Search results for "morphosis"

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Sacrificing Modernism
Sean Khorsandi

As New York continues to evolve into a city catering to outsiders—courting the science and technology industries and luring foreign tourists from every corner of the globe—politicians stupefied and in awe of their development prowess congratulate one another: this, is progress! (Sorry Emma Lazarus, no tired and poor here—just give us your caffeinated and moneyed huddled masses!)

Soon, Roosevelt Island’s Coler-Goldwater Hospital for chronic diseases, a herringbone plan, designed with Deco patient wards capped by rounded day rooms and circumscribed by deep balconies for roll-out patient beds, will be absorbed into the greater NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC). Chevron-like gold brick wings, carefully offset to not cast shadows on neighboring patient areas will give way to Cornell’s twerked glass campus from a panoply of A-list architects including Weiss/Manfredi, Field Operations, Morphosis, SOM, and others.


As visitors to Louis Kahn’s FDR Memorial often pay homage to the James Renwick Small Pox Hospital ruin during their pilgrimages, most all unknowingly pass by two chapels—a synagogue and a mosque—within the hospital’s 1971 addition, the Activities Building. This structure was completed posthumously by Swiss-born American pioneer of Modernism, William Lescaze (1896–1969). Adorned with colorful mosaics and Emanuel Millstein-designed stained glass windows, these barely published, publically inaccessible spaces will soon be lost.

Over on Manhattan, where recent shuffling has finally consolidated Parsons, Mannes College, and various sundry divisions of the New School into the 16-Story Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill combination University Center/Kerrey Hall on 14th Street, another Lescaze building faces demolition. In the wake of the consolidation, parcels of the campus were de-accessioned, including the polite, oft-over looked Brotherhood in Action building on 7th Avenue at 40th Street. An understated box set atop a synagogue and held back from the avenue by a raised pedestrian plaza, this “building-next-door” gained national facade recognition through its many cameos for Project Runway.

After open bidding, it was sold to Soho Properties and MHP (the former Murray Hill Properties), and is destined to become a new Dream Hotel. Early renderings by SOMA show a Jenga-stack of glass volumes. Restrained, human-scaled, and civic minded buildings will again cede to denser development with less cultural purpose.

The first phase of Cornell NYC Tech is slated to open in 2017. Dream Times Square has no check-in date listed. As of press, both Lescaze buildings are still standing.

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Lawsuit Filed to Block Cooper Union Tuition
A group of Cooper Union professors, alumni, and students has filed a lawsuit against the school’s Board of Trustees over its decision last spring to start charging undergraduate tuition at the school. At the time, the board said the cash-strapped institution had no choice but to break their long-held tradition of offering free arts and architecture education. They announced that the change would go into effect this coming fall, and that tuition would be set on a sliding scale. The group who filed the suit—the Committee to Save Cooper Union—is attempting to block this change before new students arrive this fall. The committee is also calling for an audit into the school’s finances, which they allege have been grossly mismanaged. According to the New York Daily News, "the scathing Manhattan Supreme Court documents accuse the school’s leaders of spending on fancy new buildings, borrowing more money than the school could afford and losing tens of millions by investing in a trustee’s own hedge fund." One of those "fancy new buildings" is the school’s gleaming, 175,000-square-foot structure designed by Morphosis that opened five years ago. A spokesperson for Cooper Union said, in part, "we are disappointed that the Committee to Save Cooper Union would choose costly litigation over constructive conversation."
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On View> Chicago’s Graham Foundation Presents “Everything Loose Will Land”
Everything Loose Will Land Graham Foundation 4 West Burton Place, Chicago Through July 26 Everything Loose Will Land explores the intersection of art and architecture in Los Angeles during the 1970s. The show’s title refers to a Frank Lloyd Wright quote that if you “tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” This freeness alludes to the fact that this dislodging did not lead to chaos but rather a multidisciplinary artistic community that redefined LA. The exhibition features one hundred and twenty drawings, photographs, media works, sculptures, prototypes, models, and ephemera. The presentations function as a kind of archive of architectural ideas that connect a variety of disciplines. Projects by Carl Andre, Ed Moses, Peter Alexander, Michael Asher, James Turrell, Maria Nordman, Robert Irwin, Frank Gehry, Richard Serra, Coy Howard, Craig Ellwood, Peter Pearce, Morphosis, Bruce Nauman, Craig Hodgetts, Jeff Raskin, Ed Ruscha, Noah Purifoy, Paolo Soleri, Ray Kappe, Denise Scott Brown, Archigram, L.A. Fine Arts Squad, Bernard Tschumi, Eleanor Antin, Peter Kamnitzer, Cesar Pelli, Andrew Holmes, Elizabeth Orr, and others are explored. Curated by Sylvia Lavin, Director of Critical Studies in the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA, the show began its journey at the MAK Center for Architecture and then traveled to the Yale School of Architecture before arriving at the Graham Foundation.
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Adventurous Los Angeles
Courtesy Lars Muller Publishers

