M.Arch Studio II by Brandon Pietras


The M.Arch Design Studio II is led by Andrew Bernheimer and David Leven

The studio will be covered in some detail on a blog, NYCHA Redux, and on Instagram

The assignment:




The site: 

Image via NYCHA Redux.

Image via NYCHA Redux.


Existing structures










Finding dignity in the act of habitation


How is the architecture of housing politicized? If politics is indeed present in the architecture, is it expressed formally? or in the intent, itself, to build? 


    or not to 



aesthetics >?< performance




Design instead from the inside out


Consider the UNIT. 







UNIT    UNIT    UNIT    UNIT    UNIT            Aggregation



UNIT    UNIT    UNIT      unit     UNIT            Variation




Park > Tower


To consider: 

    land bank

    defensible space

The NYCHA Houses are in close proximity to the High Line, Chelsea Market, and other amenities.

The NYCHA Houses are in close proximity to the High Line, Chelsea Market, and other amenities.

Assignment I: "Bulk Up"

Reconsider the existing NYCHA complex. Currently, it takes advantage of only 50% of its allocated FAR and holds near-limitless possibilities for both expansion and reconfiguration. How much does the site need to "bulk up"? Are there reasons to use even less FAR? How does the current plan interact with its context - can this be improved? Where does the complex fail, and in what ways?

In broad strokes, define a new massing proposal for the site with these questions in mind. 

Bulked Up Process.jpg

GASTROCRAFT Laboratory for Culinary Design by Brandon Pietras

The initial program for this project asked that I design a "culinary research institute" - a multi-purpose building equally classroom and kitchen. 

In my initial development stages, I was encouraged to augment the given program with additional spaces a/o functions to expand or specify the building's scope. 

I began my research by exploring the idea of food preparation as a craft honed and perfected through repetition. I discovered the Japanese term "shokunin," which roughly means an artisan or craftsman whose work embodies an obligation to improve the welfare of others. 

This attitude is similarly carried at Noma, a restaurant in Denmark whose chef champions a return to foraging both as a means of culinary inspiration and a way to reconnect us to our food. 

These establishments and others, like El Bulli, formulate complex hypotheses about their culinary craft and the between their customers and their food. It is imperative that customers experience their food in an experiential vacuum, so that prior conceptions about their food are ignored or forgotten, The cleansing of both palate and mind prior to entering a restaurant both heightens their experience as diners and makes them perfect "guinea pigs" for the culinary experiences of research fellows. This symbiotic and yet experientially didactic relationship became the thesis of my building. 


Precedents Diagram+Title.jpg
Diner Entrance.jpg
Exploded Oblique.jpg
Outside View.jpg
Dynamic Section.jpg

Solar Box by Brandon Pietras

We are currently building a solar box for our environmental design class. The goal for our team is to maintain both the highest and most stable temperature for three days after a period of acclamation.

The boxes will be installed on the roof of our building on 13th Street.



Long Overdue by Brandon Pietras

It's been quite some time since I've updated the blog, and that is primarily because midterms just concluded last week.  

Studio has been as busy as ever and we have just begun our third and final project for the semester. Our assignment is to build a "culinary research center" in the LentSpace at Hudson Square in Manhattan. The site is the same as our previous project, which was a food-based impermanent intervention, which I will explain in more detail before jumping into the research center.




The Site
The LentSpace at Hudson Square is located just north of Canal St. and is bordered by Varick St. and Sullivan Street. It is currently operated by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in collaboration with Trinity Real Estate and Hudson Square Connection. THe site is little more than leftover space from demolition, but because of some contention about the sites future development and continued debate over the zoning of the South Village, it remains empty. LMCC began the LentSpace program as a stop-gap measure that added trees and planter boxes, a temporary stage space, seating, and food-truck programming. 

Despite being located at a very busy junction with access to two of the city's main subway lines, access to the site is extremely limited. The entirety of the lent space is surrounded by a chain link fence (and on one side by a heavy wood-panel barrier), allowing occupation only during the hours of 12pm-3pm. 





OWS attempts to "occupy" yet another privately owned property, this one with little or nothing to do with Wall Street. 

The current programming, seen in the photo above, has organized the space into three major zones: tree boxes (shade), food trucks (eating) , or random seating (small gatherings, no shade). 



Site Map-01.png

In the tree and planter box zone resides a large number of honey bees happily pollinating the plants. Even though they are located closest to the subway, the two busiest entrances, and many people use the planter boxes as seats, the bees seem to bother no one.

This inspired me to create an intervention that redefines beekeeping, usually taking place on high roofs and largely unknown to the general public, as a highly visual and engaging presence in the LentSpace. The larger ambition of the intervention is to allow for a phase-shift in how people think about and interact with bees, and to provide vital pollination to community gardens, urban farms, and waterfront buffer zones throughout the city.

I will continue to develop the project over the next few weeks, and the concept will be submitted as an entry for the Tishman Scholarship for sustainable design at The New School. 



