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Location, location, location

How Baidu Maps turns location data into 3-D cityscapes—and big profits

Level 3, number 203. Turn right 10 feet. Go straight for 15 feet. The best way to experience data's strong grip on everyday life in China is to open up Baidu Maps, a mapping app by China’s biggest search engine company, and walk around a shopping mall for one afternoon. Inside the building, a network of Bluetooth beacons, Wi-Fi modems, and satellites from a global navigation satellite system whir and ping through the air and the ionosphere to determine your precise location. The map on the Baidu app tilts to reveal an elaborately modeled 3-D cityscape.

The resolution of Baidu Maps is stunning: Entire cities are modeled in 3-D. Within public buildings, the floorplan of each building level is precisely mapped. As I stand inside the Taikoo Hui Mall in the city of Guangzhou, China, I search for a store within the mall. Baidu Maps reveals which level the store is on and how many meters I need to walk. Strolling through the mall with the app tracking my location with a blue dot on the screen, life starts to feel like a virtual reality experience. The difference between the map's 3-D model and the reality beneath my feet is smaller than ever. The 3-D model makes an uncanny loop: Virtual models were used by architects and designers to design these spaces, which now unfold on a messy plane between real space and screen space.

China now has its own tech giants—Alibaba, JD.com, Tencent Holdings, and Baidu—homegrown behind the Great Firewall of China. Like their American counterparts, these companies have managed to surveil their users and extract valuable data to create new products and features. Baidu began as a search engine, but has now branched out into autonomous driving, and therefore, maps. The intricacy of its 3-D visualizations is the result of over 600 million users consulting the app for navigation every day or using apps that rely on Baidu Maps in the background, such as weather apps that rely on its geolocation features.

The tech company, like its counterparts such as Google, take advantage of multiple features available in smartphones. Smartphones possess the ability to determine users’ positions by communicating with an array of satellites such as GPS (Global Positioning Service); GLONASS, Russia’s version of GPS; or BeiDou, China’s satellite navigation system. Such satellite systems are public infrastructures created by American, Russian, and Chinese governments, respectively, that enable our phones to determine users’ precise longitude and latitude coordinates. The majority of apps and services on smartphones rely on location services, from food delivery to restaurant reviews. However, satellite navigation systems are still imprecise—they are often a few meters off, with anything from the weather to tall buildings affecting accuracy.

However, smartphones contain more than satellite signal receiver chips. A slew of other sensors, such as accelerometers, light sensors, and magnets are embedded in the average smartphone. In 2015, Baidu invested $10 million in IndoorAtlas, a Silicon Valley startup that specializes in indoor mapping. The company's technology is at the forefront of magnetic positioning, which allows indoor maps at 1-meter accuracy to be created simply by using an average smartphone. This technology relies on the Earth's geomagnetic field and the magnets in smartphones. By factoring in the unique magnetic "fingerprint" of each building based on the composition of its materials, such as steel, a building's floor plan can be mapped out without any data provided by the architect. However, this strategy requires user data at scale; multiple user paths need to be recorded and averaged out to account for any anomalies. Gathering large amounts of data from users becomes an imperative.

Floorplans aside, magnetic positioning is not the only dimension of user location data collection that allows data to become a spatial model. As people drive, bike, and walk, each user generates a spatial "trace" that also has velocity data attached to it. Through such data, information about the type of path can be derived: Is it a street, a sidewalk, or a highway? This information becomes increasingly useful in improving the accuracy of Baidu Maps itself, as well as Baidu's autonomous vehicle projects.

The detailed 3-D city models on Baidu Maps offer data that urban designers dream of, but such models only serve Baidu's interests. Satellite navigation system accuracy deteriorates in urban canyons, due to skyscrapers and building density, obscuring satellites from the receiver chip. These inaccuracies are problematic for autonomous vehicles, given the "safety critical" nature of self-driving cars. Baidu's 3-D maps are not just an aesthetic “wow factor” but also a feature that addresses positioning inaccuracies. By using 3-D models to factor in the sizes and shapes of building envelopes, inaccuracies in longitude and latitude coordinates can be corrected.

Much of this research has been a race between U.S. and Chinese companies in the quest to build self-driving cars. While some 3-D models come from city planning data, in China's ever-changing urban landscape, satellite data has proved far more helpful in generating 3-D building models. Similar to Google's 3-D-generated buildings, a combination of shadow analysis, satellite imagery, and street view have proved essential for automatically creating 3-D building models rather than the manual task of user-generated, uploaded buildings or relying on city surveyors for the most recent and accurate building dimensions.

None of this data is available to the people who design cities or buildings. Both Baidu and Google have End User License Agreements (EULAs) that restrict where their data can be used, and emphasize that such data has to be used within Baidu or Google apps. Some data is made available for computer scientists and self-driving car researchers, such as Baidu's Research Open-Access Dataset (BROAD) training data sets. Most designers have to rely on free, open-source data such as Open Street Maps, a Wikipedia-like alternative to Baidu and Google Maps. By walling off valuable data that could help urban planning, tech companies are gaining a foothold and control over the reality of material life: they have more valuable insights into transport networks and the movements of people than urban designers do. It's no surprise then, that both Baidu and Google are making forays into piloting smart cities like Toronto’s Quayside or Shanghai's Baoshan District, and gaining even greater control over urban space. No doubt, urban planning and architecture are becoming increasingly automated and privately controlled in the realm of computer scientists rather than designers.

In Shoshana Zuboff's 2019 book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, she examines how tech companies throughout the world are employing surveillance and data extraction methods to turn users into free laborers. Our “behavioral surplus,” as she terms it, becomes transformed into products that are highly lucrative for these companies, and feature proprietary, walled-off data that ordinary users cannot access, even though their labor has helped create these products. These products are also marketed as “predictive,” which feeds the desires of companies that hope to anticipate users’ behavior—companies that see users only as targets of advertising.

