Saturday 1 October marked the launch of New York City’s first Design and Architecture month – or Archtober – a 31-day, citywide festival of architecture and design-related tours, lectures, films and parties. Founded by the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Archtober is a beefed-up version of the city’s architecture week, which for the past eight years has operated in tandem with the annual Open House New York (OHNY) weekend. Thanks to Archtober’s debut, New York now joins other world-class cities such as London or San Francisco with full-scale architecture months.
Much of the impetus for Archtober came from the challenges New York-based architects now face as a result of America’s ongoing economic slowdown. Indeed, rather than joining – or even establishing – New York City practices, architecture students are increasingly leaving the city upon graduation for jobs in more robust economies including the Middle East and Asia. “New York has become a great exporter of architects and design talent.” Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, managing director of the Center for Architecture, home of the AIA’s New York Chapter.
More than 30 organisations and institutions are participating in this year’s Archtober, from MOMA and the Cooper-Hewitt museum to the BMW Guggenheim Lab, The Friends of the High Line and the Architecture & Design Film Festival, an Archtober co-founder. Each day will feature an Archtober Building of the Day, which will offer special lectures or tours aimed at both locals and tourists. “We want to help travellers get to know all about this city’s extraordinary built environment,” Kracauer says.
Archtober kicked off with The Center for Architecture itself as the first Building of the Day followed by Sir Richard Rogers’ Hearst Tower on 6 October and the Hypar Pavilion Lawn and new Lincoln restaurant at the recently overhauled Lincoln Center on 31 October. In between is the ninth annual OHNY itself on 15-16 October, followed by the Architecture & Design Film Festival on 19 October. Viewed collectively, they form a critical mass of activities that may finally give New York City architecture and design the mass-cultural exposure it deserves.
With over 200,000 visitors already attending OHNY each year, Archtober clearly has a built-in fan base. But whether Archtober’s organisers can scale that popularity from a mere weekend to an entire month remains uncertain, particularly with its limited marketing budget. San Francisco’s Architecture Month, for example, works because it’s the City’s only major annual architecture event. New York’s effort to synchronize and synergise its myriad architecture programming, however, could as easily end up confusing rather than capturing its intended audience.
While it’s too soon to gauge the public response to Archtober, Kracauer is already planning an even more ambitious mandate for next year. Beyond mere tours and lectures, Kracauer hopes to commission public works or installations by local designers to exhibit during Archtober 2012. As for the name “Archtober” Kracauer insists it’s far less cheesy than it initially sounds. After all, she notes, the name could actually have been worse: “At least it’s not Archtober-fest.”