Featured Book Talks

The Museum’s menu of Past Programs features videos authors’ talks, lectures, and symposia that explore tall buildings and cities – especially New York – from multiple perspectives. This page compiles past programs into curated series.

Featured program: Rediscovering New York

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Anthony Robins: New York Art Deco

In July 2017, Anthony Robins, popular leader of walking tours all over the city, synopsized his several decades of devotion to Deco architecture in a lively lecture on his new book New York Art Deco: A Guide to Gotham’s Jazz Age Architecture. Tony explained the evolution of the "skyscraper style" that emerged in Manhattan's commercial architecture in the mid-1920s and reached its zenith by the early Thirties in the Chrysler, Empire State, Cities Service, and RCA buildings, among a chorus of others that remade the skyline in the image of modernity.

Celebrating New York's Great Streets and Public Spaces

Fran Leadon: Broadway

New York's great streets and public spaces, though now fallen quiet, are still resonant with history. We began with Fran Leadon’s June 2018 talk on his book Broadway: A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles.

Barbara Mensch: Brooklyn Bridge

The majestic presence of the Brooklyn Bridge was the subject of a richly illustrated talk by photographer and author Barbara Mensch in October 2018, when she discussed her new book In the Shadow of Genius: the Brooklyn Bridge and Its Creators. A longtime resident of the South Street Seaport neighborhood, Mensch pairs her own striking photography of the bridge with the history of the remarkable Roebling who envisioned and saw through its construction.

Joanna Merwood-Salisbury: Union Square

Union Square was the subject of the October 2019 lecture by Joanna Merwood-Salisbury on her new book Design for the Crowd: Patriotism and Protest in Union Square. Since it was laid out in the mid-19th century, Union Square has served as a microcosm for the ongoing debates about the proper usage of urban public space.

Michele Bogart: Sculpture in Gotham

An overview of the place of public sculpture was the subject of Michele Bogart in a talk in July 2018 based on her book Sculpture in Gotham: Art and Urban Renewal in New York City. A professor of art history and criticism at Stony Brook University who served on the NYC Art Commission from 1998 to 2003, Bogart described how the City of New York became committed to public art patronage in the mid-1960s, when cultural activists and City officials for a time shifted away from traditional monuments and joined forces to sponsor ambitious sculptural projects as instruments for urban revitalization.

Times Square

In November 2014, in connection with our exhibition Times Square, 1984: The Postmodern Movement, the Museum organized a program, presented in collaboration with the Historic Preservation program of GSAPP at Columbia, titled Sense of Place: Reflections on Preservation in Times Square. The evening brought together key players from the 1980s fight to preserve both the physical fabric and economic engine of the Theater District and the spirit of Times Square, Kent Barwick, Laurie Beckelman, Cora Cahan, Jack Goldstein, and Lee Harris Pomeroy.

Lynne Sagalyn: Times Square, Again

Times Square is empty these days, but it’s not dark. Indeed, the lights on Broadway may be brighter than ever in LED. The previous talk, Sense of Place: Reflections on Preservation in Times Square, showed how concerned New Yorkers came together to help preserve and reinvent Times Square. The origins and conditions of the problems that government tackled with its plans were analyzed in the 2001 book by Lynne Sagalyn Times Square Roulette, which she discussed in a talk at the Museum in October 2014.

Sustainability & Skyscrapers

In honor of Earth Day week, the Museum focused our next series on skyscrapers and sustainability. We caught the wave of the green building movement early, and in 2006 presented the exhibition Green Towers for New York: From Visionary to Vernacular. That show pointed out a promising trend: the early adoption and leadership of New York architects, engineers, and some developers in applying the logic of sustainable design to the most competitive and expensive market in America, New York’s commercial and residential architecture.

That show may be a bit dated now, but in fact it’s a great archive of the early history of greening strategies in the commercial real estate market where “return on investment” (ROI) is paramount. An important part of the Museum’s effort to promote sustainability was the lecture series Green Teams: How Sustainability Succeeds in Business. Eight panel discussions brought together thirty leading professionals, including developers, architects, engineers, environmental consultants, and government officials. Highlighting the creative collaboration among clients and designers, each program explored a major tower project or architectural practice, public policy issues, and questions for the future. You can find the original entry portal for the series here.

