A forthcoming mixed-use affordable housing development by David Baker Architects (DBA), Kennerly Architecture and Planning, and CMG Landscape Architecture (all San Francisco–based firms) aims to bring 579 new units to a complicated site in San Francisco’s South of Market district. The 500,000-square-foot project—known as 1629 Market—is being master planned by the two architecture firms to take into account a series of impediments and historic properties on the site, including an immovable ventilation shaft serving a transit line running below the site. The vent will be given a sculptural treatment by the designers: a geometric exoskeleton will highlight the vent's place at the center of a new plaza. The designers are aiming to repurpose several of the site's historic structures, as well, including the Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Civic Center Hotel and a historic commercial building. The development will bring a mix of market rate and affordable homes, replace facilities for the Local 38 Plumbers Union Hall, and add a new public park to the bustling area in addition to the historic renovations. The development will ultimately come with 20,000 square feet of public open spaces that include the aforementioned central plaza as well as a series of pedestrian passageways that cut through the site.The plaza areas will be located at the heart of the site and are to be surrounded by a mix of storefronts and residential entrances. Renderings depict a terraced square populated by amorphous planters, the sculptural vent, a play structure, and other recreational components. The space is overlooked by apartments on all sides with commercial storefronts wrapping one edge of the plaza along Brady Street. The storefronts—13,000 square feet of retail uses, total—will wrap the outer edge of the entire complex along Market and 12th Streets, as well, allowing for the block’s interior streets to harbor a more residential atmosphere. These interior streets—“mid-block mews,” in the designers’ parlance—are designed as publically-accessible pedestrian paths accessible to unit entrances and shared residential amenities. Renderings for these spaces depict broad, tree-lined walkways overlooked by apartment windows. DBA Principal-in-Charge Daniel Simons told The Architect’s Newspaper that a major design consideration for the ground floor walkways was to embed multiple uses among the various routes, an arrangement that will allow for constant and diverse occupation. The project will relocate 100 affordable units from the existing SRO into a new building being developed as a part of the project. The so-called 53 Colton housing block will be managed by Community Housing Partnership and is being designed by DBA. The building will flank the southern edge of the plaza and will feature metal panel cladding, punched openings, and a zig-zagging facade. DBA’s other buildings on the site also feature similar contemporary massing and will come clad in fiber cement board, plaster, and extruded metal rainscreens, among other treatments. Kennerly is responsible for the design of the so-called Brady 1 building, a 188-unit structure opposite 53 Colton that will incorporate and expand a historic, single-story commercial structure fronting Market Street. The Brady 1 structure, according to renderings, features alternating protrusions wrapped in vertical louvres along Market while also wrapping the corner to flank the Brady plaza within the site. A portion of this structure features rounded corners and is raised above the plaza on a large scale Y-column. The project is currently undergoing design review and is expected to complete the entitlement process this fall.
It isn’t just the Michigan Central Station that is being eyed for redevelopment. Spread out before the domineering structure is what was once an ornate manicured garden known as Roosevelt Park. Designers and community members are hoping to transform the scruffy patch of green, which marks the intersection of Detroit's Corktown and Mexicantown neighborhoods, into a public asset.
A direct result of the City Beautiful Movement at the turn of the 20th century, Roosevelt Park was originally designed by Daniel H. Burnham and Edward H. Bennett. The park was specifically crafted to work with Judge Augustus B. Woodward's original plan for Detroit, which called for broad green boulevards and numerous public parks. This park was meant to be a grand welcoming space for the local community and those arriving to the city by train.
The current project is being led by San Francisco–based Assembly Design Studio and Detroit-based community research consultants Human Scale Studio. Through a series of meetings with city officials and community workshops, the park's design now has three distinct paths forward in the form of three conceptual proposals. Each proposal addresses the concerns of the city and the community while focusing on a different theme and spatial arrangement.
The first of the proposals holds closest to the original park while working to improve access and safety. Currently, the park is a traffic island, inaccessible except across multiple lanes of traffic. This plan calls for the removal of some roads that travel through the park while improving crosswalks, parking, and bike lanes around its perimeter.
The second proposal responds to the greater city grid with changes to the surrounding and on-site roads. New pedestrian and bike-only paths would be added to the park, which is divided by several roadways. New sports fields, hardscapes, and softscapes would reflect back to the park’s original form and relationship to the train station.
