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Unboxing New York
ODA New York
Actar, November 2018
Hardcover | 8 x 10 inches | 276 pages | English | ISBN: 978-1945150777 | $39.95
In a city like New York, dominated by regulations and defined by a strong post-recession development boom, the architect is bound by conventions and prescribed parameters. Code, market, and time are words as common in the architect’s vocabulary as context, proportion and light. Consequently, the architect’s power has been pushed away from fundamental qualities of living. Unboxing New York investigates these architecture topics to recover the power to design with quality of life as the number one objective.
Unboxing New York is a behind-the-scenes examination of the changing shape of New York City since 2010 -revealing the forces, theories, and histories that have transformed the city, studying the common conventions that architects deal with as a result. In a bind-up of
smaller books with a wide variety of short articles, research pieces, diagrams, and an analysis of key facets of projects, the book presents the realities of the profession and lays out an accessible and engaging roadmap to working within a large, highly regulated metropolis like New York to create valuable additions to urban life.
With prolific experience designing and building in New York -with over 50 designs within an area of 50 square miles- ODA is uniquely positioned to lead this exploration. The firm witnessed the city’s rapid development firsthand, and under a soaring volume of work and no time to waste, it has developed an intuitive formula of decision making to design alternative as-of-right buildings that rearrange priorities and transgress molds.
A traditional architectural monograph consists of built projects presented with photographs, short descriptions, and the occasional drawing; in-progress projects documented through renderings; and at least one essay by a critic or some other familiar name in architecture. It’s a familiar model that many firms are increasingly departing from. This departure makes sense given the great expense and effort of monographs but also the need for firms to distinguish themselves in ways that move beyond the actual qualities of their buildings. ODA New York takes a dramatically different approach with Unboxing New York, creating something that is more akin to a textbook than a monograph.
The firm, founded in 2007 by Eran Chen, has staked out a unique position in New York City’s landscape of residential development in a short amount of time. Although each of their buildings is born from the particulars of their respective sites, they infuse their buildings with features that make them recognizable as ODA: generous terraces, pixelated facades, and asymmetrical rooftop silhouettes among them. Unboxing New York explains how Chen and company deals with clients, zoning and building codes, and market forces to create their distinctly “ODA” designs.
As hinted on the cover, Unboxing New York is made up of five chapters: Living, Zoning, Developing, Marketing, and Building. These correspond roughly with the process of architecture and specifically to residential projects in NYC: Living outlines the theoretical basis for ODA’s designs; Zoning shows how ODA uses codes to their advantage and those of their clients; Developing lays out how developers approach residential projects; Marketing deals with communication and “selling” designs to the public; and Building hones in on ODA’s own practice and some details of construction. The chapters consist of essays written by Chen and other ODA team members, though there are also outside contributions, such as an interview with James Wines of SITE. Between the chapters are full-color, full-bleed photo spreads that take atypical looks at their buildings, showing them under construction, for instance, or lost among their urban surroundings. So where are the projects? They are listed briefly at the back of the book (bottom spread), each one diagrammed with an axonometric, described briefly, and then keyed to the essays. The combination of bite-sized essays, hundreds of descriptive diagrams, and unabashed embrace of residential development makes Unboxing New York an insightful, educational look at the inner workings of ODA as well as the city it call home.
ODA New York was founded in 2007 by Eran Chen. Through a range of projects, ODA seeks to reconcile the conditions of vertical urban living with the qualities which benefit and nurture us as human beings: The desire for protected shelter while observing wide perspectives, the seamless transition between indoor and outdoor spaces, and the general improvement of life through good design.