Search results for "parking"

Placeholder Alt Text

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.
Placeholder Alt Text

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.”
Placeholder Alt Text

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.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Light-Speed Build-Out

UC San Diego slated to build a new campus "front door"
UC San Diego is building itself a front door. The Pepper Canyon Amphitheater and Public Realm project, spearheaded by current chancellor Pradeep Khosla, is a restructuring of the physical campus, nestled between the Pacific coastline and Interstate 5. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the top 10 research university aims to become more welcoming to visitors and to better interact with neighbors. The university has added over 11,000 students in the past decade despite a statewide slashing of funds to the UC school system. The master plan includes building a grand entrance to the campus that organizes circulation while also creating a visually striking first impression. The "doorway" is expected to include a new 3,000 seat pavilion and amphitheater, a sculptural “walkway of words,” and an interactive swing set by visual artist Ann Hamilton. Additionally, a projected $761 million worth of new buildings will surround it, from a design and innovation center to a freestanding tower for alumni gatherings. These new projects seek to create what students and faculty feel that the campus has always lacked: an energetic downtown, connecting students to the campus as well as to the surrounding community.  At the center of the design philosophy is the use of public transportation for both students and visitors. There are consistent complaints about parking availability on campus, with some commuter students arriving at school by 5:00 a.m. just to get a spot and then sleeping in their cars until class. The development of San Diego’s Blue Line, a trolley system connecting the university with the city, has the potential to alleviate some of this commuter stress as the campus grows. With its expected completion by 2021, new buildings and plazas are being planned adjacent to the trolley, encouraging alternative transit while also inviting visual interaction between the campus and riders. The new building designs boast large windows overlooking the trolley so commuters are able to see inside workshops and labs, observing students creating and researching. The projects intentionally define a whole new meaning to the word transparency. Chancellor Khosla told the Union-Tribune he hopes that this focus will help eliminate the “urban island” syndrome that UCSD has acquired, existing on a geographic site that was always meant to be isolated. The La Jolla site of UCSD was historically occupied by a Marine Corps training base called Camp Matthews. The site is situated between the ocean’s coastal cliffs and a major highway, Interstate 5, with increasing pressure in the surrounding areas from tech company campuses and residential sprawl each year. However, Khosla is the first of the school’s chancellors to actively advocate for community interaction on campus, welcoming in neighbors and visitors rather than pushing them out. “Anybody who comes to San Diego should have this campus as a destination in addition to Balboa Park or the Gaslamp district,” he said to the Union-Tribune Critics of his open campus plan point out potential distraction on campus for students or security issues arising from homeless populations on public transit. But Khosla and his supporters see the public transport and tourism opportunities as a natural evolution for an increasingly urban campus. “We can’t be afraid of that and close the campus to everybody," he said. "That would be a disaster.”  
Placeholder Alt Text

Ready for the Troop

Johnson Favaro reimagines Beverly Hills' La Cienega Park
La Cienega Park and Recreation Center in Beverly Hills, California, is slated for a transformational new master plan by Culver City–based architecture firm Johnson Favaro. Unfolding over the next several years, the 17-acre park will gain a brand new indoor recreation and tennis center, aquatics center, community space, pre-school, as well as 12 acres of sports fields and open green spaces. Opened in 1925, the original park design was novel as it incorporated a water treatment plant with an open public green space. The plant, which was the first on the West Coast to offer municipally-softened water to the community, was designed in a Hacienda architectural style, but fell out of use as larger regional water systems took over the Beverly Hills requirements. But while the plant was discontinued, the park remained very much alive. In 1986, landscape architect Patrick Hirsch proposed a redesign of the park to shift its land use from the majority open space of the original layout to a more “active” layout that included the organized sports fields that were in demand at the time for the surrounding community. The new elements planned by Johnson Favaro continue this trend towards a more “active” parkland, as customized spaces will become more and more important for after-school activities, community gathering, and the arts. Architecture is a main focus of the master plan, with the architects at Johnson Favaro designing two new indoor facilities for the site. A 30,000-square-foot recreation center will house 3 basketball courts, 16 tennis courts (8 indoor, 8 outdoor situated on the facility’s roof), and encompass the indoor sections of the aquatic center. The 25,000-square-foot community center will accommodate multipurpose rooms, art and dance studios, classrooms for educational programming, as well as a teen center. An advanced stormwater retention system will also be installed below the park and new structures, facilitating drainage and limiting runoff. Cars will also be accommodated with two above- and below-grade parking structures located on either side of the boulevard, with space for 600 vehicles. However, the park is set to be accessible via public transit as well, with entrances within walking distance from the purple line of the LA Metro currently under construction. Construction is set to begin as early as 2021 and is expected to be completed by 2023.
Placeholder Alt Text