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David Owen: Green Metropolis

Back in 2009, writer David Owen gave a slide-free talk on his new book Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys To Sustainability, in which he argued logically that cities are the most energy-efficient lifestyle. If you have ever wondered what this engaging New Yorker writer looks and sounds like, you can find out in this amusing and enlightening video.

Likewise, for this particular Earth Day week – the fiftieth! – it's good to remember the enduring logic and necessity of cities for our sustainable global future.

Green Giants

Gordon Gill: GREEN GIANTS

On April 22, 2010, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, the Museum presented GREEN GIANTS, a program about plans to “green” two of history’s biggest and greatest skyscrapers, the Empire State Building and Sears/ Willis Tower. Speakers included Gordon Gill, architectural partner at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill, who designed the strategies for cutting energy consumption and creating better interior environments for the 1970s Sears Tower, and Dana Schneider of JLL, who advised on the modernization of systems for the Empire State Building. Commenting and moderating the Q & A is Rohit Aggarwala, then the head of the Mayor’s Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability for the Bloomberg Administration.

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Vishaan Chakrabarti: A Country of Cities. A Manifesto For An Urban America

In February 2014, architect and planner Vishaan Chakrabarti spoke at the Museum about his book A Country of Cities, which argues that well-designed urban density is the key to solving America’s great national challenges: environmental degradation, unsustainable consumption, economic stagnation, rising public health costs, and decreased social mobility.

On Earth Day week, in the midst of the COVID crisis, Chakrabarti's message that living with smart density can bring economic, social, and environmental benefits for us all needs attention and reinforcement.

Breathing Architecture

WOHA: Breathing Architecture

In 2012 architect Richard Hassell – half of the partnership of the Singapore-based firm WOHA – gave a lecture on their work entitled Breathing Architecture. In 2016, the Museum presented the exhibition Garden City | Mega City on WOHA’s work. For Earth Day week, we suggest the talk and a virtual tour of the exhibition as a way to be inspired by how nature can be integrated into urban architecture applying sustainable and equitable goals.

Celebrating New York's Great Buildings

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Nicholas Adams: Gordon Bunshaft

Architectural historian and Vassar professor Nicholas Adams presents a talk on his book Gordon Bunshaft: Building Corporate Modernism. In 1952, Bunshaft’s landmark design for Lever House reshaped the Manhattan skyline and elevated the reputation of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the firm where he would spend more than 40 years as a partner. Adams argues that the architect’s work represented a tension between his ambition for acclaim as a singular artistic genius and the collaborative structure of SOM’s architectural partnership.

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Phyllis Lambert: Building Seagram

In December 2013, Phyllis Lambert spoke at the Museum about her new book Building Seagram, a personal and scholarly history of the design and construction of Mies van der Rohe's modernist masterpiece, the Seagram Building. The skyscraper was commissioned by Lambert's father, Samuel Bronfman, founder of the Canadian distillery dynasty Seagram. At age twenty-seven Phyllis took over the search for the project’s architect, selecting Mies for the commission and working with him on the evolution of the design. Lambert recounts the ultimate insider’s view of the debates, resolutions, and dramas of the building’s construction, as well as its crucial role in the history of modern art and architectural culture.

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Erica Stoller: The Photography of Ezra Stoller

In November 2013, occasioned by her new book Ezra Stoller Photographer, written with Nina Rappaport, Erica presented a gloriously illustrated talk on the work of her father, Ezra Stoller, the dean of American architectural photographers. Ezra Stoller’s commercial work for architects, developers, and publishers helped define the image of postwar corporate modernism, especially through the new generation of sleek glass towers along Park Avenue. In her talk, Erica shared many rarely seen images of models, construction shots, and finished views and pointed out how, looking beyond the content, one can begin to understand the photographer’s decisions about where, when, and how the images were made.

Tom Leslie: Towards the Glass Box

This week’s series of highlighted talks has brought together videos of scholars of New York’s signature High Modern high-rises. But what were the origins of this “triumph of transparency?”