Over the past several years, American rhetoric surrounding the Chinese “surveillance state” has reached fever pitch. But while China is perceived to be a single-party communist country with state-owned enterprises that do its bidding, the truth is, since the 1990s, much of the country’s emphasis has been on private growth. Baidu is a private company, not a state-owned enterprise. Companies like Baidu have majority investment from global companies, including many U.S.-based funds like T. Rowe Price, Vanguard, and BlackRock. As China's economy slows down, the government is increasingly pressured to play by the rules of the global capitalist book and offer greater freedom to private companies alongside less interference from the government. However, private companies often contract with the government to create surveillance measures used across the country.

The rhetoric about the dangers of Chinese state surveillance obfuscates what is also happening in American homes—literally. As Google unveils home assistants that interface with other “smart” appliances, and Google Maps installed on mobile phones tracks user locations, surveillance becomes ubiquitous. Based on your location data, appliances can turn on as you enter your home, and advertisements for milk from your smart fridge can pop up as you walk by the grocery stores. Third-party data provider companies also tap into geolocation data, and combined with the use of smart objects like smart TVs, toasters, and fridges, it's easy to see why the future might be filled with such scenarios. Indeed, if you own certain smart appliances, Google probably knows what the inside of your home is like. In 2018, iRobot, the maker of the Roomba vacuum, announced that it was partnering with Google to improve the indoor mapping of homes, and now setting up a Roomba with Google Home has never been easier. Big tech companies in the U.S. would like us to believe that surveillance is worse elsewhere, when really, surveillance capitalism is a global condition.

Over the past 30 years, cities around the world have been the locus of enormous economic growth and corresponding increases in inequality. Metropolitan areas with tech-driven economies, such as the Shenzhen-Guangzhou-Hong Kong corridor and the Greater Bay Area, are home to some of the largest tech companies in the world. They are also home to some of the most advanced forms of technological urbanism: While Baidu may not have every single business mapped in rural China, it certainly has the listing of every shop in every mall of Guangzhou.

The overlap between cities as beacons of capital and as spaces where surveillance is ubiquitous is no coincidence. As Google’s parent company, Alphabet, makes moves to build cities and as Baidu aggressively pursues autonomous driving, data about a place, the people who live there, and their daily movements is increasingly crucial to the project of optimizing the city and creating new products, which in turn generates more wealth and more inequality. Places like San Francisco and Shenzhen are well-mapped by large tech companies but harbor some of the worst income gaps in the world.

The "smart city" urbanism enabled by surveillance and ubiquitous data collection is no different from other forms of development that erode affordable housing and public space. Reclaiming our cities in this digital age is not just about reclaiming physical space. We must also reclaim our data.

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Canopy Connections

Studio Gang and SCAPE team up for Arkansas cultural project
MacArthur Fellows Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang and Kate Orff of SCAPE Landscape Architecture are teaming up to re-envision the prestigious Arkansas Arts Center (AAC) and adjacent MacArthur Park in Little Rock, Arkansas. Set to break ground this fall, the 127,000-square-foot project—both a renovation and new construction effort—will help clarify the 104-year-old cultural institution’s interior organization, while also amplifying its presence in the historic landscape with a contemporary visual identity. Gang said the firm’s vision will “unlock new connections” between the existing programming on site, which includes a renowned Museum School, Children’s Theatre, and a gallery space that hosts the AAC’s permanent art collection. Since the Center opened on this site in 1937, several major additions have been built. By 1963, the museum had five galleries, four studio classrooms, sculpture courtyards, an art library, and a 381-seat theater, but according to Studio Gang, the AAC suffered from inefficient operational adjacencies—meaning it’s hard for visitors to get from one area to the other. To fix this issue, the design team will create what they call a “stem” that cuts through and “blossoms” to the north and south of the Center. A pleated, thin-plate structure that appears to lightly undulate across the site and into MacArthur Park, the new architecture will not only anchor new visitor amenities but also define a new public gallery and gathering space while simultaneously weaving together the AAC’s various programs. “New daylit spaces linked through the core of the Center will facilitate movement and create a series of vibrant, new public spaces for social interaction, education, and appreciation for the arts,” said Gang in a statement. Initial aerial renderings reveal the way this simple architecture intervention will strengthen the Center’s programming and relationship with the park. Located on the south side of the museum on a current parking lot, Studio Gang has designed a 10,000-square-foot outdoor pavilion underneath the structural canopy with room for dining and respite in the shade. The transparent skin of the structure will provide visitors with a direct connection to nature. In time, SCAPE’s landscape addition, which will include 2,200 linear feet of new paths and trails, as well as 250 trees, will merge with the Center’s canopy to become a parkland forest. Just as important to the revitalization project will be the renovation of all existing facilities on site. Studio Gang will renovate the original 1937 Museum of Fine Arts facade (the AAC’s former name) which serves as the northern entrance. According to the architects, from there they will “excavate” the existing building—a series of fortress-like spaces—by opening up the lecture hall, theater, and studios, among others parts to the new public areas. For example, on the north end, there will be a 5,500-square-foot "Cultural Living Room" that can be both a flexible gathering space or play host to special events. The massive cultural project is being backed by an ambitious $128 million fundraising campaign. So far, $118 million has already been raised, including a $31,245,000 commitment from the City of Little Rock. The new Arkansas Arts Center is expected to be complete in early 2022.
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Hoosier Finalist

SCAPE, Snøhetta, Hood Design among finalists for major Indianapolis project
Three finalists have been invited to develop their ideas for new public spaces at a former General Motors site in Indianapolis. The developer Ambrose Property Group partnered with Exhibit Columbus and the Central Indiana Community Foundation to identify a shortlist of studios to develop specific areas of Waterside, a massive $1.4 billion redevelopment of the 103-acre former GM stamping plant site. The shortlisted teams are: 1) Hood Design Studio with Thomas Phifer and Partners and Arup; 2) SCAPE with SO-IL, Guy Nordenson and Associates, James Lima Planning + Development, Art Strategies, Nelson\Nygaard, and Manuel Miranda Practice; and 3) Snøhetta with Moody Nolan, Arup, HR&A, Art Strategies, and Chris Wangro. According to the announcement, the finalists were selected based on their experience working on projects of a similar size and scale as well as for their design acumen. Waterside was announced last year by Ambrose as a new downtown district on the site of the former GM plant that has sat in disuse since the motor company declared bankruptcy almost a decade ago. (The same site was also being proposed as a potential Amazon HQ2 hub by Indiana officials). It would include 1,350 residential units, 620 hotel rooms, 2.75 million square feet of office space, and 100,000 square feet of retail with a projected development timeline of 15 years. The Waterside Design Competition zeroes in on the adaptive reuse of 25,000 square feet of the Albert Kahn–designed Crane Bay; the design of a public plaza around Crane Bay; and a pedestrian connection across the White River to link the site to Indianapolis's urban core. The three teams will present their design philosophies and approaches to the public on June 12 in Indianapolis. Later in October, they will present their conceptual schemes, and the winner will be decided by a jury of community stakeholders and national experts.
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Torts, Tech, Towers

