Search results for "Imagination Playground"

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Blue for Days

Rockwell Group’s Blue School brings a pop of color to Lower Manhattan
Rockwell Group’s design for the recently opened Blue School in New York City falls outside the lines of traditional design for primary and secondary education, especially in the cramped Big Apple. While the school includes many basic elements such as closed-door classrooms and a sizable cafeteria, the one thing the architects were expected to uniquely incorporate for the private school, which was founded by alumni of the Blue Man Group, is color. Lots of color. Stretched across four floors of a mixed-use, former medical building in Manhattan’s Financial District, the school serves as a “home away from home” for its kids, featuring flexible spaces and playful palettes that encourage creative self-expression and pride at all ages. The Blue School opened last month for its inaugural semester, welcoming 100 students and 70 faculty members through its shiny glass doors under a neon sign signaling its presence in the neighborhood. The 45,000-square-foot facility is the New York-based institution’s second campus designed by Rockwell Group. It provides much-needed breathing room for the school’s fourth through eighth-grade levels, which were previously housed in what’s now the primary school located in the South Street Seaport. Thanks to the move, pre-kindergarten through third-grade students were also given more space inside their facility, which opened in 2010. For the Upper School, as the new facility is known, Rockwell Group leveled up the design out of respect for the older children, who naturally are becoming more mature as they age. The architects outfitted the space with a bright, eye-catching interior and a layout designed to spark personal discovery as well as collaboration. “There’s a sense of respect the kids feel in spaces designed for them,” said Michael Fischer, the associate principal who led the design with David Rockwell. “They have autonomy, feel empowered and trusted.” Upon walking through the doors of the new Blue School, students, teachers, and guests are greeted with a lobby sporting a lounge-like feel, as well a high-gloss, neon yellow central staircase that serves as the main point of circulation in the facility. To the left in a community space called the Commons, colorful outdoor furniture adds a contemporary twist to the cafeteria setting along with bleacher-like seating wrapped in wood and staggered along the walls for a topographical effect. Additionally, a bar with stools lines the edge of the 1,800-square-foot space overlooking the street. The Commons also includes walls lined with LED-lit garden planters where food is grown as part of the school’s science curriculum as well as for students’ meals. The living wall is maintained in partnership with Brooklyn Grange and enhances the living room-like atmosphere of the shared space. On the basement level, Rockwell Group created a grown-up version of their Imagination Playground system with which students can construct their own seating stations using shapely, blue-foam cushions. The surrounding walls are clad with colorful, geometric wallpaper by Flavor Paper. Two studios as well as a column-free gymnasium, which doubles as a 130-seat auditorium—the Blue School’s first ever performance space—were also designed for the school’s arts and exercise programs. If flexibility is an integral part of the Blue School’s educational philosophy and its interior architectural design, the concept is most evident on the top floors where each learning space includes key elements that allow teachers and students to take over space how they see fit. Rockwell Group collaborated with Uhuru to create non-directional trapezoidal desks that can be easily set up to form clusters for group-work situations. Each classroom also includes a raised carpeted platform dedicated to quiet reading or presentations. An art room, maker lab, and materials library were also given major space on the second floor. Both are fully stocked with every kind of arts and engineering supply imaginable, from paint brushes to saws, to glue and glass. An adjacent materials library—open to the kids at all times—serves several fields of study and specific STEAM courses. The Blue School’s library features a book-lined, double-height reading space with a massive sofa and custom common tables by Rockwell Group for Knoll. Hanging from the ceiling next to the curtain-wall window is a light sculpture designed in collaboration with Dot Dash Design. It changes colors throughout the day and amplifies the school’s interior at night. From the street level, passersby can see activity within the facility and students get a sense of inclusion in the bustling neighborhood. Since the Blue School began in 2006, it has added one grade level per year to its roster of students—hence the need to build out a new campus for its burgeoning population. The first group of kids to begin at the school recently graduated from 8th grade and though they never had the chance to move into the new Upper School, they were integrated into the extensive planning process that Rockwell Group held with students, parents, and teachers. The school expects the number of students to double over the next several years. Blue School will featured as an Open Access site during Open House New York this Saturday, October 13th. Check it out from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or go on a guided tour with representatives from Blue School and Rockwell Group at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. Reservations are not required.
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Make Your Voice Heard

