All posts in Architecture

Placeholder Alt Text

Down Where it's Wetter

Snøhetta's underwater restaurant is open for business in Norway
Europe’s first underwater restaurant is complete and now welcoming guests below the North Sea in Lindesnes, Norway. The Snøhetta-designed “Under” lies partially submerged on the coast of southern Norway, terminating in a dining room 16 feet below the ocean’s surface. The restaurant and marine biology research station is wrapped in thick concrete for its entire length, creating an imposing, 111-foot-long “periscope.” The concrete at the lowest portion is one-and-a-half feet thick feet and surrounds a 36-foot-long, 11-foot-tall window wall in the dining room that provides guests with a view of the ocean floor. The structure’s finish was kept deliberately coarse to encourage mussels to anchor to the building, so that the structure will eventually grow into a reef and purify the surrounding water. Construction on the concrete monolith was done on a barge off-shore before the structure was lifted to its final home and tilted into place. Inside, Snøhetta chose to utilize materials that intentionally emphasize the transition from Lindesnes’s harsh environment to the dreamy marine world below. The oak-wrapped entrance gives way to ceiling panels clad in textile that gradually change color, which Snøhetta claims is “a metaphor for the journey of descending from land to sea.” Speckled terrazzo floors reference the mottled sea floor visible from the dining area. Under is expected to welcome 35-to-40 diners every evening, but when not in use as a restaurant, the building will act as a hub for studying the local marine life. The sea around Lindesnes is extremely biodiverse, and researchers will use an array of cameras and sensors mounted on the facade to document the population and behavior of local fish. That information will in part be used by the kitchen to help determine how to sustainably harvest sea life from the surrounding area. Interested in dining underwater and don’t mind a trip to Norway? Under is now taking reservations.
Placeholder Alt Text

Yabba Dabba Don't

California town sues owner of the "Flintstone House" over prehistoric additions
The owner of the Bay Area’s famed “Flintstone House,” a sprawling red, orange, and purple dome home that’s become a local landmark, is facing a lawsuit over her unlawful additions—namely a menagerie of dinosaurs. The house was originally built in 1976 and designed by architect William Nicholson, who used a novel construction method to define the building’s forms. By first inflating large balloons, then spraying shotcrete over mesh and rebar, Nicholson was able to create interconnected round volumes. The building was originally off-white but rose to social media fame after being painted orange and purple in 2007 (it should be noted that in the show, the Flintstones lived in a modern-style boulder). After sitting on the market for two years, 45 Berryessa Way was sold to Florence Fang, a retired newspaper magnate, in 2017 for $2.8 million. Now Fang is embroiled in a lawsuit with the town of Hillsborough, according to the New York Times, over what officials claim were unapproved additions. Those additions? Dinosaurs so large that the town says they qualify as unenclosed structures, mushroom and animal sculptures, multicolored letters spelling out “Yabba Dabba Doo” by the driveway, a retaining wall, new steps, gates, and a life-size Fred Flintstone statue. According to the lawsuit filed on March 13, Fang was cited multiple times for adding to her property without the required permits, and her home was ultimately declared a “public nuisance” at a hearing last October. Fang was fined $200, which was paid, but the town filed the lawsuit after her changes were not reversed. Ultimately the case seems to stem from the presence of such an “outlier” house in a neighborhood filled with multimillion-dollar properties. As the suit itself alleges, the basis of the complaint is that Fang’s additions were, “designed to be very intrusive, resulting in the owner’s ‘vision’ for her property being imposed on many other properties and views, without regard to the desires of other residents.” Fang is reportedly consulting with her lawyers at this stage, and AN will follow up when further action by either party is taken.
Placeholder Alt Text

