Search results for "Parsons Brinckerhoff "

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All aboard

LaGuardia AirTrain proposal rolls along after Cuomo signs state legislation
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s LaGuardia Airport AirTrain project is one step closer to reality after he signed state legislation authorizing the project on Monday. The AirTrain will provide a corridor between the airport and the Mets-Willets Point station in Flushing, Queens, which serves the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and the 7 train. State legislation, which was passed earlier this month, allows the New York State Department of Transportation to acquire city or MTA-owned land in order to build this project. Cuomo, who first proposed the project three years ago, promises that the new train will connect passengers from Manhattan to LaGuardia in under 30 minutes. Engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff was selected in 2017 to oversee and analyze preliminary engineering and design process for up to two new AirTrain stations. Estimated costs for this project have risen to $1.5 billion from the original $450 million projected cost in 2015, according to The New York Times. But Cuomo’s proposal has been met with criticism, mainly for the circuitous route that the AirTrain would take. It would take passengers past LaGuardia in order to reach Mets-Willets, and only then would they transfer to the AirTrain and reverse course back to the airport. Critics have also been skeptical of Cuomo’s promise of an under-30-minute commute. It takes 16 minutes of train time by LIRR from Manhattan to Willets Point, but Cuomo did not take into account the time it would take waiting for trains or for passengers to get to and from the LIRR, which operates out of Pennsylvania Station. Currently, the LIRR also only operates to Mets-Willets Point during the Mets season and during off-peak hours, only runs once every 30 minutes. The actual AirTrain time is estimated to take six minutes with trains running every four minutes. Altogether, total commute time may end up being much more than the 30 minutes and may even take longer than using existing infrastructure like the express buses, according to Yonah Freemark of MIT. The AirTrain project is a part of Cuomo’s $8 billion push to update the deteriorating airport. A new Terminal B is scheduled to be completed in 2020 and the new Delta Terminal C in 2021. Although the AirTrain project is not finalized, the next step will be an environmental review that will begin later this year.
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Philadelphians: How should architects revamp 30th Street Station?
As part of Philadelphia’s massive downtown redevelopment efforts, new plans were released on Tuesday for an integrated civic space surrounding 30th Street Station—the third-busiest Amtrak station in the country—by a design team including FXFOWLE, !melk, and ARUP. Over the next three decades, the station’s traffic is expected to double, according to a marketing brochure for the overall project, bringing renewed interest to the surrounding business district dubbed University City. This 30th Street Station Plaza revamp is part of a wider, $6.5 billion 30th Street Station District Plan being led by Amtrak in partnership with Brandywine Realty Trust, Drexel University, PennDOT and SEPTA. Back in 2016, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), in association with WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, OLIN, and HR&A Advisors, completed the initial design of the District Plan. In parallel, SHoP and West 8 have been working with Drexel and Brandywine on the Schuylkill Yards project, a 14-acre redevelopment which makes way for a 627,000-square-foot office tower as well as the redesign of public commons and arterials that tie together the district’s core: Market Street, J.F.K. Boulevard, and Drexel Square. Station Plaza, with its team of FXFOWLE, !melk, and ARUP, is one of several other early-phase District Plan projects advancing simultaneously. While 30th Street Station is currently surrounded by a closed ring of parking lots and concrete infrastructure, FXFOWLE and partners are looking to install a public plaza encircling the building. Their plan incorporates raised planters, pedestrian byways, seating areas, a public pavilion, and a food truck area. Pavers in the shape of concentric dots correspond to below-ground train routes and mirror the circular fountains and skylights incorporated into surrounding green space. According to the plan, the taxi and automotive area—which utilizes about 50% of the space at present—will be relocated to a transportation zone at one side of the station, opening up the decongested space to foot circulation and flexible programming. In addition to increased pedestrian traffic, this move will also allow room for a new underground entrance at the West Portico; the entrance is an unbuilt feature of the station’s original 1934 plans. The plan, in its entirety, is designed to decongest the area around the station and reinvigorate a historic railway, connecting it to other developments in the comprehensive plan and the adjacent Schuylkill River. Amtrak and the project’s team have opened up the renderings (viewable here) for public comment via an online survey (accessible here). Garnering opinions from commuters, visitors and locals alike, the survey will be open until 8 pm on Wednesday, July 26, 2017.
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Seven Teams