As architect and professor Thomas Leslie explained in his November 2019 lecture, the ubiquitous “Glass Box” skyscrapers of the postwar era have a surprisingly opaque history. In this video, Leslie asks: “where did the glass skin come from?” Leslie shows how lighting, air conditioning, and glass technologies developed in the decades before Lever House and Seagram.

Jane Jacobs Birthday Week

Peter Laurence: Becoming Jane Jacobs

We begin our series with Peter Laurence, a professor at Clemson University School of Architecture, who on May 4, 2016 spoke about his new book Becoming Jane Jacobs, a study that gum-shoes Jacobs’s first years as a writer and resident in Depression-era New York to unearth a fascinating origin story. As urban historian Robert Fishman observes in his book blurb: “Jane Jacobs taught the world to perceive the city with new eyes, but she first had to teach herself to see. In this superbly researched and wonderfully original book, Peter L. Laurence for the first time reveals the depth and complexity of Jacobs’s self-education.

Samuel Zipp and Nathan Storring: Vital Little Plans

Continuing our probe into the “genius of Jane” during her birthday week, we highlight a 2017 talk by two scholars of her work, Samuel Zipp and Nathan Storring, who collaborated to edit Vital Little Plans, a book that examines important, but little-known essays by Jacobs. While many know her defense of traditional urbanism and local economies, Zipp and Storring argue that Jacobs was also a futurist whose ideas she intended to apply to larger urban systems. Tracing Jacobs’s activism both in New York and in her second city, Toronto, they point to her later work there to reform zoning, promote diversity, and build more.

Anthony Flint: Wrestling With Moses

Wrestling With Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City is the self-explanatory title of a lively biography of Jacobs by writer Anthony Flint. His 2009 talk at the Museum frames a now-famous story of how Jacobs frustrated Robert Moses’s multiple attempts to ravage her Greenwich Village neighborhood with his plans for highways and urban renewal. Flint makes clear Jacobs’s brilliance as an activist organizer and a PR genius for her cause. Her skirmishes with Moses foiled his plans, but her true triumph was to prove that the book was mightier than the bulldozer.

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Andrea Barnet: Visionary Women

"Changed Our World" is a big claim for the influence of any one person, and it's an assertion not often made about women. Yet writer Andrea Barnet found four females of which it is true, and she gathered them in a group biography Visionary Women: How Rachel Carson, Jane Jacobs, Jane Goodall, and Alice Waters Changed Our World.

In May 2019, Barnet gave a talk that traced the arc of each woman's career in the 1950s and 60s, placing their calls for a new way of seeing and thinking- one that emphasized systems and interconnectedness- at the beginning of countercultural revolutions. Barnet focused her talk on our favorite urbanist Jane Jacobs and her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities and Rachel Carson's 1962 Silent Spring, which helped launch the environmental movement.

Sweeping Surveys

Mike Wallace: Greater Gotham

“Authoritative” and “encyclopedic” are adjectives that must be earned, and this week’s reprise of talks on New York City history definitely qualify. We start the series with a lecture by Mike Wallace, who won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize in History for the sweeping survey Gotham, written with the late Edwin G. Burrows. In November 2017, he spoke about his new book, Greater Gothamwhich doubles down on detail to cover just two decades  – from the consolidation of the five boroughs in 1898 to the end of WW1. Wallace favored the audience with a lively narrative overview of the 1200 pages of his tome, as well posed a series of questions and speculations about the emergence of the skyline as an expression of the “consolidation ethos.”

Kenneth T. Jackson and Lisa Keller: The Encylopedia of NYC

In February 2011, the Museum hosted an insiders evening on The Encyclopedia of New York City: Second Edition with its editor in chief and mastermind Kenneth T. Jackson and Lisa Keller, its Executive Editor, a historian and professor at SUNY Purchase. At 2 million words and 5,124 entries, the 21st-century second edition added 800 new entries to the 1995 classic and considered sweeping changes, including the city’s reversal of fortunes with both the impact of 9/11 and the urban regeneration of many city neighborhoods. Ken and Lisa gave insights into the creative and critical issues they faced in organizing and editing a portrait of our protean city.

