges, however. Lacking the money of the real estate board and the size of some of the unions, the AIA has had to do most of its work through back channels. But heading into the next election, there is hope of creating an architecture platform of sorts. “There are so many good things about PlaNYC that we really want to keep it going, if not more invigorated,” Ms. Castillo said. “So we’re very interested, next year, in seeing where the candidates positions are, because we really think it’s critical to New York.”

Who knows, some day the mayor could be an architect. It is a rare thing in American politics–the only registered architect to hold national office in generations is Richard Swett, a Congressman from Vermont. (Don’t forget Jefferson.) Meanwhile, Ms. Perlmutter points to Istanbul, where the mayor was an architect widely credited with transforming the public realm.

The desire to affect the political process speaks a good deal to the historical moment in which the AIA currently finds itself, with a mayor who is actually quite enlightened to the issues the organization concerns itself with. The Bloomberg administration has transformed the way in which New Yorkers think about what designers like to call “the built environment,” the infrastructure and open space and architecture that the rest of us tend to think of simply as the city.

It is a rather chicken-and-egg debate, but the fact remains, without Michael Bloomberg, the AIA might not be so embolden, but having been awakened, architects want to hang on to their new-found riches. Not to mention the fact that a recession that has laid off more architects than workers in any sector, per capita, has created a greater desire to take risks.

“This has always been necessary,” Ms. Castillo said, “but what we did see was, if things were slow at the Building Department, this would be the time to get in there. We also felt that the mayor was pro-business and -technology and -efficiency, then we actually felt very motivated to do it now and not wait for another mayor to come in and who knows. So we really did feel the urgency to get this done fast.”

mchaban [at] | @MC_NYC

Big Architecture: AIA New York Has Shaped the City, But Can it Reshape City Hall?