Weekend edition: Tech urbanism, liability explained, and more
Missed some of this week’s architecture news, or our tweets and Facebook posts from the last few days? Don’t sweat it—we’ve gathered the week’s must-read stories right here. Enjoy! Forty-five story jail tower could be coming to Lower Manhattan The plan to close the jail facilities on Rikers Island is chugging along, but community opposition towards the borough-based replacements is bubbling over. The origins and perils of development in the urban tech landscape Author and professor Sharon Zukin looks at the history and the origins of the urban tech landscape, and how it has manifested in New York and elsewhere. Are design professionals liable for failing to anticipate the effects of climate change? Two experts give advice to architects about their legal liability in designing for climate change in their projects—just following code may not be enough. After Hudson Yards, Sunnyside could be New York's next megadevelopment After New York City's Hudson Yards megadevelopment elicited critical disappointment when it opened, our editor in chief posits Sunnyside could be next. Mexico City’s cost-saving replacement airport to break ground in June President Andrés Manuel López Obrador canceled the $13 billion Mexico City airport after a public referendum, but the alternative will soon break ground. Have a great weekend, and see you Monday!
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clay for days

University of Oregon’s Tykeson Hall announces a campus presence with a terra-cotta and brick facade
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Tykeson Hall, currently wrapping up construction, is nestled in the center of the University of Oregon’s Eugene campus. Designed by Portland’s OFFICE 52 Architecture, the intervention consolidates classrooms, academic advisors, counseling, and tutoring for nearly 23,000 students under one roof. The 64,000-square-foot academic building carefully inserts itself into the campus with a variegated terra-cotta and brick facade with moments of glass curtain wall. The building, like much of the campus, rises as a rectangular mass with a series of incisions and setbacks for daylighting and programmatic purposes. To match with the cornice height of the surrounding structures, Tykeson Hall tops out at four stories.
  • Facade Manufacturer Shildan Group Mutual Materials Hardscape and Masonry Kawneer Vitro Hartung Viracon
  • Architects OFFICE 52 Architecture Rowell Brokaw Architects
  • Facade Installer Streimer Sheet Metal Davidson's Masonry Culver Glass Company
  • Location Eugene, Oregon
  • Date of Completion Summer 2019
  • System Kawneer 1600 Wall System Open-joint rainscreen system with a fully thermally broken aluminum window system
  • Products Custom extruded terra-cotta tiles by Shildan Group Mutual Materials Hardscape and Masonry Columbia Red and Autumn Blend Vitro Solarban 60 & 70 Viracon VE-1-2M
The principal material for the exterior envelope is a terra-cotta rainscreen system composed of 3,100 vertical tiles manufactured in Germany by the Shildan Group. This is the first application of terra-cotta on the historic campus in over eighty years—and earlier examples are chiefly decorative rather than performative. All of the terra-cotta tiles roughly measure six inches by three-to-five feet and are clipped to an aluminum grid at both their top and bottom. In using such a straightforward fastening method, the tiles can be easily removed, repaired, or replaced. Visually striking from multiple vantage points across the campus, the pattern of the matte-glazed terra-cotta tiles was developed from the study of Oregon's natural landscape and the architectural context of the University of Oregon's campus. "We looked at numerous color combinations and determined that five colors were necessary so that no color was ever repeated adjacent to itself on any side," said Office 52 founding principal Michelle LaFoe and principal Isaac Campbell. "We then produced keyed drawings that called out every one of the 3,100 tiles, and we made full-scale mock-ups of the final options in our studio. The final resolution of the palette came down to a gray palette that had both warm and cool colors." The most common material element found throughout the campus is brick, loadbearing in the case of historic structures, curtain for the contemporary. The existing brick color palette is largely brownish-red and arranged according to the simple Stretcher bond pattern—bricks overlaying each other midway on each successive course. For the project, the university required OFFICE 52 Architecture integrate this overarching aesthetic into the design of Tykeson Hall. To this end, the design team researched prospective brick layouts to enliven the facade along the east, north, and south elevations of the project. "During our research, we discovered an interesting pattern known as an English Cross bond, which creates a diagonal pattern by staggering the vertical mortar joints from course to course," continued LaFoe and Campbell. "Intrigued with this pattern and seeking to increase its scale, we added a course of longer Norman bricks to the pattern, creating a new pattern which we called a Norman Cross bond." For the coloring of these three elevations of brick, OFFICE 52 Architecture worked with Mutual Materials Hardscape and Masonry to develop a custom-blend of their Columbia Red and Autumn Blend brick types. In total, 78,000 bricks were used for the project, with the design team using building information modeling software to ensure the pattern corresponded with window returns and corner finishes. The bulk of the project's fenestration is composed of punched window openings. However, one-story glass curtainwall projects from the prevailing sedimentary mass along the north, west, and south elevations. Tykeson Hall is estimated to be completed in July 2019.
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The Sea, The Sea Ranch