The final proposal is by far the most drastic of the three. Unified into a single large park space, the plan calls for large landscaped ripples emanating from the northwest corner of the park. Areas for food trucks and an area for a farmer’s market will provide food options, while an area for special events and an amphitheater will bring entertainment programming to the park. A formal gateway is also part of the proposal, as well as sports field and playgrounds.
While these may not be the first new proposals for the oft overlooked park, they may have the best chance of succeeding. (In 2009 and 2010 two other groups began the process of bringing the park back to life.) With a “green light” from the City of Detroit, these current proposals also have support from business leaders and community members in Corktown and Mexicantown. While trains may not be returning to the area anytime soon, with a little love, people may find a reason to come back to Roosevelt Park.
An ambitious plan to build a park over a highway in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood is moving forward after the Buckhead business district voted to create a nonprofit organization that will manage future development, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
“The goal would be for us to truly hand this off to the new entity where they could count on some funding from the CID to help stand them up and help attracting additional partners,” Buckhead CID Executive Director Jim Durrett said to AJC.
Buckhead Park Over GA400, the park’s current tentative name, is a push from the city to encourage walkable environments and green spaces. The park is located at the confluence of Georgia 400, Peachtree Road, the MARTA red line, and the Path400 Greenway Trail.
The current design is an open scheme with various public spaces—a Commons, a Plaza, and the Gardens—that aim to create diverse experiences through the park. It will also be built over a MARTA station (acting as a roof, almost) and will be connected to various pedestrian paths. Public engagement is expected to play a role during the design phase, as well as in the formal naming of the park.
The approval was a narrow vote, 4-3, with dissenters citing a lack of key details—including funding sources. The estimated cost of the project is as high as $245 million, with Buckhead CID officials saying they expect funding to come through both public and private sources, including MARTA when the Buckhead MARTA station goes through a redesign.
With this approval to move forward, the Buckhead CID is hopeful that pre-construction work will begin in January 2018, groundbreaking will happen by 2020, and a fully operational park will open by 2023, according to AJC.
Sacramento, California’s Twin Rivers neighborhood is slated to be demolished and replaced with an expanded mixed-income district over coming years, according to plans being undertaken by St. Louis–based developer McCormack, Santa Ana, California–based SVA Architects, and the City of Sacramento. The changes for the affordable housing–rich enclave aim to test a new federal housing policy called the “Choice Neighborhoods Initiative” that aims to revitalize whole neighborhoods. The renewal effort comes as the City of Sacramento moves to redevelop much of the Dos Rios Triangle and former Union Pacific Railyards district, both downtown-adjacent quadrants of the city encompassed mainly by industrial and municipal uses. The wedge-shaped Dos Rios Triangle sits on the banks of the Sacramento and American Rivers and was developed starting in the 1920s as a commercial and industrial enclave due to its proximity to rail and river infrastructure. The Twin Rivers neighborhood within the Triangle was originally developed in 1952 by the federal government as a public housing project with 218 units.With the redevelopment scheme, the number of total units in the area will more than double, as city officials aim to add mixed-use density to a somewhat sleepy corner of the city. The new development will bring 200 units that are set aside for current neighborhood residents to return to once construction is complete. Those units will be joined on the project sites by 280 additional townhouses and garden apartments that will be tailored to moderate-income professionals. This scheme is part of a plan, according to planning documents, to lend housing assistance to struggling working and middle class families unable to afford market rate rents due to the high costs associated with the ongoing statewide housing crisis. Renderings for the project depict a pair of perimeter block configurations for the new development, with tree-lined streets bordered by three- and four-story townhouses and apartment blocks. One of the project sites will contain an upgraded neighborhood park closest to the transit stop. The apartments feature contemporary massing with punched openings and flat roofs on the tallest sections and pitched roofs over the townhouse units. The new development will also bring a new supermarket to the area and is being pursued in conjunction with light rail expansion into the area. The city has purchased a plot of land adjacent to Twin Rivers in order to build new light rail station on the existing Blue Line.Demolition of the existing complex is due to begin in May 2018 though a final timeline for the project has not been released.
