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An artist an architect Maya lives a lot of my work has been a time steam sand for very Asian and feeling I'm acutely aware of falling into an aesthetic trap and I want to really explore that. And I really don't want to fall into the trap of making something that works. Asian style in a tribute to the late Jane Jane Jane Jane this woman without a portfolio without credentials said by golly I'll take all my proposals. You know what there is no such thing as a law about not exposing what we can say is that the death and life of great American cities is probably the most important book written
about cities of the 20th century. New York. One voice at a time. Milieu places New York Voices is made possible by the members of 13 additional funding by Michael t Martin the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Elise JAFFE And Jeffrey Brown. Welcome to YOUR VOICES. Tonight we look at two women who in very different ways have left their mark on the city. Later in the program we'll explore the legacy of the late writer activist danger makeups who almost single handedly saved Laura Manhattan from being cut in half by a six lane highway. But we begin with architect Maya Lin most famous for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. Lynn's current project is creating a new home for the Museum of the Chinese in the Americas an institution founded 26 years ago to chronicle the history of Chinatown.
The Museum of Chinese in America started out as a neighborhood Documentation Project. It really came out of a time that we recognize a sort of the the era of the Asian-American movement in New York City. A lot of the traditional businesses were closing up. You had a lot of foreign investment coming into Chinatown lots of different people from different regions of China coming into the United States and really changing the landscape of Chinatown and with the neighborhood Documentation Project these historians photographers social activists were basically trying to capture the history and the voices of people who represent this history before it passed on. I was a recent college graduate and we thought that we'd can literally document the history of Chinatown over a four year period and 20 years later we're still trying to get a document on earth. The history of this community today that project has
evolved into the only Chinese-American museum on the East Coast. The Museum of the Chinese of the Americas known as MOCA in the chilliest days so we were clear that we educate only in total comedian members but also want to share that with the general public. Chinese Americans for many many years were not legally able to be naturalized citizens. So you can imagine the kind of identity constructions that come along with that. You know I fight you know in World War 2 you know to defend this country but yet I still can never be a citizen here. That happened for many many years from the exclusion acts in 82 all the way up until World War 2 when China was an ally to us. So these feelings that Chinese Americans have had about China as their homeland their identity as being Chinese and their identity of being American has always taken on the sort of trans national character. The museum's goal is to tackle the crisis of identity. This is addressed in the
permanent exhibit entitled Where is home. We really want to touch upon certain themes like early migrations faith and customs. Voices of women and voices of our youth. The question that it poses is where is home for Chinese in the Americas. And it's a question that a lot of people can relate to it resonates with many folks especially in New York City. The museum also provides facilities to teachers and students learning about American history. It offers a forum for emerging artists to display their work. We were interested in the notion of trans nationalism among Chinese Americans with globalization being you know such a force as it is today. You see more and more Chinese Americans possibly first generation even second generation kind of looking towards China and asking themselves what their role is in you know the new politics of the day.
It's always been uneasy about divergent communities trying to understand one another. Preserving you know relics of our history but always looking towards the future and always looking beyond the borders of Chinatown. The museum is currently in the process of expanding and relocating to a seventy five hundred square foot space just north of Canal Street. The new building is expected to be completed by the fall of 2007. Mocha has hired renowned artist an architect Maya Lin to create the new museum space. As a student at Yale Lynn designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. While highly controversial at the time immemorial has become one of the most celebrated monuments in America working and living in New York City. Her local projects have included the ceiling timepiece and Penn Station in the lobby of the Rockefeller Foundation headquarters. The daughter of immigrants and limit was the max you can use to develop a modern
interior design that would honor the past and we like the changing cultural landscape. I wanted to get something back to the community and that you know utilizing those skills that it was a perfect match. We really hope that my all be able to convey with her design this idea of a new respect for the old but always looking towards the new. It will really be designed in such a way that connotes these ideas that we have about the Chinese-American experience that Chinese culture is something that is new and developing and evolving that it is not ensconced in this ancient traditional box. I met with Maya live at her studio in Soho to discuss her preliminary designs for the new museum. Miss Lynn you turned down some of your other projects to design Boca and you've got your right to do it. What drew you so strongly. I think two things I think one I've realized that in this country you really haven't dealt
