Following the details of Renzo Piano’s first New York City assignment The Morgan Museum and library. In my column and in YouTube style videos, I followed the project from creative vision through construction.
The Journey So Far:
I am a 66 year-old paraplegic who is a research assistant at Penn State’s Department of Architectural Engineering. I am also a columnist for e-architect-uk. My field of interest is housing for elderly baby boomers who may or may not be disabled and using virtual reality and BIM technology to reduce costs.
As a columnist for e-architect, I receive nearly one million hits a day. As opposed to my academic position, I am writing for an international audience focusing primarily on U.S. architecture for readers who do not understand the U.S.
When I worked at the California Silicon Valley as a technical writer many of my bosses were Indian. The subcontinent has provided the U.S. with a remarkable and badly-needed source of talent. Understanding how that talent was created and what can be done to make it easier for the U.S. to benefit from India-generated talent is a constant source of fascination. I much appreciate the work Silicon India is doing,
The Decisions That Matter
The most important decision is learning to trust my experience as a paraplegic who has not been able to walk for the past 20 years. Related to this is the recognition that computer technology in many forms including the intelligence for mobility devices does make it possible to lead a productive life with a disability.
Currently I am using globally famous architects such as Zaha Hadid, Renzo Piano, and as a way of attracting my readers. Once attracted, I focus on the implications of the major demographic phenomenon involved when the largest population in history retires and requires housing.
I would become an architect.
Advice For New Professionals:
Relax. Take the time for a large view. The focus today on details, data, and tools sometimes makes it difficult to understand how to use details, data, and tools. Read outside your field. Immerse yourself in educational experiences that are NOT digital. That way, the power of digital technology can then be applied with a more precise focus.
The ability to write clearly, to describe complicated technology, and to provide readers with the nuances of life in the U.S. from the prospective of a native-born citizen who has visited 47 U.S. states and lived for at least a year in 7 of them.
Working Life Management:
I do not manage my work-life balance. To the degree possible, I try to follow, on a day to day basis, what interests me in the hope that in doing so I will accomplish my long-term goals naturally and effortlessly. I am not always successful at the act of balancing.
My mother was a Hebrew school teacher. My father was an attorney. My father was 27 years older than my mother. The marriage was doomed from the beginning and divorce happened when I was three.
Contribution to the field
I have published three books–one on agriculture policy, the second a memoir on being cured of cancer, the third a book on housing. I lived for 17 years in Washington DC holding several relatively-high level positions in the federal government as a speechwriter and public affairs official. I look at my world from a utilitarian political perspective–focusing on whether the solution to a problem works rather than on the spin one can put to something that does not work.
I am persistent. I read everything I can. I do not forget what I want to accomplish.
Changes In The Professional Environment:
The professional environment, as I see it, began 20 years ago when I lost the ability to walk. Between then and now, technology has made significant advances in providing access. Social barriers have come down. Productivity for disabled individuals such as myself still can be improved. Badly needed is the capital to invest in what are in effect human resources–hardware, software, disability vans, travel accommodations, and deservedly expensive specialized publications.
Plans For The Future:
Designing a multi-generation neighborhood for 100,000 individuals.
1. Finally, out of the politics of despair and retrenchment, a new leader has emerged from the Democratic party unafraid to express the values in which I believe. In this, Bill de Blasio’s inaugural address, he states:
“Fiorello La Guardia— the man I consider to be the greatest Mayor this city has ever known — put it best. He said: I, too, admire the ‘rugged individual,’ but no ‘rugged individual’ can survive in the midst of collective starvation.”
2. What follows these editorial notes are excerpts from the speech I find especially relevant as well as the full text of de Blasio’s prepared remarks.
3. I am especially grateful to de Blasio for signaling out for distinction Harry Belafonte who de Blasio said, “we are honored to have with us here today.”Harry Belafonte was an early supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the years when support mattered. In my 66 years, I believe that Dr. King was the greatest leader in my lifetime. King’s non-violent approach toward racial inequality prevented a bloody civil war. See: http://www.joelsolkoff.com/dr-martin-luther-king-i-have-a-dream-speech-on-august-28-1963/. After King’s assassination, Harry Belafonte supported King’s family and worked tirelessly to keep Dr. King’s dream alive.