Another view on Sea Ranch and its SFMOMA exhibit
The exhibit The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment, and Idealism at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) closes in a month. If you are in San Francisco, it’s worth seeing for many reasons. It shows that the SFMOMA’s architecture curators can do a lot with a little square footage. (Why so little is another question!) Wisely, they focused on the optimistic beginnings and not the whole controversial history of the development. In doing so, they captured a golden moment for architecture in the Bay Region, when ecology and development and modernism and postmodernism touched and kissed. After more than 50 years, Sea Ranch has a lot of narratives. Concentrating on the community’s beginnings, when there was a strong collective spirit, highlights the project’s hope, which is in short supply these days. The heavy truth about Sea Ranch is that designing an ecologically sensitive community a three-hour drive from San Francisco falls outside our current green script. The early narrative belongs primarily to landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, the architect-developer Al Boeke, and the founders of Moore Lyndon Turnbull Whitaker (MLTW) and Joseph Esherick & Associates (later Esherick Homsey Dodge & Davis). Their story has many interesting turns, not the least of which is the dominance of Halprin, who emphasized the dramatic landscape over architecture. The MLTW buildings were strong yet self-effacing on the exterior and exuberant and joyous on the interior. This balance was rarely struck again. After more than 50 years, with many of the lots developed, the Sea Ranch community has largely returned to focusing on stewardship of the natural landscape—even if much of that landscape was formed by the different humans who occupied the land. If I have quibbles about the exhibit, they are more with the handsomely designed catalog than with the show. Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher’s essay mentions Salton Sea, which has little relevance to Sea Ranch, but she does not discuss Berkeley’s Greenwood Commons. The core ideas of Sea Ranch can be found in that small community, which Lawrence Halprin planned below the John Galen Howard–designed house that was occupied for many decades by William Wurster, dean of the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley. Curator Joe Becker’s essay locates Sea Ranch in the modernist idiom. Developer Al Boeke had worked for Neutra, Halprin had studied with Gropius, and Turnbull worked with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. While Becker mentions that Moore, Lyndon, and Turnbull had studied with Louis Kahn when he taught at Princeton, he doesn’t connect that to a larger trajectory that the three were following. For example, he mentions Sea Ranch’s various “saddlebags” and “aediculae” as key design moments, but I would argue that these point to an attempt on the part of Kahn’s students to move away from the strict confines of modernism and to give architecture a deeper meaning beyond aesthetic purity. Condominium 1 is a bridge to a restrained postmodernism. The exteriors and the studies for variations look like an experimental modernist exercise, except for the quirky interior spaces and—in the case of Charles Moore’s unit, partially reconstructed in the exhibit—the riot of color and sly historic references. Bobbie Stauffacher Solomon’s graphics inside Sea Ranch’s recreation centers (and, to a smaller degree, inside Sea Ranch Lodge) are another example of the bridge from the severity of modernism to the exuberance of postmodernism. Stauffacher Solomon is the secret star of the show. Unfortunately, her own small exhibit on the third floor was up for only two months. Hopefully, she will get a larger exhibit in the future. (Again, the problem of too little space for architecture and design!) The exhibition itself draws the visitor in with Stauffacher Solomon’s bright angled graphics and then the smell of wood. At Sea Ranch itself, that smell might come from the trees (second growth), the house interiors, or the fireplaces. Here, it originates from the lumber used for the brilliant reproduction of the living space of Moore’s condominium unit. Typically, architecture exhibitions have small models, drawings, and photographs. The now-famous Case Study House exhibit of 1989 to 1990, which helped revive interest in modernism, succeeded, in part, because of two complete full-scale models and one model, similar to this, of a living room (that of noted designers Charles and Ray Eames). Besides giving the three-dimensional experience of a space, this model also divides the room into distinctive gallery spaces for exhibits on different aspects of Sea Ranch’s formation. Inside the reconstructed living room of Moore’s unit, a video plays, in which many of the original designers (or their spouse, in the case of Bill Turnbull) talk about the community and its successes and failures. Unfortunately, nobody from Esherick’s office is represented. Recently deceased partner George Homsey built a wonderful modest cabin at Sea Ranch for his own family, but it is barely known and not covered here. Perhaps he was not well enough to be interviewed. The museum’s architecture curators have created a show and catalog that will hold the attention of architects, the Bay Area’s many knowledgeable laypeople, and people who know nothing of Sea Ranch or its importance. The combination of materials and the emphasis on the optimistic beginnings achieve this. Even if the original vision of Sea Ranch (utopians vs. land development being the obvious trope) was partially lost, the stewardship of this dramatic place where the land meets the sea and man meets nature still maintains its relevance and draws us there frequently. This exhibit encourages the dialog about the results of well-intended design in late capitalism.
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Overcoming Obese-city

In Jackson, Mississippi, architects are taking on a citywide hunger problem

By more than one measure, Jackson, Mississippi, is one of the nation’s unhealthiest cities. In 2017, it was named the fattest city in America based on 17 indicators, including obesity rates, levels of physically active adults, and access to fresh produce. In fact, nearly one-fifth of city residents are considered food insecure. The state of Mississippi does not fare much better—for the last eight years, it was reported as the most food insecure state in the country, even though agriculture is the state’s top industry. 

It’s not just that Jackson has only 17 grocery stores for a population of nearly 170,000—that’s one per nearly 10,000 people. But the food that is available is disproportionately tipped toward fast food and gas station items. As one scholar of Jackson’s food culture told the Clarion Ledger, “Hunger happens in between bags of chips.” 

All of this is compounded by the city’s lack of viable public transit options. Jackson is designed around the car, but many residents, whose wallets are already stretched thin on federal food assistance dollars, don’t own one. Even those with groceries or farmers’ markets in walking distance are discouraged by the lack of sidewalks or crosswalks. These conditions are undergirded by decades of generational poverty and disinvestment due to white flight, unfavorable tax policies, and the state’s aggressive efforts to cut resources for Medicaid and limit food stamps.

But Jackson also has a long history of civil rights activism, and its residents in 2013 and again in 2017 elected mayors who promised nothing less than wholesale social and economic transformation. For Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, addressing Jackson’s food access challenge is part of his promise to make it “the most radical city in the world.” But rather than enlisting conventional strategies, the city has mobilized its long-range planning division to lead a new design-based initiative. Bolstered by a $1 million public art grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, “Fertile Ground: Inspiring Dialogue about Food Access” brings together architects and artists alongside chefs, gardeners, food policy experts, and local institutions to facilitate a year of community-engaged interventions at three sites in the city. The project will culminate in a citywide exhibition in the spring of 2020, but ultimately it aims to establish a nonprofit research lab on food access that will operate on a permanent basis to sustain the momentum that is created.