Adjaye Associates, BIG, wHY, and others, unveil designs for Ross Pavilion in Edinburgh
Back in March, The Architect's Newspaper reported that seven teams (from a pool of 125) had been shortlisted for the Ross Pavilion International Design Competition, an effort to reimagine the city's prominent West Princes Street Gardens. The winning team will get the chance to replace an existing 1935 bandstand located in the gardens, as well as make "subtle updates" to the grounds themselves, according to a press release. The jury is now appealing to the public for input—U.K. residents and the international community alike, according to the competition organizers, Malcolm Reading Consultants. Edinburgh’s City Art Centre will exhibit the design concepts—free to the public—from June 21 to July 30. You can also find the designs online here, along with an email address where you can send comments. The winner will be announced this August 2017, “The revival of this, one of Edinburgh’s best and most prominent sites, is a hugely exciting prospect and we now have seven fascinating design concepts from some of the world’s most in-demand creative minds," said Norman Springford, chairman of the Ross Development Trust and competition jury chair, in a press release. Images of each design concept are available in the slideshow above, while you can find short project descriptions below. Once a winner has been selected, construction is planned to start in 2018. Adjaye Associates with Morgan McDonnell, BuroHappold Engineering, Plan A Consultants, JLL, Turley, Arup, Sandy Brown, Charcoalblue, AOC Archaeology, Studio LR, FMDC, Interserve and Thomas & Adamson Adjaye Associates’ proposal for the new Ross Pavilion and the reimagined West Princes Street Gardens is a celebration of Edinburgh as a cultural capital and a reflection of the site’s unique topography and location on the verge between the Old and the New Towns. Our scheme honours the legacy and architectural language of the original bandstand that was once the beating heart of the Gardens in the late 19th century, reinterpreting its function and iconography within the contemporary context. The result is a garden temple responding to the modern-day city, a pleasure pavilion conceived as a sculptural intervention, which serves as a flexible performance space, a community hub and a new icon for Edinburgh. The Pavilion is the focal point of a system of stone-clad outdoor, indoor and in-between public spaces, discreetly embedded into the landscape. Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) with JM Architects, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, GROSS.MAX., Charcoalblue, Speirs + Major, JLL, Alan Baxter and People Friendly At the meeting between the old and the new, the West Princes Street Garden occupies a central location – geographically, historically, and culturally – in Edinburgh. The existing bandstand, in the heart of the Gardens, paradoxically has the feeling of a leftover space that divides rather than unites. We propose to enhance and reconnect the abundant qualities of the Gardens with a pavilion sculpted by its context: its gently undulating canopy reflects the movement of the terrain below and the light of the sky above. Visual transparency at ground level allows for uninterrupted enjoyment of the Gardens. From within, it will frame the context of Edinburgh Castle and its dramatic setting. The rejuvenated bandstand provides momentum to reconsider the Gardens at-large by updating the planting regime, opening up key views, and improving access and connectivity throughout. A refreshment of the historic Gardens that roots its future in the heritage of its past. Flanagan Lawrence with Gillespies, Expedition Engineering, JLL, Arup and Alan Baxter The Gardens form a topographical and visual division between the Old and New Towns, whilst also uniting the people of Edinburgh; a place for people to gather and appreciate the thrilling topography of the city. The sinuous landforms of the Performance Space and Visitor Centre reflect the Garden’s natural landscape in contrast with the angular built form of the Old and New Towns. Our proposals aim to make the Gardens more connected to the city with a dramatic and accessible sense of arrival for all at the Visitor Centre. This is a project of contrasts; between the New and Old Towns and the Gardens that separate them and between quiet tranquil days in the Gardens and vibrant large-scale public events. Our concept is based on creating an architecture that can perform equally well with each of these contrasting modes of behavior. Our design solution is based on understanding how our interventions can be both introverted when the gardens are quiet, and extroverted during the celebrations and events. Page \ Park Architects, West 8 Landscape Architects and BuroHappold Engineering with Charcoalblue and Muir Smith Evans Princes Street Gardens, linking the New Town to Old, is a landscape for viewing the spectacular setting, a garden of commemoration, and a garden to enjoy. The lengthy flower bank to Princes Street is world unique. Our strategy is simple: we leave this alone. Splendid new entrances, self-evident way-finding, and a re-visioned ‘Blaes’ area provide for contextual augmentations to a new Ross Pavilion which includes a combined visitor center and performance venue. In Classical garden tradition, there is a typology of a grotto fed by springs for assembly, marriage, song, and dance—the Nymphaeum. In imagining the new Ross Pavilion we have carved into the landscape such a grotto. A stage at the foot of the ‘Castle Rock’; marking the memory of the old ‘Nor Loch’, lined in pillars of decorated stone echoing the ‘modern henge’ Royal Scots memorial and surmounted with a golden copper roof in the spirit of the ‘Ross Fountain.’ Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter with GROSS.MAX., AECOM, Charcoalblue, Groves-Raines Architects and Forbes Massie Studio How can the Ross Pavilion offer a new world-class cultural venue not just for Edinburgh, but the whole of Scotland? The Ross Pavilion will be the focal point of the city of Edinburgh and its many visitors, but it can also be a symbolic place for all of Scotland as well. The intervention into the Gardens is therefore conceived as a facility for the entire nation, indeed it is a project that has the potential to capture the imagination of people across the country. For the Ross Pavilion, we propose a public asset that can not only perform as a modern performance venue, but a visitor experience that explores the varied landscapes and histories of the Gardens and the terrains of Scotland beyond. A simple but bold design allows us to propose a venue that can host the wide variety of functions the pavilion calls for. Furthermore, it offers us the flexibility to propose a wider range and intensification of human activities in the Gardens and unleash the incredible potential the site has for Edinburgh. For that matter it can tap into the long history the city’s backdrop has had for inspiring some of mankind’s highest achievements in the arts, literature, philosophy, and science. Our approach to the architecture and landscape has been that of sensitive interventions into the historic fabric of the Gardens. Elements are formed from their context and crafted from quality and timeless materials, and completed with water terracing that recalls the Nor Loch. wHY, GRAS, Groves-Raines Architects, Arup, Studio Yann Kersalé, O Street, Stuco, Creative Concern, Noel Kingsbury, Atelier Ten and Lawrence Barth with Alan Cumming, Aaron Hicklin, Beatrice Colin, Peter Ross, Alison Watson and Adrian Turpin Butterfly / Pavilion The word ‘pavilion’, from the Old French for butterfly (papillion), parsed through the pictogram of a highly-decorated tent, evokes the fluttering canvas and heraldry of a field campaign with a glorious connection between nature and humankind. The butterfly is unity of symmetry and organic form, whose lines can be traced and followed, eagerly denoting meaning. Occasionally alighting, it is of the air but connects with the ground. It delights and draws you in. And so it is with this new ‘pavilion’. Pleasure will be drawn from rock and fold, from seam and segue. There are glimpses of history and the promise of a performance. People will connect through their common story and shared song. There is music in the air. Light, space, sound, and poetry. Castle, rock, garden, and fountain. Without nature, the city is lifeless. This is a place for people and their perpetual delight. William Matthews Associates and Sou Fujimoto Architects with BuroHappold Engineering, GROSS.MAX., Purcell and Scott Hobbs Planning A PLACE FOR PEOPLE These four words defined both the brief and our response—a place for people to gather and celebrate the performing arts in one of the global capitals of culture. The inspiration for the project came from Celtic spirals, the remarkable stone circles of Orkney and the circular forms of the original Bandstand, the Ross Fountain and the Royal Scots memorial. They were reinterpreted to create a new typology of pavilion and viewing platform for the West Princes Street Gardens. The proposal is a powerful landmark symbolizing the unity of Edinburgh: its history, originality, art, and culture. The rings offer new panoramic views of the important heritage sites of the city. They connect the New Town, the Castle and the Old Town without disturbing the existing axial paths of the Gardens. Contrasting with the light and floating spiral are the Visitor Centre and the Performance Space. They blend into the urban context of Princes Street on one side and the Gardens on the other, ready to come alive for the cultural events for which Edinburgh is famous.
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BIG, Adjaye, and wHY among seven shortlisted teams for Ross Pavilion Design Competition
This article was originally published on ArchDaily as "BIG, Adjaye Among 7 Shortlisted for Ross Pavilion Design Competition."

