Search results for "Richard Meier"

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Day for Light
Earl's Gourmet Grub in Mar Vista, designed by FreelandBuck, uses light scoops and fluorescent tubes to illuminate and define the space.
Lawrence Anderson/Esto

Good lighting doesn’t only contribute to space. Sometimes it becomes the defining element. Such is the case with these West Coast restaurants and bars, blessed with good architecture, but really distinguished by lighting schemes that achieve an artistry all their own. LA firm FreelandBuck was inspired by the work of James Turrell in creating large artificial light scoops, while Gulla Jonsdottir created what she called a pyramid of light from over 500 old-fashioned Edison lightbulbs that dominate her Hollywood nightclub My Studio. The combination of artificial and natural light is another mainstay of these projects, blurring the line between inside and out to create a sense of intricacy and ambiguity, playing a vital role in the “layering” of light that architect Peter Bentel, designer of Craft restaurant in Century City, said differentiates a flat surface from one with dimensionality and texture.


Earl's Gourmet Grub by Freelandbuck.   Earl's Gourmet Grub by Freelandbuck.
the light scoops, using both natural and artificial light, offer dramatic focal points for the upscale deli. a series of plywood baffles (right) helps modulate light from fluorescent tubes.
lawrence anderson/esto
 

Earl's Gourmet Grub
Mar Vista
Freelandbuck

Architects David Freeland and Brennan Buck were faced with the dilemma of how to create a space for a gourmet deli that had a contemporary architectural identity but also evoked the rustic appeal of the food. They were commissioned to carry this out inside a 1,000-square-foot storefront in Mar Vista.

Earl’s Gourmet Grub, opened in May, had only a single overhead source of natural light, its skylight. Freeland and Buck set out to devise a way to reproduce that sense of natural light throughout the market, as well as add color and warmth. Inspired by the work of artist James Turrell, they designed two additional light “scoops” with 5-foot by 3-foot apertures alongside the real one, providing both artificial light and greater spatial definition.

Along the wall are secondary light sources, 18 linear fluorescent tubes divided into three sequences mounted against a colorful and intricate wall. “We wanted to bring warmer light into the space. That can be hard to do with fluorescents,” said Freeland. “We wanted to paint the adjacent surfaces to reflect the light and create color.” They also created an undulating corridor of plywood “baffles” to further modulate the light and cast an ambient glow through the shop. The rhythmic baffles also produce a spatial continuity from the front to the back of the space. The firm was able to work within a fairly constrained budget, as well. According to Freeland, Earl’s spent about $4,000 total on lighting.


Backlighting helps emphasize the spaces between Craft's fabric walls.
Blended incandescent and led backlighting accentuates craft's curving fabric walls.
Mark Darley

Craft
Century City
Mark Horton Design, Bentel and Bentel

Lighting plays the lead role in defining the textured and varied architectural elements of this restaurant, an outpost of chef Tom Colicchio’s fast-growing empire of eateries. The 300-seat space was built into a small pavilion in Century City, just adjacent to the CAA Building and the Century Plaza hotel. A floor-to-ceiling storefront allows natural light to flood the area during the day, supplemented with warm artificial light. At night, the lighting takes over, creating a dazzling interplay of surfaces, patterns, and baffling through the storefront.

While San Francisco architect Mark Horton worked with Bentel and Bentel on the design—based largely on craft expressions—he deferred to Bentel on the lighting. The latter devised a strategy that highlights the restaurant’s surfaces, creates an intimate atmosphere and, of course, accentuates the presentation. “It’s dimmed, but it’s very important that you see the food on your plate. It’s one of the reasons you’re eating there,” said Peter Bentel.

Warm strips of blended incandescent and LED backlighting accentuate the restaurant’s large curving fabric walls, which extend to the ceiling; perpendicular strips of recessed lighting offset these walls, creating a textured grid that extends to the ends of the restaurant and adds depth, drawing your eye upward. “We want to create layers of light,” said Bentel. “You can’t just light everything from above or below.” Thin glowing Tesla exposed-filament chandeliers hanging from the ceiling bring added depth and a bit of orange sparkle to the composition. The intimate interaction between lighting, craftsmanship, and architecture is exhibited as well in the large coiled-wire curtains that are dramatically uplit by incandescents, differentiating spaces and changing the mood. Even more atmospheric are the glass wine storage units and a bar back; both are lit from behind by LEDs to reveal glowing colors and textures.


Inside My Studio in Hollywood.
Backlit metallic walls and clusters of perforated hanging lamps provide an appropriately sultry aesthetic.
Skott snider

My Studio
Hollywood
G Plus Design

SCI-Arc grad Gulla Jonsdottir spent years as the deputy to well-known LA interior designer Dodd Mitchell. She’s also worked for Richard Meier and Disney Imagineering, where she was a set designer for Euro and Tokyo Disneyland. Now with her own firm, G Plus Design, she designed My Studio nightclub in Los Angeles. With her penchant for dramatic scene-setting and a knack for the strategic use of unusual lighting, the pairing was a natural.

Jonsdottir’s inspiration, she said, was the idea of an artists’ studio open for a party where the mood is retro, bohemian, and sexy. The key lighting move was the use of large old Edison light bulbs with their exposed filaments. Their orange light casts a warm glow on the models and hipsters who check out the club and provides more old-school character than the usual Hollywood hotspot. As a centerpiece, a pyramid-like cluster of over 500 of these bulbs forms an appealing and flattering light sculpture. Elsewhere, two lines of the bulbs create a “runway of light.”