In a nearly unanimous vote, on July 10th the City Planning Commission approved the rezoning and revitalization plan for Downtown Far Rockaway in Queens, as first reported by CityLand.
The plan aims to re-establish Downtown Far Rockaway as the peninsula’s commercial and transportation hub through new zoning that encourages mixed-use development, new public spaces, improved pedestrian walkways, and better access to community services. It's also one of several neighborhood rezonings in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s push to build more affordable housing.
Downtown Far Rockaway is the historic commercial core of the peninsula: located near Rockaway Beach and Jamaica Bay, it's serviced by stops on the A train as well as the LIRR. The area has not been rezoned since the 1961 Zoning Resolution that subsequently prevented residential developments in the commercial and manufacturing zones that feature extensively in the area. Downtown Far Rockaway also has few local employment opportunities, little open space, and poor pedestrian access.
Rezoning, which is the plan’s backbone, would foster new residential and mixed-use developments, especially on the area's larger streets. One part of Far Rockaway would also be designated an Urban Renewal Area, which would enable the City to purchase and transfer properties to developers.
The “roadmap for action” plan also aims to incorporate the current community by improving existing commercial spaces and local businesses as well as increasing accessibility to job training, education, and community services. According to CityLand, the city is already investing $100 million in the area, with improvements including "streetscape reconstruction, sewer upgrades, park improvements, storefront improvement, and library upgrades."
The plan was passed with conditions that include community-based project labor, a new school and park, and limits on up-zoning. Additionally, a 22-block area (bounded by Caffrey Avenue, Redfern Avenue, Nameoke Avenue, Beach 22nd Street, and Gateway Boulevard) would be designated for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing.
The final vote will be made by Major de Blasio, who has already indicated his support of local neighborhood rezoning and revitalization plans.
For all of its concrete buildings, New York City actually has the largest urban agriculture system in the country thanks to its community, rooftop, and vertical gardens. The city has no shortage of prime roof real estate—14,000 acres to be exact.
Despite this a wealth of potential for the city’s urban agriculture future, restrictions in zoning and a lack of regulation have stymied the growth of the practice. A new bill submitted to City Council last Thursday by Councilman Rafael Espinal and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams hopes to change that, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
Calling for updated zoning and building codes, they are pushing for a comprehensive plan that will do more than increasing food production: the bill aims to help create more jobs, improve access to fresh produce, and fight climate change by reducing the need for food transport.
Espinal, who recently co-sponsored a bill to abolish the city’s cabaret law, said that the city “must create a comprehensive urban agriculture plan in order to deal with the challenges of today and tomorrow.” He also said that urban farming has the potential to address the relationship between climate change and social inequality, where food deserts in low-income communities can be transformed into food farms.
The city’s current zoning codes largely ignore farming practices in the city and do not mention hydroponic systems (where plants grow in a water-based solution as opposed to soil), according to the WSJ. Only nonresidential districts are allowed to have rooftop gardens and the fragmented regulation is a “barrier to entry,” said Jason Green, co-founder of EdenWorks, an aquaponic company in Bushwick, Brooklyn, to the WSJ.
By growing crops on roofs, the sides of buildings, or in vertically stacked layers indoors, food can be mass produced in a way that helps save energy and time, all while accommodating to the city’s increasing population. ‘Traditional’ farming (on the ground) faces growing challenges due to climate change, and urban agriculture is “the wave of the future,” according to Adams.
Neighboring Newark, New Jersey is already one step ahead, having changed its zoning code to include urban agriculture language. The city is now home to AeroFarms, the world's largest indoor vertical farm.
Espinal and Adam's bill will also feature an urban agriculture plan—to be developed by the Department of City Planning—that addresses land use policy. The plan will be submitted next year. The pair have also raised the possibility of developing a separate office of urban agriculture.
In response to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Housing New York plan, Syracuse University’s Gentrification Lab is exhibiting its (Un)Affordable Housing Fair, a show of six provocative ideas that challenge the idea of an affordable city.
The fair will present six imaginary agencies and their housing proposals for the Bronx, Harlem, and Midtown Manhattan. The work is the result of Syracuse’s annual summer architecture studio, which is based in Manhattan.
