Search results for "gensler"

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Studio Gang Wins

AN Exclusive: Studio Gang beats out Michael Maltzan and Allied Works to design unified California College of the Arts campus
Chicago-based Studio Gang Architects (SGA) has been selected to design an expansion of the California College of the Arts (CCA) campus in San Francisco, beating out Michael Maltzan Architects and Allied Works for the prestigious commission. Over the next five years, CCA will work with SGA to develop a design for a comprehensive expansion of the existing arts campus to provide educational facilities for the college’s 2,000 students, 600 faculty members, 250 staff members, and 34 academic programs in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood. The expansion, outlined in the school’s Framing the Future visioning plan developed by Gensler and MKThink in 2015, will aim to absorb the school’s Oakland satellite campus as well as create on-site housing opportunities for students on a site adjacent to the existing San Francisco campus. In a press release announcing SGA’s selection, CCA Board Chair C. Diane Christensen commended the firm’s long list of ground-breaking educational projects, saying, “The selection process was extremely thorough, involving intense review and significant input from many constituencies. Studio Gang’s visionary work, commitment to innovation and sustainability, and collaborative work style makes the firm an excellent fit for this project and for CCA. Jeanne Gang leads an extraordinary team that is very familiar with San Francisco and our still-emerging neighborhood at the intersection of the city’s innovation corridor, the new DoReMi arts district, and Mission Bay. We are thrilled with the prospect of working with Studio Gang and have high hopes that our new campus will help redefine 21st-century arts education.” Studio Gang CCA Unified Campus from Architect's Newspaper on Vimeo. In the same press release, Jeanne Gang, founding principal at SGA, focused on intrinsic potential for the project to yield innovative educational synergies, remarking, “We are excited to discover with CCA the possibilities that a unified campus in San Francisco presents for the future of art teaching, learning, and making,” adding, “The site has enormous potential to build an expanded, increasingly connected campus for CCA in a newly thriving design district. We are looking forward to a creative and engaged design process to help CCA continue to change the world through dynamic arts education.”
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Signed, Sealed, Delivered?

Gensler designs a new vision for the unloved Milwaukee Post Office

The long, low-slung Milwaukee Post Office is not a popular building. The rust-covered Brutalist structure sits along a five-block stretch of the Menominee Riverfront, a place that, until recently, was generally seen as the undesirable backside of the city. But that is all quickly changing. Just east of the post office, the Third Ward neighborhood has been completely transformed in the last ten years. The Menominee River Valley to the west is also seeing new life after over 100 years of being the city’s industrial heart. Now, Chicago-based developers R2, in collaboration with Gensler, are betting on a brighter future for the much-maligned post office.

When R2 bought the building and the surrounding land for $13 million in 2015, it knew it was going to be a long-term project. The United States Postal Service has a lease for its space through 2020, with the option to sign for up to 30 years. Even if the Postal Service were to vacate, the site would always have active train lines running under the building, between its massive concrete piloti. But that is not stopping R2 from planning ahead.

R2 and Gensler recently released new renderings and an outline of their plans for the site. Gensler’s designs call for a major mixed-use development that incorporates office space, residential, and entertainment, as well as small and big-box retail. The site benefits from extensive access to transportation, including ramps from the adjacent elevated freeway, the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, the city’s main Amtrak and Greyhound station, and the now under-construction city streetcar.

“The concerns that are on the site, that in the past have be seen as barriers to development, are now seen as potential drivers for the project,” explained Benjy Ward, Gensler principal and regional design leader. “The market has flipped. The elevated highway that runs by the site and the river have become assets.”

Along with renovating the current building, the project could include two large towers at each end of the site. The east tower would have 282,000 square feet of residential space, while the west tower (along with space in the existing building) would account for nearly one million square feet of office space. The 1,500 feet of riverfront would also be developed as a public promenade and an extension of the city’s growing Riverwalk. Restaurants will line the promenade, and kayak launches and boat docks will connect the project with river traffic. A foot bridge is proposed to connect the existing building to the James Biber–designed Harley Davidson Museum across the river.