Her Philly

Maintaining the footprint of female architects in Philadelphia
Architect Elizabeth Hirsh Fleisher designed a dynamic, midcentury modern pavilion in South Philadelphia that’s now under threat of demolition as the city gets ready to renovate the surrounding park. Inga Saffron, the architecture critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer, called out the building’s potential destruction last week in an article about its importance in the city’s cultural preservation landscape. She noted the pavilion’s likeness to the LOVE Park Welcome Center, the beloved “flying saucer” that’s currently under restoration with plans to become a restaurant this spring. Both circular structures were opened in 1960, Saffron noted, along with a wave of round buildings that shaped the country’s design style of that decade. Though the small pavilion doesn’t sit directly in downtown Philadephia (it’s in Columbus Square) and wasn’t the most iconic building in Hirsh Fleisher’s portfolio, it’s still a symbol of her enduring legacy in a place that’s overwhelmingly built by men.  From Anne Tyng to Harriet Pattison, Georgina Pope Yeatman, Denise Scott Brown, and Minerva Parker Nichols, the list of female architects in Philadelphia isn’t very long, but the projects they backed in the city are memorable. At the helm of some of the city’s most impressive 20th-century projects was Hirsh Fleisher, Philadelphia’s first female licensed architect. She was responsible for the Parkway House, a postwar luxury apartment complex that she designed with her partner, Gabriel Roth, in 1953. Situated alongside Century Park near the Rodin Museum, the 14-story megaproject features a distinct mountain shape. It’s been there so long it’s nearly synonymous with that area of downtown Philadelphia. Though the Columbus Square pavilion is minuscule in comparison to Parkway House, Saffron argued the 35-foot-wide park structure could live a second life as a yoga studio or café. The city plans to remove it and expand the adjacent dog park in its place. What’s just as pressing as the little building’s demolition is the fact it could potentially be the second project by Hirsh Fleisher to see the wrecking ball. In 2014, her Queen Lane Apartments, a post-war public housing project, was demolished by the Philadelphia Housing Authority to make way for a series of low-lying affordable housing units. That building started suffering serious structural problems only decades after its completion, but the Columbus Square pavilion is forcefully sound; it’s largely built from stone. In a time where projects by prominent female architects are more appreciated than ever, there’s much attention being paid to those that are being taken down by redevelopment and in some cases, capitalism. Last month, JP Morgan Chase filed for the demolition of its headquarters in New York, the Natalie Griffin de Blois–designed Union Carbide Building. The site, 270 Park Avenue, will feature a replacement structure by Foster + Partners Bringing down Griffin de Blois’s 52-story Manhattan tower—whether you believe it should live on or not—distinctly diminishes the already-small footprint that female architects made on New York during the 1900s. Getting rid of Hirsh Fleisher’s tiny building would do the same in Philadelphia. Luckily, today there is a slew of women-powered practices that are following in her footsteps, such as OLIN, the landscape studio, as well as KSS Architects, a multidisciplinary firm also based out of Princeton, New Jersey. While many Philadelphia firms have significantly more men in leadership positions compared to women, the women are there. Award-winning practice Interface Studio Architects (ISA), along with DIGSAU, EwingCole, and KieranTimberlake have women in top-ranking positions or more women than men on staff.
Placeholder Alt Text

Outside the Box

Cardboard coffee shop turns heads in Mumbai
Situated in Mumbai’s bustling business district, a café interior made almost entirely from cardboard forces passersby to do a double take. The unique establishment, known as "Cardboard Bombay,” is striking not only for its unconventional appearance but also for its sustainable design. Against the backdrop of ubiquitous glass high-rises and fine-dining restaurants, the playful café serves coffee and casual bites in style while taking advantage of cardboard’s many sculptural and textural qualities. Designed by Nuru Karim, founder of Mumbai-based architectural firm NUDES, the space aims to promote conversation about the role of sustainable design in today’s urban landscape, as well as its impact on the future of Earth’s resources. Cardboard is an eco-friendly alternative to other materials, in that it is 100 percent recyclable and biodegradable. While durable, it is comprised of 50 percent air, making it extremely lightweight and versatile. Cardboard also has excellent sound absorption properties, making it a great acoustic solution for the food industry. Before being able to build with cardboard, NUDES researched the material in depth, which included testing cardboard with humidity, water resistance, and temperature fluctuations. After conducting thorough research, NUDES took to sculpting the café's bespoke furniture, light fixtures, accessories, and architectural elements entirely from cardboard. Designers stacked layers of cardboard to create the base of the chairs, and they laminated the cardboard tabletops—some of which cantilever from undulating cardboard wall partitions—with a wax treatment to prevent food and water damage. Even the walls are crafted from sinuous waves of cardboard fluting that, when layered next to each other, form intricate patterns, textures, and free-flowing geometries. The project took about seven months to complete, including four months of model-making and three months of construction. While Cardboard Bombay is India's first café suited up with cardboard, let's hope that it won't be the last.
Placeholder Alt Text