The city invited an intriguing roster of architects and designers from around the country to participate in the multidisciplinary initiative: Kathy Velikov and Geoffrey Thün, directors of RVTR; Anya Sirota and Jean Louis Farges of Akoaki; Walter Hood of Hood Design Studio, and Jonathan Tate, who runs his namesake practice, Office of Jonathan Tate. Architects are central to the project, said Travis Crabtree, a senior urban planner with the city and one of the project’s coordinators. “When we first got the grant, people asked, Why are we spending $1 million dollars on an art project when we could feed people for a million?” he said.

Looking more closely at what these designers bring to the table may illustrate what can be gained from this approach. The question of access is at the heart of practices like the Toronto and Ann Arbor, Michigan–based RVTR, led by Velikov and Thün, who are both associate professors at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. In their ongoing project, Protean Prototypes, they conceive of public transit systems as platforms to address access to mobility, food, education, and health. They do this by mapping the social and spatial opportunities for access, connecting underserved areas with local actors who can bridge access gaps and by proposing lightweight spatial prototypes that overlay onto public transit infrastructure, such as bus stops and metro stations. The prototypes might include emerging tech like mobile produce vending systems and bike-cart shares alongside other programs with a small footprint like exercise equipment and book lending programs. Applying this method to Chicago, San Francisco, and Detroit, this complex systems approach brings together architectural and urban scale in new assemblages that amplify the resources already on the ground and take advantage of the larger urban context to channel them where they are needed most.

In Jackson, Velikov and Thün will focus their efforts at the Ecoshed, a 15,000-square-foot, open-air building on a 2-acre industrial site that borders two very different neighborhoods—the rapidly gentrifying Fondren and Virden Addition, one of the poorest in the city. For Fertile Ground, the Ecoshed will demonstrate a self-sustaining closed-loop food system and host the food lab, and eventually host the Fertile Ground nonprofit.

Anya Sirota and Jean Louis Farges of Detroit-based Akoaki will also focus their efforts at the Ecoshed. Their practice has engaged with the problem of food access through four years of work with an urban farm in Detroit, the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm. Sirota is also an associate professor of architecture at Taubman. Detroit provides a uniquely fertile landscape for thinking about urban food access. According to Sirota, Detroit has 1,300 urban farms, but none of them are sustainable. At the 6-acre Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, sustainability for Sirota and Farges has meant strategizing beyond economics alone. To them, urban farms are hubs for urban regeneration, and they realized that multiple layers of activity and programming were needed to realize that potential. Like Velikov and Thün, they see architecture as a way of “amplifying the activity that’s already happening on the ground, to stitch together new and productive alliances.”

Detroit may be 1,000 miles from Jackson, but the connection between the two cities runs deep. Like Jackson, Detroit is a majority African American city, with many residents who have ties to Mississippi and other southern states. Thus, the Oakland Avenue farm grows many heritage products from Mississippi. Likewise, the association to agriculture is similarly fraught in both cities; as Sirota noted, “We are highly attuned to the idea that going back to the land isn’t necessarily representationally positive to everyone.” Rather than framing urban farming as a return to an idyllic past (and glossing over the history of slavery and policies that led to the dispossession or denial of land to freed slaves), Akoaki’s urban farm work is firmly sited in the urban. “We’ve become astutely aware that the neo-rural is not rural; it’s something that deserves an aesthetic that hybridizes all the aspirations of the city and combines them with the necessity to produce picturesque landscape and food.” Thus the practice’s design of pop-up performance spaces next to the farm’s kale fields for the Detroit African Funkestra is based on the colors and shapes of shuttered music venues across Detroit.

Another participating architect, Oakland-based landscape architect Walter Hood, has extensive experience designing cultural and urban landscapes. Hood, who is also a professor at University of California, Berkeley's  will focus his efforts at Galloway Elementary in Jackson. The 4.3-acre, publicly owned lot is currently a playfield for a local elementary school. According to the city’s planning department, this site is located in a lower-income residential neighborhood with little public space and bordered by a major street dominated by fast food establishments. The theme here will be on food and community.

This is a good fit for Hood. His projects in Charleston, South Carolina; Macon, Georgia; Detroit, and Philadelphia, among other cities, demonstrate a steady thread of incorporating community feedback, local culture, and collective memory into landscape and urban design. In his Water Table installation at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, Hood tapped into the ecology and history of rice production by mounting thousands of Carolina Gold rice plants in circular planters on a platform in a school courtyard, essentially recreating a rice paddy in downtown Charleston. The project resurfaced the link between rice production and the history of the slave labor that made Carolina’s rice industry possible. Afterwards, the project was dissembled and distributed, planter by planter, across schools and institutions in the area, and lived on to continue the conversation. This archaeological approach also surfaces in many other projects by Hood Studio, including its master plan for Detroit’s Rosa Parks neighborhood. Hood's work has long engaged with the idea of “being a protagonist in design," and, in reflecting on the future work in Jackson, asked, “How do we make a landscape powerful, so that once you do it, it has a resonance?”

Finally, at Congress Street, the third Fertile Ground site, New Orleans–based architect Jonathan Tate will bring his experience with food culture and exhibition design to a downtown storefront space. The Congress Street site is close to the heart of government and is intended to amplify the project to public officials and policymakers who work nearby.

For Tate, who designed the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, the task includes not only the adaptive reuse of an existing building but also the design of an outdoor parklet that invites the public in through greenscape and seating. The challenge will be to bring it all together—the art, the history, the contributions of numerous partners, and of course, engage critical feedback, in a downtown that goes quiet at 5 p.m. on weekdays. "Instead of a veneer you're walking through, it's about bringing the space of the building out into the street," he explained.

The architects, along with other Fertile Ground team members, began site visits in April, and will develop their proposals until the citywide expo in 2020.