L.A. [Ten]: Interviews on Los Angeles Architecture 1970s-1980s
By Stephen Phillips
Lars Müller Publishers, $35

Cal Poly professor Stephen Phillips interviewed nine of the ten Los Angeles architects featured in the new book L.A. [Ten]. Frank Gehry, the most notable of this loosely linked pack that came to prominence in the 1970s and 80s, is absent. The majority of these mavericks were featured in A Confederacy of Heretics, the exhibition that SCI-Arc presented last year. As with the New York Five, and other ad hoc groupings, each went in a different direction. As Phillips observes in his introduction, “The group as a whole seemed less important to them than their own individuality… LA was a place of free expression.” The label originated with a series of lectures and exhibits, inspired by the European Team X, which Thom Mayne organized in his Venice home-studio in 1979.

Pictures of each of the architects in the L.A. Ten.

These interviews, a group endeavor by the Cal Poly LA Metro Project and the Getty Research Institute, constitute an oral history of a turbulent and creative era. Even Mayne, whose career has burgeoned in the past three decades, looks back on that time with wistful nostalgia. He recalls the genesis of SCI-Arc as a throwaway remark by Ray Kappe, who gathered the dissident faculty of Cal Poly Pomona and said “Let’s start a school.” Forty senior students signed up for a penniless institution operating out of an empty warehouse; five faculty worked long hours without pay for the first two years. Against all the odds, SCI-Arc flourished, while keeping its edge. That provided a hub for experimentation that channeled and stimulated the talents of young architects who wanted to break away from the stale conventions of modernism. It helped that there was a confident mood in LA leading up to the 1984 Olympics, and the Los Angeles Times gave architecture critic John Dreyfuss a prominence unthinkable today. UCLA’s School of Architecture under Tim Vreeland was another incubator. Excitement was in the air, and it is fascinating to hear how these ten architects saw their contribution, then and now.

And how they talk! Mayne and Eric Owen Moss are celebrated for their 30-minute responses to simple questions, and the way they leap around from one book or movie to an abstruse theory, and on to a personal anecdote without a pause for breath. Phillips, former Getty Architecture Curator Wim de Wit, and other participants in the discussion offer a few cues, but these sections are essentially monologues. In contrast, Michael Rotondi talks up a storm, but the tone is radically different from that of his former partner at Morphosis—friendlier and much more accessible. He recalls the evolution of 72 Market, a sadly short-lived restaurant, and the way he learned by doing. Many of the LA Ten came to the city from back East; Rotondi confesses that he has always lived within two miles of where he was born, in Silver Lake—the neighborhood that was home to Richard Neutra for four decades. And he provides the best response to the question of what makes building in LA different from other places. “Simply said, I see unity and diversity all around,” he said. “And I always believed that the umbilical cord from Europe never made it over the Rockies…That’s why things became hybrid in LA. That’s why fusion begins here.”

The other architects—Neil Denari, Frederick Fisher, Craig Hodgetts, and Ming Fung, Wes Jones, and Coy Howard are more conversational, recalling their first encounters with LA and especially with Venice, which was then a cheap, seedy backwater, beloved by impecunious artists. It is the LA that is 98 percent mundane with a few scattered sparks of brilliance and eccentricity that nurtured Reyner Banham, the Eameses, and a long succession of architects who found opportunities here they would never have enjoyed in conventional cities. The perspective of the LA Ten is invaluable—as social history and as a spur for another tide of talent to ameliorate the mediocrity.

