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Park Panacea over BQE Trench
Conceptual rendering showing new park space and a possible community center atop the BQE.
Courtesy dlandstudio

A new park design is moving forward in Southside Williamsburg, thanks to a plan to cap the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) trench running through the neighborhood. Brooklyn Councilwoman Diana Reyna first proposed the idea in 2005, arguing that building a cohesive park in the area would help remedy health issues affecting local children, including asthma, obesity, and diabetes. Early last spring, Brooklyn-based dlandstudio was selected to research strategies for building atop the trench.

Axonometric of South Williamsburg.
A conceptual axonometric view of the proposed park atop the BQE.

 

“The kids who play there have to play by a six-lane highway,” said dlandstudio principal Susannah Drake. As for Southside Williamsburg’s existing park areas, Drake said, “They’re not well-equipped, they’re disconnected, and they’re often difficult to get to.” Drake and her team spent the better part of 2010 helping Councilwoman Reyna drum up support for the plan from community organizations and government agencies, relying on scientific evidence about noise and air pollution to gain public and private interest. The team is drawing upon several California studies that linked the proximity of major highways to asthma rates, and spurred state legislation prohibiting construction of schools within 150 feet of heavily trafficked arteries. According to dlandstudio, there are five public elementary schools and two junior high schools within the general vicinity of the proposed park area.

New park in South Williamsburg.
A conceptual rendering showing a proposed baseball diamond atop the BQE highway trench.

 

This month, the firm will begin preparing cost-benefit and health analyses while creating a design model for public presentation. Existing park spaces flank the BQE from Broadway to Borinquen Place, and the plan’s conceptual drawings show these spaces united by a tree-lined lawn, a baseball diamond, and a soccer field. By enclosing the expressway between South 3rd and 5th streets, the team hopes to significantly reduce traffic pollution and noise, which is ten times that of Park Avenue. “We’re trying to reach out to the Columbia School of Public Health to engage thesis students in research,” said dlandstudio associate Rebecca Hill. “We’re relying on data that exists, and making that data more available to more people, but if we’re going to be making more public health claims, we need to have more proof behind it.”

The structural feasibility of capping the expressway walls will also be examined. Though putting an active recreation area such as a baseball diamond over the proposed deck area is structurally easier because it requires a much thinner soil profile than a building, the BQE was not built to current Federal Highway Administration standards, and so any changes would have to comply with new regulations.

New park in South Williamsburg.
Conceptual rendering of proposed improvements to South Williamsburg's divisive BQE trench.

 

As part of a Phase 1 to be carried out over the next two to five years, the new decks require approval from the city and state departments of transportation, both of which have already expressed support. “Many of the moves we identified in the first phase can be done right now and without much money,” said Drake, who has been given an estimated budget range of $85 to $175 million for the full scope of the project. But some of the park’s components—a large community center, for instance—could be completed at a later date, once the initial groundwork has been laid and more public and private funding secured.

Beyond the aesthetic and holistic value of a BQE park, legislators and residents involved see it as way to change the neighborhood’s social dynamic. “We heard from the community that the parks were dangerous, due to gang activity—there’s this side of the BQE versus that,” said Drake. “The objective is to create a place that will bring the community together.”

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Shipping a Vernacular Village Out to Africa
A prefabricated community center could become a model for simple vernacular architecture in Kenya.
Courtesy Philippe Barriere Collective
Prefab pods can be reconfigured and linked to other pods.
The multifunctional prefab pod can be reconfigured and linked to other pods.
 
 

In the burgeoning village of Maai Mahiu, Kenya, there is no method to the madness of development. An architect, an engineer, and a nonprofit organization hope to change that. At the November First Friday’s event at the Missouri Crossroads Arts District in Kansas City, nonprofit Comfort the Children (CTC)— which promotes community development through education, environment, economic, and health initiatives—showcased a pre-fabricated community center that it hopes will become a model for simple, high-quality vernacular architecture.

The community center was designed by architect Philippe Barriere, founder of the Philippe Barriere Collective, with help from William Zahner of A. Zahner Company, an architectural metal and glass fabricator; the structure will remain in Kansas City for the next few months on display to raise awareness and money. In mid-2011, it will be dismantled and sent to Kenya for reassembly by local workers trained by a contingent from Zahner. Zane Wileman, executive director of CTC, said his organization “is about education and empowerment, so we work with the local population to help them build themselves out of poverty.”

A proponent of multi-transitional growth housing, Barriere said his design is slated to be the first of many such installations on the Kenyan site. As funding allows through partnerships and donations, structures will organically grow into each other over time. Said Barriere, “Each prototype is organized to create a rhythm in which they eventually reach each other to make a coherent whole.” Wileman explained that these structures would serve as a hub for future development.

