The Skyscraper Museum is devoted to the study of high-rise building, past, present, and future. The Museum explores tall buildings as objects of design, products of technology, sites of construction, investments in real estate, and places of work and residence. This site will look better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.
A TRIBUTE TO HILARY BALLON
On June 16, 2017, we lost a dear friend and extraordinary colleague, Hilary Ballon. Hilary served on the board of The Skyscraper Museum for the past six years, but her connection and commitment to the Museum went back to its origins twenty years ago. In 2004, her research on the towers of Frank Lloyd Wright grew into the 2005 exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright: The Vertical Dimension, the second show mounted in our new permanent home in Battery Park City. Wendy Joseph, who collaborated with Hilary as the designer of that show and others, offers a tribute to her intelligence and inspiration as a curator below.
Hilary also participated in numerous programs of the Museum, including one in 2007 that celebrated the 75th anniversary of Rockefeller Center. A video of her talk on this page is a brief view of her grace as a speaker and her brilliance as a scholar.
Hilary studied cities and the people and forces who shaped them, from the kings and cardinals of France to the map makers and master planners of New York City. Friend and fellow urbanist Lynne Sagalyn writes about her exceptional scholarship in an essay below.
Tribute to Hilary Ballon: Exceptional Scholar of Urbanism
by Lynne Sagalyn
Hilary Ballon, most recently University Professor at NYU and Deputy Vice Chancellor of NYU Abu Dhabi, spoke in a uniquely memorable voice about the built urban environment. In works of refined scholarship written in beautiful, persuasive prose, she offered city planners, urban historians, policy analysts, and lovers of cities a rich understanding of the forces of change that shape and reshape our cities. She loved New York City and contributed immensely to its history in three commanding books: New York’s Pennsylvania Stations (2002), Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York (co-edited with Kenneth T. Jackson, 2007), and The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011 (2012). Trained as an architectural historian, she skillfully wove together issues of urban design and development to explain the nature of urban sites, how the physical context of surrounding infrastructure and the real estate market help explain the architectural results and fabric of city development.
Hilary was the rare scholar whose impact went beyond the written word. In singular curated exhibitions at the Museum of the City of New York, the Queens Museum of Art, and the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University, she made academic scholarship accessible to a broad public audience in the most engaging ways. Full of physical objects of urban planning—program documents, marketing brochures, maps, site plans, and related artifacts—these exhibits were inspired projects that enabled viewers of all ages to better understand the complex process of city building.
Her most recent curatorial endeavor, New York At Its Core at the Museum of the City of New York, conceived with the museum’s chief curator Sarah Henry, and executed over three years, will undoubtedly stand as her most lasting contribution to the city. Called “the culmination of an audacious curatorial gamble” by Sam Roberts of the New York Times, this first-of- its-kind exhibition tells the evolving story of New York as a Port City (1609-1898) and a World City (1898-2012) before engaging visitors to imagine what next in a Future City Lab. In its deep scholarship, inspired curatorial choices, and multi-media presentations, this landmark permanent exhibit speaks to Hilary’s intellectual leadership and enduring legacy.
Hilary was devoted to her family, first and foremost. Her presence will be deeply missed by her children and husband, friends, and colleagues, all who benefited from her ever-inquiring mind, creative energies, grace, and kindness.
LYNNE B. SAGALYN is the Earle W. Kazis and Benjamin Schore Professor Emerita of Real Estate at Columbia Business School and Skyscraper Museum board member.
Wendy Evans Joseph For Studio Joseph
Studio Joseph mourns the death of our friend, collaborator and inspiration Hilary Ballon. Hilary curated our first exhibition installation, Frank Lloyd Wright: The Vertical Dimension at the Skyscraper Museum (2004). That fulfilling experience led to my changing the direction of the studio towards design for learning, making public education a central component of our work.
With Hilary’s guidance, we developed ideas for physical design that would enhance content and prompt engagement with history. Hilary, a historian, not curator by profession, engaged with us in continuous discussion as part of a search to translate her research into visceral experience. She asked, if artifacts mute or can speak for themselves and questioned what is the best way to make a label that will illuminate a hidden story. Each object displayed was subject to what she called “radical selection”. To stay in the installation any display had to tell and essential part of the story with clarity and poignancy.
Together we created “The Greatest Grid: New York City Master Plan 1812-2012” at the Museum of the City of New York. Hilary’s tutorials for our studio concerning importance of city planning in the development of urban culture tied together economic, political issues, with technology and social history. This led an immersive and all-encompassing physical design that mirrored her comprehensive exploration.
Ultimately, it was the four-year effort to bring to life the history of New York City since 1609 including the factors that describe a path forward into the future that was our strongest collaboration. Despite her advancing illness, Hilary challenged the design team with her laser sharp intellect questioning each of our concepts for authenticity and impact. As we tested new ideas for combining media and analogue interactions, Hilary mastered the technology and again pushed us to higher levels. She asked that conceptual ideas and details embody the same rigorous consideration that she brought to the scholarship.
It is with great sadness that I write this brief description of our shared work experiences. Our personal friendship for over 30 years, included much more than work as we shared in our family lives, passion of going to the often least-attended obscure areas of Met to see art shows and endless conversations about architecture’s ability to change people lives and the course of history. I’ll miss her terribly.
Studio Joseph is proud to continue our work in education in her memory.