NewsJune 5, 2024

CSU’s 2024 Gala: New Location, New blood, Same Optimistic Mission

Bill Millard
CSU Board Members with Awardees, Top L to R: Oner Yurtseven, Mohammad Ahzam (CSU Scholar), Anna Rubbo, Nick Hamilton, Ron McCoy (Awardee), Mimi Hoang (Awardee), Eric Bunge (Awardee), Chitra Mamidela, Danei Cesario, Liz Nebiolo, Jhae Hernandez-Eli, Emmanuelle Slossberg, Paul Stout (CSU Fellow), Bottom L to R: Pankti Dalal, Mariana Orte, Xiye Bastida (Awardee), Aliye Celik (Founder), Sulan Kolatan, Lance Jay Brown (Founder), Rick Bell

A renewed vitality was perceptible throughout the crowd on March 23 as the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization marked another year of activity, camaraderie, and progress. After several years enjoying the hospitality of New York’s Century Association, the members and supporters of the CSU discovered a new setting for this year’s Gala, the spacious Atrium at Ideal Glass Studios in Greenwich Village. Some 200 guests representing the professional realms of architecture, diplomacy, planning, education, and environmental activism joined the CSU’s leaders and this year’s awardees, celebrating the achievements of longtime colleagues and welcoming new talents into the organization’s orbit. 

Noting that in certain respects New York “is a very small town,” introductory speaker Jhaelen Hernandez-Eli of the Metropolitan Museum of Art greeted the guests with reflections on the timeliness and generosity of CSU supporters’ response. “If our moment is defined by the climate crisis and socioeconomic inequity, you here are fighting a two-sided war,” he noted, going on to cite Harry Cobb’s comments on the unique predicament of architecture, seen as both a service and an art form but too often treated as a commodity. It is the art form that historians study, he continued, when they wish to understand a culture, and the one that can make headway toward the goal of reducing carbon footprints in time to stave off dire consequences.

Architecture depends on better clients, patrons, and advocates, Hernandez-Eli added, introducing this year’s CSU Sustainability Award winner, Princeton University Architect Ron McCoy, FAIA, as a model client, the curator of that campus’s impressive assembly of architects and projects. McCoy, noting that he represents hundreds of university workers who share the CSU’s values, asserted that Princeton’s privileges entail a responsibility to serve society through teaching, research, “audacious investments in human potential,” and various forms of responsible stewardship of the campus as a “micro-city,” including support for diverse populations, carbon neutrality and reduction, and stormwater management. Princeton or any other institution, McCoy said, can provide a “unique sense of place that fosters a sense of wonder at the magic of our humanness.” Having worked at the university since 2008 and contributed to its 2016 and 2026 campus plans, McCoy is guiding the institution’s physical growth (including nearly a 50 percent increase in square footage) and putting it on the path to carbon neutrality by 2046.

Jhae Hernandez-Eli, CSU Board Member with Ron McCoy, CSU Awardee

Şulan Kolatan, the CSU’s VP for Youth and the United Nations, had the honor of introducing the recipient of the 2024 Visionary Award, Mexican-Chilean climate justice activist Xiye Bastida. Few people Ms. Bastida’s age – only 22, she is currently a senior at the University of Pennsylvania – have established such an impressive track record of service to the Earth. To date, she has helped organize the Fridays for Future school strike at New York’s Beacon School; greeted Greta Thunberg (alongside 2020 CSU Visionary Award winner Alexandria Villaseñor) when she first arrived from Sweden to attend the UN Climate Summit in 2019;  lobbied for the 2019 passage of New York State’s Climate and Community Leaders Protection Act; written the opening chapter of the anthology All We Can Save (Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson, eds., Penguin Random House, 2021);  addressed the Ninth United Nations World Urban Forum, the Biden Administration’s Leadership Summit on Climate, and (as keynote speaker) the UN’s 2023 International Day of Peace youth event; co-founded the international nonprofit Re-Earth Initiative; and earned a “Spirit of the UN” Award and a position on Time magazine’s 2023 TIME100 Next list of rising global leaders. 

