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New exhibit highlights the art of architecture

By Julian Caldwell

HASTINGS — Many people wouldn’t put the house across the street in the same category as the "Mona Lisa," but with a new exhibit at the Hastings Municipal Building, resident Bruce Levy and a dozen other local architects set out to make the case that architecture is art.

“We’re always told architecture is the art and science of building,” said Levy, who has run his own company, BJLA Architecture & Planning, since 2002. “Most people don’t see the art part because they don’t get exposed to it. They see hardline drawings or they see the buildings in the end and they really don’t see the evolution of how a building emerges.”

Noticing that the Rivertowns have an unusually large number of working architects for such a small population, Levy decided to put together an exhibit titled “Imagining Architecture: From Concept to Creation,” featuring the designs of 12 local architects and one architectural photographer. It’s sponsored by the Hastings Village Arts Commission, of which Levy is the chairman.

Levy came up with the idea for the show after a friend visiting his home surprised him by asking for one of his sketches, which the friend described as “beautiful.”

Architect Michael Lewis’ exterior and interior renderings of a kit house called River Box, which would incorporate an assortment of energy-efficient features. For more information, visit

“We do all these sketches and half the time they end up in the garbage can,” Levy said at the opening reception on July 24. “A lot of people don’t even really know what an architect does and they don’t fully comprehend the value of an architect or the effort that really goes into developing and conceiving ideas.”

Each of the architects has a board hanging in the lobby of the Municipal Building, with several designs they picked for various reasons. There are also displays from those same architects in select stores around the downtown, such as Hastings Velo, Bauer Optical, Galapagos Books, and Hastings Paint & Hardware.

Some of the buildings in the sketches and designs now exist in Hastings, some have been built in other towns and cities, and others are concepts that never made it past the drawing board. The type of architecture ranges from houses to historical societies to envelopes, which are the glass and metal parts often seen on high-rise buildings such as the Freedom Tower, which Hastings resident and architect William Logan helped design.

Pieces in the exhibit show buildings in various stages of development. The schematic stage includes the beginning, less-detailed sketches, while the design development stage starts to consider which materials will be used. Finally, the construction drawings need to be detailed because they are the road map for the contractors to follow. 

Stephen Tilly, a Dobbs Ferry resident who has owned his own architecture firm since 1980, chose to display the work he did on the Hastings Historical Society, which included renovations of an existing building and a replacement for an old observatory. Sketches from as far back as 1995 showed some of the ideas that Tilly scrapped before settling on a final design that went up in 1999.

“I really love the beginning,” Tilly shared, alluding to the schematic stage. “[It’s like] back in grade school, playing with my crayons. The other thing that I obsess about is how the details work because you can have a great idea, but it can get killed if you screw up on the details.”

A picture of a dragonfly at the top of Tilly’s board shows the inspiration behind the planning he and his team of architects began for a building at a historic site in Cold Spring.

“We knew there were dragonflies around on the site so we thought this building should have the qualities of a dragonfly. It should sit lightly on the land, it should appear to float, it should be almost see-through, and it should be totally environmentally friendly.”

That building never materialized, but Tilly adapted some of the ideas for the Sharp Sustainability Education Center at Ramapo College, which was built. While not every idea comes to fruition for an architect, Tilly believes that exposing the process is important to an “underappreciated art.”

“It’s a public art, so it affects people’s lives,” Tilly explained. “Most people see it as utilitarian, but in fact there’s a lot of artfulness to it if it’s done thoughtfully. That’s the dimension of it most people don’t see normally, and they think of it as a profession and a business and technical.”

Dan Markham, who has lived in Hastings for 15 years, is a member of the arts commission and co-curator of the exhibit. While he has no experience working in architecture, Markham calls himself a lifelong fan of great architecture, won over by such structures such as The Glass House in New Canaan, Conn., designed by Philip Johnson, and Grand Central Station in Manhattan, designed by the architecture firms Reed & Stem and Warren Wetmore, and various distinguished buildings in the U.K., where Markham grew up.

“It’s the art and the craft of architecture,” Markham said, that draws him in. “It ends up with a built structure, but the path to getting there involves an awful lot of artistic judgment and artistic skill in realizing it.”

While many of the architects agree that the process of developing a concept is important and should be recognized, the consensus seemed to be that the most gratifying part is seeing their ideas become actual buildings.

“For me, what makes it enjoyable is at the end of the project when the client says, ‘It’s nicer than I expected, it’s better than I could’ve hoped, and it satisfied everything we wanted in the project,’” said Jim Metzger, a Hastings resident who has worked in architecture since 1978 and owned his own firm for the past 30 years. “Those are the successful projects to me.”

Standing in the middle of the exhibit for the first time, Metzger was struck by the variety in design styles, demonstrating that there are few limitations as to what a successful project could look like.

“We all started in architecture school, most of us knowing nothing,” Metzger observed. “But we had this idea about what architecture could be, and when you walk around here you realize it can be almost anything you want it to be.”

The exhibit will be on display at the Municipal Building, 7 Maple Ave., and select Hastings businesses through Sept. 7.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


JULY 29, 2016

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