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News Flash
Building 11 as seen from Hill Street.
Courtesy Forest City

Julia Morgan’s magnificent but dilapidated Herald-Examiner Building, located on the long-neglected south end of Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles, is about to get the attention it has deserved for decades. The Hearst Companies have awarded Los Angeles firm Omgivning the commission for its renovation and redevelopment. Meanwhile, Harley Ellis Devereaux (HED) will design two adjacent mixed-use buildings, tentatively called 11 x 12, for Forest City.

The opulent, Spanish Revival style Herald-Examiner (1914) was designed for William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper of the same name. The publication closed in 1989 and the edifice, with its terra cotta rooftops, tiled domes, and elegant archways, has been suffering from serious neglect since. The architects will install retail and restaurants on the ground floor and creative office and commercial spaces above. The building’s ornate lobby remains in tact, said Omgivning principal Karin Liljegren, but the remaining interior consists mostly of a raw concrete shell. The developer for the renovation is the Hearst Companies. Completion dates have not been finalized, said Liljegren.

View of Building 12 from the street  (left). View of new building and paseo behind the Herald-Examiner (right).
Courtesy Forest City

HED’s nearby buildings include “11,” a red-colored linear building behind the Herald Examiner near 11th Street, and “12,” a blue-colored cube-shaped building one block south near 12th Street. 11 contains 178 residential units and about 6,000 square feet of retail, while 12 houses 214 units and 8,000 square feet of retail. Both designs have large podiums and are “ragingly contemporary,” said HED principal Daniel Gehman. Still, 11, its red color inspired by the Herald-Examiner’s auburn tiles, is slightly more muted when facing the historic building, so as to “be a good, poetic neighbor,” said Gehman.

HED is designing a narrow, heavily landscaped paseo behind the Herald-Examiner, giving the buildings breathing room and providing outdoor dining and congregation space. The buildings and the paseo are expected to break ground by the end of this year and be completed by late 2016 or early 2017.

Floyd B. Bariscale

Hearst almost redeveloped the Herald-Examiner in 2007, commissioning Morphosis to design two jagged residential high rises behind the Julia Morgan building. The recession killed that scheme.

Omgivning is also designing a boutique hotel across the street from the Herald Examiner in a historic 13-story high rise that once contained the Case Hotel.

“It’s such an important thing for Broadway to get that bookend,” said Liljegren, referring to filling out the south side of a street that is finally emerging from years of slumber. Liljegren has been involved with reforming the area’s sign ordinance to allow for a much wider variety of signs on Broadway, from open panel roof marquees to long, narrow blade signs, rising up the side of the street. “This is long overdue, what’s happening here,” agreed Gehman. “It’s all coming together.”

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Back from the Dead
Gehry Partners' Grand Avenue Project.
Courtesy Related Companies

As Downtown Los Angeles’ comeback continues at a rapid pace you can add another category to the area’s new residences, offices, hotels, shops, and restaurants: projects back from the dead. In recent months a flurry of all types of development once considered lost in the last economic downturn have come back online, albeit often with very different teams and looks.

“We felt very strongly that the demand would come right back once the recession started to ease,” said Carol Schatz, president and CEO at the Downtown Center Business Improvement District (DCBID). Unlike the previous recession, she added, “everyone knew something was going on downtown. It didn’t erode the confidence people had in downtown as a new market.”


The timing couldn’t be better. According to DCBID’s 2013 Development Market Report, Downtown LA is now seeing construction of 5,000 residential units and 1,474 hotel units, while over 70 new retail businesses opened in 2013 and millions of square feet of office space were leased. Another important factor in the projects’ return: the city’s multiple approvals ordinance, which, among other things, helped extend the length of development entitlements to keep them alive.

The most high profile return is Related Company’s and Frank Gehry’s Grand Avenue Project in Bunker Hill, whose new scheme—now centered around a staggered, u-shaped plaza—was approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on January 14 and by the Grand Avenue Authority on January 15. That $750 million, mixed-use project was left for dead after close to a dozen extensions, but received a shot in the arm when potential partners—particularly Hotel operator SLS—expressed interest, according to Related’s Bill Witte. The scale of the project is significantly reduced from the original one. “It’s a better and more appropriate plan this time around,” said Witte.

