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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

New Book Traces Development of New York City Architecture

August 29, 2001

New Book Traces Development of New York City Architecture

Troy, N.Y. — A new book by Alan Balfour, dean of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s School of Architecture, traces the development of New York City into the “quintessential city of the 20th century.”

World Cities: New York describes New York City’s historical development and explains how the roots of its infrastructure influence architecture today. Balfour accomplishes this with photographs and essays of the city’s most significant works of architecture both built and projected, from the past 10 years and 10 years into the future.

Balfour describes New York as “the most ideological of cities created by the Enlightenment — created to form a ruthless rational order whose reality would forever be in a state of becoming.” This state of becoming is working to change the rules of architecture in ways not yet imagined, suggests Balfour. He sees the future of architecture moving toward high-tech skins over buildings akin to giant television screens.

But he questions the new “information architecture,” influenced by corporations and commercialization, that boldly flaunts technology.

“The builder of a cathedral could be sure that his edifice would engrave itself on the public’s consciousness for centuries, but the appearance of the new Conde Nast building can be changed in, literally, the blink of an eye. It is amazing,” Balfour said. “This technology will very quickly cover the walls of Times Square, overwhelming any notion of stable realities.”

According to Balfour, the virtual reality of the Internet will influence architecture. The world’s attention, he said, is being drawn away from the architects and engineers who make structures, and toward the new “electronic lords” who create virtual realities that appeal to people in an ever more intimate way. Balfour believes that this has the power to erode the traditional city.

Balfour was named the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Year 2000 Topaz Laureate, the highest recognition given in North America for excellence in architecture education. He was formerly Smith Professor and Dean of Architecture at Rice University, and before joining Rensselaer was Chairman of the Architectural Association in London.

His books include Berlin (also in the “World Cities” series), documenting the transformation of Berlin after reunification, published by Academy Editions in 1995. Both this and the earlier Berlin: The Politics of Order: 1737-1989 (Rizzoli, 1990) were winners of the AIA International Book Award. Additional books are Portsmouth (Studio Vista, 1970), and Rockefeller Center: Architecture as Theater (McGraw-Hill, 1978). He contributed to The Edge of the Millennium (Cooper Hewitt, 1993), Cities of Artificial Excavation: The Work of Peter Eisenman (Rizzoli International/CCA, 1994), and Recovering Landscape (Princeton Architectural Press, 1999). He lives in upstate New York.

Contact: Patricia Azriel
Phone: (518) 276-6531
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