This being a nightclub, the light plays coy here; its presence is subtle behind columns and perforated metal. The effect is a knowing glamour evocative of a boudoir or somewhere else you’re not supposed to be. Jonsdottir went to flea markets to find old photographers’ lamps—that still work—to mix in with other found items, from antique fans to fabric-strewn columns. In a good way, it feels like a party gone really wild.

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Neutra Nightmare Shakes Westwood
A massing study of the proposed project.
Courtesy PPC Landventures

At a rambunctious and disjointed meeting of the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission last night, neighbors, architects, and others made a final effort to halt a large student housing development across the street from Richard Neutra’s famed Strathmore Apartments in Westwood. Opponents have been trying to stop the project for over a year, and this time they failed again.

The scheme, called Grandmarc Westwood, would be located on the corner of Strathmore Drive and Levering Avenue, next to the UCLA campus. Developed by Dallas-based PPC Landventures, and designed by LA-based Togawa Smith Martin, the rectilinear project will contain 31 multibedroom residential units on six floors, arranged in a triangular plan.

Despite a rejection six times by the Westwood Design Review Board (DRB) on the grounds that its bulk, massing, and character were incompatible with the Westwood Community Plan, the project was approved by the LA City Planning Commission on August 12. The vote last night upheld the commission’s ruling, rejecting an appeal by opponents, who call themselves the Friends of Richard Neutra’s Strathmore Apartments.

“It was a deeply disappointing decision,” said Steven Sann, chair of the Westwood Community Council, and an outspoken opponent of the project. “For architects this is a very dangerous precedent. It basically nullifies the power of the Design Review Board,” he said. Such review boards generally do not have final say on development decisions, but their recommendations are often upheld. Sann further argued that the project had been altered after the final DRB rejection, a breach of procedure precipitated by private negotiations between the developer and the city.

Dale Goldsmith, a lawyer for PPC Landventures, considers the case closed. “The planning director determined it was fully compliant,” he said. “This is not about changing the rules.” Thanks largely to input from the DRB, the developer did make some concessions, removing a floor of the project, stepping the building in places, adding more landscape and open space, and breaking it down into two pieces instead of a continuous street wall. Supporters at the meeting praised the project’s LEED aspirations and its ability to fill student housing and affordable housing needs. 

But Sann called the changes “woefully inadequate.” He and other opponents insist the building is still far too large for the neighborhood, that it will box in, overwhelm, and cast shadows on the Strathmore Apartments, and that its wall-like frontages will discourage pedestrian connection. Opponents, who also include architects like Richard Meier, Hitoshi Abe, and Craig Hodgetts, also asserted that the building was an example of “mediocre” design and would cause traffic and parking problems and that the large amount of students in the building would tip the delicate balance of occupants in the area.

“They pulled a bait and switch,” said Michael Webb, an occupant of the Strathmore Apartments (and regular contributor to AN). “It looks slightly different but it still has the same amount of units and it still destroys the scale of the neighborhood.” The planning commission ruled that the building’s bulk is allowable under SB1818, which permits increased density when coupled with affordable housing units. There will be only three units of affordable housing at the Grandmarc.

“Shared housing isn’t the issue; the development isn’t compatible with local plans,” said Stephen Resnick, president of the Westwood Homeowners Association. “It’s just a monster project.” It remains undecided if opponents will be pursuing further legal action to try to derail the project.

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Map Quest
Piazza San Marco, Venice.
Courtesy W.W. Norton

Great Public Spaces
Robert F. Gatje
W.W. Norton & Company
$65.00

Robert Gatje has written a book that makes you want to get on a plane and revisit every historic square you have ever seen—and then go to the ones you’ve missed in slightly out-of-the-way places like Rhodes, Nancy, and Halifax.

Wonderful colored maps, inspired by the Nolli Map of Rome, help you understand solid and void, distinguish parterres from pavement, grasp street patterns, and, in some cases, identify significant works of architecture. Clusters of photographs and occasional monochromatic historic prints enable you to experience the squares (which are rarely square) in elevation. Measurements let you sense the size and scale of each square described and compare them to one another. Brief, clear, and informative text provides just enough historical information for context.

Piazza Campidoglio, RomePiazza Camidoglio, Rome.
Courtesy W.W. Norton

Gatje is a New York architect, a former partner of Marcel Breuer and Richard Meier, and author of Marcel Breuer: A Memoir (Monacelli Press, 2000). This is a book only an architect could have written—with careful observations, measurements, materials, orientation, and alterations emphasized. And though at roughly 11 by 11 inches and 224 pages it is a big, beautiful coffee table book likely to stimulate conversation with visitors, it would be great to have in some small portable form as well. I wish maps like Gatje’s existed for all squares.

The only thing missing—and adding it would have obscured its argument—is use, or what goes on inside these urban spaces. Most of the wonderful Italian piazzas in the book are surrounded by some combination of institutions and residences, or have people living on nearby streets. Many have hotels in the vicinity or tourists wandering around. Also, of course, Italians pass through their piazzas, stop for drinks, and dine there. This is the behavior American planners overlooked (or wished for) in the 1960s and ‘70s, when they tried to plant plazas in city centers devoted solely to commerce.

