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Digital, Digital, Get Down

Las Vegas Valley may get its own $7.5 billion smart city
Bleutech Park Las Vegas is being pitched as the first digital infrastructure city of its kind in the world, and (paradoxically) the latest in a line of "smart cities" worldwide. Announced by real estate investment trust Bleutech Park Properties, the park will be a "digital revolution" meant to redefine the infrastructure industry and will allegedly feature autonomous vehicles, renewable energies, AI, "supertrees," self-healing concrete structures, and more. The project is expected to break ground in December in the Las Vegas Valley and take six years to complete, although many of the technologies being proposed are still in their infancy. The buildings will be equipped with self-healing, energy-generating, and breathable materials and, according to Bluetech, the construction site will become a “living, breathing blueprint”. The flooring systems will capture and reuse the energy produced by human movement throughout common areas and parking structures. Bleutech Park buildings will also connect to a network of “supertrees”, allowing a 95 percent reduction in imported water consumption and an opportunity to improve biodiversity. All building facades will feature photovoltaic glass, a technology that converts light into electricity, turning entire exteriors into single solar panels. The company will also use what it's calling "aerial construction" to build the development, including the use of drones for navigating dangerous portions of the construction site. The mixed-used mini-city aims at tackling issues like affordable housing through “Workforce Housing”, a reciprocal act of service for those that serve the community, including nurses, police officers, teachers, firemen, and more. This unique approach is a foundation of Bleutech’s overall vision and ensures economic, cultural, and health benefits to people of all income levels in Las Vegas. Additional program includes offices, retail space, luxury housing, hotels and entertainment venues that will showcase energy generation and storage, waste-heat recovery, water purification, waste treatment, and localized air cleaning. City spokesman Jace Radke told Smart Cuties Dive that the project is not within Las Vegas's jurisdiction and is not affiliated with the city. Bleutech Park’s partners on the project are Cisco, construction contractor Martin-Harris Construction, Las Vegas real estate developer Khusrow Roohani, and the Las Vegas Laborers Union Local 872 with a promise to create more than 25,000 jobs in construction. The project is similar to other privately-funded smart city tech test sites, like the Sidewalk Labs Quayside project in Toronto and Blockchains LLC’s plans to build a 60,000-ace city near Reno.
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Swoooooosh

Renderings revealed for the Clippers’ new net-shaped stadium
The Los Angeles Clippers have released initial renderings of their brand new 18,500-seat arena expected to open in 2024. Team owner Steve Ballmer and the city of Inglewood are moving forward with the $1 billion, 900,000-square-foot NBA arena over neighborhood concerns and lawsuits over the project.  Designed by local architecture and engineering firm AECOM, the metal-clad, oval-shaped arena is said to be inspired by the "swoosh" of a basketball net. Ballmer told ESPN, "I want it to be a noisy building… I really want that kind of energy." The grand vision includes a basketball arena, corporate office building, sports medicine clinic, retail, community and youth-oriented spaces, parking garages, a solar-panel-clad roof, indoor-outdoor "sky gardens," and an outdoor game-viewing area with massive digital screens. Ballmer's goal is to create, "the best home in all of sports," he said in a statement accompanying the release of the renderings. "What that means to me is an unparalleled environment for players, for fans, for sponsors and for the community of Inglewood. Our goal is to build a facility that resets fans' expectations while having a transformative impact on the city we will call home." Ballmer, one of the richest people in the world, will privately finance the mixed-use development. The project must overcome several legal challenges that cloud its potential success. First, from the Uplight Inglewood Coalition, an organization looking to strengthen Inglewood residents' political power, is suing the city on allegations that the city's deal to sell the land for the arena violated California state law. The California Surplus Land Act requires that public land be prioritized for affordable housing development before any other uses. Housing costs in the area had soared since 2016, when the NFL agreed to let the Rams and Chargers relocate to Inglewood. "In the midst of booming development—which has caused skyrocketing rents and the loss of affordable housing—it simply does not make any sense to prioritize an NBA arena over the needs of Inglewood residents without investing in the needs of residents," Uplift Inglewood member D'artagnan Scorza said in a recent press release, "Public land should be used for the public good, and access to housing is central to building strong communities." Second, James Dolan, owner and CEO of Madison Square Garden, owner of the New York Knicks and the nearby Forum has also sued the city, accusing leaders of secretly negotiating with the Clippers to build on land that it once leased. The 26-acre complex will house all team operations, from corporate headquarters to the team's training facility. The Clippers currently practice in Playa Vista, have a business office in downtown Los Angeles, and play at the Staples Center (shared with rival Lakers and NHL's Kings since 1999). Their lease ends in 2024, putting pressure on team ownership to finish construction on time for the next season.