Shimoda Design's 695 Santa Fe development.
Courtesy Shimoda Design

In the super-hot Arts District AMP Lofts by Koning Eizenberg (2008) is now 605 Santa Fe, with architecture by Shimoda Design. The project—whose look will be inspired by the area’s industrial setting, with a concrete podium and corrugated metal clad units—includes 240 apartment units and 20,000 square feet of restaurant and creative office space designed around 25,000 square feet of park space. “We’re very bullish on Los Angeles,” explained Ryan Granito, Senior Project Manager for the developer, Bolour Associates. The site’s entitlements were already in place, and only need to be adjusted.

On the other side of town another raised ghost is Metropolis, a mega-scale mixed-use project in South Park that has seen more iterations than any other in the area, including plans by Michael Graves in the 1990s, and another by developer IDS in 2011. The $1 billion hotel, residential, office project is being led by Shanghai-based Greenland Group and by Gensler. The project will start with a 19-story hotel and a 38-story apartment building. Applications were filed in December.


Park Fifth, a 76-story condo tower designed by KPF in 2008 (as the largest tower west of the Mississippi) on the corner of 5th and Olive, next to Pershing Square, is now being developed by MacFarlane Partners at a much more manageable size. The new project, about half the scale of Park Fifth, will include 600,000 square feet of retail and residential space.

Finally comes the redevelopment of the Herald Examiner development on Broadway, centering around Julia Morgan’s grand-but-dilapidated former headquarters for the Herald Examiner newspaper. Morphosis had designed two residential towers that were killed by the last downturn. Now developer Forest City plans to develop two mixed-use buildings on lots adjacent to the Morgan Building. The Hearst Corporation also intends to renovate the Morgan building, with plans for ground floor retail and creative office space above. No architects have been chosen for the project yet.

As Downtown becomes more attractive, more projects will rise from the dead, adding to a cityscape that is already unrecognizable from just a decade ago. “We have lots of projects being discussed but I’ve learned from experience that you don’t count them until they’re under construction,” said Schatz.

