Search results for "Richard Meier"

Placeholder Alt Text

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.

Placeholder Alt Text

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.

Placeholder Alt Text

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.

Placeholder Alt Text

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.
Placeholder Alt Text

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.

Placeholder Alt Text

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.
Placeholder Alt Text

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.
Placeholder Alt Text

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?”

Placeholder Alt Text

A+D Settles Down
A rendering of the new A+D museum, which opens tonight.
Courtesy A+D Museum

After a decade of nomadic existence, LA’s A+D Museum is finally unpacking its suitcases for good. Tonight, the design institution, created in 2001, is opening its new space at 6032 Wilshire Boulevard. A gala event will be held at the museum's new locale right across the street from LACMA and next to the Petersen Automotive Museum.

Since its founding, the A+D has bounced around the city, occupying locations donated by philanthropists beginning with developer Ira Yellin, who gave the museum its first facility in Downtown LA’s Bradbury Building in 2001. It then moved to Santa Monica (2003), West Hollywood (2003-2005), and finally to its most recent location in Miracle Mile (2006-2009), a large space donated by developer Wayne Ratkovich.

The new 5,000 square foot venue, a pristine space a couple blocks west of the most recent home, is situated on the ground floor of a small mid-century office building, filling a space once occupied by an unremarkable furniture store. The building team has transformed what was a poorly-aging building, removing clunky decorative panels between the windows, painting the building white, and adding sleek metallic signage emblazoned with the museum’s logo. Under the sign the museum now has new recessed glass doors and completely glazed frontage.

The A+D Building prior to its renovation.
Courtesy Google Maps

Inside, the museum has a 3,500 square foot main gallery, a 500 square foot smaller gallery, as well as office and support space. Drop ceilings were removed to open up the space, a sleek lighting grid was added, and eco-friendly concrete floors were installed. The team also brought the space’s deteriorating structural issues up-to-date.

Design work was preformed pro bono by Kanner Architects—principal Steven Kanner co-founded the museum—Richard Meier and Partners, and Gensler. Construction was overseen by Hinerfeld-Ward with a huge team that included Turner Construction, Hathaway Dinwiddie, Matt Construction, and Minardos Group. Museum Director Tibbie Dunbar pointed out that all are competitors who came together on the museum’s behalf.

Dunbar estimates that the donated services added up to at least $250,000. “It’s amazing that these people came in with what’s going on in the construction business,” she said. Major funding for the project, and for the museum’s subsequent work, came from a fundraising effort called 20/20, in which $24,000 each came from a lengthy list of noted architects and designers.

The new location now affords the museum a level of planning and foresight it has rarely enjoyed in the past. “We had been on ten-days notice for the last two years,” Dunbar said. “This is a huge shift in the paradigm for us. I know what my fall 2011 exhibit will be. I couldn’t have done that before without a stable location.” She also noted that the new location should bolster fundraising efforts.

Upcoming exhibits this year include “Come In,” a spatial intervention at the museum featuring the work of young designers; the *AIA LA Design awards; and “Never Built,” a collaboration with the Getty Research Institute displaying unbuilt work once planned for LA.

The opening event, called “Celebrate 2010,” will be hosted by KCRW radio host Frances Anderton with keynote speaker LA city councilman Eric Garcetti and music provided by KCRW DJ Tom Schnabel. Be sure to check the blog tomorrow for a full accounting.

Placeholder Alt Text

Eavesdrop NY 08
BEFORE SUBZERO, REFRIGERATORS WERE WHITE (OR AVOCADO) Eavesdrop jetted to pollen-crusted Raleigh, NC, with an eclectic herd of reporters from the likes of Sculpture magazine and The Jewish Daily Forward to tour the North Carolina Museum of Art expansion designed by Thomas Phifer. We were not disappointed. The 127,000-square-foot museum is an elegant, single-story box penetrated by courtyards, pools, and gardens. The interior and exterior details are so deliciously subtle that they seemed to elude some of the mainstream press, who asked him why he didn’t site the building to dominate the street. Articulate and precise, Phifer hypnotized the skeptics by explaining every strategy convincingly, and they hung on his every word. (Check out AN correspondent Thomas de Monchaux’s own critical appraisal in our next issue.) Later, as the tour wound down, and journalists were milling about in the lobby, Eavesdrop overheard two gentlemen relaxing on a bench and discussing the building’s aesthetics. The one with deep architectural insight commented to his older companion: “White. All the walls are white. Everything is white! I wondered what that was about, and then I remembered that Phifer worked for Richard Meier for years. That’s where he got his refrigerator-door palette!” Eavesdrop almost collapsed. CHANNELING WARHOL Attention, iPhoneys. “Is This Art?” is a new iPhone app “designed for people who have questions about the artistic integrity of their surroundings.” Using the iPhone’s camera, the app’s Pittsburgh-based developers claim they will instantly provide users with an “authoritative declaration of artistic importance.” This could work for architecture, thought Eavesdrop, which found three architecture-related submissions in its reservoir. The bloated, rainbow-colored “Hell, Yes!” barnacle on the New Museum in New York was panned with “I do not understand it; therefore, THIS NOT ART.” The merit of W.R. Dalzell’s apparently out-of-print book Architecture: The Indispensable Art was confirmed with “This work’s materiality is immaterial; therefore, THIS IS ART.” What is art, the cover or its contents? The same approval rating was bestowed on a bland window wall of a building that looks like a stillborn Dwell house. First one to submit a picture of Danny Libeskind’s Dresden Military History Museum wins. FAREWELL FEUD Raimund Abraham, who died in a car accident on March 4 in Los Angeles, had been a faculty member at Cooper Union since 1971, along with other long-timers such as Lebbeus Woods, Diane Lewis, and Kevin Bone. And while a memorial for Abraham in Vienna at the MAK Museum is planned for June 11 (including Peter Eisenman, Michael Rotondi, Wolf Prix, and Woods as speakers) in spite of his renouncing Austrian citizenship in 2002, factions at Cooper Union have proved so fractious that no date or program for a memorial in New York has yet been set. Send vintage Kelvinators and Frigidaires to eavesdrop@archpaper.com
Placeholder Alt Text