Combo Plate.jpg

David Trubridge at SC by Brandon Pietras

This weekend, David Trubridge hosts a workshop exploring storytelling as the catalyst for design at Parsons' School of Constructed Environments. The workshop acts as a follow-up to his lecture, held this Thursday, reflecting upon the intersections between design, art, and craft, and the relationship between those practices and human nature. 


David Trubridge at TEDx presenting a similar lecture to that which he gave this Thursday.

Oysters and the City by Brandon Pietras

In 1927 New York closed its last oyster bay due to habitual over-farming, pollution and city-wide landfill extensions into New York Harbor (NYPL). New York's oysters, which at one time grew up to a foot in length and covered 350 square miles of the seabed providing half of the world's supply, were a cultural staple of New York, but their absence has impacted far more than their price in menus. It is now speculated that because of the destruction of New York's massive oyster middens, our waterfront is increasingly susceptible to the impact of rising tides and environmental changes. 


 "[E]xploring “Oyster-tecture” – using oyster reefs to grow an ecosytem while attenuating waves from storm and flooding events,"  (GovIslandBlog) is a viable method of storm-proofing New York harbor.  

 "[E]xploring “Oyster-tecture” – using oyster reefs to grow an ecosytem while attenuating waves from storm and flooding events,"  (GovIslandBlog) is a viable method of storm-proofing New York harbor.


The loss of our oysters is just one of the many negative effects the growth of New York has had on Manhattan's ecosystem, but these losses bring great opportunity. New York's waterfront today is a sustainable transportation network, reduces pollution, mitigates the urban heat island effect, and actively engages the communities it interacts with. However, the waterfront has the potential - if taken advantage of - to massively improve our resiliency to climate change and repair Manhattan's damaged ecologies. 

New York City's Waterfront plays an integral role in PlaNYC. As stated in PlaNYC's 2011 progress report, the Waterfront's reach includes conserving our natural spaces, cleaning brownfield sites, improving water quality, reducing congestion, improving public health, fostering community engagement, measuring and reducing the city's climate exposure, and dozens of other programming capabilities. With over 520 miles of shoreline (PlaNYC Waterfront, 170) across all five boroughs, improving or expanding the Waterfront's capabilities impacts the efforts of every department and improves every community in the city. 

One of the most important roles it can play in the future is improving our storm resiliency. Hurricane Sandy crippled Downtown Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island for days after it hit, and the city is still dealing with the repercussions of its damaged infrastructure. Repairs on the R line between Manhattan and Brooklyn will take fourteen months to complete, and South Ferry terminal re-opened over four months after the storm. 

By making efforts to reinstate oyster beds and expanding the Waterfront into coastal wetlands, future storm water can be ameliorated before it reaches the city itself. 

Proposed Manhattan Waterfront extensions and coastal wetlands, from the Rising Currents exhibition at MoMA (Source: ARO)

Proposed Manhattan Waterfront extensions and coastal wetlands, from the Rising Currents exhibition at MoMA (Source: ARO)

The prophetic Rising Currents exhibition at MoMA collected the work of several architecture firms on this topic, and its relevancy and advice can be neither understood nor ignored. By "[engineering] bio-systems that recreate the functions of old natural systems within the constraints of a modern city," our Waterfront can vastly improve the city for ours and future generations.


the view from up here by Brandon Pietras

I love aerial photos, especially those that reveal something unexpected or surprising about the landscapes we take for granted. But does it float recently posted a series of such images, and I am reposting a few of my favorites here.  

The first two images are from far flung locations - Peru and the Northwestern United States - but could easily be mistaken for close neighbors. The Andes lay crumpled and creased like discarded tinfoil, while the American farmland resembles cold-climate camouflage draped over our rolling and variegated terrain.

We too often take for granted the beauty of our surroundings with our limited view on the ground and constant distractions besides. Perhaps images like these can help invoke pride, in each of us, of our native lands. 




The Andes foothills, Peru (Image: From ESA Archive via but does it float)

The Andes foothills, Peru (Image: From ESA Archive via but does it float)

Farmland in the Northwestern United States (Image: From ESA Archive via but does it float)  

Farmland in the Northwestern United States (Image: From ESA Archive via but does it float)


Agriculture in Kansas (Image: ESA Archive)

I am absolutely in awe of this image of Kansas (above) that looks like an abstract mosaic or Klimpt composition from space.  

The Saharan desert, Algeria (Image: From ESA Archive via but does it float)

The Saharan desert, Algeria (Image: From ESA Archive via but does it float)

The Namib Desert (Image: From ESA Archive via but does it float)

The Namib Desert (Image: From ESA Archive via but does it float)

Displaced and Returned by Brandon Pietras

As part of my continuing studies of the Austrian Cultural Forum (ACFNY, from this point forward), I completed the first part of an extended collage project detailing a specific space or theme that I found compelling during my recent site visits. This happened to be the building's facade, an undulating and fractured surface more closely resembling a monument than a building envelope that stands in stark contrast to the staid and repetitive office towers in adjacent lots.