with the history of Chinese Americans in on a national level and I think Mocha is now poised to moving into this new new building to be able to tell that history. And I think having two young kids having seen actually I think Bill Moyers piece on becoming American the Chinese-American experience it really made me realize how much how important it is that Americans in general as well as Chinese Americans really realize how long the legacy of Chinese Americans have been in this country how they have literally been in some respects. So one could say the slaves of the West building the railroads the amount of really horrible racism that they went through. And I think it's just people being aware that we have been here and really contributed and can be as American as anyone else but perhaps because of the way we work. Maybe we're always going to be asked Where are you from. Even though we could be second third fourth
generation but that I'm really it was so easy a decision to say yes when Mocha called me in to do this. Now the founders of Mocha had as one of its goals to break down the stereotypes of Chinese people Chinese culture is breaking down stereotypes. Also one of the goals in the design for Mocha why I think consciously from the very beginning obviously a lot of my work has been at times deemed zen were very Asian and feeling I sometimes wonder because I'm coming out of a certain aesthetic Scandinavian design shaker design 50s modernism if I weren't Chinese would they have attached those labels with a Instead of said you're a minimalist. So I'm looking at everything from restaurants to other museums to things that have been called Asian in design because you really I don't want to become a stereotype in this in fact like I am acutely aware of falling
into an aesthetic trap and I want to really explore that as far as why is this Asian looking and maybe I really don't want to fall into the trap of making something that works. Asian style. This is a museum that will bridge Chinatown and Soho once again old and new. We're going to be stripping it bare to the absolute joy so you begin to see the old building itself the old structure which probably is 100 years old on top of that will be exposing all the stone work in the basement as you come up in that courtyard. And so that the blending is it's much more almost about an inner way or that's older and then surrounded by a more modern skin which probably will announce to the city that this is a museum. This is a new museum that will really take you through the history a timeline of the Chinese-American experience. Now you both your parents right.
Are immigrants from you know they came in 1940 got into comics to go over they met in the States but my father was from Beijing my mother from Shanghai and they came out at that wave. Immigrants were as there have been many numerous waves throughout the eras. Some coming from certain parts of China going more to the Pacific Coast others coming to New York and there's a really deep history through the last hundred or so years of these these waves of immigrations and I think yes my parents were both from kind of the the situation when communism took over in China. But you were born in Ohio I was born in Ohio. Born and Raised. So a lot of my friends would say that I'm I'm probably the the whitest person they've ever met. I think that you grew up it's pretty unusual for Chinese-American families you grew up pretty oblivious to your Chinese heritage. I think my brother and I were the only Chinese Americans.
I remember there was one friend of mine who was half American half Chinese. And there really wasn't a community. And I think when there isn't a community and you're the only person one you're looking at every other child's face and you think you look like that you don't realize you're different. And I think it was actually it's a college town Ohio University. And I think in an academic world where your color or your race or sex was not as important I think is what what was in your mind. And so I was pretty happily buffered from that. I mean I think I've I have encountered since that time. Certain situations which you know it's bound to happen at times. I may be you know the most public one was the one in Washington. But I think the fact that I didn't even realize it would be an issue. And it took me about eight months being in Washington before I kind of asked the veterans is this a problem that they have been trying to protect me from it. They
hadn't told me about the letters that were coming in. I did later say why would you want a good design this. Well I mean I remember a reporter saying well don't you think it's ironic that the war was an Asian warn you're of Asian descent. And I just point blank said well that's irrelevant. And I you know it took me nine months to realize I might see it that way. But that's not how a lot of people saw it. You've also said that your work exists often exist in the boundary between east and west How does that metaphor work. I think this metaphor is almost perfect for what I do in my work that Chinese-American of both cultures and I think this entire building will be. On the edge or in between or perhaps going to step in certain areas more into one world and then the next but that this becomes almost just another credible opportunity from an architectural design point of view to really
explore that borderline situation and I think it's really sometimes you feel you're in between other times you feel you're part of both. And I think that's something we'll be exploring throughout. Jane Jacobs who died last April was the author of The Death and Life of great American cities a book that changed the way we look at urban life in the United States. In the 1960s Jacobs ideas helped turn public opinion against government housing projects urban renewal plans and the multi-lane highways that were destroying city neighborhoods. What we can say is that the death and life of great American cities is probably the most important in about 20 years. She was writing about what made a neighborhood interesting and that was in complete contradiction to what planners were saying. Some things are said so often that nobody thinks of what they mean anymore.