Though the Postal Service will remain a tenant in the building for at least the next few years, Gensler’s plans are such that, if given the go-ahead, the project could begin. By working in the currently open land around the building, much of the proposal could be realized without disrupting normal operations.

If realized, the post office project will be one of many changing the face of downtown Milwaukee. Of those projects rising just north of the site, few are as ambitious in scale or program. Yet with at least three years to go before the site could be completely free of its current tenant, the city is going to have to wait a bit for delivery.

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(Techno)logy

Soon this VR venue will let you rave from the comfort of home
Queue up your best dance tracks because (techno)logy will soon make it easier than ever to home rave. Music broadcasting group Boiler Room has teamed up with Inception to open the world's first virtual reality venue. The two enterprises will produce made-for-VR events in the London space so listeners can Source Direct content or sweat Midwest fresh without leaving home. Boiler Room is best known for its music live streams where dancers can be seen grooving in sweaty rave caves behind some of the world's most talented DJs. Like an internet-age MTV, the company archives the sets online so dance music fans in New York can sample Japanese grime or take a quick getaway to Acid Camp in the Poconos: In a statement on Business Wire, the broadcasters explained the significance of their new venture for far-flung fans who want to jack: “Most of Boiler Room's audience is made up of global online users who tune in to watch music events they can’t attend in person. We’ve always been driven by using technology to showcase the music we care about in the most authentic way we can.” Shows will be accessible through Inception's app. Although music fans will have to wait until early next year to home rave, VR right now is merging the digital and the physical with shocking fluidity. This year, artist Tamiko Thiel unveiled a VR installation at the Seattle Art Museum that imagines life in the climate change–burdened anthropocene while The Guardian used VR to help viewers empathize with prisoners in solitary. Earlier this month, Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) debuted a VR-enhanced exhibition at the Jewish Museum's just-opened Pierre Chareau exhibition. At that show, DS+R uses archival photographs and prints to recreate Chareau's interiors in digital space. "Virtual reality provided the perfect opportunity to re-spatialize these artifacts, these pieces of furniture,” firm principal Elizabeth Diller told The Architect's Newspaper (AN). On the West Coast, firms like Gensler are using VR to communicate project concepts for the new Los Angeles Football Club stadium, a move that is "basically normalizing the technology as a design tool."
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LA or SF?

BREAKING: MAD Architects reveals alternate proposals for Lucas Museum in San Francisco and Los Angeles
Weeks after dropping a long-stalled bid for a Chicago location, MAD Architects and the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art have released a collection of renderings for competing schemes aimed at finding the wandering, proposed museum a welcoming home in either Los Angeles or San Francisco. The firm’s proposal for the Chicago location was scrapped earlier this summer after fierce community opposition to the project, to be located on a coveted site along the city’s waterfront in Grant Park. Despite strong support from the city's political class, the $700-million scheme, reminiscent of a futuristic, pitched tent, was ultimately killed by a lawsuit filed by the local community group known as Friends of The Park. The new proposals, being shopped simultaneously between California’s two largest cities, are being presented as pedestrian-friendly, public spaces for each respective city. Both are arranged with expansive second-floor gallery and exhibition spaces that are lifted up on massive piers that allow for park and pedestrian areas to stretch underneath each complex. Each would be 265,000 and 275,000 square feet of overall interior space, with roughly 100,000 square feet of that dedicated toward gallery functions. The Los Angeles Times states that the overall project cost, including a future endowment for the museum, could potentially top $1 billion.  The San Francisco proposal for is being pitched for the city’s Treasure Island and is being incorporated into the SOM-designed master plan for the island community’s waterfront. The building’s rigid-looking exterior skin, punctured by two expanses of glass swoops, culminates in what—based on renderings released by the firm—appears to be a large auditorium space. Aside from the wavy building, these renderings also depict the building’s surrounding ground floor areas as being hardscaped plaza with pedestrian connections to the surrounding waterfront areas. The Los Angeles proposal, on the other hand, would be located in the city’s University of Southern California-adjacent Exposition Park. Located along the city’s Expo Line light rail line and within proximity of the forthcoming Gensler-designed Los Angeles Football Club soccer stadium, the proposal would cap the slew of other cultural and entertainment destinations in the park. Despite the light rail proximity, the scheme includes a 1,800-spot underground parking garage that the San Francisco locale does not. Also unlike the San Francisco proposal, the Los Angeles scheme would include public open space on its rooftop. Renderings for the proposal show the museum located in a leafy, park setting with people lounging on the knolls surrounding the structure. For now, as always, the schemes continue to be just that: hopeful proposals. Time will tell if one or the other scheme gets selected for either city and, more importantly, if one eventually gets built. A decision regarding the location is expected to be made within the next two- to four-months.
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Trophies