4. No matter where I live, I will always think of myself as a New Yorker. I was born in the City. My mother taught Hebrew in the City and received her doctorate in Hebrew Letters from the Jewish Theological Seminary. My grandmother Celia Pell’s apartment in Brooklyn was my home throughout my youth. Celia was an apparel worker, for decades sewing bras and girdles by day–doing what she described as “uplifting work.” She spent her nights playing Beethoven and Mozart on her piano for hours on end. My sister Sarah Schmerler, a distinguished art critic lives in the City as well as her author husband Robert Simonson and my nephew Asher, who will be bar mitzvahed in September.
5. I am a graduate of Columbia College and will be celebrating my 45th Reunion–a reunion filled with memories of the demonstrations of 1968 which all too slowly led to the end of the evil War in Vietnam.
6. Last year, I was diagnosed with kidney cancer where my physician here in State College, PA sent me to New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The brilliant surgeon Dr. Paul Russo successfully removed my cancerous tumor and saved my right kidney. The day before my first appointment with Dr. Russo, at the suggestion of my friend Kathy Forer, I visited The Renzo Piano Morgan Museum and Library–providing dramatic comfort to the cancer experience. The comfort continued during surgery and recuperation as I wrote and made videos about the Morgan and the brilliant architecture of Renzo Piano published by my editor Adrian Welch at http://www.e-architect.co.uk/editors/joel-solkoff.
7. I hope that Mayor de Blasio’s efforts to shatter the barriers between the wealthy and poor will result in government and private foundation grants to remove the expensive admission fees to the superb Morgan collection as well as the Frick, the Whitney, and other museums in the City. Mayor de Blasio’s efforts to make hospital emergency rooms accessible to the poor should lead in turn to an understanding that access to art should come without an admission fee because art’s therapeutic value has far too long been neglected.
Excerpts from Mayor de Blasio’s Inaugural Address
–We see what binds all New Yorkers together: an understanding that big dreams are not a luxury reserved for a privileged few, but the animating force behind every community, in every borough.
–The spark that ignites our unwavering resolve to do everything possible to ensure that every girl and boy, no matter what language they speak, what subway line they ride, what neighborhood they call home — that every child has the chance to succeed.
–We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love. And so today, we commit to a new progressive direction in New York.
–Nearly a century ago, it was Al Smith who waged war on unsafe working conditions and child labor.
[Note: It was Al Smith who said, “The only cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.”]
–It was Franklin Roosevelt and Frances Perkins who led the charge for the basic bargain of unemployment insurance and the minimum wage.
[Note: Francis Perkins said, “What was the New Deal anyhow? Was it a political plot? Was it just a name for a period in history? Was it a revolution? To all of these questions I answer ‘No.’ It was something quite different… It was, I think, basically an attitude. An attitude that found voice in expressions like ‘the people are what matter to government,’ and ‘a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.'”]
–It was Fiorello La Guardia who enacted the New Deal on the city level, battled the excesses of Wall Street, and championed a progressive income tax.
–When I said we would take dead aim at the Tale of Two Cities, I meant it. And we will do it. I will honor the faith and trust you have placed in me. And we will give life to the hope of so many in our city. We will succeed as One City. We know this won’t be easy; It will require all that we can muster. And it won’t be accomplished only by me; It will be accomplished by all of us — those of us here today, and millions of everyday New Yorkers in every corner of our city.
Full remarks as prepared: Mayor de Blasio’s Inaugural Address
Thank you, President Clinton, for your kind words. It was an honor to serve in your administration, and we’re all honored by your presence. I have to note that, over 20 years ago, when a conservative philosophy seemed dominant, you broke through – and told us to still believe in a place called Hope.
Thank you, Secretary Clinton. I was inspired by the time I spent on your first campaign. Your groundbreaking commitment to nurturing our children and families manifested itself in a phrase that is now a part of our American culture – and something we believe in deeply in this city. It Takes A Village.
Thank you, Reverend Fred Lucas Jr., Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Monsignor Robert Romano, and Imam Askia Muhammad for your words of prayer.
Thank you, Governor Cuomo. Working with you at HUD, I saw how big ideas can overcome big obstacles. And it will be my honor to serve shoulder-to-shoulder with you again.
Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg. To say the least, you led our city through some extremely difficult times. And for that, we are all grateful. Your passion on issues such as environmental protection and public health has built a noble legacy. We pledge today to continue the great progress you made in these critically important areas.
Thank you, Mayor Dinkins, for starting us on the road to a safer city, and for always uplifting our youth – and I must say personally, for giving me my start in New York City government. You also had the wisdom to hire a strong and beautiful young woman who walked up to me one day in City Hall and changed my life forever.
Chirlane, you are my soulmate — and my best friend. My partner in all I do. My love for you grows with each passing year. Chiara and Dante, I cannot put into words the joy and the pride that you bring your mother and me. You are the best thing that’s ever happened to us, and we love you very much.
And finally, thank you to my brothers Steve and Don, and all my family assembled today — from all around this country, and from Italy. You have always guided and sustained me.
Thank you, my fellow New Yorkers ‑- my brothers and sisters — for joining Chirlane, Chiara, Dante, and me on this chilly winter day.
De parte de Chirlane, Chiara, Dante y yo, les extiendo las gracias a ustedes, mis hermanas y hermanos niuyorquinos, por acompañarnos en este dia tan especial.
Like it is for so many of you, my family is my rock. Their wisdom, their compassion, and their sense of humor make each day a gift to cherish.
But, what makes today so special isn’t just my family, but our larger New York family. We see what binds all New Yorkers together: an understanding that big dreams are not a luxury reserved for a privileged few, but the animating force behind every community, in every borough.
The spark that ignites our unwavering resolve to do everything possible to ensure that every girl and boy, no matter what language they speak, what subway line they ride, what neighborhood they call home — that every child has the chance to succeed.
We recognize a city government’s first duties: to keep our neighborhoods safe; to keep our streets clean; to ensure that those who live here – and those who visit – can get where they need to go in all five boroughs. But we know that our mission reaches deeper. We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love. And so today, we commit to a new progressive direction in New York. And that same progressive impulse has written our city’s history. It’s in our DNA.
Nearly a century ago, it was Al Smith who waged war on unsafe working conditions and child labor. It was Franklin Roosevelt and Frances Perkins who led the charge for the basic bargain of unemployment insurance and the minimum wage. It was Fiorello La Guardia who enacted the New Deal on the city level, battled the excesses of Wall Street, and championed a progressive income tax.
From Jacob Riis to Eleanor Roosevelt to Harry Belafonte — who we are honored to have with us here today — it was New Yorkers who challenged the status quo, who blazed a trail of progressive reform and political action, who took on the elite, who stood up to say that social and economic justice will start here and will start now.
It’s that tradition that inspires the work we now begin. A movement that sees the inequality crisis we face today, and resolves that it will not define our future. Now I know there are those who think that what I said during the campaign was just rhetoric, just “political talk” in the interest of getting elected. There are some who think now, as we turn to governing – well, things will continue pretty much like they always have.
So let me be clear. When I said we would take dead aim at the Tale of Two Cities, I meant it. And we will do it. I will honor the faith and trust you have placed in me. And we will give life to the hope of so many in our city. We will succeed as One City. We know this won’t be easy; It will require all that we can muster. And it won’t be accomplished only by me; It will be accomplished by all of us — those of us here today, and millions of everyday New Yorkers in every corner of our city.
You must continue to make your voices heard. You must be at the center of this debate. And our work begins now. We will expand the Paid Sick Leave law — because no one should be forced to lose a day’s pay, or even a week’s pay, simply because illness strikes. And by this time next year, fully 300,000 additional New Yorkers will be protected by that law. We won’t wait.
We’ll do it now. We will require big developers to build more affordable housing. We’ll fight to stem the tide of hospital closures. And we’ll expand community health centers into neighborhoods in need, so that New Yorkers see our city not as the exclusive domain of the One Percent, but a place where everyday people can afford to live, work, and raise a family. We won’t wait. We’ll do it now.
We will reform a broken stop-and-frisk policy, both to protect the dignity and rights of young men of color, and to give our brave police officers the partnership they need to continue their success in driving down crime. We won’t wait. We’ll do it now.
We will ask the very wealthy to pay a little more in taxes so that we can offer full-day universal pre-K and after-school programs for every middle school student. And when we say “a little more,” we can rightly emphasize the “little.”