How can architecture criticism give everyone a seat at the table?
As Christopher Hawthorne moves on from the Los Angeles Times and as new forms of criticism proliferate, we asked the architecture community what the role of the critic is today, and what it might be missing. What do you see as the role of the critic in architecture today? Why is it important? What aspects of architecture are not being addressed today by critics? What are the problems with criticism today? Here are the responses we received from those who felt that architecture criticism is inherently political and should be approached as such, from across the country and abroad. How can women and people of color be included in the conversation when the field has typically buried their voices? This article was originally published in our May print issue, and was preceded by a selection of answers from architecture critics themselves and those who thought that the internet has fundamentally changed the field. Nolan Boomer Arts critic and editor of Take Shape. “At the core of architectural criticism is the realization that setting is not the backdrop of humankind’s story, but actually a character that shapes its plot...some of the best criticism appears in other genres like fiction and poetry, but it often isn’t considered as such.” Alice Twemlow Head of Design Curating and Writing Masters at Design Academy Eindhoven and professor of design at The Royal Academy of Art, The Hague. “If you take architecture to be less about individual buildings, and more about the structural, political, and conceptual framing of the shifting relationship between public and private space, (which I do) then the role of the architecture critic merges with that of the social critic and, in that respect, is immensely important. When that framing is thoughtful and brilliant, she should make sure we hear about it; and when the framing is uninformed or unfair, she should also make sure we hear about it. She should remind us of the past, respond to the current situation, and anticipate or lead future moves. She should advocate for the right of every public citizen to access the aesthetic and practical benefits of the built environment whilst being protected from it failings and harmful effects. And if that sounds like hard work, and that it encroaches on the territory of urban planning, social politics, environmental science, ethics, and philosophy, that’s because it is, and it does.” Mitch McEwen Assistant professor at Princeton University School of Architecture and partner of A(n) Office. “Architecture has made so many heroic and visionary claims, and also failed so many people for so long. The architecture critic can sort through these claims and failures and new potentials, both for us and for a wider public.” Mark Foster Gage Principal of Mark Foster Gage Architects and the assistant dean of the Yale School of Architecture. “I think there is an old notion of a critic who tells you if something is good or not. This is outdated and it probably comes from [Gene] Siskel and [Roger] Ebert on television, watching movies—‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down.’ Here the critic is an arbiter of taste. It’s not helpful: it’s about judgment rather than a new opening of discussion. It’s a closure, stopping conversation cold. Once you call a movie bad, why discuss it? I believe a critic is a person that opens people’s eyes as to WHY certain things are notable in various disciplines (or outside of them). A critic should be opening conversations, prompting curiosity, and inciting interest. I also think it is the responsibility of the critic to focus on contemporary work and issues—‘the new’ is always in most need of support and discussion, especially among those who feel intimidated or uncomfortable about it. This is what the critic is supposed to do, make it possible to bring more people into the conversation about any type of work. They are stewards of curiosity and interest, not judges of success or failure.” Enrique Ramirez Writer and architectural historian based in Brooklyn. “This question presumes that criticism is important to the discipline and practice of architecture. To say so is to admit to a certain kind of hubris. Criticism is not needed, for no matter if critics decide to take on the mantle of an investigative magistrate and try to shed light on a particular issue, to watch different actors scurry about once their particular malfeasances become exposed, to say: ‘Aha, Architecture...YOU’VE BEEN CAUGHT’...this is criticizing, but is it criticism? I used to think, ‘Yes, it is.’ It’s not. An architectural critic may tell you, ‘Look at this building ...Modernism is EVIL!’ or ‘Postmodernism is TRITE!’ or ‘Everything coming out of UCLA or Michigan is MAGENTA and CORNFLOWER BLUE!’ Okay, but so what? If that is the mode of engagement that architectural critics prefer, then I want no part of it. As critics, we need to look at colleagues in other fields to see how they advocate for the cultural relevance of their object of inquiry, for this is at the heart of criticism. Architectural criticism seems stuck in a kind [of] mode that conflates ‘criticism’ with ‘criticizing,’ one that privileges the dressing down of a building over everything else. Architecture lives in the world at large, and as critics, we need to state how this is the case.” José Esparza Chong Cuy Associate curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. “I believe that an informed public opinion of what needs to be celebrated and denounced is more important than ever. Contemporary life is shaped by so many invisible mechanisms that need to be exposed to the day-to-day eye. There are so many things at play regulated by sociopolitical, economic, and environmental factors in the spaces we inhabit that we need to have thought out critical positions to be able to act accordingly, both socially and professionally. Having a better understanding of these invisible mechanisms could potentially open new ways of operating. Moreover, I believe that all critical mediums should make an attempt to cover rural environments. It is clear that city-living is not the only option, but critics should make an effort to cover stories about rural life and the rural landscapes to connect the practice or architecture to these settings as well. We tend to forget how interconnected the rural and urban contexts are, and the critic should use its platform to inform how one setting feeds off the other and vice versa.” Bika Rebek Founding principal of Some Place, and an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia GSAPP. “A master of expansive writing reaching all fringes, and perhaps my favorite critic is Karl Kraus. While architecture is just one of his wide-ranging interests, his writing is personal, angry, funny, extremely timely and unconcerned with the consequences. Contemporary architectural criticism would benefit from this fearlessness and sense of humor. With more pointed controversy, critics could attract wider audiences and become part of an age-old dialogue, spinning the web further through the lens of our time.” Jesse LeCavalier  Designer, writer, and educator whose work explores the architectural and urban implications of contemporary logistics. He is the author of The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment, assistant professor of architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and the Daniel Rose Visiting Assistant Professor at the Yale School of Architecture. “Foucault’s appeal to a kind of criticism focused on curiosity, attention, stewardship, and imagination remains, for me, an appealing statement about the potential role of the critic: ‘I can’t help but dream about a kind of criticism that would try not to judge but to bring an oeuvre, a book, a sentence, an idea to life; it would light fires, watch the grass grow, listen to the wind, and catch the sea foam in the breeze and scatter it. It would multiply not judgments but signs of existence; it would summon them, drag them from their sleep. Perhaps it would invent them sometimes—all the better. All the better. Criticism that hands down sentences sends me to sleep; I’d like a criticism of scintillating leaps of the imagination.’ While thoughtful and perceptive engagement with buildings will always be important, I feel like now more than ever we need to develop an expanded understanding the larger forces shaping the built environment, from our own consumer choices to larger policy transformations, their implications, and ways to engage them.” Kate Wagner Creator of McMansion Hell and a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University researching concert hall design in transition from late- to post-modernism. “Architecture is inherently political on its own! While the city is relevant to the building, we should avoid using the city as a crutch.” Fred Scharmen Teaches architecture and urban design at Morgan State University’s School of Architecture and Planning. His first book, Space Settlements, will be out later this year. “I saw a joke on Twitter the other week that said: ‘Every academic discipline has another academic discipline which watches them, occasionally making sarcastic comments.’ For architecture, criticism gets even weirder, because this shadow discipline is supposed to do at least two more other things: it’s meant to be internalized, so architects should be working and self-critiquing at almost the same time; and it’s also supposed to be outward-facing, to explain what’s going on inside the discipline to an external audience. So somehow we’re all meant to be our own worst and best critics, hecklers, and narrators, all at once. This situation is messed up.” Peggy Deamer Professor of architecture at Yale University, an architect practicing in New York, and content coordinator of the Architecture Lobby. “The role of the critic is to inform both the public and the discipline about what aesthetic, economic, cultural, or social value is potentially embedded in that discipline and point out examples that are good or bad in relation to that potential. Critics aren’t identifying the connection between how we in the discipline work—with illegal, economically naive, sexist, and formally myopic protocols—and the poverty of what we are asked to work on (rich peoples second houses; the occasional private institution) and the consequent lack of respect and financial stability.” David Grahame Shane Adjunct professor in the Urban Design program at Columbia GSAPP. “Architectural criticism is not important as there is so little architecture of quality produced today by large firms or clients to consider. Look at Hudson Yards or the World Trade Center, and weep. The profession is BIM-ed and value-engineered to death. Public commissions and competitions that once gave openings to critics and young firms have disappeared along with small bookstores and magazines. Chat rooms and the academy remain as hermetic critical fortresses with their own private codes and handshakes. Sadly public intellectuals and critics are a disappearing breed, dying off in the new architectural ecology, occasionally spotlighted by museums as avant-garde and remote insights. It’s not a pretty picture, but surely in the future people will regain a sense of shared communities in the city and countryside and a new breed of architectural critics and architectural practice will re-emerge.” Michael Sorkin Architect, author, educator and founding principal of Michael Sorkin Studio. “The critic’s duty is resistance!  As the country careens toward full-on fascism, its environment assailed and warfare looming, we must defend the social architectures of civility and not lose ourselves in the artistic weeds.  A critic who fails to assail Trump, supports him.” Kelsey Keith Editor-in-Chief of Curbed. “Architecture as a study and as a practice has done a lot to isolate itself. I think that the built environment matters so much because it affects and influences people in the places they live. I speak not as an academic or as a critical theorist, but as someone who genuinely loves all this, wants it to be better, and believes that end is achieved in part via criticism. An architecture critic’s role in society today is to contextualize—whether the point is to educate, or entertain, or satisfy some curiosity: ‘Why are A-frames suddenly so popular again? Why is it important to preserve the work of a rare woman project lead from a midcentury architecture firm?’ Most critics are too busy broadcasting their own well-formed opinions to actually listen to the zeitgeist. Dialogue is important, but so is listening to others—as a knowledge-gathering tool or when their perspectives differ from your own.” Abdalilah Qutub (Abdul Qutub)   Co-founder of Socially Condensed Fully-Built Enviromemes. “The role of the architectural critic today goes beyond the immediate issues surrounding a building, but also includes the larger ethical practices and impacts in which the participants in the architectural field might be involved. There are two main themes that are not really being fully addressed today: Workers’ rights issues and the overwhelming whiteness of the field. The dominance of white men now only further keeps alive the whiteness of the field that has been passed on by previous generations. Recent efforts within the #MeToo movement and the allegations that have recently come out against Richard Meier further reveal some of the underlying power structures in the field and how they are being abused. Criticism alone is not going to solve these problems without the provocation of direct action from the architectural and associated fields (strikes, demonstrations, and protests).” Nicholas Korody Co-founder of the experimental architecture practice Adjustments Agency, co-curator of the architecture store domesti.city, and editor-in-chief of the architecture publication Ed. “The role of the critic today is first and foremost to draw attention to the architecture of architecture—that is, the ways in which ‘architecture’ is not a given, but rather something constructed and therefore mutable. Within the discipline and profession, we take for granted that certain things, from exploitative labor practices to rampant sexism and even assault, come with the territory. They do not have to. Alongside this, we accept with little criticality the complicity of architecture with capital, with the end result that not only do we now design only for the select few, we also help fuel the conversion of our cities into playgrounds for speculative finance. This relationship is historically specific, and the role of the critic is to both point this out and to imagine alternatives. Critics today tend toward the myopic. They see a form and not what’s behind it: labor relations, environmental degradation, capital accumulation, displacement of people. Every act of construction has cascading effects far beyond the building site. Critics must contend with this. Broadly speaking, it is a conservative field. Many supposedly liberal or even leftist critics are in fact advocating for a maintenance of the status quo, which is a violent position to take. There are far too few voices demanding truly radical change within the discipline. Criticism is itself a form of practice, a way of imagining possibilities where others see none. Integral to that is looking far beyond the discipline, far beyond buildings. Most importantly, critics must take positions—albeit ones capable of change—and fight for them. Political neutrality does not exist. A good critic loves architecture so much they despise everything about it.” Ana María León Trained as an architect, León is a researcher and architecture historian at the University of Michigan. “Critics link the discipline not only to a broader audience, but also to larger concerns that often escape architecture’s purview. If good histories take a critical view of the past, good critiques are able to historicize the present. Our current political moment urgently needs more critical voices. Critics are still overwhelmingly white, male, and Western. This is not to say that white, male, Western critics are unable to look beyond their own identities, but representation matters, and a diversity of voices tends to insure a diversity of opinions and points of view. I would love it if say, The Architect’s Newspaper reached out to critics in South America, Africa, Asia, and asked them to review events and buildings there for a broader public.” Eva Franch i Gilabert Architect, educator, curator, founder of Office of Architectural Affairs (OOAA), current executive director of the Storefront for Art and Architecture and future director of the Architectural Association. “A critic is the historian of the present, or the present future, or as Reyner Banham’s intellectual biography points out, of the immediate future. To understand the power of architecture, unveil it, and transmit it to a larger audience is the most benevolent image of the critic, but the most seminal and most needed is to allow the field to find positions beyond obsessions; to position design culture in relation to the most important issues affecting contemporary culture and the built environment. Any critic needs to go beyond the cliché, the commonplace assumptions behind good design, and understand radical, powerful designs that are able to produce more equitable societies. A critic that is able to read beyond press releases, instant gratifications, three minute impressions of what should be and help us all imagine what actions, ideas, and form could be. The problems with criticism today are the same as the ones with architecture: it is extremely hard to go beyond client-oriented work, to produce designs that question the status quo and the forces at play. The making and buying of history in the PR age is an issue to be investigated thoroughly. It is extremely hard for editors, critics, and architects to keep a critical distance. While this might not be any different than in times past, at least I think there is now a more transparent understanding of sponsored articles, and the influence and power of certain lobbies. The real difficulty of being a critic is that we do not have editorial structures that support criticism in its full flesh. As in many other fields false criticism, sensationalism, scandalous headlines, ...are more in vogue than rigorous - maybe less sensationalist- forms of criticism. The problem is that bad criticism is more profitable in terms of business models; good criticism needs of idea models, less business models....”
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Sensor Center