AIA|LA announces 2016 Design Award winners
The Los Angeles chapter of American Institute of Architects Los Angeles (AIA|LA) announced the winners of the 2016 Design Awards program this week. This year’s awards breakdown consisted of its three categories that include honor awards for built projects, citations for forthcoming work, and a special category celebrating sustainable design. Winners for the built project honors were peer-selected by a jury of architects based across the United States who are, according to a press release issued by AIA|LA, “ conversant in the field’s potential at national and international levels.” Jurors placed a special emphasis on design excellence for the completed projects, with Gensler’s Shanghai Tower, Diller Scofidio+Renfro’s Broad Museum, and Brooks + Scarpa’s The Six housing project taking top honors. The organization also produced a group of winners for a counterpart competition, the AIA|LA Next LA awards, that honored as-yet-unbuilt work. The jury for these projects consisted of practicing architects, academics, and the Los Angeles Times architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne. A few of the winners for this category included the Bi(H)OME project by Kevin Daly Architects; the Pure Tension Pavilion by Synthesis Design + Architecture, and the Studio Art Hall by wHY Architecture. The organization also launched its first annual COTE LA awards, citing projects that “further and/or demonstrate achievement in the implementation of sustainability features.” These projects, in turn, were chosen by sustainability leaders who considered aspects like performance and system integration. Here, the Los Angeles Police Department Metropolitan Division Facility by Perkins+Will, the Pico Branch Library, by Koning Eizenberg Architecture and The Courtyard at La Brea by John V. Mutlow Architects and Patrick Tighe Architecture won top honors. See below for the full list of winning firms and projects. 2016 AIA|LA Design Award Winners Honor Awards
  • Shanghai Tower, (Shanghai, China), Gensler.
  • Broad Museum, (Los Angeles, CA), Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler.
  • The Six - Affordable Housing for formerly Homeless and Disabled Veterans, (Los Angeles, CA), Brooks + Scarpa.
Merit Awards
  • Samsung American Headquarters, (San Jose, CA), NBBJ.
  • Rajeunir Black Caviar Palm Desert, (Palm Desert, CA), Studio Jantzen / O-S-A.
  • Embassy of the US Helsinki, Finland, (Helsinki, Finland), Moore Ruble Yudell Architects and Planners.
  • IVRV House, (Los Angeles, CA), SCI-Arc.
  • The Barbarian Group, (New York, NY), Clive Wilkinson Architects.
  • MirrorHouse, (Los Angeles, CA), XTEN Architecture.
  • Affordable Infill in the Inner City, (South Los Angeles, CA), Lehrer Architects LA.
  • Montee Karp, (Malibu, CA), Patrick Tighe Architecture.
Citation Awards
  • Bi(H)OME, (Los Angeles, CA), Kevin Daly Architects.
  • LAX CTA Entrance Phase 1, (Los Angeles, CA), AECOM, Los Angeles Design Studio.
  • Pure Tension Pavilion, (Milan, Bologna, Venice and Rimini (Italy), Moscow (Russia), Palm Springs (US)), SDA | Synthesis Design + Architecture.
  • The Bram Goldsmith Theatre at the Wallis, (Beverly Hills, CA), Studio Pali Fekete Architects [SPF:a].
  • The Gores Group Headquarters, (Beverly Hills, CA), Belzberg Architects.
  • CJ Corporation Blossom Park, (Gwanggyo, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea), Yazdani Studio of CannonDesign.
  • MU77, (Los Angeles, CA), Arshia Architects.
  • Loyola Marymount University Life Science Building, (Los Angeles, CA), CO Architects.
  • Pomona College, Studio Art Hall, (Claremont, CA), wHY Architecture.
  • Roberts Pavilion, Claremont McKenna College, (Claremont, CA), John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects.
  • CJ Corporation Blossom Park (Interiors), (Gwanggyo, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea), CannonDesign.
2016 AIA|LA NEXT LA Awards Merit Awards
  • 1st & Broadway Civic Center Park, (Los Angeles), Eric Owen Moss Architects
Citation Awards
  • WATERshed, (Los Angeles, CA), Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects.
  • Victory Healthcare, (Los Angeles, CA), P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S.
  • City on a City, (Los Angeles, CA), Zellner Naecker Architects.
  • The Mountains, (Dubai United Arab Emirates), AECOM.
2016 AIA|LA COTE LA Awards Merit Awards
  • LAPD Metropolitan Division Facility, (Los Angeles, CA), Perkins+Will.
  • Pico Branch Library, (Santa Monica, CA), Koning Eizenberg Architecture.
  • The Courtyard at La Brea, (Los Angeles, CA), John V. Mutlow Architects & Patrick Tighe Architecture.
CITATION
  • La Kretz Innovation Campus, (Los Angeles, CA), John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects.
  • The Resort at Playa Vista, (Playa Vista, CA), Rios Clementi Hale Studios.
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Sunset Spectacular

