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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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
The new U.S. Embassy in London, set for a prime site looking across the Thames at the buildings of Parliament, will be designed by Philadelphia architects KieranTimberlake, according to an announcement made today in London by U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Louis B. Susman and the Acting Director of the Bureau for Overseas Buildings Operations, Adam Namm.
KieranTimberlake’s winning design is a silvery cube sitting in a bit of a moat. The hologram look of three facades is the result of solar shading and blast-resistant glazing. The Philadelphia architects were chosen in a limited competition announced in November 2008 that also included Morphosis Architects, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, and Richard Meier & Partners, all of whom made presentations in Washington, D.C. in January.
Groundbreaking is expected in 2013, with completion projected for 2017.
Check back for more details on the winning design, but meanwhile, here are the runner-ups, now on display, along with the winning entry, at the New London Architecture Center, 26 Store Street in London:
The MAXXI, the new Museum of 21st Century Art, recently inaugurated in Rome, is Zaha Hadid’s first built work in Italy. It was thus long awaited, above all by its critics. In reality, Hadid has numerous other projects under construction in Italy, all controversial and the source of infinite contestations.
The MAXXI, in particular, was subject to the following criticisms: a) the work was impossible to build; b) even if it could be built, it would have cost much more than anything designed by Italian architects; c) it could never fit into the historical context of the city of Rome; d) the building would be a jumble of unusable space; and e) the running and management costs would be exorbitant.
The first criticism—that the building was perhaps impossible to build—was obviously disproven by its inauguration, though it must be said that the reinforced concrete structure is literally packed with steel, in order to ensure that it complies with Italian building regulations. This led to a few difficulties, though no particular delays. That fact that the construction site lasted for almost ten years is due to problems not directly imputable to the architect but, above all, to the slow distribution of the financing for its construction.
Regarding the second criticism, it must be said that the final cost of the project was 150 million euros (approximately $220 million) for a total of 215,000 square feet), or $1,150 per square foot. An excessive number if we consider that the cost of building Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was only 100 million euros, franchising license included. In Hadid’s favor, it must be said that the Guggenheim was inaugurated in 1997, and thus we must consider a reduction in buying power during this 12-year gap. What is more, public works in Italy, regardless of their architect, have always cost more than those constructed elsewhere. The Italian television program Report, which denounces waste and inefficiency in the country, has demonstrated, for example, that the cost of constructing rail lines or highways paid by the Italian state is double or even triple that paid by the French or the Spanish.
The third criticism is contestable, given that we each have our own parameters for judging the correct or incorrect insertion of a work within the urban context. Setting aside its strongest detractors, however, including professor Paolo Portoghesi, the building has been warmly welcomed.
In reality, it is difficult to speak poorly of the new museum: the interior, above all, is impressive for the dynamic quality of its spaces and is extremely fascinating, even to those with a lukewarm attitude toward contemporary architecture.
Furthermore, to facilitate the museum's insertion within its context, Hadid agreed to keep the remains of a piece of the pre-existing military barracks. This move has proven strategic, as it demonstrates that even this Iraqi architect holds a place in her heart for a relationship with the history of the city. In formal terms it is, in my opinion, a grave error. The conserved barracks building disturbs the design of the project and impedes the strong and decisive presence of the new structure along the Via Guido Reni. What is more, for structural reasons this element was demolished and reconstructed “where and as it was,” and thus appears more akin to something from Disneyland.
A second design error can be found in project’s new fence. By defining the lot on which the building sits, it compromises the dynamic of the flows—the continuum—that was to have existed between the streets around the museum, the garden in front of it, and the entry hall.
To test the validity of the second-last criticism, relative to its functionality, we will have to await the spring of 2010 and the opening of the first exhibitions. In fact, with great cunning, the December inauguration was only for the building, which is currently empty. Why? Simple: to pretend that the project was finished in 2009 and not 2010, and to generate attention. What is more, the spring of 2010 will thus be witness to another inauguration and more publicity. Demagogy or a waste of resources? Maybe both. However, this is typical in Rome. Both Richard Meier’s Ara Pacis Museum and Renzo Piano’s Auditorium were inaugurated twice.
