For Polshek, pragmatism and idealism are co-equals. From his earliest residential projects, solving human problems, eschewing gratuitous form-making, and reinforcing the heroic and optimistic aspects of the art and craft of building have permeated his work. These foundational values drew generations of talented and like-minded professionals/architects to his office, defining an inspirational practice model that today, in the face of heightened consciousness of the fragility of our planet and the vulnerability of democratic institutions and values, seems prescient/has renewed relevance.
Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility
James Polshek and Sidney Gilbert co-founded ADPSR in 1981 as a national public benefit organization to promote nuclear disarmament and correct the imbalances due to military excesses’ overshadowing domestic needs. Since the 1990s, ADPSR has focused much of its effort on ecologically and socially responsible development. In 1993 the organization was awarded a National AIA Institute Honor Award for its activities.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park
Board Member for Architecture
During the first year of WW II, President Roosevelt delivered his Four Freedoms Speech as part of the annual State of the Union address. Roosevelt Island was named in honor of the former president in 1973, and at that time, the intention to build a memorial at the southern tip of the island was publicly announced. Louis Kahn was commissioned as the architect for the project. Kahn died suddenly in early 1974 with sketches for the project on his person. But in 2005, Ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel spearheaded the effort to build the four-acre park. James Polshek was asked by the Ambassador to assist in the effort to realize the memorial. He became a member of the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy board. In this position, he has assisted over the past ten years, periodically interpreting Kahn’s design intention and mediating between City agencies, constructors and the architect-of-record.
The Penny Harvest by Common Cents
Common Cents created and operates The Penny Harvest. Common Cents is an educational institution that designs innovative school-based programs to foster ethical citizenship and student leadership. The Penny Harvest empowers children from pre-school to high school – in every life circumstance – to become socially engaged philanthropists. James Polshek designed an installation at Rockefeller Center that publicized this mission.
The Climate Museum
Member of the Board of Trustees
Climate change is the challenge of our time. The Climate Museum will employ the sciences, art and design to inspire dialogue and innovation that address the challenges of climate change, move solutions to the center of our shared public life and catalyze broad community engagement. James Polshek is one of two architect members guiding the development of this project.
New York City Public Design Commission
Commissioner for Architecture
The Public Design Commission is New York City’s design review agency, with jurisdiction over permanent structures, parks and open spaces, streetscapes, signage, and art proposed on or over City-owned property. The commission was founded in 1898 as the New York City Art Commission, and since that time, the eleven members and executive director have met monthly in the attic of New York City’s historic City Hall. The Commission is an advocate for excellence and innovation in the public realm, ensuring the viability and quality of public programs and services throughout the City. In 2006, Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed James Polshek to the Commission. According to City Charter, he is the only architect member. NYC’s Department of Sanitation Salt Shed (top) by the office of Richard Dattner and the NYC Aids Memorial (below) by Studio a+i, represent two of the projects that Commissioner Polshek has strongly affected during his Commission reviews. Hundreds of projects over the past ten years have been similarly modified as a result of his input at Commission reviews.
Washington Square Association
Governing Board Member
The Washington Square Association is the first neighborhood organization in New York City and the second civic organization after the Municipal Art Society, with over one hundred years of service to the neighborhood. The Association gained wide recognition and became the inspiration and model for many community-oriented organizations throughout the country. James Polshek has been a member of the small governing board of the association for the last eighteen years.