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Image Object

AMO/OMA and UNStudio on designing in the age of social media
What does it mean for architecture publishing when everyone publishes? PLANE—SITE invited AMO/OMA and UNStudio to talk about how they see the role of social media in architecture and the relationships between image, object, and experience in their new short video “Building Images,” created for the World Architectural Festival 2018. The two firms and their representatives propose an array of different fears, hopes, uses, and possibilities of social media. AMO/OMA partner Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli is curious about what we capture and how we look—our desire to get at an “authenticity” of real life that instead might just suspend us in a state of “permanent voyeurism.” Of photographing and witnessing so many plural photographs of buildings, he says that there is “an obsession to unveil what are the mechanics behind the project…not just the final output.” UNStudio’s founder Ben van Berkel takes particular interest in the resonances and oscillations between the instantaneousness and ephemerality promoted by social platforms like Instagram and how these timescales relate to architecture, which he points out, is generally meant to last; it’s slow to come up and slow to come down. In this case, AMO/OMA architect Giacomo Ardesio suggests, it is even more important to have a gluttonous stream of images. It makes a building last beyond an individual moment of embodied experience—which is especially important for many of the more temporary works AMO designs—and also documents people’s own intimate experiences, as well as their social ones, with the space. Instagram photos can show how the buildings might be “engaging visitors beyond the program it is meant to solve.” Instagram gives architects and everyone “a more complete view,” says AMO’s Giulio Margheri. He means this both in comparison to a pre-social media era but also against the more “refined” photos of architecture magazines and shelter publications that used to be the only insight into a building short of being in it. But, van Berkel says, all this focus on social media might make some run the risk of being “one-off architects.” It also, like much of the internet, can flatten things: people flock to the same places to take the same photos, overrunning streets and turning them into photo ops. And so often Instagram photos aren’t really of buildings (though some certainly are); a building is just background, or so it seems. But what if we consider a building a background with its own agency? This is a theoretically interesting question, but one that also has a practical side that UNSudio explores by using Instagram and other social media as part of their post-occupancy analysis, in addition to measurements, sensor data, and interviews. It lets them ask, urban designer Dana Behrman says, “how do [people] actually appropriate the spaces?” This question often leads to surprising answers, and she cites the ways that the Arnhem Central Station UNStudio designed has been used as a site for performances.  And even the desire to get behind things that Laparelli seemed cautious of could be a good thing according to some. “Everyone produces images, the whole landscape has democratized,” says Machteld Kors, communications director of UNStudio. “People want to see where things come from, and how things are made. The storytelling in projects is becoming more and more important.” What "Building Images" shows is that perhaps it is architects who are trying to get behind the operations of things, asking why people show themselves in a certain building in certain ways. 
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And the winner is...