The effort is still underway, as shown in the last project covered, Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Oregon, begun in 1981. Although it is a good example of its type in a reasonably pedestrian-friendly city, it is surrounded by office towers, department stores, and a courthouse, so it is a very different kind of place than an Italian piazza—or New York City’s Union, Washington, and Madison squares. It is an anomaly in a book with inhabited urban spaces as, frankly, is the one local example included—the dazzling Rockefeller Center Plaza. I understand completely why he chose these squares, as they bring some geographical and temporal balance to the book. But surrounded by tall buildings in commercial areas, they don’t quite fit. Their inclusion, though, makes me think he should now write a book on American public spaces from New England greens to recent urban interventions of the Portland type, because the American story is a very different one. American cities, except maybe our own, have been designed “to make cars happy,” as Andrés Duany has so aptly put it. And squares need people on foot, as Gatje points out time and again when assessing squares like the Place Vendôme in Paris, where cars have been allowed to intrude.

Plaza Mayor, Salamanca, Spain   Piazza Spagna, Rome
Plaza Mayor, Salamanca, Spain (left), and Piazza Spagna, Rome (right).  
Courtesy W.W. Norton

Without quite saying so, I think he proves that a successful urban public space needs people who live around it—or at least stay around it in apartments, villas, and hotels, as is the case in Venice. Union Square has been remarkably transformed in the last 30 years, not only by the much-touted Greenmarket but by the significant increase in the number of people who live on it or its edges, and the shops and restaurants that serve them.

Besides inspiring wanderlust, this book, which concentrates on European plazas (only four of the 40 are in the U.S.), has made me think more critically about what can be done to make American cities more livable. That is no mean accomplishment.

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Map Quest
The Piazza San Marco in Venice.
Courtesy W.W. Norton

Great Public Squares
Robert F. Gatje
W.W. Norton & Company, $65.00

Robert Gatje has written a book that makes you want to get on a plane and revisit every historic square you have ever seen—and then go to the ones you’ve missed in slightly out-of-the-way places like Rhodes, Nancy, and Halifax.

Wonderful colored maps, inspired by the Nolli Map of Rome, help you understand solid and void, distinguish parterres from pavement, grasp street patterns, and, in some cases, identify significant works of architecture. Clusters of photographs and occasional monochromatic historic prints enable you to experience the squares (which are rarely square) in elevation. Measurements let you sense the size and scale of each square described and compare them to one another. Brief, clear, and informative text provides just enough historical information for context.

Rome's Piazza di Spagna. (Click to zoom)

Gatje is a New York architect, a former partner of Marcel Breuer and Richard Meier, and author of Marcel Breuer: A Memoir (Monacelli Press, 2000). This is a book only an architect could have written—with careful observations, measurements, materials, orientation, and alterations emphasized. And though at roughly 11 by 11 inches and 224 pages it is a big, beautiful coffee table book likely to stimulate conversation with visitors, it would be great to have in some small portable form as well. I wish maps like Gatje’s existed for all squares.

The only thing missing—and adding it would have obscured its argument—is use, or what goes on inside these urban spaces. Most of the wonderful Italian piazzas in the book are surrounded by some combination of institutions and residences, or have people living on nearby streets. Many have hotels in the vicinity or tourists wandering around. Also, of course, Italians pass through their piazzas, stop for drinks, and dine there. This is the behavior American planners overlooked (or wished for) in the 1960s and ‘70s, when they tried to plant plazas in city centers devoted solely to commerce.

Salamanca, Spain. (Click to zoom)

The effort is still underway, as shown in the last project covered, Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Oregon, begun in 1981. Although it is a good example of its type in a reasonably pedestrian-friendly city, it is surrounded by office towers, department stores, and a courthouse, so it is a very different kind of place than an Italian piazza—or New York City’s Union, Washington, and Madison squares. It is an anomaly in a book with inhabited urban spaces as, frankly, is the one local example included—the dazzling Rockefeller Center Plaza.

I understand completely why he chose these squares, as they bring some geographical and temporal balance to the book. But surrounded by tall buildings in commercial areas, they don’t quite fit. Their inclusion, though, makes me think he should now write a book on American public spaces from New England greens to recent urban interventions of the Portland type, because the American story is a very different one. American cities, except maybe our own, have been designed “to make cars happy,” as Andrés Duany has so aptly put it. And squares need people on foot, as Gatje points out time and again when assessing squares like the Place Vendôme in Paris, where cars have been allowed to intrude.

The Campidoglio in Rome. (Click to zoom)

Without quite saying so, I think he proves that a successful urban public space needs people who live around it—or at least stay around it in apartments, villas, and hotels, as is the case in Venice. Union Square has been remarkably transformed in the last 30 years, not only by the much-touted Greenmarket but by the significant increase in the number of people who live on it or its edges, and the shops and restaurants that serve them.

Besides inspiring wanderlust, this book, which concentrates on European plazas (only four of the 40 are in the U.S.), has made me think more critically about what can be done to make American cities more livable. That is no mean accomplishment.

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New Chicago Park Hogs Smog
The new Mary Bartelme Park in Chicago uses a new concrete that absorbs smog and self-cleans
Courtesy Site Design Group

When Chicago’s Mayor Daley cut the ribbon on Mary Bartelme Park late last month, he reaffirmed the city’s goal of planting 15,000 trees by 2015, as well as announcing that his administration will have invested $14 million in ADA accessibility improvements to city parks by year’s end. But Mary Bartelme Park, named after Illinois’ first female judge, represents another milestone, with a design that incorporates innovative smog-eating permeable pavers, the first of their kind in the city.

Designed by Chicago-based landscape architecture firm Site Design Group, the 1.4-acre park is located on the former site of an infirmary owned by University of Illinois at Chicago. “This community is very new and they wanted the park to be out of the box,” said Site principal Ernest Wong. With input from the Chicago Park District (CPD) and the West Loop Community Organization, an angular design was chosen over more formal and more organic approaches presented to the community. Creating a low-cost scheme was the priority, but creating an exciting design that private citizens want to take care of was the best way to ensure long-term upkeep.