Sorry, Glass Enthusiasts

French Senate declares Notre Dame must be rebuilt as it was before, quashing competition
The French Senate has seemingly dealt a blow to French president Emmanuel Macron, approving a bill that requires the damaged Notre Dame Cathedral be rebuilt as it was before and from the same materials, wherever possible. On Monday night, according to French newspapers Le Monde and The Local, the Senate approved a Notre Dame reconstruction bill first passed by the lower house of the French parliament, the National Assembly, but precluded altering the cathedral. Senators added a clause stating the cathedral must be repaired to its “last known visual state” and use original materials, with exemptions allowed in extenuating circumstances for newer materials. The Senate agreed with the National Assembly that an oversight body headed by the Ministry of Culture would need to be created, but took out text from the lower house’s bill that would have, as per Macron’s request, allowed the reconstruction to sidestep environmental and preservation laws. Both houses of French parliament will now need to hash out the final text of the bill before it can move forward, but whatever they ultimately agree to will form the groundwork for the reconstruction process. If the Senate’s additions hold, it would be an explicit rebuke to Macron and Prime Minister Édouard Philippe. Two days after a fire ravaged Notre Dame on April 15, Macron pledged that the cathedral would be rebuilt by 2024, in time for the Summer Olympics in Paris, and that timetable may still hold. A competition to replace Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc’s downed timber spire from the mid-19th Century was also announced, and architects all over the world took the opportunity to imagine a Notre Dame topped in glass, parking lots, greenhouses, and more. Opposition to rebuilding the Parisian cathedral using modern materials and bypassing the existent preservation standards gathered steam, and over a thousand architects, historians, curators, and other interested parties have signed a petition calling on Macron not to rush the reconstruction.
Placeholder Alt Text