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Beyond Kengo Kuma

AN rounds up the hottest 2020 Summer Olympics venues in Tokyo
Eight out of the 42 venues slated to host next summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo will be brand new. All were designed by Japanese architects, and it’s one of the rare times that the biennial sporting event isn’t banking on the brand recognition of a foreign-born design team for one of its main buildings. In fact, most of the architecture is old; 25 venues are already existing thanks to Japan’s plans to repurpose a number of the buildings constructed for the 1964 Summer Olympics, the last time Tokyo hosted the Games.  Though Kengo Kuma’s timber-clad Olympic Stadium will be at the center of the sprawling citywide sporting campus, the other slew of structures—most of them inspired by Japanese tradition—will also put Tokyo’s architecture on the world’s stage. Take a look at some of the buildings that are coming up for 2020, as well as the ones that will return to the spotlight:   Olympic Stadium Architect: Kengo Kuma Capacity: 68,000 Sport: Opening/Closing Ceremonies, soccer, track and field After almost of decade of controversy over the design of the Olympic Stadium, Kengo Kuma’s vision is nearly complete. An all wood-and-steel structure, it broke ground in December 2016 on the site of the former National Stadium which was demolished the year prior. Kuma’s design was criticized upon release, many citing its similarity to Zaha Hadid’s defunct proposal for the project, which she won in 2012. Hadid’s proposal proved too costly, so the Japanese government decided to rebid the site in late 2015, asking designers to partner with local contractors who could estimate costs and timing. Kuma won in a partnership with several major groups including the Taisei Corporation and Toyo Ito.   Olympic Aquatics Center Architect: Yamashita Sekkei and Cox Architecture Capacity: 15,000 Sport: Swimming, diving, synchronized swimming Scheduled for completion in February, the Aquatics Center features a distinct and thin roof supported by four bare pillars that rise from the ground level. Its four angular all-glass facades appear to have a rib-like pattern going from end to end, drawing the eye upward to focus on the trapezoidal-shaped platform atop it. The entire 828,800-square-foot arena, located in the North Tokyo Bay, is raised on a podium and is expected to weigh 7,000 tons.   Ariake Arena Architect: Kume Sekkei Capacity: 12,000 Sport: Indoor Volleyball  Volleyball made its Olympic debut in 1964, coincidentally the last time Tokyo hosted the Summer Games, and the future Ariake Arena was a major part of the city’s 2020 bid. Situated in a northwest corner of Tokyo Bay next to the Ariake Tennis Park, the almost-complete project features a convex roof design that’s unlike any other venue in the athletic event. Resembling an inverted crest wave, the silver-structure boasts incredible views of the bay outside its front door.  Olympic Village Architect: Unknown Capacity: 17,000 athletes Tokyo’s Olympic Village will be located on the Harumi Pier, which is at the physical center of the Heritage and Tokyo Bay venue zones—the two areas where the venues have been allocated for Tokyo 2020. Spread out over 33 acres, the village will contain 22 buildings ranging from 14 to 22 stories, as well as two 50-story residential towers. It’s another controversial project: locals are concerned about the site’s functionality after the Olympics are over. Plans call for some 5,650 apartments to be built in the next five years, which has the real estate market worried. Branded as the Harumi Flag community, the development will include commercial space, parks, and a school on the pier as well. More interestingly, it’s supposed to be the largest hydrogen-powered development in the world. Ariake Gymnastics Center Architect: Nikken Sekkei Capacity: 12,000 Sport: Gymnastics Located in Tokyo’s Koto Ward just steps away from the Olympic Village, the Ariake Gymnastics Center will feature more wood than any other venue in its bowl-shaped design. Construction is set to finish in October on the one-million-square-foot, low-lying structure which, according to the Japan Times, includes slanted walls as a nod to the engawa verandas found on traditional Japanese homes. The central element of the architecture is a massive, 394-foot-long-by-295-foot-wide wood roof that arches over the building’s core. The exterior includes a series of crisscrossed wooden poles that stretch from the overhang of the roof to the plaza below.  Here's a rundown of the older venues that will host an event for Tokyo 2020: Yoyogi National Stadium Architect: Kenzo Tange Capacity: 13,000 Sport: handball Built: 1964 Known for: Its parabolic roof design and for inspiring Frei Otto’s design for the Olympic Stadium in Munich. Nippon Budokan Architect: Mamoru Tamada Capacity: 41,000 Sport: Judo Built: 1964 Known for: Its octagonal shape and pointed roof that references Mt. Fuji., as well as a concrete lower half that looks like a Brutalist version of a traditional Japanese temple.  Sapporo Dome Architect: Hiroshi Hara Capacity: 41,000 Sport: Soccer Built: 2001, for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Known for: Its metallic exterior and futuristic form, as well as for boasting the first retractable pitch in the world.  Tatsumi International Swimming Centre Architect: Environment Design Institute  Capacity: 3,600 Sport: Water polo Built: 1993 Known for: Its space frame roof and all-white exterior cladding, that folds over the glass and concrete building to create curved frames for views.  Tokyo Big Sight Architect: AXS Satow Size: 1.1 million square feet Sport: Planned to host wrestling, fencing, and taekwondo, but will now be the main media center Built: 1996 Known for: Its four inverted pyramids clad in titanium that together house a convention center.  Izu Velodrome Architect: Gensler and Schurmann Architects Capacity: 1,800; 4,300 with temporary seating Sport: Track Cycling Built: 2011 Known for: The silver drum-shaped building holds the first 250-meter-long indoor track made of timber in Japan.
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Beachy Keen

James Corner Field Operations' public Manhattan beach reveals first renderings
Park stewards at the Hudson River Park Trust have just revealed preliminary renderings for a new public beach in Manhattan's Meatpacking District. The five-and-a-half acre site used to be a parking area for the sanitation department and adjacent salt shed, but in a few years, it will be a recreation area with a kayak launch, sports field, picnic areas, and a marsh. James Corner Field Operations (JCFO) is the New York-based landscape architecture firm behind the design, while hometown firm nARCHITECTS is doing park buildings. The soon-to-be park was first announced in February of this year, and in about 18 months, the beach on Gansevoort Peninsula will open to the public on the banks of the Hudson River at the end of Little West 12th Street. While there will be ample opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, the Hudson River is still too gross to swim in (but who knows, great strides in cleanliness could be made by the time the park is complete). From the renderings, it appears the new beach will rise alongside artist David Hammons' recreation of the demolished Pier 52Day’s End. This is far from the only project on the Trust's plate. The organization cares for a four-and-a-half-mile greenway on the river and is now shelling out an estimated $900 million for capital projects that include Pier 57, by Youngwoo & Associates, as well as Pier 26, which features a playground designed by OLIN and an ecology center from Rafael Viñoly. In addition, construction on Pier 55, the overwater park on piers, designed by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects and go-to artist for the hyper-wealthy, Thomas Heatherwick, is well underway. The new beach will also be a stone's throw away from the Whitney Museum. This is not the first Manhattan beach as some outlets have claimed, however, not counting pre-contact or New Amsterdam times. As recently as the 1980s, during the construction of Battery Park City, New Yorkers donned bikinis and sunned themselves on the sandy construction site just north of Manhattan's southern tip. At the same time, art organization Creative Time hosted multiple annual editions of Art on the Beach which brought large-scale public art to the desolate area. Today, way uptown, there's a semi-secret sandy beach at Inwood's Swindler's Cove, thanks to a New York Restoration Project initiative to restore shorelines in the area.