Tom Wiscombe Architecture beats out Zaha Hadid Architects and Gensler to redesign the L.A. billboard
  Tom Wiscombe Architecture (TWA) has been selected as the winner for The Sunset Strip Spectacular Pilot Creative Off-Site Advertising Sign Request for Proposals (RFP) competition for a site located at 8775 Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, California. The firm’s proposal, a partnership with Orange Barrel Media and Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) beats out submissions by JCDecaux and Zaha Hadid Project Management Ltd.; Outfront Media, Gensler and the MAK Center; and Tait Towers Inc. The RFP comes as the city of West Hollywood, California seeks to modernize the ubiquitous billboards that dot Sunset Strip, a 1.5-mile stretch of Sunset Boulevard that cuts across the city’s northwestern edge, for the 21st century. The municipality’s RFP called on designers to“ design a technologically advanced, engaging, one-of-a-kind, billboard structure” while also inspiring “a 21st-century vision with contemporary digital and interactive technologies, media, and multi-dimensional graphic design.” TWA’s proposal seeks to reinvent the billboard as a typology overall, replacing its static, image-based, and automobile-centric qualities with digitally-driven and public space-making approaches. The scheme takes the typical double-sided billboard and rotates it 90-degrees so that the short edge of the sign rests on the ground. The two planes are then bent and folded into a configuration that allows for human occupation, with the whole assembly located in a public plaza. Wiscombe described the project via email to The Architect’s Newspaper, saying, “Just a few months ago Elton John and Lady Gaga did a pop-up duet right nearby our site, in support of his AIDS Foundation. I like to think of our Belltower as a contemporary catalyst and venue for civic engagement like that. We are also committed to making it into a kind of digital testing ground for artists, who will be curated by our partner MoCA. They will essentially be able to take it over for periods of time. I think that fusing together the worlds of art and commerce will give the project life, and force us out of our habitual modes of consuming media.”
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Creative Campus Life