The Ross Development Trust, in collaboration with the City of Edinburgh Council and Malcolm Reading Consultants, has announced the seven finalists teams that will compete for the design of the new Ross Pavilion in the heart of Edinburgh, Scotland. Located in West Princes Street Gardens below Edinburgh Castle and at the intersection of the UNESCO World Heritage recognized Old and New Towns, the £25 million project will feature a landmark pavilion to replace an existing bandstand, a visitors center with cafe, and a subtle reimagination of the surrounding landscape. The new pavilion will host a range of cultural arts programming.

From an entry pool of 125 teams, the following seven were unanimously selected to continue on to the second stage of the competition:

  • Adjaye Associates (UK) with Morgan McDonnell, BuroHappold, Turley, JLL, Arup, Plan A Consultants, Charcoalblue and Sandy Brown Associates
  • BIG Bjarke Ingels Group (Denmark) with jmarchitects, GROSS. MAX., WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, Alan Baxter Associates, JLL, Speirs + Major, Charcoalblue, and People Friendly Design
  • Flanagan Lawrence (UK) with Gillespies, Expedition Engineering, JLL, Arup, and Alan Baxter Associates
  • Page \ Park Architects (UK) with West8, BuroHappold, Muir Smith Evans, and Charcoalblue
  • Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter (Norway) with GROSS. MAX., AECOM, Groves-Raines Architects, and Charcoalblue
  • wHY (USA) with GRAS, Groves-Raines Architects, Arup, O Street, Creative Concern, Noel Kingsbury, Yann Kersalé Studio, Lawrence Barth, Stuco, Alan Cumming, Aaron Hicklin, Alison Watson, Peter Ross, Adrian Turpin, and Beatrice Colin
  • William Matthews Associates (UK) and Sou Fujimoto Architects (Japan) with GROSS. MAX., BuroHappold, Purcell, and Scott Hobbs

“We were absolutely delighted by the response of designers from around the world to the competition’s first stage. The quality of the 125 teams on the longlist sent a strong signal that the international design community regards this as an inspirational project for Edinburgh that has huge potential to reinvigorate this prestigious site,” said The Chairman of the Ross Development Trust and Competition Jury Chair, Norman Springford.