Three-Headed Dragon

Studio Libeskind's anthropology museum evokes the stark forms of the Chilean desert
A multi-level museum showcasing 6,000 years of history is slated to break ground Iquique, Chile, and Studio Libeskind has revealed the first look at its dramatic, seemingly-fragmented building. Iquique is a port city in the country’s north that, while built on mining, has transitioned towards a tourism economy in recent years, in part owing to the abundance of natural biomes found together there—mountains, desert, and the ocean all lie in close proximity. Appropriately enough, Studio Libeskind has drawn on the lush natural environment for the design of the new home for El Museo Antropológico Regional de Iquique (Regional Anthropological Museum of Iquique). The new building will replace the anthropological museum’s original home, where it has existed since 1892. While the current building can only display 20 percent of the museum’s collection, the replacement—which Studio Libeskind has dubbed “El Dragon de Tarapacá”—will be able to put 6,000 years of history on display. Focusing first on the indigenous peoples of the nearby Atacama Desert, the museum will also cover colonialism, nitrate mining in the region, and history up to modern times. El Dragon de Tarapacá was designed to harmonize with the surrounding landscape. Using three pairs of jutting, vertical walls, the massing of the museum references the Atacama Desert, nearby dunes, mountains, and the adjacent coast. The design team opted for a mixture of earth-colored concrete, which is intended to resemble the local stone historically used for construction in Iquique, and hardwood for the interiors. Programmatically, over 40,000 square feet of exhibition space will span two levels. A café over the entrance hall will look out over the shore to the south, while the educational spaces, such as classrooms and a theater, will be located below the entrance. Beneath that will sit the administrative spaces and offices, with underground parking below.

“The design is informed by acoustical space," said Daniel Libeskind. "The idea was to treat each space as a distinct atmosphere and mood as you move throughout the museum. Every volume references the surrounding landscape—dune, mountain, desert, ocean.”

The new museum will sit between two roadways leading into Iquique’s urban center, and on a serious grade. The topmost road is approximately 26 feet higher than the lower street. That means an elevated ramp was needed to unite both halves, creating a pass-through to the beach between the two streets for the first time. A sloped garden will rise from the lower side as well. Construction of the new museum is expected to begin in early 2020, though no completion date has been given yet.
Placeholder Alt Text

Critical Mass

World's first mass plywood panel approved for 18-story buildings
Located in Lyons, Oregon, Freres Lumber has been in business for nearly a century. After starting out producing standard lumber projects, the company moved into wood veneers some 60 years ago and in 1998 purchased a plywood plant. Now, it's made another step: getting U.S. and Canadian patents on its mass plywood panel (MPP), the first veneer-based mass timber panel in the world, and fire approvals to build up to 18 stories high with the panel. The mass plywood panel has already been put to the test on a smaller scale—this past year Freres worked with design-build startup BuildHouse to construct an A-frame house with the panel in Snoqualmie, Washington. The company has also seen its product used in larger projects. Oregon State University’s new Peavy Hall, a forestry science center designed by Michael Green Architecture (a Katerra partner), featured Freres Lumber’s product on the roof, while the nearby A.A. “Red” Emmerson Advanced Wood Products Laboratory shows off the panels on its interior and exterior walls. Both buildings are part of OSU’s forestry complex, which is designed to display an array of new mass timber technologies. Freres also maintains a relationship with the TallWood Design Institute, a partnership between OSU and the University of Oregon, working with the institute to test its products. The company claims that MPPs have a number of benefits when compared to the cross-laminated timber products that have taken off in recent years—it was a CLT product that collapsed this past summer in the Peavy Hall Project, not Freres’s. Freres noted that MPPs offer better structural support and design flexibility. CLT can only be built out in orthogonal layers and is generally confined to standard lumber dimensions and shapes, whereas MPPs have greater flexibility in form and dimension (the panels and their thin veneer layers can be very small, but they can also scale up to as much as 48 feet long and 1 foot thick), giving designers and builders a greater range to work and experiment with. Prefab plywood panels are also an option, but they can easily be cut by a CNC machine to spec. Mass plywood panels also use less material; they take 20 percent less wood fiber to meet the same structural specifications as CLT. They're also more eco-friendly in terms of what trees they can use. MPP can be built with smaller diameter trees, as small as 5.5 inches, though normally trees with 9-inch diameters are used. Using small trees means relying on second-growth trees, like local Oregon Douglas fir, and ones that are likely to be “choked out” under the shadow of larger growth.  Things are getting easier, according to Freres, and while he pointed out that the “mass timber movement is so new,” many projects and possibilities are on the horizon for MPP, including tornado-resistant structures, highway barriers, as well as buildings both tall and small. “People are constantly coming up with new ideas and new ways to use this material,” said Freres, “[mass timber] is going to be an enormous benefit to the construction industry going forward.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Fieldworks

