By Shani Rodan
Benjamin Prosky is the executive director of the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter (AIANY) and the Center for Architecture. Prior to his role at AIANY, Prosky served for five years as Assistant Dean for Communications at Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD), where he oversaw exhibitions, publications, events and web content. Prosky serves on the Board of Directors of the Association of Architecture Organizations and is a member of the Steering Committee of NYCxDESIGN.
We spoke with Prosky about living in New York City and the contribution of design to the quality of life in the City.
Shani Rodan: What is your favorite public space in New York City and why?
Four Freedom’s Park on Roosevelt Island. It was designed by Louis Kahn before he died. This is what Roosevelt talked to the nation about in a very candid speech about entering World War II. The Four Freedoms are: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. I think in this day and age when there is so much unrest, insecurity and issue of justice around the world, to have a park that’s across from the U.N., in the middle of the water, designed by one of the most talented architects in America, that represents ideals from over half a century ago, as a place to really think about what it means to have those freedoms is very special.
SR: Give us an example of how design has improved the quality of life in New York City?
The issue of sanitation in New York has long been a problem and if you look back over 100 years, there were so many issues of public health. When I grew up in New York, city streets were littered with trash. Not piles of garbage bags, but trash. We’re working on a project at AIA, an exhibition that’s called Zero Waste. We published Zero Waste guidelines that are showing how we will be able to clean up New York. Eventually the goal is to send Zero Waste to landfills because there will be such good systems designed to recycle and compost. If things are actually designed well, they should be able to be reused and recycled or put into a cycle that they would decompose and nurture other things. I think that design has already improved public health and quality of life in New York, but with the Zero Waste goal, we will continue to clean up New York.
Good design sometimes get criticized because it’s associated with gentrification or exclusions, but good design can work for everybody.
SR: What would you would like to see in New York City in 2030 and why?
I think that we need to look at design as a partner of city government, with the people of New York to create a more equitable city. Good design sometimes get criticized because it’s associated with gentrification or exclusions, but good design can work for everybody. We have goals to house our homeless population, improve our affordable housing, and build thousands of units of affordable housing. We have goals to improve our school buildings, and make sure that all these buildings are safe, and have play and recreation facilities. Design is a partner to make so much of these things happen in a smart, sustainable way.