Propelled by de Blasio’s commitment to build 200,000 units of new affordable housing, the exhibition's works form a manifesto of architectural prototypes that serve as a counter proposal to normative gentrification. The designs are meant to rethink the relationship between public and private space, addressing questions like: Can public space and public housing be used as an antidote to practices of exclusion? What is the relationship between the size of an apartment and the rate of gentrification?
The Gentrification Lab is a multi-year design and research studio that examines architecture’s role within economic, social, and political forces in the contemporary city. Presentations from previous years' labs looked at real estate development along the L-train and the subway's 4/Lexington Avenue express line.
The studio is led by Syracuse Architecture Visiting Professors Elma van Boxel and Kristian Koreman of Rotterdam and New York–based architectural firm ZUS. Hilary Sample from MOS Architects will give the keynote speech at the opening reception on August 3rd.
(Un)Affordable Housing Fair will run from August 3 to 4 at Syracuse University's Fisher Center. To attend, RSVP through Eventbrite.
Chicago has a bit of a thorium problem.
The radioactive element, once heavily used in the making of gas light mantels, can now be found in contaminated superfund sites across the city. One of those sites also happens to be the long-delayed and much-anticipated DuSable Park in the downtown Streeterville neighborhood. While the park is on the Chicago Park District’s website, it has not been programmed or developed in any way. Now, 30 years after its founding, the park is set to finally be cleared of its radioactive waste, enabling its development into a usable public space.
Located at the mouth of the Chicago River, immediately east of Lake Shore Drive, DuSable Park is named after the first non-native settler of Chicago, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable. An African-French-Haitian, DuSable was born on the island of Haiti around 1745 to a French mariner and a slave. After marrying and starting a family with a Potawatomi woman, DuSable settled at the mouth of the Chicago river. There he maintained a successful trading post and farm. Today his name adorns many civic institutions, including the DuSable Museum of African American History.
Unlike that celebrated museum, DuSable Park has had a hard go since its founding in 1987 by then-mayor Harold Washington. Over the past 30 years, dozens of proposals have been made for the 3.24-acre site. At one point, it seemed that the park would be designed by Santiago Calatrava as part of the failed Chicago Spire development, which was to be directly west of the park. In 2001, Chicago artist Laurie Palmer established an open call for proposals for the site. That call resulted in an exhibition and book outlining 65 other ideas for the site.
Yet it is still unclear what the future holds for the little park on the lake. First and foremost, the thorium contamination—first identified on the site in the 1990s—must be cleaned up. As part of a cooperative agreement signed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in June 2017, the agency will be providing $6.8 million to the Chicago Park District to facilitate that cleanup. While this is not the first attempt to clean up the park, it is hoped that attempt will completely remediate the site.
Thorium, a naturally occurring radioactive element, is notoriously hard to clean up, in part because of how it gets into the soil in the first place. As with many other sites around Streeterville, DuSable Park's thorium is likely from the Lindsay Light Company, which processed the material from raw ore and manufactured gas light mantles in the area from 1904 through 1936. Some of the waste from the refining process is a sand-like material called thorium mill tailings, which was often used as infill in the low-lying Streeterville. It is likely thorium mill tailings were used as part of the fill on the DuSable site, which is reclaimed land from the lake. A second costly factor in removing thorium is that is can only be trucked to a few disposal sites in the United States. The only one that is likely to take the waste from DuSable is in Utah.
The money earmarked by the EPA for the cleanup comes from $5.1 billion settlement with the company that acquired Lindsay Light, the country’s largest environmental contamination settlement to date. Despite moving out of Streeterville in the 1930s, the company continued to give away the radioactive fill to home builders in the west suburbs.
While thorium is far from the only environmentally disastrous legacy left by Chicago’s industrial past, it is one that is particularly troubling to builders. In most cases, the contamination is not a direct hazard to the public until the soil and concrete covering it are disturbed. On sites known to formerly be industrial, developers often have to conduct extensive testing before breaking ground. As is the case with DuSable Park, this can add time and money to already long projects. With the EPA’s help, there is now hope that Chicago will have a new growing, rather than glowing, lakefront park.
Update 7/21/17: This story has been updated with additional information on the City Club's recent activity, and the Army Corps of Engineering permitting process has been clarified.
Just when waters seemed calm, a new player has waded into the public spectacle that is the fight over Pier 55. To move the pricey project forward, Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked developer Douglas Durst to stop funding lawsuits against it.