Office Kovacs, Kyle May, and MILLIØNS to lead desert design-build festival in California
In May 2019, Southern California’s “community in residence” design-build festival, Space Saloon, is returning to the desert highlands for its second incarnation. Titled Fieldworks, the elbow grease-fueled festival will take its inspiration from “cumulative methods of scientific field research—the approaches, techniques, and processes used to collect raw data outside of a laboratory setting” by staging a series of desert constructions that focus on imbuing quantified data with cultural meaning. The eight-day workshop is open to anyone age 18 or older and will cost between $1350 and $1500 to attend; the program price includes room and board, three meals a day, and all of the necessary construction materials. As with the previous iteration of the festival, organizers hope to draw an interdisciplinary group of students that will complement the diverse set of practitioners leading the project. Project leaders for this year include architects Andrew Kovacs (Office Kovacs), Zeina Koreitem and John May (MILLIØNS), Kyle May (KMA), as well as workshop leaders Alex Braidwood (Listening Instruments), Noémie Despland-Lichtert and Brendan Sullivan Shea (Roundhouse Platform), Lena Pozdnyakova and Eldar Tagi (the2vvo), among others. According to a press release, program participants will work to undermine the “constructs and apparatuses through which we perceive a place,” investigations that could include questioning how knowledge is produced, manipulating one’s perception of the desert landscape, and creating “new methods for presenting subjective realities.” The workshop joins an ever-increasing number of arts- and architecture-related events taking place across the desert regions surrounding Los Angeles, including the Desert X art biennial, the High Desert Test Sites program, and the Coachella Arts and Music festival. For a collection of last year’s projects, see the Space Saloon website. Applications for the program will be accepted through April with the workshops taking place in California’s Morongo Valley between May 25 and June 1, 2019.
Placeholder Alt Text

Six Weeks in Umbria

Awardees announced for Italy’s WOJR/Civitella Ranieri Architecture Prize
Today the Civitella Ranieri Foundation—a prominent artist and writer residency program located in a 15th-century castle in Umbria, Italy—announced the winners of its first-ever WOJR/Civitella Ranieri Architecture Prize competition. The newly launched competition, co-sponsored by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based design firm, WOJR, will invite one emerging architect each year to the Civitella Ranieri Center in Italy, where they will be given $15,000 to design and build a temporary architectural installation on the castle grounds within a six-week time frame. Alejandro Haiek from Venezuela was announced as the 2019 awardee, while Catie Newell from the United States will attend the residency program come 2020. Both the Civitella Ranieri Foundation and WOJR aim to nurture and assist the young architects by presenting them with a high-profile platform to showcase their built work and gain recognition and respect. The culturally and historically rich city of Umbria, with its rolling hills and picturesque vineyards, serves as the backdrop for the six-week residency program, and it will influence the built works created by each prizewinner. Umbria is the birthplace of Arte Povera, the avant-garde art movement known for its focus on modest resources and everyday materials, such as ceramics, concrete, and metal. Conforming to the region’s history and traditions, the prizewinners will not be able to use digital modeling and fabrication software and must rely solely on locally available materials. Prizewinners Haiek and Newell were chosen from a group of 65 nominees from around the world, 48 of which submitted detailed applications to a jury of four eminent architectural professionals. In addition to the two recipients, three finalists were selected, including Sumayya Vally from South Africa, Sean Canty from the United States, and Ang Li from China. Alejandro Haiek, the 2019 awardee, will spend this summer at the Civitella Ranieri Center, from June 13 to July 23. In mid-July, he will present his finished architectural installation at a public event held at the Civitella Ranieri castle for its 25th-anniversary celebration.
Placeholder Alt Text