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Architectural League Names 2014 Emerging Voices
Today, the Architectural League of New York revealed its selections for the 2014 class of Emerging Voices, a distinction that honors young firms "with distinct design voices and the potential to influence the disciplines of architecture, landscape design, and urbanism." This year's pool of winners demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit, according to the League, "pursuing alternate forms of practice, often writing their own programs or serving as their own clients." Winners are selected by a jury from a pool of invited firms. This year's international group of eight includes The Living (which just this week was also named winner of MoMA PS 1's Young Architects Program), Surfacedesign, SITU Studio, Ants of the Prairie, Estudio Macías Peredo, Rael San Fratello, TALLER |MauricioRocha+GabrielaCarrillo|, and Williamson Chong Architects. A lecture series is planned in March where each firm will present their work and design philosophy. Betsy Williamson, Shane Williamson, and Donald Chong Williamson Chong Architects Toronto According to the League:
“Context, materials research, economies of construction, building performance, and client-based collaboration” all shape the design approach of Williamson Chong Architects. Their work ranges in scale from furniture to master planning, including the House in Frogs Hollow and the Abby Gardens Food Community master plan.
David Benjamin The Living New York According to the League:
New Yorkʼs The Living explores – through installations such as Mussel Choir, exhibited at the Venice Biennale, and the NYCEDC project EcoPark – “how new technologies come to life in the built environment.” The Living was just named as the winner of the MoMA/PS1 Young Architects Program.
Geoff di Girolamo, James Lord, and Roderick Wyllie Surfacedesign San Francisco According to the League:
The landscape architecture and urban design practice Surface Design, Inc. focuses on creating landscapes that emphasize “personal histories and connections between culture and natural environment” with projects ranging in scale from domestic projects, to San Franciscoʼs Golden Gate Bridge Plaza, to Stonesfields Quarry Park in Auckland, New Zealand.
Basar Girit, Aleksey Lukyanov-Cherny, Wes Rozen, and Bradley Samuels SITU Studio Brooklyn According to the League:
The firmʼs Brooklyn-based studio, divided between design and fabrication spaces, enables their goal to “leverage fabrication efficiencies, material re-use, flexible assemblies, and community involvement to create spaces that engage in living relationships with the urban context.” Projects have included the ReOrder installation in the Brooklyn Museum Great Hall; Heartwalk, installed in Times Square; and mapping and analysis projects.
Joyce Hwang Ants of the Prairie Buffalo, NY According to the League:
Ants of the Prairie is an arts and research practice “dedicated to developing creative approaches in confronting the pleasures and horrors of our contemporary ecologies,” as seen in work such as Bat Cave and Bat Cloud and the currently under construction bird and bat Habitat Wall.
Salvador Macías Corona and Magui Peredo Arenas Estudio Macías Peredo Guadalajara, Mexico According to the League:
Estudio Macías Peredo, acknowledging “the understanding of our regional situation (geographically and socio-culturally), where [a] craftsman is part of the building process,” embraces ideas of critical regionalism, as explored in the residences Casa Atlas and Casa Arenas.
Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello Rael San Fratello Oakland, CA According to the League:
Rael San Fratello shies away from working within a set philosophy, trying rather “not to define, but rather to constantly redefine ourselves” with projects, ranging from the art installation Prada Marfa to their winning entry in the Sukkah City competition, “Sukkah of the Signs, aka the Homeless House,” that “try to do the most with the least.”
Mauricio Rocha Iturbide and Gabriela Carrillo Valadez TALLER |MauricioRocha+GabrielaCarrillo| Mexico City According to the League:
TALLER IMauricioRocha+GabrielaCarrilloI focuses on “the importance of the vernacular, craftsmanship, sustainability, and socially-responsible design” in projects such as Plastic Arts School, Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca and the Hall for the Visually Impaired, Ciudadela.
The League's Emerging Voices lecture series will take place at the Scholastic Auditorium located at 557 Broadway, New York. For exact dates and ticket information, visit the League's website. The 2014 jury included Fred Bernstein, Paul Lewis, Kate Orff, Thomas Phifer, Annabelle Selldorf, and Adam Yarinsky. Previous Emerging Voices winners include Jeanne Gang, Morphosis, Steven Holl, Tod Williams, Deborah Berke, Brad Cloepfil, Michael Maltzan, and many others.
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Ithaca on the East River
New buildings on Roosevelt Island will follow rigorous sustainability principles.
Courtesy Kilograph

The first three buildings and first phase of the landscape of the new Cornell NYCTech campus on Roosevelt Island, emphasizing collaboration across disciplines and sustainable design principles, were revealed at the end of December. Thom Mayne of Morphosis is designing the largest building, which will include classrooms, labs, and collaborative educational spaces. Weiss/Manfredi is designing a hybrid educational and commercial incubator building on the Queens facing side of the island. Handel Architects are designing a tower adjacent to the Queensboro Bridge for student and faculty housing.

Mayne’s trapezoidal building features a central core that aligns with 57th Street on the Manhattan Street grid. The residential and incubator buildings frame another view corridor out to Queens. A vast super structure supports a giant solar array, which will allow the building to produce as much energy as its occupants consume. “Aligning with Cornell Tech’s interdisciplinary academic mission, the design merges site planning, building planning, engineering, and architecture into an integrated and performative solution,” wrote Mayne in a statement. A ground floor café, accessible to the public, will help link the campus back to the more developed northern end of the island.


Weiss/Manfredi’s seven-story building, dubbed the “Corporate Co-Location Building,” will contain spaces for research and development projects for industry and the academy. It too features a large rooftop solar array and is aiming for net-zero energy use. Manfredi called the building “a flexible platform bringing industry and the academy together.”

The residential building is only in the schematic phase, but Handel emphasized that there will be apartments of all sizes, from large faculty apartments suited for families, to modest studios for students. The building is expected to house about 550 people. The project uses passive design principles with the goal of creating a carbon neutral facility.

A new park by Field Operations will connect the campus.

James Corner Field Operations will connect to the existing island esplanade and weave a series of intimate gathering areas with more open spaces. Strategies are being put in place to retain all stormwater onsite. Park space will total two and a half acres.