“Selecting the shortlist with our partners from City of Edinburgh Council was an intense and demanding process. We’re thrilled that our final shortlist achieved a balance of both international and UK talent, emerging and established studios. Now the teams will have 11 weeks to do their concept designs – and we’re looking forward to seeing these and sharing them with the public.”

Finalists will have until June 9, 2017, to complete concept designs for the pavilion, visitor’s center, and site, which will need to fully integrate into the existing Gardens, which are of outstanding cultural significance and operated and managed by the City of Edinburgh Council as Common Good Land. A public and digital exhibition will follow in mid-June, with a winner expected to be announced in early August. Construction is expected to begin in 2018.

For more information, visit the competition website, here.

News via Malcolm Reading Consultants. Written by Patrick Lynch. Want more from ArchDaily? Like their Facebook page here. Archdaily_Collab_1
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Ride Share or Ridership?

How does the design of Los Angeles's new Expo Line stack up?

The L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) has finally rebuilt one of L.A’s original commuter streetcar lines: The Expo line, a 15.2-mile long appendage that will link Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica. Completion of the $2.5 billion route marks an important milestone for the region’s maturing 25-year-old rapid transit system. The lead architectural and urban design was by Gruen Associates who, with planning and design firm RAW International, crafted the system’s transit stops; Parsons Brinckerhoff carried out overall planning; and Skanska spearheaded construction. The Expo line is the transit agency’s latest effort to weave light rail travel into a growing, multimodal web of mobility options available to Angelenos—it is as much a new way to see Los Angeles as it is a train.

While the system’s 1990s-era subway stations play fast and loose with decorative schemes—from massive boulders at Beverly and Vermont to highly polished kitsch at the Hollywood and Vine and Chinatown stops—Expo stations are subdued. Mostly located at-grade and topped by a half-hexagonal mop of ocean wave–inspired, perforated aluminum panels supported by a sinuous, pale-blue, crisscrossing armature, the stations try hard to be poetically mundane. A product of tight budgets, the line’s many at-grade crossings and stations result in a crude and dangerous construct: Drivers are forced to acknowledge light rail trains and passengers as a legitimate urban presence through their sheer occupation of the street. This condition could benefit from a more aggressive transformation of the intersections and sidewalks leading up to each station: Introducing simple elements like bollards, contrasting paving strategies, and other speed mitigating measures would do much to improve what should be nodes of pedestrian activity.

Stations between Downtown L.A. and the University of Southern California campus are easily approached from the street via handicap ramps and feature no-frills signage. The concourses are, again, simple in their articulation, with a smattering of concrete and aluminum benches. These stations are earnest attempts at creating planted flags in what might one day be a larger, more prototypically pedestrian urban expanse. The empty storefronts along many of the tacky, faux-Italianate perimeter block apartment complexes in the area, while highlighted by the stations’ electric bolt silhouette, have yet to benefit from the line’s booming ridership. As of now, these stops are desolate, quite a few gentrification waves away from being viable transit-oriented developments. At-grade stops between USC and Culver City are also unsuccessful as stations, with complicated tangles of pedestrians, trains, and drivers.

The elevated stations further west, however, like those at Culver City, La Cienega, and Bundy, announce themselves from a distance as a new type of elevated object in the Southern California sky. Less majestic than Chicago’s industrial-era L stations, the elevated Expo stops gently appropriate the language of freeway vernacular, subverting the typical L.A. overpass by co-locating a landscaped bicycle path and potentially, future stations for the system’s new bike share program, along the length of most of the line. These areas are straightforwardly open spaces; the overhead bridges’ weights reach the ground via four discrete and compact piers, leaving room for drop off and transfer areas. Large concrete walls designed in great relief, populated with complex, pixelated geometric motifs and lushly planted with drought-tolerant flora line the bike path itself. Instead of dank, unwelcoming troll bridges like those associated with the freeways, Expo’s overhead crossings are places for collective movement, an aspect exemplified by their minimal treatment and the location of a variety of specially-commissioned art installations at each stop. Riders ascend via elevators and stairways to reach the platforms that provide molehills from which to gaze out over the city’s flatlands. But, because one is walking—and waiting—instead of driving, the effect is potentially one of true introspection.

The western terminus at Santa Monica is also a fundamentally pedestrian urban gesture. The station is built as an elevated plaza that cascades to the north in a broad set of stairs, funneling travelers toward major pedestrian shopping areas and into the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Ocean Avenue, redesigned as a massive diagonal crossing intersection. Here, the intersection is striped with massive white bands of paint in a strangely fitting plaza and civic space for Los Angeles.

If it is indeed Metro’s goal to normalize multi-modal transit in Los Angeles, then the Expo train, with a few tweaks, is a good template for what the rest of the region’s rapid transit system might look like in the future. Expo’s design and existence is an unexpectedly powerful, if somewhat work-in-progress expression on behalf of transit-mixed streets.