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At the Royal Free

Studio Libeskind reveals its Maggie's Centre in north London
Studio Libeskind’s long-awaited vision has finally been revealed for the new Maggie’s Centre at the Royal Free Hospital in north London. Set to replace its existing Cancerkin Centre facility—with which Maggie’s merged in 2016—the sculptural structure is the product a 16-year planned collaboration with the charity and will be the 21st of its kind in the United Kingdom. While a slew of other high-profile architects including Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, and most recently Steven Holl have completed individual Maggie’s Centres, Daniel Libeskind’s will be drastically different and more personal to his design style. He described it as a “modest building” that’s soft and intimate, according to the Architect’s Journal. Like Holl’s Maggie Centre in west London, Libeskin's center will have a minimal footprint, but will be much more subdued and will put the emphasis on a  series of more natural materials, such as wood.  Slated to be constructed on an underused southwest corner of the hospital’s parking lot, the Maggie’s Centre at the Royal Free will feature an undulating, prefabricated facade made of timber louvers designed to shade the exterior, maximize privacy inside, and evoke a sense of serenity for the cancer patients stopping by for drop-in support. Though it will be a small building with 26 total rooms, Studio Libeskind designed the structure to expand in form as it rises. Diffused natural light will come in through the window slats and provide patients with views of the outside gardens in the front and back of the building, as well as on the roof.  To Libeskind, the upcoming Maggie’s Centre and its architecture complement the Royal Free and its role as a place of healing. He told the AJ that unlike the hospital, “this is a home,” and, “It’s not like entering an institution, it is a place where people can come and find comfort.”  The Maggie’s Centre will be completed as part of a wider masterplan going on at the hospital, which includes the construction of a new emergency department and on-site research building by Hopkins Architects. A date for completion has not yet been made public, but the planning application for Libeskind’s Maggie Centre is expected to be filed in the fall, according to AJ.
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Cambridge Car Culture

French 2D enlivens a Cambridge parking garage with a graphic-printed mesh facade
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The rapid development of urban areas across the country is leading to the reappraisal of the commonly found, and often maligned, parking garage. Boston-based architectural practice French 2D has joined this trend by invigorating a drab parking garage using a mesh facade with dynamic graphics intended to serve as a large-scale artistic canvas as well as a functional enclosure. The design of the parking garage’s facade was intended to reference the competing architectural scales and functions of the surrounding Kendall Square. The neighborhood, separated from downtown Boston by the Charles River, is defined by newly built tech hubs, residential buildings, and a fading industrial heritage. For the design team, the primary challenge and objective of the project were to break up the monolithic scale of the existing garage—it is eight stories and measures a whopping 350,000 square feet.
  • Facade Manufacturer Facid North America Piedmont Plastics McNichols
  • Architect French 2D
  • Facade Installer & Consultant Design Communications, Ltd.
  • Location Cambridge, MA
  • Date of Completion May 2019
  • System Facid 65 System
  • Products PSG SupraFLEX Breeze Coated Mesh McNichols Perforated 1” Round, powder coated aluminum sheet
“To address this we played with the perception of large scale figures and patterns at drastically different distances, as well as the fidelity of printing to desired visual contrast,” said French 2D principals Jenny and Anda French. “Full-scale mock-up panels were hung on site for review by the design team and city officials, allowing for adjustment of the graphics files to ensure that the image was high contrast enough to compete with three-dimensional building facades.” How does the artwork conform to these different scales? The graphics are effectively divided into three separate categories; skyline, street, and reveal views. The pattern across the garage's 25,000-square-foot facade canvas is relatively constant and defined by rectangular and triangular forms that are linked by diagonal strands of shade, evoking the shadows cast across facades with material depth. From the farthest vantage points, defined as southwest Binney Street and Fulkerson, the graphics are oversized, and, in a certain sense resemble the boxy massing of post-war structures. Shifting to the street reveals views of the enclosure as the gain of the pattern increases in density, leading to a subsequent freneticism in the shading. In daylight, the exterior of the garage remains opaque, while the significant density of perforations allows for outward views and natural, passive ventilation—the garage itself is not outfitted with any form of mechanical ventilation. Owing to the hidden aluminum tension frame produced by Facid North America, the mesh enclosure remain remarkably taut with minimal gaps between individual panels. The result is a semi-continuous surface covered with significant openings that reveal the concrete-and-steel structure below. For the project's official photography, the French sisters acted as drawing scale figures with custom dresses fitted with a rendition of the building's facade pattern—in effect forming a fourth category to the graphic design's scales.
   
   
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Maybe?

New York's public housing is in crisis. Can architects design the way out?
