The OHNY board announced yesterday that it has appointed Pamela Puchalski, a veteran of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Brookings Institution, to serve as executive director starting March 1.
“Pamela is the leader we need right now—and, more broadly, the kind of civic leader that New York needs right now—to expand our mission, our audience and our impact,” said OHNY board president Rob Rogers, in announcing her appointment.
Puchalski will take over from Dorothy Dunn and Saundra Thomas, who have been serving as interim co-executive directors. The OHNY board launched a national search last year after longtime director Gregory Wessner left to become executive director of the National Academy of Design.
OHNY was founded in 2001 by Scott Lauer to “engage New Yorkers in the city’s architecture, public space and the future of urban life.” Patterned after an earlier effort in London, it’s now part of a global network of organizations that provide a showcase for architects and architecture, specializing in locations not typically open to visitors.
The first Open House New York Weekend was held in 2003 with the help of 300 volunteers and included 84 sites. It has since grown to become an event that features more than 275 sites, offers 1,300 tours, has 1,400 volunteers and draws an estimated 85,000 visitors from New York and beyond, helping to boost the city’s economy.
Its signature weekend in October has been expanded to include events and programs throughout the year, and it emphasizes its support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The program’s popularity has prompted other cities to launch similar festivals, including “Doors Open” weekends in cities that aren’t large enough to qualify for the global Open House program.
In at least one respect, OHNY has been a victim of its own success. Before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the event to become mostly virtual last year, OHNY had gained a reputation for frustrating some fans by asking prospective participants to sign up online to visit certain properties where attendance was limited, only to have the coveted slots “sell out” within seconds after registration began.
Rogers said in his message that OHNY still has much to do.
“As a result of COVID and long-standing racial injustice, Open House New York is at an inflection point,” he said. “After nearly two decades of engaging and educating New Yorkers and visitors, our work is only just beginning. We recognize the OHNY must heed the call to make our city truly open and equitable.”
Puchalski has degrees in economics and literature from the University of Maryland and an M.S. in urban planning from Columbia University. According to OHNY, she has worked in strategic planning, program design, and fundraising for a variety of public and private organizations, including the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program, Tishman Speyer, and The Africa Center.
Puchalski co-founded the Global Institute on Innovation Districts, served as executive director of The American Assembly at Columbia University and was an advisor and senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution. She also helped launch New York’s Center for Architecture, home of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects and welcome center for OHNY during its first few years.
Puchalski said in a statement that she sees an opportunity for OHNY to build on its recognition and become even more of a civic leader with programs that address challenges now confronting the city, whether it’s recovering from the pandemic or responding to calls for equity and inclusion.
“Given the fallout from the pandemic and the urgent call to action from Black Lives Matter and other activists, our city needs its civic organizations to step up and reach out in new ways,” said Puchalski.
“Recovery begins with precisely the principles OHNY stands for and celebrates—openness, access and diversity—and a commitment to serving neighborhoods and New Yorkers across the city,” she said. “I am deeply honored to be joining Open House New York at such an auspicious time and believe OHNY can—and will—establish a new paradigm for engagement, education and advocacy in New York.”