The $250 million project is spearheaded by the Hudson River Park Trust, the public benefit corporation that manages Hudson River Park. The group, backed by substantial contributions from financier Barry Diller, asked London's Thomas Heatherwick to design a whimsical public space programmed for entertainment back in 2014. But almost since its inception, Pier 55, which is sited near Manhattan's West 13th Street, has been dogged by lawsuits from the City Club of New York, a once-dead civic organization that resurfaced in 2013 to challenge initiatives like the Midtown East rezoning.
But the Mayor's call to Durst last week may be paving the way for talks between the City Club and the Trust.
Through its lawyer, the City Club said it's open to negotiation but it's not backing off the courts. “In all likelihood,” Richard D. Emery toldThe New York Times, “we’re going to file a new challenge and then sit down and negotiate with them.”
Emery told the Times his client won't go to the table unless the park agrees to greater transparency in the future, giving stakeholders with divergent viewpoints space to discuss projects like Pier 55. (The Trust maintains its public review process for the project was above-board.) Right now, it's not clear what a settlement would include.
Durst wasn't always a foe of the group: He served on the board of Friends of Hudson River Park, a fundraising team that supports the Trust, but quit in December 2012. This May he confirmed rumors that he has been funding the City Club's lawsuits all along.
None of those cases were successful until March of this year, when U.S. District Court Judge Lorna G. Schofield ruled that the pier would negatively impact the rivers estuarine sanctuary, and thus countered the Trust's mission protecting the Hudson. After the Trust addressed the issues Judge Schofield cited in her decision, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a new pier permit in May.
Chicago-based Studio Gang Architects has released an extensive outline envisioning the future of Memphis, Tennessee's Mississippi riverfront. Studio Gang’s Memphis Riverfront Concept is a broad framework spanning six miles of the east bank of the river. Divided into five zones—Fourth Bluff, Mud Island, Tom Lee Park, M.L.K. Park, and Greenbelt Park—the Riverfront Concept is designed to re-link the city’s downtown to the underutilized waterfront. The plan calls for changes, large and small, ranging from new park buildings to major ecological remediation.
Many of the changes proposed are meant to build on the things people in Memphis already enjoy about the river. Throughout the design process, Studio Gang worked with the public and the Mayor’s Riverfront Task Force to gauge interest and gain insights into the future role of the river in the city. Based on community suggestions, the plan calls for enhancing views across the river, year-round attractions, additional family spaces, and various bike and pedestrian paths. Picturesque sunsets, barbecue, and the blues—just a few of Memphis's favorite pastimes—were all considered in the plan.
For example, Tom Lee Park's new adventure playground and waterfront pavilions aim to be catalysts for the generally quiet park. Currently, the park is primarily programmed for a month-long fair each year. Studio Gang hopes that the Riverfront Concept will make it a year-round destination. The namesake of the park, Tom Lee, is a local African-American hero. Along with the Memphis-based National Civil Rights Museum, the plan proposes a “Civil Rights History Loop.” The riverfront has always been of historical significance to the city. Not only was the riverfront the site of the settlement which eventually became the city, trade along the river was the driving economic force for most of the Memphis's history. The Riverfront Concept hopes to reignite interest in the Mississippi River while reflecting back on its past importance.
Among other areas that will see major changes is Mud Island—a peninsula in the river—which has been re-imagined as an Eco Hub. Currently, the area is a cultural center in the city and includes portions of the University of Memphis, as well as the Mississippi River Museum and an outdoor amphitheater. The Riverfront Concept includes learning and research areas, as well as ideas about institutional collaboration. Considering the Mississippi River watershed constitutes nearly 40 percent of the United States surface freshwater, Studio Gang argues that Memphis is an ideal location for freshwater studies.
The Memphis Riverfront Concept is meant to be a starting point for much larger changes for the city. Over the past 60 years, Memphis's population has moved further and further east, away from the river. The Riverfront Concept aims to re-center the focus of the city on its historic starting point along the bluffs of the river and provide an expansive shared amenity. To do so, Studio Gang developed three design principles: foster, restore, connect. Each of these principals was constructed through discourse with the public and city officials. The "foster" principle focuses on bringing the public together and encouraging civic pride and appreciation for the river. "Restore" focuses on bringing back native ecological conditions and allowing the public to better understand the river system. The "connect" principle sets goals for bridging the divide between the city and the river, physically and culturally.