Thomas Campanella: Brooklyn History

Presenting another expansive history, this time focused just on Brooklyn, we again call attention to a terrific talk by Thomas Campanella from January 2020 on his new book Brooklyn: The Once and Future City. Tom's richly illustrated lecture spanned the creation of the borough's topography by the ice-age terminal moraine and out-wash plain and the resulting planned and constructed landscapes. Highlighting a series of grand schemes, visions, and rackets that either shaped or escaped Brooklyn’s history, from Frederick Law Olmsted's Prospect Park to Steeplechase Park at Coney island, where his uncle was a general manager, Tom's book and talk weave urban, architectural, planning, social, and even personal history into an enormously engaging mix.

Historic Preservation Series

Andrew S. Dolkart: Saving Place

Fifty-five years ago last month, on April 19, 1965, Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. signed the law that established the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). This week's series of talks explore the values of Historic Preservation and the incremental, often political, and frequently litigious actions that expanded the protections that today extend to more than 31,000 properties. In July 2015, Andrew S. Dolkart offered an insightful history of the earliest years of the Commission and its initial judgments and biases for designations. He also reviewed the meager history of skyscraper designations in the first quarter-century of the LPC and highlighted the threat of the proposal for a towering slab designed by modernist Marcel Breuer intended to rise above Grand Central Terminal that led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of the Landmarks Law.

Dr. James M. Lindgren: Preserving South Street Seaport

The creation of South Street Seaport Museum in 1966, the year after the legislation that established New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission, is a story of both historic preservation and urban regeneration – or at least attempts to integrate those goals. In 2016, Dr. James M. Lindgren, a historian of America’s maritime heritage and its preservation, spoke about his book Preserving South Street Seaport. He explained how preservationists mobilized to save the last piece of lower Manhattan’s old port and how successive city administrations maneuvered to find an economic model that could both sustain the maritime museum and produce a revenue stream for the land and buildings.

Judith Gura and Kate Wood: Interior Landmarks

New York City added interiors as a category for Landmark protection only in 1973, eight years after the creation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. In November 2015, the authors of Interior Landmarks: Treasures of New York, the late Judith Gura and Kate Wood presented a richly illustrated talk on their survey of many of the city's most spectacular interiors, including the Art Deco lobbies of the Chrysler and Empire State buildings, the cathedral-like Woolworth Building, and the glorious Radio CIty Music Hall. They also explained the many challenges to designating and preserving these landmark interiors.

Ben Wood: Preserving Shanghai

And now for something completely different... In 2009, Ben Wood, the American architect of Shanghai's earliest and most significant preservation and adaptive-reuse development, the famous Xintiandi, presented a talk entitled “Preserving Shanghai: Modernizing Urban Identity” on the inspiration and realization of his 1998 project. Working for the enlightened Hong Kong developer Vincent Lo, Wood devised a plan to preserve the scale, sense of place, and some of the historic buildings of the neighborhood of traditional li-long housing. Shanghai's Xintiandi, a term that means “New Heaven and Earth,” has enjoyed fabulous popular and commercial success and has spawned a series of similar developments in Chongqing, Wuhan, and other Chinese cities.

Rediscovering New York

The Bowery Boys: Adventures in Old New York

In August 2016, The Bowery Boys, Greg Young and Tom Meyers, co-founders of the wildly popular podcasts, regaled an audience of their fans with an engaging talk on their first book Adventures in Old New York. Greg and Tom described the backstory of their series and working method, then tag-team read selections on some favorite early skyscrapers.

Anthony Robins: New York Art Deco

In July 2017, Anthony Robins, popular leader of walking tours all over the city, synopsized his several decades of devotion to Deco architecture in a lively lecture on his new book New York Art Deco: A Guide to Gotham’s Jazz Age Architecture. Tony explained the evolution of the "skyscraper style" that emerged in Manhattan's commercial architecture in the mid-1920s and reached its zenith by the early Thirties in the Chrysler, Empire State, Cities Service, and RCA buildings, among a chorus of others that remade the skyline in the image of modernity.

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