The designers used a dynamic layout to heighten the excitement of the 1.4-acre park.

Site accomplished both objectives with a variety of low-maintenance materials: native plants, Cor-Ten steel retaining walls, and a variable-height seat wall made with terra cotta lintels salvaged from the demolished infirmary, a design that is friendly to senior citizens, but not to skateboarders. Perhaps the most innovative solution is an entry marked by bright white pavers that incorporate a new technology called TX Active. The material, manufactured by Essroc and poured over Unilock Eco-Priora pavers, is a photocatalytic cement that reacts to sunlight and accelerates the oxidation of pollutants, rendering them as harmless salts and thereby reducing the amount of nitric oxide in the air.

Though the permeable pavers clean the air best on sunny days, on rainy days they filter rainwater back into the ground, rather than local sewers. The material is also self-cleaning—it was first used by Richard Meier on the precast concrete exterior of the Jubilee Church in Rome—and doesn’t show the black streaks usually associated with concrete buildings in cities.

Residents of the fast-gentrifying West Loop neighborhood enjoy the new playground.

Park visitors will likely not notice some of these materials, though they are expected to reduce the CPD’s long-term maintenance costs considerably. Instead, pedestrians will be drawn in by a series of five stainless steel structures that form the misting water feature Site designed in lieu of a traditional fountain. The sculpture is an accessory to the 11,000-square-foot playscape, with legs that can be set in motion with the push of a button.

“The west loop was always a great place for young couples to move, but Chicago is trying to build this neighborhood as place families can thrive and grow,” Wong said.

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John Lindsay's Hard Times
John Lindsay stands on the roof of the Hotel Pennsylvania in 1967 as construction is underway for One Penn Plaza and Madison Square Garden.
Courtesy MCNY
 
Lindsay and city officials inspect garbage-lined streets during one of numerous strikes.

America’s Mayor: John V. Lindsay and the Reinvention of New York
Museum of the City of New York
1220 5th Avenue at 103rd Street
Through October 5

The Museum of the City of New York is host to a wonderful exhibition: America’s Mayor: John V. Lindsay and the Reinvention of New York. It is a collection of posters, photographs, filmed interviews and comments, models, drawings, first person accounts from some of the period’s eminent journalists, and mementos of eight turbulent years in the city’s history: 1966 through 1973. Those who were not around when it took place will be amazed at the emotional intensity of the displays; those who lived through the period will be able to revisit it. Nobody will be indifferent to the story it tells.

The exhibition is also the occasion for the publication of a book containing wonderful original essays on the period. It is illustrated with many of the same often-electrifying visual images that are in the show and thus conveys almost as much of the excitement of the period. But, unlike the exhibition, the authors of the essays in the book (many of whom appear in the exhibition) are able to step back and provide some of the perspective the show lacks.

The title is direct in disclosing its intentions to present eight years as portrayed by pundits of the period and Lindsay Administration insiders. John Lindsay was New York City’s mayor—not America’s—and he did not “reinvent” New York. Most New Yorkers did not think they were typical of America and certainly did not want to be re-invented. The posters and photos in the show convey how deeply the administration felt that New York needed to be changed and that a reinvented New York could become a beacon for America—and perhaps even catapult Lindsay into the presidency.

One of the first images encountered is a 1965 campaign poster proudly quoting Murray Kempton, a popular journalist of the day, saying: “He is fresh and everyone else is tired.” Campaign officials were so eager to convey that Lindsay’s opponents were tired that they failed to perceive that the message was: “everybody” in New York is tired.

Supporters hoist campaign posters during his first run for office in 1965.

A similar blindness affected the admirable efforts to deal with what the administration correctly perceived as a “City in Crisis.” It was a time in which every city, including New York, experienced alarming increases in crime and addiction, demonstrations by the disaffected, and riots in minority neighborhoods. Perhaps the most inspiring images of Mayor Lindsay show him in his shirt sleeves walking in poor neighborhoods trying to cool the anger ready to boil over into race riots. At the same time, it is no surprise that the exhibition has no images of the mayor empathizing with the city’s white, working- and middle-class majority upset at the absence of subway service (due to a strike), or streets strewn with uncollected garbage (due to a strike), or school children unable to attend class (due to a strike).

There are wonderful photos of park commissioner Thomas Hoving’s “happenings” in Central Park that provided an opportunity to experience the “Fun City” that Lindsay promised, but none of the damage they caused to the park itself. More important, nowhere is there an explanation that happenings were part of an inspired effort to regain the confidence of millions of New Yorkers who were avoiding Central Park because of its bedraggled appearance or out of fear of being mugged. Recapturing this constituency was vital to obtaining the support needed for the park’s restoration. It was this inability to understand that its actions simultaneously generated both good and bad results that afflicted the Lindsay Administration. It also afflicts the exhibition, but not the more critically sophisticated book.

For architects and planners the show is a must-see. The big achievement of the Lindsay Administration, and most particularly Donald Elliott, chairman of the City Planning Commission from 1966 to 1973, is in the fields of architecture, urban design, and planning. Elliott pioneered special zoning districts (beginning with the Theater District), vest-pocket redevelopment, scattered site housing for low-income residents, neighborhood planning, and industrial renewal. He spearheaded the effort to get city agencies to hire better architects, among them Davis, Brody & Associates, Giovanni Passanella, Jordan Gruzen, and Richard Meier.