Allied Works, Michael Maltzan, and Studio Gang compete for California College of the Arts campus design
Allied Works Architecture (AWA), Michael Maltzan Architects (MMA), and Studio Gang Architects (SGA) have been selected as finalists to design a new campus for California College of the Arts (CCA). The architects are vying to design a new extension to the school’s San Francisco campus that would unify the institute’s 2,000 students, 600 faculty, 250 staff members and 34 academic programs on one site. Currently, CCA’s students and programs are split between a campus in San Francisco and one in nearby Oakland, California. The new campus expansion would grow on a 2.4-acre lot bordering the existing facilities in San Francisco and would be developed over the following five years. The project also aims to address San Francisco’s housing crisis by supplying roughly 1,000 beds of on- or near-campus housing by 2025, a healthy increase over the 500 currently available beds split between the two existing campuses. The expansion will have a heavy emphasis on sustainable design practices, with the college citing the inclusion of sustainability strategies for water and energy generation, usage, and conservation, air quality, and environmentally safe art-making materials and practices as central tenets of the expansion. CCA will also engage in an effort to preserve the school’s current Oakland campus, which dates back to 1922. The university aims to redevelop that property, the historic Treadwell Estate, in a way that might “reflect and amplify CCA's legacy,” including, potentially, some sort of “mission-aligned” use like affordable housing or as the location of an educational institution. The planned expansion comes after several years of architect-guided planning at CCA, with architectural firms Gensler and MKThink producing a strategic framework for planning for the campus in 2015 that was followed by year-long comment period seeking to engage professors and students, alumni, and trustees. Following the comment period, San Francisco—based Jensen Architects created a space-planning guide from the Gensler and MKThink report that was then used to vet potential architecture firms, with the resulting selection of AWA, MMA, and SGA indicating the school is ready to move onto the next phase of fielding proposals from each team. In a press release announcing the finalists’ selection, CCA President Stephen Beal stated, “This is the moment for CCA to elevate and scale our distinctive, learn-through-making educational model by unifying our campuses to improve the student experience. We will develop future creative leaders and reimagine higher education on a campus like no other—one built with advanced measures of sustainability where every workspace, public space, and landscape serves as a living, learning laboratory for collaboration, risk-taking, and experimentation. We are looking forward to finding a partner architectural firm that can help us realize this vision.”
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Peer the Pier

First look: photographs of Chicago's redeveloped Navy Pier
Phase 1 of the James Corner Field Operations-masterplanned Navy Pier is complete, and Iwan Baan and Sahar Coston-Hardy have captured a first look of the refurbished pleasure pier. James Corner Field Operations is also acting as lead designer on the multi-year project. James Corner Field Operations is also acting as lead designer on the multi-year project, with other collaborators including nArchitects, Gensler, Thornton Tomasetti, Fluidity Design Consultants, Buro Happold, and graphic designers Pentagram. The architecture of the kiosks, pavilions, and “Wave Wall” was designed by New York-based nARCHITECTS. Often cited as the most popular tourist destination in Chicago, Navy Pier is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The 3,300-foot-long pier is one of the largest of its kind in the world. Originally part of Danial Burnham’s Plan of Chicago, the pier has served many purposes over the last century, including as a campus for the University of Illinois (UIC). Before UIC’s School of Architecture moved to its current Walter Netsch-designed building, the school was located near the end of the pier. AIA Chicago’s Design Night awards ceremony, along with many other major art and design events, including EXPO Chicago, are now held in the pier multiple exhibition spaces. James Corner Field Operations’s designs include extensive renovation of the exterior public promenade of the pier. An undulating Wave Wall, inspired by Rome’s Spanish Steps, features a louvered facade that transforms into a grand stair. Near the entry to the pier a glass- and chrome-clad Info Tower acts as a beacon orienting visitors while reflecting the city and the lake. Replacing a hodgepodge of mismatched kiosks along the length of the pier, new Lake Pavilions will act as boat ticket kiosks and shaded rest areas. The polished stainless steel canopies reflect the lake’s rippling water onto the surface of the pier. Other freestanding kiosks provide for the remaining promenade guest services. Other features completed as part of Phase 1 include the new Polk Bros. Park and Fountain Plaza near the base of the pier. As the interface with the city, new traffic and pedestrian patterns were worked out to increase safety in the heavily trafficked area. The new fountain, engineered and programmed by Fluidity Design Consultants, shoots complex geometric jets of water and transforms into an ice rink in the winter. Early designs for Phase 2 of the project indicate the pier will have a new hotel designed by Chicago-based Koo Associates, and a sweeping viewing platform and pool at the pier's end. The project is also the first SITES v2 Gold-Certified project in the world, a new comprehensive international sustainability matrix managed by the U.S. Green Building Council.
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Lowline Up Next