The Regional Plan Association (RPA) has selected architects Miriam Peterson and Nathan Rich of Peterson Rich Office (PRO) to dream up housing and maintenance strategies for New York City’s deteriorating public housing for the nonprofit planning think tank’s newly-funded chair of urban design. The joint appointment will give the pair the opportunity to build on past work that reimagined the New York City Housing Authority's (NYCHA) developments. It’s a tall order to step into a project that’s supposed to help NYCHA, the landlord for 400,000 New Yorkers, though it’s not necessarily the number of tenants that poses a challenge. The authority has been strangled by decades of under-investment, hobbled by long-running scandals, and faces an estimated $45 million backlog for repairs and capital projects. A December 2018 RPA report stated that maintaining the status quo of broken-down buildings could cost the city an additional $700 million every year that maintenance is deferred. The funding options for public housing are scarce, but nascent development plans aim to fill the gap created by missing funds at the federal level. Over the past five years, PRO has delivered concepts for building out the roofs of NYCHA high-rises and the transforming parking lots that surround the towers into units that scale to the size of two contiguous parking spaces. This time, PRO will have more financial resources and access to RPA experts at their disposal, allowing them to explore housing provision and maintenance in-depth.  While Peterson and Rich have a year to develop a book of scalable public housing concepts, RPA—not NYCHA—is PRO’s primary client. Moses Gates, RPA's vice president for Housing and Neighborhood Development, confirmed that NYCHA is not a partner on the project. He added that the no-NYCHA approach aligns with the organization’s usual M.O. of giving experts free rein to explore ideas that might not be feasible within an agency’s framework. Richard Kaplan, the architect who endowed the chair at RPA, gave the organization the funds so it could focus some of its efforts on urban design. Gates emphasized that here, and with subsequent Kaplan chairs, the architects' ideas are springboards for future action, not prescriptions. For inspiration, Rich told The Architect's Newspaper that they’re looking to London, where public (social) housing is similar in age and design to many NYCHA projects and has similarly struggled with disinvestment. But, unlike centralized NYCHA, London social housing is delivered on a borough-by-borough basis. Borough councils may act as developers, borrowing money against the value of their assets to build market-rate housing that subsidizes the upkeep of social housing units. That approach fits in with an emerging strategy in New York, where the city is entertaining plans to sell air rights and underutilized developable land in certain NYCHA projects to generate revenue for the cash-strapped agency. In a press release, the RPA stated that PRO’s mandate is to deliver ideas that will “bring NYCHA into financial solvency, while better integrating NYCHA into the surrounding communities.” Housing projects in New York are islands, separated spatially—and often socially—from their surroundings, especially in neighborhoods that are whiter and wealthier. From Chelsea to Canarsie, NYCHA stewards the largest portfolio of affordable housing within the five boroughs: If NYCHA residents had their own city, it would be larger than New Orleans, Cleveland, or Pittsburg. However, chronic mismanagement has impaired the agency’s ability to provide safe affordable housing. Last year, the New York Times reported that NYCHA officials routinely disputed the results of lead paint tests in its apartments and exposed children to the dangerous heavy metal. Elsewhere, thousands of families contend with vermin infestations and repair requests that go unanswered. The shameful conditions in the developments, as well as the opportunity to rework the modernist tower-in-the-park paradigm, make NYCHA housing a prime target for architects and planners looking for a do-good project. Most white-collar urbanists, however, have never lived in public housing, nor do they have personal connections to the projects beyond observing them from the sidewalk or reading about them in the paper. Designers also have to contend with a real fear on the part of some NYCHA residents that new development will catalyze displacement and spur neighborhood-wide gentrification. Under these conditions, how can a firm that’s best known for designing art galleries and high-end homes effectively design with, or for New Yorkers who live in public housing? First and foremost, Rich said, PRO intends to address immediate needs, like the mold that afflicts tenants in some developments and heating systems that fail in the dead of winter. This will be the firm’s first go at spearheading a community consultation, so they intend to collaborate with RPA-affiliates to help organize and guide the process.  “It’s just crucial that residents have buy-in during the process and into the project,” said Peterson. “We’re thinking about phasing, how to create a process that sets a project up for success.” RPA has a relationship with Community Voices Heard, a social justice organization primarily led by low-income women and people of color, and together they will work to facilitate connections with NYCHA residents.  NYCHA did not respond to multiple requests for comment on how it regards design proposals from outside the agency. Peterson and Rich first became interested in NYCHA after a 2014 fellowship with the Institute for Public Architecture (IPA) where they, along with urban designer Sagi Golan, thought through public housing in 9x18, a project that would infill development on NYCHA parking lots. The goal now, said Rich, is to think about incremental changes instead of jumping straight from an idea to a construction proposal. "NYCHA is a source of fascination for people in design and planning because it’s a city in a city; it’s just so big," Peterson said. "What we’re trying to do here is focus on actionable ideas."