America Last

“Great” construction projects in America? Starchitects say: look elsewhere

A strange thing has been happening at some public architecture talks lately, perhaps you’ve noticed. Over the course of otherwise hopeful and positive discussions covering amazing new projects from around the globe, at some point, usually toward the end of a talk, conversation turns to the current state of American building and infrastructure. And, it's safe to say, people are not happy. Sometimes, the presenter will rip off the bandaid, as Thom Mayne of Morphosis did at a recent Facades+  talk in Los Angeles, when he said, “I hate to be negative, but there’s not much going on in this country architecturally,” before adding, “[But] if you look at architecture around the world, it’s startling…It’s unbelievable, the research [taking place]—I just came back from Shenzhen [China] and I’m looking around [at the skyline] there wondering ‘is there anything left for me to do?’” Other times, a perplexed-sounding audience member will ask what it seems many in attendance had been pondering privately: “Why can’t we build like this here?” 

 It’s a debilitating question that really only has one answer. And although, even when speaking bluntly, everyone tries their best to truth-tell without offending, but the writing is right on the projection screen—building big in America simply isn’t what it used to be, and we don’t know what to do about it.

 “The United States is falling behind,” architect Moshe Safdie explained to a packed room during a recent keynote talk at Palm Springs Modernism Week when asked why the inventive array of projects he had just presented are mostly located outside the United States. “Around the world, the competition [for bold infrastructure] doesn’t stop,” he said, half-jokingly, “until you land at Kennedy or LAX.” 

 To prove his point, Safdie pointed out further that although the Hudson Yards development in New York City is the largest privately-led construction project in the country by square footage, it is easily dwarfed in terms of vision by countless projects around the globe of a similar or larger size. 

 He’s right. Hudson Yards is a dime a dozen as far as global mega-projects are concerned. Safdie’s own Raffles City development in Chongqing, China, for example, might be roughly two-thirds the size of Hudson Yards, but it is going up in less than one-third the time and is almost entirely designed by a single architecture firm—Safdie Architects—with P&T Group International Ltd. serving as architect of record. Safdie’s own portfolio of recent work shows that while New York occasionally will build an elevated billionaire citadel, Chongqing, Singapore, and other cities have tasked his office with erecting bold new structures designed for working people and the public at large, all without sacrificing design quality. 

 Safdie explained that one possible reason why American projects no longer lead the world in terms of size or scale might be due to a “lack of urban initiative,” the type of sustained and calculated political and managerial energy necessary for bringing to life the types of large-scale and lasting projects that have transformed other countries around the world in recent decades. 

It’s a sentiment echoed by Rem Koolhaas, who, when recently asked about the prevalence of NIMBYism in America, explained, “I think you can divide the world into one part that is eager to change and doesn’t have hesitations about things changing, and another part that is totally nervous about change and actually aspires to a kind of stability.” Koolhaas added, “As an architect, every one of your efforts is impacted by this. In the end, however, architecture is always controversial because it proposes to make things different than they are.”

 Perhaps nowhere is this truer than in the realm of high-speed rail (HSR), where American decision makers across all levels of government have persisted in remaining tethered to auto-centric planning, condemning the nation to antiquated transportation for at least another generation. A recent article in The New York Times covering the ongoing debacle with California’s tragic HSR project, for example, brings this condition into sharp relief with the following line: “California’s High-Speed Rail Authority…was established 23 years ago. During that time China has built 16,000 miles of high-speed rail.”