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Sea Train

New transit line links Downtown Los Angeles to the beach
For transit boosters and urbanists in Los Angeles, last weekend’s opening of the 6.6 mile extension to the city’s Expo Line linking Downtown Los Angeles with Santa Monica represents a capstone over a quarter century of hard-fought rail construction in a city notorious for its auto-dependent populace. Los Angeles systematically dismantled its pre-World War II Red Car system in the post-war era and did not begin rebuilding its rail transit infrastructure until in the late 1980s. Metro opened the Blue line in 1990, a 22-mile light rail route linking Downtown Los Angeles with Long Beach. Since then, the system has grown exponentially, with two subway routes, four light rail lines, and two rapid bus lines completed since. Much of the recent expansion has been funded with money collected via sales tax increases. The Metro has another such initiative, Measure R2, on the November ballot this year aiming to help the agency continue its vigorous growth. A first phase of the Expo Line opened in 2012 linking downtown to Culver City. The now-completed 15.2 mile route reestablishes rail transportation between the beach-adjacent westside communities and the region’s symbolic heart downtown by essentially reviving the route taken by the Pacific Electric Red Car service’s Air Line service that ran along the former Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe right of way between 1908 to 1953. The new line is expected to take around an hour end to end, about the same amount of time it takes to drive in good traffic. The Expo Phase II project was constructed via a design-build partnership between Skanska USA and Rados Construction Inc. and was administered by Expo Authority, the independent agency created by Metro to build the line. Skanska USA tapped Parsons Brinckerhoff to design the route’s tracks, stations, and bicycle facilities. Parsons Brinckerhoff also designed 24 at-grade and above-grade intersections for the line. Celebrations took place at each of the seven new stations last weekend and Metro offered free fares on Friday and Saturday to commemorate the completion of the new line. The much-hyped weekend saw so many Angelenos flock to stops along the route that service got backed up as enthusiasts and skeptics alike rode rail transit to the beach for the first time in sixty years. But in perhaps a sign the difficulty Metro faces in changing L.A.’s car-dependent culture, service ground to a halt for nearly two hours Monday morning when a drunk driver drove onto the Expo Line’s tracks along an at-grade run of the line near downtown, snarling the line’s first weekday morning commute.  
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Here's Philadelphia's ambitious plan to build a neighborhood over a railyard on the Schuylkill River
Cap and trade agreements are a standard tool in the climate change fight. Philadelphia, in collaboration with an urban design team led by SOM, is getting in on the game. Recently revised plans for the 30th Street Station and surrounding neighborhoods call for capping 70 acres of Amtrak and SEPTA-owned land, trading the underutilized space for a mixed-use neighborhood, parkland, and three pedestrian bridges across the Schuylkill River, linking University City with Logan Square and Center City. SOM partnered with Parsons Brinckerhoff, OLIN, and HR&A Advisors on the $5.25 million study. Through citizen input, the design team developed three iterations of the plan, all of which were presented and debated at a December 16th meeting, PlanPhilly reported. The study reviews land use over 175 acres, 88 of which are owned by Amtrak and SEPTA. The main project partners are Amtrak, Brandywine Realty Trust, Drexel University, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), and SEPTA, along with twelve other stakeholders. Once adopted, the plan will guide the area's development through 2040. In addition to the capping and bridges, all three plans propose doubling the size of Drexel Park, boardwalks, a river overlook, and a bus terminal. There will be two more public meetings on the plan in spring and summer 2016.
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Are floating houses the answer to London's housing crisis? 100 ideas for affordable housing to be showcased
Affordable housing is a hot-topic in Europe and across the world right now. To look for solutions, New London Architecture (NLA) launched a competition prompting architects, planners and citizens to submit ideas for the current housing crisis in London—and the entries are in. The competition attracted over 200 submissions from over 16 countries and NLA has released a list of 100 of the submitted schemes which include radical concepts from NBBJ, Rogers Stirk Harbour+Partners, and Grimshaw Architects, among others. Seattle-based NBBJ has proposed taking up 9,000 miles of London road to make way for residential housing whereas London practice dRMM advocate the implementation of floating houses. Infact dRMM weren't the only firm to take advantage of London's waterways. Baca Architects and the appropriately named, Floating Homes Ltd. suggested installing 7,500 prefab floating homes along the canal routes of London, something they say could be done in under a year. Floating architecture, it appears, is a powerful force in captivating the imaginations of architects. The competition hasn't just attracted architects however, property consultants GL Hearn propose constructing a megacity by the M25 highway that travels London to improve housing, retail, workspaces, and infrastructure links by 2050.
Building firm WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff says 630,000 new homes would be created by building housing on top of government institutions such as hospitals, schools, and libraries.
The list of 100 will be whittled down by the NLA to a select group of 10 which will be considered in further depth before an eventual winner is chosen. The 100 projects will go on display in London on Saturday 17th October.
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The Eyes of Data are Upon You
Courtesy SOM Chicago

Architects and Planners across the country are harnessing the potential of Big Data to build information-laden city-scale models. By gathering and synthesizing such factors as traffic, energy usage, water flows, and air quality, the urban design field is hoping to layout smarter, more efficient, and more resilient forms of development. John Gendall logs on to find out more.