Re-Imagining the Modern

New book grapples with ambitious, contentious moment in Pittsburgh’s urban history
Imagining the Modern: Architecture and Urbanism of the Pittsburgh Renaissance Rami el Samahy, Chris Grimley, and Michael Kubo The Monacelli Press List Price: $50.00 In times of cynicism, revisiting more optimistic moments in architecture can conjure mixed emotions. Mid-century architects, designers, and planners exuded the optimistic belief that architecture and design could solve social ills worldwide—a spirit celebrated in recent exhibitions of Latin America and Yugoslavia at MoMA, and new books on Miami’s modernism. In a new book, Imagining the Modern: Architecture and Urbanism of the Pittsburgh Renaissance (Monacelli Press), Rami el Samahy, Chis Grimley, and Michael Kubo paint a vivid picture of the mixed emotions evoked by the changing urban landscape in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a city heralded as a role model of rustbelt reinvention. The book functions as an introduction to a complex moment in the city’s history, looking at Pittsburgh as a case study in a broader moment of urban renewal in many U.S. cities. Pittsburgh was deemed “the Mecca of urban renewal” in Architectural Forum in 1957, and yet Imagining the Modern is the first book to chronicle the city’s modernist history in a comprehensive way. The book emerged from a 2015–2016 curatorial experiment at the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Heinz Architectural Center, overseen by curator Raymund Ryan. Ryan invited the book’s authors, principles of the Boston-based studio OverUnder, to be architects-in-residence in the museum and explore Pittsburgh’s contentious relationship to urban renewal in an exhibition. The trio went to great lengths to dig up photography, publications, ephemera, and other documents around five Pittsburgh neighborhoods and projects: Gateway Center, the Lower Hill, Allegheny Center, East Liberty, and Oakland. The exhibition’s walls were plastered with unsung gems from local archives, and a series of panel discussions affiliated with the exhibition added to the cacophony of voices measuring the legacy of urban renewal and how architects ought to respond. Imagining the Modern distills this rich material in a manageable way, in the spirit of the authors’ reappraisal of Boston’s mid-century concrete, Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston (Monacelli Press). Their new book specifically deals with the built and imagined architectural transformations of Pittsburgh in the 1950s and ‘60s, and with even a quick flip through the book one can see the changing urban fabric of the city. Imagining the Modern includes a wonderful array of high-quality images and well-designed diagrams—from archival documents to photographs to city maps, the stunning visual display is captivating and invites the reader to explore “the manifold ways in which the modern was imagined in Pittsburgh.” Imagining the Modern offers several modes of engagement rather than taking a strong position on Pittsburgh’s modern legacy. Scholars Kelly Hutzell, Caroline Constant, and Martin Aurand provide historical context and analysis for the development of Pittsburgh’s urban form and infrastructure. The book includes a series of diagrams entitled “Modern Networks” by Aurand that map the extensive networks of public and private entities that commissioned local modern architecture. The diagrams reflect the complexity of the patronage that funded this “Pittsburgh Renaissance;” one could spend hours trying to decipher the often confusing lines between architects, buildings (both built and unbuilt), commissions, and patrons. At the heart of the book are archival documents, which the authors present as evidence for readers to arrive at their own conclusions. A section of the book is devoted to reproductions of excerpts from two “Visionary Documents” that outlined the challenges for modernist designers to solve—pollution, traffic congestion, housing, parking, urban blight—while also suggesting ways to remedy such issues through architecture and design. Imagining the Modern goes on to show readers how plans for Pittsburgh neighborhoods and infrastructure were marketed, sometimes successfully, to respond to these issues through superlatives and dazzling renderings. Pittsburgh positioned itself as a “Cinderella City,” as a headline put it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on June 30, 1953: “Ridiculed, scorned and snubbed for over a century and a half, Pittsburgh throws off her pall to become the ‘City of Tomorrow.’” As steel production left the region and factories closed in the 1950s and ‘60s, dazzling buildings of mid-century modern buildings by leading architects rose with a zeal unfathomable today. Harrison & Abramovitz, Mitchell & Ritchey, Simonds & Simonds, and Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), to name a few, all built memorable works in Pittsburgh around this time. Imagining the Modern shows the development of the city’s most iconic buildings alongside ambitious plans that remain unbuilt, including one scheme that proposed filling the Oakland neighborhood’s Panther Hollow ravine with a mile-long research facility to bridge the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. Rather than allowing the beautiful architectural renderings and photography to simply seduce the reader—which, occasionally, they do—Imagining the Modern also shows a collection of excerpts from the architectural and popular press responding to these proposals. The book juxtaposes the cheerleading coverage of The Pittsburgh Press alongside the coordinated, albeit unsuccessful, campaign by The Pittsburgh Courier to thwart plans for the displacement of thousands of mostly Black residents of the Lower Hill. The book’s photography also humanizes the actors on both sides of the city’s transformation, with moving images of people designing, building, debating, celebrating, protesting, photographing, and using the new works. Refreshingly, the book complexifies the role of architects in this transformative moment as well. Interviews and works by Troy West, for example, show that architects weren’t only the handmaidens of the powerful—his teaching and collaborative practices, which he operated as Architecture 2001 and Community Design Associates, offered an alternative model to the top-down design and planning approaches that often mar the legacy of postwar design. Instead of staking claims about the history of Pittsburgh’s modernism, Imagining the Modern showcases the debate that optimistic work by designers and planners continue to provoke. At a time when cities across the U.S. are working tirelessly to reverse the effects of urban renewal—understood as a pseudonym for “Negro removal,” as Dr. Mindy Fullilove suggests in her book Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, And What We Can Do About It—this book asks readers to take a closer look at a few urban visions through a mix of historical essays, sexy images, riotous press clippings, enlightening diagrams, insightful interviews, and informative project descriptions that offer everyone an entry into a fraught urban and architectural moment.
Placeholder Alt Text