Archtober's Building of the Day: Samsung 837 by Gensler and Morris Adjmi Architects
This is the first in a series of guests posts that feature Archtober Building of the Day tours! Samsung 837 837 Washington Street New York, NY Gensler (Interior); Morris Adjmi Architects (Exterior) And we’re off! Our first Building of the Day tour location was Samsung 837, the brand’s digital playground in the Meatpacking District. We started in the ground floor’s recording studio, where the company hosts local DJs and artists. There, Steve Bitterman, AIA, from Gensler told us about the design process his team employed in designing the interiors for Samsung 837. Everything in the building is completely custom-made—the floors, the chairs, the casework—in order to attract talent. To that effect, the space is designed to be very collaborative. The first and second floors comprise the experience and event spaces. Bitterman and the Samsung team led us into the Social Galaxy, which has over 300 Samsung screens displaying Instagram posts from different times and places. To add to the social media experience, Samsung also commissioned a three-story screen, the largest interactive social media display in the world, made up of 96 individual screens. Visitors are encouraged to take a selfie, which is then created on the megascreen by thousands of former selfies. Gensler had to carve out three stories of Morris Adjmi’s structure in order to accommodate this display. We then moved on to VR Tunnel and 4D seats. Through a virtual reality headset and moving seats, I was transported to a thrilling virtual roller coaster ride. From there, we moved to the second floor, more service focused than the experience focused first floor. A mock-up of a living room and kitchen enables visitors to see how different Samsung devices will fit into their homes. Bitterman then led us to the sixth floor, which houses offices for Samsung personnel. Everything on these upper floors is also custom-made, a creating a unique work experience. The design team wanted the space to evoke the industrial history of the Meatpacking District, evident in the metal beams and manual desk cranks. Moving down, we were shown additional floors that serve distinct purposes. The trapezoidal pyramid structure of the building means that the floor plates increase in area as you go down, making the third floor large enough to function as an event space. It’s easy to see why so many people would want to come here for everything from seeing a concert to having a meeting. Tomorrow, we go below ground to the Lowline Lab. About the author: Jacob Fredi is the Public Programs and Exhibitions Coordinator at the Center for Architecture. When he’s not on Building of the Day tours, you can find him playing board games (Ticket to Ride!) and brewing his own beer.
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Windows on the World

Tech behemoth Microsoft selected young San Francisco firm Blitz to design its flagship office

“You could say we were the underdogs,” Blitz principal and CEO Melissa Hanley said about being selected to design Microsoft’s flagship office in one of San Francisco’s most notable buildings, 555 California Street. “Microsoft challenged a lot of things with this project, from hiring a tiny little baby firm like us to selecting a transparent site in San Francisco.”

Aside from facing the obstacles of being a small architecture firm tapped to create an office for one of the largest technology companies in the world, Blitz had to work within the restraints of 555 California Street (formerly the Bank of America Center). Art Gensler was brought on to design the tower’s indoor space when the building opened in 1969, and he’s credited by some as the inventor of commercial interior architecture. “There was a great deal of responsibility to not mess it up,” Hanley said.

Hanley and her team treated working within the iconic building’s structure and Microsoft’s “global design guidelines” (hundreds of parameters for everything from the conference rooms to staff algorithms) as a huge, complex puzzle. To take the stakes one notch higher, the office was downsizing from a 90,000-square-foot space to a 43,500-square-foot space, and employees were understandably concerned.

In an attempt to solve all of these challenges with one elegant solution, “We really focused on the idea of neighborhood design,” Hanley said. “We broke up a sea of desks into groups of 18 to 30 users, and every ‘neighborhood’ has familiar touch points such as lockers for flex employees, water, trash, etc.” Each neighborhood is a different bright color, which offers easy wayfinding and furthers employees’ sense of home. The layout offers equal access to front-row views of the cityscape from the 265 windows on the site.