At the press unveiling, Mayne spoke about the need to improve connectivity to the island, possibly with a pedestrian and cyclist connection off the Queensboro Bridge or adding ferry service. While the island’s population and activity will go with these first three buildings, they are only the beginning. The full campus will eventually include five additional buildings, possibly for educational use or for private industry.

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Pittfalls in New Orleans: Brad Pitt’s “Make It Right” Houses Need Repair
The houses built by Brad Pitt's charitable organization, Make it Right, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are already in need of refurbishing. The foundation is part of an effort to restore New Orleans' 9th Ward through the construction of 150 architect-designed homes featuring modern design, but the timber used on the exteriors of many of the homes is proving no match for the area's moisture and is beginning to rot.  The charity has said it will work with their provider TimberSIL to solve the problems with the rapidly decaying wood. Pitt founded Make it Right to offer green sustainable architectural contributions to New Orlean's recovery efforts. The actor called upon prominent figures within the Los Angeles architectural scene—Frank Gehry, Hitoshi Abe, Thom Mayne, and Lawrence Scarpa among others—to create affordable houses to be installed in the neighborhood of the city hardest-hit by the storm. Shigeru Ban and David Adjaye have also contributed designs to the foundation. In 2009 he met with President Obama and Nancy Pelosi to discuss his efforts in New Orleans and sustainable housing policy. The charity is another step in  the actor's ongoing and well-publicized flirtation with architecture. It is also not the first time one of his ambitious undertakings in the field has hit a bit of a stumbling block. Developed with affordability in mind, it seems unlikely that any of the Make it Right homes will feature pieces from the actor's 2012 furniture collection "priced at the highest end of the custom-furnishing scale."
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Stalled No More? Downtown Los Angeles Developments Could See New Life
Speaking of zombies, two of Downtown LA’s most long-stalled projects appear to be rising from the dead. The mixed-use project revolving around Julia Morgan’s beautiful Herald Examiner Building on Broadway is apparently finally getting underway, now developed by Forest City, and no longer designed by Morphosis. The designer has yet to be revealed. Also Metropolis, a multi-building megaproject designed at one point by Michael Graves back in the 1990s, is apparently being brought back by Gensler. Of course downtown giveth and downtown taketh away. We hear that Johnson Fain, who were previously designing the Bloc development, a makeover of the former Macy’s Plaza, is no longer on the project. Studio One Eleven are now, according to a project spokesperson, “moving forward with implementation.” Johnson Fain had been “engaged to assist with the development of the concept and to oversee the schematic design phase of the Bloc.” Too bad they couldn’t finish the job.
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Change & Xchange
Lara Almarcegui's Buried House in Oak Cliff Gardens.
Allison V. Smith for the Nasher

Nasher Xchange
Nasher Sculpture Center
2001 Flora Street, Dallas
Through February 16

It’s hard to believe that only a little over 10 years ago the full-block site in the northern part of downtown Dallas, where the Nasher Sculpture Center now stands, was a surface parking lot abutting a major freeway among several other parking lots and empty sites. Seen from the point of view of Dallas Arts District old-timers, such as the Dallas Museum of Art (1983 by Edward Larabee Barnes) or the Meyerson Symphony Center (1989 by I.M. Pei), the Nasher is a newcomer. Yet, in its short life the Sculpture Center has already seen the boom of a younger generation of cultural buildings that includes the Winnspear Opera (Foster + Partners), the Wyly Theater (REX/OMA), and the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (Brad Cloepfil/Allied Works), that all opened before the close of the first decade of the new century. Since 2010, the City Performance Hall (SOM) and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science (Thom Mayne/Morphosis) have opened, and, perhaps more surprisingly, the depressed freeway has been covered and converted to the five-acre Klyde Warren Park (James Burnett). Light rail train tracks have been laid in Olive Street, which borders the Nasher to the east, and on that same side stands the largest and most problematic newcomer, the 42-story residential Museum Tower, which is clad in a highly reflective glass skin that beams afternoon sun back through the brise-soleil that covers Renzo Piano’s glass-roofed exhibition spaces and makes hay out of Peter Walker’s sculpture garden lawn. Otherwise, at its ten-year milestone, the Nasher looks good and the garden has matured and appears lush. Now it is less difficult to imagine that in another ten years the currently under populated streets of the 70-acre Arts District might become lively and full of pedestrians, and the decidedly autonomous buildings of the area might somehow congeal to form a more coherent whole.