Scan the bookshelf of any urban designer or planner who graduated after 1980, and you will very likely spot a copy of The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, by William H. Whyte, the journalist and consultant to the New York City Planning Commission who advocated a new, more empirical way of making urban areas. Cities, he reasoned, ought to be studied with the eyes of a scientist, subjected to a sort of post-occupancy analysis providing quantitative insight into just how urban spaces performed. While his approach now has so much currency as to seem obvious, his technique comes off as quaintly primitive. Through the 1970s, equipped with a camera, pen, clipboard, reams of paper, and several research assistants, Whyte would ensconce himself in public areas for weeks and months on end to painstakingly document figures like use, traffic, and interactions, culminating in his 1980 publication.

Thirty-five years later, cities around the world are carrying out extensive performance analyses, but rather than relying on an intrepid clipboard-toting individual, they are turning to another source: Big Data. Having reshaped other industries—finance, public health, manufacturing, and, with Building Information Modeling, architecture—the wheels of Big Data are increasingly being set on cities. With that comes access to immense and complex sets of information that city planners and urban designers can now harness to make cities perform better. Applications abound: traffic can be made to move quicker, energy consumption can be brought down, view corridors preserved, and all of this can happen while budgets get trimmed. The “big” in Big Data refers not just to volume (even though there are unprecedented amounts of information churning in its orbit); it also refers to the number of different data sets. “We think of Big Data as a degree of complexity, not simply volume,” said Matthew Shaxted, a computational designer at SOM City Design Practice.” This makes it particularly well suited to sort through webs of changing interdependencies, or, put another way, through cities.


Chicago: City of Big Data

Chicago: City of Big Data, an exhibition currently on view at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, examines the interaction between digital and physical infrastructure in the Windy City and beyond. Large-scale data visualizations show, for example, the number and location of tweets sent—clustered in the LOOP—the number and distance of Divvy bike-share rides—downtown to the neighborhoods—and the frequency and location of 311 calls, many of which come from higher crime, outlying areas. Curators worked with IBM and SOM Chicago to interpret the data and develop the visualizations, making the virtual and lived realities of Chicagoans legible to the public in a new way.

Courtesy SOM Chicago

Take urban flooding, for example. With so much at stake, municipalities have started wrangling data as a way to become more resilient in the face of climate risks that are becoming increasingly hard to predict. In Chicago, where rain events perennially cause widespread basement flooding, the city’s Department of Planning and Development partnered with SOM and the University of Chicago to get out ahead of what has become a costly problem. Aggregating high-resolution point cloud data from the city, the team developed a model for how water flows and pools across Chicago. As Shaxted explained, “we then combined this with other open source data—vacant lots, single-family residential parcels, etc.—and we were able to determine locations across the city where green infrastructure would lead to the highest impact.”

But as it is with any information, big data is only as useful as it can be processed and aggregated. Invite eight million New Yorkers to lodge complaints over 311, and you will need a way to analyze whatever lands on the receiving end of that line. Cities are tooling up to do that work. In 2013, for example, New York City established the Office of Data Analytics, outfitted to aggregate data and collaborate with other city agencies in using that information. Cities, from San Francisco and Miami to Boulder and Kansas City, are similarly committed to leveraging data to tackle local challenges. Because volumes of available information exceed the capacity of any single municipality to apply it, and because cities make much of it publicly available, architects, planners, and urban designers have a new, powerful resource—and a role to assume. “When working in 2-D, it used to be that designers would come up with one or two options, then clients end up with one of those,” said Jay Mezher, the Director of Virtual Design and Construction at Parsons Brinckerhoff. “The advantage with Big Data in design is that there is so much information that you can make the best decision for each project.”

Because it synthesizes complex information, these data-laden visualizations can have a clarifying effect on project coordination. As Mezher explained, “with infrastructure jobs, it’s not just one client making the decisions. It’s sometimes five or ten stakeholders—cities, counties, agencies—so any decision needs to go through many different layers.” For its work on the State Route 99 tunnel, in Seattle, Parsons Brinckerhoff built eight different models within the city context, comparing eight different scenarios that involved underground utilities, all underground facilities, alignments, and an environmental impact statement.

This is what Justin Lokitz, a senior product line manager at Autodesk, calls “horizontal building information modeling.” To carry out that modeling, the company developed InfraWorks, the software used for the Seattle tunnel design that, as he said, “brings in data from different sources and allows different constituents and stakeholders to act on it—it makes data real.”

This modeled data allows these stakeholders to see the ramifications of design decisions. “For a highway job, for example, it’s not just cars illustrated on a road—it’s actual traffic patterns,” said Mezher, underscoring the distinction between projected traffic versus representing the traffic in real time, as found in data. “Then,” he added, “if you need to consider other factors—noise volumes, carbon emissions, construction schedules—you can incorporate that data, too, for clients to understand different aspects of a job.”


InfraWorks by Autodesk

InfraWorks, a new data software for infrastructure developed by Autodesk, is modeled on BIM, but uses “horizontal” information, including traffic patterns—which is richer information than just vehicle counts—noise volumes, construction schedules, and pollution emissions. Multiple government agencies can access the information to coordinate work, and advocates and neighborhood groups can track potential impacts on affected communities. This information can be used to model how design changes—to highways, tunnels, rail lines, etc.—can shape outcomes before construction begins.