Boston-area smart city aims at city’s booming tech sector
While tech giant Alphabet recently announced it would develop 12 acres of Toronto waterfront into a smart-city-technology testing ground, a similar undertaking has already begun 12 miles south of Boston. Developer LStar Ventures has big plans to turn this 1,500-acre site, dubbed Union Point (formerly South Weymouth Naval Air Station), into a “smart” development that will specially cater to technology companies. On the surface, the project is an eco-friendly exurban development with a leafy, bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly mixed-use master plan. In addition to offering housing, retail, residences, restaurants, three million square feet of office space, and eight million square feet of commercial development, Union Point would connect to Boston—and its booming tech industry scene—via a nearby MBTA commuter rail. Boston-based Elkus Manfredi and Watertown, Massachusetts–based Sasaki are master planning Union Point and working with engineering firms such as Arup, Vanderweil Engineers, and VHB on a range of sustainable features, including natural, on-site wastewater treatment systems. However, where Union Point really sets itself apart is in its information technology infrastructure. The city will lay the foundations for its tenants to use its streets and buildings as testing grounds for smart city technology. In addition to omnipresent wi-fi, “Union Point will have a site-wide fiber-optic cabling system to support commercial tenants, building assets, and IoT [Internet of Things] systems,” said David Wilts, associate principal and digital master planning leader at Arup. In other words, companies will be able to install sensors to collect data on air quality and building performance, and even be able to set up public digital signage. In this way, Union Point could easily support smart city ventures similar to Chicago’s Array of Things sensor network or New York City’s LinkNYC towers. The first stage of development is a $25 million sports complex designed by Elkus Manfredi and Sasaki that will feature multiple fields, including a rugby pitch, playground, park, restaurant, and renovated gymnasium. Including this complex was crucial in the two-year process of getting local communities on board with the development; its fields will be available to the three nearby towns at reduced leasing rates. Technology, however, is a notoriously fickle thing to design into a project. For example, the video-call screens installed in Korea’s smart city mega-development Songdo are already obsolete. But Union Point hopes to avoid that by only laying the groundwork for its tenants. “LStar Ventures aspires to be the leader in the practical application of technology that we know, that we can imagine, and that is beyond today’s imagination,” said David Manfredi, founding principal at Elkus Manfredi. “That is why the armature that we create must be flexible, durable, and adaptable over time.” The Boston-area is no stranger to smart city developments, as the 45-acre Cambridge Crossing tech hub was also unveiled this year.
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Time to Celibate?