Lindsay trudges through the snow in Queens after a storm in 1969.

Many of Elliott’s and Lindsay’s greatest achievements are missing from the show, including the extension of the 6th Avenue subway under the East River at 63rd St., revitalization of downtown Brooklyn, redevelopment of Roosevelt Island, and neighborhood improvement efforts throughout the city. Instead it displays projects that never happened: the pedestrianization of Madison Avenue and redevelopment of the mid-40s on the Far West Side and along the waterfront.

While the exhibition mentions the three Model Cities Program Areas, it neither explains what the Model Cities project was supposed to accomplish, what it did achieve, or why it disappeared without much of a legacy. More significantly, it mentions the fiscal crisis, but unlike Steven Weisman’s excellent essay in the book, it does not explain how it eventually led to the city’s near bankruptcy or why it happened in the first place.

Mayor Koch appears in the exhibition saying: “The greatest thing that John Lindsay did was to bring wonderfully able, intelligent civic-minded people into city government.” Among them were Leon Panetta, Peter Stangl, Nathan Leventhal, and Peter Goldmark. This was particularly important because the people that LaGuardia had attracted to city government during the Depression were retiring.

Many New York residents will be disappointed that their neighborhood does not appear in the exhibition. Those neighborhoods were not of much interest to many Lindsay-era public policy pundits or public officials. But every New Yorker interested in its history will find much that is fascinating and will come away understanding what a dedicated group of the best and the brightest set out to do and why, despite the best of intentions, they left behind a “City in Crisis.”

More Than Just Books

It is incredible to realize that with the shuttering in January of Urban Center Books, New York no longer has a single bookstore devoted to architecture, urban design, and city planning. Like Chicago, which lost its legendary Prairie Avenue Bookshop in 2009, New York may have other stores that stock architecture titles, but it has lost a communal haven. These were places where architects from around the world would go to see what was new and exciting in the world of design publishing, bump into friends, and compare notes. I remember seeing Richard Meier and Philip Johnson in the tiny shop checking out each other’s purchases, and another time watching Bruno Zevi graze through new titles on a crowded book table.

Even in the best of times, selling books is not a gold mine for store operators, and Urban Center Books existed in its high-rent Midtown space as a special concession forced on the developer of the landmark Villard Houses, where the store was located. Harry Helmsley, who built the 51-story Palace Hotel behind the Villard brownstone in 1980, was required to rent the northern portion of the Madison Avenue structure at a much-reduced rent for 30 years. An umbrella organization was created to bring under one roof the Parks Council, the Architectural League, the New York chapter of the AIA, the Municipal Art Society, and the bookstore. The 30-year easement ended last year, and the organizations scattered all over the city. Urban Center Books, operated by MAS, had hoped to find another space in the city—perhaps with MAS in the Steinway building—and several plans were hatched to relocate the much-loved store into a suitable home. Apparently, this effort has come to naught. And with MAS reportedly no longer interested in carrying the store, Urban Center Books has died a lamentable death.

It may be hard to remember for people who now buy books online, but New York once had multiple shops that featured architecture books. The old Rizzoli store on 5th Avenue carried a healthy supply, and it continues the tradition at West 57th Street. And how many remember the tiny Perimeter books in its several Soho iterations run by Kazumi Futagawa? Other specialized shops abounded, often carrying esoteric titles on architecture: Wittenborn and Ursus on Madison Avenue, Hacker Art Books on 57th, and our favorite, Jaap Rietman in Soho. In a city where design, publishing, and media still intersect in an intense feedback loop, it is hard to imagine these stores are gone, and with them untold opportunities for serendipitous inspiration. Of course, there are still shops in New York that carry architecture titles like Spoonbill & Sugartown, Book Culture, Archivia, St. Mark’s, and the redoubtable Strand (especially its 2nd-floor rare book room). We should treasure and buy from these places before they also disappear. No amount of searching online can create the ambience and excitement of these shops, and the city is a poorer place without them.

