September 29, 2016
by Meghan Edwards
“Authenticity and Innovation” curator Donald Albrecht.

Opening this week at the Center for Architecture as the kickoff to our month-long Archtober festival, the exhibition “Authenticity and Innovation” taps into celebrated curator Donald Albrecht’s vast knowledge of cultural and architectural history. A Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, Albrecht has curated exhibitions that range from the “National Design Triennial” for the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum to “The Work of Charles and Ray Eames” for the Library of Congress and Vitra Design Museum.

For “Authenticity and Innovation” – a topic selected as the presidential theme of 2016 AIANY President Carol Loewenson, FAIA, – Albrecht zooms in on 28 pivotal adaptive reuse and preservation projects in New York City that are outside the scope of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Here, he tells us what’s surprising about the featured structures and hints at what’s next on his curatorial horizon. (Several are profiled in the Fall issue of Oculus magazine, online here).

Center for Architecture: What do you hope New Yorkers will be surprised by?

Donald Albrecht (DA): People may be surprised by the number of projects – the 28 featured in the exhibition – show the range of strategies and reasons for creative reuse. They will also learn about the resourceful developers, owners, tenants, and architects who recognized the potential for housing new functions never imagined by their original builders.

The projects in this exhibition will, hopefully, prompt questions about the role of preservation in New York City. How can we accommodate increasing density and interest in sustainability with valuing the city’s historic character? What is the relationship between preservation and gentrification, as new uses displace both people and traditional industries? What is stylistically appropriate when adapting old buildings for new uses?

CFA: How would you describe the goal or mission of the exhibition?

DA: The mission of this exhibition is to explore how historical buildings in New York City respond to the fast pace around them – how they can be both preserved and innovatively repurposed for our time. It’s a particularly relevant topic for a metropolis like ours, characterized by perennial change. Here, old buildings embody cultural memory and moor a rapidly transforming cityscape as it is continually reshaped by development pressures and evolving architectural tastes.

CFA: Why did you choose to focus on projects that weren’t designated as NYC landmarks?

DA: Last year, I co-curated [with Andrew Dolkart] an exhibition called “Saving Place” at the Museum of the City of New York. It was presented in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. While planning that show, I attended a symposium organized by the Fitch Foundation called “The Accidental Preservationist,” which explored preservation outside of the official historic preservation mainstream – it gave me the idea for this show.

CFA: What are you working on next?

DA: I’m working on a very different show at the Museum of the City of New York titled “Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York” that opens 10.07.16, and, in a few years, an exhibition about pre-World War II architect Rosario Candela.

CFA: Can you tell us more about the Rosario Candela exhibition? Why did you want to focus on this architect?

DA: Candela (1890-1953) is best known for his luxury apartment buildings of the booming 1920s, and whole swathes of Park and Fifth Avenues and Sutton Place owe their distinctive streetscapes to his efforts. With some 75 buildings to his credit, Candela played a major role in shaping the architectural legacy of 20thcentury New York. Today, his name is used in ads to market new apartments that seek to evoke prewar elegance.