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Love It or List It

Chicago’s Thompson Center is up for sale
Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker has signed a law that authorizes the sale of Helmut Jahn’s controversial postmodern icon, the James R. Thompson Center. Postmodern buildings have only recently become eligible for landmark status, a fact that highlights the need to preserve significant buildings that have years to go before reaching a minimum of 50 years old. The center is located prominently in Chicago’s Loop at 100 West Randolph Street, where it takes up an entire city block, with a Chicago Transit Authority “L” train station nestled underneath. Stout and glassy, the massive building opened in 1985 as the home of state government offices. It was named after Illinois’s longest-serving governor, James R. Thompson, who chose Jahn’s then-futuristic design. Aiming to invoke ideas of “an open government,” Jahn designed a glass-encased 17-story atrium and a large exterior plaza in a bid to create contemporary large public spaces. Chicagoans either love it or hate it. The story of the Thompson Center is a political saga that could end in a daring feat of conservation or a sad finale of destruction. Preservationists have been rallying and petitioning for the building to achieve landmark status since the first mention of its possible demise in 2007, when Governor Rod Blagojevich said he was interested in selling it. However, since the building is known for its major maintenance issues, like heating and cooling problems and physical deterioration, it will likely be demolished rather than repurposed. The Architect’s Newspaper's Midwest contributor Jamie Evelyn Goldsborough reached out to major figures in the Chicago architecture and preservation community for their takes on the controversy. Alexander Eisenschmidt, designer and architectural theorist, associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture: Jahn’s Thompson Center is certainly a quintessential Chicago construct. Not so much for its often cited but rarely understood postmodernism, but because of its urban and infrastructural theater. In fact, reducing it to its material, color, and formal palette (its architecture) diminishes its public function (its urbanism). After all, the building is a subway stop, an elevated train station, a pedway intersection, an interior marketplace, a food court concourse, an exterior plaza, and the list goes on—a kind of city-extension that inhales and breathes public life. In an age of ever-expanding privatization, aggressive outsourcing, and shrinking government investment in public services and facilities, the sale of the Thompson Center is yet another instance of the lack of inventiveness and a blind belief in quick fixes (not unlike Chicago’s disastrous parking meter sell-off). But it’s also a mistake for architects to focus on preservation. There is the potential for crafting solutions for a productive (even lucrative) re-, dis-, mis-, trans-, and cross-use of this piece of the city. John Ronan, architect, professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture: The State of Illinois Building should be saved (and repurposed). It's one of the few good examples of postmodern architecture in Chicago from a period of architectural history that was not particularly kind to the city. Bob Somol, design critic and theorist, professor and director of the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago: The debate over the shaky future of a once-futurist ruin raises paradoxical questions about postmodern preservation and the ongoing privatization of the public realm. What happens when a rhetorical ruin becomes a literal ruin within 30 years of its completion, when a project that inaugurated a mixed public-private model of government itself falls victim to economic expediency? Helmut Jahn’s 1985 Thompson Center was an awkward building at an awkward time, appearing after faith in public monuments had waned, but before the rise of iconic spectacles. It was the James Stirling building that Chicago never got, typical of many atrocities of the ’80s that attempted the shotgun marriage of high tech and historicism. The Thompson Center remains Chicago’s only legitimate heir to this thankfully aborted legacy. And for all of these reasons and more, we should keep the starship boldly going. Stanley Tigerman, architect: I don’t want to comment about it, because I will say something bad. Ellen Grimes, associate professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago: It’s our own lesson in John Portman/Jon Jerde postmodernism, repurposed for retail politics. I love it! It makes the ’80s urban in a way that didn’t happen with similar buildings of the period. There’s nothing like floating up the escalator from the Red Line into a monumental atrium that smells like burgers and falafel. To save it, [Governor] Pritzker should use it as the emblematic policy initiative in reforming the state’s pathetic finances. He should landmark it, lease it to a casino/hotel operator, and send the profits straight into the state’s underfunded mass transit budget. (Imagine playing the slot machines as you get off the train.) That way, we get to keep the thing, and get some money out of it, and it’s climate friendly. And Thompson gets the monument he deserves. Iker Gil, architect, editor-in-chief of MAS Context: It is a significant building with a truly remarkable interior public space. Unlike most buildings, here we have one that welcomes people and celebrates public space. We need to think beyond its current state of neglect and envision its potential. It can become a vibrant 24-7 space with the addition of expected and odd uses that can be combined unconventionally. The building has unique characteristics and it should remain a unique place, but, as Tim Samuelson would say, the building is in a period of aesthetic limbo. It’s not old enough to be appreciated; there is no historic perspective. Given time, care, and a programmatic overhaul, it would find its place in the history of the city. Chicago can’t afford to continue to demolish unique buildings only to replace them with generic ones for a quick economic return. This practice won’t solve Chicago’s structural issues, and the city will lose its assets and identity. Nathan Eddy, filmmaker, Starship Chicago: The Thompson Center shouldn’t just be an official landmark for Chicago; it should also be listed on the National Register of Historic Places alongside Adler & Sullivan’s Auditorium Building or the Chicago Federal Center by Mies van der Rohe. I defy anyone to stand in the Thompson Center’s launchpad rotunda and not be moved by that magical, mirrored-glass cyclone of space. It courses with power and drama and excitement and an expansive, glittering optimism. It doesn’t look dated to thousands of young people who gasp when they walk into it—to them it looks like the future. Are we really prepared to give up this prime, publicly owned forum in the civic heart of Chicago for a bargain-basement price? To be replaced with what?—a mute glass box designed not by an architect but by some false acceptance rate algorithm? And perhaps—if we’re good—a handful of half-hearted privately owned public spaces? Sounds like small plans to me. Judith De Jong, architect and urban designer, associate professor and associate dean for academic programs at the School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Chicago: Built 20 years apart, and each very much of its respective time, the Brutalist Netsch campus at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the postmodern Thompson Center are unlikely bedfellows. However, both are hard-to-love forms of architecture that are seemingly out of style, and both once modeled important new forms of public access to public institutions that are perhaps even more important today. The Netsch campus, which opened in early 1965, was a new model of an urban public university, making higher education accessible to a wide range of new audiences. Rather than mimic the pastoral forms of the traditionally rural public university (the model of which was the University of Virginia by Thomas Jefferson), Walter Netsch and his team from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill sought to materialize a new expression of public education through urban and architectural design. Conceptualized as a pebble dropped in a pond, representing “knowledge spreading out,” the dense inner rings of campus contained the shared lecture halls and classroom buildings, flanked by the library and the student union, while outer rings contained discipline-specific buildings. The campus was connected throughout by raised walkways—human highways designed for a projected enrollment of 32,000 students—that came together in a great public amphitheater called the Circle Forum at the literal and conceptual center. Photographs of the campus at the time show the Forum’s use as an important space of daily life. Buildings were also carefully arranged to shape urban parks and plazas for public student life across the site. The Thompson Center, which opened in 1985, was a new model of access to urban public government. Rather than mimic the classical grandeur of the Illinois State Capitol Building, Helmut Jahn and his team from Murphy/Jahn Architects materialized a new expression of state governance through an enormous interior atrium—a lopped off rotunda—limned by 16 floors of the mostly open offices of public employees. The atrium was intended as an active, new, year-round public “plaza” in the middle of downtown, enabled by “retail” government services like the Department of Motor Vehicles, as well as shops, a food court, and integrated access to the Chicago Transit Authority trains. At the Thompson Center, government was meant to be as accessible and transparent as the building itself. As experiments in new forms of public institutions, both UIC and the Thompson Center had their issues, all of which were or are solvable, should the political will exist. At UIC, complaints about the walkways, framed through concerns about maintenance, safety, and a lack of “green,” led to their eventual demolition in the 1990s, taking the Circle Forum amphitheater with them. Likewise, the environmental and maintenance issues at the Thompson Center are well-documented, and just as Netsch provided possible solutions to issues at UIC that were ignored, Jahn has provided possible options for the Thompson Center that are being ignored. But whereas at UIC the form of the campus was diminished by the loss of the Circle Forum, its overall organization and many of its original buildings remain basically intact. Moreover, UIC continues to be a state institution, and as such, the architecture and urban design remain a powerful symbol of public access to higher education. While I believe strongly that a robust public life can and does occur in privately owned spaces, which could perhaps be the case at the Thompson Center should it be sold to a sympathetic owner, much more is at stake here. In an era of relentless privatization, where public institutions are under sustained attack, the sale of the Thompson Center would be a significant blow to the idea of public access to state government, and raises a much more fundamental question: Is the public institution, rather than its architecture, going out of style?