Zahner and Barriere have worked together on other projects, and the design is again the product of their collaboration. They posed the question of what is the easiest, cheapest, and simplest archetype to build, which turned out to be the arch. Each prototype (community center, medical facility, sewing school/factory, children with special needs facility, multi-purpose recreation facility, and a public library/internet cafe) introduces what Barriere called “high simplicity” to local development.

The 12.5-acre site in Kenya's Rift ValleyThe 12.5-acre site in Kenya's Rift Valley is being prepared with a water well, landscaping, and a soccer field.
 

“This first project allowed us to test construction, cost, and scalability of each structure as it grows,” Zahner said. All structures are scheduled for completion in phases by 2013. Until then, the 12.5-acre site in Kenya’s Rift Valley is being prepared with a water well, landscaping, and a soccer field.

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Piggyback Yards Still Not Rollin’ on the River
A masterplan envisions a vibrant Piggyback Yards and a revitalized LA River.
Courtesy Perkins + Will

Over 25 years of work have culminated in a transformative blueprint for 150 acres of land in the heart of LA abutting the famously barren Los Angeles River. However, funding and approval for the Piggyback Yard (PBy) conceptual masterplan, as the project is called, are still nonexistent, while the land’s owner, the Union Pacific Railroad, is still hesitant to part with it.

In 2009, the nonprofit Friends of the Los Angeles River found four architecture and landscape firms—Michael Maltzan Architecture, Mia Lehrer + Associates, Perkins + Will, and Chee Salette Architecture Office—to work pro bono on the Piggyback plan, targeting the railroad yards located at the critical junction of downtown Los Angeles, Lincoln Heights, and Boyle Heights. The firms, known as the PBy Collaboration, met biweekly until late May 2010. Now the group is initiating a dialogue with city leaders, public and private agencies, and the community.

A conceptual rendering of the PBy site.
A conceptual rendering of the PBy site showing parkland surrounding the LA River.

Although the city’s Los Angeles River Revitalization masterplan, which was started in 2005, has moved forward with bike lanes and small park projects along the river’s length, the PBy masterplan is the first sizable effort, said Mia Lehrer + Associates designer Hong Joo Kim. The plan includes 125 acres of land and 25 acres of riverbed. The Piggyback Yard, otherwise known as the Los Angeles Transfer Container Facility, is the largest single-owner property adjacent to the river, and hence, the yard’s proponents suggest, the only place a single, large-scale project could work.

The PBy Collaboration proposes to replace the river’s concrete bottom with a soft riverbed, reintroduce plants and wildlife, and set the stage for educational, cultural, commercial, health care, and minor industrial buildings. The midsize structures would include green roofs and photovoltaic panel arrays. Building vertically means more space for the proposed 130-acre public park, which would include soccer fields, sports amenities, walking and biking paths, and a botanical garden.

Conceptual rendering of new park space against the LA skyline.
A conceptual rendering of proposed park space set against the LA skyline.

The plan is to build an area where mixed-income residents would live, work, and play, increasing vitality and decreasing crime. The project would “bridge, through architecture and landscape design, the gap between isolated neighborhoods and districts,” said Jessica Varner, an architect from Michael Maltzan Architecture.

Mia Lehrer emphasized that the PBy plan is “an ongoing investigation” of the yard, with several private and public agencies involved. Some of these include the county, city, and California High Speed Rail. But even with such backing, the collaboration’s hands are still tied, since Union Pacific (UP) owns almost all of the land in the masterplan. It uses the Piggyback Yard to transfer containers to and from trains and trucks.

Union Pacific acknowledged the yard is operating below capacity, but Lupe Valdez, the company’s director of public policy and community affairs, partially blamed the economy, adding that UP was worried about giving up the valuable property. “It is the last yard UP has in the city of Los Angeles, and we realize we could never get it back once gone because of cost and current environmental requirements,” Valdez said. She added that the yard is being used night and day by 50 to 100 workers at a time, not including truck drivers.

Several athletic fields are included in the PBy master plan.Several athletic fields are included in the PBy master plan.

Others note that while retaining jobs in this recession is important, more jobs would be created than lost if this working blueprint—which would take about 20 years to complete—were implemented. Architect Leigh Christy from Perkins + Will said work could be realized piecemeal through “capitalizing on efforts already in place.” The Army Corps of Engineers, for example, has funding to complete the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study by 2012. Part of the area being studied for restoration and flood control is a stretch of river adjacent to the PBy. Meanwhile, the city’s Clean Tech and BioMed Tech Corridors and California High Speed Rail all have funding to perform work on or around the PBy area. The PBy Collaboration needs to sway these organizations to work in tune with its masterplan, which cannot be realized without eventually purchasing the yard from Union Pacific.