Rachel Harrison's Moore to the point at City Hall Plaza.

To celebrate its tenth anniversary the Nasher has thrown a four-month party for itself, for the District, and for Dallas in the form of XChange, a public sculpture exhibition of ten works by ten artists on ten sites around the city. For the opening, the Nasher extended invitations to visit all of the pieces with the artists and organizers. Some of the participating artists (Lara Almarcegui, Good/Bad Art Collective, Rachel Harrison, Alfredo Jaar, Liz Larner, Charles Long, Rick Lowe, Vicki Meek, Ruben Ochoa, and Ugo Rondinone) are local, while others come from afar. Some are well known while others are less so. Each artist was given a tour of potential sites and was allowed to select one that personally inspired them. The sites are generally located within a 25-mile long, north/south swath of the city that contains a variety of cultural, economic, and physical characteristics of the urban, sub-urban, and non-urban context. They include the hardwood forests of the Trinity River bottomland and the historically African American Paul Quinn College campus to the south, a skyscraper and the Nasher site itself downtown, and a high-end shopping mall and high-tech university building to the north. XChange is obviously meant to create exchanges with and among memory, media, monuments, time, technology, consumerism, charity, community, race, nature, and daily cycles. It is meant to speak to various locations and aspects of the city and help Dallas see itself. Since the works are generally large in scale, many take on an architectural quality, as commissions requiring significant collaboration and execution by teams.

Ruben Ohoa's Flock in Space at the Trinity River Audubon Center.

The ten public sculptures are birthday presents, and as with any important gift giving occasion, some will be perfect, others will be gags, and others will be more for the giver than the receiver. XChange is more provocative and revealing when considered as an ensemble. Individual pieces such as Buried House (which is exactly what its title suggests) can be highly cerebral with few tactile, visual, or experiential qualities. Others, such as Trans.lation, have no traditional sculptural presence, but are high-aspiration, long-term social activism as art. Many of the pieces were conceived as ephemeral, lasting only the four months of the exhibition, while others should become a permanent part of the Dallas cityscape. Ideally, XChange would be a thread of change to stitch the city together in diverse manners. For uninitiated passersby, however, some of the pieces will likely not be recognized as works of art.

With the celebration of XChange, the Nasher also offered itself a critique of the museum in general. Artists often want to get out of the museum, and by its very nature public art is not disposed to display within a gallery. In comparison to their freely accessible, public sculptures, the artists spoke of museums as intimidating and catering to an elite public, perpetuating barriers between art and life, and overly mediating the experience of art. Art in a space without guards, they said, is better.

There is a spirit of collaboration among the institutions of the Arts District, and with the opening of XChange the Dallas Museum of Art placed a shipping container outside its south entrance to exhibit three projects responding to the Dallas CityDesign Studio’s Connected City Design Challenge. The projects are by Ricardo Bofill, OMA-AMO, and the team of Stoss and SHoP. The challenge is to reconnect downtown Dallas to a part of the Trinity River located approximately one mile to the west. Ironically, this portion of the river was closer to downtown before and was actually moved by a half mile toward the west in the mid-1800s. The space now contains freeways, railroad tracks, and the like. At a glance, the three projects are surprisingly similar, a bit generic, and emphasize high-rise and low-rise, nature and urbanism, transportation and infrastructure, density and cultural venues, and in some cases willfully impose geometric forms on the urban plan. The projects seem to lack the complexity of the Dallas seen while visiting the public sculptures. The Connected City Design Challenge will be a good opportunity to see if XChange really helps Dallas to see itself.

On a practical note, it makes for a very full, but interesting day to visit all of the XChange public sculptures.