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Water World

Snøhetta reveals a Honolulu arts complex sculpted by water
The Oslo- and New York-based Snøhetta have unveiled their master plan for the historic Neal S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, a major arts and cultural venue on the island of Oahu. Conceived in collaboration with AECOM and local firm WCIT, the scheme encompasses renovations to the existing site and the addition of a new performance and exhibition hall, sports pavilion, and parking structure alongside a revisioning of the public space within the complex. Together, these changes emphasize a connection to water within the community and local landscape. Originally constructed in 1964, the 22-acre Blaisdell Center served as a memorial for Hawaii’s veterans and war heroes until 2016, when the City of Honolulu undertook efforts to modernize the existing structures and update the site to meet the needs of the ever-growing city. The proposal is grounded in three core concepts: gathering community, celebrating culture, and, most crucially, the Hawaiian term ho‘okahe wai, meaning “activate water.” The core addition to the new master plan is the combined 1,500-seat performance hall and exhibition hall, wrapped in a terra-cotta screen that borrows from the breeze block facades used across Honolulu and Waikiki. The combined facilities rest atop a shared, stratified basalt-clad base that opens to reveal an enveloping wood interior. That includes a performance space, a joint lobby with the exhibition hall, and interspersed outdoor lobbies that connect with the large terrace. Drawing on the significant role water plays in Hawaiian culture, the structure’s lifted terraces and the subterranean service core allows for a series of filtering pools and waterfalls, a fountain, an extensive stormwater management system, and renovations to the existing fish pond to stitch the historic and contemporary aspects together. These water features and gardens are part of a “broader system that supports a variety of outdoor performance and recreation activities,” explained Snøhetta in a press release, with the central goal of creating unique communal public gathering spaces throughout the site. Also included in the proposal are refurbishments to the original Concert Hall—which currently houses the Honolulu Opera, Symphony Orchestra and more—to expand its seating capacity, as well as enclosing the existing open-air arcade of the scalloped arena in vertical louvers to form an interior space along the perimeter. The Neal S. Blaisdell Center marks the Snøhetta’s first realized project in Hawaii, following their 2014 proposal for the Obama Presidential Center.
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50/50 Chance

Stalled California housing bill could give architects chance to redesign the state’s cities
California needs 3.5 million housing units. That’s more housing units than currently exist in most states. This shortage—California ranks 49th in housing units per capita, ahead of only Utah—developed slowly but has metastasized into a true crisis, with housing costs rising to untenable levels for all but the most well-off Californians. In considering how and where to add a volume equivalent to all of Virginia, a key question is, what state—or, rather, what city—will those new units look like? Will they look like the tract homes of Phoenix? The row houses of Philadelphia? The high-rise apartments of New York City? The triple-deckers of Boston? The genteel mansions of Richmond? Or, perhaps worst of all, the mid-rises of Hollywood? The answers depend in large part on where new housing gets built. A recent bill in the California legislature almost provided the answer—almost. Senate Bill 50, sponsored by San Francisco–based State Senator Scott Wiener, would have mandated increased housing densities around major public transit lines and “jobs rich” areas throughout the state by requiring cities to permit multifamily buildings of up to five stories by right. Wiener contended that California needs more housing and that the best locations are those that enable residents to minimize commuting by personal automobiles. A relatively late amendment would have eliminated single-family zoning, permitting homeowners to build up to four units on any single-family lot, and limited the high-density provisions to counties of over 600,000 residents. California has always maintained a tense relationship with density, often failing to plan for it while suffering its ill effects all the same. SB 50 could be the catalyst to help the state abandon its suburban fetishes once and for all. An updated version of a bill that Wiener sponsored last year, SB 50 nearly made it out of the State Senate until Appropriations Committee Chair Anthony Portantino scuttled it with a procedural tactic, refusing to bring it to a vote in committee. The move put an abrupt end to what had arguably been the most heated debates over land-use legislation in state history. SB 50, like many other recent controversies related to development and housing in California, did not inspire neat loyalties. While its core support came from the increasingly influential YIMBY movements and core opposition came from homeowners, the politics were messy at best. Conservatives could love its relaxation of regulations but hate its emphasis on dense urbanism. Liberals were more intensely fractured. SB 50 appealed to values of inclusion and of progressivism, be they socioeconomic or aesthetic. For some, the bill served the cause of equity simply by potentially creating more housing. Other liberals saw it differently. Advocates of social justice feared SB 50 would empower capitalist developers while displacing and disenfranchising vulnerable populations through eviction and demolition. Older liberal activists, especially in