Courtesy Autodesk

Long the very apotheosis of permanence, modern cities have come to be made at something of a generational pace, with major works grinding their way through approval and construction (with fingers crossed for their effectiveness). Now, as their flows of information become better understood, cities seem to be moving toward something more fluid, where projects can be tailored for maximum efficiency, and where they can be tweaked and adjusted in light of changing conditions.

Consider Hudson Yards. Earlier this year, Related Companies and Oxford Properties, the developers of the over $20-billion Manhattan development, announced a partnership with New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) to make Hudson Yards what they called “the nation’s first ‘quantified community.’” Working with CUSP, the developers will gauge metrics like pedestrian flows, air quality, energy usage, and waste disposal. As Related president Jay Cross said in a statement, “we will harness big data to continually innovate, optimize and enhance the employee, resident, and visitor experience.” Seen in another way, CUSP will be doing the work of William H. Whyte, but on a scale unimaginable to the 20th century observationist.

“Data is not new, it’s something city planners have always used,” said Kelly Floyd, who co-curated Chicago: City of Big Data, on view through August 2015 at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, where she is manager of exhibition and visitor engagement. “Daniel Burnham included train schedules and census data in his urban plans. Big Data is a buzzword now, but it’s important for people to know how their environment will be affected by it.”

To that end, researchers at MIT Media Lab are going after innovative ways to bring Big Data into the community engagement process, long the domain of sticky notes and colored markers. Its CityScope project has developed a tangible model that community members can manipulate in real time to determine just how their suggestions would perform. As Media Lab research scientist J. Ira Winder explains, “it gives the community members what a printed map and a marker could never give them: feedback.”


Hudson Yards/CUSP

Private developers are also getting into the data game. At Hudson Yards, a vast new neighborhood now under construction on Manhattan’s far West Side, developers Related Companies and Oxford properties have teamed with New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) to make the neighborhood the most connected and analyzed in the city. Pedestrian and transit flows will be measured, along with retail traffic and dollars spent—serving both public and commercial interests.

Energy, solid waste, and water benchmarking will also be instituted to improve environmental performance and cut costs for the building owners. Residents and area employees will also be able to opt-in to health monitoring applications, which will help demonstrate the beneficial aspects of living and working in this new urban district.

Courtesy Related Companies

“The models work to augment existing models for stakeholder meetings,” he added. “These would provide evidence-based community engagement processes.” Likening them to Lego blocks, Winder said they would allow participants to see how certain changes would affect the entire design. In this way, it bridges the gap between experts and non-experts. Rather than having community members mark up drawings and maps at a public forum, then rolling them up and having planners and experts retreat with them to evaluate the efficacy of the suggestions, the CityScope model would short-circuit that divide, allowing community members to get real-time feedback. As Winder puts it, “a lot of the knowledge of experts can now be imbued in the data.”

Placed in William H. Whyte’s timeline, the use of Big Data in urbanism would be somewhere in the mid-1970s. Hypotheses have been made, tools developed, observations made, and trials run, but it is still an emerging field.

“I always preface conversations about this topic with the disclaimer that in terms of using data sources, we are still at the tip of the iceberg,” said Shaxted. “We are just starting the exploration, and we don’t fully understand what the outcomes will be.”

If the degree to which BIM changed buildings can be made to foreshadow Big Data’s potential in urbanism, the city scale is set to change significantly, even radically. “In other disciplines, there has been a lot of emphasis on certain scales—the cell, for example, or the brain,” said Shaxted, adding that this attention normally leads to big breakthroughs. “The city as a unit of study is just getting started, so once discoveries are made into urban systems, perhaps we’ll begin to see completely new ways of making cities.”


SOM City Design Practice for Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development

Recognized as experts in the field, SOM Chicago’s City Design Practice has been asked to help solve one of the Windy City’s chronic problems: basement and street flooding and sewage overflows. Working with the University of Chicago and the Department of City Planning and Development, the urban design team developed detailed analysis of open space, impermeable surfaces, and water flows. The data will be used to precisely target green and grey infrastructure interventions to maximize their impacts and minimize capital costs. The project shows how the deployment of Big Data projects, a relatively new field and practice, is already being used to address real world challenges. SOM Chicago previously used similar analysis in the Chicago Lakeside Master Plan, the plan for a massive new neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, where stormwater will be managed on site.

Courtesy SOM
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Back on Track
Outside and inside the ETFE-covered ARTIC station. A massive curtain wall floods the space with light and connects it to its surroundings.
Sam Lubell / AN

In early December the city of Anaheim cut the ribbon on ARTIC, the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center. The building’s significance cannot be understated: It is California’s first major foray into high-speed rail, and if all goes according to plan, it will eventually be one of the southern anchors for the system. In addition to housing high-speed rail facilities, the building, designed by HOK, with engineering by Thornton Tomasetti (Structural), Parsons Brinckerhoff (project manager and civil engineer), and BuroHappold (MEP), hosts regional rail, bus, automobile, and bicycles, not to mention shops and restaurants.