 America has built none. But America’s last-place finish doesn’t end with rail or with deteriorating airports; it includes city-building, too, as Safdie pointed out. Much of America is suffering from some form of housing crisis, whether it’s so-called Rust Belt cities struggling to retain residents or coastal cities that can’t figure out how and where to build new housing fast enough. While American cities have doubled-down on onerous building restrictions and lengthy bureaucratic reviews, politically polarized state and federal governments have worked at cross purposes, too, failing to enact bold plans and avoiding future-oriented thinking at almost all costs. The overarching legacy of redlining, racial segregation, and income inequality has placed a stranglehold over American cities, as well, contributing to intense gentrification when development does occur and debilitating displacement when it doesn’t. Over the last decade, it has become clear that America's public health, land-use, and transportation policies are all woefully out of whack, and the result is stifling the abilities of a generation of well-trained architects and engineers eager to build a better nation. Meanwhile, the world’s urbanizing areas have embraced building vertically, have expanded transit of all sorts, and have worked to enact bold planning initiatives that over a generation have remade the face of global urbanism in the name of interconnectedness, density, and place-making.

 In Europe, for example, France is currently enacting its “Le Grand Paris” plan, a vision that will stitch together the Paris city center with its inner and outer ring suburbs to bring together an urban region of 10 million inhabitants. The plan includes a €30 billion public transit expansion initiative that will create a network of regional transit routes connecting suburbs with one another as well as sizable new investments in social housing, parks, and other equity-minded initiatives.

 But it’s not just Europe. 

 Cairo, Egypt, is building a new $45 billion capital city that, when completed, will become the largest purpose-built capital city by population in the world.

 In India, the country’s largest infrastructure project, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, aims to connect the nation’s political and economic capitals with a 900-mile long conurbation made up of 24 urban “nodes.” The plan aims to urbanize 14 percent of India’s population—180 million people—over the next 30 years and will take $100 billion in investment to realize.

 In South America, Argentina’s so-called Belgrano Plan will bring $16 billion in rail expansion to 10 of the country’s neglected northern provinces and will create up to 250,000 new housing units and 1,100 childhood education centers. 

 Saudi Arabia is building new mega cities from scratch, as are China, Singapore, Nigeria, Mauritius, and countless others. 

 None of these projects are perfect socially or environmentally-speaking, to be sure, but one thing they do not lack is vision.

 If it feels like the most impressive work is taking place in other countries, that’s because in many ways, it is, and international architects know perhaps better than anyone else the truth of that reality. Even more, the hesitation, hedging, and hand-wringing that accompanies talk of the current state of American infrastructure and urban vision indicate that the problem runs deeper than a mere lack of funding or risk-averse clients. 

Whether it’s California’s flailing HSR project, the nation’s intractable housing crises, or even, the sad, dispirited political discourse surrounding the Green New Deal—a potentially transformative plan that is barely supported by the party that conceived it—it is clear that America has a crisis of vision, a failure of political will, and perhaps most alarmingly, no real interest in solving its own problems. Look at the Salesforce Transit Center debacle in San Francisco, Elon Musk’s substandard and retrograde transit ideas in Los Angeles and Chicago, and the steady stream of failing bridges and tunnels across the country for further proof. Even Amazon’s HQ2 extravaganza, a year-long publicity stunt by the world’s richest company that wrung billions in incentives from some of the most desperate cities around the country, rightfully withered on the vine. What’s going on here?