The office also showcases Microsoft’s latest technology to customers. Upon entering the lobby, visitors walk up a 30-foot-tall staircase to a landing featuring an interactive, virtual moss wall. “It is technical, fun, and childlike,” Hanley said. “It’s a place where people can pause and think about their journey into the space.” Blitz echoed the moss wall with real living walls throughout the space, a slightly surreal move that blurs the borders between reality and technology. The firm extended the outdoor, organic aesthetic with textural flooring and canopies wrapped in a bleached-cork covering that resembles birch.

Although the project was a game changer for Blitz, which now has three ongoing projects with Microsoft in addition to work for Comcast and Yahoo, it was also pivotal for Microsoft. “Before this office, Microsoft was located in the outskirts of the city; it was almost like a castle in the sky,” Hanley said. “Now it is downtown, it is transparent, it engages with the city, and all the stuff that goes on outside its windows influences it day-to-day.”

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Let's Get Virtual

West Coast architecture firms are a hotbed for virtual reality applications

Though digital modeling and documentation tools have been an integral part of architectural practice for decades, until recently, visualization tools hewed closely to traditional elements of two-dimensional representation. Several firms and independent practitioners, however, are striving to adopt virtual reality (VR) as a design tool.

At the corporate level, established firms like Gensler and NBBJ are setting up in-house VR departments and standing to benefit from their corporate heft and connections.

NBBJ’s Seattle office recently launched a business partnership with construction industry start up Visual Vocal to incubate and develop what the firm referred to as a “breakthrough virtual reality productivity platform.” The tool aims to streamline the firm’s collaborative design process by allowing clients on-demand access to project information and design updates. NBBJ Managing Partner Steve McConnell described the firm’s approach in a press release: “This partnership will radically shift the way design feedback is sourced and integrated into projects, and the speed at which it can be done. As a result, we can more broadly and deeply engage project stakeholders.… Virtual reality will deepen design discourse and bring together communities in new and exciting ways.”

Gensler’s Los Angeles office has taken the opposite approach, creating a virtual reality department that engages with existing VR technologies, looping the latest design tools into Gensler’s corporate workflow as they come online. Gensler’s San Francisco office utilized VR to create a highly detailed climate model as it designed a new headquarters for computer graphics card maker Nvidia. Alan Robles, experience designer in charge of VR technologies at Gensler’s L.A. office, described the firm’s efforts as an attempt to streamline the use of VR as a design tool, calling VR the “next logical evolution for rendering technologies.” Gensler integrates VR into its workflow early in the conceptual diagram stage while also pairing Unity software with Autodesk Revit later in the process to bring designers and clients directly into a working digital model where design options can be updated in real time.

The firm’s VR capabilities are also being utilized in the ongoing design of the new Los Angeles Football Club stadium in South Los Angeles, where Gensler’s team was able to integrate VR design approaches early into the design process to communicate possible sponsorship opportunities and overall project concept. VR is incorporated into the conceptual design phases, making Gensler’s approach toward VR basically one of normalizing the technology as a design tool. The evolution of project concepts in VR takes off from there, with the technology being deployed as necessary to convey design intent. These efforts result in a custom app made by Gensler’s in-house team that clients can use as a personalized marketing and development tool.

Operating in a parallel stream, a school of emerging designers has taken up VR as a key visualization and production tool.

Güvenç Özel, principal at Özel Office, made use of VR in a recent competition proposal made for NASA. His NASA 3D-Printed Habitat project, runner-up in the competition, creates a VR environment to convey its design intention and functionality. The project, showcased at the Architecture and Design Museum’s recent exhibition, Come In! DTLA, allowed observers to wear VR headsets to explore the scheme: A space capsule 3-D-printed from martian rock and occupied as an operating base for astronaut-explorer scientists.