Graham Foundation announces 2019 architectural research grants winners
The Graham Foundation recently announced the winners of 63 grants for projects that ranged from exhibits on suburban housing stock to research on the effects of MTV on postmodern space. The Chicago-based foundation awarded more than $460,000 to awardees from around the world, selected from more than 500 proposals. In total, more than 4,500 projects have been funded by the Graham Foundation since 1956. New domestic formations, the topography of epidemics, and an examination of architecture's relationship to riots are among the projects awarded Graham funding. Below is a selection of the exhibits, publications, programs, and research projects that were among this year's awardees, with text provided by the Graham Foundation. Lap Chi Kwong and Alison Von Glinow  for the exhibit Smuggling Architecture "The history of the suburban house has been and continues to be codified in a handful of builder's manuals that offer a huge selection of home plans to pick-and-choose buyers. These builder homes are living artifacts: a domestic typology rigidly embedded within the American landscape. Smuggling Architecture seeks to reclaim the suburban housing stock that has been neglected by modern architecture. The exhibition optimistically smuggles meaning and value into the interiors of generic suburban house plans through architectural orders." The Extrapolation Factory, practice founded by Elliott P. Montgomery and Chris Woebken for the public program Metro Test Zones "Metro Test Zones, a new initiative from The Extrapolation Factory, proposes studying the way think-tanks work and distilling those approaches to make them accessible to communities and individuals. Providing tools for visualizing dreams from all sorts of cultural perspectives opens up new rhetorical spaces for questioning the world with greater potential for change." Frida Escobedo and Xavier Nueno for the research project An Atlas of New Mexican Ruins "If archeological ruins were rearranged during the postrevolutionary period in museums and historical sites to construct Mexico’s postcolonial identity, “designed ruins” have become the testimony of the undoing of the Mexican nation-state under the close supervision of transnational institutions and corporations... An Atlas of New Mexican Ruins aims, through a series of visual and theoretical case studies, to explore the destructive—although productive—architectural work of neoliberalism in Mexico." Nahyun Hwang & David Eugin Moon for the exhibit: Interim Urbanism: Youth, Dwelling, City "Youths represent a dynamic yet precarious section of today’s populations. No longer belonging to safe spaces of childhood, but not yet, if ever, integrated into the expected paradigms of traditional family structures, a large portion of today’s youths, while seemingly spontaneous in lifestyle choices and welcoming mobility, occupy the vulnerable spaces of the in-between and the prolonged interim. The project investigates the spaces that youths reside in, as they intersect with sustained sociopolitical and economic uncertainties, inequalities, and emergent lifestyles." Nandini Bagchee and Marlisa Wise for the exhibit: Homesteading and Cooperative Housing Movements in NYC, 1970s and 80s "The exhibition Homesteading and Cooperative Housing Movements in NYC, 1970s and 80s, tracks the impact of collective, self-organized practices such as squatting, homesteading, and resident mutual aid in New York City and examines the way in which they have shaped the city. By analyzing ownership models, construction methods, spatial techniques, and material practices deployed by the cooperative housing movement, and presenting them through an immersive and interactive environment, the exhibition asks audience members to imagine new models for equitable development and spatial commoning." Heather Hart  for the research project Afrotecture (Re)Collection "This work is unearthing, interpreting, and constructing architectures for liminal spaces that emerge from the intersection of notable African American narratives, architectural form, and theory. What might happen if the balcony of the infamous Lorraine Hotel—the Memphis, TN, establishment where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968—was replicated in a gallery space? Beatriz Colomina, Ignacio G. Galán, Evangelos Kotsioris, and Anna-Maria Meister for the publication Radical Pedagogies "Radical Pedagogies is a collaborative history project that explores a series of pedagogical experiments that played a crucial role in shaping architectural discourse and practice in the second half of the twentieth century. As a challenge to normative thinking, they questioned, redefined, and reshaped the postwar field of architecture. They are radical in the literal meaning stemming from the Latin radix (root), as they question the basis of architecture. These new modes of teaching shook foundations and disturbed assumptions, rather than reinforcing and disseminating them. They operated as small endeavors, sometimes on the fringes of institutions, but had long-lasting impact." Sara R. Harris and Jesse Lerner  for the film These Fragmentations Only Mean ... "In the late 1980s, the artist Noah Purifoy retired from his position of many years on the California Arts Council and moved from Sacramento to a remote desert site just north of Joshua Tree National Park. There, over the last fifteen years of his life, he created a complex series of assemblage sculptures and precarious architectural constructions that sprawl over ten acres of the high desert land, administered by the Noah Purifoy Foundation. With the support of the Noah Purifoy Foundation, this remarkable site is at the center of this documentary project." The full list of grantees is below and at the Graham Foundation site. EXHIBITIONS Florencia Alvarez Pacheco, (Buenos Aires, Argentina) Petra Bachmaier, Sean Gallero, and Iker Gil (Chicago, IL) Nandini Bagchee and Marlisa Wise (New York, NY) Shumi Bose, Emma Letizia Jones, Guillaume Othenin-Girard, and Nemanja Zimonjić (London, United Kingdom and Zürich, Switzerland) Nahyun Hwang and David Eugin Moon (New York, NY) Lap Chi Kwong and Alison Von Glinow (Chicago, IL) Sahra Motalebi (New York, NY) Anna Neimark (Los Angeles, CA) FILM/VIDEO/NEW MEDIA PROJECTS Rodrigo Brum and Sama Waly (Cairo, Egypt) Dani Gal (Berlin, Germany) Sara R. Harris and Jesse Lerner (Los Angeles, CA) Sean Lally (Lausanne, Switzerland)Lisa Malloy and J.P. Sniadecki (Evanston, IL and Redmond, WA) PUBLIC PROGRAMS The Extrapolation Factory: Elliott P. Montgomery and Chris Woebken (New York, NY) Anna Martine Whitehead (Chicago, IL) PUBLICATIONS Pep Avilés and Matthew Kennedy (Mexico City, Mexico and University Park, PA) Andrea Bagnato and Anna Positano (Genoa, Italy and Milan, Italy) Claire Bishop (New York, NY) Anna Bokov (New York, NY) Larry D. Busbea (Tucson, AZ) Sara Jensen Carr (Boston, MA) Beatriz Colomina, Ignacio G. Galán, Evangelos Kotsioris, and Anna-Maria Meister (Munich, Germany; New York, NY; and Princeton, NJ) Elisa Dainese and Aleksandar Staničić (Delft, the Netherlands and Halifax, Canada) Marco Ferrari, Elisa Pasqual, and Andrea Bagnato (Milan, Italy) Natasha Ginwala, Gal Kirn, and Niloufar Tajeri (Berlin, Germany) Vanessa Grossman, Charlotte Malterre-Barthes, and Ciro Miguel (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Zurich, Switzerland) Jeffrey Hogrefe and Scott Ruff (Baldwin, NY and Lancaster, PA) Eric Höweler and Meejin Yoon (Ithaca, NY and Boston, MA) Beth Hughes and Adrian Lahoud (London, United Kingdom and Sydney, Australia) Robert Hutchison (Seattle, WA) Pamela Johnston (London, United Kingdom) Seng Kuan (Cambridge, MA) George Legrady (Santa Barbara, CA) Zhongjie Lin (Philadelphia, PA) Brian McGrath and Sereypagna Pen (New York, NY and Phnom Penh, Cambodia) Lala Meredith-Vula (Leicester, United Kingdom) Ginger Nolan (Los Angeles, CA) Todd Reisz (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) Erin Eckhold Sassin (Middlebury, VT) Steve Seid (Richmond, CA) Katherine Smith (Decatur, GA) Susan Snodgrass (Chicago, IL) Penny Sparke (London, United Kingdom) Mark Wasiuta (New York, NY) Folayemi (Fo) Wilson (Chicago, IL) RESEARCH PROJECTS Miquel Adrià (Mexico City, Mexico) Joshua Barone, Phillip Denny, and Eléonore Schöffer (Cambridge, MA; New York, NY; and Paris, France) Kadambari Baxi (New York, NY) Gauri Bharat (Ahmedabad, India) Santiago Borja (Mexico City, Mexico) Michael Borowski (Blacksburg, VA) Frida Escobedo and Xavier Nueno (Mexico City, Mexico) Assaf Evron and Dan Handel (Chicago, IL and Haifa, Israel) Beate Geissler, Orit Halpern, and Oliver Sann (Chicago, IL and Montréal, Canada) Heather Hart (New York, NY) Alison Hirsch (Pasadena, CA) David J. Lewis, Paul Lewis, and Marc Tsurumaki (New York, NY) Onnis Luque and Mariana Ordóñez (Mexico City, Mexico) Jonathan Mekinda (Chicago, IL) Giovanna Silva (Milan, Italy) Léa-Catherine Szacka (Manchester, United Kingdom) Jessica Vaughn (New York, NY) Edward A. Vazquez (Middlebury, VT)
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Contentious Memory