 As Safdie quipped, “We were promised infrastructure!” But the truth is that it’s just not happening in America anymore.
Placeholder Alt Text

Shine On

6a architects recalls Milton Keynes’s utopian vision with a shiny new gallery
Milton Keynes: Britain’s youngest, technically unofficial, "city" has a habit of making headlines for all the wrong reasons—routinely being laughed at for having fields populated with concrete cows and being a mecca for roundabouts. Yet the New Town was regarded with its grid road system as the avant-garde of planning upon its birth in 1968. Heroic ambitions cast aside, it has since been derided for embodying all the faults of top-down planning and for later becoming a developer-friendly business park. In 1999, a new cultural establishment, the MK Gallery, opened on the edges of Midsummer Boulevard, but it was never quite able to latch onto the spirit of a new Millennium. Milton Keynesians’ search for something new to shout about went on. And so arrives the extension and re-jig of the MK Gallery from British architects, 6a. It’s a box, much like most of the area’s buildings, but the gallery’s glimmering facade emerging from the surrounding greenery hints at something much more tantalizing. “We wanted to make a building that was utterly Milton Keynesian,” Tom Emerson, founding director of 6a architects, told The Architect’s Newspaper. “The prototypical building of Milton Keynes—from the shopping center to the [Milton Keynes Development Corporation] design offices—is the steel frame shed and its variations.” 6a employed polished steel to clad the new structure, folding it incrementally to reflect literally and metaphorically Milton Keynes’s grid plan. “Sometimes it kind of radiates light and color from the most unlikely sources. It is very much alive and dynamic,” added Emerson. Already the gallery has been nicknamed the "tumble dryer" by locals—such is the British predilection for giving new buildings colloquial monikers. The gallery hasn’t even opened yet, but the nickname suggests residents are warming to it already, eager to embrace it as an MK building. The nickname derives from a circular motif in the facade, which has been split horizontally to form a giant, semi-circular window. “The circle is the most explicit form used in the design of Campbell Park, which the gallery overlooks. There are circles and cones everywhere,” said Emerson. “As the gallery is the last building along Midsummer Boulevard, we wanted to make it a simple meeting of the two forms; the grid of the city meets the circle in the landscape.” Retaining the original structure, the architects have more than doubled the gallery’s initial size. Inside this becomes apparent through five new double-height galleries, the first reaching 30 feet high, the rest 20 feet, all coming together to provide more than 5,300 square feet of exhibition space. The new, re-energized MK Gallery, however, posits itself as more than just a space for hanging art. A new auditorium, known as the “Sky Room” will offer views over Campbell Park and double-up as an independent cinema. A new foyer, café, and garden have also been added. "The aim of the new gallery is essentially to appeal to a larger and wider audience," Emerson explained. "We realigned all the openings of the old gallery with the new ones in a continuous ‘enfilade.' The long axis through the building (with windows to the outside on either end) reflects within the building the spatial structure of the city itself." While it shimmers externally, inside, MK Gallery plunges visitors 30 years into the past with a color palette from a 1978 Habitat catalog. This is all thanks to artists Gareth Jones and Nils Norman, who worked with 6a on the scheme. It’s a bold move but one that emphatically pays off. Bands of greens, yellow, and browns form a lavish curtain lining, which partially engulfs the plywood-clad Sky Room; a fire escape spiral staircase has been painted bright red; internal stairs are yellow—minus the cigarette smoke stains from the ‘70s; bathrooms have been doused with maroon, brown, and emerald; and the white-walled café features a happy menagerie of hanging light spheres, red beams, yellow chairs, and pipework—a literal throwback to Milton Keynes’s now-defunct architecture department, once nicknamed the “Custard Factory” due to Norman Foster’s design. Nostalgic recollections of the past can often be saccharine, but not here. MK Gallery is an example of how to work with the recent past, celebrating it visually and marrying it with an exciting program, all of which has been packed into an architecture that reflects Milton Keynes today, while also priming it for tomorrow. MK Gallery opens to the public on Saturday, March 16.
Placeholder Alt Text