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John Pawson Crafts New Show, Museum for London
British architect John Pawson was in town recently, conferring with a client about their new apartment in one of Richard Meier’s Perry Street towers and supporting another whose film was premiering at the Museum of Modern Art. He took time out for a coffee to talk about the upcoming show of his work at the London Design Museum opening on September 22, as well as his new home for the museum—announced last month—within the repurposed Commonwealth Institute, aka the Parabola Building, a swoopy 1962 white elephant designed by RMJM in West London. (Also going on the site is a controversial Rem Koolhaas-designed apartment building.) Pawson beat out a list that included British familiars David Chipperfield, Haworth Tompkins, Caruso St. John Architects, Stanton Williams, Tony Fretton, and the Dutch firm Claus En Kaan Architecten. Director Deyan Sudjic, the author of several books on Pawson and a close friend (the architecture circle in the UK is pretty small and tight) said that in choosing Pawson he was sure to have an architect “who will bring out the best of this remarkable building.” From Pawson’s description, the show Plain Space promises to be an architect’s architecture show that’s not academic, focusing on materials—no surprise considering the man favors four-inch-thick marble slabs for his kitchen counter and 45-foot single-plank floorboards in the parlor—and process. Plain Space will avoid show and tell through models and pre-occupancy photography in favor of a more immersive experience. “At my age, I had to ask myself, Why an exhibition now?” said Pawson. “Ten years ago, the reasons would have been more obvious, now it’s more like, What’s the point? For me, the answer was to make it something people will learn from, to make it something about space, to make it feel like you are walking into architecture, and to make it get across how architecture gets done.” So there’s going to be a 1:1 scale installation. Pawson has done this before at an ill-fated Marks & Spencer department store in Gateshead, where he installed a two-story house imaginatively occupied by a celebrity footballer and avid M&S consumer. This time, he said, would be quite different, a room instead of a structure. He contemplated creating a chapel in the spirit of the monastery he has designed at Novy Dvur in the Czech Republic but rejected that as too prescriptive. “It will not necessarily be residential but it will be of that scale, almost like a ballet set. It’s not meant to be heavy or permanent,” he said, noting that he would reject any client request to duplicate the space. He also toyed with the idea of making it entirely of chalk—one of a collection of materials along with pumice and cast aluminum that he keeps on his desk for inspiration—that he admires for its depth and consistency, but in compressed blocks, as it’s used in places like Kent and Dover, it would be too heavy for the museum floors. The search continues. The “room” will sit at the center of the exhibition where people can stop and take a break before proceeding to a section of gigantic commissioned portraits of four completed projects—a cricket pavilion in Oxford; creative director Fabien Baron’s house in rural Sweden, the Sackler crossing bridge in Kew Gardens, and Pawson’s own Notting Hill townhouse. Each photo-mural will measure ten feet by six feet and comprise 24 smaller images with the purpose of providing context, in some cases miles of it, and showcasing the building as part and parcel of its landscape. This minimalist architect is a complete lush when it comes to sumptuous materials, and so an important part of the show will feature large chunks of them arrayed on five-foot square palettes. Recalling the famous materials show that Rem Koolhaas and Herzog & de Meuron did for the Prada Foundation, there will be no mock-ups, however, because Pawson’s are so exacting that they are usually incorporated into the buildings themselves. Thirty process models and drawings (none made just for the show) will be on display along with correspondence from clients, among them Karl Lagerfeld and Bruce Chatwin, but the most fascinating will no doubt be the letters from the monks headed for the Czech monastery describing their design needs and desires. A super-sustainable 5,000 square foot house in Treviso, Italy, gets the most complete treatment with a series of commissioned photographs—no grab shots here, just the highest-rez joints and details—documenting the house built of Marmorino plaster walls and white concrete roof panels from the first day of construction through the most current. The clients are an old established family accustomed to quality: Their forefathers commissioned not only Carlo Scarpa, but Palladio. “It’s not an everyday house,” admitted Pawson. Nor does it sound like it will be  an ordinary show. Plain Space runs through January 30, 2011;  John Pawson: Plain Space by Allison Morris will be published by Phaidon in September.
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North Carolina Museum of Art
The entry pavilion to Thomas Phifer's new expansion to the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.
Scott Frances

Pity the architect who can do a good house. Ever since Le Corbusier dubbed it a machine, and Robert Venturi built one for his mother, the house has been the premier venue for the intimate encounter between architectural theory and the drama of everyday life. And yet designers as diverse as Breuer and Gehry have struggled to translate domestic success into work of equivalent power at the scale of skyline and landscape.

Such might have been the fate of Tom Phifer, a former design partner of Richard Meier’s whose own relatively young practice has been celebrated for a series of remarkably well-realized (and publicized) houses, especially prominent along the bucolic Taghkanic-Sagaponack axis of New York’s weekending periphery.

In those buildings, expressive twists on technically performative elements like rainscreens and sunshades revealed the surprising material complexity of glass and metal, and the productive tension between a monolithic volume and a light surface. A recent campus pavilion at Rice University elaborated these strategies somewhat more grandly. But now Phifer has scaled up to a substantial civic institution, the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA).

Fiberglass coffers and fabric scrims modulate daylight in the Alterpiece Gallery.

A freestanding addition to the museum’s existing Raleigh home (a wanly value-engineered Edward Durell Stone design built in 1983), the new building provides 65,000 square feet of permanent gallery space on a single ground-floor level, and a third as much service space below. It’s a big box with narrow excisions at its edges that become courtyards, sculpture gardens, and water courts. The periphery of the box is opaque, and the cutouts, transparent: The ratio of one surface to the other is a surprising 50:50, and the depth to which the glass-lined openings extend into the plan produces striking light and lightness within.

There are other smart effects: That peripheral facade, whose dull gray appearance first suggests monolithic concrete, is actually another Phiferian rainscreen—an off-kilter assembly of anodized aluminum panels, tilting in as they rise to the facade’s 26-foot height, and overlapping like shingles in plan. Within each tapering shingle-overlap is a mirror-shiny stainless steel surface; thus when viewed obliquely and especially in motion, the museum optically scintillates against its adjacent park and parking area.

Secondly, and more soberly, the interior’s ceiling features an array of deep Rhino-modeled fiberglass coffers whose rectangular bases define the 27-by-7-foot module of the gallery spaces, and whose tops resolve into not-quite-ovoid oculi. Their winsome geometry served as the basis for Pentagram’s custom museum typeface. Featherweight fabric screens of varying opacities precisely modulate the interior daylighting below these skylights. But their main effect is one of uncannily indeterminate and shadowless depth: a moody and shapeshifting overhead landscape.

The Rodin Gallery spills out into a courtyard, with its contents protected by fritted glass.

A more polemical or self-reflexive building might have tried to steer these elements and effects toward each other in search of a big idea. This one mostly defers to the art—whose highlights include a sturdy modern ensemble of Motherwells, Frankenthalers, and Diebenkorns; a pride of Rodins; and a Judaica collection of subtle magnificence. Thus it may be only over the curated lifetime of the building that one can deduce whether or how it accumulates to more than the sum of its effects.