A small piece of the plan, the Mission Road corridor, is almost free of UP ownership. This portion of Mission Road, which lies between Cesar Chavez Avenue and Main Street, is about one mile of arterial roadway lined by commercial or industrial buildings. The PBy Collaboration has been talking to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and various city council and city planning members to start work on this area, said Christy. The project could become a “new model for the densification of the city,” said Marc Salette of Chee and Salette Architecture Office, and could jumpstart the rest of the PBy masterplan.

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Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn Bridge Park struggles with being both human scale and monumental.
Courtesy MVVA

Sometimes allegory writes itself. Here, it’s the removal of the futuristic stainless-steel playground climbing domes at the Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates– designed Brooklyn Bridge Park. Following the opening of the park’s Pier 1 first phase in April 2010, the domes scorchingly overheated in early summer sunshine. Their replacement by a direly anodyne but liability-proof dollhouse structure could stand for the sensible return of quasi- traditional designs after modernist overreach, or for a failure of imagination and ambition, in which the optimistically risk-taking formal and functional intelligence that is modernism’s timeless legacy is abandoned in favor of the complacently picturesque.

The design of parks and playgrounds in New York City seems currently torn between these two impulses. On the one hand, there are projects like David Rockwell’s Imagination Playground, a Constructivist Legoland just opened at the Burling Slip near the South Street Seaport. On the other, there are developments like the recent renovation inflicted on Washington Square Park, in which the once superbly sensitive prospect-and-refuge modulations of the park’s multi-level ground plane, and the once lively handling of its historically off-kilter plan (developed by polymath designer Robert Nichols in a community-driven 1971 project) have been flattened by a tightly-wound ersatz-historical pastiche of windswept symmetry, bench-shaped benches and fence-shaped fences, from which tiny tidy bits of lawn can be surveilled, but not much else.

A new playrgound at Pier 6, with Red Hook and Governor's Island beyond.

Brooklyn Bridge Park would appear to be safely in the first camp. To be arrayed when complete across some 65 acres of Brooklyn’s former shipping piers, it continues for the outer boroughs such large-scale waterfront reclamations as Manhattan’s Hudson River Park and Harlem Piers Park—in this case financially initiated and sustained, not without controversy, by the residential and hotel development of six adjacent parcels with priceless skyline and river views.

Much of Pier 1 is unimpeachable. A robust vocabulary of galvanized steel, maritime wood, asphalt paving, cable fencing, and other no-nonsense materials hold their own against a tough urban setting in the shadow of the BQE. Behind the shoulder of a steep hill, a cascade of granite steps, salvaged from nearby Roosevelt Island, forms an amphitheater and climactic overlook high above the East River. Thirty-five-foot telephone poles become totemic tree trunks and laconic lighting uprights. A sinuously sloping ridgeline provides ramped tree-lined pathways that delay and reveal views of city and water. A broad waterfront promenade recalls the one far above in Brooklyn Heights.

Joggers and bench-sitters enjoying the promenade at sunset.

A complex three-dimensional problem of physical and visual occupation has been methodically and successfully solved, with crisp detailing pleasingly combining industrial manufacture and contemporary élan. Still to come are a rainwater runoff pond, a reconstructed salt marsh, and a boat slip. On a recent Friday afternoon, the park was densely and delightedly occupied by diverse constituencies—including an intrepid group of soccer players who had miniaturized and adapted their game to fit into the mostly concave hollow of the main north-facing lawn.

That miniaturization speaks to one challenge facing the Pier 1 park, which is scale: Mediating its 9.5 acres between the scale of the human body and the scale of nearby infrastructural icons like the Brooklyn Bridge, Pier 1 has chosen to be a little-big park, rather than a big-little one. What this means is that in the cumulative effect of its many small hills and valleys, switchbacks, and meadows, it can feel slightly like a three-quarters-scale model of itself: packed with beautiful and effective features, and almost continually delightful, but without a lot of room to breathe or improvise. At Brooklyn Bridge Park, that room will, of course, eventually arrive with the continuing development of the adjacent five piers, which will provide full-size indoor and outdoor sports fields, event spaces, and miles of trails and lawns.

A cove created by the former pilings of Pier 2 adjacent to Pier 1.

And yet this tendency toward dense specificity of activity can risk suppressing the imaginative improvisation, drift, opportunism, serendipity, and loosely counter-programmatical use of space that are the greatest gifts of playgrounds and parks to their users. The new Washington Square Park fails so profoundly because, unlike the old, it encourages the narrowest one-to-one mapping between object and event: a hospitably curving edge calibrated along a shift in ground level can be a bench, a bed, a stage, a gameboard, a skate ramp, a soap box. A faux-Victorian bench is a bench is a bench.