suburban areas, put their economic interests first, recoiling from the prospect that increased housing supply might depress their property values. Many of them protested SB 50’s potential to interfere with “neighborhood character.” (Wiener’s antagonist Portantino represents La Cañada Flintridge, a comfortable suburb north of downtown Los Angeles.) Institutionally, the League of California Cities and many city councils statewide condemned SB 50 for trampling on “local control,” asserting that land use decisions have always belonged to municipalities and municipalities alone. Many mayors, however, including those of Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose, praised SB 50 for giving cities a new opportunity to ease their housing crisis—and to do so equitably statewide, forcing housing-phobic cities to approve their fair share of housing rather than ignore demand and dodge their obligations in the name of municipal sovereignty. By some accounts, a full 97 percent of California cities failed to meet their state-mandated housing goals in 2018. The California chapter of the American Planning Association controversially opposed SB 50, citing concerns about technical aspects of the bill’s language, even though many of its more progressive members favored it. Chapters of the American Institute of Architects did not take a position on it. Design rarely factored into these discussions explicitly, but its influence cannot be overlooked. Fears about changes to “neighborhood character” often accompany prejudices about “undesirable” racial or socioeconomic groups. They also refer to lousy design. Many homeowners recoiled against SB 50 out of fear that modest cottages might be overshadowed by a new triplex next door or crowded by the addition of an accessory dwelling unit. Urban activists took aim at even bigger targets. Opponents of growth in Los Angeles in particular have long railed against what they consider oversized, ugly, and excessively capitalistic apartment buildings. Such enormities often occupy full city blocks and rise five or six stories, with wood framing above one-story concrete bases. They have been the mainstay of Hollywood’s decade-long growth spurt and have arisen in many other moderately dense neighborhoods around the state. Revulsion is, often, completely justified. Large but underwhelming, and expensive but unrefined, such developments have poor detailing, clunky dimensions, and, often, antagonistic relationships with the street. They have neither humor nor grace nor character, and they succeed at one thing and one thing only: housing many people. Typically, those people are well off—or at least are pretending to be. While California’s housing crisis has many causes, it’s not unreasonable to say that lousy design is one of them, and it’s not unreasonable for opponents of SB 50 to make apocalyptic predictions about aesthetics. This is the backdrop against which architects should contemplate the revival of SB 50. Wiener has pledged to bring it back next year, and the appetite for major housing legislation remains fierce—before long, some version of SB 50 will pass, and the opportunities for architects and architecture will be profound. The quality of design that follows the passage of the next version of SB 50 will, without exaggeration, determine the look, feel, and function of California cities for at least the next generation. Many opponents of SB 50 criticize it as a "giveaway" to capitalist developers. If architects are to support the next version of SB 50, they should want to be seen as stewards, not opportunists. Upzoning around transit stops will create entirely new transit-oriented neighborhoods. Places that currently consist of park-and-ride lots and single-family homes will rise to five and six stories, with less parking than most zoning codes currently mandate. That’s like taking a cookie cutter to San Francisco’s Mission District or Los Angeles’s Koreatown and depositing the result in bedroom communities and office parks. Of course, California has hundreds of major transit stops and jobs centers (over 200 light- and heavy-rail stations alone), and the whole point of SB 50 is to distribute development statewide so that neighborhoods grow gradually. Even so, some places will be transformed sooner rather than later. In a state where many residents are mortally afraid of density, the choices that architects make will determine whether the new urban California is a dream or a nightmare—they can stumble into the latest versions of capitalist postmodern, or they can reflect on everything we have learned about the benefits of density. Designs have to be thoughtful, attractive, and socially conscious. They have to celebrate density, enhance the public realm, and give California cities a sense of style and character that they have lacked for decades. (Likewise, cities’ design guidelines and review boards will have to get savvier.) If SB 50’s single-family home provision survives (which seems unlikely), it will create a bonanza for residential architects. They will get to re-learn the art of the duplex, triplex, and quadplex—typologies that used to be common in California but have been all but extinct since the Truman administration. But new homes must not realize neighbors’ worst nightmares. They must not loom over their predecessors. They must not be large for largeness’s sake. In short, they must treat neighbors as clients. Whatever lawmakers intend for SB 50, the public will render its final judgment according to how architects seize the moment. Whether they like it or not, architects bear the final responsibility to fulfill the public trust. Of course, the real beauty of SB 50—if it comes to pass and if it works as intended—will be invisible. That will be the opportunity to craft affordable and humane housing for hundreds of thousands Californians.