What is certain is that the museum’s design as a continuous sequence of paths means it will not be easy to design exhibitions. Truth be told, it will be extremely difficult. However, I could not help but respond that all of the most interesting museums built over the last 50 years are difficult to work with, from the Guggenheim in New York to Bilbao. And if artists prefer white boxes, it is a good thing that institutions do not turn to talented architects but, as we have seen at MoMA, choose others with less talent and a more calming approach.
The problem, however, is that the MAXXI’s exhibition program, at least as it has been announced, appears nothing short of depressing. We need only mention that the first architectural exhibition will focus on the work of Luigi Moretti, the architect of Benito Mussolini’s Gymnasium at the Foro Italico in Rome. In short: a protagonist of the 20th, and not the 21st, century.
Finally, the costs of maintenance. Just how much will it cost? There is no way to develop a precise figure. However, if anything can be made of a few offhand comments from Pio Baldi, the director of the foundation that manages the structure, they will be nothing short of exorbitant. The building pays the price of having been designed over ten years ago. Today, most likely, it would have adopted more sustainable and thus more energy-efficient solutions.
One could respond by saying that these issues were on the agenda back in 1998, when the competition was held for the MAXXI. This is true, they were. However, at the time no one paid any attention, at least not in Italy.
When people talk about architecture south of San Francisco, they’re most likely talking about circuit boards or lines of software code. But while Silicon Valley will continue to do what it does best, design awareness has been percolating through the sea of concrete tilt-ups. When aesthetic considerations get filtered through the area’s deep-rooted ethos of functionality, what results are some very interesting design solutions.
The social networking company Facebook’s new headquarters in Palo Alto is an excellent example of how to create urban texture and personality in sedate suburbia—on the cheap. The interior overhaul of the 1960s building was on the frugal side, said architect Primo Orpilla of San Francisco’s Studio O+A: “It wasn’t about the flash.”
Where he could, he brought out the industrial past, stripping floors down to raw concrete and reclaiming the truck dock with its roll-up door as an outdoor gathering spot. To heighten a sense of history, original walls were left white, while walls that were added in the remodel were painted in bright colors. There are no enclosed offices anywhere. “The company’s selling point to new recruits is that it’s very democratic and transparent, and it’s hard to show that in an old office building,” Oprillo said.
The Internet veteran eBay, on the other hand, had the challenge of building new for the first time, but needed to play nice with the existing five buildings on their corporate campus in north San Jose. Call it contextual design for office parks. “We hated the idea of duplicating bad 1999 architecture,” said Joe Valerio of Chicago-based firm Valerio Dewalt Train. So the architects duplicated just one section of the older facades, which were opaque with punched windows, and placed it on a projecting bay of the new building, using glass walls on the rest of the exterior. “It’s lighthearted, but it doesn’t scream ‘Look at me!’” Valerio said.
Some potentially iconic buildings could also be heading to the area. Renderings of a new Google headquarters by SHoP Architects were submitted to the city of Mountain View at the end of 2008, but the company put the plans on hold when office rents plummeted.
Another much-anticipated project is Apple’s new campus in Cupertino, which has been on the radar since 2006, when the company announced the purchase of 50 acres; a master plan has yet to be developed. On a faster track is Yahoo!, which is working with RMW Architecture and Interiors on the design of an immense campus with 3 million square feet of office space. Santa Clara’s planning department is currently reviewing the draft EIR for the project.
Meanwhile, as the offices are getting livelier, housing options are also expanding. As elsewhere, some of the most architecturally innovative approaches have been appearing in the nonprofit sector, where architects are unfettered by the concerns of market-rate developers. The most ambitious project in the area has been the $270 million, 8-acre Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life. A town-within-a-town, it combines 193 senior housing units with a family gym, community meeting spaces, and a performing-arts hall.
“Lots of people talk about mixed-use, but it’s usually 90 percent of this and 10 percent of that,” said architect Rob Steinberg. “This is really mixed-use, where we’ve taken elements that seemed at odds with one another to make a richer urban fabric.” The entire complex sits on top of a one-story parking garage and includes a winding pedestrian corridor that opens into public plazas.