A sign at the Pier 1 playground outlaws, along with amplified sound and smoking, “using playground equipment in an unsafe or unintended fashion.” Safety matters. It’s that “unintended” that worries. And yet somewhere there’s a tipping point in which the regulation of space required by a density of narrowly single-use features starts to betray the magnificent liberties of unintended consequences, that, ever since Richard Dattner brought the Adventure Playground to Central Park in the 1960s, has been the city’s contribution to play and to public space.

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Beekman Tower Has Bad Back
We're not sure where the rumor started—most likely Curbed—but for a while now, it's been going around that the southern side of Frank Gehry's Beekman Tower isn't faceted because it got smoothed out during a value-engineering process in 2009 that saved the project after it nearly stalled out (at half its planned height no less). The latest iteration is a lament on ArchDaily. We called Gehry's people, many of whom were out of the office, but when they finally got back to us, the answer was a definitive "Nope." This baby's backside was always flat. We asked why but were told that this is "a question for Frank, only Frank," who happens to be on vacation with his family in South Africa. Which can only mean one thing. World Cup. Who knew we had such a soccer fan in our midst? Maybe he's checking out all those cool stadiums? Anyway, our guess is it has something to do with zoning envelopes. And now, consider the record corrected. For the second time.
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Randall’s Island Reborn
More than 60 athletic fields are among the improvements recently made to Randall's Island.
Courtesy RISF

Randall’s Island has long been a daunting landscape of deteriorating ball fields and overgrown parkland. But on May 19, the Randall’s Island Sports Foundation (RISF) announced the completion of more than 60 new athletic fields, one of the final pieces of a decade-long effort to revive the island as a recreational destination. Along with acres of landscaped open space, a waterfront promenade, and other public amenities, the vast project has transformed the forlorn site for residents of East Harlem and the city beyond.

The $130 million field project, launched in 2007, fulfills the dream of then–Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, who in the 1930s aspired to transform the 480-acre island into playing fields and public pathways. “When we opened the fields the other day, Moses’ vision was finally completed—we are really turning the island into a state-of-the-art athletic facility,” said Rick Parisi, managing partner at M. Paul Friedberg and Partners (MPFP), lead architect for the project. The new fields are expected to double the island’s visitors, currently numbering 700,000 annually, with an array of facilities for soccer, softball, baseball, football, lacrosse, and cricket. Improvements also include artificial turf on 11 fields for year-round use, lighting for evening play, restrooms, dugouts, and bike racks.

The bleachers at Icahn Stadium, which opened in 2005.
Courtesy Zurita Architects

The masterplan forged by MPFP recovered land from various institutions—including the Manhattan Psychiatric Center and the Wards Island Water Pollution Control Plant—that were a major obstacle to creating connectivity and giving the island an identity as a singular park. The present phase improves orientation in the landscape through a grid inspired by Manhattan’s 625-foot-long West Side blocks.

“The grid helped us to generate familiarity and orient the fields properly,” said Ricardo Zurita, principal of Zurita Architects, which collaborated on the masterplan and other aspects of the park, including the design of new sculptural comfort stations that serve as nodes along the grid. The artificial fields were also inserted along the edges of the island’s natural areas. “By doing this we tried to blur this very artificial landscape and blend it seamlessly with naturalistic elements,” Zurita said.

Young baseball players take to some of the island's dozens of diamonds, with the RFK Bridge in the background.
Courtesy RISF

Other park additions include the planting of 4,000 trees in tandem with PlanNYC’s Million Trees initiative, as well as new waterfront pathways designed by RGR Landscape Architecture that offer scenic views along the East River. Elements remaining to be finalized are the restoration of shorelines—including sea wall, riprap, and areas of natural beach, as well as several more ball fields and a path providing access to a new bridge connecting to the Bronx Greenway.

The project marks a milestone for RISF, which manages the island as a public-private partnership with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Aimee Boden, executive director of RISF, said the new work complements additions such as the 2005 Icahn Stadium and the Sportime tennis center, completed last year. “I really hope that this galvanizes the island,” she said, “and brings it to its place as a regional park facility where New York City goes to play.”