National Landing

Amazon reveals first rendering of its HQ2 in Arlington, Virginia
Amazon has released the first visual for its upcoming second home, or HQ2, in "National Landing," featuring a design by ZGF Architects. Located in Arlington, Virginia, HQ2 will include two new energy-efficient office buildings with room for community space and neighborhood retail. Spanning 2.1 million square feet, the ground-up construction is being developed by JBG Smith and will mark phase one of the online retail giant’s plan to construct a large campus fit for its 25,000 incoming employees. The entire project will be placed within Crystal City’s new mixed-use redevelopment zone, Metropolitan Park, which encompasses 16 acres of unused warehouses and empty parking lots. Not much information on the design has been released so far but, according to Amazon, the first pair of buildings at HQ2 will be LEED Gold certified and will include 50,000 square feet of shops, restaurants, and an eventual daycare center, as well as green outdoor terraces. Phase one will also feature the transformation of the Metropolitan Park area with 1.1 acres of new public open space—think a recreational park, room for farmers markets, a dog park, and more. Additionally, HQ2 will house an on-site facility for 600 bikes and an underground parking garage. Amazon says it also has future plans to construct a bike path that would connect to Arlington’s existing bike cycling infrastructure. Located in downtown Cyrstal City, an urban subset of southeast Arlington, the tech hub will also be close to existing public transportation including the D.C. Metro, Virginia’s commuter rail line, and bus lines. Over the next decade, Amazon plans to complete upwards of 6 million square feet of office space for its new Northern Virginia home. Amazon's Crystal City design comes after last year's competition in which hundreds of cities across the U.S. and Canada vied to house the tech giant's second headquarters. After Amazon decided to bring the project to both Arlington and New York City, residents and politicians in the Big Apple protested against the negotiated arrangement between the city and the corporation, leading Amazon to back out of New York and focus on its Virginia plans.
Placeholder Alt Text

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.

Placeholder Alt Text

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.
Placeholder Alt Text

Economy Air

Mexico City’s cost-saving replacement airport to break ground in June
After the cancellation of Foster + Partners’ $13 billion NAICM (Nuevo Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México) via public referendum last October, the Mexican government opted to replace the scuttled Mexico City airport with a cheaper alternative. Come June, according to Mexico News Daily, ground will be broken on the $3.8 billion Felipe Ángeles Airport at Santa Lucía Air Force Base. The design is extremely sparse compared to the spiderlike central airport proposed before it, and the first phase will feature a terminal, two runways, control tour, and a 4,000-car capacity parking lot. The Felipe Ángeles Airport, rather than building on new land, will expand the Santa Lucía Air Force Base, and the project is being overseen and built by the military college of engineers. Brigadier General Ricardo Vallejo told Mexico New Daily that the airport should be open to travelers in June of 2021 and would accommodate up to 20 million passengers a year, growing to 80 million a year over the next five decades. A new 29-mile-long highway will also be built to connect the northern Felipe Ángeles Airport to the existing Mexico City Benito Juárez International Airport (MEX) at a cost of $528 million. The new airport is part of the Mexican government’s plan to split the traffic that the NAICM would have accommodated between two separate locations; currently MEX is operating at 50 percent over capacity. Additionally, the original Mexico City airport will gain a third, and possibly fourth, terminal to cope with the increased traffic. The NAICM was canceled after President Andrés Manuel López Obrador pledged in 2018 as part of his presidential campaign to hold a public referendum over the project. With 70 percent of the public in opposition, the travel hub was canceled. Although $5 billion had already been spent by that time, opposition to the project had been mounting on a number of fronts. The total cost of the airport, once demolition of Santa Lucía and the original MEX was factored in, was estimated at $31 billion. Additionally, NAICM was being built on the wetland plain of Texcoco and would have sunk by up to 16 inches a year. Because Texcoco is so low-lying, it would have also been inundated by stormwater runoff from the surrounding city.
Placeholder Alt Text

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.