The Louvre just pulled out on these humping buildings
The Louvre has put the kibosh on a controversial sex sculpture that was set to go up in its next-door neighbors' garden. The Domestikator is an architectural sculpture created by Dutch collective Atelier Van Lieshout in 2015, depicting two red humaniform buildings engaging in what can only be described here as a lewd act. The sculpture was scheduled to be exhibited in Paris' Tuileries Gardens as a public-facing element of the FIAC contemporary art fair in October, but has just been withdrawn after protest from the Louvre, the gardens' neighboring institution. Jean-Luc Martinez, the Louvre's acting director, sent a letter of explanation to Le Monde in which he wrote that the work "risks being misunderstood by visitors to the garden." Seeing as the sculpture would have been located near a playground and within direct eyesight of the museum's patrons, it is altogether easy to imagine the board meeting leading to this decision. It may seem even less surprising after a much more vitriolic response quashed the installation of a giant Paul McCarthy sculpture (resembling what can only be described here as a "hidden accessory") as it rose in one of Paris' central plazas. With AN's steadfast commitment to a neutral tone, we will not (at this time) take a firm stance on the controversy beyond noting that Domestikator is painted a very nice red, employs massing creatively, and we wish we were writing this under the light of its tower room window. Atelier Van Lieshout has offered its own take on the sculpture in slightly more subtle terms than might be expected: "The act of domestication ... often leads to boundaries being sought or even crossed. It is this difficult balance that Atelier Van Lieshout seeks to address." The description on its website makes a slightly bolder statement: "It symbolizes the power of humanity over the world and pays tribute to the ingenuity, the sophistication and the capacities of humanity, to the power of organisation, and to the use of this power to dominate the natural environment." In this context, the roles occupied by the buildings take on a bit of a different light ... definitely involving a tad more subordination. The collective's founder, Joep Van Lieshout, originally planned to live within Domestikator for the duration of the festival, creating "a series of objects in collaboration with invited artists." AN's imagination is running wild with exactly what those objects might have been. After the festival's planner's attempted to find alternate locations for the structure and failed, it appears the installation has been entirely dropped from the program. The sculpture is being de-installed today from the RuhrTriennale (an arts festival) in Bochum, Germany.
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Armchair Planning Association