Further south, the mysterious facade of sleek metal plates that appears along Highway 101 turns out to be the wall of an 84-unit affordable housing development, the Fairways at San Antonio Court. “This was a really difficult site,” said architect Jerome King.
Three other developers had tried to create housing on this 140-foot-deep strip, but couldn’t meet Title 24 sound requirements. King’s solution was to create a sound wall with an open-air corridor on the other side—imagine the walkways of a motel—that bridges five buildings interleaved by courtyards. Inside the units, separated from the freeway by the corridor and their own walls, “you can hear a pin drop,” according to King.
On the civic side, San Jose is currently working on a master plan for its Diridon transit station and the 500 acres around it. The station itself is intended to be a “showpiece of green, iconic architecture,” said city planner Jenny Nusbaum, which bodes well given the city’s last great gesture, which was to bring in Richard Meier to design its city hall in 2005.
According to Gail Price, the executive director of the Santa Clara Valley chapter of the AIA, “There’s gradually more attention in these communities to the value of intensifying development and making more public services available, desirable from both a fiscal and environmental point of view.” Price added, “We are on the cusp here between suburban and urban development.”
The opening of Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI (an acronym for Museum of the Arts of the Twenty-First Century) on November 14 in Rome was a momentous occasion for so many reasons. Although the museum’s design is revolutionary and extraordinarily complex by any standard, for a city that has long shunned new architecture—and is subject to the vagaries of Italian politics—its realization is something of a miracle.
Completed ten years after the international competition at a cost of €150 million (about $223 million), more than double the projected budget, Italy’s first national museum of contemporary art and architecture will encompass two institutions, administered jointly by directors Anna Mattirolo and Margherita Guccione.
Not long after groundbreaking in 2005, with only the foundations complete, the first installment of funds had already been spent and a government budget crisis made it unclear that the Ministry of Culture would be able to come up with more. Even so, the MAXXI has been largely immune to the type of controversy surrounding other recent architectural commissions, notably Richard Meier’s Ara Pacis, which Rome’s mayor made a campaign promise in 2008 to dismantle.
The MAXXI’s sleek exterior conceals a baroque belly full of drunkenly tilting walls, undulating ramps that dissolve into space, and vertiginous cantilevers rotated around a soaring double-story atrium. Hadid’s new Italian “creature,” as the behemoth 322,000-square-foot museum has been called, was unveiled with theatrical panache as modern dancers, choreographed by Sasha Waltz, guided spectators through the pristine empty space. It was also a creative way to inaugurate a museum sapped of the funds to mount a proper exhibition, thanks to cost overruns attributable mostly to the sheer technical difficulty of the construction.
Hadid’s exuberant conceptual scribbles were transformed into concrete structure largely thanks to a structural engineering team with expertise in the restoration and reinforcement of ancient monuments, an important consideration in such a seismically active area. “The whole structure is more or less floating; there are relatively few points that actually touch the ground,” said engineering consultant Federico Croci of Studio Croci & Associati. “But the most impressive thing about this building is the skeleton—it is like a wild animal.” The crisscrossing horizontal strips of the structure traverse inside and out, oscillating and twisting so that walls seamlessly become floors, ceilings, and windows.
The last time anything of this scale was constructed in Rome was under Benito Mussolini, who exploited the use of monumental architecture as a demonstration of power. The Fascist dictator left a significant modernist architectural legacy, including the iconic Palazzo della Civiltà in the EUR quarter, and the neoclassical Foro Italico sports complex just across the river from the MAXXI.
It is difficult to compete with the sweeping efficiency of dictatorships, especially under an epically unstable democratic government. But Rome’s monumental scale demands an architectural statement of suitably grand proportions, and MAXXI certainly fits the bill. Arguably the most successfully realized building by Hadid to date, this explosive colossus of glass, steel, and concrete could also be the Eternal City’s first contemporary monument, putting it back on the architecture map.