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Lightfoot, Lighttouch

Federal judge rejects Obama Presidential Center lawsuit as opponents vow to fight on
Four months after a district judge ruled that a lawsuit against the potential Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Chicago would be allowed to proceed—stalling construction until its conclusion—a federal judge has tossed out the case on June 11. The lawsuit was filed by the environmental group Protect Our Parks and three other community groups against both the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District, arguing that the Obama Foundation’s plan to place the OPC in the Olmsted and Vaux–designed Jackson Park was illegal. Protect Our Parks argued that, because the Center wouldn’t actually be a government-run presidential library but a privately-run museum tower, complete with parking, a training center, and 5,000-square-foot Chicago Public Library location, the land transfer from the city to the Obama Foundation was invalid. However, in a 52-page written decision (viewable here), U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey ruled that the public benefits offered by the museum would still constitute a public good, and, in his view, merit the land transfer. The OPC, according to a written statement from Blakely, “surely provides a multitude of benefits to the public. It will offer a range of cultural, artistic, and recreational opportunities…as well as provide increased access to other areas of Jackson Park and the Museum of Science and Industry.” Blakely added that there will be no halt in construction to the Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and Interactive Design Architects–planned $500 million, 20-acre campus as a result. After the ruling, Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a statement in favor of building the OPC in Jackson Park. “Chicago is where President Obama discovered his love for community service,” wrote Lightfoot, “and the Obama Presidential Center will honor his presidency and inspire the next generation of leaders. The court today made unequivocally clear that this project may be located in Jackson Park, marking a significant step forward in this historic project and for our entire city. I am committed to ensuring that this community hub creates unprecedented cultural opportunities and economic growth on the South Side.” While this wasn’t the ruling that Protect Our Parks was hoping for, the coalition of plaintiffs has vowed to appeal. The group was hoping to force the Obama Foundation to move the Center to a privately-owned lot to the southwest. Aside from the forthcoming appeal, this isn’t the last hurdle the OPC faces. Dropping a 20-acre project into a park listed on the National Register of Historic Places requires a federal review, which is still ongoing. “Today’s ruling, while disappointing, is by no means the final word,” said Charles A. Birnbaum, president and CEO of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, in a statement. The Foundation is an “official consulting party” in the federal review process and has made its opposition to siting the OPC in Jackson Park clear. “Though the carefully orchestrated local approvals process has been enabled by pliant municipal officials, there are still federal-level reviews underway for this nationally significant work of landscape architecture that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.”
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Spark Something

Portman Architects starts new era with Atlanta's CODA at Tech Square
A 755,000-square-foot tech facility in Atlanta embodies the latest evolution of the city as a hub for innovation and creativity, and also stands as a symbol for the changes happening at the firm behind it. John Portman Architects, newly dubbed Portman Architects, designed CODA at Tech Square in collaboration with Georgia Tech to be a tech hub with one of the largest data centers in the Southeast. It’s no surprise that as the firm transitions into partner-based leadership and new work in tech-centric architecture, it also pushes forward an evolved identity. CEO Jack Portman, son of the late John Portman, told AN that this project is the next big step in the company’s 66-year story. “Each evolution of our firm has been a motivation to create anew,” said Portman. “My father created the super atrium, then modern mixed-use developments, and he was the first to move his firm and work overseas in China. CODA is one of these evolutionary points in our firm’s history. We’re back in Atlanta and looking to advance the future of design.” Portman Architects is currently working on three projects in Midtown Atlanta—north of downtown and east of the university. CODA is the first building completed in what will be the city’s T (tech) Zone. At 21 stories, the glass-clad, L-shaped building features room for 3,500 tech employees, as well as students and faculty, and is designed around a series of six, three-story vertical atriums that connect various wings. One of its defining design moments is the white spiral staircase—the tallest freestanding, helical stair in the world—which links the building’s “Collaboration Core.” According to Luca Maffey, vice president and design director of CODA, the piece of interior infrastructure allows views past the end of the city and it only takes a few minutes to climb to the top. The staircase, which is located right near the facade, also overlooks the grand piazza that cuts through the center of the site. Maffey said this outdoor living room-like space is already attracting people to the building. “Atlanta is known for great, internal and insular spaces, largely thanks to Portman himself,” he said. “CODA really opens up to the public and the streets with this plaza and with its transparency. It’s now a reference point for not only navigating Midtown but it also is a destination in and of itself.” Portman Architects integrated almost 40,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space on the ground floors in order to enhance that indoor-outdoor connectivity. A surprising exterior column that resembles a martini glass extends from the lower levels of the building and punches the plaza below. The entirety of CODA’s lower half also sits in dialogue with a historic, 1920s building on the site. Major design moments such as this elevate what could have been a boxy office structure with a glass curtain wall. Instead, these moves activate the efficiency of the site both in a sustainable aspect and in its circulation. Developed by Portman Holdings (the development company also started by John Portman), CODA is the first project Portman Architects has ever done for Georgia Tech, the largest tenant in the building. Other tech companies are starting to fill in the rest of the spaces, while others are finding a way to be next to CODA, Jack Portman says. “The 1.5 million square feet of expansion happening at tech square is the result of the excitement created by the design of CODA,” he said. The firm recently started construction on the adjacent Anthem Technology Center, which features a cluster of four towers connected at the core. Unlike CODA, not all the atriums will be connected, but the buildings will circle around a staircase that goes up to the top floor. Overall, the architecture is quite different—sections of the structures feature varied materials and textures, while CODA is pinstriped, calm, and elegant, Maffey said. “On the bottom half of the building, we wanted something that was more active and played with the light more,” he said. “The cladding has small folds of silver metal that will interact with the sun as it changes throughout the day.” Portman Architects is currently designing a “sibling” for the Anthem Tech Center which includes another building with three, interlocking facades. All of these high-profile local projects in Tech Square coincide with major changes happening at the firm. “Ten years ago, my father started to think about how his firm would continue to evolve once he stepped down,” Portman told AN. “He then created a partnership that better represented our motivation for working as part of a team, giving credit to everyone involved. The name change also helps differentiate buildings that we design now versus what he worked on.” Along with a new name comes a new visual identity for the firm as well. Portman Architects’ new logo is a six-point star, or a spark, which pays tribute to Portman’s old signature. Maffey noted the spark also alludes to the company’s history sparking change in the field of architecture. He now believes the firm is positioning itself to ignite more innovation in the future. “The firm’s evolution has also been in this crescendo mode,” he said. “Right now the energy in our office is higher, the average age of our employees is younger, and we’re pursuing new technologies to create our architecture. There’s also no singular approach to the way we work, and we’re more collaborative than ever. Everybody here is a Portman Architect.”