Only the Bestor

Bestor Architecture and Jamie Bush + Co. bring an unfinished Lautner into the 21st century
In 2013, Bestor Architecture, interior designer Jamie Bush + Co., and landscape architects Studio-MLA were tapped to restore and complete the Silvertop Residence, a domed, cave-like home designed by John Lautner in 1956 for industrialist-inventor Kenneth Reiner. “Big chunks of the house weren’t finished,” Barbara Bestor of Bestor Architecture explained as she described the ad hoc kitchen and bathroom spaces she initially found in the home. “But we tried to bring a 21st-century idea of what progressive architecture might be in this context.” The Los Angeles home represents Lautner’s own attempts to create a progressive architectural vision for domestic life and includes his first spanning concrete shell structure as well as movable glass walls and interior finishes that can conveniently snap off for maintenance and replacement. Within a T-shaped composition of intersecting semicircles in plan, the home is divided into sleeping, kitchen, and living zones that frame opposing outdoor spaces, including a pool patio and a tree-filled courtyard. Bestor explained that Lautner and Reiner had infused the home with a spirit of material inventiveness that included Portuguese cork ceiling tiles, thin-shell concrete finishes, and other factory-produced elements. It was an ethos that Bestor sought to channel, but rather than imposing a new order on the home, her restoration is instead geared toward reviving and perfecting many of Lautner’s original ideas. For example, the architect replaced rudimentary mechanical systems for a movable window wall with a state-of-the-art motorized pulley concealed by scalloped concrete edging and an upturned swoop of terrazzo flooring. She also perfected the home’s master bathroom through the addition of a fully retractable 20-ton glass partition that disappears into the floor. Coupled with a disappearing skylight system, the shower is now a completely outdoor experience that is more true to the original intent for the space than 1950s-era technology allowed. Bestor’s hand also worked silently below the floors and within the walls of the house, where transformative HVAC, digital, lighting, and sound systems were added. In the master bedroom, an original moonroof above the bed has been redesigned to completely disappear. Fully concealed by dummy ceiling panels when closed, the opening is one of several precisely designed and exactly located operable windows around the house. The home’s kitchen received some of the most dramatic transformations of the project. Tucked into a low block between the entry and the space-age living room, the new kitchen is wrapped in vertical bands of thin cypress slats and is lit from above by square-shaped skylights. Glimmering stainless appliances designed by Ilan Dei Studio fill out the space, while overhead, restored and original pieces of cork ceiling intermingle and conceal technological equipment. The stealthy and informed approach, according to Bestor, allowed her team to “think aloud through forms and ideas” in a way that mirrored Lautner’s original work while still remaining respectful to those designs. Today, the home lives on as it was always meant to: completed, occupied, and at least for now, technologically up-to-date.
Placeholder Alt Text

It's the Pitts

Pittsburgh's City Council votes against saving historic Venturi Scott Brown–designed home
In a preliminary vote held on March 12, Pittsburgh’s City Council voted against designating the Venturi Scott Brown–designed Abrams House as a historic landmark according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. While the official vote on the house’s fate will be held this coming Tuesday, the six-to-one mock vote (two members abstained) doesn’t bode well for the house’s future. As AN first reported in August of last year, the home, commissioned by Irving and Betty Abrams and finished in 1979, had been purchased by neighbors William and Patricia Snyder. It was at first thought that the Snyders, owners of the adjacent Giovannitti House designed by Richard Meier, might act to preserve the Venturi Scott Brown-designed home, but instead began preparing the building for demolition in secret. The demolition of the Abrams house was part and parcel with the exterior renovation of the Giovannitti House, as the owners want to turn the lot into a landscape complementing Meier’s building. The two-bed, two-and-a-half bath had already been partially gutted before the nonprofit Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation mounted a campaign to recognize the building as a protected landmark. As the Post-Gazette notes, the City Council’s vote is in contrast to the recommendations of both the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission and the city’s Planning Commission. The council cited the house’s state of disrepair, the hurdles in accessing the building, and the wishes of the owners as reasons they voted against the request. “There is black mold in the walls,” said Erika Strassburger, the councilwoman who represents the district where the Abrams House is located. “There is a risk for persistent water damage. No one has actually come forward to put up the money to restore the house. It is a house that needs an infusion of significant financial resources to restore it to a livable condition.” Other than the deteriorating physical conditions, the house is located on Woodland Road, a private street, and visitors would need to cross the Snyders’ driveway, meaning the Abrams House is only (legally) visible from the street. Without the possibility of another buyer stepping in—the Snyders picked up the house for $1.1 million when it went to market last year—it seems likely that the City Council will vote against landmark designation next week. If no action is taken, it looks like this rare example of Postmodernism in Pittsburgh could soon be razed.