A new online planning platform lets residents shape a neighborhood from the comfort of their smartphones
In a creative digital shift, the City of New York has residents of one Brooklyn neighborhood tagging up a storm on a new urban planning platform designed to affect neighborhood change IRL. With the help of coUrbanize, a Boston-based city planning and community engagement startup, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is testing its new toolkit of neighborhood planning ideas in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Building on community input gathered in The Brownsville Hundred Days to Progress Initiative and the department's guidelines for neighborhood planning, HPD is using coUrbanize's platform to aid the Brownsville Neighborhood Planning Process, a community planning initiative that seeks to increase the neighborhood's supply of affordable housing; add retail along Livonia Avenue, a main commercial artery; and enhance public safety with vacant lot revitalization, among other measures. Instead of convening residents in a church or a rec center basement, coUrbanize brings neighborhood planning meetings online, distilling the often-complex studies and terms that planners throw around with impunity (ULURP? CEQR?) into an easy-to-understand format and tag-able map that solicits residents' ideas. Founded in 2013 by graduates of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning, the site is geared towards people who want to participate in their community's planning but may not have time or schedule flexibility to attend a meeting. In Brownsville, a neighborhood where many have limited access to the internet and 37 percent of households live below the poverty line, HPD uses coUrbanize's platform to encourage residents text in feedback on areas the city has identified as sites for improvement. "We're committed to reaching voices not often heard, traditionally," said Karin Brandt, coUrbanize founder and CEO. The text messaging service also has a general line where people can voice ideas that aren't on the city's radar. In a welcome display of constructive feedback and civility—two attributes generally not reserved for online comments sections—Brownsville residents are using coUrbanize's platform to map places of interest in their neighborhood that they love, those that are just okay, and ideas for what could be better or built anew. Amid endorsements of spaces like the Osborn Street park and mural and the (Rockwell Group–designed) Imagination Playground at Betsy Head Park, many commenters called for more extracurricular activities for neighborhood youth, sit-down restaurants, and better amenities in parks. The Brownsville planning project is in the second stage of its four-stage timeline right now, with a final plan expected by February 2017. Right now, the coUrbanize toolkit is used mainly by municipalities in Massachusetts, but cities farther afield (Atlanta, San Antonio) are signing up. The City of Boston is using the platform to widen its community engagement for Imagine Boston 2030, the city's multi-pronged planning effort that comes with a stellar city nerd reading list. Check out the platform here.
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Dick & Rick

A punchy new guide from the Center for Urban Pedagogy shows architects how not to be Dicks
Don't be a dick. For some, it's a motto to live by. One New York City–based nonprofit would like architects to design by it, too. The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) teamed up with the Equity CollectiveChristine Gaspar, executive director of CUP; Theresa Hwang, founder and director of Department of Places; and Liz Ogbu, founder and principal of Studio O—and illustrator Ping Zhu to produce Dick & Rick: A Visual Primer for Social Impact Design, a gently didactic pictorial for architects on the dos and don'ts of community-engaged design. As their names suggest, Dick is the Goofus to Rick's Gallant. The 15-page spread walks readers through the design process in each architect's respective office: In a stroll around the neighborhood, Rick spies a flier for a community meeting about parks, and wonders if he could lend his skills to the project. Dick reads a news piece about the same initiative and, pen aloft, offers help to "them." Channeling Howard Roark, Dick does a site analysis himself and holds perfunctory public meetings where he explains his ideas to residents, with no space for feedback. Rick, in contrast, lives the principles of socially-engaged architecture by collaborating with stakeholders over a sustained period to discuss how the park should be designed and programmed. Readers familiar with social impact design are vindicated when Dick's park is nice, but devoid of visitors while Rick's park is nice and a hit with residents. The Equity Collective believes that art can spur effective citizen engagement and that, if done right, social justice is integral to great design. Take their advice and don't be a Dick.
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Playscapes