The question that remains is whether the new museum will be a welcoming host to the institution’s modest collection of contemporary art and architectural drawings, supplemented by an annual acquisition budget under $4 million. The response of Paolo Colombo, the former director of MAXXI who oversaw the commission, was clear: “I don’t care: The building itself is a masterpiece.”
On April 11, 2002, the infamous demolition of Richard Neutra’s Maslon House in Rancho Mirage was featured on the cover of the Los Angeles Times Living section. For many, it was a shocking first close-up of what appeared to be a Wild West–style race to summarily destroy midcentury icons as fast as possible. Schindler’s famed Wolfe House in Catalina and his Packard House in Pasadena were demolished in 2000 and 2001. Gregory Ain’s Mar Vista tract home facade at 3542 Meier Street was demolished in 2002. A classic Cliff May Ranch home interior in Sullivan Canyon was gutted in 2002.
Myron Hunt’s famed Ambassador Hotel in Koreatown came down in 2006 along with the original Rand Buildings in Santa Monica. Although the Wolfe House and the Rand Buildings both went through local public hearing processes, they were still destroyed, the former because the building was deemed irreparable due to lack of structural maintenance and the latter for the greater good of the Santa Monica Civic Center Plan.
How was this allowed to happen? For one, Southern California is not only home to hundreds of works by renowned 20th-century architects and modernist mavericks, but it is governed by an equally unwieldy number of local city entities. Los Angeles County alone packs in 88 different municipalities. At the time of the Maslon House loss, Ken Bernstein, then director of preservation issues for the Los Angeles Conservancy and now managing director of the Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources, told the Los Angeles Times that, “Many local governments have the misconception that if a building is not officially designated a local landmark, it does not need to be considered as a potential historic building. Under CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act), a city has an obligation to decide if a building is significant or not. You cannot destroy historical properties without a review.”
Yet few cities exert their legal authority or responsibility to question or stop property owners or developers in the process of permit requests to demolish residential, retail, or commercial structures. Cities not only badly need ordinances that can stay or halt demolition, they also need surveys of historic properties, and support organizations to convince people why the properties should be saved. Furthermore, they need their citizens to back some reasonable measure of preservation without stifling real estate development and the experimental architecture that continues to make LA an important metropolis for design.
On the positive side, the loud outcry following recent teardowns has clearly propelled the wheels of change here. It doesn’t hurt that midcentury modernism has been hot for a decade. Late modernist works ooze “Mad Men” cool, adaptive reuse projects have prompted turnarounds in several neighborhoods, and Los Angeles is the heart and soul, center and sprawl for postwar architecture. Still, as Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Hawthorne noted last month, “the effort to round up support for postwar buildings is often far from straightforward—and can easily prove a minefield of contradiction and irony.”
Bernstein is passionate about getting Los Angeles a state-of-the-art preservation program, including a revised Cultural Heritage Ordinance with the backbone to actually halt demolitions, and an upcoming citywide inventory known as Survey LA, which is near the end of phase one of its two-part, five-year plan.
While LA’s existing preservation ordinance was the first among major U.S. cities, the legislation is now one of the weakest in the country. Unlike in New York, San Francisco, San Diego, and Sacramento, where the municipal authorities can in fact prohibit demolition of structures, the existing LA ordinance can only enforce a limited stay of demolition, even for existing Cultural Monuments. Proposed amendments to the existing preservation ordinance—which were approved by the LA Planning Commission in September and are expected to be voted on by the city council in early 2010—not only strengthen the city’s power to stay and halt demolitions, but improve due process for property owners and developers, increase the cultural heritage commission’s board membership from five to seven so that consensus can be reached more frequently, and provide more protection for cherished individual projects to match the strength and success of LA’s Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) program.
Survey LA, largely supported by the grants, working papers, and continued partnership of the Getty, will be completed in 2012. And it’s about time: While LA has over 900 Historic-Cultural Monuments and 24 Historic Districts, only about 15 percent of the city has been surveyed to date.
The project’s first wave of localities will follow a rolling model, making survey work available for consideration as each neighborhood updates its community plan. Another step is the development of preservation education and training. Ken Breisch, director of the Historic Preservation Programs at USC—the only accredited preservation program in LA with both masters and certificate tracks— has seen a significant increase in participation in these programs since their inception six years ago. The program supports the growing rise of interest in postwar architecture, while Bernstein was proud to note that graduates are now working for local historic resource consultants who are piecing together Survey LA.