David Adjaye and Ron Arad revise design for the UK Holocaust Memorial
David Adjaye and Ron Arad’s design for the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre planned for London looks distinctly more understated in the most recent set of renderings released by the duo. Crafted in collaboration with landscape architecture firm Gustafson Porter + Bowman, the updated version of the memorial project was created in response to concerns from neighbors and the local Westminster City Council. Planned for a site next to the Houses of Parliament in Victoria Tower Gardens, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the project has been highly contentious. For years, Britain’s government has been seeking a way to honor Holocaust survivors and the lives lost under Nazi persecution, but a cross-party group of Jewish leadership, as well as local residents, have been against the memorial, saying it would present an inaccurate attitude of national guilt. Still, in 2016 the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation launched an international design competition, which attracted high-profile firms and artists like Zaha Hadid Architects, Anish Kapoor, MASS Design Group, Studio Libeskind, and Allied Works. Though the jury unanimously selected Adjaye and Arad’s proposal in October 2017, the winning design was criticized from the start by the public, and even UNESCO, for its size and location. Concerns were raised over the Foundation’s plans to put the Learning Centre underground, which would disrupt the site during construction, and people feared the memorial wouldn’t be built in dialogue with the existing monuments on site or with the nearby Imperial War Museum, which has planned its own Holocaust tribute. Adjaye and Arad’s revised design features a new, single-story entrance pavilion that’s lighter, more transparent, and more in sync with the existing landscape, according to Adjaye Associates and the planning application submitted to the city this January. Its roofline has been changed to allow for better views across the entire site, which was a major change to appease critics who argued the memorial blocked sights towards Parliament. The bronze fins that signal the memorial’s presence, arguably the most striking part of the exterior design, have been subdued and pulled away from the old plane trees that surround the structure. Visitors will still be able to walk through the rows of fins and into the subterranean Learning Centre below. Overall, Adjaye and Arad’s new plan for the memorial, which is now under a public commentary period, is better integrated into the landscape of Victoria Gardens and doesn’t pose as serious a threat to the surrounding historic views or the existing native plantings. Walking from the Houses of Parliament, the grass sweeps in an upward motion towards the memorial, becoming a part of its roof. From the other side, the stark fins still seem to stand out, but maybe in the summers, when the site’s flora is in full bloom, the structure will surprise visitors who stumble upon it amongst the luscious greenery. 
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Into the Wildernesse

Morris+Company designs a timber vaulted restaurant in southeastern England
British architecture studio Morris+Company has designed Wildernesse, a timber-vaulted restaurant in Sevenoaks in the southeast of England. The restaurant boasts a metal skin that features a series of arches—a nod to the adjacent landmarked Dorton House, also known as Wildernesse, which dates back to 1669. The restaurant is part of a wider development serving the public with eight new mews houses containing 53 apartments set within five free-standing villas. Grade levels differ across the site and so a plinth clad in ragstone was created to bring the restaurant up to ground level and connect it to the house, the rest of the site, and the new coterie of housing, as well as to nestle the building into an area steeped in history. "It needed to be simple, sensitive to the historic context, and act as a focal point within the landscape that you can look out from," Harriet Saddington, associate at Morris+Company and project architect, told The Architect's Newspaper. This approach has resulted in a relatively simple structure that manages to achieve a lot on a tight budget ($2.5 million, much of which was dedicated to a basement to house plants for the Wildernesse estate). To keep costs down, the building made use of off-site construction and repeating elements. Previously on site was a 19th-century glass conservatory. The architects wanted to bring the pavilion typology back to the area and create a modern take with a perforated metal–skinned glass house. "Unlike many sterile air-conditioned restaurants we wanted to use natural ventilation," added Saddington. In addition to the perforated facade elements, operable panels negate the necessity for air conditioning. The delicate skin, meanwhile, contrasts with the restaurant's interior where unfinished timber has been used extensively to create a warm, tactile environment. A structural timber frame, composed of spruce glulam and CLT has been used, but more notably, an array of timber vaults define the facade's glazing elements. Covered in birch-faced ply, the vaults are arranged in a grid formation measuring 13 feet square, mimicking the archways of the exterior. The archway motif continues at a smaller scale too, with fluted timber lining employed on interior walls, in patterned floor tiles, and in applied machined timber moldings and beads. Despite this, Saddington stressed the detailing on the project was minimal—a decision taken to make the restaurant all about views onto the rolling landscape it looks out onto.
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Total Transformation

KieranTimberlake’s vision for Washington University to open this fall
Sweeping changes are coming this fall to half the urban campus of Washington University in St. Louis. For the past two years, construction has been underway on the 166-year-old institution’s east end—a $280 million vision that includes several new projects by KieranTimberlake for the university’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. The Philadelphia-based firm announced construction was nearly complete on the upcoming Anabeth and John Weil Hall, an 82,000-square-foot space with state-of-the-art graduate studios, classrooms, and digital fabrication labs. Further details were also released on the expansion and renovation of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, which is set to open in late September with a major thematic exhibition by Ai Weiwei. The lower section of the Danforth campus, which sits just behind St. Louis’s largest landscape, Forest Park, will be better connected to the city through these mega-enhancements and will serve as a welcoming entrance for visitors, students, and faculty alike. At the core of the project for the Sam Fox School is Weil Hall, the new hub for all art, design, and architecture programs which were previously scattered in different buildings. The new structure will feature a striking facade with opaque glass walls and vertical aluminum fins that allow natural light into the facilities and promote energy efficiency. Collaborative workspaces and loft-style studios will be arranged throughout but will be connected visually by a luminous, two-story central interior courtyard that will highlight the movement and activity going on within the school. Weil Hall will stand out in clear contrast to its surrounding structures on the southeastern corner of campus. Aligned on a stretch of land with two Beaux-Arts buildings and three seminal projects by former Washington University associate professor Fumihiko Maki (including the Kemper Art Museum), the contemporary structure embodies a new era for the Sam Fox School. KieranTimberlake has also designed an upgraded look for the adjacent Kemper Art Museum, one that complements the school next door and helps it stand out in the surrounding sea of institutional structures. Designed by Maki in 2006, the limestone-clad building will be completely renovated and expanded with a new, 2,700-square-foot gallery and a soaring, glass-lined lobby. It will also boast a shiny new exterior featuring 34-foot-tall stainless steel panels that will reflect the dynamic campus, its landscape, and the sky. Michael Vergason Landscape Architects has created an extensive masterplan for the museum’s grounds and sculpture garden that blends with the firm’s overall vision for the east end of the Danforth Campus. In collaboration with KieranTimberlake, MVLA will transform what’s now a series of parking lots into a car-free park, featuring native plantings and ample pedestrian space.