But the greatest effect may be as much democratic and economic as optic or tectonic. The museum is free. Its grounds, a sprawling 164-acre sculpture park poised between cloverleaf and subdivision, are unfenced and criss-crossed with trails that weave into a larger network across the exurban landscape of Raleigh. The building itself has a sufficiently grand main entrance marked by a shiny canopy, but visitors can drop in at other points through the glassy peripheral courtyards (a distant fulfillment of that Manhattanite dream of drifting into the Metropolitan Museum directly from Central Park).

The aluminum-clad expansion is inset with narrow courtyards, seen here from the north facade. (Click to zoom)

The feeling of free movement between natural and architectural landscapes is reinforced by an interior that operates essentially as one big room, with freestanding walls—many of them terminating a few feet below the ceiling—suggesting but never fully enclosing a series of galleries. In a graceful gesture, the usual control-point information desk is shifted far to the side of the main entrance, so the immediate encounter of the visitor is with art.

The ceiling-mounted, casino-type surveillance eyes that presumably enable such operational fluidity are perhaps the only blots on an interior otherwise remarkably free of visual clutter. But it’s a small price for something almost priceless: the architecturally-conveyed message that the museum’s primary occupants are not its artifacts, but its visitors, and that when you arrive, you belong. It’s a feeling characteristic of public institutions at their best: perhaps not of every house, but certainly of a home.

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Meierland
An important part of Richard Meier’s design process is his use of scale models—usually beautifully crafted of wood—to consider a physical form in its broader context. In-house model makers are often asked to fabricate multiple iterations of projects, and the firm is famous for its elegant presentation models, such as the one for his extraordinary gridded skyscraper (designed with Steven Holl, Charles Gwathmey, and Peter Eisenman) for the World Trade Center competition. Fortunately, Meier has not only kept many of his models, some going back 40 years like the Smith House in Connecticut, but also a spectacular series of working models for the Getty Center (above). These are kept in Meier’s model museum—a loft space in Long Island City that is opened to the public starting tomorrow, May 7, through August 27 (the museum is closed to the public during the winter months, due to the climate’s impact on the models). Tours can be arranged through Richard Meier & Partners Architects at 212-967-6060.
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The A+D House Party
As promised yesterday, we are going paparazzi. We have pix of the architecture event of the week: the opening of LA's A+D Museum. (See Slideshow Here). The event drew hundreds into the museum's brand new space, a beautiful white jewel box located on the ground floor of a midcentury office building. Guests were treated to tunes from KCRW DJ Tom Schnabel, and bid on works of art and sculpture created by some of LA's biggest architects and cultural icons. Big names contributing work included Bruce Mau, Max Neutra, Lorcan O'Herlihy, Thom Mayne, Richard Meier, Hitoshi Abe, and many more. And so it begins for a museum that has for years been known for not having its own space. Welcome home.
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The Public Option
Transportation facilities such as HOK's Big Blue Bus headquarters in Santa Monica are seeing increasing competition from firms eager for work.
Courtesy HOK

With most private markets dried up, the real game in town for architects right now is the public sector. The federal government is shelling out record amounts of money—both federal stimulus–related and otherwise—to get the economy on track, and states are still paying out large bond measures and other monies promised before their budgets began to crumble. Even cash-strapped cities are still handing out projects, albeit many fewer than several years ago.

And so the rush is on among architects to land government buildings, hospitals, parks, transportation centers, public schools, and university structures, among others. The amount of work is still encouraging, and most say they enjoy building for the common good, but the competition is fierce, and for many unexperienced in the labyrinthine bureaucracy and strange pecking order of the public realm, it can be close to impossible.

“Firms are chasing whatever projects they’re hearing about, and right now that’s public work,” said Kermit Baker, the AIA’s chief economist. “It’s the only place that anybody is working,” added Veda Solomon, director of business development for HOK’s LA office.

For firms like HOK, a mainstay in the public realm, this scenario means there is suddenly more competition for jobs that once fell into their laps. But they still get the lion’s share thanks to their experience. The firm has worked in the public sector since its founding in the 1950s. Its California offices are now working on the U.S. Mint in San Francisco, the new ARTIC high-speed rail and transit center in Anaheim, the Contra Costa Courthouse, the VA Hospital in Long Beach, the Adelanto Correctional Facility in San Bernardino, and the NOAA Pacific Region Headquarters in Hawaii, to name a few.


Seventy percent of CO Architects' work comes from the public realm, including the LA Valley College's Allied Health & Sciences Center in Van Nuys.
Robert Canfield

The firm’s LA office has only dropped 15 out of 165 workers since 2008, said Solomon, an incredibly low figure in this economy. There’s been such an influx of new public work, she added, that the firm has had to restructure to move more architects into the public sphere.

“Basically the whole firm is looking at public projects,” she said.

Another public regular in LA, 83-person CO Architects, is busy as well, with about 70 percent of its work coming from the public realm. “It’s been less stressful for us than for others,” said principal Scott Kelsey. Work currently underway includes courthouses in Porterville and Southeast Los Angeles, an addition for Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center/ Orthopedic Hospital, the new Palomar Medical Center outside San Diego, a UC Merced Academic Surge Building, the UC Davis School of Nursing, and projects for the LA Unified School District and LA Valley College, among others. (At press time, they unveiled plans for another public project, a new North Campus at the LA County Museum of Natural History.)