New exhibition at BSA Space explores playground design
Now on view at BSA Space is an exhibition and accompanying education program that focuses on playgrounds around the world. Dubbed Extraordinary Playscapes, it will run until September 5, 2016 and was curated by Design Museum Boston. On display are drawings, sketches, videos, scale models, and playable installations featuring 40 international playgrounds. Examples of contemporary architect-designed playgrounds in the U.S. abound: in April, the Rockwell Group–designed Imagination Playground (featured in Extraordinary Playscapes) opened in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Similarly, in December the renovated Adventure Playground in Central Park, designed by Richard Dattner, also opened. These two playgrounds provide the opportunity for “unstructured play,” a growing trend in playgrounds. Some of the designs featured in the exhibition include: Wild Walk in Tupper Lake, New York, designed by Chip Reay; PlayForm7 in Singapore, designed by Playworld Inc; Esplanade Playspace in Boston, designed by Halvorson Design Partnership; Takino Rainbow Nest in Takino, Japan, designed by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam; Maggie Daley Park in Chicago, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates; and Ambulance Playground at Beit CURE Hospital in Malawi, Africa, designed by Super Local. You can read more about Extraordinary Playscapes here.
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Rockwell Group–designed Imagination Playground opens in Brownsville, Brooklyn
Local students and community members joined NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, City Council Member Darlene Mealy, and David Rockwell, founding principle of Rockwell Group, for the opening of the Imagination Playground at Betsy Head Park in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Although the concept derives from adventure playgrounds and similar philosophies of unstructured play, the Brownsville Imagination Playground is technically the first permanent one of its kind in Brooklyn, and the second worldwide. (The first, also designed by the Rockwell Group, opened in 2010 at the Burling Slip in Manhattan). The $5.05 million project was influenced by tree houses, a foil to the monolithic blocks of high-rise public housing for which Brownsville is best known. A curved ramp wends its way through mature trees, while blue foam blocks, cut into funky shapes, along with water and sand, are tools for children to collaborate, build, or create by themselves. Traditional play elements—slides swing sets, chess tables, and a basketball court—round out the program. A year before the Burling Slip playground opened, Rockwell Group tested the designs in Brownsville with former NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. David Rockwell elaborated on the process: "When we were asked to do a second Imagination Playground, it gave us a chance to do a couple of things from a design perspective: One, these London Plane trees were incredible, they were a landmark that was important to preserve. We were able to create a path that weaves around the trees. Like the lower Manhattan playground, it's a playground you can see from 360 degrees. It's really a community space." https://www.flickr.com/photos/136339520@N03/25924630244/in/dateposted-public/ This reporter dodged zooming children and risked limb (well, ankle—platform sandals were a bad choice for this assignment!) to give you, dear readers, a panoramic view of the park from the bridge. (Look closely at 0:55 in the video above and you can see another local landmark, the Kenneth Frampton–designed Marcus Garvey Village.)
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The organization turning unused Chicago buildings into aquaponic fish farms
On Chicago’s far South Side, tucked into a postindustrial strip of Cottage Grove Avenue that hugs the Metra tracks, Sweet Water Foundation is farming fish in a former shoe warehouse. The story of urban farming as a tool for urban development is, perhaps unfortunately, cliché at this point. Emmanuel Pratt, Sweet Water's cofounder and executive director, would know: He came up under Will Allen, a MacArthur “genius” grantee and founder of Growing Power. Allen practically wrote the story and developed a much-lauded and effective framework for using farming as a tool for community and economic development. Like Growing Power, Sweet Water has operations in Chicago and Milwaukee that serve as community hubs, education centers for school groups, and employers for hundreds of youth. However, Pratt’s background in architecture and planning pushed him to take a different approach. He holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell and studied under Mark Wigley as a doctoral candidate in Columbia University’s Urban Planning program. He can weave a conversation seamlessly from the biology of farming and the science of aquaponics to the architecture of space and design. Pratt decided to form Sweet Water in 2011, because he saw farming as just one tool in the box of neighborhood revitalization. The organization’s “blight-to-life” approach uses the biological regenerative principles of nature to, in Pratt’s words, “invent new forms of building typologies.” “It’s all about programming and reprogramming. Space is the crux, and programming is the vehicle,” said Pratt. He describes the Aquaponics Innovation Center at the University of Wisconsin’s Stevens Point as a “tinkering shop.” Along with the 950-gallon tilapia tanks that cycle water to the vegetable beds and back, there is a full-scale wood shop run by a master carpenter, where farming infrastructure is built and participants learn design-build techniques using hand drawing, Rhino, and SketchUp. “It’s a playground. A place for imagination in a space of lost labor production, in an era of hypercapitalism,” said Pratt. Along with the Aquaponics Innovation Center and a similar operation in Milwaukee, Sweet Water owns a single-family house that sits alone on two acres of land in Englewood. Built on the site of a former youth correctional school during the housing boom, the house went into foreclosure during the recession. Now called the Think-Do House, Sweet Water converted the surrounding land into a working farm that feeds 200 people a week at peak growing season. The house has become a community center with workshops, classrooms, and a functioning kitchen. There is a view of the Willis Tower through the kitchen window. “The aesthetics and conditions of the built environment play a major role in a cultural otherness that is reinforced by patterns of development in the city,” said Pratt. “Neighborhoods like Englewood have a strong housing stock from the last 100 years. Tearing down buildings is not just erasure of culture and history, it’s also a matter of material and soil waste.” Sweet Water sees buildings as part of the ecological system of a neighborhood. “We look at the relationship between water, light, soil, plants, buildings, and culture as a closed circuit,” said Pratt. A combination of geography, demography, and work that straddles the intersection of urban development, architecture, and community beg comparisons to flashier examples of South Side redevelopment, such as Theaster Gates’s top-down, development-as-conceptual-art project or Amanda Williams’s building-as-beacon Colored Project. However, Pratt said that Sweet Water’s bottom-up, asset-based relationship approach looks at revitalization as “not just about the economy of a neighborhood, but about the ecosystem as well.” It may not be as sexy, but it’s working. And Sweet Water’s footprint is growing. Directly across the alley from the Think-Do House sits the historic Raber House, a landmarked building owned by the city. Pratt told AN that Sweet Water is currently in talks with Ross Barney Architects, Latent Design, DMK Restaurants, and the Illinois Institute of Technology’s architecture department to recover the property for the neighborhood’s use. “Building neighborhoods and the business of development are at odds,” said Pratt. “Architecture has the power to negotiate that, but there is a race for architects to catch up to their role.”
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This artist uses LEGO to create Brutalist buildings
LEGO is quickly becoming an increasingly popular medium among the artisan community, with the likes of Adam Reed Tucker, Tom Alphin and others using LEGO blocks to form landmark works of architecture. Now, Arndt Schlaudraff has entered the fray with a selection of Brutalist LEGO buildings set make Modernists drool. Surprisingly, there are only 11 official LEGO Certified Professionals in the world but that hasn't stopped Berlin-based "MOC" (a popular phrase in the LEGO lexicon meaning "my own creation") artist, Arndt Schlaudraff (who hails from advertising, not architecture) from building. Schlaudraff, it seems, has a taste for Brutalist-style blocks as he has created numerous replicas of Modernist masterpieces, most notably Louis Kahn's Salk Institute (above). Using only white bricks (unlike fellow creator Tom Alphin) and aided by their orthogonal nature, Schlaudraff is able to perfect the clean finishes, crisp lines, and massing often found in Brutalist architecture. While his work (or rather, hobby) is predominantly LEGO-based, other slightly more realistic elements do enter the fray. This can be seen in the form of model motorcars and scale people being included in the photographs; however, few LEGO aficionados are likely to approve of this. That said, it could also be argued that the models intentionally detract from the LEGO-style and at times it can be very easy to forget you are looking at a LEGO building because of this. If you fancy getting your hands on a copy, think again. The shelf-life of Schlaudraff's creations is virtually non-existent as he only takes the time to photograph the models before dismantling them and starting from scratch on a new design. Despite not having an architectural background, the Berlin resident commented on how his city was once used as a playground for Modernists, something which has fed his imagination. "Someone once said that Berlin is the city where the best architects of the world build their worst buildings, which I think is really funny and also a bit true," he said in a recent interview. Speaking of architecture, Schlaudraff went on to say how Mies van der Rohe's rejuvenated National Gallery in Berlin was one of his favorite buildings. "I recently followed Bjarke Ingels on Instagram. I think his projects are super interesting," he said, adding, that Herzog and de Meuron were his "all-time favorites." Speaking of his admiration of Brutalism, Schlaudraff said he enjoyed the "sculptural aspect of Brutalist architecture." "If it’s a good Brutalist building it’s like a piece of art, a big sculpture. You can walk around and always see new views and sights which look like art. Many people just see an ugly piece of rotten concrete, but it’s so much more," he continued. "As for Modernist architecture, I like that it’s so clean. The ideas of Modernist architecture are over 80 years old, but still look recent." More examples of Schlaudraff's work can be found on his Instagram feed at @lego_tonic.
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Toronto’s ambitious plan for a linear garden under the Gardiner Expressway is made of 55 “outdoor rooms”
Toronto’s waterfront is separated from the city by the elevated Gardiner Expressway. While access underneath is relatively easy, it isn’t a pleasant transition. Torontonians, however, can expect some changes to their waterfront corridor as 10-acres of new public space and a mile of multi-use trail are being built under the highway. Project: Under Gardiner was designed by city planner and urban designer Ken Greenberg with Marc Ryan and Adam Nicklin of PUBLIC WORK, an urban design and landscape architecture studio in Toronto. The new park is slated to open in 2017. The scheme is strategically placed along a portion of the expressway that connects numerous destinations—including the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium, Fort York (an historic military site and museum), BMO fields, and the CNE fairgrounds—as well as a string of high-rise neighborhoods. The project is conceived as a series of 55 "outdoor rooms” formed by the structural bays of the Gardiner. While it is a continuous park, each section or “room” will have a distinct atmosphere and will lend itself to particular activities and programs, including gardens, art fairs, playgrounds, and public markets.  In addition to multi-use park space, the project boasts a 1,640 foot connection to a prominent GO train station, a bridge for pedestrians and cyclists over Fort York Boulevard, and an urban theater at Strachan Avenue to accommodate public programming and year-round performances. Like the High line in New York and The 606 in Chicago, Project: Under Gardiner uses existing conditions as a catalyst for new urban engagements, while also adding significant public space to an underused portion of the city. “The re-imagination of this stretch of vacant land under the Gardiner has the potential to connect 70,000 residents to a linear spine of diverse active and passive spaces and place,” explained Paul Bedford, Former Toronto Chief Planner. “It links our past with our future and establishes a totally new way for city hall to embrace transformative city building.”
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Urbanising Atlanta
Historic Fourth Ward Park, opened in 2011, is the sort of urban-scale public space that many may be surprised to find in Atlanta.
Courtesy Atlanta BeltLine