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Out-of-This-World Cup Stadia in South Africa
Americans do like soccer, contrary to what many around the world believe. American architects, though? Hard to say.. But even for the most soccer-agnostic architects, there are four good reasons to watch -- or at least glancingly pay attention to -- this year's World Cup in South Africa. Four of the 10 stadia designed or renovated for this year's quadrennial World Cup really are worth checking out beyond the context of international soccer matches. These stadia will be long-lasting legacies of the World Cup; that's good news for people who want to check these structures out, but potentially bad news for the cities that have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in what may become massive white elephants. And here they are, AN's favorite four!! Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg The showpiece of the World Cup, this striking earth-toned stadium will play host to eight of the tournament's 64 matches, including the opener and the final. Designed by  South Africa-based Boogertman + Partners in conjunction with U.S.-based Populous (formerly HOK Sport) the stadium is actually a renovation of the original Soccer City, built in 1987, the structural profile of which remains at the core of this updated version. The new design gives the stadium a three-tiered structure with room for about 94,700 people -- the biggest in Africa. It was modeled after the calabash, a traditional African gourd pot, and its bowl-like appearance makes it one of the most interesting World Cup sights to see. Driving down the Soweto Highway at night, it can almost be mistaken for a far-off twinkling city skyline. Now accessible by the Johannesburg's World Cup-instigated Rea Vaya bus rapid transit system, the stadium will see some continued use in the future as home to the South African National team, as well as various cultural and sporting events. And additional commercial and residential developments are also expected to rise up around the stadium, so locals are hoping the $440 million the city invested will pay off in the long-run. Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban This brand new stadium in Durban has maybe the most unexpected design of all the World Cup Stadia. Modeled after the South African National Flag, the stadium has a 105-meter-high arch that runs the length of the oval-shaped structure. At one end, that arch splits as it heads towards the ground, creating a gap that provides a view of nearby downtown Durban to people in the stands during its seven World Cup matches. The stadium as a whole has a very ship-like feel to it, which is appropriate in Durban, South Africa's famous beachside city. And, as an added novelty, the arch boasts a funicular "skycar" that transports tourists up to its apex for what are probably some very sweet views of the city. The bold can even bungee jump from the top, though a series of malfunctions with the skycar left a number of tourists stranded at the top of the arch on multiple occasions leading up to the Cup. This stadium was designed by GMP Architekten, a German firm, and the designer of two other notable stadia on this list. At a cost of 4.8 billion Rand (roughly $640 million), Moses Mabhida Stadium is the second most expensive stadium built for the World Cup. There will be seating for 70,000 for the World Cup, but the amount of seating can be reduced to 54,000 or increased to 80,000 depending on the need. Need, however, is a concern in Durban, as no professional team (soccer nor rugby) has yet decided to use it as their home base. Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth GMP Architekten's design for this brand new stadium in the relatively small but growing oceanside city of Port Elizabeth has an appropriately nautical feel. Overlooking the city's North End Lake, the stadium exterior emulates the sails of an early trading ship, and its pointed bulges are like the ridges on a bottle cap. Host to just five World Cup matches, the stadium's impressive features are likely to push it across TV screens far more than its game count would otherwise merit. After the Cup, the city is hoping that two local teams -- one rugby, one soccer -- will take it on as their home field. But both of those teams have not succeeded in climbing into their sports' respective top leagues, which makes the prospect of regularly filling a 48,000-seater for minor league sports unlikely. This unfortunate reality has left the city questioning the wisdom of its $270 million investment -- and worried about the stadium's future. Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town This subtle but attractive stadium is less a statement of its own than an exclamation point for a city with more than its share of iconic scenery. Positioned near the tip of Africa, Cape Town boasts an incredibly scenic oceanfront. And with Table Mountain and Signal Hill behind it, the addition of this brand new stadium to the city's beach side Green Point Common is just icing. Its strong vertical walls and gently dipped roof line accentuate the flatness of the city's famous mountains, and also provide a classy look to what is already a posh and cosmopolitan city. Though there has been some controversy about the selection of Green Point as the site of a brand new stadium when existing stadia in the city could have been World Cup-ready with little investment, the stadium is already considered a postcard asset. GMP Architekten's design includes a translucent skin, which turns the stadium into a bright glowing light during evening events. And an innovative roof design contains much of the sound generated at the stadium within its walls, a boon to nearby residents who would otherwise be subjected to the impressively loud sound of up to 68,000 vuvuzelas. Seating will be reduced to 55,000 after Cape Town's eight World Cup matches are over. At a total cost of roughly $773 million, this is the most expensive stadium of the World Cup. City officials have contracted with a management company to book events in the stadium to help pay off what has been a major investment for the city.
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Baltimore Blues
A waterfront promenade in the heart of the new development, designed by Parameter and Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects.
ASG VIS

The shoreline around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is well known for its bustling urban life, but just a mile away lies a body of water with three times the area and none of the development. The Middle Branch waterfront, a shallow estuary south of the Inner Harbor, is an industrial-zoned brownfield dotted with old factories and power plants and cut off from the rest of the city by a highway, a park, a bridge, and some CSX rail tracks.