Even smaller design firms are getting into the game. Santa Monica–based Pugh + Scarpa, with its 15-strong staff, has signed a five-year at-will contract with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), which limits fees to $12 million a year ($12 million, points out principal Larry Scarpa, would double the firm’s usual fees for a year). The firm is also building parking structures for the city of Santa Monica, a parking garage for UCSD, and is working with Olin Partnership on the new Plummer Park in West Hollywood, which includes a new parking structure and theater. Eight-person San Francisco firm Paulett Taggart Architects is working on two stimulus-related projects, the Turk/ Eddy Affordable Housing development and a portion of the Hunters View revitalization project. San Francisco–based Mark Cavagnero Associates, another small firm, has made a specialty out of quiet but striking institutional work like the Savo Pool in San Francisco, the Clovis Memorial District Conference Center in Clovis, CA, and the just-completed renovation of the Oakland Museum of California.


Mark Cavagnero Associates has made a niche of institutional work, such as the firm's Clovis Memorial District Conference Center in Clovis, CA.
Courtesy MCA

Other boutique firms going public recently include Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects, which has signed on with the City of Santa Monica to build 360 shelters for the city’s Big Blue Bus. The canopies are a kit of parts that can be reconfigured to maximize shade depending on conditions. Richard Meier and Partners, while hardly small, is still interested in branching into the public realm and is working on the San Diego Federal Courthouse, a design that uses materials like natural stone, terra cotta, and pre-cast concrete. The firm also completed a large new city hall and civic center for the City of San Jose.

But although firms large and small have made an entry, getting a strong foothold in this realm has become increasingly difficult. The cutthroat competition means that even the most seasoned public veterans have to work harder than ever to get in the game.

“I’ve noticed a lot of big firms are going after smaller projects,” said HOK’s Solomon, who noted that  cash-strapped governments have taken advantage of this situation by paying much less for projects than similar work in the private sector. CO’s Kelsey points to the competition for the new academic building it is now designing at UC Merced, which saw 49 submittals. In better economic times, he pointed out, a project like that would have about 20 submittals. 


CO Architects' public portfolio includes a renovation of the LA Natural history museum.
 2L studio
 
 

richard meier & partners extends a special interest in federal facilities with designs for the san diego federal courthouse.
 courtesy richard meier & partners
 
 

And for those trying to get into the loop, the march to public work can be infuriating. Small firms say they are often shut out of the process because of their lack of experience and connections. Many point out that often, public agencies value the ability to check off the right boxes and propose low fees over talent and design expertise. The AIA/LA has suggested a new city Architecture Department that would, among other things, help get more firms involved in the public selection process through competitions, design review, and community outreach. The AIA has also called for changing public project delivery from design-bid-build—which favors well-connected firms that know the right contractors and engineers, or those that simply charge the least regardless of quality or competence—to more egalitarian and well-organized methods like integrated project delivery, public private partnerships, or a more equitable version of design-build.

The challenge of getting into the public realm even pertains to megafirms like Gensler, now wishing it had jumped into public projects sooner. Its 195-person LA office is working on a number of public projects—including the new Port of Long Beach Headquarters building, security upgrades for Los Angeles World Airports, and a new data center for the County of Los Angeles—but that is only about a third of its overall work.

“Honestly, it’s been somewhat challenging,” admitted Rob Jernigan, a Gensler principal. “We were heavily focused on work and lifestyle, and not as heavily on civic. We’ve been working with the public sector for more than ten years, which sounds like a long time, but it’s really not.”

Even for firms like HOK that have the experience and connections, working in the public realm brings new bureaucratic challenges that can stymie even the most stalwart. “You wouldn’t believe the bureaucratic hoops you have to jump through just to get your name on the list,” said Christopher Roe, HOK’s strategic director of marketing and business development. “Hundred-page forms that require signed affidavits from 20 references of previous clients and have to be notarized at the state, county, and federal level. It’s a paperwork nightmare of epic proportions.”

Public agencies themselves are struggling, and with their own budgets faltering, they are doing their best—like everyone else—to get as much work for as little as possible. Roe said that architecture and planning fees are down about 20 percent for federal projects from just a few years back. “We’re being squeezed on many levels,” he said.


smaller firms such as Pugh + Scarpa are getting in the game as well. The firm is working on the Santa Monica Parking Garage (above) in addition to work through a GSA at-will contract.
Courtesy Pugh + Scarpa

For smaller firms doing public work, the inevitable starts and stops of public projects can be disastrous. Scarpa mentions that every time a project is halted for an EIR review, he has to lay off staff. Steven Ehrlich faced similar problems working on a new project for UC Irvine, one of well over 30 projects halted for some time in the university system, many of them because of budget issues.

But Scarpa knows he is still one of the lucky ones because he got started before the boom. “My friends ask me how to get involved and I tell them it’s not gonna happen instantly. We’ve been doing it for five years.” Already he is looking ahead to new kinds of work in universities, museums, and overseas commissions.

So the question remains: will firms get too entrenched in public work just as they got too involved in commercial and residential before? What happens when the economy changes and the public sector becomes less sexy? Already, public institutions like universities are running out of funds and slowing down expenditures.

The public sector will always provide work, pointed out the AIA’s Baker, so getting caught flat-footed is more difficult. Nor does the sector provide the dizzying profits available in the private market. Persistent adaptation, as always, is the key to preserving the long-term health of architecture firms.

“We’ve realized that the only constant in the world is change,” said Gensler’s Jernigan. “In today’s world, this notion of getting into one niche and staying in that niche is over. We’re constantly asking, how do we broaden ourselves and diversify our offerings so we can stabilize things?”