Those earning between $500,000 and one million dollars a year, for instance, would see their taxes increase by an average of $973 a year. That’s less than three bucks a day – about the cost of a small soy latte at your local Starbucks.
Think about it. A 5-year tax on the wealthiest among us – with every dollar dedicated to pre-K and after-school. Asking those at the top to help our kids get on the right path and stay there. That’s our mission. And on that, we will not wait. We will do it now.
Of course, I know that our progressive vision isn’t universally shared. Some on the far right continue to preach the virtue of trickle-down economics. They believe that the way to move forward is to give more to the most fortunate, and that somehow the benefits will work their way down to everyone else. They sell their approach as the path of “rugged individualism.”
But Fiorello La Guardia — the man I consider to be the greatest Mayor this city has ever known — put it best. He said: “I, too, admire the ‘rugged individual,’ but no ‘rugged individual’ can survive in the midst of collective starvation.”
So please remember: we do not ask more of the wealthy to punish success. We do it to create more success stories. And we do it to honor a basic truth: that a strong economy is dependent on a thriving school system. We do it to give every kid a chance to get their education off on the right foot, from the earliest age, which study after study has shown leads to greater economic success, healthier lives, and a better chance of breaking the cycle of poverty.
We do it to give peace of mind to working parents, who suffer the anxiety of not knowing whether their child is safe and supervised during those critical hours after the school day ends, but before the workday is done. And we do it because we know that we must invest in our city, in the future inventors and CEOs and teachers and scientists, so that our generation – like every generation before us – can leave this city even stronger than we found it.
Our city is no stranger to big struggles — and no stranger to overcoming them.
New York has faced fiscal collapse, a crime epidemic, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters. But now, in our time, we face a different crisis – an inequality crisis. It’s not often the stuff of banner headlines in our daily newspapers. It’s a quiet crisis, but one no less pernicious than those that have come before.
Its urgency is read on the faces of our neighbors and their children, as families struggle to make it against increasingly long odds. To tackle a challenge this daunting, we need a dramatic new approach — rebuilding our communities from the bottom-up, from the neighborhoods up. And just like before, the world will watch as we succeed. All along the way, we will remember what makes New York, New York.
A city that fights injustice and inequality — not just because it honors our values, but because it strengthens our people. A city of five boroughs — all created equal. Black, white, Latino, Asian, gay, straight, old, young, rich, middle class, and poor. A city that remembers our responsibility to each other — our common cause — is to leave no New Yorker behind.
That’s the city that you and I believe in. It’s the city to which my grandparents were welcomed from the hills of Southern Italy, the city in which I was born, where I met the love of my life, where Chiara and Dante were raised.
It’s a place that celebrates a very simple notion: that no matter what your story is – this is your city. Our strength is derived from you. Working together, we will make this One City. And that mission — our march toward a fairer, more just, more progressive place, our march to keep the promise of New York alive for the next generation. It begins today.
Thank you, and God bless the people of New York City!
Readers are aware that I have an obsession with Renzo Piano’s Morgan Museum and Library in New York. Consider, for example, the percentage of my published e-architect articles on the subject.
This is how Adrian Welch, my editor at e-architect UK, described this You Tube, which I produced for him:
“Giorgio Bianchi, one of the most experienced architects from the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, in discussion with Joel Solkoff, a research assistant at the Department of Architectural Engineering at Penn State, USA, campaigner for good access for disabled and elderly in buildings and regular e-architect guest editor.
“Giorgio Bianchi is interviewed about his role in executing Renzo Piano’s J.P. Morgan Library and Museum Building, New York City, USA – his Creative Vision of the Vault ; how he went about the job of executing Renzo Piano’s vision ; his perspective on the role of the executive architect namely Bender Beyer Belle in clearing away the incredible regulatory hurdles ; his views on Building Information Modeling and the use of Revit to create BIM-compliant virtual reality models.”
Here is Giorgio Bianchi, in an interview conducted exclusively for e-architect discussing his role as Renzo Piano’s Partner In Charge of the Morgan. It is impossible not to hear outside Giorgio’s Paris cubicle as architects with fashionable heels dash back and forth urgently engaged in improving the world’s built environment.