But when a struggling Middle Branch glass company finally went bankrupt in 2004, local developer Pat Turner saw an opportunity. He purchased the company to get access to its land, and then convinced the city to rezone the neighborhood from industrial to mixed-use as he gradually bought up other privately owned parcels. A longtime South Baltimore resident, Turner had a familiarity with the neighborhood and, more to the point, a stake in it, as most of his prior work is clustered nearby.

The project remakes a former industrial site into a mix of development and expansive open space. (Click to zoom)

Dubbed Westport Waterfront, the project is unusual for more than one reason. Its size alone is unprecedented in Baltimore, a 52-acre site that will include 4.8 million square feet of mixed-use development, with 2,000 residential units, two hotels, 300,000 square feet of retail, and a possible soccer arena, an estimated $1.2 billion all told. While other waterfront developments have a hard time attracting public transit because they are not sufficiently dense, the Westport site already has a light rail stop at its center. Turner plans to use that station as the seed of a dense multimodal network, including wide sidewalks and a link to the city’s bike trail.

Currently, the development team is constructing two thousand linear feet of wetlands along the shoreline using federal stimulus money. By fall, they will be starting on Westport’s streets and public spaces by local design company Parameter and Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects, based on a multi-density masterplan by Field Operations. “Field Operations’ low-rise scheme yielded some interesting townhouses and lowrise condos, which we incorporated into the site,” said Chris Pfaffle of Parameter. “The high-density one had too much density, but we took its verticality and organization around a main boulevard.”

The new development is meant to transform a largely derelict piece of Baltimore's Middle Branch, just south of downtown. (Click to zoom)

Perhaps the most unusual thing about Westport is its scant opposition. To help fund infrastructure on the site, Baltimore issued the largest Tax Increment Financing plan in the city’s history, in anticipation of a sharp rise in property taxes from the current $93,000 per year to the estimated $43 million they will take in once the site is fully developed.

For their part, the adjacent Westport community is enjoying the attentions of Turner, who has been reaching out by planting trees and hiring locals to clean up the waterfront. The development will above all mean new access to the waterfront, which for 120 years has been privately owned and blocked by warehouses and factories. “They’ve lived in the shadows of smokestacks for many years,” Turner said.

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Plummeting Pei
Goldman Sachs has been much in the news lately for its continued blockbuster bonuses as much of the workforce continues to languish. But the new headquarters for the company designed by Harry Cobb has also made headlines for some time now thanks (or no thanks) to construction accidents. The latest occurred this weekend, when glass panels fell in the middle of the night from the 38th floor onto the West Side Highway, shutting it down for a few hours according to the Post. The Tribeca Trib also reports the accident also shut down a Battery Park City ice rink that was set to open Sunday, delaying the inaugural opening by a day. What's worse, though, is the Trib says construction managers knew about a crack in the panes that precipitated their fall but delayed fixing it.
Robert Blackman, Tishman’s executive vice president, said workers had spotted a half-inch-long "hairline" crack in a window on the 38th floor of the $2.4 billion office tower on Nov. 13, but chose to put off replacing the glass until after the external construction hoist on the north face of the building was dismantled. “[The broken glass] was deemed not to be a safety concern to us,” Blackman told a Community Board 1 members Tuesday night, upset over this, the fourth reported incident of falling objects from the site. “I would have been the first to have stopped the job if we thought it posed a risk to this community.” Blackman said “unusually high winds” the morning of Nov. 28 were likely what spread the crack across the upper portion of the 10-by-7-foot window. Around 7:30 that morning, pieces of the window fell off of the building, landing on West Street and on a platform inside the construction site.
That's more than two weeks between spotting the damage and the accident. Were this the first problem at the site, that might be understandable, but as has been widely reported with the news of this latest accident, it's not. There was an errant piece of steel that fell onto a neighboring soccer field in the middle of a game, a hammer that hit a cab, and, most tragically, the seven tons worth of girders dropped on a construction trailer that paralyzed the architect trapped inside. What has not been mentioned yet, though, is that falling glass is nothing new for Pei Cobb Freed.
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The Emerald Coast of Queens
On Thursday, we wrote about a new park that had been unveiled as part of the city's plans for Hunter's Point South. Not to be outdone, Gantry Plaza State Park, Queens West's original greenway, is expanding, with a new 6-acre stretch opening tomorrow. Designed by Abel Bainnson Butz, the new section of park brings Gantry Plaza to 10 acres of waterfront open space. With Macy's fireworks moving north up the Hudson this year, those new lounge chairs and hammocks could be a perfect place to watch. Check 'em out after the jump.
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Protest: Save the Memorial Coliseum
Part of what makes the Memorial Coliseum so special is that its massive roof rests on only four concrete pillars, seen here during construction.