For instance for years we've been hearing take the children off the streets off the streets and into where they want to have wide boulevards for cars. They want to grass around all the houses they want to separate uses. T.J. Cobb says no no. It may not look good to your aesthetic sensibilities but this jumble of older buildings actually yields remarkable results. Suppose we actually let the sidewalks do the job that they can do bad. And suppose we stop trying to provide poor substitutes for them. In the 50s there was a very widely felt belief that the city was a mess and if the only thing to do was just clean it up Weir it away and start over again start all over again with Dark Towers and open space thinking that would all be better. A comparison of today and today claimed the modern miracle and how they
can play here in that area today is just a memory transformed by modern construction. What was once a rundown dying section of the great city of New York has been recreated and today this section is a beautiful community. Well inside it generally was not better for most of the time it didn't work. And Jane Jacobs saw the evidence that it didn't work and pulled it together into this extraordinary book which changed the way the world saw its this wonderful complex web of things that makes the city what it is. This ocean organics different things mixed together. Jacobs felt the beginning of every morning when she walked out of her own door at 5 5 5 Hudson Street. Jane Jacobs was born in Scranton
Pennsylvania does not go to college comes to New York but she's only 18 years old. Really makes a living as a secretary as an assistant. Then she goes to work for the architectural form in the 1950s in which case she begins to look at the way cities work. I heard from somebody I forget who it was that she was writing a book. You say out of that book there wasn't very much to add it was pretty much exactly that manuscript that when I ran I didn't know that book was going to be around forever changed things not immediately but over time you can always tell the Devon live a great American city it is common wisdom today. Forty five years ago it was not 45 years ago. All these very simple logical natural ideas were actually radical thinking. Robert Moses was the greatest builder of America has ever seen. Robert Moses was this immensely powerful public
official who built more roads you want American history. He built Lincoln Center in 1939 in 1964 World's Fairs. He built all the bridges he just built. Bill Bill Bill Bill and almost nobody could stop Robert Moses with Jane Jacobs. This woman without a portfolio without credentials said by golly I'll take on the other houses and you know what there is no such thing as a Lower Manhattan Expressway Insan idea was to build a six lane expressway from the Holland Tunnel from New Jersey to the Manhattan Bridge up and they had a line and cut Manhattan and a half at the waist and which they would never have recovered. And when after 12 years the neighborhood was successful in stopping it. They planted a little tree and now it's a medium sized tree. Beautiful tree but that's what it stands for the survival of a great neighborhood. Thanks Jane. When the fight was going on about a
football stadium for the Jets on the West Side of Manhattan I was amazed to see that the people promoting it were talking about how it would also have tucked into the bottom lots of little shops and bars and restaurants and would promote the vibrant street life of New York. Well what better indication of how Jane Jacobs has entered the mainstream than to see people think that they can sell a huge stadium project by claiming it is somehow consistent with Jane Jacobs ideas. Jane Jacobs loser when you know she probably would say she lost in the sense that we still have a country that's pretty much built around ideas that she despises although the hint when any of us be thrilled to think that we have the influence she did it would change the faults of millions of people. So I would have to say Jane Jacobs certainly was a winner more than most of us are ever when we now turn to a
company that has been documenting the city's changing landscape for more than a century the Sanborn company published its first fire insurance maps in the 1860s and recently its aerial photography of Manhattan was incorporated into Google's online mapping software. When you look at those maps you start to ask yourself What was life like at that time. You can see how the homes were lined up you can see how the streets began to develop. You can see where the chapel was located. And you actually are seeing the history just by turning the pages of each of those maps one after the other after the other fire insurance maps first came to New York City and proximately eight hundred forty nine hundred fifty the fire in 1835 was in lower Manhattan on the East Side of Manhattan and wiped out blocks and blocks and blocks because see there were no fire departments then and fire was a very very terrible element and living in the city.