And while Schindlers, Neutras, Mays, and Ains have been bulldozed or remodeled beyond recognition, private citizens and public institutions have made some nice saves. Oscar Niemeyer’s Strick House in Santa Monica, his only project in the United States, was landmarked by the city and restored by Michael and Gabriel Boyd in situ in 2003. Just a year ago, Richard Neutra’s Maxwell House was precisely sliced like a Gordon Matta-Clark installation and moved by developer Barbara Behn on flatbed trucks from Brentwood to Angelino Heights to recapture the form, if not the context, of this classic 1957 work. In 2008, the homes of lesser-known but remarkable midcentury modernists like Romanian-born Haralamb Georgescu and Swedish-born Greta Magnusson Grossman were thoughtfully restored with complementary additions and renovations in Beverly Hills. On June 4, 2008, the MAK Center welcomed the Fitzpatrick-Leland House donation as part of its roster of Schindler projects available for public consumption and as home to the MAK Urban Future Initiative.
And on November 7, 2008, the LA Conservancy’s efforts to save the Driftyland Dairy-Port in El Monte from a strip mall demolition were rewarded with a unanimous vote of acceptance on the State Landmark Registry. This summer, Santa Monica opened the Annenberg Beach House, including docent-led tours of the Marion Davies guest house and dips in the original mansion pool.
Further afield, Jim Louder, owner of two Bob’s Big Boy restaurants in Torrance and West Covina, just finished a recreation of the almost-completely steamrolled Johnie’s Broiler in Downey. The new restaurant—Bob’s Broiler—opened for business on September 26. This teardown turnaround story was made possible by Los Angeles Conservancy volunteers who had procured copies of the original drawings for Johnie’s state landmark process. Without these, restoration would have been impossible, as a tenant’s demolition crew reduced the building to rubble in 2007. In 2008, Neutra scholar Barbara Lamprecht wrote successful statements of significance for the Poppy Peak and Pegfair developments in Pasadena, getting these projects on local, state, and national registries this year and greatly expanding the lexicon of highly regarded postwar developments. Similarly, the Eichler Balboa Highlands Tract in Granada Hills is now a proposed HPOZ.
Back in Palm Springs, Neutra’s famed Kaufmann House stands restored, unauctioned, and back for sale, while his nearby Miller House is being carefully brought back to life. On April 15, the city of Palm Springs approved a historic designation for Donald Wexler’s west facade of the Palm Springs Airport. And in the aftermath of the Maslon House demolition, Rancho Mirage completed their citywide historic survey and inventory in 2004, noting that the home was the most architecturally significant work within city limits prior to its demolition in 2002.
Nevertheless, threats still abound from developers weighing the value of maintaining existing structures versus tabula rasa visions. Some choice projects still on the chopping block include Minoru Yamasaki’s Century Plaza hotel in Century City, Luckman Pereira’s Robinsons-May department store in Beverly Hills, and Irving Shapiro’s Columbia Savings and Loan building on Wilshire Boulevard. Welton Becket’s Beverly Hills Trader Vic’s and his Century City Gateway West Building have already lost their battles and sit quietly on death row. Equally ominous is the financial fragility of projects in good hands. Cal Poly Pomona’s Neutra VDL House has stabilized its annual operating and maintenance costs through tours and architectural fundraising events, thanks to its energetic director Sarah Lorenzen. But it is in urgent need of $100,000 for roof repairs (plans for these repairs have been drawn up by Marmol Radziner) to stave off continued damage from rainwater infiltration.
While the economy has slowed the actual bulldozers, the LA Conservancy is busier than ever.
“We think this is the best time for us to tune up our preservation policies in advance of the next economic cycle,” said Bernstein. “There are still misconceptions as to what historic preservation means; that it will freeze a property in time. But I think there’s a growing understanding between preservationists and the economic community alike that preservation is a key component of economic revitalization.”