This glass box in the center of Portland, Oregon, has hosted performances by The Beatles, Luciano Pavarotti, and Elvis Presley. The Dalai Lama has spoken within its cavernous volume, as did Barack Obama during his presidential campaign. The Trail Blazers, Portland’s beloved NBA franchise, won its sole championship in the building in 1977, and UCLA took home one of its many titles from the venue a decade before that. Allen Ginsberg, while attending the aforementioned Beatles concert, was struck by inspiration and wrote a poem entitled “Portland Coliseum.”

While its cultural history is impressive, that will not be enough to save the venue from demolition: The Memorial Coliseum has been threatened by a proposal to build a minor league baseball stadium in its place. But the structure’s exquisite beauty and refined engineering has motivated a host of architects, sports fans, historians, artists, and design enthusiasts to join together in an attempt to preserve it.

Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and dedicated on January 8, 1961, the Memorial Coliseum was shaped in part by Gordon Bunshaft, the firm’s best-known architect, famous for landmarks such as Lever House in New York. It is one of the more unique arenas in the United States, if not the world, because of its high level of transparency. The 12,000-seat seating bowl is structurally independent from the surrounding glass box, which, in spite of its massive four-block expanse, stands on only four columns. When the bowl’s encompassing curtains are drawn open (something that hasn’t happened in many years), the arena can be flooded with natural light.

An interior shot of the coliseum by  Julius Shulman shows how its unique structure allowed for entirely unobstructed views as well as ample natural light, a rarity in most indoor stadia.
Julius Shulman

In the book Modernism Rediscovered, a photograph by legendary architectural photographer Julius Shulman (taken shortly after Memorial Coliseum’s opening) shows the hockey arena during the day without artificial light. This transparency also extends to the outer concourses. Instead of walking through a rabbit warren of interior circulation spaces closed off from the outside, visitors to Memorial Coliseum enter and exit the seating bowl with panoramic floor-to-ceiling views of the downtown skyline.

The coliseum sits in the Rose Quarter, a loosely knit sports-and-event complex that also includes the larger 20,000-seat Rose Garden arena. Most cities upgrading to new professional sports venues have torn down the arenas they replace. Most recently, Philadelphia tore down The Spectrum, which had a history at least as illustrious as Memorial Coliseum’s—but was arguably less architecturally significant. The Rose Garden, however, isn’t the biggest threat to Memorial Coliseum.

The demolition danger has arisen from proposed changes to PGE Park, another stadium across town. Merritt Paulson, owner of the Portland Beavers AAA baseball franchise and the Portland Timbers minor-league soccer team, has won initial approval from Major League Soccer to bring the sport to the Rose City. But MLS prefers its teams to play in soccer-only venues. That means Paulson’s baseball Beavers need to vacate PGE Park so it can be converted for soccer, necessitating the need for a new home for the baseball team.

The coliseum is still a stunning sight to behold, even as its demolition looms.
Matthew Ginn/Homestead Images

Initially, Paulson and Portland Mayor Sam Adams hatched a plan for a baseball stadium to replace Memorial Coliseum. But at a public open house in April to introduce the plan, Adams heard a chorus of opposition. Public and media skepticism for the plan has been overwhelming: Two opinion polls found a more than 8-to-1 advantage for those opposing razing the coliseum. The City Council was set to vote on a plan on April 22, but the mayor postponed the vote indefinitely after it became clear that he would lose 3-2. As of this writing, city planners and Paulson’s advisors are considering several alternate locations for a baseball stadium, though the Coliseum site remains an option.

Even if Memorial Coliseum avoids demolition, it could be significantly altered by future Rose Quarter plans. Although owned by the city, billionaire Blazers owner Paul Allen’s Oregon Arena Corporation (OAC) manages the site. The company has proposed opening an entertainment zone inside the coliseum, pending the removal of its distinctive seating bowl. An open-air music venue has also been proposed, which may reduce the arena to a mere skeleton. Research by William Macht, associate director of Portland State University’s Center for Real Estate, also shows that OAC’s management deal gives the company a financial incentive to break even in operating the coliseum, but a disincentive to turn a profit, contributing to the building’s current disrepair.

While the threat to the Coliseum highlights the difficulties faced by mid-20th-century modernist architecture when seeking acceptance as historically significant, there may also be optimism found in its boisterous defense. In this case, a small but vocal group of architects and activists may have successfully stared down the opposing interests of two billionaire sports franchise owners and a sex-scandal-plagued mayor desperate to complete a major project before a recall campaign this summer. So for the time being, when it rains in Portland, which is often, locals can seek solace in their glass palace.