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Imagine There’s No Countries
Courtesy Metropolis Books

A Country of Cities: A Manifesto for Urban America
By Vishaan Chakrabarti
Metropolis Books, $30

Seemingly everywhere, all the time, Vishaan Chakrabarti delivers a timely, or well-coordinated, rally cry to vanquish exurbs and even suburbs in pursuit of the hyperdensification of urban centers as the route to a more sustainable future—environmentally, economically, and socially. In his new book, Chakrabarti supports this argument with 250 pages of well-written, though slightly redundant, prose and clear illustrations. Redundancy here is not a bad thing because many of his basic claims seem to have gone unheeded for decades to disastrous and steadily worsening outcomes.

Part info graphic, part manifesto, and part plea, A Country of Cities grows from a series of articles Chakrabarti began writing in 2009 for Urban Omnibus, the Architectural League of New York’s website dedicated to urbanism. Collected here the missives lose none of their impact, relevance, or timeliness in urging for a densification of American cities.

Much of Chakrabarti’s argument comes down to the densification and intertwining of living, working, infrastructure, and transportation. Currently the earth’s population of 7 billion people could fit in the land area of Texas at 25 dwelling units per acre, still under the economic threshold to develop subway or rail lines. In the U.S., 3 percent of the land—i.e. large cities—produces 85 percent of the GDP while consuming less energy per capita than suburban townships.


In order to get beyond this current malaise of overstretched infrastructure and greenhouse gasses, A Country of Cities argues for hyperdensification in which centers of population are concentrated at minimally 30 housing units per acre in order to be able to provide a tax base for public transportation and walkable mixed-use neighborhoods.

The book grows out of the presupposition that the nation would choose to live more densely. Maybe this is where Chakrabarti’s manifesto falls short—in a democracy politicians cannot curb so easily what people do not want to change. “Despite all the changes politicians promise, reforming our sprawling, gluttonous lifestyle is never among them,” Chakrabarti points out.

After World War II, suburbanization began whittling away in earnest at the U.S.’s pro-urban stance. Vehicle and fuel manufacturers lobbied against mass transit. The National Housing Act of 1934 reduced depression-era foreclosures and promoted affordable mortgages for single-family homes. The Federal Highway Act of 1956 funded highways out of urban centers. A perfect storm for the rise of suburbs—a tab the government charged and citizens continue to pay.

Without multiple nodes of density, the U.S. loses out on the transit-oriented development made possible with increased density around train stations through more housing, cultural, retail, and commercial properties—think New York, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and increasingly Beijing and Shanghai, and Europe on a grander scale. Cities are dense activity centers connected by high-speed rail with open land between—land for farming and recreation, not endless suburban sprawl.


The second half of the book provides a road map of possibilities in creating hyperdense communities by overcoming “contextual zoning” and planning for the future, not merely meeting the present. This includes infrastructure—transit and utilities, but also parks, health care, cultural venues, a lively street life with shops and pedestrian amenities—things that support a quality of life. Chakrabarti, who is a partner at SHoP Architects, illustrates these points with such examples as OMA’s Seattle Public Library, Morphosis’ Perot Museum in Dallas, and a number of SHoP projects, including the Atlantic Yards—”one of the most important redevelopment projects.” SHoP also provides illustrations that appear every other page to provide a sense of scale to the relative quantities of energy usage, tax dollars spent for infrastructure, time and fuel spent commuting, or flow charts of capital, for example.

Chakrabarti makes it sound so easy. By diverting funds from mortgage interest deduction to affordable urban housing and from overextended and underutilized infrastructure to the American Smart Infrastructure Act, aggregated tax bases will support educational and cultural programs that breed innovation and opportunity. The hardest part is getting both politicians and people to buy in and to change their views. By Chakrabarti’s calculations it is nothing short of a holistic policy reform, but the results will take us less time to achieve than it took to get this current malaise.

Chakrabarti summarizes by asking readers to imagine a global network of environmental, economically viable, diverse cities governed by concerns of today’s citizens. It is utopian in outlook, but “everything should be on the table” at this moment of national crisis.  However, I cannot help but recall the opening scene of last year’s cinema flop Judge Dredd, based on the wonderful comic book of the same name. As the film opens and pans across a barren wasted landscape, Mega-City One comes into view—a hyperdense city with some living in tower blocks of 50,000-plus inhabitants that operate as city-states, crime havens, and urban oases. In Chakrabarti’s call to arms, I can’t help but think of John Lennon: “You may say I’m a dreamer / But I’m not the only one.”