Daniel Alford Sanborn founded his company in 1867 trying to create for insurance companies fire insurance company maps more detailed the map at least at that time the easier it would be for the insurance company to assess the fire insurance risk. They could tell how close the structures were to one another. Was it a wooden structure. They could tell the nature of the neighborhood within which the structure stood. Those sorts of things were the kinds of things that would help them at a glance to begin to assess is this a high risk area is it a high risk structure and how am I going to go about deciding whether I want to accept that risk or not when I insure it. These maps showed everything from what was it made of all the way down to is there a chicken coop behind the structure is there a doghouse in some instances. I'm an urban archaeologist and just recently on East 21st Street a developer was about to go over to the former house locks. So I was asked to do a study to see what might be there.
This is the block of my concern right here. It's between second and first avenues and between 21st and 22nd Street there is nothing built on them in 1849. Then it was becoming an urban environment in this part of the city. These little dash lines shows sort of a metal and or a wetland. The elevated line had come in in the 18 early 1870s and becomes easier to get here and get to work. And obviously it develops if you were to walk down the block you might not think that things have changed that much but if you could take an aerial view and go into the backyard of the block you would see that more had gone on behind. There were more brick structures behind it. There are back houses that weren't there earlier but these could be could be a back porch. They could be you know like a mudroom or they could be a water closet. The heyday of the same company really with 20s and the company had
over a thousand. I started working for Sanborn map. In 1945 when I first came there it was really quite old fashioned. You also have pictures showing how they started it. We had maybe 15 different departments at finishing the prom and pasting the potman drafting department surveys Department. The same boardwalk was intentionally measured pace. It was intended to be about 30 inches. It was considered astonishingly accurate. Their reporters had been shot at by smugglers who didn't understand why somebody would be sketching their their particular shack at the time. There were a lot of stories about them being picked up during the war time as potential spice. This is the 1920s Sanborn after it's been pasted up to updated to 1956. This is when all the paste ups come in the pages get thinner and any changes are shown with these pasted on pieces of paper. The interesting thing
here is that the two lots have not changed they're still brick dwellings. Many of the earlier brick structures that dwellings have been. Replaced this is now an eight story apartment building. There's a garage behind it or below it. And of course there are the other garages the building. The block has changed by the 1950s fire insurance companies were learning other in different ways really to try to assess fire risk at that time and they were beginning to move away from those maps. When they came up and they said to everyone Department put down your brushes and you can go home because we now closed. Nobody would get up and leave the hole in my chest because nobody wanted to leave. It worked to so many years and they loved it so much. Around 2003 corporate headquarters was relocated to Colorado Springs.
We have offices throughout the country Portland Oregon and Arbor Michigan St. Louis. Charlotte recently Sanborn map has done the aerial photography and planning metric mapping for New York City. We work with satellite imagery. We do a lot of classification. Alberich is works in the finishing department for the Sam war map company. The traditional business of updating a fire insurance map has been dwindling over the years and the reason for use of those maps and the hard copy format is the instant ability to look at a page and get the sense of exactly what the neighborhood is like. I don't like black and white I like that's it. And I think everybody feels the same thing
This record is featured in “Protecting Places: Historic Preservation and Public Broadcasting.”
New York Voices
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Maya Lin and Jane Jacobs
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Thirteen WNET
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Thirteen WNET (New York, New York)
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Tonight New York Voices looks at two women who have had a profound effect on our urban and cultural landscape. First, Rafael Pi Roman sits down with New-York based architect and artist Maya Lin, who first came to fame when she created the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington D.C. The daughter of immigrants, Lin discusses her personal ties to her latest project: designing a new home for New York's Museum of the Chinese in the Americas. We also pay tribute to the late Jane Jacobs, author and urban analyst whose philosophies on urban planning have made a lasting impact on how New York City functions and thrives. The segment features Columbia University historian Ken Jackson, New Yorker critic Paul Goldberger, and Jason Epstein, who was Jacobs' longtime editor. They reflect on Jacobs' legacy, including her successful fight in the 1960s against a six-lane highway that would have sliced through SoHo. We close with a story on the Sanborn Company, which has been documenting the city's changing landscape since the 1860s. Sanborn Maps, originally created for fire insurance companies, recorded nearly every detail of every block and sidewalk in New York, from fire hydrants to back porches. Recently, the company contributed aerial photography of Manhattan Island to Google's online mapping software.
New York Voices is a news magazine made up of segments featuring profiles and interviews with New Yorkers talking about the issues affecting New York.
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