ONE JACKSON SQUARE
The undulating facade of KPF's One Jackson Square grabs West Village views.
Paal Rivera/Archphoto

The best that most New Yorkers could hope for from the recent luxury condo boom was some exquisite new architecture to look at and improved immediate surroundings: cleaner streets, better services, less crime, and more night life. The success of these shiny new edifices—authored by some of the world’s highest-profile architectural talent—has been decidedly mixed.


The apartments have a striking amount of openness and intimacy.
Paúl Rivera/Archphoto
 

Too often, the designs have been flawed to begin with, or their detailing poorly executed by corner-cutting developers, or the locations haven’t caught up with expectations that they were to be the next big thing in posh living. On the other hand, when done right, they have contributed positively to the urban fabric of the city. Such is the case with One Jackson Square, an 11-story, 35-unit glass vessel at the intersection of Greenwich and 8th avenues, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) and developed by Hines Interests and RFR Realty.

The site itself, a smallish triangular plot, had been a parking lot since the 1930s. At that time, the row of brownstones that once stood there was demolished to make way for the 8th Avenue subway line. In the 1980s, the Landmarks Preservation Commission passed a proposal for a 15-story postmodernist clunker of brick columns and capitals, but it fizzled out due to lack of financing. In the meantime, the area itself had grown into something of a seedy patch. Jackson Square Park, which sits just across the street, was full of dead trees, litter, and the homeless.

Hines took an interest in the location in the mid-2000s. In order to prep the neighborhood for their new condo, the developer teamed with local business owners and residents and formed the Jackson Square Alliance (JCA). While taking its own steps to spruce things up, such as planting flowers, JCA motivated the Parks Department to usher out the bums and to conduct a renovation that involved repaving the square with bluestone and activating a Victorian-style fountain.

A screening room, designed like all the building's interiors by KPF.
Trent Tesch

In terms of the building itself, Hines was committed to floor-to-ceiling expanses of glass. “Glass was almost a requirement from the point of view of fulfilling this sort of luxury unit,” explained Trent Tesch, principal-in-charge of the project for KPF. “It was the only way to compete with the Richard Meier buildings or 40 Bond.”

Pulling this off in the Greenwich Village Historic District, however, required a rigorous public review process. KPF met with the community several times, having its design rejected at every turn. The Landmarks Commission, on the other hand, unanimously approved it. “We developed an argument based on the notion that the glass is going to change depending on the time of day,” continued Tesch. “It has a different reading in morning, afternoon, and evening.”

The curves provide not only great views but unique balconies.
Paúl Rivera/Archphoto

While contextuality may not be the first thing that springs to mind when gazing upon a glass-faced building in Greenwich Village, the project’s surroundings were at the forefront of the architects’ minds. The stacked, undulating, ribbon-like volumes that form each floor were a softening response to the diagonally intersecting streets at 8th and Greenwich avenues.

This theme was picked up in the lobby, a wavy corridor of sensuously curved wooden panels, CNC-fabricated by Situ Studio. KPF worked hard to make sure that the mullions of the windows—double-glazed, low-iron insulated glass units—do not line up, providing a texture and rhythm that Landmarks saw as complementary to the Village. In this spirit, the back walls of the building are red brick with punched windows.

The sinuous facade is mimicked by the lobby, custom fabricated by SITU Studio.
Paúl Rivera/Archphoto

This formal poetry on the exterior would mean little without comfortable living space on the inside. And KPF, which laid out the interiors and designed kitchens and bathrooms, delivered with spaces that feel at once spacious and cozy, and that provide ample daylight and views without sacrificing a sense of privacy. Their success can be read plainly in the sales records. Only five of the 35 units—which range from $2 million to $21 million—remain available at the time of this writing. Those that have sold have done so at an average of $2,080 per square foot. In a city where money talks, that’s as glowing a testimonial as could be desired.