The entire 140-page Memphis Riverfront Concept is available online for the public to view.
Prominent San Francisco pro-housing advocate Sonja Trauss has announced her candidacy for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, 6th District seat. The 6th District—currently represented by Jane Kim, who cannot run for reelection due to term limits—encompasses the booming South of Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods as well as the Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island settlements. Trauss is a well-known housing advocate who has become increasingly prominent on a national level as the head of the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation (SFBARF), a pro-development, pro-housing group that advocates for increased housing production in San Francisco and its environs. As a result of advocacy efforts with SFBARF, Trauss has become a leader of the Bay Area’s nascent “YIMBY” (Yes In My Backyard) movement, a loose coalition of housing advocates seeking to promote increased development of varied housing types, from supportive and deed-restricted affordable housing to market-rate apartments and even luxury-oriented condominiums. The growing coalition is unified by a general belief that broadly-based and diverse housing production is one of the necessary requirements for general urban affordability. These groups promote the concept of “filtering,” housing jargon for the phenomenon by which new market-rate housing is gradually transformed into more affordable housing stock as it ages and is replaced by newer units with each successive economic cycle. Most moderate- to low-income renters, according to the premise, live in housing that was originally developed at market-rate, so limiting market-rate housing production today simply imposes a constraint on affordable housing supply further down the line while building more of can boost future supplies of affordable housing stock.The concept has its flaws, namely that the process it supports is a generational one that does not directly address contemporary affordability concerns or stop ongoing displacement phenomena. There are also concerns regarding whether “filtering” applies to luxury units, which existing communities fight against based on the belief that the production of this type of housing increases rents outright. The transition from single-issue advocate to politician (if she wins the seat) will be a welcome challenge for Trauss, who told The Architect's Newspaper (AN), “The job of Supervisor is so different from that of an issue advocate—When you’re supervisor, the only thing your constituents have in common is geography.”Trauss characterized District 6 as one of the few areas of San Francisco that has actually built new housing in adequate numbers over recent years. As a neighborhood adjacent to highways, formerly occupied by manufacturing and industry, and now full of new residents, South of Market in particular needs “wider sidewalks and calmer traffic” to ensure safety for the area’s new residents, according to Trauss. Trauss is also hoping to push the Board of Supervisors to act to alleviate homelessness in the area and is looking forward to making sure existing residents of the district’s Treasure Island area “are well taken care of” as that neighborhood prepares for the implementation of a new master plan and redevelopment scheme developed by SOM and Perkins+Will. Trauss also hopes to serve the district’s homeless population by working to fund more new supportive housing developments. She said, “Supportive housing is the thing that solves the problem for the individual on a personal basis, we need more of it. I will try to get supportive housing built in other neighborhoods, as well.” And what will become of SFBARF? It will go on, according to Trauss, who explained that the remaining team members will continue to advocate for new housing across the region and that her current position with the group will simply be filled by someone else. She said, “all the other people working on [SFBARF] are talented and dedicated, they don’t really need me."
Update 7/18/17: This story has been updated to clarify that there are no axonometric diagrams for the design that was reviewed at the NCPC's last meeting.
The Nation’s Capital came a step closer to gaining a World War I Memorial this month when a key federal panel approved a conceptual design for the project—even though panel members and others expressed concerns about the latest plan and its potential impact on the selected site.
Representatives from the nonprofit The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) and a retired high-ranking landscape architect with the National Park Service joined the federal panelists in questioning aspects of the design, which calls for the memorial to be added to a 1981 park by the noted landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg. Friedberg, via an email message shared with the commission, expressed disappointment with the proposal.
After an hour-long discussion, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) voted unanimously on July 13 to accept its executive director’s recommendations for adding a memorial to Pershing Park, on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House.
The vote means the design team and its clients, the World War I Centennial Commission and the National Park Service, can now move to a second, more detailed stage of design work on the project, which is expected to cost $30 million to $32 million.
Sponsors of the memorial are aiming to complete it in time for a late 2018 dedication. The design will have to be reviewed at least two more times before any construction can begin. The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts also must give its approval.