Özel, who spoke to AN via email, described VR’s potential impact on architecture in no uncertain terms, saying, “The immersiveness of these digital environments are becoming so convincing that they start to exist as environments in their own right. I am convinced that the architecture of our near future involves physical and digital spaces superimposed on each other, and will further blur the lines between what is interface design and what is architectural design.” Designer Devin Gharakhanian, in collaboration with VR specialist Nels Long, presented Room XYZ at this year’s One-NightStand L.A. showcase, utilizing VR to recontextualize an all-white room into a variety of experiences. The project, in a different iteration, places the viewer into a precise, virtual recreation of an elaborately staged room. For the two architecturally-trained artists, the works serve to explore existential architectural issues directly.

Adding to this inertia, is a growing stock of interdisciplinary, VR-focused coworking spaces and organizations that are coalescing across L.A., where the edges of the visualization, filmmaking, and architectural professions run into one another, like Virtual Reality Los Angeles, Navel.la, and RotoLab. With the recent announcement by computing giant Intel of a new collaboration with Microsoft aimed at developing VR capabilities for Windows-based machines and plans to open an L.A. research studio, the future of VR is here—and it’s very real. 

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Frisco Kid

A major mixed-use development includes a new Dallas Cowboys World Headquarters

A star is on the horizon: Situated roughly 30 miles north of Dallas, Frisco Independent School District (ISD), one of the fastest growing school districts in the U.S., is home to more than 54,000 students across 68 schools, with eight more schools planned to open before 2019.

To accommodate this rapid growth, Gensler designed a 25-acre complex comprising a 300,000-square-foot office building, 300-room hotel, and a 12,000-seat indoor stadium known as the Ford Center. Totaling $1.5 billion, the project is known officially as “The Star in Frisco” and is part of the area’s larger 91-acre mixed-use development.

Gensler’s scheme has been hotly anticipated by the local community. The Ford Center’s inaugural event, which saw four football games between teams from Frisco’s ISD on August 27, was sold out a week in advance.

Emblazoned with the Dallas Cowboys’ signature blue—conveniently similar to that of Ford’s—the indoor athletic facility will be used by the NFL team, the City of Frisco, and Frisco ISD’s eight high schools. With a clearance of 94 feet and offering football-shaped locker rooms to be used by both high schoolers and professional football players, it is the only NFL training facility in the country that is shared with the public.

Project architect and Gensler associate Scott Armstrong said that the venue was “always going to be indoors in order to provide flexibility,” and to create a “multi-use event space.” As a result, visitors can expect a vibrant atmosphere at events as sound reverberates around the space. Given the stadium’s parabolic roof, Armstrong also highlighted the extensive gutter system that spans the perimeter to capture water runoff.

Unlike most NFL and high school sports arenas, fans can enter the venue through the same side. “Everybody’s a home team here at this stadium,” principal at Gensler Ted Kollaja told the Dallas News. “We wanted to ceremonially bring them all through the front door together.”

Sitting in the middle of the 25-acre area, the Ford Center will be joined by offices and a “War Room” (a space for football tactics to be discussed) to its right, and an Omni Hotel, retail, and restaurant space to its left. Directly in front of the arena will be a public plaza, complete with a football field (one of three outdoor fields in the complex), which will bridge the surrounding typologies at a pedestrian level. 

Present throughout Gensler’s project is the theme of openness. In the office complex, a five-story atrium connects the main lobby and entrance to the football field on the opposite side. Aligned with the 50-yard line, the feature provides what Armstrong described as the “wow factor” for the site while also emphasizing the notion of “walkability” within the general area.

The hotel, known as the “Omni Frisco Hotel” will boast a 13,000-square-foot ballroom, as well as 24,000 square feet of meeting and event space. The luxury hotel will also offer a rooftop pool deck with a bar and grill overlooking the open plaza and main entrance to the Ford Center.

The 25-acre development is due to be complete in fall 2017, though the Ford Center is currently up and running. As for the overall 91-acre scheme, Armstrong said that this “will phase into competition at various times throughout the next few years.”