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At Home in Dystopia
Friend of AN Jeremiah Joseph visited an exhibition of interest in New York's gallery district. Et in Arcadia Ego, a new exhibition at the Thornton Room in Chelsea, examines the intersection and overlap of natural and man-made landscapes. With the title, roughly translated from Latin, “I am in pastoral utopia,” the show, curated by Blanca de la Torre and Juanli Carrion, could easily devolve into a Nature equals Good, City equals Bad equation. Instead, the way the six artists explore the topic is not so divisive or stale. The work tends to engage the subject from the side, generating surreal results. At the end any answers are farther off than before viewing the work, and this ambiguity is show’s strength. It prevents the viewer from standing too sure-footed and jumping ahead to conclusions and prejudices. In the modest gallery space, Chus Garcia-Fraile 's video Protected Zone is projected in the front window. In the piece, an escalator is placed in a lush forest, running like a waterfall in reverse. The device sits seamlessly in the forest. The viewer knows these components should not co-exist, save perhaps in some Wow-Me mall in Dubai where ski-slopes and the world's largest-something-or-other are commonplace. But here the relationship is eerily correct. Recalling the tension of Michael Heizer's Double Negative—platonic geometry thrust into a rustic landscape—two clearly opposing conditions go deep into dialogue (or not) with each other, forcing us to decide which reading is correct—nature, man-made, or a combination.
Carlos Irijalba's video Twilight uses artificial light as a gateway into natural and synthetic landscapes. The video begins with the viewer above an empty soccer stadium where an array of stadium klieg lights flicker on as twilight arrives. With gentle thrumming of the city beyond, the lights run through varying colors until they hit their hottest white light. Dropping down and hovering above the perfectly manicured grass pitch, the light and flora are shown in their most synthetic and controlled states. Relocating to a forest at twilight, a generator rumbles on and the same array of lights reveals a very different context. Standing like the Monolith from Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey the lights are clearly alien among the trees and insects. What does the light Monolith bring to the forest? Simple illumination? Does it turn the forest into an overly dramatic movie setting or bring an impending sense of destruction? Or perhaps a sense of detached and bemused sentimentality? With a different sensibility, the photographic works Catastrophes by Christoph Draeger recall newspaper disaster images. With child-like earnestness, the images show the apparent aftermath of a plant explosion and a tornado strike. The cheekily morbid images, familiar at first glance, quickly reveal they are deliberate constructed narratives. Both pieces in fact are careful staged and photographed models. The fabricated horrors are so thoroughly executed it is difficult to suppress a smile at their morbid nature. But this inversion of bleak sadness leads to a pause. How often do we gloss over these situations in the media with a mild sense of loss, but a greater sense of relief because they are far away? Draeger directly engages the terror, readdressing them as modern fables and foibles. We look at the images as a whole and then trace through to see how they are made. In the deep scanning and study we see fresh the nature and complexities of real world catastrophes. By far the most architectural and accessible but also most troubling piece is J.G. Zimmerman's Dystopia Series: Suburbia (above). In a 24 minute video satellite images of suburbs run by leisurely, hypnotizing as the landscape morphs from one familiar suburban fabric into the next. Initially appearing like a lazy Google Earth, the video is actually a deftly crafted piece of art. By specifically removing details and cues of inhabitation—there are no cars or people—we are left only with houses, streets and a smattering of grass and trees. It would too easy to jump to the conclusion that a suburban existence equals the Boring Life, but the artist sidesteps this reactionary reading. Recalling photos by Hilla and Bernd Becher studying industrial archetypes Zimmerman bends our perception of reality. Even while carpet-bombing the landscape with familiar suburban quadrants, we see an odd duality of sameness and differences everywhere. The effect is spellbinding and disturbing leaving us wondering what is real and what is simulacra – in both the video and real-life. Rob Carter's Landscaping II is a large-scale print of plants growing literally up and through folded, cutout images of traditional buildings. A recurring theme for Carter, nature reclaiming urban territory, in the piece he places two different scales together (real life plants within the tiny pictures of historic buildings) and allows the intermingling to commence. There is no good or bad, winner or loser, only a snap shot of a process. Shot strongly in black and white and printed large scale, the picture is harder to decipher then if it was shown in color and in 1:1 scale. Carter obscures legibility, creating a situation where he and the audience are both first time viewers of this creation. Everyone, artist and viewer, have wait for allow the process to unfold. And all we can do is to try to understand the equilibrium, if there is one, and ponder where the process might lead us next. Et in Arcadia Ego runs through May 23rd at the Thornton Room, 150 West 25th Street, New York City.