Georgia’s largest city is establishing a new pattern for urban success by building density in its core and opening new modes of transit. Darin Givens tells us about the city’s aspirations and struggles as it develops in the 21st century.

A national report from 2014, “The Young and Restless at the Nation’s Cities,” found that recent years have seen a significant rise in the percentage of young and educated adults living within a three-mile radius of the Downtown Atlanta central business district. This includes intown neighborhoods such as West End, Adair Park, Atlantic Station, Midtown, Old Fourth Ward, Grant Park, and Glenwood Park. The metro region as a whole, though, has taken a loss on this demographic.

Shunning the sprawling fringes, young people with college degrees are flocking to the places that are most urban in Atlanta; the ones with transit service, density, and mixed uses. In contrast to the way baby boomers of the latter half of the 20th century reshaped the region with car-centric, low-density development, this new generation is eager to take part in the powerful trends of urbanism that are improving the center-city’s core, making it a better place to live and work.

It isn’t hard to see a geographic correlation between the location of this trend and the outline of the Atlanta BeltLine. Looping the center of the city with a series of paths and parks, it will, when fully completed, pass through 45 close-in neighborhoods that are all within a two- to four-mile radius of downtown. Even in its partially completed early stages, the BeltLine has proven itself a powerful tool for changing the way people think about Atlanta’s development.

 

Atlanta BeltLine

This series of multi-use paths and green space is boosting the amount of parkland in the city by 40 percent. Nineteen percent of the city’s land mass falls inside the planning area for the project. The city touts $775 million in real estate development within a half mile of the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail alone. This puts a considerable number of residents in easy access of a popular public space that is now known for its weekend crowds, while also demonstrating the ability of the city’s growth to occur in new ways. It is happening not alongside wide, multi-lane roads; instead, this part of intown’s resurgence is taking shape around the BeltLine’s shared spaces and bike lanes (and, some day in the future, planned rail transit).

 
The Atlanta BeltLine is a series of paths and greenspace that is boosting the city’s parkland by 40 percent.
 

The sea change ushered in by the BeltLine can’t be understated. In one of the least “designed” large cities in the U.S., where market trends and interstate infrastructure have had an outsized role in shaping the urban fabric, people are now excited about re-thinking how the city is shaped. Residents who seldom considered the urban environment beyond their own block have become aware of the strength of conceptualizing whole neighborhoods and the links between them. And it is having an effect on architects as well.

Ryan Gravel is a senior urban designer for the Atlanta office of Perkins+Will. His master’s thesis in Architecture and City Planning from Georgia Tech in 1999 became the original vision for the BeltLine. He said that the project is “making obvious improvements to the form and life of the city, but the consumer market that it is generating is also pressuring developers and architects to make better buildings.

“You can see this right now with the unfolding of Ponce City Market, which is raising the bar three or four rungs for quality. But you can also see it on the drawing boards for projects like the Atlanta Dairies site on Memorial Drive, which are re-introducing Atlanta to a more interesting mix of uses, like markets, music, and the arts. They’re also taking advantage of both historic and nondescript old structures to deliver more inventive designs. Along with the general upgrades in Downtown and Midtown, an emerging bicycle culture, and a fantastic culinary scene, Atlanta’s central city is coming alive in a really interesting way.”

Ponce City Market is an adaptive-reuse project that is turning a 1925 Sears, Roebuck & Company distribution center into a mixed-use destination with commercial, retail, and residential space.
Courtesy Jamestown Properties
 

Ponce City Market

The adaptive reuse of a hulking, 1925 Sears, Roebuck & Company distribution center is an appropriately transformative project to take place alongside the BeltLine. One point one million square feet of the structure has undergone a mixed-use conversion as Ponce City Market (PCM). The finished product includes 517,000 square feet of offices, 300,000 square feet of retail, and 259 residential units. The project has proven successful in drawing in tenants, with most of the office space already leased to a variety of high-profile companies including Twitter, and an array of shops is set to open throughout 2015.

Atlanta architect Kyle Kessler said that PCM, which sits directly beside the eastside BeltLine path, is “important as a project itself (adaptive reuse, on the BeltLine, etc.) but also because it appears to have captured the public’s imagination and is setting a new baseline for development in Atlanta.”