Congress authorized the World War I Centennial Commission in 2014 to build a memorial at Pershing Park, a 1.75-acre public space bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue, E Street, and 14th and 15th streets N.W. The park is named after General John J. Pershing, general of the U.S. armies in World War I, and contains a memorial to him.
To select a designer, the World War I commission held an international competition in 2015. The winner was Joseph Weishaar, a graduate of the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture. He called his entry “The Weight of Sacrifice.” Other design team members include New York sculptor Sabin Howard, landscape architect Phoebe Lickwar, and GWWO Architects, the architect of record.
The design presented this month (PDF) was a revision of a concept that the planning commission reviewed last November. The revamped design called for retaining more of the existing park than before, and a memorial consisting of three main components. The first is a 65-foot-long bronze bas relief wall on the site’s western edge, featuring images from the war along with a water feature. The park’s pool would be retained, although a path would be added to provide access to the commemorative wall. A flagpole would replace an existing kiosk.
Part of the sensitivity of the project is that Pershing Park is already considered a significant public space, deemed eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Besides the original design by Friedberg, the park reflects a planting plan by the office of Oehme, van Sweden.
For those unfamiliar with park in its prime, the video below from TCLF details its conception and features sweeping views of the then newly-completed project, with commentary from Friedberg:
During the latest review, a key issue was the extent to which the project should be treated as an opportunity to preserve Friedberg’s work, as opposed to treating the site as a blank slate for new construction.
In voting to advance the project beyond the conceptual design stage, the planning commissioners encouraged the memorial’s designers to retain the best features of Friedberg’s design, as much as possible.
Commissioner Evan Cash noted that the nature of the project has evolved because of the desire to respect Friedberg’s work. He questioned whether the sponsors shouldn’t just “go back to the drawing board” and launch another competition.
“What started as a design to put in a World War I Memorial has turned into a restoration project for the original park,” he said.
Commissioner Mina Wright said the design team has a difficult task because it has been charged with adding a major memorial to a key public space while also respecting what’s already there. “This is a really vexing problem, two different … interests that the design team has been asked to resolve,” she said. “It’s serving a lot of masters.”
In public testimony about the design, a representative of TCLF, Margo Barajas, stressed the significance of retaining the best elements of Friedberg’s design, especially the waterfall and pool.
“Pershing’s waterfall and pool are one inseparable landscape feature located in the heart of the park,” she told the panel. “One need only look at earlier images of the park when the waterfall was well maintained, the pool was full, and cascading water provided animation. The park was a popular destination that was embraced by the public. The waterfall’s gushing sounds, the white noise masking the adjacent traffic, and the cooling mists, all absent from the now-proposed WWI Memorial revised concept design, were keys to its success.”
Barajas said the foundation believes the 65-foot-long wall is too long for the location and would be a visual barrier to Pershing Park.
“Collectively, the visual and physical barrier created by the insertion of this wall, backed by a pool with sheets of water running down its shorter northern and southern sides, the corresponding loss of more than 50 feet of open physical and visual access between the upper and lower western plaza levels,” the loss of an extensive tree canopy on the western edge of the pool, and the “the loss of the dynamic, animating qualities of water that are fundamental to the park’s feeling, would result in a less successful urban design,” she warned.
Barajas noted that the WWI Centennial Commission has presented and then rejected a design proposal called the “Upper Wall Design.” She said TCLF believes it is worth revisiting.
“It would retain the existing waterfall and pool and site the 65-foot-long wall along the elevated north-south walk behind the waterfall,” she said. “Depending on the height of the wall and the waterfall, this memorial gesture could be seen from multiple vantage points throughout the park.
Barajas quoted a June 25 email from Friedberg to landscape architect Phoebe Lickwar, which was written after the latest design was shown to the fine arts commission on May 18.
“To say that I was disappointed in the design presented to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) on May 18th—the 'Restored Pool Concept'—would be a gross understatement,” Friedberg wrote, characterizing the long wall as a “one note” design move.
Friedberg said in his email message that he was encouraged that members of the World War I Memorial design team met with him to learn about the original design. He said that gave him a “positive feeling” about the project.