 

Ms. Bastida is a member of the Otomi-Toltec Indigenous community located in central Mexico, and she takes inspiration from her forebears’ knowledge and narrative traditions. Describing herself to the Gala guests as a “visionary not of the future but the past, recognizing my ancestors’ wisdom,” she offered a memorable aphorism: “Youth run the fastest, but elders know the path.” Having seen her own hometown of San Pedro Tultepec flooded in 2015 after decades of industrialization without adequate infrastructure, then moved to New York with her parents and met survivors of Superstorm Sandy, she has direct personal experience of events and processes that her generation and their successors must responsibly face. Reflecting on the likelihood that her grandchildren will be alive in 2100, a target year for so many current climate models, she advocated “an architecture not just of physical spaces but the future,” guided by an essential question: “What is the most radical thing we can do for the future?” 

Xiye Bastida, CSU Awardee

Immediate CSU past president Rick Bell, FAIA, adjunct associate professor and deputy director of the Center for Buildings, Infrastructure and Public Space at Columbia University, has long admired the work of nARCHITECTS co-founders Mimi Hoang, AIA, and Eric Bunge, FAIA, the winners of this year’s President’s Award. As a steady advocate of affordable housing during his directorship of the Center for Architecture and his years as Executive Director of Design and Construction Excellence at the New York City Department of Design and Construction, Bell takes a special interest in the transformational potential of nARCHITECTS’ residential projects, and his introduction described their work as “consistently ahead of the curve,” advancing environmental resilience and the balance between built and natural environments. Carmel Place, their multiple-award-winning modular project in Kips Bay for the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Monadnock Development, was New York City’s first micro-unit apartment building and the tallest modular building in Manhattan when completed in 2016, helping catalyze zoning changes that support livable spaces for the city’s rising numbers of small households. In nature centers, parks, cultural facilities, private houses, and other typologies over its 25-year existence, the Brooklyn-based nARCHITECTS office has continued to expand its profile from the local level to the national and global. Effusively thanking the many collaborators among the “advocates, planners, activists, and visionaries” they have partnered with, Hoang emphasized the love of cities that motivates the firm’s support of both environmental and social resiliency. Bunge expressed gratitude for the CSU award as “one more arrow in our quiver to take on big problems from a small office.”

No CSU celebration would be complete without recognition of a wide range of contributors to the organization’s achievements and profile. President Nick Hamilton hailed acting board member Chitra Mamidela, an environmental designer at Atelier Ten, for organizational work on the auction (including architectural photography by Cameron Blaylock); introduced new CSU president-elect Yasmin Kologlu, a design principal at SOM and founder of that firm’s Global Climate Action Group; and hailed his mentor Aliye Çelik (CSU’s founder, longtime President, and Chair of the Board of Directors), whose work toward achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and implementation of the New Urban Agenda includes CSU’s many conferences and publications. Founder and former President Lance Jay Brown commented on the high priority the organization currently places on identifying, recruiting, and promoting young environmental advocates, who are striking an increasingly prominent profile at CSU events and bringing fresh energy that will bode well for its future. The CSU leadership were also pleased to meet Dr. Paula Pennanen-Rebeiro-Hargrave, the newly appointed Deputy Director of the New York UN-Habitat office, among the distinguished attendees. Board Chair H.E. Talal Abu Ghazaleh sent encouragement via video from Jordan through a representative, emphasizing the combined past and future visions mentioned by Xiye Bastida and also the need for “visionaries who bridge the gap of urban and rural [and] have and have-not,” considering the residents of rural areas whom urbanization too often leaves behind. 

CSU is here, Hamilton said, to “cultivate urban optimists,” and Abu Ghazaleh reminded us that this optimism can and must be transformative well beyond our home cities. Friends of the organization can look to its embrace of youthful talent – recognized through the Visionary Awards and increasingly integrated into all its activities – as a sign that optimism, so obviously needed in today’s context, remains infectious and indefatigable.

Mimi Hoang & Eric Bunge, CSU Awardee

 

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