 
 

Indeed, even the high rental prices announced for the residential units have not soured the city on it. PCM has become a symbol of what Atlanta can accomplish in terms of reusing structures of the past, and re-aligning them with modes of transportation other than cars, and opening them to public space.

Immediately south of PCM lies Historic Fourth Ward Park. Opened in 2011, it offers 17 acres of green space, walkways, an amphitheater and event lawn, and numerous water features. A stormwater detention basin forms a two-acre lake, surrounded by a carefully landscaped park. Several recently constructed mid-rise apartment buildings overlook the park, which boasts a popular playground and splash pad that draw in families from surrounding neighborhoods. The sight of children playing in a carefully designed park, in the midst of human-scale residential development and a multi-use path, conveys a very European sensibility in its overall aesthetic; something many may be surprised to find in Atlanta.

Struggling to find connections

In a city that is sliced through its core several times with interstate highway infrastructure, as well as large arterial roads that serve highway entrances and exits, finding pedestrian-friendly connections from place to place can sometimes be a challenge. In many cases the urban fabric can be repaired, but sometimes the city seems content to develop islands of activity set apart from each other.

Atlantic Station is 138 acres of a former brownfield site that became a master-planned, mixed-use city within a city. Opened in 2005, it has an impressive six million square feet of office space that sits among a varied array of housing, including townhomes, apartments, condos, and detached houses. Its central retail area is an outdoor shopping mall outfitted with gridded streets that host popular shopping destinations, with levels of parking stacked directly underneath.

But despite being walkable in itself, there is a rough transition between Atlantic Station and surrounding nodes of activity, from which it is separated by a combination of interstate highways, car-centric corridors, and freight rail lines. Without a safe pedestrian connection to the rest of Midtown to the east and west, or to Buckhead to the north, it is largely a car destination.

KDC Real Estate is developing a 2.2 million-square-foot office building, designed by Cooper Carry & Associates, which will connect to MARTA’s Dunwoody Station.
Courtesy MARTA
 

Car destinations are also a big part of the landscape of Atlanta’s affluent Buckhead section, on the north end of the city. The commuter congestion on its central Peachtree Road corridor is known by locals as something to be avoided as much as possible. One attempt to link Buckhead’s destinations for human-powered transportation is PATH400 Greenway Trail. This north-south multi-use path will eventually link up with the BeltLine on its south end. Its first phase opened in January 2015, and the full 5.2 miles of trail will eventually connect a series of parks, schools, and neighborhoods to the urban center of Buckhead.

The fact that the Buckhead community business district has shown major support for the PATH400 project is telling; even in the most challenging places, Atlanta is focused on developing in a new way.

Perhaps the most challenging location of all is Underground Atlanta in the south end of Downtown. With lower-level storefronts that used to be at the main street level in the earliest days of Atlanta, before the viaducts were built over them (hence “underground”), this is the historic birthplace of the city that eventually morphed into a financially troubled mall.

Even the presence of a MARTA rail station next door has not been able to draw enough foot traffic to make the mall profitable. One probable culprit is geography: It is disconnected from the popular neighborhoods of the city by crisscrossing highways, a railroad gulch, and a series of enormous events facilities and their adjacent parking structures.

The city decided in 2014 to end its ownership of Underground Atlanta. Making the sole bid for purchase, developer WRS Inc. has submitted concepts that would transform it into 12 acres of mixed uses, including a grocery store, additional retail, and residential development. Instead of only trying to draw in visitors from other neighborhoods in the city, this new plan for the space could end up some day serving as the centerpiece for the South Downtown neighborhood.

Atlanta Daily World Building: big gains from small packages

This is a modest building, physically, by any standard. Comprising 4,756 square feet of space on 0.11 acres of land, this simple two-story structure built in 1930 is not visually striking. But true to its placement on Auburn Avenue, which served as the epicenter of African American commercial and cultural life for several decades in the early-to-mid 20th century, it has a prominent place in the city’s history.

It served as the headquarters for its namesake publication for many years, which was the nation’s first successful black-owned daily newspaper. Threatened with demolition after being damaged by a 2008 tornado that hit Downtown Atlanta, it was spared thanks to the voices of local preservationists. A real estate professional purchased it and has carefully renovated the building for apartments on top and two retail spaces below.

Small projects like this tend to slide under the radar, missing out on the coverage afforded to mega developments. But these are the ones that make neighborhoods feel authentic. According to Kessler, this project is important because “it’s on the opposite end of the scale as Ponce City Market. Much of what has stifled development in Atlanta’s urban core is that developers can’t get the property assemblages together to make a project big enough for the pro forma to work. This building was a goner, but the project proves that a small developer can make the numbers work. Hopefully this is a model that can be repeated throughout downtown and the rest of the city.”

Challenges for furthering Atlanta’s good urbanism

Urbanists have much to celebrate in the strides Atlanta has taken toward building places that are more walkable and that echo some of the best practice of good urban form. Though the city government has supported efforts at reshaping the city for the better, it has not always taken the reigns when it comes to leading those efforts and fostering a cohesive vision. Matthew Garbett, a community leader who is currently working with the city on a tactical urbanism project, said, “I think urbanists share a vision for the city, but I don’t think we’re effectively sharing that vision in a way that is shaping the city. We lack an advocate at the city-wide level who really has the people and the press’s attention, someone willing to speak about the bad and the real, sometimes difficult measures that need to be taken to improve.”

And even with the addition of planned public spaces such as the BeltLine, the market economy still has the biggest say in what gets developed. As Kessler noted: “Yes, architects are taking part in the vision, but I wouldn’t say we’re leading the vision. As has been proven with the new Falcons stadium, Civic Center, Turner Field, Underground Atlanta, etc., the vision has been put forward by a developer who’s worked with a particular architect, but architects serving as design advocates have not been out in front of the process.

“There have been calls in the media and from new organizations such as the Architecture & Design Center to raise the level of discourse regarding architecture, but I think Atlanta needs more architects advocating for better design and not just allowing developers, bankers, and other participants that don’t have an obligation to serve the public to dictate what gets built.”