As one of Raimund Abraham's few built works, it is immediately clear that ACFNY is the culmination and final realization of many of his conceptual and theoretical designs. The stark and sublime geometry seen in his Church on the Berlin Wall is especially relatable in the facade of ACFNY.

A model of Raimund Abraham's Church on the Berlin Wall , one of his many projects that never saw the light of day. (Source: Lebbeus Woods)

A model of Raimund Abraham's Church on the Berlin Wall , one of his many projects that never saw the light of day. (Source: Lebbeus Woods)

The inspiration for my chosen style. (Raimund Abraham, source)

The inspiration for my chosen style. (Raimund Abraham, source)

In an attempt to expound upon the connections between this built work and his unbuilt projects, I have presented ACFNY in the style of Abraham's drawings using an abstracted perspective. A section of the Church on the Berlin Wall caps the building's facade. The site's previous occupant and the Forum's first built environment is shown as a void within the current city streetscape. 


The Austrian Cultural Forum was founded by Austrian refugees from Nazi Germany during the Second World War in a concerted effort to retain and promote Austrian culture during a time when the country no longer existed politically. The Forum occupied apartments and coffee houses until they collectively purchased a townhouse on East 52nd St., later demolished to be replaced by Raimund Abraham's current design. 

The second half of this project asks us to extend, through perspectival drawing, the thesis of our original collage onto another sheet of paper of the same size.

 While I am happy with the results of my first effort, there are several ideas and questions I wish to explore further with the second half of the project. My goal is to explore how ACFNY allows New York and Austria to intersect both spatially and conceptually through the building's facade. How does Raimund Abraham's explicit geometry connect Austria's present to its past? Does ACFNY's value to modern art movements in Austria lie in its rejection or in its embrace of classical Austrian design? How does the facade interact with its environs, and does that mean for visitors' appreciation of the space and understanding of its intent? What statement does the completion of ACFNY, incorporating so many elements of Abrahams previous work, make about the importance of unbuilt architecture?





Prophecy & Constraint by Brandon Pietras

Hugh Ferriss, in his seminal work The Metropolis of Tomorrow, labeled the 1916 Zoning Resolution as "THE MOST FORMIDABLE RESTRAINT yet placed upon the rank growth of American building…" (Ferriss, 72). (Aside: If you haven't yet, pick up a copy of Ferriss' book - a must read for any architecture student in New York or otherwise). 

(Image source: The Metropolis of Tomorrow)

The Zoning Resolution was ordained in order to preserve what little daylight reached Manhattan's streets between the towering cliff faces of its - fairly new at the time - skyscrapers by enforcing a receding "building envelope" inside which all new constructions must fit. Hugh Ferriss was hired as the principle delineator for the project, and his renderings included in The Metropolis of Tomorrow remain is best known work and had a profound impact on the aesthetics of Manhattan as we know it today.

While Hugh Ferriss' renderings were groundbreaking, they were, in retrospect, clearly limited in vision by the prescribed architecture style and technology of his day. 

Raimund Abraham's Austrian Cultural Forum New York, completed in 2003, is the apotheosis of the Zoning Resolutions potential.

Image Source: (Un)Built, Springer Vienna Architecture)

Image Source: (Un)Built, Springer Vienna Architecture)

 Abraham, seeing concrete and structure in a manner unfathomable to most architects in New York in the early 20th century, constructs one of the first towers to fully realize the potential of Manhattan's density in the most restrictive lot on the island. 

Constraint creates opportunity.





Ferriss, Hugh. The Metropolis of Tomorrow. Ives Washburn, Publisher, New York; 1929 (republished 1925). ISBN 0-486-43727-2.

New Old New York by Brandon Pietras

I'm listening to an episode of the podcast 99% Invisible titled "New Old Town," which describes the process of Warsaw's reconstruction after World War II. It turns out that the "new old Warsaw" isn't quite as authentic as it seems…

New Old Warsaw (Source: TopTravellists.net)

 I'll skim the details for those who want to listen to the whole podcast, but in short the Old Warsaw that exists today is the result of Italian painter Bernardo Bellotto's paintings of an imaginary Warsaw in the 1700's. Bellotto masterfully recreated the real conditions of 18th century Warsaw, but augmented those realities with his own improvements and modifications. These paintings were later used to reconstruct parts of Old Warsaw, which now contains elements, designs, even entire buildings that never quite existed in real life. It's as if the city is the physical manifestation of an architects dreams.

One of Bernardo Bellotto’s paintings of Warsaw (Source: Wikimedia)

If New York had to be built from scratch, and instead of the Planning Departments blueprints it was rebuilt based on the vast trove of hypothetical material about the city, what would it look like?

A fascinating map of New Amsterdam depicted as a European town transplanted in the New World - one of the many imaginary New Yorks that never existed. (Source: BigThink.com)

Manhattan’s Financial District augmented to absorb rising tides. (Source: Architecture Research Office, via Inhabitat)

New York could be a city bringing the collective dreams of thousands spanning hundreds of years into reality; a sublime collection of juxtaposing ideals that previously existed only on paper and in our imaginations.