“I appreciated that several [Commission of Fine Arts] members suggested we finally meet, and thought that the first meeting with the design team produced a common goal and understanding of how a World War I Memorial could add a layer of content and experience that would enhance both the park and Memorial,” Friedberg wrote.
“It was unfortunate that the World War I Centennial Commission’s vice chair, Edwin Fountain, and the Memorial’s sculptor, Sabin Howard, did not attend,” he said. “Their absence from our discussion may account for the design outcome, the persistent and intrusive one note wall that’s being forced into the space thus obliterating the scale and meaning of the original design."
“I can only assume that the design team was forced by the insistence of the client (the WWI Centennial Commission) to shoe horn in, at all costs, the wall,” Friedberg continued. “The negative impact on the overall design is too much to pay and unnecessary. The rejection of the numerous previous designs by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts should have sent a clear message that forcing a solution with a preconceived result was not working and any preconceived notion would be a burden on creativity. It takes a good client to produce a good design.”
Another speaker from the general public, landscape architect Darwina Neal, retired Chief of Cultural Resources for the National Capital Region of the National Park Service, said she worked on Pershing Park when it was being planned. She said Pershing Park is a “signature designed landscape” by Friedberg, who is considered “one of modern American landscape architecture’s most accomplished urban designers.”
Neal said the World War I commission’s objectives, as stated in its design competition, were to come up with a design that would “enhance the existing Pershing memorial by constructing … appropriate sculptural and other commemorative elements, including landscaping.”
“Although this design is billed as the ‘Restored Pool Concept,’thisis a serious misnomer,” she told the panel. “Rehabilitation would have been a more apropos treatment description, but it does not achieve that either because, in reality, it would not only destroy the existing fountain … as the major focal point within the central room of the park, but it also compromises the pool itself by putting walks across it.”
Neal said she believes it is commendable that the berms enclosing the park would remain intact, but the proposal to remove the existing fountain, change the size and depth of the pool, and cover about 40 percent of its surface with new walks would have “extreme adverse effects” on the integrity of the existing park design, because the existing fountain is the main feature.
Replacing the fountain with a 65-foot-long sculptural wall would also disrupt visual and access continuity between the pool area and the west end of the park. The proposed pool behind the new memorial wall, which features what appear to be side “sheets” of water, would not even be visible from the pool area, let alone heard—and thus would not be a “splashing fountain.”
Neal said she advocates more of a preservation approach and believes rehabilitating the existing park, with minimal changes, could “considerably reduce” construction costs.
“Since the basic well-designed framework of the park still remains, there is no excuse for abandoning the original design,” she said. “Rather, it should be rehabilitated. Demolition by neglect should not be tolerated.”
Neal also urged reconsideration of the “Upper Wall Design” that would locate the commemorative wall along the upper north-south walk behind the fountain.
“This placement would require little change to the existing park features and have no consequences on the experience and function of the park, other than somewhat affecting views from the west that are already limited by existing trees,” she said. “Most important, the focal fountain and pool would be retained in place, with the wall visible above the fountain, as viewed from the pool area.”
Instead of a flagpole, she said, “the existing concession kiosk could be replaced by an interpretive/informational kiosk—perhaps an interactive high-tech one with stations on which users could get information on the war and perhaps even be able to input names of relatives who served in the war and information on them, and/or leave messages/comments, etc. Such a kiosk could increase visitor use, education, and enjoyment.”
Above all, Neal said, she believes “it is crucial to maintain the fountain, which is the heart of the design.” When it was working properly, she said, it “pumped life into the focal pool and plaza area, creating a vibrant public space” along Pennsylvania Avenue.
“I would hope that this vitality could be brought back to life!” she said.
Among the recommendations from the planning commission’s executive director were for the design team to: consider reducing the size of the commemorative wall “to improve views across the park,” consider integrating a water feature into the commemorative wall “consistent with the location and orientation of the existing cascading fountain,” provide additional details regarding pool modifications and what the water-related areas will look like during times of year when they are empty of water, and prepare a “park programming” plan that identifies the proposed urban park spaces and potential activities that can take place there.
Weishaar and John Gregg, associate principal at GWWO, attended the meeting but were not asked to speak to the panel or address concerns about the design. They said after the meeting that they would take the panel’s comments into consideration as they work to refine their designs.