California High Speed Rail broke ground in Fresno a few weeks after ARTIC opened. The network is expected to eventually stretch 800 miles from Sacramento to San Diego and include 24 stations. Other major nodes are much further behind. Los Angeles is just beginning radical changes to Union Station, designed by Grimshaw and Gruen, and San Francisco is building Cesar Pelli’s Transbay Transit Center. Even Fresno is ramping up, hiring AECOM to study a station there. But car-dominated Anaheim insisted on being first. And ARTIC will likely set the tone for stations moving forward.

Courtesy City of Anaheim

The wide-open, multi-level station, which looks out at Anaheim’s Honda Center and the surrounding mountains, is topped with a diamond-gridded, 3-layered ETFE roof, and fronted by two of the largest self-supporting curtain walls in the world, each measuring about 120 feet tall.

The extruded arch structure— whose form was reportedly inspired by the area’s huge blimp hangars—is full of complex systems, and is aiming for a LEED Platinum rating. At its heart, it is a simple building: A large translucent tent arched over a stepped edifice, climbing its way toward the tracks. It is this simplicity that calls attention to the most important elements—light, space, and circulation. Being inside feels much like being outside, and the temperature feels perfect, not too hot, but not overwhelmed by air conditioning. Even when full of people (which hopefully it will continue to be after the opening), it does not feel too loud or crowded.

Sam Lubell / AN

The interior’s dramatic easiness is all the more important considering the concrete-dominated, shade-challenged landscape outside, which, while punctuated by rows of palm trees, is not as lush or welcoming as it could be. And because of alignment necessities, the station is far removed from its tracks, sucking some of the rail-inspired energy out of the project.

High Speed Rail has the potential to transform how Californians think about transportation, and to transform the state’s cities. But because ARTIC is located far from any notable urban center—the area is dominated by freeway interchanges and stadium parking lots—its significant architectural impact is more symbolic than practical.

But one cannot underestimate that impact. Approaching the station from the tracks, despite their lack of proximity, opens up a breathtaking, multi-story expanse below you. High-tech materials suggest the future, but in a natural, breezy way, not in the cold, generic one that many new airports and train station evoke. You are no longer thinking of the car-based atmosphere around you. You are thinking of how you can catch a train down here again. Hopefully thousands more will agree.

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Cleveland looks to link lakefront and downtown with soaring pedestrian bridge
Cleveland's lakefront attractions and downtown have long been estranged neighbors, not easily accessed from one another without a car. The city and Cuyahoga County plan to fix that, offering a 900-foot bridge for pedestrians and bicycles that will hop over railroad tracks and The Shoreway, a lakefront highway built in the 1930s. The $25 million bridge takes off from the downtown Mall, touching down between the I.M. Pei–designed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center, designed by Boston's E. Verner Johnson. Another Bostonian is heading up design duties for the new bridge. Miguel Rosales' firm Rosales Partners hatched three design schemes with the help of Parsons Brinckerhoff. The final design has not been selected, and regional officials say it will come down to community input. Construction is expected to begin May 2015, wrapping up by June 2016. But before that, public authorities are seeking comment from the bridge's eventual users by hosting a free public meeting from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 13, in the County Council chambers on the fourth floor of the county administration building, 2079 East Ninth Street, Cleveland. All the options are visually striking. Whether suspension, cable-stayed, or arched, the bone-white bridge wends through renderings made public last week, framing the Cleveland Browns' lakeside FirstEnergy Stadium. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Steven Litt wrote, the bridge fulfills a longtime goal of planners and urbanists in northeast Ohio:
Creating a bridge from the Mall to North Coast Harbor and lakefront attractions including the Rock Hall has been something of a holy grail in Cleveland city planning for nearly two decades. Yet until now, the city has been unable to mobilize support and fund the project. The city failed three times in recent years to win a federal grant for the project under the TIGER program, short for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.
But now, Litt wrote, the city and county each agreed to kick in $10 million, which led the state to close the $5 million gap. A 2013 city-county partnership and the news that Cleveland would host the next Republican National Convention apparently provided the incentive they needed to take on the project, which officials said will be complete by the convention in 2016. The three design options are as follows: The suspension bridge option: The cable-stayed option: The arch option:
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Eavesdrop> West Coast Odds and Ends
In one of the few towns where the AIA has serious pull, the AIA San Francisco has named Jennifer Jones as its new Executive Director. Longtime HMC principal Kate Diamond has left her position and is looking for a new job. While it pales in comparison to the news that AECOM has merged with URS, forming the biggest firm in the galaxy, WSP has bought “global design giant” Parsons Brinckerhoff for $1.35 billion. That’s no joke either. Finally, after more than six years of waiting, SOM has begun work on its massive redevelopment of the WWII-era housing development, Park Merced. In San Francisco that’s like waiting for fifteen minutes.