Tangential note on silent movies: When my grandmother was 16, she attended a silent movie (there were no talkies at the time). A live orchestra provided the musical score for the film. My grandmother fell in love with the clarinet player and two years later my mother was born. This note explains why producing a talking picture (even one as minimal as a You Tube) is a comfort to me–avoiding my daughters having to explain if they have grandchildren, how my genetic propensity for silent movies led to….
THE GOAL. Surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital where I probably will be cured of kidney cancer on Thursday, August 8th first thing in the morning.
The Hospital is located at 125 York Avenue, New York, New York 10065.
[Readers: Start at the bottom and work your way up to here as I shall riding (not driving this trip to the Big Apple) in a car carrying one rear wheel drive scooter, one travel scooter thin enough to get to the bathroom in the hospital, one 12 pound wheel chair (just in case I want to go on my own power), knee pads (same reason), clothes, books and this and that for nearly 3 weeks while I go to New York to prepare for major surgery, have the surgery, recover and return to State College without a cancerous tumor. Meanwhile, of course, I will be seeing my daughters Joanna and Amelia and writing about the Morgan Museum and Library and Renzo Piano–for diversion with a purpose.]
The route concludes: While taking exit 2 for Harlem River Dr toward FDR Dr/Manhattan…
Keep left at the fork, follow signs for FDR Drive/Harlem River Drive and merge onto Harlem River Dr
Continue onto FDR Drive
Take exit 12 for E 63 St toward Roosevelt Island/New York/Queensboro Bridge
Turn right onto York Ave
Destination on the left
THE ROUTE:Starts from A, The Corner Room Restaurant, State College, PA to BMemorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City.
Continuation from directions below: From the entrance to I-91 in PA:
Merge onto I-99 N
Continue onto PA-26 N/US-220 N
Turn left to merge onto I-80 E/US-220 N toward Williamsport
Continue to follow I-80 E
Entering New Jersey
Keep left to continue on Interstate 80 Express E
Merge onto Interstate 95 Express N
Continue onto Interstate 95 Upper Level N
Partial toll road
Entering New York
Take exit 2 for Harlem River Dr toward FDR Dr/Manhattan
For concluding directions see above.
STARTING POINT. The heart of DOWNTOWN State College, at the corner of College and Allen Avenues. Yes, I know an August drive does not involve snow (yet). The car leaves from the Corner Room Restaurant directly ahead in this photograph.
100 W College Ave
State College, PA 16801
The drive is 246 miles; 3 hours, 54 minutes. [Thank you Google Maps.]
Head southwest on W College Ave toward S Fraser St
Contribution opportunity to help defray the costs of going to New York, recovering there, and returning home:
The surgery will be performed by an expert in the field of kidney surgery which my physician here in State College) advises me cannot be reliably perfumed in the greater region where I live. My State College urologist referred me to Sloan Kettering in New York where Dr. Paul Russo will perform the surgery.
I guess this all starts at the Morgan Museum and Library, Renzo Piano‘s 2006 major expansion, his first commissioned work in New York City.
This is a good time to refer you to: http://www.e-architect.co.uk/ published daily from Scotland by Adrian Welch and Isabelle Lomholt (who is a beauty). The site receives 960,000 hits a day–a lot more hits a day than I receive here at www.joelsolkoff.com.
Since then my obsession continues with the dazzlingly new Renzo Piano extension of the Morgan incorporating the McKim Meade and White Beaux Art library/palace completed in 1906–one hundred years after Piano’s extension completion.
“Personal note: I will be returning to New York on August 8 for an operation at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. I have good feelings about the outcome. My skilled surgeon will remove the tumor surrounding my right kidney while saving the kidney. The outcome is likely to be that kidney cancer will not kill me.
“I live in State College, PA. Since I am a paraplegic, it is especially difficult for me to travel the 250 miles to New York City, but very easy for me to get around the City. After the operation, I will remain in New York for two weeks to recover. While in New York, I will be posting for e-architect from the Atrium of Piano’s Morgan.
“August will be my third trip to New York since I was diagnosed with cancer in April. During this time, I have visited the Morgan four times. Each time, I felt the Morgan was a refuge and a blessing including the blessing of being contained in an environment designed by Renzo Piano.”
The obsession with the Morgan and Renzo Piano continues.