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Open House New York Weekend Marks 10th Anniversary of Architectural Access

By Amy Zimmer | October 2, 2012 10:55am

MANHATTAN — Open House New York weekend celebrates its 10th anniversary of providing access to some of the city’s most prized architectural gems, from historic landmarks and great public works to behind-the-scenes looks at buildings under construction.

The massive event, held Oct. 6 and 7, will pry the doors open to private residences, offices and architecture or design studios and let New Yorkers hear from those who design, build, operate or curate some of the city’s most fascinating spaces.

The weekend’s offerings have greatly expanded in the last decade, from nearly 80 sites during the first year to more than 220 this weekend, said Margaret Sullivan, OHNY board president — who started out as a volunteer during the first year — and is also director of interiors at H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture.

“We’ve grown in quantity,” Sullivan said. “I think we’ve also grown in quality. We’ve been able to get access not only to designers but also to engineers, clients, facilities managers — sometimes in conversation with each other — and what’s extraordinary about the program is that it’s become more than an architecture and design event. It’s become something of the city.”

Sullivan praised the jam-packed weekend of tours, talks and site visits for creating a sense of community in the city, since it’s based on the generosity of so many volunteers, organizations, firms and institutions giving them time to let New Yorkers glimpse “the fabric of the city.”

OHNY’s website provides a map for urban adventurers to plot out their weekend. Some might want to schedule their itinerary based on themes.

This year’s OHNY is opening the doors to more private residences than ever before, including the first-ever Interior Design’s Designers’ Open House, a collection of private homes of 15 contemporary architects and designers in Manhattan and Brooklyn that the magazine’s editors curated. Other private homes include the always-popular and sleek modernist Paul Rudolph /Modulightor Building at 245 E. 58th St., the whimsically colorful Upper East Side digs of designer Apryl Miller and “LifeEdited,” the so-called home of Treehugger founder Graham Hill which celebrates small-space design.

There are swanky new residential projects like One Museum Mile designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects at 1280 Fifth Ave.; older building complexes like Penn South in Chelsea, which embodied the idealism of the cooperative movement and the community spirit of organized labor; and Sunnyside Gardens, a planned community of two- and three-story homes surrounding community courtyards, now considered is a Historic District in Queens.

“We inherently have a voyeuristic interest, especially in New York, where space is at a premium,” Sullivan said. “ There is an interest in how people work and live and play.”

OHNY will bring visitors into places that are under renovation or being redeveloped, like Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 5, the Lakeside at Prospect Park, Park Avenue Armory on the Upper East Side and Pier 57. “Hard hat” tours include a sneak peek at the Theatre for a New Audience in Fort Greene. (Many tours require reservations and often fill up fast, like they did for the renovation of Philip Johnson’s Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building and the "hard hat" tour of the New School University building rising at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 14th Street.

Many of the weekend’s most popular offerings are back, like last year’s most visited site: the TWA Terminal at JFK airport. The massive Brooklyn Army Terminal in in Sunset Park, the Newtown Creek's sewage treatment plant's digestor eggs in Greenpoint, the third section of the High Line (already sold out), the Grand Lodge of the Masons in Chelsea and the Jefferson Market Library — where you can climb the steps for great views of Greenwich Village — have also been fan favorites.

Besides lessons in history, like tours of the fading signs painted onto buildings in TriBeCa and in Chelsea, the weekend features the latest hip spots like Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club, Williamsburg’s Wythe Hotel (tours of which are already sold out) and the Kings County Distillery — which, since 2010, has been making hand-crafted moonshine and bourbon out of the 110-year-old Paymaster Building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

“These great buildings, public spaces and cultural institutions enrich who we are,” Sullivan said, adding, “Hopefully it heightens our expectation of what we want for the built environment.”

Plus, participants this year for the first time can step up their game in documenting their experiences: for the first time during OHNY weekend, they can learn how to become amateur architectural photographers with classes taught by New York Photo Safari.